Nearly every culture on the planet shows evidence of a ceremonial marking of the passage from youth to adulthood, undertaken consciously and witnessed by the community. Without such acknowledgement from adults, how do young people know they have in fact crossed over into a new life-stage? And what happens to young people who grow physically into adulthood, but are never initiated, never honored in their new roles?
The intentional marking of these transitions is not only significant for the young initiate, but equally so for the family and for the entire community. On the whole, most modern societies around the world have lost these important rites, once a powerful demonstration of character, resolve, strength, and competence that brought a young person to a new level of independence and self-reliance. Too often adults no longer turn back towards their young people with welcome, to explain what it means to be an adult in their cultures, and especially, to offer valid tests and confirmation.
The testing of one’s abilities and “edges” – the desire to “push” against the world, take risks, and explore new emotional and psychological terrain – are all normal and necessary aspects of healthy development for a young adult. The search for a deeper understanding of self is the primary task of the young adult. The question is not whether this exploration should happen, but how it happens. In a culture that has neglected to honor these passages we see young people attempting to self-initiate through drugs, alcohol, sex, violence and recklessness. We see “adults” demonstrating childlike or adolescent behavior, having themselves never been initiated. And we see communities struggling to find authentic leadership, identity, and connection.
What is necessary for a healthy initiation? Rites of passage ceremonies from around the world reveal a few important elements in common:
• The young man or woman must be presented with an ordeal, task, or challenge to complete, through which he or she arrives at a new, often broader, concept of self.
• The initiate must be prepared and “held” by community members ahead of time.
• The initiate must be welcomed back, witnessed, and received anew into the community.
A key ingredient in modern society’s neglect of effective rites of passage has been our concurrent neglect of cultivating connection with the natural world. Even when growing up in urban environments, people who have a connection with the broader natural context of their lives discover a profound avenue for relationship with self, family and community. It is never too late to begin nurturing this connection that we all share, and it is a powerful – even necessary – part of claiming one’s place in the world. An initiation ceremony in a wilderness setting offers young people an opportunity to affirm that connection and a unique mirror for deep self-exploration, a true test of themselves on many levels.
Lost Borders conducts vision fasts for young men and women every summer for those ready to confirm their entry into adulthood. During the course participants undergo a traditional wilderness rite-of-passage, intending to find and face their deepest inner truths, their strengths and weaknesses, and to ask the critical questions, “Who am I to be in the world? What do I have to offer as an adult?” They come with their concerns, their challenges, their gifts, and their dreams.
A blending of ancient and modern practices and teachings, the vision fast requires a willingness to live alone in the high desert of the Inyo Mountains for three days and nights without food. This “ordeal” is a valid confirmation of maturity for young people, a seminal experience, in which profound bonds with nature, self, and community may be discovered. Each participant returns from the solo time with a story to share and be witnessed in an elders’ council. (Fasters may choose to invite their parents to take part in the incorporation ceremonies.)
The School of Lost Borders Young Adults Programs offers an intergenerational, shared leadership model. Our team is evolving in our work, with a focus on training and mentoring next generation guides and creating alliances with communities, schools and programs that wish to implement this bare bones ceremony for their young people, in their places. This year’s guide team consists of an Elder Guide,Trebbe Johnson, working together with two guides from the younger generation, Marie de Beauvior and Daniel Kirchhof.
Required reading: Coming of Age in the Wilderness, A Handbook for Youth by Steven Foster & Meredith Little (included in tuition). The video by Kim Shelton, “Lost Borders: Coming of Age in the Wilderness,” skillfully portrays the powerful dimensions of this experience. (Available through Lost Borders Press.)
Scholarships are available for those who apply, money should not be an obstacle for those who hear the call to participate.