Radical Acts of Re-member-ing
Rite of Passage ceremonies have been held in near infinite forms and shapes for thousands of years, shaping and shifting according to weather, landscape, ancestral lineages and the particular needs of the community which enacted them. What sets modern rite of passages apart, is not so much the forms of ceremony we use today, but the cultural context in which they are offered, or more precisely the lack thereof.
In times past, initiation was living in the heart of the village. It was core to the culture, and understood as integral to the well-being of the individual and the community they were born into. Physical birth was merely the first birth in a series of life transitions. Coming of age, finding one’s distinct medicine or purpose was just another kind of birth, equally important so one could take a place at the center fire as a truly adult member of the tribe.
Without initiated adults there would be no parents, aunts, uncles, or mentors able to nurture and teach the young from the source of their own wellspring. Without these adults further maturing and seasoning through life’s passages there would be no elders.
And true elders are the blessing and the stronghold of any community. Not only do they hold the long arc of ancestral wisdom for their people, but as they prepare for the last rite of transformation, as they ripen toward returning their body to the body of the Earth, to become ancestors themselves, they are blessing and teaching all who come after them.
In contrast, modern civilization has gone to great length in its attempt to sever from the cyclical nature of life. What was put into most of our cradles (in themselves a poignant tool of disconnection) was the modern perception of life as a straight-line progression of birth-life-death and the belief that we were separate from nature. Modern humans seem to be birthed out of nothing only to die into the void. We have forgotten that we are born into a circle we were already part of, since before we were even conceived. A circle we will continue to nurture long after our bodies have returned to the mycelial network from which they arose. Without this sense of belonging to life through all its cycles and changes our focus is trapped in the confines of our ego, searching for fulfillment in endless consumption.
The intention of re-member-ing has been central to the work of pioneers like Steven & Meredith, who went in search of unearthing the pan cultural bones of wilderness rites of passage back in the seventies and soon began to offer invitations for intentional solo time on the land. Though the word has spread and the work has grown over the last forty years, our ceremonies today are still happening largely outside of mainframe culture, mostly leaving those who come to fast with us without much support or acknowledgement from their communities or work places at home upon their return.
Modern culture doesn’t know what to do with change. Change threatens the patrilineal hierarchical systems and the status quo of the assembly line productivity that has become second nature for most of us. We are taught to insulate, accumulate and stay the busy course of ascending to greater and greater levels of whatever you have been conditioned to define as success. Fallow time is dangerous and to be avoided, which is easily done, being the over scheduled and under resourced modern humans that we are.
The sense of belonging and forever becoming in evolutionary cycles of death and rebirth are lost to modern culture. Instead, we have fallen captives to an overactive rational mind dominating our being and an infinite thirst for material gratification attempting to fill the inner emptiness that pervades our culture.
But deep within we know. No matter how much dissociation and trauma we may carry, we still know. We know in our bones when life has grown stale and the skin around us begins to itch and crack. We know when our restless desire to break free, to open, to come out, to wake up no longer can be denied. Initiation is not a concept. It lives at our core. And no matter how orphaned we may feel from any sense of true connection with the source, the call to remember ourselves into the wholeness we were born from and for is innate in us, and stubbornly insistent.
And though we may feel it, we are not alone. Life has her own way of reaching for us. So often at these junctures, when change is in the air, when the veil between the worlds feels like it’s thinning, a natural challenge or sudden shift comes our way. A job loss, an unexpected divorce, an illness, accident or some other abrupt change to our routine will break the shell and deliver us to the end of the world as we knew it. Other times the call may be quieter, more subtle, and harder to articulate. It may feel like life has simply grown stale on you, and you find yourself oddly unsatisfied, stunted, slightly depressed or inexplicably anxious, and unsettled.
No matter how you get there, one day you may just find yourself stumbling across the crazy idea to come and surrender into four days and nights on the Earth with nothing more than the clothes on your body, a gallon of water for each day and whatever you can carry on your back. Not to learn how to survive – oh are we ever so trained in that! – but to learn how to die to all that is no longer true for you.
To do nothing for four days. To stop the hamster wheel and step out of the cage. To exchange the confines of our bedroom ceiling with the infinite depth of the night sky. What a wild concept. To expose oneself to all weather, internal and external, in an unprecedented chance to meet what is, moment after moment, without a way out, is radical. To let ourselves empty, to let psyche drain, to shed and let what is no longer true fall to the ground and decompose is an act of rare courage and precious self-care. To hear the beat of our own heart in the silence of the vast desert and take up the full breadth of our belonging is no small thing.
In their own way, rite of passage ceremonies today might just be stealth acts of radical resistance. Radical resistance to the lie of separation that gave rise to the extractive capitalism that has delivered us to the climate precipice we are teetering on. Can we really separate our personal reasons for going to fast on the land from the greater questions we are facing as humans at this time? The disarray of the elements, the erratic, rapidly changing weather patterns and climate related weather catastrophes are not merely outside events. We feel the echo of the discordance in our bodies and personal lives, as well as in the lives of our communities along with every other species/kin alive at this time. Along with whatever individual reasons we may have to go out on a vision fast, the evolutionary urgency to remember ourselves forward as humans of this time, the need to create a new story, for ourselves, our people and for all life is also walking along with us. How could it not?
And so perhaps, for any of these reasons – or for no particular reason at all – your heart leaps with a sudden ‘yes’, as you scroll across the write-up, no matter how hard your mind tries to dissuade you. Because it’s time. Time to unearth a deeper knowing of the life-thriving paradigm that – no matter how much we fear we have lost it – still lives right beneath the skin of our homogenized cultured selves. And so you click ‘enroll’ and begin the process of preparation, sorting your life, torn between the fear of the unknown and the calling of your heart. And things will begin to move. Dreams will come in, memories will emerge, – oh and fear! – fear will rise again, and again, in the weeks and months leading up to the time of departure, asking you over and over again: do you really want to do this?!!
And if you must, you will continue. Because in the end none of us can refuse our own flowering forever. Because there comes the day when it’s time to let go what is no longer ours and birth what is. Because how else would we ever find that place where our inmost desire meets the outward need of the world in the mysterious miraculous way that will never be the same for any two people? Because why else would we live and what else will we leave for those that come after us?
And so you will journey. Despite the fact that there are no rite of passage guides in your community and no one has ever spoken to you about initiation. Even if no one around you understands why in the world you’d be doing such a thing or what you will have to tell your boss to get the time off…. You will steal away, to the desert, or the mountains or to some other remote corner of refuge from a world that has grown to small for you, and join a make-shift community of other refugees, of which you will likely know no one and no one will know you.
And although your own village square may be empty, and perhaps there are no true elders anymore, you are willing to find your seat in this circle that will stand in for the tribe that is lost to you. And together with your guides you will make sanctuary, in this pop-up community of strangers, preparing for threshold ceremony, on the fault lines of a planet ready to break or birth or maybe both.
Come as you are. You are welcome here.