When I worked for Outward Bound, one of the most rewarding aspects was how it acted as a rite of passage for many of our students. You may have heard of rites of passage from other cultures (Native American vision quests, once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimages in Buddhist, Hindu or Muslin traditions, for example). They’re ceremonies or practices that mark an individual’s progression from one stage of life to another.
There are generally three phases in a rite of passage:
- Separation: the individual changes from their current status and prepares to enter a new stage.
- Liminality: the person is often temporarily removed from their normal surroundings and community to experience tasks or rituals that prepare them for the next stage of life.
- Incorporation: The person return and is welcomed back into their community with their newly-attained status and responsibilities.
It’s important to note that a rite of passage in and of itself doesn’t make the transformation happen. It doesn’t mean you have a rite of passage then, “Yay, you did it, now go forth!” True inner growth and taking on new levels of responsibility are an essential part of rites of passage – and what they’re designed to mark, not create.
While it’s well-researched that there is a lack of meaningful rites of passage in modern industrialized societies for life stages like transition into adulthood, the absence of a ritual to mark those stages still isn’t the most significant problem in terms of obstacles to Soul development.
Really the rites of passage are meant to confirm a life transition that has already been reached, often through a long steady process of doing this work. So what’s more significant is what happens between the life stages than the rites of passage themselves.
The primary work of maturing takes place gradually and on a daily basis as we apply ourselves to the developmental tasks of our current life stage.
Children and adolescents need help with these tasks — and who is supposed to help them? Grown-ass, mature adults. Not adults working out their childhood baggage with their own children or, say, having tantrums while they’re the President of the United States of America. For example;)
So yes, help from mature adults. And that’s where I think we’re failing right now.
So we need to let go of the idea that the transition from childhood to adulthood takes place in one fell swoop. Between these two life stages is the adventure of adolescence. And it’s a real adventure. And we miss out on utilizing it as such.
Getting older in and of itself doesn’t lead to emotional adulthood or psychological maturity. If you asked most people what adulthood means, they’ll say things like: when we fulfill certain responsibilities like establishing a career or steady job, moving out of the home, raising a family…
But is this…meaningful? In the sense of what being an adult really means when we look at what our society needs? And what kind of responsibility is that?
As Bill Plotkin says, an adult is someone who understands why they are here on Earth, why they were born, and are offering their unique contribution to the broader sense of the world – not just to humans, but to the planet and all its beings.
That kind of responsibility that comes with that kind of Soul development.
But don’t be discouraged – while it’s rare – for most in the modern industrialized world, at least – to reach true adulthood in their teen years, or even twenties, it’s totally possible to do so in midlife.
In his book, Nature and the Human Soul, Bill Plotkin states there are two really distinct stages of adolescence – and remember, think of this not just as age, but psychological development – and a major life passage between them.
The adventure starts with puberty, and I think we can all agree the change our body goes through, the hormones, the social shifts that happen around puberty, embodying our sexuality… is a wild ride.
This continues through the years of early adolescence then transits through the passage Bill calls Confirmation and then goes into late adolescence, which he calls the “Wanderer in the Cocoon.”
In the first half of adolescence, the task is to create a personality — a way of belonging to the human community — one that’s ideally authentic and socially “acceptable.” This is hard AF, especially if you’re a rebellious one like I am (and like many of you are) and if you’re being asked to gain acceptance into a society that is toxic.
This is obviously easier said than done, especially in toxic cultures that are extremely foused on the individual and that are materialistic. However, doing this is essential because it lays the foundation for the rest of our Soul development.
So authenticity – and ziji – means to know who you really are — to know where you stand, what you value, what you desire, what you tolerate and what you don’t — and to be able and willing to act accordingly, most of the time, despite the social risks. This takes a minute.
The second half of the task in this stage: attaining social acceptability. This is where we can get screwed in the head about all this because to be a healthy adolescent, we need to belong to a healthy community. But when we are part of a toxic community that doesn’t honor the process of the human soul, if we are going to “fit in” then we are at high risk of ending up compromising a lot of our Soul qualities.
So if – and when – we connect with an authentic personality that is “acceptable” enough, then our focus shifts from our peer group to the bigger mysteries of exploring our psyche and our place in nature and the world. This shift is the passage of Confirmation.
This is when a rite of passage can be really powerful – it publicly confirms the fact that you’ve succeeded at creating a social presence that works … well enough for your human community.
And it then carries you into late adolescence (the Cocoon), which is the stage when we begin to asking the big, existential and spiritual questions of life:
What do I think differentiates survival and living? A social scene and true community? Academic achievement and deep learning? A “job” and Soul Purpose?
Then – after many years of, as Rilke says, “living these questions,” after many expeditions of sorts, exploring our psyche and how we relate to nature, we discover our truth.
As David Whyte says, “the truth at the center of the image you were born with.”
In many traditional cultures and spiritual paths, a glimpse like this is called a soul purpose or calling, a vision, a soul purpose or calling, or the intuition of our destiny — which usually doesn’t show up in more traditional cultural ways, like a job or social role like parenthood, but in a more mysterious way, unique to us.
Then, when you commit to manifesting this vision in a kind of delivery system to the world for the benefit of all beings – and I also believe the planet – then and only then do you pass into Soul Initiation (with or without a rite or passage) and into true adulthood.
So let’s take a moment to reflect on where we are at with this ourselves – and not to shame ourselves, but to be curious so we can open up to what’s possible.
The world today needs authentically mature mentors to help others in this process. And tht doesn’t mean you need to go get another damn training, so stop googling that right now.
What is means is to engage in your own process and go through this yourself so you can say yes, it’s scary, and often challening, and I’ve been there. You’ll be OK.
This is a big part of how I believe we can heal our society and the planet.
In this Episode you will learn:
// The 3 phases in a rite of passage
// The limitations of rites of passage
// The difference between externally- and internally-based rites of passage
// How to overcome society’s obstacles to Soul growth
// The 2 phases before Soul initiation
// How to step into true emotional and psychological adulthood
// Why we need you to be a mentor who has done the work
// Three ways to begin this journey and arrive at Soul Initiation
// Episode 105: Soul vs Spirit
// Episode 71: How to Find Your Purpose
// If you want to finally get clear about your unique Soul purpose and how to create a life that supports it during this one precious life we have, apply for the Adventure Mastermind. It’s deep work. Important, necessary, and essential to what the world needs right now. Be a part of it. Head over to AdventureMastermind.com and apply for the next cohort. We have 2 altered states retreats, weekly coaching, virtual retreats, and more. I’ve got you!
// If you’re new to the squad, grab the Rebel Buddhist Toolkit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll also get access to the Rebel Buddhist FB group, and tune in weekly when I go live on new topics.
// Want to dive into this work on a deeper level on your own time? To study it and practice it together with a group of people with the same goals of freedom, adventure and purpose? Check out Freedom School – the community for ALL things related to freedom, inside and out.