I am not one who feels compelled to know the Why or How behind every mystery. I am not quick to label, designate, or categorize. But I do recognize patterns and I make associations through experiences. I pick up on similarities, threads of potential, and unseen streams of feeling. Sometimes I'll follow them through to articulation and hope it lands somewhere helpful.
These past weeks I have been observing the various ways people have been moving through our current global experience. Some are stepping into high gear productivity and creativity. Some diving into ceremony and prayer. Some crumbling under overwhelm or simply maintaining and existing. There is calm. There is tension. There is violence and acts of incredible beauty. The parallel that I can sense, no matter how our situations are affecting us, is with that of an Initiatory Experience. More precisely, the sort of initiation that was unexpected and goes largely unrecognized. This is not the community supported, planned and prepared for sort. Rites of Passage, Vision Quests, profound Healing Ceremonies, Warrior Homecomings, or the culmination of an intense period of Spiritual Apprenticeship, ideally, are supported by wise medicine keepers, elders, or the already initiated, and tend to be witnessed by close community. Necessarily unaware of what challenges it entails, the initiate often feels it coming and prepares, strengthens and readies, but they certainly may not always. If fortunate, those surrounding them are aware and have watched their slow unfolding, and quietly are preparing in their roles for what lies ahead. They know the protocols, hold the space, and set the pace. We see it naturally when experienced parents pass wisdom to expectant mothers and the midwife and doula arrive. It is there when an Uncle brings a boy on his first hunting trip. When a young girl enters the tent for the first time after menarche or as the family gathers to the bedside of a passing elder. Significant times of change that leave a very clear sense of life Before as being distinct from life After.
Unfortunately, unrecognized initiations occur in individuals and groups quite often. These are times when we move through life altering events that shake us to our core, without guidance of a medicine person or wise elder facilitating a conscious process, without knowledge of what is afoot, and without even a sense of preparation. It might be a near death experience through illness or accident, coming of age without stories of foretelling, becoming lost alone overnight in the woods, or even the untangling from a toxic relative or abusive spouse. If we are lucky, we at least have a quiet witness to the magnitude of a profound shift within us.
Previously I wrote an article on the 3 Stages of an Initiatory Experience describing the phases as I know them to be. It paints a picture of a full and complete process from the initial stages of severance or removal from all that we know, into the discombobulating challenge of an intensity that brings us to the brink - be it facing fear, maxing out our physical strength and endurance, testing our faith, or near breaking of determination and will power - and into the final integration of the knowledge we gained from such challenge, where life is reassembled in a new, course corrected, improved, and harmonious way. Which is far from how light and easy that might sound.
The trouble comes when one begins this process, intentionally or not, and stalls or stops partway through. Usually when the going gets roughest, and most often when without recognition either from the initiate themselves or from a network or facilitator to help push through to completion. It feels like the bottom has dropped out from under our feet, circumstances become intolerable, but we don't make it to the other side with newfound resilience and instead stay in a painful place where the emotional wounds don't seem to heal, dysfunctional patterns continue, and the shit just keeps getting kicked up without true resolution. We end up not knowing how to fully return from our challenge. We don't know how to process what we experienced or what to do with the thoughts that we walked away with. For some, it might even result in a chronic trauma response.
The sneakiest pitfall that I have seen many times over, is when the challenge itself runs its course, the initiate(s) complete their hardship in whatever form it took, the sigh of relief is breathed - and everything goes right back to the way it was when it all started. There is a false sense of completion. A lull into complacency just before the actual finish line. The wisdoms gained during the ultimate "moment of truth" is not applied to life After after all.
All becomes for nought.
There was no integration and we might not even know it.
The big game is talked, didactic pontification ensues, wounds are declared healed, and blindspots are cultivated and sidestepped.
Until the next initiatory experience brings another chance.
What I have had brewing on the back burner of my awareness, is no matter how easily or painfully we might be moving through these pandemic days, regardless of "enlightened" or conspiracy concepts as to the Whys of it all, despite any desire for or knowledge of potentially being in the midst of an initiatory experience - both individually and collectively - there is possibility of inadvertently missing those 3 key steps.
Severance. Threshold. Integration.
We have clearly said goodbye to life as we knew it. We appear to be at the threshold. How it looks and what we learn here is deeply personal and widely varied. If it is right, that these times are indeed following this ancient structure, integration will look differently for everyone. Some will actively work at it. Some will not even realize it. Let there be no sidestepping. Let us be guided by innate wisdom and latent medicines if not by Initiated knowledge keepers. Sometimes they seem far and few between. But at least if we get lost, we know these 3 steps.
A bean feasa of Gaelic heritage shares stories & insights from her animist and 'shamanic' practice on the West Coast of Canada.