In the lead up to our monthly circles I spend time listening, with all of my senses, for incoming messages that support our moving in a good way through unseen, "felt", energetic currents that are always present and perhaps go unnoticed.
Something that came up last week was the invitation for us to pay extra attention to the portals we pass through. The thresholds we cross. The transitions we experience. Everything from actual household doorways to shifting between sleep and wakefulness. The portals we pass through when we work with Spirit, the veils that we part, the auspicious moments in time... like a Full Moon or Samhain (or as the case is this year - both!) Have you ever walked into a room and completely forgotten why you are there? It is called the "Doorway Effect". Our brain is triggered into forgetting. There can be great medicine in forgetting, but there is also much to be had in remembering.
What came through was an invitation for slowing things down enough to reallllly notice - mostly that we are in fact crossing a threshold, but also, since we are noticing, to mindfully experience the qualities and stages of them a bit.
~ Standing at the doorway. Is there trepidation? Expectation? Preconceived assumptions? A leap of faith? I'm sure we all know the 'hand on the doorknob steeling up to actually enter' feeling, or that chest flutter just before declaring a final decision. Are We opening it or is something else? Can we choose to keep it closed? Did we prepare?
~ The sometimes very brief moment of being In a liminal state, neither fully here nor there. Is there comfort in this? Discombobulation? Can we hear/see wisdoms easier or feel more blind? Perhaps we are here longer than anticipated, it can feel dizzying and fast or sometimes a timeless limbo. Is it solid and sturdy or is our safety in jeopardy?
~ Emerging on the other side. Is it a jolt to the system? Do we feel welcomed and in the "right place"? Did we come out standing on our own two feet or crawling on raw hands and knees? Do we need a rest now or feel invigorated? Have we really made it fully through? Are we where we expected to be? Did we kick the door shut or did it lovingly, gently, click closed behind us?
Did we even notice?
We pass through so.very.many. Every day. All day.
But perhaps the great forgetting is upon us.
Think of all the stories we have known, stories of ornate doors with missing keys, stories of secret words to clear blocked passage, the tunnels that are stumbled upon, fairy rings bumbled into, forbidden rooms that force one into an initiation of sorts, creatures of myth who cross boundaries and worlds and realms. These stories have long captivated our attention, and there always seems to be an aspect of "the human" and an aspect of "otherworldliness" to them.
This week and into the next, if you are inclined, I extend this invitation from somewhere trusted on "the other side", to notice the portals that you pass through. Be they your front door, a video call, into/out of meditation, spirit journeying, creative state, ritual acts, or ceremony space. Between daydreaming and presence. When you get in and out of the car. Heck even half asleep midnight bathroom trips.
We don't need to over analyze.
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.
Stepping into Ceremony
When we are well prepared and present to intention,
we set the stage to safely step back and allow healing to move through us
without trying to control or struggle toward a perceived goal;
opportunities unfold to perceive medicines and divine wisdom
greater than we can imagine.
An Initiatory Experience
An initiation marks a distinct time of "before" and "after". The kind of experience that, at its extreme, will feel like a complete life over-haul, almost like we have been reborn or achieved a new level of depth/height in awareness. Everything is somehow different or has shifted in a fundamental or cellular way.
Often it is a rite of passage, deep ceremony, intense personal medicine work, vision quest, or healing event that creates a significant shift in the way we relate to and experience the world. It steps us into a new phase of life or welcomes us into a community previously unavailable to us. It applies also to unplanned events like serious illness, accident, or tragedy, as well as natural life stages such as birth, puberty, menarche, labour/birth/parenthood, coupling/uncoupling, menopause, eldership, and death.
As I have learned it, there are 3 distinct phases to an Initiation.
Severance. Threshold. Integration.
Others may have different names or words to describe them, but the essence seems consistent in my experiences and observances so far.
The preparation phase. This is the lead up to the experience, and is when the healing work actualy begins. Sometimes as early as the moment when we commit to the opportunity. We go through a phase, consciously or not, of acts of letting go of our life as we know it, saying Goodbye to all that is familiar, releasing our grip on the anchors that make us feel stable - patterns, beliefs, relationships, perceived goals and desires, daily constructs, ways of relating, ways of being, ways of thinking - and cutting all ties to the way things are.
If you recognize you are in the Severance stage, you can support and deepen this process by:
This is where we cross over from the "before" to the "after". It is the Experience that changes us or the culmination of experiences that leads us to a pivotal threshold or doorway to step through. It may be marked by ceremony, ritual, vision quest, dark night(s) of the soul, a period of deep healing, or it may not even be fully recognized while in the thick of it - particularly when without the witnessing of community or when the experience(s) are viewed as trauma without resulting gifts.
When in this stage, you might support and deepen the experience by:
Often considered the hardest part, and sadly too often overlooked - integration occurs when we are able to Return to our usual life and keep the gifts we have acquired intact. We are challenged with bringing our internal shifts outward to affect change in our day-to-day living and resist falling back into old ways of thinking, reacting, and being. Many times this transition isn't easy, might be messy, and perhaps feels a bit chaotic as things shake up in order to fall into more harmonious places. Touching in with any community, elders, or teachers that held us through the Threshold phase can be a wellspring of anchoring resources.
When in this stage, you might support and deepen the experience by:
A few years ago I wrote some practical, hands-on, tips and suggestions for integrating the medicines from the Threshold, and bringing all of the unseen, personal, inner work Out into our mundane living experience. If you would like more on the Integration phase, find yourself post-ceremony or have recently undergone a personal healing session, please read "Integration ~ the often overlooked time after soul-work".
If you would like personal and direct support as you move through any of these stages, you are welcome to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or book a consultation.
A bean feasa of Gaelic heritage shares stories & insights from her animist and 'shamanic' practice on the West Coast of Canada.