I grew up in a household of two (heavy) cigarette-smoking, coffee-drinking parents. For me, this was the epitome of adulthood… And when I started smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, at the age of seventeen, I felt that I have arrived!
The “arrival” was not celebrated in any way. However my Dad, who used to buy cigarettes in cartons (for him and my Mom) added a few packs to the family monthly cigarette shopping, on my behalf. I was given the stamp of approval: I belonged.
And isn’t this what Rites of Passage are all about?
Arriving, belonging, getting in par with the adult world around us, which was mostly beyond our reach as children, and is now accepting us as rightful members.
Indigenous cultures similarly rewarded their youth with belonging and acceptance, only that their requirements were far more meaningful. Youth were given a multitude of things that our young lack today:
– Spiritual guidance from an early age, toward discovering the gift one was born to bring to their community
– Active mentors who fostered different skills in a youth, each bestowing their own gifts on their young protegee
– A prescribed set of challenges that will stretch a youth beyond their comfort zone, and will call them to find within them the ability to endure, overcome, and emerge triumphantly
– A tradition of Spiritual Eldering designed to pass on wisdom and knowledge from one generation to the next
– A tight knit community that is eager to collectively honor and celebrate all milestones in an individual’s life
In contrast, the guidance I received, growing up, consisted of explicit messages, overt assistance, and covert expectations, all directed toward achieving high grades at school, an academic degree, and a career that will guarantee enough money to ensure a secure retirement.
There was no conscious guidance toward grounded, balanced, intentional adulthood, and in its absence I could only imitate what I saw around me. It took many years of unlearning (including quitting cigarette-smoking and coffee-drinking) to develop a sense of deeper meaning in my life.
Deeper meaning is what the youth search for. The need we have as young human beings, while transforming from childhood to adulthood, is for meaningful challenges that will help us prove to ourselves that we are courageous and worthy; role models that will inspire us to strive, and communities that will accept us as equals.
In the absence of such cultural offerings, the youth of each generation will devise their own tests that would lead them to become accepted by their tribe. For me, it was cigarettes and coffee that made me feel grown up and ultimately belong. For many today it is gang activity or teen pregnancy. These are the shadow manifestations of an authentic need. They seemingly include every element of traditional rites of passage:
– Going beyond one’s comfort zone to prove worthiness (gang activity and teen sex)
– Performing daring acts that lead to approval (in the eyes of gang members, or boyfriend/girlfriend)
– Ultimate acceptance or belonging (this last one applies to gang members but hardly ever to girls who get pregnant. They often end up shunned by both their boyfriend and their family)
This grim picture only exists because we, as a society, abdicated our responsibility to our young!
It is in our hands to restore the picture to its natural balance. It is our (exciting!) task to rally around our young in meaningful ways, to provide them with meaningful challenges that will stretch them positively, and to receive them as equals when they triumphantly emerge from their trials.
© 2012 DeAnna L’am, All Rights Reserved
To learn more about Rites of Passage,
It is my pleasure to invite you to –
Girls to Womanhood
& Boys to Manhood
Please join us!
The events dates are: Monday-Friday, February 6 – 10 & 13-17