How many times will you die? Just once? At the end of your life?
Well, we actually ‘die’ a number of times before we die a physical death. Everyone knows that throughout our lives, we grow and change. Who were are at ten years old is very different from who we are at 40. Although a central thread runs through our lives— the deeper patterns of our being, the core of who we are— there is also a lot of dying and sluffing off that goes on; and a lot of re-birthing as well. Being a human being is a cyclical process that also has a trajectory towards something.
This process of death and rebirth is clear at the physical level. Cells that comprise our bodies have a specific life span, and so are always dying and being replaced by new cells (except for neurons in the cerebral cortex, which grow before birth and don’t die until we die).
It’s less obvious that this same process is happening at the level of our psyche, our individual consciousness. The way we grow psychologically is similar in some ways to how a tree grows. Our awareness of self and the world expands as we grow, and this awareness both transcends (or goes beyond the scope of what we were able to comprehend previously) AND all that we knew and have been before is included still in who we are. So our psychological, emotional, and even spiritual self is in a way layered in us, like concentric rings of a tree, who adds new layers of bark as it grows bigger.
There are times in our lives that it’s pretty clear that something inside us is morphing. We are growing a new ring and what was awesome before no longer fits. We feel, as David Bowie says, “ch-ch-ch-changes . . . .” and must “turn and face the strange . . .”
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Adolescence the first major classic psycho-spiritual dying. We must die to being a child. Our psyche is called to make the transition from identifying with the safe container of family (if we’re lucky!), to finding its place in the bigger world. We begin to ask ‘who am I as an autonomous individual?’ Our ego wants to individuate and come into relationship with the world.
In our modern Western culture, we recognize this first big change. It’s called ‘growing up’, and we are aware of the need to tend to young people, to help them become the best adults they can be.
But once you’ve made that first transition, you are considered an adult and good luck to ‘ya. Once you’ve ‘grown up’ you can then get on with the job of becoming a productive member of society, on your own.
However, another death looms — in mid-life. We recognize this change, but it is considered a crisis, almost a failing of sorts, and there is no culturally-sanctioned way of tending to those who come into this second big change.
In mid-life, we die to being ‘of the world’. Our psyche is called to make the transition from identifying with the world and our place in it, to finding its completeness, its wholeness, its integration. Our ego wants to expand beyond identifying primarily with the personal self and come into deep and authentic relationship with our soul. It is in this time that we are called to understand our unique way of being in the world, and to develop our particular form of genius — in service to the greater good.
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Many people today do not make this second transition. It is not well understood, and the crisis which precipitates the change is often medicated, held down, stuffed into the shadows. We are not given the sustenance we need to break through into soul relationship. The ego of its own accord cannot make this transition. The soul cries out for a new relationship with ego, but initiation into this life stage requires the breakdown of the small-self ego, which will fight like hell to stay intact. No wonder it feels like a war is going on inside at this time of life!
How can we navigate this time of life in a good way?
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Through our development as a species (99% of that time living closer to the rhythms and energies of the earth), humans developed very effective ceremony and customs that helped individuals mature in wholesome ways, appropriate to their cultural context.
Today, we are more complicated beings — having necessarily ‘individuated’ out both strict tribal customs and out of close relationship with Mother Earth. The trajectory of our individual and collective development now requires an integration. We all are called to come into mature relationship with ourselves (succesfully integrating ego and soul) and also into a new, more mature relationship with the earth if we are to not extinguish ourselves.
I see signs everywhere that we are re-awakening to the part of us that remembers the pace and subtle voices of Nature, and through this remembering, remember that we must die well many times throughout our lives to fully live. In this way, we honor both the cycles of life and death, and move forward in a healthy and whole manner.
Contemporary pan-cultural wilderness rites of passage ceremony can provide a much-needed form and process to aid us today in dying to and stuffing off that which no longer serves us, and to waking, remembering and integrating that part of ourselves was deeply connected to the natural world for hundreds of thousands of years. It offers a container, developed by humans over millennia, to hear their own wisdom, and to enable each of us to guide ourselves into healing and wholeness — and in so doing, renew our presence in the biosystems of the earth.
Your opportunity to participate in a Wilderness Rites of Passage ceremony in Utah is here: August 19-26, 2016.