According to many dictionary sites, “coming of age” means to mature, enter adulthood, and the process of growing up. So in a sense, aren’t we always coming of age??
In our culture, this term is usually reserved for teenagers. So what happens when this rite of passage is not appropriately guided, intentionalized, or celebrated? Does the need just go away? It vanishes and everything’s fine? Boys wander around, bouncing into life’s challenges from ages 13 to 19 and suddenly, that sense that “there’s more than this” is gone?
In my humble opinion, this is a deep longing of the soul and does not just “go away”. Why are teenagers often so angry? I believe that it’s a result of the confusion of having this deep, genetically programmed longing to step through a threshold of how they perceive themself, the World, and their greater role in it, beyond childhood. I believe our culture is poor at providing a context for this transition to happen in a healthy, complete way.
Our original design (dna, neurology, psychology) is programmed (from how we’ve evolved) to have several (8 or more) Rites of Passage, where we shed old stories, personas and ways of being, and step into more mature ways of living and representing ourselves. We are wired this way.
In a culturally fragmented society that has no rights of passage for men (except driving and legal alcohol consumption), my belief is that we are in desperate need of this sacred ritual for both genders. I believe that if we don’t intentionally engage our own evolution, we unconsciously create difficult life struggles that serve as rites of passage, marking time for us and forcing us to mature. Often we continue to go through these “unintentional rites of passage” for a lifetime, kicking and screaming against our will the whole way.
If our intention is to honor our true human design and create a life of meaning and fulfillment, intentionally created rites of passage are a necessity. Men (and boys) want and need to tap raw visceral experience and are constantly seeking outlets within societal constructs to tap this stream. This stream of powerful mana just doesn’t flow so freely within these walls.
In my case, I realized that I’ve been waiting for a lifetime for profound, esoteric transformative experiences. So this past weekend, I decided to stop waiting, ask for my wife for transport, and take this in my own hands. I enacted a modern version of a sacred ritual practiced by the Native Americans of Turtle Island called the Night of Fear. This ritual exercise is meant as a pre-vision quest exercise to acquaint one with his fears and to qualify him for a vision quest.
My self-appointed assignment was to hike deep into the Ko’olau Mountains with a shovel, a blanket, water, some sweats, my grandfather’s knife and crystal from my wife. Dig a body length hole, lie in it all night long, with just a blanket covering the hole. My main focus was to make no stupid choices, come out unscathed and be more deeply acquainted with my wildness, my self reliance and an elevated capacity to hear my inner voice.
After hours of hiking, alternating between awe over my beautiful surroundings and fear of the unknown, I resolved to not overthink it, do my breathwork when I got in a doubt loop, and trust that I would know when and where I needed to be. There was nothing to do but be present! I walked until I entered into a particular part of the forest and I felt a wave of mild fear wash over me, as if my mind said, “I definitely don’t want to do it here!” I knew then that I had found my spot. The trees were bigger, the gulch was darker and more ominous than elsewhere. It was time. So I hiked off trail a ways, tuned in, asked permission, and got to work.
Digging my own “grave” to sleep in it all night, deep in the mountains alone had “this is something a crazy person does,” constantly running through my mind. But somehow, it was easy to give myself permission because my main intention of this exercise was to TRUST my deep longings.
In an effort to make my dirt nap more cozy and give myself a chance at sleeping, I dug past dark. Once the grave was ready I watched the night forest, feeling the sacredness of the moment. My work was done and it was time to focus more inwardly. I took my time speaking to the 8 directions, elemental forces of nature (earth, fire, water, air), visualized my daughter’s daughters and all my close relations, and spoke to the Source or creation of this universe. I spoke my gratitude for all the simple things I am blessed with, and for the opportunity to have this body, mind and soul. I asked to shed parts of myself that have served me until now, but are part of my past. Lastly, I sat down next to my headstone (a cool log with mushrooms that I found, Grandpa Spring’s knife, Elisa’s crystal wrapped in a ti leaf and a shell I found on the trail) and ran backwards through my life in my mind. Whatever memories popped in, in reverse chronolical order. Again, spoke Mahalo, climbed in and covered the hole.
Needless to say, I made it.
I dozed throughout the night and froze my butt off. There were strange noises, rocks in my back, it rained in the part of the night when I had been feeling like I was ready to give up and hike out, I relied on breathwork whenever I got antsy and in my head and trusted that even though my mind could make up all kinds of judgements about what I was experiencing, that a deep transformation was occurring. And deep transformation is rarely comfortable…until I heard birdsong and saw light begin to creep through the blanket. That was comforting.
What I learned from this particular journey was much more than words and definitely difficult to measure or explain but I have a few things that I can say with confidence:
-Humans (especially men) are wired for this stuff. Women may need different expressions of this sacred concept.
-If we aren’t periodically visiting the edges of our comfort zone(s), we’re not growing.
-When I die, this experience will be as clear as day in my memory.
-It’s good to be away from technology.
-I’ve found a simple, accessible way to soothe my deep longings.
-I will do this again.
This will be an anchor for me to build the rest of my life on moving forward. When I need to tune in to my (sometimes quiet) inner voice, my neurology now has this memory to work with as well. And even when “this is something a crazy person does” or some other self sabotaging line from my inner critic pops up, decisions need to be made and I need to TRUST; I am confident that this experience will help me to navigate life more skillfully, in the most challenging or innocuous situations.
As for the rest of our culture?
I have high hopes that more men will engage in this type of behavior modeling and deep sharing of their inner process. I know we are heading in a different direction because people are increasingly dissatisfied with doing “all the right things” and still feeling disconnected from their true selves, nature and each other. I think people are ready to consider the next level of what it really means to be human and that makes NOW a powerful time.
Mahalo for reading.
This article originally appeared on Trevor Spring’s Blog
Photo courtesy of author.