Spiritual intitation is the journey one takes to discover their interconnected awareness of who they are in the universe. It has its roots in the social and cultural traditions found all over the world. Each facilitating the path of the initiate as they grow to become a full member of the society and beyond. These many paths and traditions make for a large and diverse map to navigate the “self” to discovering one’s place in the universe.
One of the difficulties of spiritual development is initiation. These are the places where the “self” is ushered through a series of trials to emerge on the other side fully changed by the experience. These are sometimes called “Rites of Passage”. In certain cultures this involves the mutilation of the body or shedding of particular behaviors. It can also take the form of a quest or journey. What is most important is that the self/individual is forever changed by the experience.
As a teacher practicing and facilitating rites of passage, it has been challenging to develop a formula for the western spiritual mind set. Most seekers want to pay for the exchange of knowledge and avoid the deep and sometimes painful process of initiation. In the contemporary western world we have for the most part stopped honoring the points of change in the journey to develop the “self”. The rites of passage have been moved to the place of trivial or symbolic ritual. The result of this spiritual formula has caused more harm than good. When the self does not know where youth ends and adulthood begins they stay forever a child emotionally. When an adult who is emotionally immature seeks a partner they will choose based on their childish needs and not the needs of an adult seeking to share a life journey with another. These are a few examples and there is also the way this retards the mental and social growth of the individual as they wander through life. There is also the challenge of starting the “awakening” process later in life after one have raised the children and worked until retirement.
In the last few decades there have been movements to reclaim these rites yet they seem to fall short in nurturing a fully initiatory experience. In fact, some have the design of a fraternity or sorority hazing. This tends to move the individual to become a member of a group which has its benefits yet is not bringing the individual to an “awakening”.
There has also been the movement by individuals to seek other spiritual practices or cultural models in an attempt to bring the individual to deeper understanding of self. These would include Indigenous/Native Peoples practices, Eastern Religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and more traditional/fundamental practices of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. What makes taking this path or journey challenging is the lack of the individuals socio-cultural up bringing in these traditions. Language, Cosmology, Science, Family ties, etc… are all things that must be mastered in a tradition if one is to glean the deeper substances of its teachings. Some succeed and some move from one tradition to the next never really finding the self. This can sometimes be seen as a way to hide or run from the self too.
From this understanding of how spiritual initiation has floundered we can begin to outline some principles that can become the structure for creating contemporary practices that are authentic to the time we live in and reflect the true nature of who we are.
To begin the journey of Initiation the community needs to recognize the need to create rites of passage that facilitate the individuals’ growth through life stages. These stages are in alignment with birth, childhood, youth, young adult, adulthood, marriage, child birth, elder wisdom, and death. These would have sub classifications such as Healer/Herbalist/Medicine, Artist/Craft/Trade, Sciences/Mathematics, Spiritual/Priest/Priestess, etc… which further enrich the individual to participate in the fabric of the community. True spiritual awakening happens when the awakened “self” is fully engaged in the richness of humanity and in serving the community.
The journey asks”Who am I?” and that takes one inside to find the self yet ultimately what one finds must have its place in the working of their community. If this does not occur then the individual becomes lost in the madness of isolation. Humans are social creatures. We need the interactions of our multi leveled language, Family, and community structures to fully feel loved and nourished.
The community must support the process of initiation from the start to finish. They are the container for the individual to safely become vulnerable in. They (the community) must know and believe that what is happening to the initiate(s) is a powerful and transformative experience that strengthens the overall dynamic of the community.
We live in a time of technologies, cell phones, computers and all manner of gadgets to help make our lives easier. Some have created amazing advances in how we do things and some have challenged the nature of our humanness. This technological world brings its challenges to spiritual development also. Most people spend their day isolated from others due to work, poor social structures, poverty, lack of family etc…
This new social order requires that a structure be put in place that mends the loss of the nurturing social community and begins to weave a future out of the pieces that are who we are today.
This post will be added to as time goes on.....