A practice in dying so you can learn how to fully live

A practice in dying so you can learn how to fully live: a rite of passage.
A practice in dying so you can learn how to fully live

Rites of Passage

A practice in dying so you can learn how to fully live

This past week I went out on the land and participated in a Rites of Incorporation Ceremony. This ceremony was not about plant medicine or other, but rather of sitting in contemplation and listening deeply to the land and all she had to teach me, as I asked:

What do I need to let die so that I can fully live?

A rite of passage is a ceremonial initiation held at a critical junction in a person’s life. It is an effective way to mark, confirm, and deepen a transition between two very significant ways of being a human throughout a person’s life. Most of us are familiar with youth rites of passages from adolescence to adulthood or the tradition of a wedding ceremony, but less common is later in life initiations. The ones that hold us through those transitions which arise at unexpected times such as the death of a loved one, loss of a job, or mid-life crisis of our ‘beingness’, while they are less common, they’re no less deeply necessary for our health and well-being. We have no way of knowing when these transitions are going to occur, but what we do know is that when the forces in our inner life come into opposition of previously held beliefs, the self begins to divide and that with this division, comes an existential crisis and need for ceremony. Bet it for the individual or the community.

Rites of Passages

Rites of passage ceremonies are an initiary process about struggle, ordeal, and death: about living and dying to be reborn anew as you grow and mature. Life initiates you again and again and without some form of ceremony to hold you through the trial, you are left alone struggling to figure it out and find the meaning of any transition on your own. 

All rituals are a practice of our eventual death, but more so, these rituals are critical for our ability to learn and live consciously, fully aware we will eventually die.

This aware consciousness is what enables us to be healthy, whole human beings. If we reject death, we reject ourselves for it is only by looking to death can we transform ourselves to be more present. Death informs us of how to live fully, not the other way around. Death is the agent of transformation.

The South

Beginning in the South – feeling my body and emotions, I had nothing prepared for the group, I just felt the urge to act out, in an animalistic way. I put one hand on my belly and one on my heart, closed my eyes and went within…it was then that I felt the rage. Throwing my hands on the dirt I began clawing and scratching the dry hard land. I get on all fours, release a guttural cry from deep within and continue thumping my hands on the ground. Next, I start crawling on all fours and after a little ways I pound my fists on the ground again. Screaming to my mother, “why did you leave me?” and crying for how much I miss her, how much I need her .I am sobbing now. “I need you” I say out loud as I am rubbing the dirt all over my body as if to cover myself with her skin (because I am now simultaneously juxtaposing my physical mother in this life who died 18 years ago as one in the same as my Earth mother – mother nature). I start to lick myself like an animal cleaning their fur. Then I lay on my side to sleep. Feeling the urge, I change to lay on my stomach because I want to feel her (mother’s) heartbeat. I start crying aloud, begging to feel her heartbeat as I have lost mine. I pulse my hand on the dirt, as if to the beating heart of Mother Earth. “Teach me your heartbeat, I’ve lost mine” I cry. I get up on all fours again and stare at the person in front of me, taking them all in, looking deeply into their soul. I start to crawl around the circle looking each participant in the eyes – peering into their soul at what they will reveal to me. Until I see then men…it’s then that I cry again and mourn deeply for our (feminine) blaming of the masculine in this world. “It’s not your fault” I yell, “I’ve lost the capacity for love, it’s my fault.” I cry louder and stronger for my deep yearning to remember how to feel love, to be love. I symbolically rip my shirt off and a clawing of my skin to open my heart and feel again. It is my fault, the feminine has lost the capacity to truly love and in its place – we put fear…I put fear! I finish the circle and sit on my needs, drawing a heart circle around me. “I just want to love me” I say out loud. I’m crying, forehead on the ground – “I am so tired of trying, of the struggle.”

And I am beautifully reminded of a song, The River is Flowing.

The river she is flowing – flowing and growing – the river she is flowing – down (back) to the sea. Mother (Moon will) carry me – (Her) child I will always be – Mother (Moon will) carry me – Down (back) to the sea.

The term rites of passage was originally coined by Arnold VanGennep as he was comparing the structure of rituals across diverse cultures. Here VanGennep discovered that these ceremonies all included a period of segregation from everyday life, a liminal state of transition from one status to the next, and a process of reintroduction to the social order with a new standing. Given these similarities, he coined the term rites of passage as an analytical concept. In these rituals, individuals are symbolically killed, reborn, and nurtured as they take on new social statuses, and then reborn into society as new and different persons. Portals often feature prominently in rites of passage, symbolizing the crossing of a threshold into a new social world. 

The West

Next I am in the West, asking myself who am I now? And what false assumptions are holding me back? On the land I can feel the bushman dancing through me, just as they did in Botswana a few years ago.

A practice in dying so you can learn how to fully live

I cry out to the ancestors, the bushmen. I rattle and dance in a circle. Be with my beating heart, my newly beating heart to Mother Earth’s Heart. I sense a deep knowing that the ancestors have never left me. They kept my heart beating for me when I couldn’t (or when I lost connection) – they kept going for me. They never left me – I LEFT ME.

The ancestors tell me that it is a dishonor to all those who came before me not to live fully. They are asking me now to step fully – with commitment – into my life.

My heart starts to beat. They were beating for me, trying to wake me up.

Fear arises – that loss of vision AGAIN. Same from last year’s vision quest. Fuck! I feel the fear. It is strong, I want to end the ceremony to make the fear go away. I get up, but then I sit back down. This fear is what has to die. Not by escaping, but by leaning in. 

I remember in the West is where we befriend the Shadow. I ask the shadow what it has to teach me. I hear “inner vision,” my fear is not my physical vision, but the fear of losing that inner vision. I hear inner vision so loudly, I just need to tap in and trust. 

That night I have 3 dreams.

  1. First dream I go into a store, asking where I can buy magic. Magic? They question – we have no magic here, just CBD. Puzzled, I leave.
  2. Next dream, I have won tickets to watch a nuclear fusion reactor light up. I watch the fire come from deep in the Earth to the surface.
  3. Last, back to the store – magic? They tell me No. That the fire, that nuclear fusion – is your magic. It is within and it has been lit. You need not look outside of you for magic, it is burning deep within you.

That next morning, I do a meditation and at the very end I saw so many light beings around me, all welcoming me. I noticed a small dark spot between some beings and as I focused my gaze there, a small me appeared – perhaps one years old. I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I pulled away and she ran back in. My heart flooded open with love, the little me came rushing out and into my arms…and then…my 2 year old self, 3 year old me, then 4, 5, 6, …up to 55 – to me today. Looking me in the eyes, I become the old version of myself. The elder Carol looked at me and thanked me for doing this ceremony telling me that because of this, she is able to see many world, infinite possibilities of love.

I am reminded of the poem – Sometimes a Wild God

You see, we all must transition through roles as we live out our lives, whether we are aware of the transition or not. The importance of rites of passage as a means for marking life’s transitions in the course of human development cannot be over-emphasized. When these times of transition are marked, ritualized, and supported, it creates a kind of experiential map of self-development. Without proper rites of passage, people can become disoriented and lose their way on life’s journey. Unfortunately, for many people in our post-modern society, the notion of ceremony has disappeared and with it, a lost sense o connection to things greater than ourselves and the story of how we are in connection to those things.

Crossing the threshold of ceremony is not about disassembling yourself or renewal; it is a simultaneous dance between both. By allowing this dis-integration, by taking in our suppressed and even our unwanted parts, each of us prepares at the gut level for the reintegration of an identity that is truly our own. However, along the way to that freedom we must first grieve for the old “dying” self and take initiative to see our own mortality. It is this insight which will help us reclaim ourselves from the culture we would otherwise continue to slavishly follow, seeking the approval of others and conforming to their rules. It is through this process of disassembling that we can provide for our expansion, for a greater sense of self, and for a deeper richness of our relationship with the other.

The North

For my North inquiry – I was to go out alone on the land, fasting and in silence while staying awake for 24 hours. 

I ask myself – how do I contain my nuclear reactor energy and put it towards something in creative ways? I hear that I am the uninitiated North moving into Initiation. 

Ugh…the North. Most people hate the West, I hate the North for the wounds of the child (South) deepen in the West, but show up in the North – that deep dark winter of the self…

Today the mental chatter started early for me. Monkey mind, the ego. Do I have to prove myself, do something spectacular to prove my worthiness for their love? For my mom’s love? My ego says “fuck you, I can out do you.” And then my shame, that’s my wounding – the uninitiated North. My badge of dishonor. Of not being good enough. 

I realize these two world I exist in – one of “this world” and “that world” are not two world outside of me, but within me. And I cannot lean into my gift, my promise until I heal that wound within me. I am the BOTH and the AND. I am the sacred AND the profane. I am both the sacrificed and the alter. I can’t bridge the gap between world outside of me until I do so within me.

My North walk is goin to be living in the “AND.” I am going to claim that I am fully stepping into life, into living in the AND, into making the mundane sacred…and to bridging that gap within me.

I spend a good portion of the day praying. When nighttime falls, I sit in my circle, talking to the stars, moon, mountain, trees, and more – the energy shifts and I see differently, see layers, see depth beyond the 3D.

This space is sacred in that it does not conform to the ordinary world as we know it. Out there is the profane world, ordinary space that has no fixed point of center from which to gain orientation. Thomas Moore wrote of it in 2001:

No axis mundi...this is the experience of modernity; people unable to locate a center. Profane space allows no direct contact with the power that enables renewal and regeneration to occur. Inability to locate the center corresponds to an inability to find the source of power necessary for regeneration.

Similarly, Victor Turner believed that in our rituals lie, both implicitly and explicitly, the values of our society. The modern persons find this notion difficult to understand because they have never been exiled from the world as they know. This center, this axis mundi that is located in the sacred space is what is required to find your regenerative powers. This fixed point of center is what Carl Jung referred to as the archetypal self. Bill Plotkin summed it up best saying:

Together, myth and ceremony constitute the original forms of interaction between the ego and the Self, between the human and divine, between earth and heaven. It is through myth that the unconscious speaks to us most directly and universally. And it is in ceremony that we "complete the dialogue." We might say that, spiritually speaking, this commerce between heaven and earth is the central opportunity of life.

Meaning that what we find inside ourselves and what find outside ourselves are a mirror, one in the same.

The East

Coming home to the East – that birth/death door of infinite possibilities, I ask myself one last time, “what am I letting die?” I decide that I am letting go of my fear of losing my vision and incorporating deeper listening to my inner wisdom, that inner state of knowing and trusting that how I make the mundane of my life sacred is by remembering the stories of our collective dream of love through deep connection to myself, to nature, and to all her beautiful creations.

I leave renewed and ready for the next chapter of my beautiful, sacred and profane life!

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Dr. Carol Grojean

Social Systems Scientist: Leadership & Organizational Transformation

Carol brings a unique and much-needed perspective on the human behavior in human systems, focused on building cultures where individuals at all levels can bring their distinct, creative talents to their roles while providing the necessary skills to the whole system values and vision.