Young people are facing such challenging times, and not just due to missing school, friends or ‘normal life’ during lockdowns. Modern society throws intense, complex and damaging experiences at young people without providing them with the means to digest or ground in it.
Israh Goodall recently held a Cups of Tea process to explore what is needed to support young people to flourish in these increasingly testing times.
This process involved some 20 exploratory conversations with Rites of Passage guides and organisations in a number of countries around the world.
We as a culture are doing to our youth as we do to the land: we expect demanding outcomes, often linear, visible, fast and at a great cost to the micro-organism and interconnected experience of life. This leaves us mind-heavy, soil-weak and ready to topple over.
So many of the youth I have been blessed to work with experience the ‘fight, flight freeze’ drive that sinks into their day as a constant hum of anxiety, depression or numbness.
And as we turn to look at our future, we hear the world cry ‘the youth have it, they know what to do’. But do they? Of course they do, but who is listening? How can we actually support young people to feel that their voice - a voice that belongs to their heart's calling - is good enough, is strong enough and worthy enough to count?
“Surely after all the placard painting and marching is over you will have to get a job” is the response they tend to receive from the world. How can we support youth to really trust that they are the future and that their choices matter?
Choice is an interesting thing. Who has the choice to go outdoors and enjoy the beauty that we are so inspired and nourished by and inherently a part of? Who has the choice to care about climate change? Who has the choice to consider our dis-ease as a guide or mentor? Certainly not all.
Rites of Passage
Like all of life on earth, the human lifetime grows through stages and transitions such as birth, coming of age, marriage, and death - and throughout human history ritual forms have emerged to mark these through ceremonies of initiation known as rites of passage.
At their most essential, rites of passage are a part of human-nature, honouring natural developmental stages by supporting our transition to a new stage, and connecting us to self, others and a greater ecology of which we are a part. These are journeys of discovery that intend to help us understand our unique gift and contribution, and to support us to bring these gifts into our communities and into the world.
Such journeys are essential to the overall health of community and ultimately through our actions, the planet - and our alienation from these traditional forms of support has been at great cost to both us as a species and the whole earth community we are in reciprocal relationship with.
‘Rites of passage’ as a term was originally coined by Arnold Van Gennep, a European anthropologist who observed similarities in cultures around the world in how these crucial moments of change and transition were marked and supported within local communities. His work has been deeply influential and indeed many rite of passage offerings today are explicitly grounded in his three-stage model of separation, threshold and incorporation.
However, the term is increasingly being recognised as a 'catch all' framework from a colonised discourse, and therefore poorly reflects traditional and indigenous ways to view ceremonial life. It is important to reflect on what also we may have lost, what deeper intricacies of widely different peoples and times may have been shrouded in this overarching frame.
One of the most well-known rites of passage that have been honoured throughout time is that of acknowledging the transition from child to adult. This is a time when our bodies are innately calling out for change, to sever from the child identity and to step into more independence and choice- the world opens up. Yet as Michael Meade so beautifully expresses:
Beyond a programme-based approach?
Is it enough to create outdoor programmes or modern-day rites of passage ceremonies and expect young people to just turn up? How do young people access these opportunities if they are not from an often-white, privileged background? How can we attend to the cultural needs of different people and communities? Does supporting our youth need to involve community and/or nature connection? How do we ensure that rites of passage are relevant, today? How do we ensure that rites of passage are sustainable and in service of all?
Whilst the stages of separation, threshold and incorporation identified by Van Gennep may be useful to understanding the journey we take as we cross life’s thresholds, creating modern day rites of passage requires us to ask what this means in our communities today, without appropriating the ceremonies of indigenous cultures around the world. Our task is to create new, meaningful ways to mark, and support the transitions and thresholds that are relevant to us in our communities today.
As we turn to look at our future and dream into what is to come, we face many important questions about what is needed to bring human beings into healthy relationship with themselves, each other and the earth.
As part of Starter Culture’s wider ‘Cups of Tea’ process, I was invited to engage in exploratory conversations with rites of passage guides and organisations around the world to better understand the role of rites of passage in these times and to listen to what needs to happen to help this work deepen and flourish.
The Cups of Tea process
Over the last months I have had the great honour to interview some incredible folk who have gifted us their time and experience to share some of their thoughts around:
- What does rites of passage mean to you?
- Why are you doing this work- what is the contemporary need?
- What are your experiences of bringing rites of passage into the world- what are some of the challenges, needs and opportunities/collaborations?
- What is your sense of what is needed for rites of passage to really flourish?
So far, we have had the great joy of interviewing:
Arne Rubenstein: Rites of Passage Institute, Australia
Rupert Marques: Rites of Passage guide (Ecodharma, WildWise, Way of Nature)
Darcy Ottey: Youth Passageways USA
Gabby Hollis: Tides, New Zealand
Miriam Jones and Adam Rumack: Co-founders of We are Open Circle.
Meredith Little: Co-founder of School of Lost Borders
Olusola Adebiyi: Rites of Passage guide, UK (Narrative Mindfulness Ltd, The Visionaries, Life Beat)
Ed Thatcher: Delivery Coordinator at Endeavour UK
Melissa Michaels: Founder and Director of Soma Source Educational Programs Golden Girls Global and Golden Bridge, writer.
Ursula Elsa: Gaia Passages USA
David Listenberger: USA School and Way of Council
Hugh Newton: A Band of Brothers UK
Balu Ponnusamy: Rites of Passage guide India, Mohanam centre in Oroville
Lucy O’ Hagan: Rites of Passage guide Ireland, Wild Awake
Chris Salisbury; Founder of WildWise UK
Joe Gabeff: Rites of Passage guide for Illuman USA
Peter Hawkins: International thought leader, Professor, Coach, Writer and researcher.
Our next steps will follow on the trail of the emergent threads revealing themselves through these rich conversations capturing the wisdom and experience of rites of passage guides around the world, who between them have supported tens of thousands of young people in various countries.
We look forward to sharing the core narrative that is coming through this collective wisdom: the need for a community-based approach, and we are excited to explore this with those funders who are keen to find radical and systemic ways of supporting young people around the world to heal and flourish.
Get in touch
If you are engaged with supporting young people and would like to be involved in this collaborative approach, please drop us a line and let us know about the work you are involved in.
I was born in the UK and born into Islam. From 6 months old and until the age of 12 years we lived and learnt in many different countries, cultures and communities which has certainly left its mark. Moved by a deep enquiry of the sacred I have spent many years on the trail of learning about rites of passage and with intention engaged in my own rites of passage experiences.
As a midwife for 10 years, I have had the honour to witness the very first passage of the human journey into this world. From the hundreds of birthing’s attended, I have felt the palpable sacredness of something which dies in order to be born. The preparation of the mother, so that she is ready to birth herself anew and the healthy transition and return to her home can have far reaching and rippling effects to the health of our communities. Birthing is not (unless in extremis) a medical act but perhaps the most important waystage in life, made so by the inevitability of our death.
This thread of rite of passage has continued in my life as I have been drawn to working with youth as they transition into adult hood. As an expedition leader and rite of passage facilitator I have seen the inherent power of taking young people out into the unfamiliar, stripping away the normal rhythms so they can begin to uncurl and unravel what no longer serves them and come home to themselves. From this place they are much more awake and open to what their gifts are and may sense for the first time their role in the care of this earth. This work has inevitably asked me to go deeper and deeper and with questions in my heart I have undertaken research and set up gathering spaces for rites of passage facilitators to journey these questions together. I have so much to learn and feel grateful to be on this path. One that feels a needed space in these times. For more information, please see www.israhgoodall.com.
It is a complete honour to be part of this research, to listen to the personal and collective stories around rites of passage and, to walk with others in an enquiry of what is needed in these times. I am grateful to all those who have so generously shared their time and experience and am also aware of those voices that are not present and heard. I know this is just a step and there is more to come. May this tend to the central fire, nourishing the ground for this work to flourish.