Imagine growing up in a culture that holds alive a mythology, a central story that puts us human beings in relationship to that human and more-than-human world which surrounds us.  Imagine a culture that holds nature and culture as a generative dialogue instead of favoring dominance and control.

Now imagine growing up in a culture that seems to have lost such a connection. What would that culture look like? What would everyday life be like?

Next, take a look at the immensity of global climate change, the shear rebelling and crying of the earth against the way we treat her due to having lost a story that puts us in relationship with her.

Finally, imagine growing up in such a culture, but feeling that something is inherently wrong, something essential is missing at the heart of that dominant cultural narrative. And imagine that it is not just a few people, but a whole young generation, clearly seeing through this illusion of independence of humans from nature.

Where would you turn for inspiration and more healthy ways of relating to one another and especially the earth? Where would you turn to recover that which promises to give back the depths to a shallow consumer life?

The answer is quite simple: You turn away from the center and move towards the edge. You gain some distance from the omnipresent and overwhelming shininess of this modern lifestyle, and begin to explore other ways of knowing and being.

Oftentimes you travel very far.

For me, this started in 9th grade with a growing interest in the question of how to relate differently to nature. I began to look at indigenous cultures around the world as a role-model. Entering university, I realized that I wasn´t alone in this, but that there was in fact a whole movement of young seekers traveling to all corners of the world, from Asia/India to Africa, across South America and North America, trying to recover a sense of a healing story – exploring the world’s religions and spiritual traditions in search for some lost spirituality. Interestingly, many of those traveling the world in search of something deeper seem to be Europeans – and in my experience, often specifically Germans.

We were searching in to the far corners of the world for something lost. I began to wonder: why are we searching so far?

Soon, I began to train to offer ritualized fasts on the land. Entering this world, I was immediately connected to a language that could hold a deep connection to the earth. While I was incredibly blessed to have Jeremy Thres as my teacher, towards the end of the training the strong question arose: how I could find my own style and language of holding these processes? To frame it quite simply, I could say that I didn´t know what gods to pray to anymore.

Feeling this, I took a step back from rites of passage work to figure out my relation to this work, and to also find my place with it in Germany (where I come from and would return to).

It didn’t start to dawn on me that I was onto something crucial here until I found myself as the only German sitting in the Westcountry School of Myth, studying with Martin Shaw on Dartmoor in England, in a room full of British people. We were exploring myths of the land we were on. Soon, stories from Celtic and British heritage started to seep into the atmosphere of the room.

But where was I in all this as a German? Something felt off, and it was probably the very first time I could really feel it. Looking at Germany from the perspective of Britain, there seemed to be only a huge void in terms of mythology and cultural identity.

Yet, in that moment, something claimed me. I started to wonder why I had always been fascinated by Europe more than by traveling the world. I started to wonder why I had such a pull towards the middle-ages. I started to wonder why in terms of subcultures, the medieval and metal scenes had such a fascination for me, and apparently for other people as well. Besides music, you just have to take a look at Hollywood and the popularity with which movies relating to Northern European Mythology (i.e. Marvel´s Thor) have been received to see that there is a growing desire for these kinds of stories.

And then, I saw into the heart of the matter as I read a line in Shaw’s writings, which roughly said: “a culture which has lost its mythological ground is truly lost indeed.”

Looking at Germany, this seems to have been the case. This makes sense given German history. The Nazi regime was not only build on political propaganda, but heavily adopted mythological stories of Germanic northern mythology to support its supposed dominance over any other race. In the aftermath of the cruelties arising from these years, the whole subject of mythology seems to have been erased from following generations and the education system that tried to repair the abuse. But maybe, in the rationalist attempt to cleanse any possibility of such a thing happening again, they threw the baby out with the bathwater, leaving behind a mythological void.

In the absence of a mythological literacy that enlivens the imagination and that passes a participatory story from one generation to the next, the fairy tales and rich cultures merely became stories in a book. The world around us has lost its spirits.

In this absence, materialistic culture rose to prominence, dominating nature through technology instead of courting a reciprocal relationship with gentle crafts. But humans are still humans and they need a story to make sense of their world! In a weird way, pop culture took its place, and movies and computer games are now where the fantasy is allowed to express itself. As everyday life and work become more and more sterile and soulless, people seem to gravitate towards such distractions and escapes into “other worlds”.

And even the agenda to cure the disease of nationalism by eradicating germanic mythology seems to have failed. Looking at the current events in the aftermath of a wave of refugees, nationalism and extremity is rising to all-time highs, indicating that the pure rational attempt of dealing with the traumas in the cultural soul might not have worked the way it was intended to.

In the search for a mythology that is able to hold a close relationship to the earth again, the “northern myths” seem to have retreated somewhat to Scandinavia, leaving the heart of Europe and especially Germany empty as a historical meeting place and clashing point for belief systems for thousands of years.

In this increasing tension, how do you engage with stories from this land without being instantly put into the “nazi” box? How do you start a mythological healing process in which you uncover a root system of stories in relation to the land we live on?

I recently moved to Bonn, not really knowing what pulled me. As soon as I realized that the “Drachenfels” which is related to the Siegfried saga, the German myth, is just around the corner, I began to get a sense of what could be waiting here to be unearthed. Walking along the Rhine, if you closely pay attention, you start to get a sense of this massive landmark and the important boundary quality between the Roman Empire and its adopted Christianity and the pagan Germanic peoples of the north. Throughout hundreds of years in history, the German landmass has been a battlefield of religions, cultures and empires with their according stories and beliefs.

Embarking on such a mythological healing journey would entail a deep dive into this confluence of peoples and stories: their wanderings and victories, as well as their losses and dissolutions. It would require a deep study into the prevalent struggle of belief systems to understand just how deep of a rootedness mythology provides. It would require digging deep to unearth something that might end the endless search for some relationship to the land that drew me and others to the far corners of the world, at the expense of digging into the particular piece of landmass that holds the bones of our ancestors.

How do we hold these questions against a postmodern cosmopolitan backdrop?

Maybe, in order to find and embody a more alive, animistic relationship to that which we are a part of, we need to learn to hold this tension, neither getting consumed by shallow consumer culture, nor pretending as if we could just go back in time to the romanticized roots.

Maybe this is exactly the struggle of the young generation growing up in Germany and Europe: How do we not let blind nationalism cloud the fact that we are all humans with similar longings for belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity? How do we turn the looking-glass back at the particular strap of earth beneath our feet in order to get claimed by a place again, and turn our ears to the intricate small, place-based stories that desire to be beheld and told?

Working in a rites of passage context would then specifically be related to this invitation, holding a space in which to listen to the stories of the land again.

With migration as a main influencer of the cultural climate, initiatives heading towards further integration and openness are facing an all-time high of nationalism and protectionism, not only in Germany but the whole world. Freedom and security are a dichotomy seemingly insurmountable. Old structures and forces that are loyal to a hyper-capitalist and extractivist system are confronting a growing movement that is ready to embrace new ways of being. We young people are caught in between and, depending on our contexts and surroundings, might gravitate towards either a reinforcement of a disconnection from the earth, from stories and from each other– or toward liberation of the human spirit heading towards deeper connection.  

So, to conclude, this is an invitation to hold this tension: exploring what stories are needed today that can navigate between ancient and new, providing a mythological ground on which we can grow a healthy culture again that is connected to both the universal and the particular. It is an invitation to allow stories to become part of a healing that is taking place between generations as well as between humans and the earth.

*Photo taken by Jörn in Sweden in Tanumshede last summer. These are some of the oldest remains of bronze age civilization (mythology) in that area of Sweden.


More than a month has passed now since the Youth Passageways gathering. I’ve found it very difficult to put my experience into words.  When folks have asked me about it since, I typically respond, “the gathering changed things for me, and now I need to figure out what that means.”

As someone whose whole life revolves around rites of passage, the process of initiation is known terrain, in some ways even comfortable terrain.  And yet, the whole point of initiation is stepping fully into the unknown. It’s a mysterious dance, to feel myself as someone who experiences a sense of recognition, of knowing, most fully in that state of the unknown.

At each Youth Passageways gathering thus far, I have been transformed personally and professionally, and this has instilled in me deep loyalty for the dream that is Youth Passageways.  This gathering was no exception. My role as Co-Coordinator put me right in the thick of the planning and organizing for the gathering. During the months leading up to the event, it became clear that I would be part of the MC team as well, a responsibility that both excited me and made me deeply anxious.  Having been part of each Youth Passageways gathering thus far, I knew what a hot seat I would find myself in, and didn’t know if I was really up to the task. This community is a fiery one. I’ve seen folks get pretty burned, and being in this seat felt like a big initiation personally: and a very public one, at that.

Here are some of the themes that I now carry with me out of Los Angeles, that will inform my inquiry and practice moving forward:

Ceremony & Ancestors:

“Listening to the Voices of the Ancestors” was one of three outcomes for the gathering, and “Ceremonial Gathering” was one of our design principles. As a Western-educated, white-skinned woman with a strong spiritual foundation, I feel like I’ve spent my life dancing between belief and non-belief. Invoking the ancestors is something that I’ve learned is important, but really believing that when we called in the ancestors, the ancestors came in, is something that I find challenging. I can believe and not-believe at the same time. In this gathering space, I fully surrendered to the ceremony, understanding very clearly that there were things happening that I couldn’t see, and couldn’t understand.  

For example, there were many forces at work in the room during the Saturday night public event: who got to speak/perform, for how long, who was asked not to speak, who was accidentally forgotten during the program: all of these things unfolded behind the scenes, in layers of each person’s experience. I found out later that there were people present whom hadn’t been in the same room with each other for years, because of old conflicts.

Another example came through the process by which Youth Passageways as a network asked permission of Marcus Lopez on behalf of the Chumash people to meet on their lands. How this process would happen remained a deep mystery in the months leading up to the gathering, and I felt the weight of so desperately wanting a clear plan because this aspect felt so important. Experiencing the natural and seamless way things unfolded, Marcus’ generosity with his time, guidance, and cultural teachings, made clear to me that there were so many forces at work that were beyond my comprehension.

Not all of what transpired at the gathering could be understood by our rational, linear minds, nor could have been planned or designed by them. This was the most intensive space I have been in such a leadership role. It was deeply humbling to serve our shared vision as best as I could, from my well-educated, well-trained yet still so limited understanding of what was happening. I learned a great deal from my co-MC’s, co-organizers, and mentors.  Which leads me to…


I was blessed at the gathering to work with truly gifted elders and mentors. One in particular feels important to name, Gigi Coyle. I’ve been privileged to work closely with Gigi, and learn from her, since the preparations for the Ojai gathering in 2013. Gigi served as active witness and behind-the-scenes support for the MC team, and as an anchor and ally for me. With her in this back-up role, I experienced something unique and powerful: a form of direct transmission of teachings over the course of the gathering. With her at my back (and sometimes my side), I could process in the moment what I saw, better discern what was needed, hear her whisper small suggestions in my ear to help me catch things and think about how to phrase my offerings for the collective. I have never learned so much in such a short period of time as I did through this process of being actively mentored, receiving teachings JUST WHEN I NEEDED THEM! This taught me what experiential learning and mentorship is all about in its deepest, most powerful manifestation.

There are many others I could name here that I felt gifted to learn from at this Gathering: Luis Rodriguez in his role as co-MC was of course an amazing, humble, and gracious team member as well as powerful teacher for me. And many others who shared their wisdom in large ways, small ways, and in quiet moments.

The Dance of Masculine & Feminine:

This gathering was a lot about gender for me, which is not a new theme in my own life, nor in our inquiries at Youth Passageways. At this gathering, Youth Passageways came up against our edge in terms of gender inclusivity. We saw and heard named as feedback the ways that we are still trapped in a gender binary and struggling to become LGBTQ+ inclusive, and create the safest space we can. At the same time, for me personally, as one who identifies and expresses herself strongly as female, big questions came up around how I relate to myself as a woman, and how I see and interrupt sexism and misogyny when I see it show up in the world around me, in ways that are inclusive of all gender identities. The breakout session called “The Ecological Role of the Queer” helped me to develop a deeper understanding of the importance of creating spaces for those who cross the boundaries of gender. I learned more about how those who have lived and breathed and flowed with the energies of masculine and feminine have to offering when they have space to share how these dynamics show up in nature and in their own bodies as well as the ways they show up in our society within our current structures of gender socialization.  I learned how the more I work to create safe spaces for these folks, the more I can have access to their teachings and experiences that can inform my own healing and development as a woman, not trapped by my own gendered experiences and unconscious patterns.  Throughout this gathering I saw clearly my edge in navigating these complexities with grace, respect, patience, and commitment to creating as safe of spaces as possible for those who identify as women, those who identify as men, and those who identify as somebody altogether different than this structure.

The Role of Youth:

One of the dreams early on in planning this gathering was having a strong youth presence.  Yet there were questions about this. As a gathering for practitioners, it felt important to create a space for adults to have their own experience, and a place for personal renewal. The goal of the gathering was not to provide an initiatory experience for young people: that was the work of our partners, not Youth Passageways! And yet, it is important to include youth voices when we’re speaking about youth work. It keeps us honest, grounded as practitioners in what is actually needed. Young people are the link to our future, and the ones that have the neurological flexibility, adaptability, curiosity, and passion to create solutions needed to heal our communities – so how can we not include them? In this regard, this gathering was a seminal moment, a turning point for our network , where we made it very clear, not just through words but through action, that young people are truly at the center of our spiral as a network. The way the Saturday evening public event was planned and implemented made emphasized this strongly: the way Youth Passageways, for the very first time, shared our story with the wider world was in an evening designed by two young women of color with the help of a number of their caring mentors, where youth voices were heard and highlighted throughout. I hope someone writes down in great detail what happened that evening, because I believe that if we told and re-told the story of Saturday evening as a sacred story, we would uncover layers and layers of information about who Youth Passageways actually is as a family, network of practitioners, and social movement.  But in any event, youth were at the heart of it!  

This was also a gratifying part of the gathering for me personally.  I’ve observed that in many white-run, youth-serving organizations (which is primarily where I work), there is an absence of young people in leadership positions.  As one who has served in leadership positions in such organizations for the last 10+ years, this means that I work in an almost exclusively adult world, while my work continues to center around the needs of youth.  Meanwhile, I’ve got so much more to give to young people than I did 10 years ago – and it’s so easy for me to lose touch with what is actually important to young people themselves! This gathering provided an opportunity for me to work side by side with some of the most amazing and inspiring young people, learning from them about their day to day realities as well as there dreams of what’s possible, and build real relationships.  The moment I could be there for a young woman the last morning of the gathering, as she tearfully ended a painful telephone call, with her boyfriend, was truly the most meaningful part of the gathering for me.

Inviting while also holding boundaries:

Youth Passageways invited consultant J. Miakoda Taylor to serve as a witness of the gathering. During her reflections at the end, she offered a gesture, one open hand outstretched with palm up while one hand at the heart faced palm out, as a gesture of invitation and inclusion while also holding boundaries. I’ve taken this gesture to heart, and have been pondering it deeply. One of the things I’ve learned about the Youth Passageways network is that the work we’re doing super challenging, navigating through cultural wounds to come together on behalf of the young people in all of our communities. I’m increasingly realizing how important it is for Youth Passageways to do the work we need to do to articulate clearly who we are and how we do our work, and allow folks to choose to self-select out if it doesn’t work for them while always inviting input and feedback, making processes transparent, and daylighting and addressing power dynamics within the organization.  As one who most often sees possibilities and opportunities for connection, this is a hard edge for me to come up against.  Which leads me to…

The link between rites of passage and social justice:

Throughout the gathering, a question hung in the air: what does all this cultural healing work have to do with rites of passage?  This is a question that has been living in Youth Passageways since its beginning.  I see many in the network doing hard work to figure out ways to articulate this link, and sometimes I find it frustrating to need to go over this terrain because the answers seem so obvious to me. This gathering highlighted for me how important it is that I work harder at communicating this link effectively.  Here’s the language I’m currently playing around with:

  • The needs of our communities are different, and therefore our approaches must be different.
  • Yet some of the needs in our communities are the same, and therefore we must learn from one another in order to be most effective.
  • The impacts of structural inequality and injustice inflict further trauma at the individual, family system, and community level, which undermines the health, safety, and welfare of us all. This requires us all to work together to undo these systems of harm.
  • Working together and learning from one another happens most efficiently and effectively when we are operating within systems of trust and respect for all beings, and with trust and respect for our shared systems and processes.
  • Developing this trust and respect within the unhealthy system of Western culture and corporate capitalism requires time, patience, and commitment, and it means making space to explore ongoing and often subtle or unconscious patterns of power, privilege, and oppression, and how these patterns show up and undermine our shared work together.

How this is manifesting in our network already leads to…

Healthy Family:

One of Youth Passageways’ Core Values is Healthy Family. “Family” came forth as the word to describe us from M. Kalani Souza at the 2013 Ojai gathering, invoking the foundational Hawaiian value of Ohana in our network. This gathering was so much like a family reunion, in all of the senses of that word. One of the sentiments expressed by myself, and others at this Gathering that had been at other YPW gatherings before, is a sense of movement.  Yes, there’s disappointment for many (including myself) that we are not further along in our growth process, or our healing process. But this gathering clearly incorporated singificant learnings from each of the gatherings beforehand. As people keep showing up and staying in the process together, our trust in one another grows with our shared stories and common experiences. This gathering renewed my commitment to show up in whatever ways I’m called, and can, for this family.  

and last…

Commitment to Place

One of the biggest learnings I had from the Gathering didn’t take place at the gathering at all, but rather over the course of the following week.  Dane and I were lucky enough to be in Los Angeles for over two weeks before the gathering and for a week after, and this was my fifth trip to LA in a year.  Particularly through the generosity of Kruti Parekh hosting us in her home, but also the generosity of so many in LA, I really got to experience life in this crazy city that so many call home, and came to love it. In the week following the gathering, I had the opportunity to attend a YouthBuild march & rally through downtown LA that Kruti co-organized, and a youth conference called RiseUp! organized by YPW Stewardship Council member Fidel Rodriguez.  Attending these two events for youth of color so shortly on the heels of the gathering helped me understand more deeply the issues effecting young people in Los Angeles.  As I left LA, headed back to my home in rural north central Washington, I carry a deep love for that crazy big city and the people I met there, and questions about how that love can lead to action and continued connection. It’s imbued in me an even stronger commitment to how I show up and am of service in the place where I live and the communities that I am a part of, while simultaneously remaining connected to this Youth Passageways network that stretches across such great distances.  

I want to end with my deepest gratitude to all those that have helped Youth Passageways get this far, through dollars, time, sweat, tears, connections, wisdom, and all the other currencies that help our work to flow.  What is happening through this network is special.  Not easy, but special nonetheless.  

in gratitude & service,




For those of us who work with and care about the development of young adults, it quickly becomes evident that, as a society, Americans have largely abdicated responsibility for teaching teenagers about things that are critically important for navigating adulthood, such as responsible substance use, basic personal finance, relationships, social responsibility, feelings, sex, integrity, and wholeness/spirituality. Working with teens, we quickly learn that many parents are confused and/or lost in adolescence, that our system of compulsory schooling has lost touch with the needs of students, and that the social webs of our society don’t encourage teens to thrive.  These problems have been thoroughly documented by John Taylor Gatto, Bill Plotkin and Christian Smith, among others.

My intent is not to focus on these problems, which can be daunting and depressing, but to introduce you to one approach that has proven successful over the past 14 years.

In our previous lives as educators and gap year counselors, Cassie Bull and I noticed that by the time many teens reached us by age 17 or 18, their organic human wholeness had been significantly diminished and/or damaged.  They hadn’t developed a reliable cognitive framework for healthy growth and evolution, or they were emotionally wounded or stunted, out of touch with their own bodies or confused about their own values.  Their passage into adulthood was compromised, and we didn’t know of existing programs that would address these foundational issues in healthy ways.  So in 2002, rather than continuing to refer students to colleges or gap year opportunities that ignored these issues, we created a college program called LEAPYEAR to demonstrate that a healthy foundation for a life can be reclaimed with a reasonable amount of effort and attention, within existing academic structures.

Our intent was to work with emerging adults, ages 17 and older, to help them build or rebuild a solid foundation for moving consciously and gracefully into adulthood, aiming for each person to begin to release the potential locked within them.  We chose 17, because at this age most people can begin to re-school and re-parent themselves.

We chose to embed the program within the existing college framework, so that anyone able to access college and financial aid could do our program, so that parents could countenance the “leap” to another way of learning, and so that the program can be replicated within existing social structures.  

Like many freshman years of college, the program has two semesters that run from September to May.  But rather than sitting passively in a classroom in the U.S., and learning indirectly through lectures and reading, LEAPYEAR students travel and learn experientially in India or Latin America for 10 weeks in their first semester.  In their second semester, they do a 12-week individual internship.


Bracketing these periods  of intensive travel, are four residential retreats in the U.S. totaling 2 months, during which students focus on their inner journey.  At the mid-point of the program, there is a 3-day formal rite of passage that parents are required to attend, to let their “child” go and give them their blessing.  Three days after this formal ceremony, rather than returning to a known environment, each student travels to an individual internship that they have spent 3-4 months choosing from a menu of over 6,000 options.  Imagine how much more potency the rite of passage ceremony has for a parent or student, knowing that in 3 days the student will be getting on a plane to South America or Africa, alone, to enact adulthood for 3 months in a new way.   

Rather than focusing on mastering academic content chosen for them by well-meaning educational experts, students learn for themselves through homestays, one-on-one language immersion, yoga retreats, daily movement and mindfulness practice, Himalayan treks, extended stints of volunteer work, cooking and baking, doing landscaping and carpentry – a series of “whole” activities that can only be accomplished with one’s entire body and full engagement.  Many students report “coming to life” and feeling more alive than they can remember since starting school.  Immersing yourself in daily life in Nepal and India for three months establishes a global context for your life that studying geography in Denver simply can’t match.

A foundational value throughout the program is “integrity” or alignment with yourself.  We break it down into four key skills that no one should be without: feeling your feelings, telling the truth, making and keeping agreements, and expressing your creativity.  These are learned about in all of the contexts that a community of 10 to 30 students create together.  Each learning cohort is small enough to feel communal.  Within this tribe, this intentional family, we learn ways of communicating that bring us together rather than divide.

The program design supports conscious differentiation from parents and engagement with the greater world. The first semester includes group travel, support of adult leaders and peers, and a choice between Asia and Latin America, with a progression to much more choice and independence in the second semester.  In this way, the world literally IS the classroom, and each student is encouraged to explore their world for 6 months in ways that reflect what they love doing.

International travel is both effective and efficient as a way to forward personal development at this life phase.  Traveling to the other side of the planet and being a “stranger” serves the dramatic nature of young people, and it helps them to break open the “husk” of boredom or jaded entitlement they may have developed while growing up in their hometown.


The transition from high school to college or a gap year is a perfect time to make a conscious passage because it also includes the passages from family to independence and adolescence into adulthood.  In the words of David Whyte, “There are certain harvests that never come to us again if they are not gathered in season.”  Rather than leaving young adults to their own devices in college to initiate each other through substance use, unconscious sex, and other risky behaviors, this is an ideal time for generous adults to come in close, provide healthy structure and environments for exploration, introduce evocative questions, encourage deep listening and exploration, and assist students to align with their essential natures.   

As we leave home and begin to travel in foreign environments (here or abroad), it is utterly appropriate to wrestle with the central question, “who am I?”  This is a time when humans are naturally full of hope and idealism, qualities that must be fed if they are not to languish.  Though the program design is very important, the heart of the program and the indispensable element is the involvement of what we term generous adults, initiated adults who are alive with their own engagement with life, and who are willing to share their fire with young adults.   Without their wisdom, witnessing and love, the program would warm, but it wouldn’t reliably transform.  To quote Oliver Wendell Holmes, “through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire.”   

The primary goal of LEAPYEAR is to create an environment, intention and activities that allow a young adult to map who they are, align themselves with what they are, and begin to risk being themselves.  Implied in this approach is the idea that “each person is this astonishing sacred frontier of experience that has never appeared before in the whole of time, and never, ever, will appear again.”  (David Whyte)   Working at this frontier is not an easy thing – it takes time, attention and practice.  In the words of Miles Davis, “It takes a long time to play like yourself.”  The program lasts for 9 months, long enough to give each student a chance to slow down, listen in, and explore what they “plan to do with (their) one wild and precious life.”  (Mary Oliver)  They are afforded the chance to get a life before they get the rest of their education.   

Students complete LEAPYEAR with their first year of college under their belt, as well as radically enhanced emotional literacy, an ability to travel and live in strange new environments, a grounded sense of what they love and how they might express it in the world, and having positioned their life in a meaningful global and inner context.   One graduate expressed it best when he said:  

I have obtained a worldview, climbed a volcano, found love, SCUBA dived in Madagascar, learned a language, stood on pyramids, learned to live consciously, hugged a baobab tree, and the list goes on. Life is my journey, and my journey has a purpose. I have discovered my personal legend; I have never felt so enthused to dive into the unknown.


singapore (1)

The question flashes on the screen:

With this soft approach to youth crime aren’t we teaching our kids that it’s okay to misbehave, because there are little consequences?

Within minutes we see this question climbing the chart projected behind the panel, gaining more and more votes until it reaches the top in this high tech, instant feedback plenary session. Over 1100 top educators, social workers, ministers, legal professionals and youth workers are voting from their mobile devices for the issues they most want covered. I have a front row seat to a cultural revolution.

Singapore, the country that became famous for caning as corporal punishment when a minor diplomatic crisis occurred due to an American teenager’s sentence of six strokes of the cane for vandalism in 1994, is undergoing a major shift in the way they work with youth.   The rapidity with which that question shot to the top tells us that it is a seminal issue. The uniformity of the responses from all of us, Singaporean youth work professionals as well as guests from the United States and China tells us that this small powerhouse of a country is moving in a different direction. Their Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon 
spoke of the imperative to treat every youth offender as an individual and create a course of action designed to help them rather than simply punish them. Youth advocate Frank Kros, MSW, JD came from Baltimore to share how brain development science supports this different approach. Jennifer Skeem, Ph.D. from Berkeley discussed the research that indicates corporal punishment may be counterproductive when dealing with troubled youth, making them more prone to defiance and aggressiveness in the future.

There are more effective methods to promote prosocial behavior among juveniles at high risk for violence. Professor T Wing Lo, head of the Department of Applied Social Sciences, City University of Hong Kong shares a story of a young man who burned down the door of a neighbor’s house and was sentenced to apprentice under a carpenter to rebuild the door as well as to deal with the core issues that would cause him to be so angry. Restorative Justice half way around the globe.

None of this is new information. Many old cultures understood that young people need to be “seen” and nurtured, not vilified and punished. So, this is where I come in, having learned from my mentors to draw from indigenous practices and find ways to apply selected old wisdom to modern cultures. Perhaps also to add a little ‘color’ to the academic knowledge that is being presented in the form of our real life experience with youth in the inner city of Los Angeles. I presented three workshops: two on Youth Mentoring’s Gift Centered Approach to mentoring youth and one on the Powerful Combination of Initiation Rites and Mentoring. I would then conduct two full day trainings for practitioners and mentors in the days following the conference.


This all ensued after a high level delegation of officials visited the United States looking for new information on working with ‘at risk youth’. We had already entertained delegations from China, Jamaica, Macau and Peru where our model has been replicated. The delegation had only planned on staying for a few hours. However, after engaging with my staff, mentors and mentees ended up staying well into the evening. Minister of Social and Family Development, Nancy Ng approached me and invited me to come to Singapore and train the country in our Gift Centered Approach to mentoring. How could I turn down such an invitation?


Our hosts from CARE Singapore.  John Tan, Frank Kros of NAREN, Tony LoRe of Youth Mentoring and Adelyn Poh

Throughout my time in Singapore I advocated for what we call our “gift centered approach”. The idea that instead of seeing troubled youth as problems to be fixed; instead of simply offering accountability models based on eight words: “if you do this, then you get that”, we suggest that we actively engage youth in a search for their innate gifts and help them claim their own unique purpose for coming into this world. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

The workshop that seemed to garner the most enthusiastic response was the one on Initiation Rites and Mentoring. I presented what I had learned after reading an article by the late Dadisi Sanyika about gang rites and indigenous initiation rites sharing the same fundamental elements. This was consistent with my experience. I had seen something in the youth of South Central LA that we work with that told me that inner city youth were receptive to ritual and old practices. In fact, they seem to hunger for it.

I was also learning about initiation from mythologist/storyteller and mentoring expert, Michael Meade and then partnered with Orland Bishop to glean his deep knowledge and experience of indigenous initiation rites to develop a four-day experience that we have hosted every year in the Big Bear Mountains of Southern California for the past ten years…with some pretty remarkable results.

Here is video of our mentor Andrew Garfield, some other mentors and youth describing the experience :


The Magic of Initiation Rites for Modern Youth

Narrated by Andrew Garfield from Mark Schwartz on Vimeo.

I showed this video and spoke for about 75 minutes about our process, highlighting the need for youth to be initiated into their culture in positive and nurturing ways. Adults need to mentor youth into a vision for productive adulthood. Otherwise, we see youth attempt to initiate each other without the guidance of tradition or mentoring wisdom. The emergence and continued presence of street gangs is a prime example. Indeed, as already mentioned, elements of initiation into street gangs are identical to those found in Rites of Passage practiced throughout history by indigenous peoples.

Youth Mentoring’s programs reclaim the positive and constructive aspects of initiation rites. The result is that youth feel a strong sense of community and develop the desire to make positive contributions.

The workshop featured inspirational stories, videos and testimonials from young people who say that Youth Mentoring has transformed and even saved their lives.

Our approach is to use story, experience, ritual, song, drumming, dancing and whatever else can be summoned to help them dig deep, exposing wounds that are at the core of their anguish and anger so that they can transcend the traumatic experiences that can ruin their lives. Even more importantly we discover that their gifts sit right next to those wounds. Only by their willingness to descend into the depths of the struggle (guided by caring and capable mentors) can they fully claim their gifts and see how high their dreams can be.

Finally, we explored how Initiation Rites fit into a mentoring model for “at risk” youth to create astonishing results. It’s not enough to take young people up to the mountains and create a powerful experience. Follow up is critical. By mentoring them through the Initiation Rites we raise the stakes. Helping them get a sense of their power, gifts and the possibilities that life may hold for them could be a ‘set up’ if we leave them on their own to figure out how to hold onto what they gained once back in the turmoil of daily life in the city.

So the final element we presented in Singapore was our mentoring model – how we create “instant community” for the youth to find comfort, encouragement and even protection once off the mountain. Each young person selects a mentor to work with and groups of mentors and mentees meet in community to reinforce each others’ gifts and continue to care for the wounds.


I was not prepared for the level of enthusiasm that met my presentation. We ran out of time for Q&A and I was delighted to stay for quite awhile hearing their stories and answering questions. Prior to that, just as we closed the Q&A a woman in the front row bolted to her feet, expressed how much she enjoyed the workshop, then turned to the group and announced that she represented a large foundation and could possibly fund an exchange program for Singaporeans to go to the U.S. to work with “Tony’s group”. She asked for a show of hands to see who would be interested. I lost count at 72.


My room host, Ansari was quite informed about youth and gang culture. We had some nice conversations in between workshops.



Describe your work in your own words.

My work is something I don’t often put into words. I have not always had clear insight into exactly what shape it would take, but as I seek to describe it I would say that my work is to fill gaps that I see in society, those that I feel are present because of colonialism. Along this path I have made myself available to support the revitalization of Rites of Passage in the world since 2008 and it continues to evolve how I approach this. At times it is supporting other groups & organizations, while at others it’s responding to the direct needs of people in my community. In addition, Astrology has played a large role in achieving clarity on the exact ways to support life transitions and a practice I’ve been dedicated to cultivating. Since 2012 I’ve also been drawn more into the work of decolonizing and redressing the colonization of indigenous cultures both of my ancestors and those in the land I live upon as well as elsewhere around the globe. This is something that informs my work with Rites of Passage, understanding how it was forcibly removed from cultures worldwide and how the damage done from this is reflected in various forms of trauma.

How do you define Rites of Passage or talk about it in relationship to your work?

I have given numerous talks on Rites of Passage over the past several years including a TEDx talk in 2011. I’ve referenced the definition used by Arnold Van Gannep who coined the term from his field research in sociology. Thought as my studies and interactions have evolved I’ve found myself defining it more from an indigenous centered viewpoint that holds interconnectivity at the center of human values. Rites of Passage thus being the way that value is expressed consciously in human societies. I also place this work in relationship with decolonization as Rites of Passage was a target during the spread of colonization along with those who held the roles of spiritual mentors, counsellors and keepers of rites in their communities worldwide.

What brought you to this work?

In 2008 I decided to take a hiatus from all the things I was doing in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia throughout my late 20’s and into my 30’s. I found myself in the Philippines for some months and came to realize that it was ritual that I was called to, in relation to community. Community ritual was something I already had been doing for many years in a self-initiated manner. But beyond those rituals was the forming of a sense of community which proved itself real and vital in times of crisis, when people came together to help each other and thus the whole. I began to see my role within this process and wanted to figure out how to be more effective in assisting communities through big transitions. It is then that the term “rite of passage” came through to me as something to ruminate and built upon.

Around 2009 I began to announce via Facebook to my sizeable network cultivated over years of being a community organizer that I was offering Rites of Passage services. For several years I found ways to help individuals create meaningful ceremonies for themselves to assist with marking shifts in their lives. Most of those people were in their 20’s and up.

Are there specific mentors, teachers, or lineages it has grown out of?

I have been exposed to many traditions of Rites of Passage hailing from Turtle Island as well as other indigenous cultures around the world. However a deeply vital part of my work is finding ways to be less of an interloper in others traditions and more centered in my own ancestral ones which include Chinese, Gallic (Celtic ancestors of the French), Iberian (Celtic ancestors of the Spanish), and especially Kabisay-an (Visayan connected to what is known today as the Philippines).

What have been your greatest lessons and in turn joys in getting to where you are?

There feels like many. I recently read that change is said to be non-linear. I can relate to this as I see the threads of all the things I am today that in my past wound their way into increasing coherency.  Perhaps the greatest lessons in relation to Rites of Passage have been to reconnect to the ancestors. This in turn gives me a sense of reconnection with self, others, and the future that will outlive me. I find a deep and lasting joy in that.

Are there any tools or resources that have been especially useful to you?      

I would name Astrology for certain. I am a still a young Astrologer but the more I look at charts the more I see the universal story of humanity in all its nuances. Connecting with cultural groups Dually I share ancestry and visiting my ancestral homelands has been both useful and crucial to me. I have yet to visit all the homelands I am connected with but they call to me. Certainly I would also say that serving as a mentor or participating in other organizations doing Rites of Passage has been useful to me and thus connecting with a network doing this work.

How did you get involved with Youth Passageways and what led you to become a Stewardship Council member?

I was invited to the summit for Youth Rites of Passage practitioners by Joshua Gorman in 2013 held at the Ojai Foundation. Afterwards I attempted to keep one of the most passionate dialogues alive via through web conferences on the topic of cross cultural sensitivity. As this progressed I was invited to bring what would become Youth Passageways into fruition alongside Darcy and Joshua and as it did joined the Stewardship Council of which I’m now serving my second and final term as a board member.

What is your hope or vision for YPW, what do you see that we need as a community?

My hope and vision for YPW is to see it serve in some sense like a guild, culture lab, think tank federation, and ever evolving non-static entity that doesn’t allow itself to be assimilated by capitalism. I hope to see it decolonize and root from ancestors of path, of community, and of initiation. I see us empowering elders who can eventually likewise empower the next generation of elders. My hope is to see youth bring forward their spirit of truth and expression and be given a clear map of what previous generations have struggled to understand, master, and hone. And to see them further that map and pass it on.

I see us as a human family centered from the most displaced to the most privileged and bringing the balance of the masculine and feminine into its most beautiful and harmonious expression possible. I see us upholding the right for all people to experience meaningful coming of age rituals while birthing a new future of Earth honouring. I see us as ancestrally rooted and future generation serving guardians of truth, justice and reconciliation!

And finally as a community, we need to develop our capacity to dive deeply and respectfully into the shadow of humanity to find the opposite light that needs to be reborn.

Why or why isn’t it important that YPW be an international community?

It is important for a few reasons. Our communities’ ancestor lines come from around the planet and very few from Turtle Island or the lands we presently inhabit. Unsettling ourselves means relanding with the places we live and developing a reconnection with our ancestral homelands. It is being aware of ourselves as settler colonialists and recognizing our collective displacement and displacing of others. From this stage of awareness we can work to support the indigenous led movements of the world with our movement rather than operating the status quo directive to recolonize wherever we roam.

How do the local and global points of view interact in your work/experience?

I see the most present and apparent interaction in the challenge and charge of global Climate change. At the Ojai summit I recall Kalani Souza from Hawaii talking about being on the ground surveying a beach after a tsunami. The continued effects of climate change define our spiritual maturity as a global species of human beings. Will we continue to burn down the house or will we learn how to adult with the mother Earth? Rites of Passage mean nothing in a home that’s ablaze of flooding out. Starting with the poorest most vulnerable amongst the human family. I feel that centering the most marginalized is a rite of passage in itself that can help humanity in its maturity towards adulthood out of its collective adolescence and amnesia.

Locally, I am left to discern which location defines me, my ancestral lands or a place I live as a settler-colonialist. How do I live on stolen land? How do I help heal the land where I live? Local needs to be conscious of its history from the viewpoint of the longest living people of that land.  I have been looking at this in the Unceded Coast Salish Territories where I live as a settler and recently with projects happening in Costa Rica. In the end, practising Indigenous solidarity, being able to support indigenous led action, and indigenous women led action is the way to repair what had been broken that resulted in the loss of Rites of Passage across the world.

*Image Courtesy of Märt Lume

Describe your work in your own words.

My work is about taking youth from disadvantage communities in South Africa into wilderness to go find healing , hope and most of all to go back Home.

How do you define rites of passage or talk about it in relationship to your work?

I think for us in South Africa and Africa as a whole the Rights of Passage plays a part In our traditional and our past. as an African child I was taught about the four shield of human nature in an African way. My grandfather in his story telling moments taught me about ceremonies that was practiced in his time. When I started working at Educo Africa and I knew that part of the work is taking youth into the mountains, I knew that part of the stories my grandfather used to tell me could be leaved in the help of the mountains.

What brought you to this work?

When I was in my late teens I lost my mother. She became ill in front of me. So with that came lot of life questions, feeling and most of grieving took the best me. I needed to became head of my family as I was the eldest child and take care of my 3 siblings. With that came fear. So I got introduced to Educo Africa on a youth at Risk programme. this programme involved going out into the mountains. The guides took as through similar teachings that my grandfather used to tell me. This included time in solitude on my own in the wilderness. After a while of not crying or showing emotions, I found myself crying and a huge sense of relieve. The mountains that we are doing the process just went through a big fire , after a long night of crying, laughter, reflection. I woke up to really look at nature differently. I started looking at each plant and I was amazed by the new shoot of green and beautiful in the middle of a fire ridden field. That symbolized hope in my life and after fire nature finds way to heal. Nature has to go through fire to restart and go on.

Are there specific mentors, teachers, or lineages it has grown out of?

Judy Bakker Coleridge Daniels Lorindra, Kent Peace. This is just naming a few. My biggest teacher would be the young people that I take into the mountains.

What have been your greatest lessons and in turn joys in getting to where you are?

The joy has been seeing youth stand in their truth and achieving who they are who they are meant to be.

Are there any tools or resources that have been especially useful to you?

The four shield of human nature and the cycle of courage.

What are some of the biggest challenges and advantages to working in South Africa?

The biggest challenge has to be  around funding for the programmes. in the last few years we have not been receiving funding from the international funding. We mostly relay on government and local donations to be able to run this process.

How do the local and global points of view interact in your work/experience?

I think the local view is that the Right of Passage work that we do is need work globally and international. Most of facilitators are train by the school of lost boarders. This really highlights the universal humanity need for this work.

What is your hope or vision for the work/field as a whole, what do you see that we need as a community?

My vision is to see most youth at risk go through the process, we need more training as we are growing as an organization and we have new guides coming that also need the international aspect of the work.

What interests you about being part of the Youth Passageways community-network?

The community makes me feel like am not alone as guide. We are a community and we hold each other as that a community.    


Describe your work in your own words.

I think there are many appropriate words that could describe the work that I do at Youth International Initiative Program [YIP]. Facilitator, Coordinator, Mentor and Designer are a few of the more professional and elegant-sounding classifications.  Yet the work also includes the answering of thousands of emails (collectively), tracking down materials for the various courses we host and making sure the participants have what they need in the house; from müsli to toilet paper and everything in between.  Beyond this, I think much of my work is about asking provocative questions and being a witness to the participants on their journeys of discovery.

How do you define Rites of Passage or talk about it in relationship to your work?

In large part, I think that processes of Initiation and Coming of Age are no longer supported by our modern societies; we’ve lost any strong foundations of mentorship for these experiences.  Yet the transformations are happening none the less, but often occur without the supportive attention of elders.  I think the work that happens at YIP gives a unique space for participants to ponder their lives, rethink their stories and garner new insights from their biographies. YIP, in and of itself, can be a kind of Rites of Passage experience.  This happens through the Curriculum and the incredible Contributors that share time with us, but a lot of it happens through living together in a profoundly intimate way with an incredibly diverse community, and doing so for an entire year.

What brought you to this work?

I went through the first evolution of the Youth Initiative Program in 2008.  It hosted a major shift in my own story that I value greatly and lead me to accomplishments that before i might have deemed impossible.   I stayed connected to the Program over the last years and when the opportunity fell in my lap, it made a lot of sense to close the loop in a way, to give myself in support of something I believe so strongly in.

Are there specific mentors, teachers, or lineages it has grown out of?

Well, the idea was born through work that was happening in the Anthroposophical Youth Section in Dornach, Switzerland.  The call was heard in the voices of many Waldorf 12th grade High School students from around the world who were passing through.  They recognized the immense challenges facing humanity and the planet and wanted very much to be involved with creating positive change, but many were unsure of where to put their focus and how to go about doing something.  From that call conversations began and YIP was formed.  The list of mentors is perhaps too long to include here, but among them is Elizabeth Wirsching, Nicanor Perlas and Orland Bishop.

What have been your greatest lessons and in turn joys in getting to where you are?

I suppose one of the grander learnings has been about the richness and diversity of humanity.  I speak of diversity beyond skin color and nationality, and more to the brilliance of the human spirit.  Each and every person that is born into this world has the opportunity to grow older and carries an absolutely unique story.  Each one of us ingests and processes those stories in our own way and therefore the expressions of our experience are unique as well.  I think one of the most brilliant qualities of the human spirit is our ability to adapt to almost any situation and learn to live with it.  This shows up in the fact that through the millennia human beings have learned to flourish in the frigid and glacier rich arctic,  the arid and sand-filled desert, the mountains and oceans.  Yet this incredible adaptability also comes with its challenges, for, in my opinion, we are also experts at conformity, and maintaining the systems that we know, but that no longer serve life on earth.

Are there any tools or resources that have been especially useful to you?

I could name a few specific tools, but in truth, I think what has been most useful is continuing to work with spaces of witnessing and being witnessed, listening and being listened to.  It is through these spaces that I have experienced the most growth in myself, in my coworkers and in the youth that we work with.  When spaces like that can be created in a way that feels safe, hierarchy dissolves and realizations arise that we are all in this together and that we can share the weight of the world.

What are some of the biggest challenges and advantages to working in Sweden?

There have been many advantages to living in such a well organized and supportive system.  The public transportation, the healthcare and social welfare are all advanced beyond what I have previously experienced.  Dually there have been challenges.  The darkness is one, and feeling quite segregated from the rest of the world is another.  And also culturally, I am used to more openness and interest from the outside than I have encountered here.

How do the local and global points of view interact in your work/experience?

In our curriculum design, we attempt to find balance in both areas acting locally with global knowledge.  ‘Trans-localism’ is one of the answers to many of life’s most challenging questions.  By gathering information and stories of positive social change in communities around the world we can learn from what has worked and apply aspects of that learning in our own locations.  It’s not about creating cookie-cutter projects and dropping them off all over the world, but instead tapping into knowledge and skills that have already been learned and adapting it in our own communities.

What is your hope or vision for the work/field as a whole, what do you see that we need as a community?

I would love to see YIP in different places around the world.  It is an incredibly pliable organization made of of people and is not tied to any specific place.  I’ve joked that if YIP gave away all its material possessions, some lucky individual would receive a box of pushpins, markers and a flip chart.  But its wealth is in the ever widening network of active people.  In addition, my hope is that YIP and programs like it can become more accessible.  We’ve been working hard to create Scholarship Fund (2015 was its first year running!) aiming to support participants who would otherwise not be able to attend due to finances.  As a community, some more recognition of the power and importance of this work could be nice. ;0)

What interests you about being part of the Youth Passageways community-network?

Youth Passageways is spreading awareness of opportunities for young people of all kinds to get involved and engaged in positive actions around the world.  I see this as an imperative stepping stone toward renewal on a massive scale. In a mainstream reality of ever-increasing distraction and hustle, sometimes all we can see is wood when we look at a tree.  Youth Passageways points out the branches, the possibility to climb and from there gain an entirely new perspective.  It’s an honor that YIP can be a branch for some to climb.


What a conundrum. Why do we often go for the most advertised and most expensive toys and gadgets? Tragically what I often see is that these toys run the agenda and actually dictate to our kids what to do. Like a Lego set that makes you build a helicopter from the instruction manual.

And I really don’t believe that our kids need another version of a screen by way of the latest iPod, phone or mobile gaming device.

So is there a way to give our kids something we actually feel is genuinely good for them? I absolutely believe there are some great presents out there and I work on the principals that if it teaches them new physical skills, is musical, stimulates their creativity, or is a good story then it is worth considering. Here are some ideas for your last minute Christmas gifts:

  • For new physical skills – slack lines are fantastic. I also recommend juggling balls, diablos or even bosu balls.
  • For music – djembe drums can be great, electric pianos or guitars just to name a few (god I wish I had started learning guitar when I was a kid).
  • To stimulate their creativity – paints and an easel, different sorts of clays, even a hammer and saw to start their carpentry career.
  • As for stories I would steer away from fantasy and look at educational stories for kids, fictional biographies or stories that teach them about the culture in different countries at different times.

And there is another gift that you can give kids that doesn’t cost a cent and it is the best one of all. The idea stems from something that we do on all of our camps and it can certainly be adapted beautifully to your Christmas celebrations. It goes something like this. When we are doing a program with fathers and sons we gather towards the end of the camp in front of a special chair that we have built. We call up one of the boys to sit on the chair in front of everyone who is on the camp.  While the boy is sitting there his father comes up and in front of everyone tells his son what he loves about him, the gifts and talents that he sees in him. He also tells him what he admires and respects about him. After the father has finished speaking another man comes up and tells the boy what he admires and respects about him. Then another man does the same thing. It is a profound and deep experience for the boys and one that I believe changes their lives. I love nothing better than to watch the pride in a boy’s eyes as he is honoured by people who see his genius and his spirit.

So here is a great idea for what you can do at Christmas lunch. Put a special chair at the top of the table and get the kids to sit in it one at a time. Take turns telling the boy or girl what you love about them. Take your time and try to identify the special things that are unique to them, the particular gifts and talents that you see they have and the most beautiful sides of their personality. If you want an example go to my TEDx talk and fast forward to 13.28 minutes.  You can have just the adults speaking or even better get the other kids to also have a turn. Make sure that only one person speaks at a time and ask the child in the chair not to say anything and to just listen.  I guarantee it will be a Christmas celebration that you will never forget.

Please support our campaign to have 1,000,000 parents tell their children why they love them this Christmas.  Share on facebook, twitter, email and in any way that you can.

To find out more about our work visit our website HERE



Men’s Leadership Alliance believes in a world where all men, and all people, can fully express their personal gifts and genius in service to their families and communities. Such authenticity can only be accessed through deep work with ourselves; what we call soul work. Drawing from the wisdom of ages and an understanding of the ever-changing needs of modern times, MLA has created an integrated series of programs designed to engage and support men in this important soul work, as well as programs for partners, family, children, and elders. It is our experience that soul work is the gateway to authentic manhood, which in turn leads to a life of joy, service, wisdom and passion.

Here’s an interview with their Executive Director: Jason Geoffrion, MA

Describe your work in your own words.

Men’s work is about normalizing the masculine experience for men. So often men feel like they are the only one with their experience – struggling with identifying and feeling emotions, persistent thought patterns, fear in making right choices, inability to take actions, disappointments in living up to expectations from partners and society, and on and on. It is hard for men to choose self-care, and the idea of being with just men for a whole weekend can seem really strange. Often it takes some dire circumstance, i.e. major life transition or crisis, to say yes to attending a retreat for the first time. However, once men sit in an intergenerational circle and feel heard and seen without judgment, they begin to wonder how they ever lived life without the support of other men. And then men learn to keep coming back to move beyond crisis and live into a thriving and vibrant life.

At Men’s Leadership Alliance (MLA) ( we provide safe spaces for men to realize their own internal wisdom and help them take the next empowered steps toward a more vibrant life. By entering a retreat setting, men step away from the rigor of daily life to enter more of a witness perspective to be able to identify areas of needed improvement. This allows men to gain clarity around their past and present choices, discover compassion for self and others, find the courage to yes or no to certain actions, thoughts, feelings and ways of being, and in turn make the commitment to boldly shift in a direction that serves their higher calling and purpose.

How do you define rites of passage or talk about it in relationship to your work?

Men are going through various passages throughout their entire lives. Rites of passages are often thought of for men solely during the transition from boyhood to manhood. Of course for most men, the transition to adulthood was not marked or held in a good way, and because they were left to fend for themselves the lack of initiation often plays out in their adult lives in unhealthy patterns. Even if a man was fortunate enough to have a formal initiation to manhood experience, the various adult thresholds are rarely acknowledged. Men need to be witnessed and supported during all of life’s transitions – emerging into the work world, getting married, becoming a father, death of parents, retirement and Elderhood, and so on. No man can go through this life journey alone, yet so many of us, myself included, often act like we have to go it alone – mostly because we don’t know what it is like to ask for or receive help. Attending a men’s retreat begins the process of shifting this belief of being alone, among many others, and over time it becomes a normal part of life to enter transition times, rites of passages, with our eyes and hearts open and with the support of other men.

What brought you to this work? Are there specific mentors or teachers that come to mind?

I came to men’s work and MLA out of dire personal need. I was living a life that was contrary to my internal inklings, and was making choices based on what I thought I was supposed to do, based on how I thought I was suppose to live. I didn’t have Elders or mentors in my life to encourage me to listen to my internal wisdom or support me to make choices that would help me live a full and vibrant life. I didn’t trust myself. And I didn’t know how to ask for help. It wasn’t until things got really dark and dire in my life when the only option I had left was to finally reach out for help.

It was during that dark period that a book, Stories of Men, Meaning, and Prayer somehow made its way into my hands. Every word was so resonant – it was like finally discovering the words to the internal language I always knew was inside of me. And the author, Jeffrey Duvall (one of MLA’s co-founders) put his address in the back of the book. So I wrote him a 20 page letter pouring my heart out, and actually mailed it off! And, a week later he called me and invited me to come sit with him. It was the first time I felt like there was truly no judgment – his messages to me were that there was nothing wrong with me and that I was beautiful just exactly as I was right then in that moment. I didn’t quite know how to handle that, as it seemed so contrary to the messages I had been receiving my whole life up to that point. But I felt a deeper truth inside, and I knew that I had found the first inklings of ‘home’ in my sense of self, and a communal home in MLA.

Shortly after meeting Jeffrey I went out on a Vision Fast with him, and in doing so opened myself to a whole new world of understanding and being. I realized years later that Vision Fast experience, at age 27, was my initiation into manhood. And once I opened myself up to living a life of fullness based on my own internal wisdom, the pace of life fulfillment accelerated rapidly. I showed up to everything MLA was offering, and along with Jeffrey got to spend time with Tom Daly and Keith Fairmont, MLA’s other two co-founders, as well as many other men and Elders. I began to make vastly different life choices and within 2 years I took over operations as Director of MLA. What saved me how now become my life’s work!

What brought you to focusing on a specific gender? How do you view the role of gender in this work?

For me as a man, it was only when I spent time with just men that I was able to learn how to stop losing myself in women. I was continually defining myself by the concepts of what I thought I was suppose to be, which was largely influenced by what I thought I had to be for the women in my life. I was doing the best that I could with what I was taught and shown by family and society, but it wasn’t until I engaged in men’s work and found my own strength as a man that I was finally able to truly show up for others. And it is why I have a healthy marriage now!

I think it is of the utmost importance for men to have time with men. Of course gender is a social construct, and one that has created severe limitations for all aspects of humanity throughout time. Yet, while it is arbitrary on some levels, I do identify as male and masculine, as do many others in this world, and so it is helpful to spend time with others who identify as the same. Being with men aids me in understanding myself, and from that understanding I can better interact with others from a deeper place of wisdom and compassion.

Does your work touch on non-conforming gender roles? What are tools or approaches that you have found or developed to make a more inclusive and relevant environment for these participants?

Gender identification outside the traditional binary system is something that has been very much in my field of thought for a few years now. I owe much of this growth to marrying my wife, as a number of her friends do not identify in the traditional gender binary system. Honestly, I had a lot of learning to do here, as I grew up in a very traditional binary structure of masculine and feminine and held a lot of judgment toward any concept that didn’t fit that system. However, through these individuals’ willingness to engage me with patience and steadfast teachings my understanding and awareness has expanded greatly.

During some of my conversations with these individuals, who have also now become my good friends, I found myself becoming apologetic for the work that I do. How could I do men’s work and still be open to a non-binary system? The messages I got from these friends were very reassuring: “Please keep doing what you are doing. There are a lot of people who identify as men in the world and we need them to be healthy. Thanks for what you are doing.” It was such a blessing to hear this reassurance as I feel such pride and purpose in my work. And then right after the reassurance came the potent challenges from them: 1) “We also need places where we can feel like we belong as well”, and 2) “What can you do within the men’s contexts you facilitate to help bring about more tolerance and acceptance toward people that don’t identify on the gender binary? How are you going to influence the captive audiences of men that you have?”

Good questions. I know I still have a lot of learning and shifting to do personally when it comes to this issue. I’m not sure how best to engage. I worry about alienating men who similar to myself a few years ago had little understanding and lots of judgment here. And, I feel a responsibility to do what I can to help bring about change. So, for now I am listening and engaging in any dialogue I can around this, and I look forward to meeting these edges in the months and years to come.

What is your hope or vision for the work/field as a whole, what do you see as our learning edges as a community?

One of the sentiments that came out of the Youth Passageways gathering at Ojai in 2014 was encouragement for us all to lean into uniqueness before attempting to find sameness. There certainly is a tendency in society to try and make everyone the same. I want to celebrate my uniqueness, stand strong in my identity, and from that place bridge to what I have in common with others. And at the same time be able to equally celebrate all other individuals’ uniqueness. For me, part of my identity is in being a man. My hope for men’s work, and this community as a whole, is to accept men’s work for what it is – healthy identity formation. When a man knows himself fully and realistically only then can he healthfully interact with others, and thus be of service to his family, friends, workplace and community. For some people due to patriarchic oppression of the past, the idea of empowered men can be quite threatening. My hope for the future is for a reframe of this old oppressive system. Truly empowered men are not dominating or tyrannical, but rather are strong in action and compassion for the betterment of all. And to get there as men, we need structured time with men to learn how to engage in self identity with compassion so we in turn can engage with others in the world in a generative way.


1531833_1442955965916826_1434328549_oThe Story of the Bright and Beautiful Girl Project: Business major Juliet met film student Chenxi on Semester at Sea in Spring 2013. During their journey around the world, they saw girls in developing countries suffering from child marriage, sex trafficking, and other such atrocities. They began to meditate on how to bring change to the global girl community in a social innovative way. Influenced by the Unreasonable Institute and the documentary Half the Sky, Juliet and Chenxi embarked on their mission.

Juliet and Chenxi decided to launch the project in China. Teaming up with good friends who are also passionate about the same cause, they went to rural Yunan to better understand the girls’ needs.

The team encountered three groups of girls who are different in age and education levels. By conversing with them, the team then realized that the girls’ needs are far beyond material goods. Instead, they need care, love, and societal value. Most of all, they need education, the kind that enables them to create the change they want to see for themselves.

Here’s an interview with one of its co-founders: Chenxi Ouyang

Describe your work in your own words.

Bright & Beautiful dedicates to help left-behind girls in rural China build self-esteem and unlock potential by bringing them various forms of arts.

How do you define rites of passage or talk about it in relationship to your work?

Rites of passage is the preparation of our soul to take on challenges in the transitional stages in our lives.

What brought you to this work? Are there specific mentors or teachers that come to mind?

A trip around the world brought me and my co-founder Juliet Zheng to the world of working with girls. Melissa Michaels introduced as to the spiritual dimension.

What have been your greatest lessons and in turn greatest joys in establishing it?

We’ve learnt to let go of our expectations and really see the growth in every girl as it is.

What interested you about being part of the Youth Passageways community-network, what do you see as the main benefit from being a partner?

I get to meet amazing people, who share the same passion and doing similar work with me. The power of the collaboration is huge.

Is there a specific tool are resource that has been the most useful to you?

Haven’t thought about it yet.

Are there any papers or research that has come out which has aided in your work?


What brought you to focusing on a specific gender? How do you view the role of gender in this work?

Inspired by the documentary Half the Sky and Nike Foundation’s girl effect, we believe that the potential in girls once unleashed, is fundamental to the progress of humanity. When a girl becomes a woman, she will shape three generations: her parents, her husband and her children. The investment in girls thus is the most rewarding.

Does your work touch on non-conforming gender roles? What are tools or approaches that you have found or developed to make a more inclusive and relevant environment for these participants?

Yes. We are running a 5-day arts camp for girls in rural China. We hope to help them build self-esteem and unlock potential by brining them various forms of arts.

What is your hope or vision for the work/field as a whole, what do you see as our learning edges as a community?

My vision is that our youth will see and believe that the world is a safe and non-threatening place, and that even though life is full of challenges in different stages, with the resources and help from the community, they will not only survive, but thrive.


 11705241_989845884368705_3122323153251603215_nOUT There Adventures (OTA) began as a senior project for co-founder Elyse Rylander while pursuing her undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin in 2012. Wanting to combine her passion for adventure education and advocacy for the LGBTQ community, Elyse was met with the unfortunate reality that no expedition-based programming that specifically targeted LGBTQ youth existed. Elyse relocated to Seattle in early 2013 to establish OTA in its current form. In the fall of 2013, Kira McGieson came to the project and became OTA’s co-founder.

Given the current social landscape, many members of the queer community (including queer young people) make the move from rural America to urban America in hopes of finding an increased access to resources and a stronger community. For queer youth who live in rural areas, the Internet often replaces urban centers as a place to access resources and community. Although urbanization and the Internet can increase certain aspects of the quality of life for queer youth, the benefits can be limited.

According to the National Wildlife Federation the average American youth spends less than 30 minutes a day outside, even though time spent outside has be linked to increases in everything from standardized test scores to Vitamin D levels and decreases in ADHD symptoms, depression and anxiety. Outdoor play also protects children’s emotional development, cultivates kindness, enhances social interactions and increases value of community as well close relationships. Given the economic disparities, violence and lack of accesses to resources faced by queer people in addition to isolation and self-urbanization, the question of how queer people are connecting to the outdoors begs to be asked.

According to the American Camp Association, there are over 12,000 day and residential camps in the United States. To the best of our knowledge, there are less than a dozen camps in the country that specifically serve queer young people. Of these dozen or so, OTA is the only organization created to provide expedition oriented programming specifically tailored for queer young people.

OTA’s programming is founded in the rapidly developing field of experiential education.  At its core, experiential education focuses on learning through doing upon reflection. Research in this field has shown that this is not only a successful way to teach traditional lessons found in schools, but also an impactful way of cultivating the skills necessary in a healthy and happy society such as leadership, resiliency, self-efficacy, communication and problem solving.

In addition to its roots in experiential education, OTA’s programming also places an emphasis on positive youth development (PYD). Positive Youth Development practices focus on a strengths-based approach to youth work, where instructors guide participants to recognize their own abilities and resources in the face of challenge. We believe that offering LGBTQ youth a physical challenge in a supportive environment will prepare them for emotional challenges they may experience in other parts of their life. By removing participants from their every day lives and placing them in a situation with like minded peers, supportive adults and a challenging but rewarding experience, OTA’s wilderness trips offer a unique opportunity for these youth to create and exist within a community that focuses on the positives.

1. Write a sentence with your non-dominant hand, then write a sentence with your dominant hand. Compare the two and imagine if the world you lived in told you through the media, laws, cultural norms, etc. that you were only allowed to write with your non-dominant hand. Not only can you not write with your dominant hand, but doing so could cause you to be discriminated against, ostracized and isolated.
2. Reflect upon the feelings this notion stirs. How do you think you would react? How do you think your friends and family would react to you? What would you hope would happen in order to create a culture that supported people who want to write with their dominant hand?
3. Lastly, transfer this example to the experiences of queer people and reflect upon the ways in which you personally are taking steps, or not, to help create a culture that supports this community. What are you doing well and what could you improve upon?
Upcoming trainings:
OUT There Adventures is always seeking out opportunities to train youth workers on including and affirming queer youth. For more information, please e-mail
OUT There Adventures will be presenting at two conferences in Portland this October, the Wilderness Risk Managers Conference and the Association for Experiential Education international conference, regarding creating safe spaces for the queer community in experiential educational settings.



Geez, did I just have to give myself a “talking to”, a “come to Jesus” (I mean no disrespect, I was raised a Christian) regarding my avoidant, procrastination tactics, in completing this piece of writing. Then I allowed the softer, kinder voice of me to repeat what had just been said, albeit with a much more nurturing and supportive tone. Lastly, the heckling sibling chimed in and was like, “dude! C’mon, it is Saturday at 3pm. It’s the full moon! Get it done!! You’re being ridiculous!” I laughed and negotiated (offered rewards) with myself (teenage self). “We’ll go swimming and dancing tomorrow.”

But, not until this is done, said the stern, yet compassionate voice.

I also caution to call it all avoidance/procrastination. I’ve been reflective, taking more time off upon my return to the Island, allowing for integration of the experience, from last month, I will soon share with you. It’s been great and loungy and hilarious and inspiring. I’ve been gathering music I love, keeping the dance going, reading amazing books and articles, corresponding with peers, teachers, guides and swimming in the ocean.

If it’s both terrifying and amazing then you should definitely pursue it. -Erada

What I have also recognized is that to the level I am SO excited about the conversation around gender and sexuality in Rites of Passage work and taking ownership (and telling others – you) that this IS Soul’s/Divine’s work for me and a piece of my vocation I want to nurture, grow and incorporate into my life and share with others. It is also a time when the Shadow, Critic and Loyal Soldier come creeping and advise me to remain unseen, not worth the time or space, don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel. Don’t make a fool of yourself. It is NOT safe out there. This all from being a by-product of a dysfunctional (who doesn’t have some sort of dysfunction?!) family and enlisting the qualities of The Lost Child (out of sight, out of mind), so not to get hurt. And now I am choosing to do things differently, as if my life depended on it. I thank the Loyal Soldier for sharing their concerns and kindly request that they go on vacation, experience retirement. And I tell Shadow, “All things in moderation” and Critic, “be nice, be sweet.” And with a resounding, “I’m tired of just getting by”, I try, I show my truth. I am powerless (my voice) without freedom (of choice).

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. -Joseph Campbell

The Wise Adult of me has the floor now, along with the Radiant Child-Essence. Excited and knowledgeable, curious and inspired to see the fertile ground we can cover within the depth and breadth of the topic of Gender and Sexuality in the field of 21st century Rites of Passage.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

There is a field.

I’ll meet you there.


I am filled with the feeling of honor and gratitude that I get to live in a time and space where these conversations, these questions, these ways of being in the world can and are challenged, played with and lead to more seeking, depth, ambiguity and mystery. I’m genuinely moved that I have been bestowed with, what I would call, a treasured responsibility.    

So where do we begin?

My first draft had a friend saying, “There are so many different directions here!” And what I heard is, “focus.”  My pep talk ensued: This is only the beginning of a larger, potentially healing (for self and others) conversation. There is no need to bring in EVERYTHING, you think should be addressed, there’s time, there will be more, this is NOT your one and only shot. I could share with you the political & social climate surrounding gender & sexuality for which I have been enmeshed in for several years, having been an organizer for many Pride events, from Atlanta, GA to rural Utah.  But, today I prefer the more intimate, personalized experiences that I have been working with on my own personal journey. Regardless, the topic is rich, diverse, taboo and amorphous.

As I began to write the whisper of David Whyte came to heart:         

Start close in. Start with the ground you know, your own way of starting the conversation.  

Start with your own question; don’t let them smother something simple.

And so I’ll begin here, close in, with the most intimate writing I’ve created (this year, thus far): Who I am is a trusting and forgiving woman. Honestly facing my life with perseverance and consistency. Risking loss and self-reliance for intimacy and vulnerability. Worthy of joy and belonging.

I share this with you because these words crafted, only a few short months ago, saved my life. More so, allowed for the severance from my old way of surviving in the world and began the journey of calling home the parts of me, the re-membering of something more authentic; call it my highest self, soul, spirit.

No longer willing or able to go about my life in fear of pain and being hurt, again, I looked at these real fears, real because they had happened – I had the proof; betrayal, resentment, forfeit, worthlessness, sadness, death & rejection, a re-occurring looping pattern in my life. I knew then, that I had to do it differently, live this life differently, in the face of what my mind kept assuring me would happen, I chose to turn and listen to my heart and body instead.

In January 2015, I took a leap of faith; I asked myself, “Where do you need to be for your healing?” A small voice inside replied, “By the sea.” Vocationally, I also knew that I was being called back to meaningful work in a therapeutic wilderness setting. The environment, albeit, a house of mirrors, projection and transference,  is one I’m good at, that brings about the best version of me in the task of truth telling in a natural setting with young people.  I discovered Pacific Quest, a horticulture wilderness therapy program on the Big Island, and off I went.

This is the ground I know:  to give you a snapshot, share a little heartbreak and hopelessness, the “WTF did I do-ness”, the lessons learned, the gifts received.  I’d like to begin here, with you. With my old story being released in the severance fire, transformed into the desert and Colorado River, washed away with a phone call and danced through in a Star House in Sunshine Canyon.  

In retrospect, being on the other side of what at times I thought would be my demise, the time in my life I was surer I wouldn’t live through than any other time in my life, I take a breathe, pat myself on the back and say, “nice work, you made it.” Looking through the lens of my intentions, my ritualizing of acts made holy, I now can see clearly and with gratitude my befriending and re-acquainting myself with the body, my body was my truest testament to a will to live. This was a crossroads, different than other times in my life. Maybe it was my mid-life crisis, the breaking down of body and restrictive flow that was palpable and the fears growing forth from that, maybe early onset of menopause likely a result of stress, maybe the ending of another relationship, likely all of it. The difference, the conscious choice I had to make:  listening & feeling the body as opposed to pushing and struggling through sheer will and thought. I’ve done the rituals, I’ve done the ceremonies in the past, wishing/praying for different outcomes, and I’ve practiced, in theory all the tools I’ve collected over the years. I’ve stated, “I’m an Ecopsychologist, for Christ’s sake, I know better!” having worked with teachers like Joanna Macy and Bill Plotkin over the years.  The realization that all of it was a reflection of things outside myself; relationships, work in the world for which I had identified with, placed it as a value of my worth  and projected all that out into the world had left my body (soul) weary and in need of deep attention and care. Desire to change because the body was in crisis was the crux and from there all things flowed forward when I benched the mind, put the critic in time out and fired the Judge. I came to the island trusting that somatic, body centered healing would be my path. Creating an intent statement would become my touchstone for grounding.

Discovering that a piece of the experience our students here at Pacific Quest participate in, called Huli Ka’e, translated “to search the edge,” was life giving. I had already “called in” that I wanted more ceremony, ritual and reverence, a slower pace brought to my everyday existence and to have this manifest so quickly into my life allowed for some material to work with as I still remained slightly untethered and searching in the dark.  Being able to utilize these tools and in turn share with others, allowed for balance and less fixation on my little pity party for one. In essence, there is a severance from the community and old story; threshold that includes a solo experience and the re-incorporation where students declare a statement of intent. As part of my training for this stage of the program I dove into the curriculum and discovered my own intent statement, which I offered above.  I found the process richer and deeper by weaving in my work in 12 step recovery. Creating an intent,  a way of being you want to step into based on the opposite of what one can identify as character defects, patterns no longer serving self & fears can and will create, call back home, a potent, authentic self. At the very least, something to recite to self when locked in fear, attached to outcome or seeking clarity on the “next right move.”

Reciting the intent, like a prayer, every morning, every night and times in between as needed began the beginning of feeling change in my body- the chronic pain was replaced with moments of relief. Not to mention the “wellness team” I had organized to bring me through the transition; I thank my small, yet strong Japanese massage therapist, my comic book writer by night, acupuncturist by day, my cranial-sacral therapist in the green hills of Waimea and my somatics psychotherapist, with his yoda, mandalas and inspiration to walk the Santo de Cristo on his wall. It’s no wonder I choose to live out of my truck on the island, freeing up funds for what seems really important right now. And when you are really only home half the time because of your work, I’d much rather be waking up to the sound of crashing surf at my next snorkel spot on my off shift. I like to think I’m healing my relationship to money while living on the island too. I can definitely relate to living with scarcity thoughts and how that can present painfully in the body. With responsibility, I was taught to say, “I’m made of money” and it works!!

From my studies in neuroscience and meditation, I knew I was creating new neural pathways; Firing beliefs, strengthening muscles through practice and repetition, feeling more open, receptive and willing to receive.  This openness, receptivity and willingness to receive, having feminine qualities and tone, for me, have helped me to reconcile within myself the struggle around placing the word, “woman” in my intent statement. At first, it felt limiting- That’s not all of me, begging the question: “Should I put human or person instead?” I’m now considering creating another intent statement that would encompass my masculine qualities, playing with the idea of what this could manifest and empower in my life. The truth is we currently still live in a gender binary world. Male or female; we humans need to label in order to make sense of our world. As more conversations and headlines bring forth the idea of gender fluidity, being on the spectrum of gender and sexuality and creating space for people to identify in a non-binary way, we can begin to speak from those qualities of both masculine and feminine embodiment. But, until then, creating two intent statements feels like a “Good Orderly Direction” and ownership for me.

The intent statement is a powerful tool, one that can be re-created, re-invented over time. Within my work, I weave awareness with the students regarding the power of their words from the beginning. Intentionally, Huli Ka’e, is a mysterious piece of our program. Students are given very little if any information about it from staff and students who have participated in this stage of the program; operating from a “need to know” basis. What I can and will do early on in my interactions with students is have them consider words of affirmation, identifying traits they admire in self and others, what qualities inspire them and for those that are relentless in the negative self talk, I encourage them to sound off a positive quality they like about themselves when I hear them talking down on themselves. They love that. (Insert sarcastic tone here.) But what this does, I believe is begin a practice, similar to a Loving kindness meditation, that can override thought patterns, that no longer serve our highest and best self. All this, unbeknownst to them, a way, I feel assists them in crafting their intent statement later in their program.


A second thread, or piece of the mosaic I’d like to share with you as we explore gender and sexuality in our work, occurred while I had already made arrangements to go back to the mainland just last month. For all intents and purposes here, observed through the lens of the Hero’s Journey I knew that to truly answer the call to the adventure of my life sensed in the Assistance of the intent statement, I would need to Depart and face the Trials and Approach, my worst fears in an effort to receive the Treasure(s) and New Life. Feeling like I had one foot here and one still back in the deserts of Utah, I knew in order to move forward I needed to complete the severance, the “unfinished business” of closure in order to call back home all of me, to be fully present in the body and experience of the here and now, living into my intention. I made arrangements to travel back to the mainland, to clean up my side of the street.  I bought the tickets. Faithfully believing the details would come.

What happened was this:  I went to Moab, walked the land, and returned over 300 heart rocks collected over the nine years I lived there, to the river, the creeks and places in between. I received amends, offered forgiveness and proclaimed as I drove away, in the words of one of my greatest teacher Reverend Martin Luther King, “Free at Last, Free at Last, Thank God Almighty, I’m Free at Last!” From there I spent my 44th birthday at Orvis Hot Springs at the base of Red Mountain Pass, the place I nearly lost my life four years ago and from which I began my journey of recovery. Going to that place on the roadside that I slipped over, looking down and calling home the parts of me that had remained there in fear of living.

I cannot emphasize enough. I did everything, every moment, every act, every motion, every contact with intention and reverie, and thus made holy, as if my life depended on it. And if all that wasn’t enough, the Boon on the other side of all this reconciliation with the past was the gift of integrating and resolution through dance.

Synchronicity- coincidences, in which the inner and outer worlds meet, inform and ennoble each other.

The stars aligned and there was a weeklong Intergenerational camp beginning the day after my 44th birthday, with Melissa Michaels and Surfing the Creative® in Boulder, CO. Somatic Rites of Passage Dance Camp?  Enough said, I’m in!  I love to dance. I’d even go so far to say that I came out (of my shell) on the dance floor in the early ‘90s surrounded by beautiful, unapologetic gay men, who adored me and gave me a sense of belonging and feeling of acceptance I had not experienced in my life thus far. And there was a freedom of self-expression I hadn’t yet experienced.

I went on faith that this is what I needed, what my body needed to move through in order to come out, no pun intended, the other side. We simply danced from the beginning. No intro circle, no explaining of your work in the world.  Our bodies communicated what we were bringing, what we wanted to release, what we wanted to heal and what we wanted to become. And for what I had been experiencing, up to this point, this year, to be out of my thoughts, not having to explain anything was sweet relief. Whenever I’d think I had to think my way through something, I would dance. “Just keep moving,” I would repeat like a mantra.

It was on our second full day together that we gave our names to the larger group and with that offered our PGP, [preferred gender pronoun]. This simple act, statement, becoming conscious within many organizations working with diverse and marginalized populations, in my opinion, is essential to our work in Rites of Passage, given we are “in the business” of guiding people towards integration and whole-ing the authentic self. Having always in the past identified as she, her, hers, I found when the circle found its way to me I stepped into identifying as them, they, theirs. Sensing in my body the relief, release and breathe, claiming my place.

In reflection, I found this declaration, this simple non-binary identification not only a personal act of reclamation, but an acknowledgement of taking my work within the LGBTQI [Lesbian, Gay, Bi Sexual, Transgender, Queer, Inter Sex] community, over the years, to the next courageous [from the heart] level. Giving voice to the voiceless, those inside and outside the circle, aware of my privilege to be in a space and time to be safe and free to express in this way. Opening a door of exploration, to search edges and build resilience and empathy in community with others, and honoring the intent statement I had created just a couple months earlier.

I am grateful for the space Melissa and fellow surfers created by instituting within the program the simple yet profound addition of asking our PGP, as well as, participants whose role was to ensure the inclusiveness of all ways of being in the world were present. Lastly, I have always been on alert, challenged when within this work the time comes for Gender Council. Even within my work at Pacific Quest, when we break out into groups, the men go there, the women here, but where do I belong? I found the space to be myself within the Surf when there was a third group identified for Gender and Sexuality. Ours was a small group, but the truth-telling, vulnerability and intimacy created that night was magnanimous.

Dancing is an ancient form of magic. The dancer becomes amplified into a being endowed with supranormal powers. His/her personality is transformed. Like yoga, the dance induces trance, ecstasy, the experience of the divine; the realization of one’s own secret nature, and finally, emergence into the divine essence…The dance is an act of creation. It brings about a new situation and summons into the dancer a new and higher personality. It has a cosmogonic function, in that it arouses dormant energies, which then may shape the world. –Heinrich Zimmer, Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization

Start close in.  Trust, honesty, loss, intimacy, vulnerability, belonging, joy.                                      

Start with the ground you know, your own way of starting the conversation. Storytelling, Talk-Story- native to Hawaiian culture- shootin’ the breeze, having a conversation, sharing; following heart lines.                           

Start with your own question… It started with, “Where do you need to be for your healing?” Physical location led me to a larger container of safety, opening myself up to the possibility of living a reverent life where all parts of me are re-membered, including the whole of gender and sexuality. Until this experience I was working under the assumption that I accepted myself, my gender, my sexuality. I assumed I had done this work in the coming out process. Discovering, again, coming out is not a onetime thing, this, just another layer revealed. Being able to honor and claim identity through Rites of Passage does lead to more questions (How exciting!) and space here to create, together, infinite ways of incorporating our authentic expression as a gift to bring back to our communities.

What is my hope for our community of people involved in Rites of Passage work? That we keep asking the questions, live the questions through our hearts and bodies.

The question that undoubtedly begets further questions to explore; How do we continue to expand consciousness in Rites of Passage beyond the binaries of gay or straight, male or female? For me, the incorporation of simple acts, such as, intent statements, introductions that ask PGP and offering a third option in Gender Council are a beginning to widen our circle. We continue widening the circle around the fire for all those seeking to incorporate their truest desires for authentic right relationship with self and thus bringing their gift of authenticity to community.

Undoubtedly, we are seeing more and more, organizations creating specialized trips targeting the GLBTQI community (as you will see listed below) and within that safe container of similar experiences able to reflect to one another an atmosphere of acceptance and belonging, rarely if ever felt by the participant in the “ordinary world.” Truth (my truth) be told, in my humble opinion, these trips are only afforded to a small percentage of a marginalized and diverse community. These trips are for those who are safe and likely with some privilege, for the most part, to be out, supported and have enough awareness to explore the depths of their gender and sexuality. What if every organization, program, trip and individual we served was greeted at the threshold with an opportunity to question all that they have thought themselves to be up to that point-including their gender and sexuality? Could that not have the possibility of changing the course of someone’s life, simply by exploring parts of them they may have locked away or never even knew existed? Is that not the distinction between healing and wholing Bill Plotkin speaks of? We may enter any experience, such as Rites of Passage, in hopes of healing our broken selves, but as we learn there is nothing broken and nothing to fix, reincorporation of the self into the greater body of the community can happen when we get out of our own way.

Jenn Photo 3I personally, did not go to a GLBTQI specific Rites of Passage program when I attended Surfing the Creative. But, nonetheless the small, yet noticeable shifts in language and inclusivity presented here opened up a whole part of me that longed for belonging and reincorporation. The subtlety (and status quo-ness) at which this was felt in my experience, in my opinion, was significant to the extent of the lasting deep regard I presently embody. Maybe it’s possible to get that in a GLBTQI exclusive event, but like I said, these programs limit the cast of the net to those who unknowingly, like me, would benefit. I can’t help but think about a woman, just out of a twenty year marriage to a man, finding her way to a Rites of Passage website and choosing a standard course and not being afforded the same opportunities to question her gender and sexuality that you would find in a exclusive GLBTQI program. What a missed opportunity! Or that kid, who never feels like they belong anywhere, on the brink of taking their own life, is offered assistance (scholarship, guidance) and finds their way to the desert for a vision fast.  And because ROP organizations have incorporated into every program a baseline standard of conduct that include PGPs and a third gender council, for example, they finally find a place to call their own, a place to call home. How amazing does that sound!? I had no idea going into my dance that I had more excavating and acceptance of myself to look at. It wasn’t what I thought I’d come to work on. In fact, it was so much more once I got out of my way and gave myself permission, within the supportive community, to explore the depths of who I am as an outward expression of my gender and sexual fluidity.        

Again, I am humbled and honored to be able to share my path, and my story here with this community. Thank you. To open up to further understanding of myself and how to be of service to the many communities I belong. And the beautiful, joyful, heartfelt knowing that all of me belong here in this affirming community and that that support carries me[us] to provide that service to the youth I guide on their own passage to authentic self-expression.

May I leave you with this prayer, following the Supermoon last night…

May today there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.

~Saint Therese of Liseaux

As I have only begun to explore where Gender & Sexuality’s role will play within Rites of Passage work in the 21st century and look forward to exploring other opportunities and organizations who present ways to incorporate this into their field]. Below please find a listing of Youth Passageways Partners that are working with Gender & Sexuality. Please let us know what is working (and not working) for you or your organization in the realm of working with non-binary populations, the Gay & Lesbian community, as well as Transgendered or gender-non-conforming. Let’s keep this conversation going.

In gratitude,

Jenn O.