Dearest Youth Passageway kin,
Greetings from the lands of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Ute peoples, along with 48 contemporary tribal nations who are historically tied to the state of Colorado – a place I am calling home, again.
As we creep slowly towards the light of the spring equinox, I pause and stretch back in reflection to the days of darkness, this winter, when I came to a decision about how I desired to relate to Youth Passageways in the coming year. Today, I share with our larger network that I have stepped down as the Stewardship Council Co-Chair and would like to take this moment to thank you, the network, the spiral governance and particularly those within the staff circle and stewardship council that I have been in close connection with for the past 3 years. I bow in gratitude for the learning, the sibling-hood, the growth and commitment to help regenerate healthy passages into mature adulthood for today’s youth, witnessed every day within the various projects, working groups and conversations I found myself a part of.
My biggest prayer that I’d like to share is that any body of works I was a part of on behalf of YPW, in an effort to uplift network partners who were and are learning how best to serve and offer programming by and for queer & trans people, that that work built more than burned bridges. My mistakes and edges forge my commitment to learning, advocating, and relationship accountability, repair and transformation across identities and cultures.
Where this network may have fallen short for me or where I failed the network will be a beautiful flaw on the tapestry woven into our story during my time and I pray many of us will continue to grow and stretch in the discomfort and move towards deeper understanding.
My story with YPW began on the island of Hawai’i (from which I just returned recently) in 2015. It was here I met Darcy Ottey, developed my skills as a Guide for Rites of Passage, and became a YPW Ambassador after attending the 2016 gathering in Los Angeles. I then sailed across the Atlantic and lived unanchored until 2018, when I returned to Turtle Island, and participated in two of our network partners’ programs. First, a two week Rite of Passage Journeys’ Leadership Intensive guided by Darcy & Cameron, also our Co-Director & SC Treasurer, in the Pacific Northwest, followed by summertime with Youth on Fire & Melissa Michaels and the rite of passage movement community at Golden Bridge in Boulder, CO. My relationship to YPW deepened in autumn when I made my way to All Nations Gathering Center in Yellow Bear Canyon, SD for a YPW healing ceremony. Invited by Youth Passageways guardians Becky & Dallas Chief Eagle I reconnected with many folks I hadn’t seen since our LA Gathering in 2016. By the end of that year, 2018, I said, “Yes!” to join the YPW Stewardship Council and become the Secretary. I also said “Yes!” to drop anchor in the Bay Area of the Ohlone people, supporting my partner and now fiancé while they finished grad school.
When the pandemic and uprisings happened in 2020, now the Co-Chair of Youth Passageways, I found myself closer to the Leadership Circle. I was lucky to have the ability and time to plug in where I was needed and where I felt I could bring my gifts. We birthed the YPW Education & Consulting Collective in the midst of the fires, offering caucus spaces for both the People of the Global Majority and aspiring and committed white anti-racists in the network. We planned and held our first virtual Stewardship Council gathering in autumn. I was a part of creating systems of accountability and assessment for our staff and leadership within YPW. I supported our “Core 4” in organizing monthly Stewardship Council meetings. And I hope throughout my time my input for website updates, particularly the partner listing classifications and specifically the gender & sexuality search, provide a container of belonging and a tool for LGBTQIA2S+ people and my Queer & Trans kin.
I feel I have served our mission, the organization and the people I call family well. I trust the fruits of my labors will come to bear in deep time and I remain open and curious, with the ability to witness and remain close and supportive to those meaningful relationships I have invested in. I hope that the fires that have forged YPW into our current stage of development (still a young organization!) bring with it an accountability and vulnerability that shepherds us through a collective, regenerative, healthy passage into the conscious and embodied adult leaders serving young people in these uncertain times.
What’s next for me? Well, I’ll continue to be in contact and involved with the YPW Education & Consulting Collective and assisting with fundraising for now. I’m completing my SomaSource Practitioner studies with Golden Bridge and am on the Production team for Surfing the Creative here in Boulder, CO this July. I’m volunteering with OUT Boulder, learning how to DJ, tending to my website queerodyssey.org, participating in a Queer Mirroring training and becoming a foster parent. I’m creating home. If you’re ever in the area, hit me up, I’d love to show you.
Dear White Partners of the Youth Passageways Network,
We are reaching out to you, in this intense time for humanity and specifically the United States, with an invitation to weave deeper with Youth Passageways’ work in 2021, and a request for immediate financial support.
We are asking you specifically because it is our understanding that your group is led by and/or predominantly serves white communities. We believe that we as white folks have a particular opportunity and responsibility to support the next steps of building the visionary, multicultural network that is Youth Passageways.
We see you as an ally in this effort.
This last year painfully illustrated how far we have to go in building a future that works for all of us, and also highlighted the role that groups like Youth Passageways have to play. More people are waking up to the need to look outside of mainstream solutions, and are turning to grassroots communities that have been preserving traditional ways for generations. In order to see holistic systems change in education, mental health, youth development, and law enforcement–the institutions that matter in the lives of young people today–requires building broader and deeper webs of connection.
This is where Youth Passageways–and you–come in.
Slowly, steadily, and in our own small way, Youth Passageways is building a multicultural, multigenerational family of mutual support –a rite of passage network rooted in a commitment to systems change, including supporting indigenous-led decolonization efforts, cultural reclamation, reparations, and healing. Our vision is that ALL young people will grow up with a deep sense of identity, belonging, and purpose–a prayer often hard to fund amidst the urgency of the moment.
Why now? Why is our collective work and multicultural network important to support NOW with all that is moving for each of us, for our organizations and communities? For many of our partner organizations, the challenges that are being presented are beyond our imagination. The impacts of COVID, economic instability, health disparities, ongoing state violence, violent and hateful rhetoric, and the rollbacks of even modest policy gains, have left their communities in deep states of distress. We, as partners of the Youth Passageways network, are practicing mutual support and reciprocity toward the long-term goal of shifting these systemic inequities.
Since Youth Passageways’ founding, many People of the Global Majority (PoGM, a term used to replace the language “People of Color” which honors that they are not “minorities” but are actually the majority, and honors the wide variations in skin color) , from all sorts of racial and cultural backgrounds, have worked to support and build the network. PoGM have taken risks, introducing white leadership within the Youth Passageways network to their young people, communities, and organizations. The rate of progress at times has been painfully slow, as PoGM leadership has had to navigate all the subtle and not-so-subtle impacts of whiteness in Youth Passageways.
All the emotional, spiritual, and practical labor by BIPOC leaders is incredible investment, highlighting commitment and belief in the vision. As prison abolitionist and former Co-Chair of the Youth Passageways Stewardship Council Kruti Parekh said recently in a letter to the network:
Youth Passageways is growing into a network equally rooted in anti-oppression and ceremony. We understand that education, spirituality, healing, and justice have always been deeply intertwined, that rites of passage have been stolen from too many of our people. To shift this on a broad scale it is important to center our Black and Indigenous family, particularly efforts led by young people, women, and LGBTQ2SIA+ kin.
In preparation for the next cycle, Youth Passageways is taking a winter season (in the Northern Hemisphere) to renew our vision, integrate all of the changes of 2020, complete key projects, and prepare for a spring season of new beginnings, regeneration and systemic transformation.
With your help, we are intending to raise $22,000 between now and the full moon of January 28th, to support Youth Passageways’ essential operations through the spring.
We call upon all of our partners of privilege to give generously this winter: to make two financial gifts to strengthen the network, one to Buffalo Visions, an Indigenous-led partner organization and one to Youth Passageways.
We invite you to share this call to action with 5 individuals or organizations in your network.
As Guardian Gigi Coyle recently described Youth Passageways’ efforts towards building a solidarity fund,
RIght now, Youth Passageways needs your financial support to take the next steps toward building a network of support for us all.
Please give what you can.
In love and solidarity,
Darcy Ottey, Siri Gunnarson, Jett Cazeaux, Dane Zahorsky,
Cameron Withey Byrne, Lia Bentley & Gigi Coyle
P.S. Your support helps build a strong multiracial, intergenerational rite of passage movement. Please give generously before the full moon on January 28th!
*a special thanks to the Revolutionary Love Project for the visual inspiration for our heart design!
As a diverse, intergenerational network of partners supporting youth in becoming healthy adults, rooted in belonging and connected to their gifts, the Youth Passageways community is experiencing the impacts of COVID-19 across much of the spectrum of what is being experienced in broader society today.
Many are suffering at this time. This suffering is disproportionately experienced by those in the Global South; BIPOC members of our communities, the poor and working-class, our elders and olders, and those with chronic illnesses and disabilities. Much of this disparity is due to the ongoing impact of centuries of cultural destruction, genocide, and historical injustice.
Some of the issues that our partners and their people are facing right now include:
- Sickness of self/family members, death and loss
- Struggling to meet basic needs like food, water, shelter, seeds, and protective equipment
- Youth and adults being incarcerated in the COVID-19 pandemic, without family, unsafe, without access to physical distancing or adequate medical care
- Facing threats to civil liberties and basic safety
- Lack of meaningful engagement for young people who are out of school
- Dealing with the financial impacts of loss of livelihood
- Unable to gather to mark important individual and community transitions
- Struggling with anxiety, depression, and social isolation; nervous system overwhelm
- Needing support in making meaning and understanding what is happening on a mythological, cultural, emotional, and spiritual level.
As a network, we center decolonization, reconciliation, reparations, and cultural reclamation as essential components of restoring healthy passages into adulthood. In this time of global transformation, we offer prayers to our ancestors that they be close to us in this time, that we remember them, and receive from them their guidance as those who know the terrain of pandemics and cultural and economic transformation. We call upon our partners, allies, and the broader community to hold tight to each other while maintaining spacious solidarity and doing all that we can to protect one another’s safety, support those most vulnerable and disenfranchised among us, and take bold steps toward the future we wish to offer to our descendants.
At Youth Passageways we know that when we create pathways of wholeness, love, and liberation for all youth, we ensure that we don’t criminalize, isolate, or abandon anyone. Now is a moment to live this truth with all of our hearts.
In early December 35 women who guide women and girls through rite of passage gathered in Ojai from across the USA and Canada. The gathering was called “Transitions and Thresholds” and was an answer to a call for women to gather and ask questions about what it means to be a woman and to guide women and girls in this time of cultural transition. Guides were supported by three wisdom keepers representing all the five nations. There was singing, celebration, communing and deep questioning about what rites of passage means now, how to define gender as gender constructs are being pulled apart by our youth, what it means to be empowered as a woman and what sort of world we are initiating people into. The gathering brought more questions than answers. These questions and the discussions and resources that women shared are available for all in a book of proceedings. If you wish to receive access to this or are interested in future gatherings you can join our facebook group Transitions and Thresholds or you can email convener, Miriam Jones, at HERE.
(As part of a response to a petition from native people asking a white-led group to cancel their work with a mixed blood native woman, and for Youth Passageways Network not to feature them.)
As one who has been a rites-of-passage guide and trainer since the mid ‘80s…
As one who has co-created five networks, four NGO’s, three still alive and serving many today…
As one who is a participant in many others, and a communitarian/community activist…
As one who sees the world through the lens of injustice & inter-dependence…
As one who supports the empowerment and manifestation of the individual, the person, while seeing and working for needed system change…
As one who has stood against injustice at the risk of my own life, as well as one who has stayed silent and walked away…
As one who is willing to show up and shut up when others need and deserve to be heard at long last…
As one who feels that–in order for needed change to unfold–alliances, partnerships, at key times around key issues, are essential…
As one who knows I am on a spectrum and neither permanently guilty or free from having been or being: a sexist, a racist, a classist, an ageist, a perpetrator and a victim in a moment, in my lifetime, through my action, my inaction and my lineage…
As one who supports the respect and preservation of culture while simultaneously working to end some patterns that became culture, some narrow unjust views that became laws, some wounded perspectives that became custom across the globe and throughout time…
As one who celebrates and struggles through the pain and bumps along with the joys and gifts of differences in most every relationship…
I write and offer the following for those who may be interested, inspired by the Youth Passageways/Cross-Cultural Protocol work, that has had many different issues of cultural appropriation to address. I hope some of these words and experiences might serve as part of any conversation and any decisions we are each making, every day, in pursuit of love, justice and truth.
Context as I understand it…
Today, as well over many eons, cultural appropriation is being brought to attention…it is part of living in a land where genocide, slavery and immigration systems have been accompanied by ongoing discrimination, racism and disrespect. It is part of living in a world where people continue to be killed for their skin color, gender, sexual expression, class, spiritual beliefs or religion. In the USA there are extreme injustices in situations such as life on many reservations and there is a strong sovereignty movement that brings hope to not only First Nations peoples but to our country as a whole in the struggle for change.
People have been working for change for eons in these arenas and today there are many more it seems showing up with a passion and a commitment to justice that is so needed in these times. There are systematic levels to work on, as well as community and personal levels to work on. Whether it be about the change needed in our legal system or the rewriting of the constitution itself. I see it as a ‘yes, and’…a need for individual change and healing as well as a corporate, governmental, global issue. Changes needed and coming include the rights to ceremony with plant medicines and changing the name of the Washington Redskins, while waking up to how we simply speak to each other between races. Re-education if not revolution.
Our work is to ensure it unfolds in a good way
What we share, what we protect, what we embrace from songs to rite of passage ceremonies is a key area that groups such as Youth Passageways and many others are in deep inquiry around. Who are our people? What is our lineage? What is our respectful way of being with rituals that, in many cases, have grown across time and culture and land since the first fire? What is our responsibility to those who have gone before us? How do we honor the sanctity of ceremony while also living in a capitalist society? Would anyone charge for entering a church or temple? Throughout history Buddhas have been dynamited from cliff faces, churches have been burned to the ground and sacred sites have been defamed. What is our part in ending the war?
ROP ultimately is about belonging whether to a tribe, community/group, land, culture, race, or this earth. And yet in the founding of networks, we often discuss the role of “vetting,” and how one does that within a network, on a website, in a community – not to mention within a country, e.g., in immigration practices. Who belongs and whether or not I belong is one of the continuing questions and wounds for many in our world today. Even though as an extended community, we may share common values and mission, I also imagine and have often experienced that what “you” would find o.k. I would question, and what another would find unacceptable, I would engage with. On a practical level this brings any network to ask who is a partner, a member, a participant? My response was then, as I feel now, that in each organization or network, we state and work our call, our mission, our vision, our mandate, our ethics, our task strongly, and then we reach out into every community and especially those less likely to have the privilege of what is being offered. We attend and be with whoever and whatever shows up–be that support, alliance, critique, or resistance. We create a forum where issues, if and as they arise, can be revealed, can be aired if not healed. In addition, and as essential, is looking to any staff, member, partner or the circle of participants to find their way, to witness, to be ambassadors, to discern, rather than looking to the network conveners to be police. If our guidelines are clear and current, and if we do our due diligence to be responsible and accountable to our own lineage and the land, place or country and its lineage, we then will discover what is ours to do and who will do it.
Who are we and how do we respond, regarding issues of cultural appropriation? Specifically, relations with First Nations?
I would hope we as youth guides start by modeling a guideline that has only served some in this land, and needs to serve many more than it does …“innocent ‘til proven guilty.” I would hope when a seeming injustice or offense occurs we look at the individual person and/or organization and also look beyond – at the time, at the system, at the whole context that co-created it.
More than a watch dog, I hope any of us might be a witness, a student, a tracker and a safe haven to face situations of offense, injustice, cultural appropriation that will, I suspect, continue to arise as part of our work. Bottom line is that whether we initiate or respond, I hope we take care of each other while we falter and learn; may we help each other strengthen our own authentic voices, know our lineage and support people to listen to each other, to learn through the issues, to be part of the healing. And may we all remain humble in this pursuit.
I have not been an active member of the CCP (Cross-Cultural Protocols–Youth Passageways) for a variety of reasons. From a distance, from what I know, I appreciate the work being carried. So, I speak up now as a Youth Passageways ‘guardian’ because I need to write this for myself, and also to bear witness to others I see and hear who often express concern on all sides of the cultural sensitivity issue. I feel to say some things from my experience over the years, to do my part by sharing some of my experience below, to have a voice at the table or better yet to simply be part of our collective awareness. We are all here in these seats now for a time not to dominate with a perspective, knowing, or decision but to offer a piece of the story. It feels a moment to share a bit more of where I am “coming from,” living through a time and life experience of, Title 9, “MeToo”, Civil Rights, Wounded Knee and more – a time in some ways very different than the one many of you were born into.
I will make general references below and not use many names here for obvious reasons.
I am hopefully offering a personal perspective as part of the whole that will serve in the ROP network’s vision/mission, that every youth alive can have an initiation opportunity. I say all of this below to bear witness to the complexities. And I hope to be a nudge to others to write and speak from their experience, so we can continue to find truth and love and action in the circle. I would love to see an issue of Confluence focused on this.
A network is a living council, a world of many separate and also mixed cultures
As I have worked in different countries and cultures over the years, I have witnessed extremes on many sides and found that each time accusations arose it was rarely simple…there was something to be learned, healed or changed. As more now recognize the power and import of tradition and culture, that which was stolen and continues in some or many ways to be, I need to also speak for those who gave away, those who gifted, those who shared, as well as those who received, those who walked with as much integrity into their time and situation as seems possible. I cannot fall too quickly into the world of right and wrong, except when it comes to structural injustice such as with racism and sexism as examples. As we take our positions and stands, I want to speak for both individuals and groups. I feel we are here to find our way with each and discern relations rather than judge appropriation too quickly.
There are for example those white and Metis who went and apprenticed for years, a lifetime in South American villages, those who followed Buddhist monks, yogis and guru’s requests to bring the teachings to any and all in America…I have witnessed healing, in the essential return to our own “song-lines,” and healing as well amongst many who have crossed borders. In many places, I have been privy to partnerships, ones deeply informed by racial differences, historical trauma, systematic oppression as well as ones guided by the human heart, shared values and common ground. I, and many cohorts, work for such through continued awareness of what privilege and injustice we are consciously and unconsciously a part of, inside and out. I look to be with others in pursuit of creating alliances needed in our world, hopefully evolving in a healthier more whole-hearted direction to protect all life and to be part of the learning and healing of ourselves along with others.
Some specifics … to help highlight why each situation demands attention
I have been with AIM reps carrying guns and anger that have silenced me, brought me to a deeper place of compassion, understanding, and fear for the world we have created. I have also seen them change from coming to break up a ceremony to, after much listening and sharing, three days later stay to offer a ceremony. It was my direct experience of AIM that became what I could trust.
I have been with traditional people who hold their ways very close. I have been with less traditional peoples, who moved with dignity as bridge people, who not only offered their ceremonies to other non-natives but gifted the responsibility to select non-natives. Some took on apprentices that were non-native because those were the ones who expressed interest or were, yes, in many cases, privileged enough to have the time. Even though we can identify many injustices that created such situations and hopefully continue to attend to those, it nonetheless is part of what happened quite a bit, what at least I witnessed, in the ‘70s and ‘80s. And it continues today in similar and different ways.
We have witnessed first-hand the disagreement of what and how ceremonies, songs, practices and perspectives should be offered, shared and passed on in many places, as well as within one tribe. I have seen people questioned about their heritage in a way that brought connection and understanding and other times brought added trauma into a life already tragically shattered. I have known well, white people as “want-to-be’s,” idolizing and romanticizing the “Natives,” walking the Red Road, some without knowing who they themselves are or where they came from. And I have been with sincere individuals led to and called to learn through relationships with indigenous people, guided simultaneously, yes, by knowledge of and connection to their own ancestors. I have been with takers and money makers and not wanted to be connected to their careers and I have been with many who learned in such exchanges, deepened and healed and focused primarily on what they could give back – not only to a teacher but to whole nations. I have seen white, black, brown, yellow and red people be true bridge people, finding their healing by daring or being forced to venture beyond their homeland, the Res, the favela or the monastery, as well as listening and choosing at times to return. And I have been deeply moved, educated and in service to peoples who have deepened into the preservation and continuation of their traditional culture.
I and many cohorts, have sat with charlatans and impersonators, liars and fabricators, and witnessed the darkness of power use and abuse, and the gift of people having to wake up and find their relationship to such. I have sat outside of lodges where the people who were leading did not even know or have a connection with the land they were on, much less the depth of the ceremony, much less the offense they were making to some. I have been friends, mentor and student of many Metis, mixed-blood people, and learned of their struggles, and related to their journey when tradition offered them as little as did the dominant white culture. I have worked with whites that grew up on the Res, lived or spent time or worked as I have been blessed to do in other cultures and woke to their whiteness and the knowledge of what they were doing, imposing, missing, longing for through such. I have seen many stand strong in ancient truths and ways, as well as modern wisdom, as well as many walk between the worlds and find their unique place despite criticism from people on all sides. I have been blessed to sit with peoples of different races and classes that refused to take sides, refused to be enemies, and some who were killed for such…and seen their relatives carry on and know the essential contribution of this path.
Too often I, we, judge too quickly. And why? Among many other reasons I imagine, a desire to be right, a desire to be good, a desire to protect, a desire to be part of the healing?
I stand for the latter and walk with people who care about the pain of the present with a look to the future, as well as to the past, who seek understanding and action…for what will serve all of life. Ones who will sit with the heart knowing, the “not-knowing,” and don’t so quickly have the answers. The knowing I hang with for now at least, is that we are learning and healing every day if we so choose and ask and pray…and that what was o.k. in the past may not be now, or in some cases never has been.
I ask us all to be careful we do not pass on the condemnation of others from hearsay, from accusations alone, through policing, through watch-dogging those we have not met, been with, asked who they are…even for the sake of protecting others we know or don’t know either.
Ignorance is not a path, nor is denial, and righteousness is a tricky slope; restoring relations takes care and time. What is ours to do, what is the time we have to do it well…what comes our way and what do we seek out? How do we continue to create community, solidarity and relationship in the face of sometimes painful learnings? Can we, will we stay in the circle?
May we walk slowly and make every action a part of the healing
I know at one time in my life if I had not heard a particular legend or the Hopi Prophecy I would have most likely left this planet. Maybe that would have been o.k….and still…I know the persons who shared it were honored, loved and respected by many….and, at best by others considered inappropriate, controversial, breaking protocol. As my mentor then said, “if you’re doing anything meaningful, it will be controversial.”
I am ever grateful for having met, experienced guides offering a container, a ceremony for initiation at a time I was in search for such …I had self- initiated too often and hurt myself repeatedly. I knew I wanted to, that I had to, offer that gift once experienced to others. Thirty years later, many of us now have offered ROP to anyone and everyone called, encouraging all participants to find their own way with their ancestors, within the ceremony, with the earth, with nature as teacher, with the community present as well as the one they return to. Such journeys for the first 10 years included my family, my community, my ancestral lines of white North Americans and Europeans, predominantly. And since then, over the past 20 years, journeys have also included POC, African, Asian, Hispanic, Pacific peoples, and South Americans…indigenous and colonizers. I have seen Jews and Christians unexpectedly rediscover the roots of their traditions when being alone for many days in nature. Others seem to find a spiritual home in nature and the community that never was there within their religions. I have seen ancestors show up in ceremony, convincing me of truths so many have known for eons. I have seen boundaries crossed and alliances formed that do not ignore race or history or identity yet establish common ground that is a belonging to this earth.
As a native elder spoke to me just this week, we need each other
I have been with native people who thanked some of us white ones for the connection, the seeing, the respect, sometimes for just showing up and shutting up – for learning, for listening, and even inspiring them at times! This was humbling. I walked with, worked with and loved a white Australian man who was initiated into and lived with the oldest aboriginal tribe and turned out to be a key link to paints and painting again, the movement to reawaken dreamtime through art. And I have sat and worked with western white brothers and sisters who did such and then found it was time to stop such a focus, who listened more deeply around “helping,” around the effects of even philanthropy, who listened again for when and how to show up and to walk together and when to turn to themselves and work more deeply with themselves and their own people, race, religion or class. I was once deeply thanked by Pacific elders for working “with my own.” And just this week thanked by Paiute elders for reaching out and walking with them.
I think you get it, “yes, and…it depends”
And, I feel there is not one way here for any of us, one response to all situations that I have ever found at least, that lasts forever. Many of the white folk woke in the ‘60s along the Red Road are the more woke people today I find around cultural appropriation…who would have thunk? Having offered solo ceremonial time in nature to people from different classes, cultures and backgrounds, I can say this: all, truly all, seemed to walk away with a blessing not because of me but because of the journey. The white privileged ones, I would dare to guess over 75% of them, are more tuned in and inspired to share resources not only with a Youth Passageways, an Ojai or School of Lost Borders but with movements of social justice and traditional cultural rites.
Having said this, I say again there are significant times of cultural appropriation, lack of awareness and respect, blindness to the offense and systematic oppression we are a part of. I feel I as a white person with a white lens and white privilege I must wake up to such and show up for such. As but one of numerous examples that is complex …I have been a part of different organizations over the years and continually spoken for not charging for ceremonies something traditional indigenous people raise time and time again. Sometimes it has been heard and shared and sometimes not. Sometimes it’s said that I don’t have to make a living and as a privileged person with additional means and ways of “making a living,” therefore I don’t understand, or get it, or need the money. And yet I remain on this track, also having been with and without $ in my life, realizing along with and regardless of my “privilege,” I still say and feel the healing and change around money is needed here, on both a personal and systemic level. There are always gifts exchanged and what form that takes can vary. Do we charge to be in church, or pass a basket? Can we act from a place of generosity ?
I will continue to do my part in addressing this where and when it seems like people are “making money” off of sacred journeys and there is not a field of reciprocity to the lineage holders, the land the as well as to the guides. Again, there is much to consider and each situation can be different. In today’s world, real distinctions need to be made between trainings, programs and ceremonies. There is always an opportunity to share resources in other ways, to live and support gifting economies rather than charging for ceremony.
….. To sum it up on a personal note ……
As said, I have been and likely will be in the future…racist, sexist and ignorant of history, of wounds, of systems, of how my actions and or inactions hurt others. I will always have a white woman lens and I live for a world and people who have access to many lens. And I continue to walk on from my graduate work focused on race and feminism in 1971 knowing I have not graduated. I carry a simple yet infinite intention – to keep learning and be part of the healing. I have seen and deeply pursued restoring and learning through my ancestral relations since I was a child and encouraged others to do so. Not because someone told me but rather because that is what came to me when I deeply asked for help. I have found the gift in that connection as well as the medicine in severing some of those ties and ending a lineage of abuse. I get the need for continual change in our language around sex, race, wilderness and more, feeling that no formula is going to work, and practices can help. I can’t show up at times for what seems a fundamentalism of right and wrong, another chapter in hate, closed heart and mind, a good and evil lens, in victim and perpetrator views that simplify the human condition, situation, and spirit beyond recognition.
All of this to say, I find, thankfully, along with many others, a way to be hopefully who I am, with an authentic voice, and to own and share the gifts I have discovered and been given to the best of my ability, to risk offending and show up to when or where that arises. To stand my ground and be ever willing to change. To use my positionality and privilege in any given room, for justice and healing– always in All Ways. And to continue to listen for how those ways might change as the circle changes.
…Regarding our action as networks ….
It is a time of triage and in many situations, we must act to simply stop the injustice. And if we do not simultaneously support a change of ways at the root, or what some might name the level of consciousness, behaviors will reemerge. I recently read “radical” defined as “changing at the root”…if the roots aren’t tended, the grass and weeds in any garden only come back stronger. Having been a so-called radical protesting the Vietnam war, I saw us, our government, eventually “get out,“ yet not necessarily through a change of heart. It seemed, as is so often the case, that it was primarily economics and politics that moved us along. I can say “yes, thank god for that,” and yet on many levels we simply moved the war somewhere else.
As a representative at a First International Women’s conference and a leader at the First National Women’s Conference in the ‘70s, I am grateful for how we gathered, stood, and walked. Yet I witnessed the same behaviors amongst many of us there as within the patriarchy we were attempting to dismantle …some of the same racism and oppressive patterns many only now will own. I asked then, as I do now, “How will we be different when we “WIN,” when we are on top/in charge?” I myself was far from sure and have spent a lifetime in that exploration and research mostly finding myself in circle with at best hierarchies of service, diversity and responsibility. In the environmental movement where we fight for new laws and protection the same scenarios emerge. I don’t name The Enemy as capitalism but rather the mind/heartset that creates it…as I see the same oppressive patterns in countries that are communist and socialist as well. Fear, greed, alienation, generations of wounds and trauma being passed on within the dominant group as well as the minoritized groups. Without the change of heart, without healing, without coming to love ourselves, this earth, i.e., feeling intimately part of it, ultimately laws may be changed and rape will continue.
So, my ask or offering towards guidelines
This is not a new or unique perspective. For now, we need cross-cultural protocols, we need books and trainings around social justice. We need #MeToo , It’s Time, Inclusion and Intersectionality awareness and movements – and much more. We need people everywhere who will stand up, bear witness and call out what has to change. My prayer is that we can simultaneously embody what the new story is going to look like. I would hope we ROP and council guides, if and as we are connected to an action, if and as we see cultural appropriation in its different expressions–a program that seems “off,” in whatever ways to what we value and stand for–that YES for sure we speak up. And, that we take the time, as I hear people doing now, that we find the time, ideally before any action is taken, to hear all, and encourage the learning and healing first and foremost.
I also hear again the question of what is ours to do? And that we maybe “should” even be more proactive around cultural appropriation. My simple suggestion/wish is that we take on what comes to us for sure, we do what we can do well, and then we do more as we have the time, skill, heart and resources. Making references, connecting partners, to be helpful to each other is an essential task of networks.
With all the needed, growing awareness of systematic oppression….
I ask that we too may stay aware of the individuals, those who hadn’t a place within their tribe, their homeland or reservation to be; those of different lineage and skin color who chose to stumble or be guided into other worlds to find their voices, their wisdom, their gifts, their healing. There must have been way over 50 indigenous and Metis people who came to The Ojai Foundation in the first 10 years, and we were there, yes, to sit in ceremony sometimes with them. Yet many times it was about simply listening to them, to their pain, their story, their dreams, and their worldview. This was a privilege and a gift. And, they came or stayed to listen and offered help with our pain, our lost sense of place, home, ancestors, whatever, to offer themselves and their prayers together to be part of the healing.
Who and How do we decide?
Do we think like a circle? Do we have faith in reaching out to others to find our best prayer and action…are we modeling working in partnership and looking to and nudging our partners to show up in our networks?
So, this is my confession ☺, reflection, my story for now, that I offer on these topics
I continue to learn from different indigenous people, those who have lived and deeply carried their cultures, those who have been forcefully separated from it and returned with dignity, and those who have walked between many worlds, and been part of creating new culture. I continue to learn from my own family who are in the white picket fences where they grew up, some who are as conservative as they come, as well as those white western people whose lens is radically different after leaving “home and comfort,” turning to work and/or live in different cities, different cultures. I am a 69 year-old white woman “becoming,” an offspring and product of my ancestors, my time, my environment, my culture, my class, my privilege, my race…as I experience others so to be, whether Trump or Nelson Mandela. As well, I am ever-changing woman with the choices I have made, the situations and people I have known, my blood family, and my emerging global community. I offer what I feel may serve to the places, people and organizations whose visions I share.
And I am here to receive your responses, reactions, feedback, dialogue and perspective.
We thankfully will continue, I hope, to hear from a diverse group within the leadership of more such networks and organizations committed to healthy communities for all. I seek to find and tend to trust the actions and prayers, healing and learning in circles, communities, organizations and networks such as these.
Looking forward…with gratitude, Gigi
I have been a student of ROP theory and practice for 20 years. In the course of interactions with ROP leaders (far less so in the course of my studies) I’ve learned that there are some disagreements, perhaps even fault lines that exist in ROP theory and practice. Many of these fault lines showed up quickly and dramatically in the run-up to the Youth ROP Summit I hosted in Oakland in April 2012. Below you’ll see more details on how I personally experienced some of these fault lines. But rather than prove to you that they exist I ask that you accept them on good faith and allow me to turn to them directly as my starting place. If these reflect stories that I am carrying that no longer apply to the real world then I ask your forbearance. Since I assume I’m talking to a small and informed group of ROP practitioners I’m going to trust you’ll have a sense of what I’m talking about.
The primary fault lines of contemporary ROP practice and theory I see are these: communities vs. programs; gender specific vs. all genders; culture (or religion) specific vs. any and all cultures and religions welcome; nature-based vs. indoor or urban; age determinate vs. age indeterminate; heteronormative vs. homonormative.
In the course of conversations with some ROP leaders these categories and divides have been presented to me as such. Personally, I don’t see them as oppositional, even less as dichotomies. They may form the substance of theoretical conflicts but I don’t believe they need represent irresolvable institutional divides. I’ve always taken an all-inclusive “both-and” approach, meaning that all of these – let’s call them ideological differences – evaporate immediately once you accept them all. The position I take? In some circumstances and in some situations any of these approaches can produce positive outcomes.
Fortunately, one issue that is NOT a fault line anymore seems to be the one reconciling the largely right brain world of ROP field activities with the largely left brain world of organizational administration. In effect, bringing together rational, statistically based data and science with the mysteries and miracles of ROP. Increasingly ROP practitioners are using whole brain systems, linking left and right hemispheric thinking. In a sense that is our task: to take the right brain world of ROP work – the intuitive, spiritual, and sacred forces that “magically” coalesce to create human transformation – and translate them into the left brain world of scientific explanations, statistical data, and rational logic to explain them. Most people in the ROP world understand that generating rational explanations and data are fundamental to substantiate the value of their work, not to mention essential to secure funding! If we can’t prove that initiating young people raises their grades, keeps them off meds, reduces delinquency and self-harming behaviors like reckless drinking, drugging, and driving, then what use is it?
But some ROP fault lines still persist, and are possibly becoming more pronounced. Let’s look at a couple. Many will say that if any cultural practice exists that excludes transgendered or queer people then that practice hurts everyone and perpetuates a societal shadow. I really understand and appreciate that point of view. But not to the point where it necessarily trumps another individual’s cultural and religious practices. Consider a heteronormative ROP practitioner, let’s say a Christian fundamentalist, who argues that to practice homonormative inclusion is to violate a fundament of his or her culture or religion. Though I don’t personally subscribe to that viewpoint I believe it deserves to be respected. (To be clear, we’re not talking about state or federal laws here. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of them that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender status. We’re talking here about cultural and religious practices of ROP which the federal government has recently demonstrated it does not have a vested interest in.)
Let’s take another example. Many indigenous ROP practices are maintained on a basis of exclusivity for people of their own culture or ethnicity. To initiate outsiders is to risk betrayal of ancient ways, to risk cultural appropriation. I respect that. Outsiders should be invited in if they’re to be included. Most progressive folks practicing ROP would say this is a no-brainer. But to return to the example above why should an indigenous group’s practice of exclusion be any more acceptable than a non-indigenous group’s? What if that indigenous group says no to queer youth? What if a non-indigenous group does? And what about the many contemporary initiatory practices that already exist that include elements of historical indigenous practices? What to do about those? ROP practitioners usually say they were blessed by native elders to share these practices. But different native elders might dispute that and say they were stolen and appropriated. Who’s to decide?
I would argue that cultures are living things, and as such will always grow and change. And they will grow and change all the faster in a world like ours that is increasingly interconnected and increasingly aware of its multiculturalism. So when it comes to either exclusionary or hybrid practices I say leave them be. As long as ROP leaders consciously, lovingly, and diligently recognize their lineage(s) and teachers, as long as they are doing good work in a good way, serving the greater good and not just serving themselves, then I say leave them be. Jazz and hip-hop (and so much more) began exclusively in African-American culture. Are we to pass laws and say that non-African-Americans can not and should not learn from this culture, share and delight in this culture, and yes, “appropriate it” and make it their own? Cultural sovereignty has to be respected until there are times when it doesn’t make sense to because it doesn’t serve the greater good.
Let’s take a third example. (And yes, I’m purposefully addressing the issues most highly charged, most likely to ruffle feathers because I think they’re important.) Many ROP proponents would argue that without a deep experience of nature no ROP will have fundamental value – establishing a clear and deep connection with Mother Earth. I deeply appreciate that perspective and I certainly advocate for wilderness and nature-based ROPs. But I’ve also witnessed profound transformations of individuals in urban and indoor locations that have little or no connection to the natural world. Those processes, in my view, allow initiates to experience the “nature within” – their own human nature. Whether initiates are conscious of it or not, that nature – the oceans and forests within – is deeply tied to the natural world outside. So again I say “both-and.”
The point of all this “both-and” thinking, this inclusionary priority made paramount, is that if we don’t embrace all the different expressions of ROP practice we risk becoming our own worst enemies. We risk saying “You… But not you.” We risk excluding some people and some groups from our community. Personally, I don’t think absolutist approaches like “my way or the highway,” or “draw a line in the sand” are effective. I don’t like them. When utilized we risk creating “the other.” We do this through ideological means no less stringent than Christian or Muslim fundamentalism. “I work with communities. I’ll join your organization but not if programs are included in it.” “I won’t be part of any organization that doesn’t automatically exclude men or organizations that promote SSA.¹” “Boys need initiation more than girls.” “Mixed gender initiation can’t work.” “You have a great ROP program but until you offer serious mentorship as part of after-care for initiates I won’t take part.” “If individual X is part of your group then I’m not coming.” I’ve heard them all before. Literally. Every single one from ROP leaders. And every time I hear something like that I see a wall go up and I see an “us and them” mental dynamic take shape. “I’m right; they’re wrong.”
There’s an old maxim for marriage that says “You can be right or you can be happy.” I see the choices here as similar. When it comes to some issues we can be “right” and cross every T and dot every I. We can be politically correct. But both intentions and impacts have to be measured. It’s certainly important to try and make every effort to get things “right.” But it’s also important to measure impact: are we aiming to be maximally “pure” or maximally inclusive and maximally effective? What exactly are we aiming for?
I believe multiculturalism can be an ideology no less absolutist (and therefore exclusionary) than communism, Christian or Muslim orthodoxy, or consumerist market capitalism. I’ve seen it have impacts in diverse circumstances where it drives people away. It makes them wrong. “You said such and such therefore you clearly don’t respect the rights and claims of so and so.” “By not doing X you have demonstrated that you are Y [fill in the blank: racist, sexist, homophobic, ageist, ableist, classist…]” If we’re to really grow this community into a worldwide body of significance we need to be able to accept every individual or group at their unique station of growth. Spiral dynamics has taught us that and expects nothing less.
What I’m arguing for here is an existential response to each ROP practice and policy with the highest priority placed on effectiveness. If a given ROP is effective and creates deep transformation for participants then I say “welcome!” I also believe that it is a waste of time to codify policies across different cultural ROP practices. I view it as a Sisyphean task that can and will consume huge resources and never achieve its aim of 100% “buy-in” from every potential ROP practitioner or group. No matter how good the languaging, no matter how inclusive the intentions, it’s impossible not to offend some person’s sense of identity at some time, however unintentionally. No matter what you say and do somebody is going to be wounded. So what do you do then? Refer them back to the written codes? No. You have to be with them personally and try to solve the conflict through deep listening and heart to heart contact. Trying to codify what can not be codified is a waste of time. But what’s worse is that efforts to do so might actually inhibit creating real social change.
There’s a book called THEORY OF CHANGE that aims to identify what social change-makers’ core (and usually hidden) assumptions are. Carol Weiss popularized the term “Theory of Change” as a way to describe the set of assumptions that explain both the mini-steps that lead to the long-term goal and the connections between program activities and outcomes that occur at each step of the way. What makes for maximal effectiveness for whatever party seeks it? Some people are naturally more process oriented. Others, like myself, are more outcome oriented. Clearly both are important. What I hope to draw people’s attention to is the need to understand what our primary assumptions are that drive our theories of change and to check out whether those assumptions are in fact leading to the changes we want.
Nothing is more fundamental to my base values than social justice. I was raised by parents who instilled that in me. Much of my life’s work, my art, reflects stands taken for racial and economic justice, and for all human rights… to set all social, economic, and political norms at a level playing field in order to finally establish true equal opportunity for all beings. In my view economic inequality has gotten far worse in my 60 year lifetime. Gender and sexual orientation acceptance has gotten much better. Racial inequality is about the same, maybe slightly worse. Religious tolerance is far worse. Cultural acceptance is much better. Nationalism and jingoism may be vastly reduced in Europe and Africa but it’s far worse in Russia, the U.S., and China… And on and on it goes…
But here’s the point: to be an effective and far-reaching organization I believe our representative organization Youth Passageways cannot be both a youth ROP organization and a social justice organization. Most organizations have enough trouble functioning effectively with a single, well-defined mission. Those with dual missions are doomed to failure. I always say you need to be able to explain to someone in ten words or less who you are and what you do. Those ten words better be lucid. If you can’t make it that simple for yourself then no one else is going to get it either – not funders, not partners, not supporters, not members.
Social justice and youth ROP are two very admirable, very lofty and ambitious goals. Achieving one is unreasonable enough. Achieving two is insane. When I was called to co-found YP the simple vision that I had was “every teen on the planet gets initiated and mentored.” Crazy unreasonable? You bet! But simple and easily comprehended.
Do I believe social justice is a natural, maybe inevitable byproduct of ROP? Yes. But it can’t be the aim. I once asked Bill Kauth – one of the three founders of the ManKind Project – an adult men’s ROP organization that in 30 years has grown from a weekend workshop in Milwaukee, WI to an international organization in 25 countries, ten languages, with over 70,000 men initiated – why MKP never took any political or social justice stands, especially given its founders deep interest in social justice. He said, “The strength of the organization lies partly in the fact that we haven’t taken public stands on issues. We are a men’s initiation and growth institution, empowering men to their own unique missions of service. How they manifest their service in the world is up to them.”
Should YP practice non-discriminatory policies? Yes. Can it model the behavior it seeks from other organizational members? You bet. But I’m concerned it may try to hold other organization-members to its own standards of social justice. If that happens, whether in overt or subtle ways, I’m afraid it will remain small and ineffective. If it tries to propagate those social justice standards as fervently as it tries to propagate youth ROP it will not achieve either. If it languages its work in terminology that speaks in a West Coast lingo of “new paradigms,” “collective initiation” and even too many uses of “sustainability” and “permaculture” we will drive people away. We will be “right” but not “happy.” We need to learn to embrace all the different variants of ROP practice whether they fit our standards of justice or not.
It’s also tactically smart for YP to focus on youth ROP. Right now there’s lots of support monies and resources available for organizations that promote youth well-being. The powers that be will support youth maturation. The powers that be, by and large, do not support social justice. If they did we wouldn’t need it so badly! But seeking support for youth maturation has to be measured and wise. The old Marxist maxim that a capitalist will sell you the rope to hang himself with is true only to an extent. You can’t tell him that’s why you’re buying the rope! Do I privately hope that initiated youth will create a tsunami of change to replace the powers that be? To tear down this whole goddamn rotten political/economic system? You bet! But that’s each young person’s private choice to make. And I don’t see holding that private hope as a lie or deception since I truly honor each young person’s desire to act as they feel called.
I’ve long marveled at so-called futurists. Those that can extrapolate from present trends into the future and bear witness, however imaginary, to what might come. I never considered myself one of them. Many native peoples had social roles for folks like these and called them oracles. I am not an oracle. But recently I found myself receiving insights, however small, into what might come. I’m told it’s patriarchal to prognosticate in an authoritative way since it can be received as “God has spoken!” So I offer these subsequent reflections humbly, simply as thoughts that have occurred to me. I offer them in the collaborative spirit of sharing, intuitively, not as declarations from the mountain top.
Certainly the ROP practices of the near future will continue to grow in size and impact and become more “multi:” Multi-cultural, multi-gendered, multi-national, multi-religious. ISIS is one of the greatest arguments for ROP on the planet right now. What are all those men (and yes, a few women) being drawn to from around the world if not the opportunity to live a life of mission and purpose (contrary to what capitalism teaches), to be of service to something greater than themselves (contrary to what consumerism teaches), to function as a team, as a community working together for a “noble” purpose (contrary to what individualism offers), to be empowered and have impact (contrary to what Western countries offer them due to racial and ethnic discrimination). In short, ISIS offers initiation. Who else is offering that to Muslim youth in the West?
I spoke with an Imam in Detroit circa 2002 about what Muslim teen initiation looks like and I was shocked to hear him say there is no such thing. He did speak to the strong community values and service missions and mentoring practices that mosques offer. But clearly that’s not enough for many Muslim – or many other – youth.
ISIS is just one manifestation of the global dysfunction of communities and the lack of healthy initiation. The U.S. industrial prison complex is certainly another. The picture for the future is not rosy. No later than the end of this century, certainly by the 22nd century, I foresee neo-feudal Dark Ages dominated by groups like ISIS making perpetual war for scarce resources. Some 80% of the world’s population will die due to environmental and economic catastrophes the scale of which is difficult to imagine. That’s the bad news. But the remaining 20% will turn increasingly to ROP practices. That’s the good news. Those practices may for a time be less “multi” than those in our lifetimes but they will deepen their individual cultural footprints. Indigenous people, who hopefully will be able to safeguard continuity of their practices, will certainly strengthen them. Survival of the village may well depend on it. A “Warrior class” may be necessary to defend and protect the community, whether from neighboring villages, warlords, drug lords, feudal lords, corporate armies, or whatever remains of governments – the big gangs – whether called “police” or “army” or “law.” Unlike our historical epoch, those Warriors may not be gender determined. But they will require initiation. (Not to mention post-war rituals of reintegration.)
My guess is many communities will re-establish two stages of adolescent initiation – a universal one for all those entering puberty, 11-13 years old, and ones perhaps elective or “chosen” at the end of adolescence (16-21) for warriors and all the other key role players in community life, or maybe for all. Bill Plotkin of course has written extensively about this.
I believe the ROP social inventions that exist and are still spreading today – processes, workshops, and organizations like MKP, Boys to Men, Rite of Passage Journeys, School of Lost Borders, and so many more, will have largely disappeared. They’ll be long forgotten. Instead what I imagine you’ll find are communities which have adopted the practices from those and other organizations and woven them into the fabric of their everyday community life. Eventually, as information resources become more and more limited, they’ll explain it by saying, “This is how we’ve always done it.” I see that as a good thing.
I turned 60 in October. In the last year the social role of eldership has increasingly been thrust upon me. I never wanted it or asked for a seat at this particular table but there it is… life demands from us what it seems to want. So I’ve been thrust into positions of honor and basically asked to be wise. I do my best to speak my truth and sit down.
The issue of eldership raises a concern I’ve held for some time about ROP leaders who may or may not be members of the Youth Passageways network: Who are the elders in your community? Who is mentoring you? For many years I’ve heard from leaders in this ROP work that they have no mentors or courts of support. In addition, those same leaders are often doing little or nothing to safeguard their own health and well-being. What the hell? All too often these are charismatic, inspirational leaders of ROP practices and communities. How much are they themselves willing to be led? Where do they turn when they are in crisis? What about when their community is in crisis? What are they doing to prevent burnout? Who are they willing to listen to when they need to be told they’re full of shit? Where is the humility in their servant-leadership and the service to self?
Eldership is spoken of often in the YP network but how often is it practiced? Are elders really sought out? Is there real respect for elders who may have different points of view than youngers? It takes real humility to hear something you don’t want to hear, that triggers you or that you think is full of shit. That may in fact be how much of what I’ve written here has landed for you. That’s fine. But that’s the real test of hearing elders, of hearing anyone. Not when they bless you and acknowledge you and hold your hand in support. Those things are absolutely necessary – huge aspects of an elder’s role. Don’t get me wrong. But naming hard truths can often be just as valuable. Do you have the real humility to listen? And not defend, argue, or dismiss? The cultural ethos of today is that it’s impolite, or worse, a micro-aggression, somehow wrong to call someone on their shit. I find this deeply problematic. One of the great revelations of my life came from doing “men’s work” which taught me that this is one of the powerful ways men in fact love each other. They care enough about the other to tell them honestly what they think. If someone really wants you to grow into your greatest self they’ll do that. If they don’t care and don’t really love you they’ll stay silent or worse, they’ll disconnect.
And yes, I get it that different genders and different cultures and different ages have different styles of communication. The purpose of learning cross-cultural ways is partly so we can learn to hear difficult things from each other without reacting in offense.
I was well into my 40s before I really became capable of listening to hard truths that I didn’t want to hear. It’s not easy. It takes real skill and practice. Sitting in the discomfort is a skill I learned only by allowing myself to be hammered again and again by wise mentors. I needed it! I’m a stubborn SOB with a thick head! Hours and hours of meditation practice and dharma study helped a lot too…
This work is not about singing Kumbayah and dancing the hora together… or not only about that, about celebration. Though I believe violence is not inevitable, I do believe that conflict is inevitable. Dialectics: thesis/antithesis… synthesis; new thesis/antithesis… synthesis… the force of change. The question is how are we going to deal with conflict when it arises? Are we going to shut it down? Are we going to disconnect, drop out? Or can we learn to accept it, to sit in the heat that’s generated, and listen carefully for what the situation may be trying to tell us? “Welcome Fear! You bring excitement and challenge!” “Welcome Anger! You bring fierce clarity and deep passion!” These are the lessons Zen has taught me. Can we hear messages like anger and fear in ourselves and still stay in good relations with each other? I hope so. As long as humans are around conflict won’t likely go away. It’s important to learn how not to shrink from it. What is possible is to change our relationship to it. One of the purposes of ROP (though again, not for YP) is to create fierce warriors for justice, not wimps. Gandhi and MLK and Mandela were lots of things but they were not wimps shrinking from conflict.
Time for me to sit down.
- Men who say they have ‘Same Sex Attraction’ but are trying not to be gay.
Thanks for a little peek into the challenges of an intelligent, passionate group of people attempting to create an organization that supports initiatory experiences for young people. And attempting to do it in a way that is fundamentally different from the “old system” organizations. How to support a true network … where each node has its own integrity, values, organizational system (democratic, socialist, hierarchical …) that is not determined by any one “corporate head”? How to truly support diversity, the creative conversations … staying connected due to a common passion, and not getting stuck in “judgement” of each other? Huge task that many have failed. We keep trying. What is the function of YP? To set values, membership qualifications …?
I don’t see this in the statement of mission and ethics for YP. To live it internally is much more difficult though, as we inevitably bump up against each other’s personal values, judgements, passions, etc. For me that’s a good thing, yet one where “decisions” about this are made in each individual node of the network, not the node that is all about supporting the whole.
We need each other … and why I’ve been excited about YP is that it offers a range of amazing, dedicated, intelligent people with a wide range of offerings, yet sharing a common language; and a young person can put together an amazing cluster of experiences that truly support their passage into adulthood in the world today. Some as a part of the severance phase, others for the all important threshold experience, and wonderful places that offer experiences to support the incorporation phase of a rite of passage. We need each other. And young people resonate with different ways … to the rich diversity of offerings is a big plus. Wouldn’t want us all to be the same! Only wish we could offer what has integrity to who we are, without judgement of others.
For example: For me I feel passionate about nature being a component in any modern rite of passage … though not necessarily a part of every initiatory experiences that supports a full rop. For me as a guide I am constantly asking myself what are the qualities, skills, and experiences that prepare young people to deal with the givens of the modern world (and of course for me this is in the context of the States and some of europe, since that’s where I work). and for me a very important quality that needs empowerment is in healing the split of human and nature … imperative for the health of our species (in my opinion) … and so I include that in the initiatory experiences I offer. I also feel that a cross cultural component is essential to live in the global world today. I could go on. I may not be able to do all of it, yet I look for those organizations and experiences that will supplement what I might be able to offer, and encourage young people to explore the options, putting a full packet together.
Yet what do we do if someone wants to join the network who we feel doesn’t fit, or is “not good”, or does things that are “too dangerous” or don’t follow our basic values, etc.? Is there someone who decides what’s valid and what isn’t? What is the role of YP?
The German speaking Wilderness Guides Council decided that to be a member one has to have had a certain amount of approved training, and only then can join the conversation. The US wilderness guides council is inclusive of anyone, feeling that exposure to the conversation by anyone interested, is a good thing. In both places this has caused tension. There are definite guidelines to anyone considered to become a guide to the School, including School training, good recommendations by other school guides, etc. I feel strongly that the WGC should be inclusive. And respect that the German speaking council has made its own choices. At the same time there are definite guidelines to anyone considered to become a guide to the School, including School training, good recommendations by other school guides, etc. Different from an organization that is supporting the network, rather it is the decision making of one of the nodes in the network. What is the function of YP?
When Steven and I were first building Rites of Passage, Inc. in Marin, my stepmother (and mentor) Virginia Hine came to live with us half the year for several years. She was not only a cultural anthropologist (which gave us an important context for our work) but also with her colleague, the one who coined the term Network as a new social phenomenon. I continue to find it a helpful reminder. A quick search brought me what’s below … thought you’d find it interesting as well, since I hear some of its thoughts in your words.
More about Frederick and Warrior Films on his Website
Find out about Frederick’s recent book Til Death do us Part book Review
To celebrate Juneteenth, earlier this year — a US holiday recognising the final emancipation of black slaves in Texas — No Sesso has collaborated with photographer and filmmaker Rhea Dillon to release Black Angel — a meditation on themes of restraint, freedom and identity. Premiering last week in L.A., the highlights the lack of innocence that black people are allowed in an increasingly right wing America.
Rhea looked to recent tragedies as a catalyst, questioning the very nature of liberty in the United States. “Too many times black people are unlawfully killed without even being able to put their hands up in innocence,” she says. “Instead, they are instantly perceived as a threat to society from birth, especially for young black boys –- so tell me, is there any innocence for us? Are we all just angels on the land awaiting heaven’s open door?”
In a series of vignettes shot on a mini DV camera, the visuals play out like singles on an album, a conceptual collection of shorts that unite for the same message. Each scene has the gorgeous intimacy of a home movie and the quiet political power of a silent protest. Rhea cast friends and family of the brand, as well as street cast contributors from surrounding neighbourhoods to provide voices unique voices in the film.
Rhea said, “through No Sesso’s garments there is no conforming identity. There’s no denotation of male or female. You’re allowed to just be who you want to be regardless of society’s rules. This film will address and display the freedom of the black being, being allowed to just be.“
On the heels of that collaboration, Rhea has joined forces with Nowness just earlier this month for a new film titled Process, which premiered in October for the ‘Defining Beauty’ series, Rhea explored the often overlooked and misunderstood particularities of afro upkeep. “Process was all about never seeing black hair being washed and exposing those stages of a process that needs to be ‘diarised-blocked out-half day set aside’ for,” she outlines. “I am a planner as a black woman. As a person with afro hair, you can’t afford to not have it together.” An intimate depiction, the short explores the “crown” that the hair on your head represents as a black female: “this crown I hold on my head is heavy laden with politics and societal pressures,” Rhea adds. Through a combination of image and sound, the film “opens up the sensory experience of the hair ritual of a black person from start to finish. To provocatively push the audience to experience and therefore understand the weight of five seemingly ittle words, ‘Sorry, I’m washing my hair…’”
Ultimately, however, Rhea’s choice of concepts and media reflects her want to transport others to new worlds in order to help the advancement of societal structures. “Surrendering to storytelling is so important for existence as I remember reading this quote: ‘art is everything we hope life would be’,” Rhea recalls, concluding that, “I think art is everything life can be, which is why I often use my art to explore black existence and politics as it’s my means of bringing about change.”
Watch Black Angel
Prologue: The Opening Crack
I recalled the moment I was initiated into a sacred quest. It was a moment of confusion and bewilderment. The construct of time and space became non-linear and I was launched into a world of mysteries by an ineffable force of nature. It was November 2011, a time of in-betweens. It was a time of intermediary intersection of the yearly season transition from autumn to winter. It was gloomy, dark and rainy in London which I found how well the weather of this season mimics the old-fashioned architecture of old England. Buildings spoke of old tales and many untold stories of the mundane post-industrialized human life. Despite the efforts of renewal through reconstruction and repainting of the outer walls of the buildings, every eventful human story was kept recorded in the archives of the cold walls which were ruminating whether those stories were the pinnacle of human evolution.
I was sitting for a Mathematic quiz in my freshman year at Imperial College of London at that time. Despite the sounding silence in the room, the four-sided enclosure was debating loudly while staring down at me as they await what appropriate judgment would be sentenced to me. Mathematic equations were questioning my life and they shapeshifted into questions that confronted my very existence and its purpose. They brought me into attention of the discomfort in my gut and asked about how the environment that I was in was treating me. It was the hardest quiz I had to take because there is no textbook answer for these questions. There were no answers to memorize for and there was no such thing as cheat sheets or preparation for this quiz. I felt as if I was suddenly thrown into deep sea where waves were made out of chaos and mayhem and I had to just swim and survive. I was posed with a question, “Swim or drown?” How I swim was my least concern. I knew if I did not at least try, I would most definitely drown. Gulping my last built-up saliva in my mouth and clenching my teeth as hard as I could, my autonomic nervous system took over and it was fight or flight. I was dripping cold sweat and went into a state of paralysis. I may as well be schizophrenic as the construct of my experience of the world was falling apart.
Despite that, I knew the answers to the questions very well. I had always had the answer; the only resistance was admitting that the answer that I had was the truth and it was too hard to be swallowed by my current understanding about life. Ever since I first set foot into Imperial College of London, I knew the environment definitely did not feel congruent with my inner peace. People felt like they were walking robots and the geometrical buildings of Imperial College of London casted away any signs of vibrancy that can be found in nature. I felt incarcerated, claustrophobic and my vitality, diminished. My experience of attending lectures and classes, participating in student club activities and making new peers in the dormitories were lacking something so crucial for living and existing harmoniously. I felt a sense of wrongness but I did not know what that “wrongness” was. It tended to show up as a disturbance in the background of my senses like a splinter. It was subtle, prickly and flirtatious yet very much alive and sounding as if it there was a point to be made. Sitting in the hot seat of the room, my very existence was challenged. I asked, “Is this the pinnacle of my life?” While experiencing a crack in my psyche and noticing the obvious disharmony between my heart and my mind, I had the most brilliant idea – drop out of the hard-earned placement in this prestigious university and go on an enigmatic, exciting adventure. I was enveloped with fear and anxiety which soon turned into an adrenaline rush similar to the moment when the rollercoaster reaches its peak soon to be free falling. I was filled with the zest of life which was more enlivening than knowing all the answers to any quizzes that I had taken. Deep down, I knew there was an urgency for radical change. As my pre-frontal cortex rebooted, I left the room while handing in an empty paper. I was completely disoriented.
Initiation: Call to Adventure
The disorientation did not stop ever since. In fact, it propelled me to Naropa University in fall 2014 where wisdom of spirituality is cultivated and practiced. Since that incident, I ping-ponged my way through experiences as such and finally stumbled into environments and people that could explained my experiences of disorientation. Towards the end of year 2017, I felt less lonely, less afraid and finally was able to integrate those traumatic disorienting experiences sensibly. Looking back, the threshold experiences of each event have polarizing feelings of fear and excitement. They were filled with highly charged anxiety as well as great enthusiasm for life. As a result, the battle in my mind was between taking spontaneous, radical ideas into action or holding myself back to safe answers that were conditioned and provided for me. The conflict left me in turmoil and doubt. I was chronically dissatisfied and constantly found myself in conflict wherever I go. Nevertheless, behind this conflict lied gifts that I never had thought would be one. Jeanine Canty (2017), a leading academic in the field of ecopsychology explained,
When one experiences many challenges to one’s worldview, it often cracks this fixed reality, allowing one to open up one’s awareness to larger perspectives. When our lenses of seeing are cracked, we have the opportunity to expand. A broken worldview fosters a more awakened and resilient reality. (p. 23)
The gift was moments of sacred encounter with Spirit. Looking at those experiences with this perspective, I was at awe with the generosity of Spirit trying to deliver sacred messages to me. Through the intensity of my confusion and bewilderment in those threshold experiences, I entered into an altered state of consciousness which made the shift of worldview possible. Believers of magic and mystical experiences would say that I entered the realm of spirit. In that threshold container, I was introduced with potential of possibilities of life or parallel multiverses of how I could live my life in a more awakened and resilient reality – one that is free from suffering and endorsed with fulfilment. Those experiences were what Christian mystics would call “dark night of the soul”. Christopher Bache (2000), a transpersonal psychologist describes it as,
advanced stage of psychospiritual growth reached by only the most committed spiritual aspirants… It comes after a series of lesser trials and just before final awakening into unitive consciousness. It is the final stage of a long spiritual process of increased purification in which one’s identity as a discrete self is challenge at its core and eventually surrendered. (p.91-92)
I started developing existential crisis from the ongoing experiences similar to what had been described by Bache. Symptoms such as chronic depression; experiences of isolation and alienation; and recurrence of chronic atopic dermatitis had pervaded my life which I now truly believe are powerful catalysts for transformation. The ongoing tragedy was worsened with failed intimate relationships and failed academic results. Collectively, the increase of severity of those circumstances finally left me in the state of anguish and despair, striving me towards the edge of suicide. Soon, I had lost the point of reference of who I thought myself to be, what my purpose was and how I could continue to live on. My immediate experiences no longer matched what I used to know about life. Despite my search for healing, no consensus modals be it the education system, the healthcare system or the sociopolitical system were able to fix or heal the suffering of the existential pain that I was experiencing – the pain of being alive. Those were moments of transformation without roots. Mezirow (2000) calls this phenomenon as disorienting dilemma, describing,
Transformations were often found to follow a learning cycle initiated by a disorienting dilemma and resulting in a reintegration into society on the basis of conditions dictated by the new perspective…one does not return to an old perspective once a transformation has occurred, but there is seldom consistent forward movement (p. xii).
Because of that, I knew my experiences of suffering were rooted from something deeper than just mere expressions of those symptoms. Symptoms were encoded messages of nature that we have not yet understand fully. This began my inquiry for true healing and finally accept the call to adventure to look for the remedial elixir to my state of being. I became widely curious and became explorative across boundaries of different disciplines, space and time. The culmination of the exploration drew me into two concepts – Sacred Relationship and Entelechy. Both which became what I call my North Stars as they are two powerful guiding principles of how to live a soul-directed life as well as coming to terms to live life with the deep interconnectedness between all sentient beings.
Apotheosis: The North Star
Answering the call to adventure was like traversing into the dream landscape where new opportunities and trials showed up to be attended to. Saying “no” or resisting usually brings more conflict into my life. This reminded me of the movie “Yes Man” starred by Jim Carrie where the protagonist radically changed his life from destruction into actualization by saying “yes” to every opportunity, request and invitation that present itself. Joseph Campbell (2008), the mythologist who popularized the term Hero’s Journey mentioned that in facing the challenges of the quest, the hero is aided with supernatural help and benign power supporting the hero in one’s superhuman passage (p.81). This is similar to Paulo Cuelho phrase in his famous story on The Alchemist,
It’s a force that appears to be negative, but actually shows you how to realize your Personal Legend. It prepares your spirit and your will, because there is one great truth on this planet: whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. … when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. (p.24)
The dream landscape is both real and symbolic, both in our waking life and sleeping state. Both offers experiences that cannot be described and explained but undoubtedly can be felt and be noticed. It is the terrain of the unconscious that is connected to the collective non-local field that forms the basis of interconnectedness. Thus, like an elementary particle, dream landscapes follow its dualistic nature, both being real and imaginary and both being solid and wave-like. Arnold Mindell (2013), the revolutionary thinker of process-oriented psychology explained that what dream landscape really means is the possibilities of unfathomable and parallel realities that are real even though we don’t know exactly what those sudden fantasies refers to in the moment (p.33). I call dream landscapes the third space which is the space of intersubjectivity where subjects and objects interact. In my case, the vividness of the speaking walls of Imperial College of London (the object) and the visceral experience (the subject) of the shapeshifting mathematical equations were this supernatural help and power (the outcome of connecting to the third space) that Campbell and Cuelho talked about.
It was actually the force of the universe in play that conspired to bring forth the fruition of my deeper quest even though it may seem cathartic at the moment. Ever since I embraced my call to adventure to discover the true essence of healing, the catharsis occurred less and at the same time transformed into life wisdom which I could not attain from books, lectures or verbal guidance. I believe this force of the universe can be experienced deeply especially when one’s is ready to accept the call of one’s unique call to adventure. I also experienced this force as pre-verbal which is why a different language system is required to understand its nature. I found that this is study of alchemy and it involves the understanding of symbolic meaning of our experiences. It is metaphorical, poetic and if taken literally and logically with our rational mind, we have difficulty accessing different forms of knowing. According to Jung (1964), a symbol is
a term, a name or even a picture that may be familiar in daily life, yet that possesses specific connotations in addition to its conventional and obvious meaning. It implies something vague, unknown or hidden from us. … It has a wider “unconscious” aspect that is never precisely or fully explained. Nor can one hope to define or explain it. As the mind explores the symbol, it is led to ideas that lie beyond the grasp of reason. (p.3-4)
Thus, it is a language that helps us to understand phenomena of experiences beyond what can be explained by the rational and logical mind. Since it is a form of language, it is therefore a creation of human mind so that we can communicate experiences of numinous qualities to each other as well as making sense of what nature is communicating to us directly. More accurately, it is the language of the unconscious part of the human mind and it brings forth symbols in an attempt to bridge with the conscious part of the human mind. This is important because it is an attempt to bring wholeness to the experience of the phenomena of life that is beyond perception of our immediate five senses. In an epistemology context, this form of communication is how the mystery of life, the terrain of the unknown enters our consciousness so that new discovery and new knowledge can be attained. Thus, as Jung (1964) confers, “every experience contains an indefinite number of unknown factors, not to speak to the fact that every concrete object is always unknown in certain respects, but because we cannot know the ultimate nature of matter itself” (p.4-5). Despite the fact that we cannot know the ultimate nature of Life itself, we can still be aware and experience the ultimate nature of Life. This is why symbols are best to be experienced rather than attempting to figure out its literal meaning. My experience of encountering and deciphering numinous symbols tells me that in giving room for the meaning of symbols to change, evolve and in experiencing them directly, I get closer to the deeper meaning of the symbols presented to me in life in an embodied way. It is a living language and just like the third space, it is a living entity.
This brings me to the concept of synchronicity which literally means the possibility of meaningful chances and is associated with the Greek term ‘kairos’. Mindell (2013) explained that we have the capacity to create ‘kairos’, an atmosphere where relationship happens and polarities are less significant (p.52). It is by being the conduit of the matter at hand that through the action of non-action or allowing, we create the climate wherein things and problems can get solved through a participatory experience. It requires one to be actively engage in the present moment so that one can be receptive. This requires a state of mind that synchronizes with the multitude of our bodily senses so that we can perceive into the symbolic language of the universe. Mindell (2004) explained, “To perceive ‘kairos’ was to perceive the weather and irrational experiences as a source of guidance in determining the presence or absence of propitious circumstance. (p.44)” I experienced this constantly as a dancer. I was required to flow with the music and move through the space without constructively thinking about the next move. Thinking would only slow me down and as a result, I would miss the beat of the music and would be thrown off rhythm. Similar to our mundane life, it is like waking up at the wrong side of the bed and all sorts of “unlucky” phenomena happened consecutively. Little did we know these “unlucky” phenomena were deeper messages from the universe to remind us to return to connectedness by simply stop, pause, breathe and start noticing ‘kairos’.
Bringing this state of ‘kairos’ to mundane life had been my practice and it is challenging because the habit of getting lost in thinking and analyzing is strengthened simply by living in an environment that is highly informational and technological. Living life through this habitual pattern leads to forgetfulness. It is the forgetfulness that assuming our sense of self is separated from the interconnected whole. And with that, we give birth myriads of problems that are dualistic in nature. Mindell (2013) soothed this issue with his word of wisdom by saying,
The problem is that we forget the flow part of ourselves. We forget the dance, the flow. It is absolutely natural to forget. We need to forget the dance to be a normal, everyday person in consensus reality. There we have separate parts. That is okay, there is nothing wrong with being a part. It just isn’t comfortable all of the time. It’s important that you get to know this movement-dreaming part of yourself that will actually put your parts together into a flow. (p.29-30)
Through my everyday experiences, I found myself going in and out of experiences of forgetfulness – experiences of separateness and in parts; and remembrance – experiences of interconnectedness and in a whole. In the process, I understood there is a sacred relationship going on with me and the universe despite the explicit individuality that I hold. It is sacred because a very ancient force called life has an innate intelligence that directs acausal, partial and unrelated events or experiences to be connected intrinsically through shared meaning. I hypothesize the reason for synchronicity is so that the universe can bring forth evolution and transformation of life itself whereby parts and wholeness can exist simultaneously and work harmoniously. I believe sacred relationship to be the key to enter the domain of the dream landscape or the third space where all possibilities have the potential to be manifested. This means whatever potential that resides locked within every sentient being have the potential to be unlocked and be expressed. It requires awareness and transformation of our limited consciousness so that polarities can be held interchangeably and exist simultaneously. This allows us to appreciate the mystery of life that continues to unfold and remained unanswered. I hypothesize in understanding and in remembering how to relate with life in a sacred and effortless manner, all ailments, tragedies and conflicts can be resolved. I do not see resolution come in a manner where all problems ceased to exist. Instead, problems have the potential to be resolved by us in a creative and peaceful manner rather than a destructive and violent manner which harmful outcomes are created. My perspective of resolution of problems is by bringing forth a way of being that is in harmony and in peace with the nature of life rather than delivering a new philosophical panacea to the problems of our world. The former is about allowing the wisdom of the universe to emerge through our innate creative potential so that brokenness can be transformed; and the latter is about controlling and fixing the brokenness that cannot return to its original state.
In relation to how the embodiment of sacred relationship brings forth creative expressions, I want to introduce the term “entelechy” which simply means the seed of our unique creative potential. I stumbled upon this term the same way I experienced the forces of universe pulling and tugging me out of the labyrinth of Imperial College. I first came across this word by reading a memoir called Soul Shaping written by Jeff Brown about his transformative life that was catalyzed from a self-destructive lifestyle and evolved into a self-actualizing life. His memoir led me to discover a visionary thinker of the Human Potential Movement Jean Houston, (2012) who defined entelechy as so,
Entelechy is a Greek word that means “the fullest realized essence of a thing.” For example, a grand oak tree is the entelechy of an acorn; a full-grown adult is the entelechy of a human infant. If we look at ourselves, mythically, the entelechy would be the part of ourselves that has had thousands of years to expand, learn and evolve. It is the fullest realized aspect of ourselves. (p.32)
This made me asked, “What does it really mean to embody ‘the fullest realized essence of a thing’?” This single question had become a gateway to the many research question that fueled this thesis. In fact, the crux and the main intention of this thesis is to answer how can we fully realized the deepest and most authentic core of our spirituality so that it can be integrated into our earthly issues. I hypothesize that entelechy is the innate intelligence that exists within us readily to be expressed especially in times of conflict. It is the most authentic part of us whereby in reconnecting to this part of us brings healing and repair. It is the very fundamental creative force of life that brought about existence and has the capacity to bring forth renewal, restoration and rejuvenation. Also, in relating entelechy to its dualistic nature, it can be seen as a final product of one’s human development, as enlightenment or transcendence. Or, it can also be seen as an ongoing force or energy that has innate intelligence to create the balance of conflict and resolution within ‘kairos’ to bring continuous forth transformation and evolution. In Pathway to Bliss, Joseph Campbell (2004), best known for his work in comparative mythology said,
There lives in us, says Durckheim, a life wisdom. We are all manifestations of a mystic power: the power of life, which has shaped all life, and which has shaped us all in our mother’s womb. And this kind of wisdom lives in us, and it represents the force of this power, this energy, pouring into the field of time and space. But it’s a transcendent energy. It’s an energy that comes from a realm beyond our powers of knowledge. And that energy becomes bound in each of us-in this body- to a certain commitment. Now, the mind that thinks, the eyes that see, they can become so involved in concepts and local, temporal tasks that we become bound up and don’t let this energy flow through. And then we become sick. The energy is blocked, and we are thrown off center; this idea is very similar to the tenets of traditional Chinese and Indian medicine. So, the psychological problem, the way to keep from becoming blocked, is to make yourself- and here is the phrase – transparent to the transcendent. It’s as easy as that. (p. xvii)
As much as this energy, entelechy, is transcendence, it is also present in the here and now through our bodily sensations and experiences. To sum it up, it is the creative potential that is dormant with in us, readily to be expressed through stimulation be it through conflict or through inspiration.
Never did I expect when I start answering the call to adventure that I would also answer the existential questions of being human. From this notion, the human experience is the bridge between spirit and matter; heaven and earth; mind and heart. This requires transparency, fluidity and semi-permeability as energy is impermanent in nature, cannot be created or be destroyed. In embodying these qualities, we can begin to embrace the notion of sacred relationship which are deterministic by those qualities themselves. In doing so, sacred relationship becomes the key that unlocks our creative potential, our entelechy. It makes sense to me entelechy is both shared between all sentient beings as well as it is personalized through our individuated creative expression in the form of multiplicity and diversity.
Life as Ritual, Life as Community, Life as Healing
Interestingly, this way of seeing and living life is nothing new but something very ancient and had been practiced by our ancestors before we shifted to live predominantly through our mind. Despite that, it was done very unconsciously, unintentionally and came from an instinctual place as we found our sense of belonging deeply rooted in nature and the earth. The evolution started from living predominantly through the body, to living predominantly through the mind and I foresee the future of evolution of consciousness is to live predominantly through the heart which is bridging our instinctual, immediate and “irrational” body senses with our mechanistic, linear and rational mind to bring forth the entelechy of our heart. When I speak of evolution I was referring to the critical mass that represents our collective consciousness as a whole rather than just a group of people. I do not deny that many ancient traditions were living from the heart space since ancient times. However, because much of the heart wisdom is lost through history through moments of golden and dark ages, our consciousness evolutionary process as a whole did not progress as quickly.
This way of seeing and living life is living life as a ritual, as a ceremony and as a community. Instead of seeing life as a hardship, every life event whether it is pain or joy are treated with an attitude of celebration and rejoicing. From the biggest of celebration such as marriage, coming of age, birth and death and life’s universal thresholds to the smallest of celebration such as hunting, cooking, cleaning, eating, and the mundane chores, are all treated with the utmost respect and with deepest intention as if all activities are important initiatory rites. Arnold Van Gennep (1960), the first anthropologist to note this way of living analyzed that, “a complete scheme of rites of passage theoretically includes preliminal rites (rites of separation), liminal rites (rites of transition), and postliminal rites (rites of incorporation) (p.11).” I think these three subcategories are powerful pointers when we consciously move into the third space. It gives a dynamic experiential process in engaging specific activities which our mundane tasks become sacred simply because we are more intentional in what we are doing. This is especially more effective when we consciously enter each sub-phase of the ritual. According to Malidoma Some (1998),
Ritual is the technology that allows the manipulation of these subtle energies. Community is important because there is an understanding are collectively oriented. The general health and well-being of an individual are connected to a community and are not something that can be maintained alone or in vacuum. Healing, ritual and community – these three elements are vitally linked. (p.22)
Essentially, the purpose of ritual is to welcome the integration of the forces of the natural world back into the activities of our life and as mentioned by Somé, it is impossible to integrate the forces of the natural world into our personal lives without the recognition of our community. Thus, sacred relationship is not just an individual process but a collective process and the more we express our entelechy in pods of communities, the more powerful the change through inspiration and shared meaning can occur. The act of observing and witnessing by the community enables a person, in powerful periods of growth, to behold voices within confirmed by voices from the community without (Somé, 1998, p.28). This form of growth then becomes embodied as it is witnessed and stays permanently in the individual’s personality and way of living. With that healing can take place as a person’s fragmented experience of life is reintegrated back to wholeness. Similarly, the collective and community’s fragmentation through crisis can then reclaim resolution through the gift of individuals’ wholeness.
To sum it up, sacred relationship is built on the principles of ritual, community and healing that in the indigenous world, these principles cannot be separated. This is best explained by Some (1998) in the following,
Ritual, communally designed, helps the individual remember his or her purpose, and such remembering brings healing both to the individual and the community. The community exists, in part, to safeguard the purpose of each person within it and to awaken the memory of that purpose by recognizing the unique gifts each individual brings to this world. Healing comes when the individual remembers his or her identity – the purpose chosen in the world of ancestral wisdom – and reconnects with that world of Spirit. Human beings long for connection and our sense of usefulness derives from the feeling of connectedness. When we are connected – to our own purpose, to the community around us, and to our spiritual wisdom – we are able to live and act with authentic effectiveness. (p.36)
Moving forward, we have to ask ourselves questions about our lives that involves the remembrance of the intention of our existence; how we can create shared meaning through communal interactions; and how can we reintegrate our modern life with the forces of nature so we can live coherently with nature rather than against it. The answers to these questions are going to vary from people to people but in spirit, we ultimately share the same meaning for love, peace and harmony in this world. And in that shared meaning, we have to ask ourselves how we can embrace the differences of expressions of that shared meaning as well as the diversity that had already been existing in this world. We, therefore, have to practice the art of being human and remember that we are connected through a sacred relationship with life so that we can work to create the world our heart truly yearns and deeply wishes.
Epilogue: The Pilgrim’s Heart
I woke up one morning to the freshness of the overnight rain. There was the smell of the petrichor which is the smell of the Earth mixed with rain after prolonged dryness. It was the most soothing smell to my nervous system as if my dear Earth Mother’s fragrance rose up from the ground to caress me with her sympathetic motherly love. Enjoying the caress, I fell back into the comfort of the bed while I tried to recollect my foggy early morning memories. At that moment, I did not remember where I was and how I got to where I was. All I remembered was a voice saying, “Rest now, child. You had traveled far and you had done enough. It is okay now.” I could not tell differentiate between reality and dream as I laid there. I also remembered in my distant “dream” which my anima painted a luminous blue toroidal sphere on a canvas. There was tremendous life force emanating from the canvas and the blue sphere was enlightening, radiant and living. It was spinning in a toroidal space showing me a close self-sustaining system where the energy does not run out or goes into waste. Instead, it was recycled and reintegrated into the spinal vortex down the middle and then back out to the outer layer of the sphere. It was the most beautiful blue sphere.
As I regained the sense of my rational consciousness moments later, I noticed I just came back to my home in Boulder after 24 hours travel from Asia and was in the process of recovering from the jet lag. Despite my physical fatigue, there was clarity in my mind. I never felt so sure about my life especially about what I am about to do with my life beyond my graduation. In that moment, I found tremendous resolve to continue my journey in discovering the mysteries of the universe and felt so much relief because I knew the connectedness I had with Spirit. I believed my entelechy is what I would call a Pilgrim’s Heart which I would travel afar to understand the mysteries of the universe and share the stories of those adventures. It stirs my heart to be sharing stories of hardship and initiatory experiences with my community and what’s more captivating to me in that process would be to hear those stories from my community.
In understanding my dream, I felt the message was that there is an unbroken energy within the universe and that it is self-sustaining. This eases my worries if my efforts of making this world a better place was enough. With that, blue toroidal sphere in mind and in heart, I recognized that one’s person only obligation in their existence is to fulfil their entelechy as their service to the world. Just like at the back cover of The Alchemist, that says, “To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation”, I believe when we shift from the paradigm of mechanistic change to the paradigm of change through inspiration and shared meaning, we start welcoming the forces of nature into the fray and develop a sacred relationship with it. From there, wholeness and healing can come through inevitably in this crisis-torn world.
Bache, Christopher M. (2000). The Eco-crisis and Species Ego-death: Speculations on the Future. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol. 32, No. 1, 89-94.
Canty, J. (2017). Seeing Clearly Through Cracked Lenses. Canty, J. (Ed.). Ecological and Social Healing Multicultural Women’s Voices, 23-44. New York, NY: Routledge.
Campbell, J. (2004). Pathway to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation. Novato, CA: New World Library
Campbell, J. (2008). The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Coelho, P. (2014). The Alchemist. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
Houston, J. (2012). The Wizard of Us: Transformational Lessons from Oz. New York, NY: Atria Books. Hillsboro, OR: Beyond Words.
Jung, C. (1964). Approaching the Unconscious. Jung, C. (Ed.). Man and His Symbols, 2-94. New York, NY: Dell Publishing
Mezirow, J. (2000). (Ed). Learning as Transformation: Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Mindell, A. (2013). Dance of the Ancient One: How the Universe Solves Personal and World Problems. Portland, OR: Deep Democracy Exchange.
Mindell, A. (2004). The Quantum Mind and Healing: How to Listen and Respond to Your Body’s Symptoms. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Company.
Somé, M. (1998). The Healing Wisdom of Africa: Finding Life Purpose Through Nature, Ritual and Community. New York, NY: Tarcher/Putnam.
Van Gennep. A. (1960) Vizedom,M. and Caffee, G. (Ed.) The Rites of Passage. Chicago. IL: The University of Chicago Press.
What happens when a story is forgotten?
I started this film at 17, because I had a fear that part of my identity, my native Prairie Band Potawatomi heritage, would be inevitably lost in time. Through music, dance, and color, I’m inviting others to become immersed in the thoughts, histories, and emotions I grew up with.
During the creation of this personal film, I had the intention for this to simply be a time-capsule for myself and my baby brother to look back on in the future, as adults. Little did I know that upon it’s release, this film would take me on a journey for over a year. I got to meet indigenous communities from around the world – from the Sami of Scandinavia, Ainu of Japan, and many more – who were all dealing with the same struggle to preserve their language and culture. I felt so lucky to hear their stories and for the first time, experienced the power storytelling has to connect us to each other as human beings.
Watch Kayla’s Ted Talk at:
Or learn more about Kayla’s lineage project by clicking the image below:
This month, join Emily Frost, Marisa Taborga Byrne, and Dane Zahorsky as they discuss Whole Person Sexuality and how to support youth in empowering themselves and their communities towards equitable intimacy and healthier relationships.
About This Month’s Guests – Emily Frost
Emily is an artist, girls empowerment coach and contemporary rites of passage guide working with youth and families around the Bay Area of California. She is also a devoted mother, wife, sister and daughter. She is the founder of LOVE YOUR NATURE, a movement devoted to girls and women awakening to their inherent wisdom, power, and purpose. Emily works with young people and adults, in groups and individually, as a counselor, rites of passage guide, experiential educator and consultant. She facilitates programs that develop social, emotional and spiritual intelligence, with a focus on girls coming of age.
Emily is also the co-founder of Real Talk Events, designing events to inspire learning, honest sharing, and authentic connection about what it’s like to be alive in these times. Her ‘Real Talk Curriculum’ is specially designed for teen girls to talk openly about sex, sexuality, intimacy, and other “risk taking behaviors”. She is a is a certified facilitator with Prajna Consulting, at the crossroads of youth advocacy, gender, sex and sexuality. She has trained in the work, philosophy and practice with Prajna’s founder, Charis Denison. Their partnered events address the questions: What are teens doing, what do they want, what do they need, and how can we support them.
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Sexuality Doesn’t Develop in a Vaccum – About This Months Topic:
Whole Person Sexuality, or holistic sexuality, is a expansive topic that encompasses values, relationships, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, experiences, self image, communication and socialization. Healthy love and sexuality emphasize the relational and interpersonal aspects of self-inquiry as an integral part of a thriving community. Holding these conversations with youth in strong and healthy ways can help cultivate the interdependent sexual health of the entire community, as well as be a preventative measure of sexual harm and misconduct.
Whole Person Sexuality is the open acknowledgement and discussion of one’s sexuality and gender not just internally but as an integral part of healthy community, that includes one’s spiritual, bodily, emotional and intellectual connection to their sexualityBy sharing our self perception and esteem, as they relate to other individuals and the community, we can become more sexually and emotionally literate, engendering healthy intimate relationships with self and others.
As seekers ourselves, our goal is to help cultivate the interdependent sexual health of the entire community.
Initiation as Prevention
Preventing sexual assault is one of the greatest and most important challenges in our lives today. The key is to be proactive and not reactive. Of fundamental importance is holding space to explore healthy personal and interpersonal practices. The more one can build off of the existing sexual health education (or lack-thereof) in intimate and public discussions, the more it will reinforce a culture of healthy sexuality, create a feeling of invitation and investment, and aid in preventing sexual misconduct in the various places we frequent from our bedrooms to our workplaces.
Practicing Community holds consent based openness and access to relevant information as paramount values. One of the most common experiences of rites of passage for many youth is sexual exploration. Without guidance or dialog this natural threshold can often manifest dysfunctionally. Whether the topic is emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse, free and open information and dialog regarding natural curiosities, taboos, and desires will build respect and mindfulness in maturing youth.
We encourage practitioners and caring adults to create situations in which peers are guided by mentors to explore healthy and responsible sexual literacy. Consider a viewing of Al Vernacchio’s TED talk entitled ‘Sex Needs a New Metaphor.’ He promotes moving away from a winner/loser dynamic regarding sex and towards a collaborative model of sexual interaction among youth.
Here are a few discussion topics that can start you off in addition to the many wonderful resources below.
- Common assumptions about sex, sexuality, and taboos.
- Sexual awakening as a rite of passage.
- Appreciating sexuality as vehicle for spirituality.
- Seeking mentors or trusted peers to rely on for sexual advice, accountability, and support.
- Sexual and physical insecurities and fears.
- Gender Identity, expectation, and inequality; the restrictiveness of gender roles.
- Developing and enforcing physical and emotional boundaries and safe words.
- Clearly defining and practicing consent and requiring it for every step of a sexual interaction.
- Understanding and defining red flags or danger signs in relationships.
- Awareness and history with STD’s and normalizing testing.
- Understanding male and female responsibilities and options for birth control.
- Ensuring access to a trusted OBGYN or primary care doctor.
- Becoming familiar with turn-ons and offs and clearly articulating what is wanted and not wanted
- Appreciating individual differences and preferences.
- Differentiating online from face to face courtships and relationships.
- Dealing with social pressures and anxieties.
- Normalizing sexuality conversations and articulating fantasies to avoid suppression or maladaptation.
- Understanding the ecology of sexual relationships and all their variations, including monogamy, polyamory, bisexuality, etc.
- Coming to clear agreements in relationships: what it means, how it is respected, what constitutes cheating, etc.
- Jealousy, obsession, and reactionary behavior in and outside of relationships.
- The different love languages. The differences in expressions of love and affection.
- The regular practice of check-ins. Encouraging strong and honest intimate communication.
- Bedsider.Org, https://www.bedsider.org
- Sex, Etc., https://sexetc.org/
- Generation5 Youth Zine
- Advocates for Youth: Youth Activists
- Amaze: https://amaze.org/
- I Know Mine: https://www.iknowmine.org/
- Love is Respect: http://www.loveisrespect.org/
- Scarleteen: Sex Ed for the Real World
- Awkward or Not: App to find out if parents are ready to talk about sex for teens
- My Little Red Book, Rachel Kauder Nalebuff
- Flowering Woman Moontime for Kory, Mary Dillon with Shinan Barclay
- Transitions, Making the Most of Your Campus Experience
- Shameless Magazine
- LGBT National Help Center Youth Talk Line 1.800.246.PRIDE (7743)
- Camp Victory : a private nonprofit organization that strives to create a special place for child and teen survivors of sexual abuse
For Parents and Guardians:
How to talk to your children about sex
- Planned Parenthood
- Advocates for Youth: Parent Resources
- Amaze: https://amaze.org/parents/
- Teaching Sexual Health
For parents of sexual abuse survivors
- For Mothers of Sexually Abused Children
- Talk About Abuse to Liberate Kids
- National Child Abuse Hotline: 1.800.4.A.CHILD (422.4453)
- Center for Positive Sexuality
- Tamera, Global Love School
Body Love Resources
- Body Image and Acceptance Tools
- Esther Perel- The secret to desire in long-term relationships
- Wheel of Consent, by Betty Martin
- Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, Christiane Northrup
- Flesh and Spirit, Jack Zimmerman and Jaquelyn McCandless
- Jack and Jaquelyn: An Adventure in Evolutionary Intimacy, Jack Zimmerman and Jaquelyn McCandless
- Wild Feminine, Tami Lynn Kent
- Vagina, Naomi Wolf
- Cunt, Inga Muscio
- The Joy of Sex, Alex Comfort
For Survivors of Sexual Assault:
- Bay Area Women Against Rape 510.845.7273
- San Francisco Women Against Rape 415.647.7273
- GLBT National Help Center Youth Talk Line 1.800.246.PRIDE (7743)
- RAINN- 24 hotline 1.800.656.HOPE
- Love With Accountability
- 1 in 6: for male survivors
- Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
- Talk About Abuse to Liberate Kids
- The Survivor’s Guide to Sex, Staci Haines
Sexuality Health Education & Trainings:
- Amaze: https://amaze.org/educators/
- Our Whole Lives, Universalist Unitarian Church
- Advocates for Youth: Resources for Sex Ed Teachers
- Talk About Abuse to Liberate Kids
- Texas Association Against Sexual Assault
- Guttmacher Institute
- American Sexual Health Association
- Future of Sex Education
- Teaching Sexual Health
Prevention and Healing Work with Youth:
- Darkness to Light
- National Children’s Alliance
- Talk About Abuse to Liberate Kids
- Stop It Now!
- Connect’s Ending Child Sexual Abuse (ECSA)
- Generation FIVE
- Planned Parenthood
- Circles of Empowerment
- Red Tents in Every Neighborhood
- Fire & Flower: Girls Rite of Passage Program
- Golden Bridge International: Surfing the Creative
- Marisa (Sasa) Taborga Byrne
- Queer Asterisk
- Pınar Ateş Sinopoulos-Lloyd
- Queer Nature
- Queer Odyssey
- Rooted Emerging
- Sacred Groves
- So Faun
- The Sophia Project
Though Youth Passageways holding a gathering at All Nations would be a momentous gift and opportunity, it felt important to be very thoughtful saying ‘yes’ to the invitation. Embedded in the very fabric of YPW from the start has been a steadily evolving practice of permission seeking and the intention of coming to the places it gathers in service and in right relationship with those places and the peoples that reside there. Over the rest of 2017 and January 2018, finding that ‘YES’ was explored deeply alongside Becky, as a new SC member, and in collaboration with the Cross-Cultural Protocols Working Group. An organizing team formed consisting of Becky and Dallas Chief Eagle, Dane Zahorsky and Darcy Ottey, and supported Gathering by Yolanda Cordova-Swallow, Gigi Coyle and Sobey Wing. This team, in dialogue with the whole SC, decided that a small gathering of 35 to 40 people would best serve the place and people of the land. Half of the attendees would come from All Nations and Pine Ridge, and the other half would be a “delegation” from the greater YPW network. Becky, Dallas, the CCP, and others helped offer a mindful and heartfelt process of preparing and informing the YPW delegates to contribute and collaborate with the Place so that reciprocity would be at the heart of the gathering.
Below are some of the steps in this preparation and trust building process:
March 2018 – All Nations Site Visit:
In early March, Dane Zahorsky, YPW’s Director/Broom pusher, and his partner, headed to All Nations Gathering Center on behalf of YPW, to deepen the relationship with All Nations and get a working understanding of the place, its capacity, and ways of possible collaboration between the two organizations. Learn more about that journey and what came out HERE.
June – PC Episode 3 – The Spirit of Wellness & The YouthVoice Team Forms:
After the site visit, and in preparation of heading to All Nations later that summer, Becky and Dallas were invited to be guests on the newly launched YPW Podcast: Practicing Community. You can listen to Becky and Dallas dive into their work HERE. At the same time Marisa Taborga Byrne, YPW’s Network Mapper, had started to develop a bond with Dallas’s daughter, Delacina Chief Eagle and joined the organizing team as the Youth Voice Track point person.
July – August – Participant Calls:
The preparation process included two calls; the first shared historical and current context on Pine Ridge Reservation and All Nations Gathering Center and offered deeper awareness of the socio-economic and political issues affecting the community. You can listen to the first call HERE. The second, hosted by Sobey Wing and Gigi Coyle, focused on the relationships between settlers and indigenous peoples and provided examples of asking permission and consent to organize events on traditional territories that are not one’s ancestral homelands. You can listen to that call HERE.
Youth Passageways Advisor Frederick Marx first introduced Rebecca (Becky) Chief Eagle to Youth Passageways in 2016, and she attended the 2016 gathering in Los Angeles. Over the course of the weekend, Becky fell ill and Marisa Taborga Byrne, JO Jett Cazeaux and Sharon Black Wolf (three amazing Stewardship Council members) nursed her back to health. Even a bit under the weather, Becky showed up in a strong way and it was made clear that tending this new relationship and the unfolding bond among her and those she met at the gathering was important for many people, and for Youth Passageways. There were many threads that came out of this gathering and wove together in a way that wouldn’t be made clear for nearly a year after. Here are two:
Drawing on what transpired in Los Angeles, the Cross Cultural Protocols (CCP) Working Group offered a six week web-based Learning Journey in spring 2017, in which participants were asked to dive deep into the ways in which who we are and where we come from has an impact on our work as rite of passage facilitators. Topics covered included ancestral lineage, social and cultural change, queer initiation, as well as the ways that rites have been lost through systemic oppression and how they can be reclaimed through reconciliation and healing. This Journey had a significant impact on many of its participants, and ended with the call for the work of reparations in concrete ways.
Another thread was a call from practitioners working along the Front Range in Colorado to explore the possibility of the next YPW gathering taking place there. Through dialogue over a year and a half, it became clear that the timing was not quite right. The question of where the next gathering would be was opened again, with the focus being a localized, community-specific offering. At the same time, Becky accepted an invitation to join the Stewardship Council (SC) during the annual retreat in November 2017, during which she and her husband Dallas graciously invited Youth Passageways for a small gathering of healing and celebration at the All Nations Gathering Center. This center is their home and base of operations on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where for more than 10 years, Becky and Dallas, along with a growing team, have impacted and transformed lives through a “blending of modern practices with the beautiful traditions of the Lakota Way”.
Another thread was a call from practitioners working along the Front Range in Colorado to explore the possibility of the next YPW gathering taking place there. Through dialogue over a year and a half, it became clear that the timing was not quite right. The question of where the next gathering would be was opened again, with the focus being a localized, community-specific offering. At the same time, Becky accepted an invitation to join the Stewardship Council (SC) during the annual retreat in November 2017, during which she and her husband Dallas graciously invited Youth Passageways for a small gathering of healing and celebration at the All Nations Gathering Center. This center is their home and base of operations on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where for more than 10 years, Becky and Dallas, along with a growing team, have impacted and transformed lives through a “blending of modern practices with the beautiful traditions of the Lakota Way”.
What captivates every one of us, defines our life’s course, moves us in profound ways, echoes of both our beginning and our end and brings greater health than nearly any other aspect of being human? Our sexuality.
What has been historically guarded, denied, relegated to the shadows and left for exploitation under the dark of avoidance? Our sexuality.
We are at such a powerful turning point in time, in regards to the presence sexuality may have in our collective awareness. It may be no news to say that, in America, sex is everywhere – in stark and hollow form – yet nowhere that we need it to be. As it has lingered there on the fringe of acceptable conversation or even attention, it has been subject to hijacking by those with motives other than love and health.
How could we have left it lonely and bereft so long?
The #MeToo movement has shone a light on the ways in which sex has been allowed to suffer distortions and trespasses for decades. Or is it centuries? A strong-hold of tolerance, or look-the-other-way is now loosening its grip as a collective claiming of What is Ours steps forward. The buried disgust or frustration of seeing that which is sacred continually exploited has now risen to tipping point levels, and enough is seriously enough.
It is this lack of reverence that suddenly now has such profound distaste in a new and awakening collective conscience. Regardless of any spiritual bent or proclivity – to revere is to hold in respectful gaze and handle from a place of honor. This is universal. It is even rooted in research and science. To regard our bodies, and one another with respect and to honor what is within and before us is a clear path. It leads to a kaleidoscope of health and awakening.
As guides to youth, we have a profoundly important role to play.
Just as ‘having no position’ is always taking a position, ‘saying nothing’ is always sending a message. When we fail to speak and acknowledge or address the significant physical, social and psycho-emotional changes happening in young people through puberty, we are denying a crucial part of them and their reality.
Imagine another creature, whom walks into the same room for many days as a salamander. Day after day, a long, lovely salamander. Then, ever-so-gradually, this salamander starts to shift. Its middle widens and its legs lengthen. Its shape literally changes before our eyes and it even begins to hop! A salamander has become a frog before our eyes. Yet we, as loving family and witness, say nothing.
Can you imagine the cognitive dissonance of such an experience?! To know you are changing. To know you are Visibly changing, and that others must see it too. To go through the loss and the disorientation, the occasional thrill and ever-present uncertainty . . . and have no one even acknowledge this?!
It nearly makes us mad.
Or, more poignantly, it sends a message. What are we saying when we say nothing?
- “This is so terrible and frightening, I cannot even face you; therefore, this part of you is so inherently wrong that you are now unfaceable
- You are not capable of handling what this change means and therefore, you cannot trust yourself as I clearly do not trust you
- This change is so miserable, and associated with unnamable pain, that we can’t even talk about it
Now, love, as the greater forest canopy of our sexual experiences, is truly profound and often holds both the greatest ecstasies and pains in any lifetime. My work with adult clients reminds me of this all the time. These are the experiences that shape us.
Please, dear guides and protectors of children, take my words easily and with heart…
I say all of this, not as criticism, but as a new lens in which to view reactions to sex and the potential impacts of these on the very young people we so adore.
What holds us back?
- a fear of overstepping a sensitive line with families
- a lack of belief in our ability to address this well (raise your hand if you haven’t had a tough experience in regards to sexuality!)
- discomfort and an urge to stick with safer, more familiar territory
We can, realistically, address these one by one. First, 1) I have to report, as a sexuality educator and consultant/coach to adults (particularly parents), we often fall into a trap of thinking, “Oh, the other folks have this”. By that I mean, parents sometimes think, “Well, the school has this covered.”, while the school thinks, “Now, that is the realm of family conversations, and they are tending to it”.
We are just not checking in. Who really has this? We need to start with a collaboration that brings the topic squarely and directly to the table. ‘What are you doing for sexuality education?’ is a question a parent can ask a teacher, and a teacher/guide/mentor can absolutely ask a parent. If we are working as teams for the health of our young people, we need to start having team updates on this point in particular.
Simply enough, this can be followed up with a discussion of needs – which flows into a discussion of dreams and wishes – which, true, can evoke a discussion of fears, pains and embarrassments. It’s ok. You can refer out. Send them my way.
Just know that starting the conversation is the crucial step. Again, I am suggesting that starting the conversation among the other adults caring for/guiding the child is the first step.
2) Are we capable? This is the “powerful turning point in time“ part. We want to do better. We deeply ache to do better and are committed to our kids (mentees/offspring/students) and willing. But, and it needs to be acknowledged, we came up with so little. Or, if we did have guidance around this, it was very likely disturbed, awkward-to-the-point-of-
We can acknowledge, too, that we are in a time of cultural shift around social norms and sexual behavior. Old rules no longer apply and new ones are yet to be established or clarified. Divorce rates have hovered around the 50% point (yet it still carries some nebulous stigma). Increasingly, Millennials are choosing to have their babies before marriage – 57% are unmarried at the time of birthing – if they marry at all. 46% of Millennials and 44% of GenXers say “Marriage is becoming obsolete”. Where we are ultimately Going with all of this (where-sex-leads) is itself in shift.
This is ok too. We still need to talk about it.
The same principles that apply to great guiding/mentoring absolutely apply to sexuality education. We are helping to align them to the greater truth within themselves. We are asking them to find the courage to live that truth. We teach young people to be aware of their actions, the needs of others, while staying true who they know themselves to be… All of this applies directly to sexuality.
So, we simply have self-compassion, perspective and start trusting ourselves anyway. Like many fears, the belief that we may be incapable of addressing this (such a large and significant) topic diminishes as soon as we begin. We don’t move blindly, but we begin to move with it. We model positive intimacy by admitting we might be nervous. We own our uncertainty, and send the message of what we do want. “I’m a little uncomfortable bringing this up because I’m not used to it, but it’s really important to me that you feel safe coming to me with questions about sex or relationships…” We can do this.
3) It is remarkable how some risks seem smaller in the choice to ‘not do them’ category, when in fact, the ‘doing them’ proves to be the smaller risk by far.
In some parts of life, the greater the risk ventured, the greater the reward. This is so true in choosing to bumble through discomfort to becoming a safe guide for kids around sex. Imagine, inversely, that a trusted adult in your world took the risk to be awkward and nervous to give you a space in which to truly process the world of sex as you grew… What might you have gained? How might your path have been different?
Do you think you would have remembered how s/he was nervous at first? Or would you be more impacted by the relief you felt to unpack some of the massive confusion you were carrying?
When you, as guide or mentor, find yourself lingering back in the ‘safe’ and comfortable zone on this, I encourage you to think of the way a small, intentional risk may yield hugely positive rewards for the young person before you. When in doubt, just ask more questions: “What are kids saying about _____?” / “How did you feel when you saw _____ & _____ kissing?” / “What are you hoping for yourself in all of this?”. We all know the power of reflection.
For basic reassurance, I offer these parameters:
- Don’t share about your own sexual experiences. Kids simply don’t need to know details. This in one of the edicts of sex educators: personal information has no place in teaching here. Beyond this – there is always a greater question, such as, “Am I normal?” or “How do I know when I’m ready?” that we can whole-heartedly address, with more effectiveness.
- Know the difference between guiding for health and imparting our own values on the kids. There is a line where behavior and lifestyle choices deserve to be imparted by parents and within families. Our job is not to raise other people’s kids in our values. Our job is to guide kids toward comfort with and acceptance of their bodies, their emotions and desires. We can do this without crossing the line of values. How do we recognize this line? We identify our own sexual values and get clear with parents on what theirs are. This brings reassurance.
- Know that research shows a comprehensive approach has the greatest positive effects long-term. This is where we have a powerful position as guides, mentors, educators (at least, those who are not bound by federally-approved curriculum). Our role is comprehensive. I offer that we have much to learn from our European neighbors, here. Comfort with sex, when shared by a culture, has an immensely positive effects.
I offer a “Raising Sexually Healthy Kids” workbook online; an ongoing professional coaching program for parents sifting through all the richness of this topic as they, too, grow; one-on-one coaching for men and women both to get to integrity and health with their experiences of sexuality. I am here.
My urging comes to you from a vision of the world we will have when we do, even slowly, begin to act from this place of comfort and acceptance. True, the landscape is shifting before us. But love is ever-present and eternal. Intimacy remains one of our greatest needs as humans. Sex is a force we can skillfully meet and move with for the sake of a more loving and vibrant world.
Here we go!
Join Kruti Parekh, Marisa Taborga Byrne, and Dane Zahorsky as they discuss Transformative Justice and how Kruti’s work is expressed throughout her life and how it shows up in our community!
Read the Transcript
About This Month’s Guest – Kruti Parekh
Kruti Parekh has been working synergistically with young people and families in the most marginalized communities in both New York and Los Angeles for 18 years.
Kruti’s experience includes adult ally at the Youth Justice Coalition, organizing to transform the juvenile and criminal injustice systems; director for youth programs, including YouthBuild, Teen Court, and Workforce Investment Act Programs as well as domestic violence accountability, workforce development, youth empowerment, youth leadership and wellness programs.
She would like to use her experience to help create the necessary infrastructure within Los Angeles City and County to prevent harm, death and incarceration for youth and increase graduation rates, financial independence and positive social contribution. Kruti has a Bachelor’s Degree from Brandeis University, Masters Degree in Social Worker from Hunter College and a self-proclaimed PhD (People’s health Degree) from the Youth Justice Coalition.
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Resources and a Personal Narrative on Transformative Justice
In a time when we are faced with the disheartening truth that our government and society have often neither been righteous nor equitable, how do we rebuild relationship, repair harms caused and return to trust? “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Many of us have heard and even used this quotation attributed to one of the greatest icons of peace of the 21st century, Gandhi. Even so, somehow in our society, when conflict arises, we blindly follow the “justice” systems in place that present and promote punitive consequences, criminalization, and cycles of oppression. What is an alternative? Transformative justice.
Finding transformative justice, or TJ, changed my life and made the seemingly impossible possible. It was a light in the void, gifting hope after a lifetime of desperation. At a young age I was harmed by an adult in my family. I disclosed this harm to my mama, and she immediately sought help with the “authorities.” The police, Child Protective Services, and the public defender were all involved, with the promise of “justice.” It took over a year to go through all the legal battles, which of and in themselves were traumatic, and in the end, the harm was dismissed and the perpetrator found not guilty.
Our government system failed my family and me, “victimized” us, tore us and our community apart, and uprooted every belief I’d had injustice. A deep mistrust of our government and how wrongs were “righted” was seeded. The adults around me followed the system like sheep following the herd off the cliff. There were no other models to help us move towards a deeper, more holistic kind of justice, forgiveness and reparation based on love.
After wandering in a field of pain and mistrust for over a decade afterwards, I still had the longing for peace and chose to reconnect with the one who had caused me harm. I thought that love and determination for healing would be enough to repair the relationship and the pain. I was wrong. The renewed contact was hopeful, but I felt unable to address the harm and work toward the repair needed. A stronger container was needed with witnesses, companions, allies who believed in us and the re-union we hoped for.
And then the way of transformative justice came to me and the teaching that harm (like most things) has to be held within a community for transformative healing to be attained. It is a model where each has an understanding of both the effects of the harm that was caused and the history or story of the harm. Through using TJ, I have felt empowered. Conflict still has not been easy, but at least it’s easier. And in the rebuilding of my relationship with that loved relative, TJ has given the opportunity for a greater healing within our community as well, as they have taken their part in our conversations. It does take a village!
In our times, TJ is regenerating in many places, and there are increasingly more resources. Below are organizations, links, books and articles I’ve found or been gifted along the way. My prayer is n all relationships we can begin to open our eyes, our hearts and open up the possibility for true healing. Let’s practice and live in what justice truly is, simultaneously empowering and strengthening individuals and communities!
YPW Partners Doing the Work:
- Cornerstones of Care
- Courageous Hearts Youth Services
- The Hero Project
- The Ojai Foundation
- Youth Justice Coalition
- Youth Mentoring Connection
Youth Justice Organizations:
- Alternatives to Violence Project
- American Friends Service Committee
- Annie E. Casey Foundation
- Campaign for Youth Justice
- Cayuga Homes
- Center for Community Alternatives
- Centre for Justice and Reconciliation
- Child Defense Fund
- Creative Interventions
- Cut Youth Incarceration
- Dignity in Schools
- Families and Friends of Louisiana Incarcerated Children
- Gate Ways for Incarcerated Youth
- Generation 5
- InsideOUT Writers
- Justice for Families
- Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, Ramsey County, MN
- Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, Hennepin County, MN
- Juvenile Law Center
- Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana
- The Missouri Approach
- Save the Kids
- Seattle Young People’s Project
*Many of these were found at http://savethekidsgroup.org/resource-links/
- Nocella, A. J. II. (2012). “An Overview of the History and Theory of Transformative Justice.” Peace & Conflict Review. Vol 6. Issue 1.
- An Interview with Mia Mingus, Oakland Champion of Change, on transformative justice
- “Transformative Justice and the Ethos of Nuremberg.” Jonathan Turley.
- “Developing, implementing, and researching a communitarian model for restorative & transformative justice.” Dot Goulding and Brian Steels.
- The Voices of Peacemaking Criminology: Insights Into a Perspective with an Eye Toward Teaching by John F. Wozniak
- Karlene Faith. (1999). Transformative Justice versus Re-entrenched Correctionalism. In “Harsh Punishment International Experiences of Women’s Imprisonment” Edited By Sandy Cook and Susane Davies. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.
- Julie Mertus. (2011). From Legal Transplants to Transformative Justice: Human Rights and the Promise of Transnational Civil Society. In “American University International Law Review. Vol 14, Issue 5.
- Restorative or Transformative Justice? by Howard Zehr
- Towards Transformative Justice: Why a liberatory response to violence is necessary for a just world by generationFIVE
- Furthering Transformative Justice, Building Healthy Communities: An interview with Philly Stands Up
*Many of these were found at http://savethekidsgroup.org/resource-links/
- Ruth Morris, (2000) Stories of Transformative Justice
- John F. Wozniak, Michael C. Braswell, Ronald E. Vogel and Kristie R. Blevins. (2008). Transformative Justice: Critical and Peacemaking Themes Influenced by Richard Quinney.
In today’s society, children are becoming more and more disconnected from the natural world. With the help of television, computers, video games and cell phones, children have developed a lack of interest when it comes to spending quality time outdoors. Research suggests children without direct experiences in nature will miss out on crucial opportunities to enhance their overall well-being, health and relationships. Learn more about the positive benefits of playing outside with your child below.
Several studies have shown that children who play in nature develop more capacities for creativity, intellectual development and problem solving. The same studies also found that kids who engage in playtime outdoors also play more cooperatively with other children.
According to the American Institutes for Research, studies in the U.S. show nature-based experiential education can support student gains in language arts, science, social studies and math. It was even discovered that students who participated in an outdoor science program actually improved their science testing scores by 27%.
Increases Physical Activity
Imagine a child playing in a small patch of the woods, where trees can be used to build forts, or utilized as cover during a game of hide-and-go-seek. Children who are exposed to diverse natural settings, like parks and playgrounds, are more physically active and aware of nutrition than children who are not.
Improves Social Skills
When children are free to roam the outdoors with unstructured playtime, their social skills will increase significantly, and their ability to get along with other children will greatly improve. Unstructured play outside will help your child learn to share, negotiate, problem solve, and most importantly, work with others as a team.
Like adults, children can feel more relaxed after a long walk around the park. Researchers have found that the presence of green plants and green surroundings can reduce anxiety among highly stressed children.
Improves Self Confidence
If your child suffers from low self-esteem, try exposing them to nature on a daily basis. Studies have found that inner city children who have access to green spaces have an enhanced sense of peace, self control and self discipline, especially in girls.
Enrolling Your Child In A Youth Program
At Weaving Earth, our youth programs focus on connecting children to nature, to one another and to themselves through direct outdoor experiences. We believe the natural world allows children to find their inner voice, and listen to that inner voice, as their confidence grows over time. Some of our in depth nature programs for youth include Wild Tenders, Summer Series, Bird Language for Kids, and Family Camps.