*Article republished with permission from author
There is an old story that comes through the land and through humans that have lived in close relations with all of life. There are ancient ways and wisdom, ceremonies and practices grounded in the depth of these relations all over the planet. Many have been sustained for millennia, through genocide, through cultural and climatic changes, upheaval, war, renaissance, and re-awakenings. People in the present day speak of a great turning, a new story or paradigm, new ways and practices, new and self-generated ceremonies, of new culture, evolution, and spontaneous emergence. We at the School of Lost Borders, have lived with respect for the old and the new, for that which is sustaining and that which is being birthed. We listen and support the story that respects all of life and that connects all ages with a deep understanding of being part of nature.
“The body carries the memory of being part of the Earth.” – Arkan Lushwala
What is ROP at SOLB
We offer different and yet very similar rites of passage for young people ages 16 to 80. We co-create containers, practices, and ceremonies large enough, open and deep enough, to make room for different ages, different genders, and the best of the old/ancient wisdom along with the gift of what is new. We honor the changing landscape, the changing peoples, the changing times, and look to respect the lineages and the roots of any and all who come. We focus on the importance of humans knowing and living as part of nature, informed by our place in the natural world, as well as informed by our cultural heritage.
We say our work and offering as nature-based rites of passage guides is to turn to the natural world as teacher and to offer others the ceremonial context that we have been gifted by our founders and grown over many years. As the SOLB ceremony is grounded in the oldest of ways carried by many peoples from different continents, we honor those connections and those lineages. Because the SOLB ceremony is influenced powerfully by what is emerging in each person’s unique journey, we also honor the new stories coming, especially through our young people, trusting the direct contact consistently made with the natural world.
With the growing interest and awareness of the import of ROP for every young person today, we want to share what we feel is uniquely ours to do and speak simply and clearly as to why we feel nature-based ROP is an important part of the whole movement.
The Bare Bones of our Nature-based ROP Ceremony
⦁ Intent – a deep desire for the journey and clear articulation of the transition one is in, i.e., what are you passing out of, and into, in your life cycle? What are you formally marking and confirming that has been earned?
⦁ Severance – a conscious letting go and leaving behind of what no longer serves.
⦁ Council – a container held by “elders”—those who have successfully passed through the threshold and returned.
⦁ Threshold – a stepping across and into an experience of “test,” i.e., the facing of the possibility of failure, the looking into death and opening into a new relationship with life.
⦁ A Solo time in Nature – a sufficient length of time, three to four days, to encounter a fundamental sense of one’s identity and relation to all of life.
⦁ Nature as Teacher – experiences and teachings grounded in an understanding of natural cycles (i.e., four shields, universal medicine wheel), and finding new self-awareness in the profound mirror of nature.
⦁ Community – an understanding that this is not only for one’s own self, but in service to the greater whole. Experiences and exercises that engender a sense of authentic belonging to the human and earth community.
⦁ Ritual & ceremony – some offered by the guides and some self-generated.
Symbols/actions/taboos that are personally and spiritually meaningful, age-appropriate, culturally appropriate, and that form a meaningful context for the transition being marked. (One example being fasting, another the formal setting aside of typical shelter, technological devices, etc.)
⦁ Incorporation – witnessing/mirroring by peers, SOLB guides and elders in community, a listening that allows for deep seeing, hearing and holding of each person, an exploration and naming of good incorporation practices over a year of “return”…creating council and continued sharing and living of the story.
Our Way and Work in the School
Core values include:
⦁ Sharing and Living the Ceremony
SOLB work emerges out of years of ceremonial experience, time in nature, training in specific areas, including nature awareness, wilderness first aid, mirroring, council, and what is referred to as four shields/four directions. At the core, the backbone of our offering to others arises from living the ceremonies we offer. Each year School guides, for example, go out alone or with other guides to fast in nature, to remember why and how to offer this gift to others. We go out to pray for the people who will come. Returning to the ceremony informs every thing we do, including the future of the School. Our way involves a continuing willingness to surrender to the mystery, to move with what we know, and honor all we don’t know. This keeps us as students for a lifetime and as guides for others, rather than teachers who have or know the way. How much we live the ceremony directly affects our ability to offer it to others.
⦁ The Spirit of the Giveaway, in all we do –
We were taught that if we do not share our gifts, and give away what we have learned, they will wither away. SOLB began as a “mom and pop,” a small family enterprise with Steven Foster and Meredith Little as founders …. some call it a love story. They loved each other deeply and gave their time to what they loved – the land for sure, and in the early days particularly, youth at risk. SOLB gradually grew into a non-profit organization to represent and carry the work of our collective of trainers and guides. We feel SOLB is best named a social profit rather than a non-profit, i.e., a structure that allows a community service to be provided. We live and sustain the ROP work through grants and fees, asking for just what is needed to do so. It was and is never, about making money. The finances that pass through us and SOLB guides simply enable us to care for ourselves and community the way we are asking others to do. (See Money, on our website)
⦁ Connection, Respect and Trust, amongst a collective of guides –
The School guides, staff, and board members are a close, and yet geographically, a long-distance network of guides. We continue to learn from each other along with the ceremony and the land. We are all quite different and live in different parts of the country, yet we find a way to sustain and keep our connection, through the ceremony, through annual meetings, despite missed communications or stressful times. There is a prayer, a trust, that carries us and transparency, intimacy, and respect for each other is essential. We don’t have a psychological process/technique or formula to share, nor are we an organization with a lot of rules. We have and offer no certification. The confirmation of our offering is with our mentors, our peers, most profoundly with the ceremony itself. Our Co-directors, Board, and Elders Council keep the center, keep the fire burning, as we all do our part. The work, the ceremony, the trainings, are consistent and traditional in their own ways while simultaneously alive–up to each guide and participant–open to change. They are our way, to be continuously remembered and learned, time and time again, as much as a way to be lived.
⦁ Decision-making based on Hierarchies of Responsibility
Guidance through: the ceremony, Co- directors, a Board of Directors, our Elders Council, a community council amongst our staff and guides , and the people.
⦁ Respect for the Sacred and the Profane
To be a guide and/or part of SOLB, it necessitates that we each embrace and make room for our humanity, our misses, our dark times, our shadows and our realness. SOLB guides have a knowing that this work is ours to do. We have a connection to place, which is continually grown and deepened, and participate in ongoing training and incorporation practices. That is, we are not only guides, we are living daily, as best we can, all that we offer and inspire in others.
⦁ Partnership Leadership
Catalyzing an experience of different ages, genders, backgrounds, or ways of expression right from the start as part of widening the circle.
⦁ Diversity and Inclusivity
Everyone & anyone welcomed, each one and every thing greeted as part of the teaching – all genders, ages, backgrounds, with respect for differences
⦁ Commitment and Care
For self, family, our community and place … learning what service and surrender can offer in the quest for a balanced whole “life-work.”
Importance of Community/Collaboration
Community is defined and experienced in many different ways, in different cultures, in different places, and if we are part of seeing and creating it, community is everywhere. With the growing interest and involvement in ROP, we work in relation to others, other organizations and ROP initiatives, specifically acknowledging those that work extensively with the Severance Phase as well as those who work extensively with the Incorporation Phase. Our particular focus is on the Threshold part of the journey, a ceremonial solo time in nature. This experience serves as a challenge to mark adulthood, as well as a gateway to a deep sense of belonging to the earth, an experience of the common ground we all share.
We encourage all participants to call in their people, their ancestors, to find their way and bring that into the ceremonial time. If one has no experience or sense of community, coming to a rite of passage with the School may be the opening to finding that. For others it may be the doorway to creating it for themselves once they leave. And it may be that the questions and interest in ROP not only help to find community but help the community itself. The elders, parents, and others are awakened through the process of being called upon in a way that serves them as well. We have heard often, “ it takes a village to raise a young one,“ and we feel it often takes a young one to awaken the village or to ‘raise’ and call forth the elders.
We have people come to the School who have no real sense of community where they live and our hope is to plant seeds with them to be part of awakening such. We have people come who have left or are choosing to leave their communities and often find a deep experience of community here with their peers, with the natural world, and with their guides and the School elders. They are then inspired and encouraged to carry their story home, as well as be part of catalyzing the community where they will begin anew. And we have some who are deeply embedded in community and will return, yet are called to leave that nest and seek their initiation experience here, in another context, in a wild place, in a new land. This too can serve in their returning, as a step, a new start in carrying the experience of belonging into wherever they are.
We support and are involved as individual guides in directing the young people we know and meet to find what ceremony might be most right for them, as does the School through a grant from Kalliopeia, and through the organization Youth Passageways. Our participants are from our local areas, as well from other countries. We have a strong preparatory communication, screening, and a long-distance interview process starting a year before to confirm the intention of each participant and to be clear that they are coming to the right ceremony for them. For example, when/if a young African American or First Nation person approaches us with interest, we ask them if they have elders, if they have thought of their own culture and community and inquired about what may be possible. If after such an inquiry, they still want to join us, we explore with them how their parents as well as elders may be included. There are important steps they may take to discover and connect with their communities before they leave and when they return.
Our Focus/Our Part of the Whole
Our work along with offering this ROP for youth, is to train guides to be able to offer ROP in any and every community. The bottom line as to why we offer the ceremony we do is that we want all to have an experience providing them with a deep sense of belonging to the earth. With nature as community, the connection will naturally grow–recognizing and growing ourselves and our communities through place, through our ancestors, through our race, our cultures, our gender or whatever identity offers depth and meaning. In our experience there is no rule on which comes first. They are all interdependent and needed in the development of healthy, whole human beings. Without this common ground, connection, and understanding of our place within the natural world however, there will inevitably be a huge loss and disconnection from our shared humanity. As part of nature we learn our place in the universe. And what we love, we tend to care for.
Rites of Passage are one deep avenue to experience this love in our bones. Once realized, the care for the earth, the connection and experience of nature, and our part and place in the whole, will inform our future, our care for all of life. Without this care, and a true understanding of interdependence, our actions and lives may well be fragmented, divisive, and destructive. Even with this ceremony, living what we have seen and felt is a daily challenge for most. We are most often far from realized, awakened people and yet a taste, a feeling in our bodies, a glimpse, can leave a seed of care as a guide throughout an entire lifetime.
By Gigi Coyle with and for SOLB : For more information: schooloflostborders.org.
A week ago today, we closed out the 2016 Gathering in Temescal Canyon, just outside Los Angeles. I can say personally, more than any other experience I’ve had with this network, this one in particular is unbelievably hard to put to words and will take some time to process, sift through, and synthesize. But rest assured, Darcy, the rest of the gathering team, and I will be hard at work doing so with a full report coming out near the end of the month.
For Darcy and I, it was an interesting experience being away from home for a month, away from partners, families, communities and Place. The experience was heightened by the task of being in service to this growing network in particular. One of the pieces that came into dialogue between us (and our Stewardship Council member extraordinaire and host Kruti Parekh) over and over again was the question: what does it actually take to create relationships that last lifetimes and beyond them? From ancestors to 65 year marriages, partners passing days apart, the answer [at least as I heard it] that seemed to shine through was and is belief. And whenever I think about belief I’m reminded of a quote from Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Wrinkle in Time: “Believing takes practice.”
When those that make up Youth Passageways gather, when we share in the energy and glory of the physical spaces, rhythms and embraces born from both joy and grief, we are nourished, filled up, renewed in our belief of what is possible and what is called for. Then we disperse, go back to our lives, back to the delicate balance of lulls and quickenings, success and opportunities for growth. This living dream of ours is so many things, yet always at its heart is the creation and sustaining of a community dedicated to a greater knowing and caring of each other in service of our lives and the health of ALL youth, and ALL communities. That belief, is not a small one, and does it ever take practice! It takes each of us keeping even the smallest part of ourselves current with it. So in that spirit of keeping current, and of all those that were called in, or lent us your intentions and blessings we thank you! Here a few announcements and shifts that came out of Los Angeles.
We say goodbye and heartfelt gratitude [for now] to Joshua Gorman as an SC member & chair, and wish him well as he pours his passion and energy into new and exciting projects. As a founding collaborator and visionary that helped give birth to Youth Passageways we wish him the best and are glad to know he won’t be far.
In turn we say goodbye & hello to Darcy Ottey! She has stepped out of her role as staff and into the new one of Stewardship Council Chair. As someone with both knowledge and experience with this network as well as many others, we couldn’t be more excited and honored! Darcy’s transition out of administrative responsibilities will take place gradually over the summer, and she may well continue to serve on a contract basis for important upcoming projects.
We also welcome Ashanti Branch to our Stewardship Council. A powerhouse of a practitioner, Ashanti also brings a steady demeanor and an objective eyee. Other changes include Clementine Wilson stepping on as our new Treasurer, and Ramon Parish joining our Leadership Circle. Check out the website for current configurations in the coming weeks.
As many of you may have read last week, we have announced the new staff position: Outreach Coordinator . We have faith that the right person will step forward to join me in this amazing adventure of bringing this network ever more into focus. Click the link above to read the job description and PLEASE, pass along and share far and wide!
The intention has been set! Next year YPW heads to the Rockies to gather in Colorado! We are tentatively looking at the fall but will have more details, information, and opportunities for involvement in the coming months. So stay tuned!
Now taking that belief into practice, the end of Spring and beginning of Summer will more than anything else be a time to highlight and evolve both our existing partnerships and growing new ones. The time has passed to secure initial major investors, and now is the time for each of us to come together in service of this shared dream with offerings and actions of all kinds. So reach out and let us know you’d like to be an active partner or let us know about others who should be connected with this network. Regardless, we’ll be in touch by email, phone, and carrier pigeon with each of you who have already made the step into partnership about what our collaborations can look like.
As for Youth Passageways and where we go from here, I can fully say that we as an organization and as a network will never be the same. And in keeping with the Wrinkle in Life maxims: as Mrs. Whatsit said, “Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.” Los Angeles gave birth to something new. What that is, and how it will be nurtured, is now up to us all.
In Belief and Practice,
The question flashes on the screen:
With this soft approach to youth crime aren’t we teaching our kids that it’s okay to misbehave, because there are little consequences?
Within minutes we see this question climbing the chart projected behind the panel, gaining more and more votes until it reaches the top in this high tech, instant feedback plenary session. Over 1100 top educators, social workers, ministers, legal professionals and youth workers are voting from their mobile devices for the issues they most want covered. I have a front row seat to a cultural revolution.
Singapore, the country that became famous for caning as corporal punishment when a minor diplomatic crisis occurred due to an American teenager’s sentence of six strokes of the cane for vandalism in 1994, is undergoing a major shift in the way they work with youth. The rapidity with which that question shot to the top tells us that it is a seminal issue. The uniformity of the responses from all of us, Singaporean youth work professionals as well as guests from the United States and China tells us that this small powerhouse of a country is moving in a different direction. Their Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon spoke of the imperative to treat every youth offender as an individual and create a course of action designed to help them rather than simply punish them. Youth advocate Frank Kros, MSW, JD came from Baltimore to share how brain development science supports this different approach. Jennifer Skeem, Ph.D. from Berkeley discussed the research that indicates corporal punishment may be counterproductive when dealing with troubled youth, making them more prone to defiance and aggressiveness in the future.
There are more effective methods to promote prosocial behavior among juveniles at high risk for violence. Professor T Wing Lo, head of the Department of Applied Social Sciences, City University of Hong Kong shares a story of a young man who burned down the door of a neighbor’s house and was sentenced to apprentice under a carpenter to rebuild the door as well as to deal with the core issues that would cause him to be so angry. Restorative Justice half way around the globe.
None of this is new information. Many old cultures understood that young people need to be “seen” and nurtured, not vilified and punished. So, this is where I come in, having learned from my mentors to draw from indigenous practices and find ways to apply selected old wisdom to modern cultures. Perhaps also to add a little ‘color’ to the academic knowledge that is being presented in the form of our real life experience with youth in the inner city of Los Angeles. I presented three workshops: two on Youth Mentoring’s Gift Centered Approach to mentoring youth and one on the Powerful Combination of Initiation Rites and Mentoring. I would then conduct two full day trainings for practitioners and mentors in the days following the conference.
This all ensued after a high level delegation of officials visited the United States looking for new information on working with ‘at risk youth’. We had already entertained delegations from China, Jamaica, Macau and Peru where our model has been replicated. The delegation had only planned on staying for a few hours. However, after engaging with my staff, mentors and mentees ended up staying well into the evening. Minister of Social and Family Development, Nancy Ng approached me and invited me to come to Singapore and train the country in our Gift Centered Approach to mentoring. How could I turn down such an invitation?
Our hosts from CARE Singapore. John Tan, Frank Kros of NAREN, Tony LoRe of Youth Mentoring and Adelyn Poh
Throughout my time in Singapore I advocated for what we call our “gift centered approach”. The idea that instead of seeing troubled youth as problems to be fixed; instead of simply offering accountability models based on eight words: “if you do this, then you get that”, we suggest that we actively engage youth in a search for their innate gifts and help them claim their own unique purpose for coming into this world. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
The workshop that seemed to garner the most enthusiastic response was the one on Initiation Rites and Mentoring. I presented what I had learned after reading an article by the late Dadisi Sanyika about gang rites and indigenous initiation rites sharing the same fundamental elements. This was consistent with my experience. I had seen something in the youth of South Central LA that we work with that told me that inner city youth were receptive to ritual and old practices. In fact, they seem to hunger for it.
I was also learning about initiation from mythologist/storyteller and mentoring expert, Michael Meade and then partnered with Orland Bishop to glean his deep knowledge and experience of indigenous initiation rites to develop a four-day experience that we have hosted every year in the Big Bear Mountains of Southern California for the past ten years…with some pretty remarkable results.
Here is video of our mentor Andrew Garfield, some other mentors and youth describing the experience :
The Magic of Initiation Rites for Modern Youth
I showed this video and spoke for about 75 minutes about our process, highlighting the need for youth to be initiated into their culture in positive and nurturing ways. Adults need to mentor youth into a vision for productive adulthood. Otherwise, we see youth attempt to initiate each other without the guidance of tradition or mentoring wisdom. The emergence and continued presence of street gangs is a prime example. Indeed, as already mentioned, elements of initiation into street gangs are identical to those found in Rites of Passage practiced throughout history by indigenous peoples.
Youth Mentoring’s programs reclaim the positive and constructive aspects of initiation rites. The result is that youth feel a strong sense of community and develop the desire to make positive contributions.
The workshop featured inspirational stories, videos and testimonials from young people who say that Youth Mentoring has transformed and even saved their lives.
Our approach is to use story, experience, ritual, song, drumming, dancing and whatever else can be summoned to help them dig deep, exposing wounds that are at the core of their anguish and anger so that they can transcend the traumatic experiences that can ruin their lives. Even more importantly we discover that their gifts sit right next to those wounds. Only by their willingness to descend into the depths of the struggle (guided by caring and capable mentors) can they fully claim their gifts and see how high their dreams can be.
Finally, we explored how Initiation Rites fit into a mentoring model for “at risk” youth to create astonishing results. It’s not enough to take young people up to the mountains and create a powerful experience. Follow up is critical. By mentoring them through the Initiation Rites we raise the stakes. Helping them get a sense of their power, gifts and the possibilities that life may hold for them could be a ‘set up’ if we leave them on their own to figure out how to hold onto what they gained once back in the turmoil of daily life in the city.
So the final element we presented in Singapore was our mentoring model – how we create “instant community” for the youth to find comfort, encouragement and even protection once off the mountain. Each young person selects a mentor to work with and groups of mentors and mentees meet in community to reinforce each others’ gifts and continue to care for the wounds.
I was not prepared for the level of enthusiasm that met my presentation. We ran out of time for Q&A and I was delighted to stay for quite awhile hearing their stories and answering questions. Prior to that, just as we closed the Q&A a woman in the front row bolted to her feet, expressed how much she enjoyed the workshop, then turned to the group and announced that she represented a large foundation and could possibly fund an exchange program for Singaporeans to go to the U.S. to work with “Tony’s group”. She asked for a show of hands to see who would be interested. I lost count at 72.
My room host, Ansari was quite informed about youth and gang culture. We had some nice conversations in between workshops.
I am writing this reflection as a narrative of a field trip that I took recently with some of the young men from The Ever Forward Club [EFC] to see the new Disney Pixar movie Inside Out. I decided to write this after I read some of the thoughts they had that struck a deep nerve in me.
The Ever Forward Club is a youth development and mentoring program which was founded in 2004, as a support group for young men of color at San Lorenzo High School who were not working up to their potential. Over the past decade or so it has slowly grown into a movement and is in a position to serve hundreds of youth during the 2015-2016 school year and thousands more over the next 3 as we prepare for our growth and scale.
Since the first day I heard about and saw the trailer for the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out, I was clear that it was a film that the young men in The Ever Forward Club, needed to see. Even though the film’s main character was a little girl, I believed that the 5 characters at the Headquarters of her personality; Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear and Disgust, could connect with our young men. The concept of the Headquarters is explained so well that they could connect with internal conversations that they were dealing with on a daily basis. For instance here is a quote that put a lot of things in perspective:
“Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters.”
And so on a sunny morning in July, our youth arrived early to meet Lorenzo, an EFC alumni and mentor for EFC @ REACH in San Lorenzo. A few parents dropped their boys off and an energetic reunion took place in the parking lot since all but one of them had attended our 10th Annual Southern California College Tour this past April and most of them participated in the 11th Annual 24 Hour Relay Challenge in May. After we got into the theater and the popcorn was passed around they began to settle down from all the energy that had built up from the seeing each other again. One of the thing’s I love the most is that even though each club has it’s own identity, the young men are beginning to build community with each other across different schools and communities in the Bay Area.
The young men all sat in the row in front of Lorenzo and I and while the chatter continued through all of the previews; as soon as the movie started they were locked in and engaged in what was going on. They laughed during the funny parts and made very few comments throughout the film. It was clear that they were not only paying attention but that it was connecting with them in internally.
When the film was over we headed over to Bayfair Mall to celebrate the June and July birthdays with some cake. First however, we needed to take a few moments to debrief the movie. I asked the young men [ranging from 11 – 16], what they thought about the film, and there was a collective, “it was OK.”… “It was Cool!” I realized that we weren’t going to be a productive discussion in the middle of the mall so I shifted the activity to be a written reflection that would go deeper than just tell me what they ‘thought about the movie.’ I wanted them to connect with a time in their lives when an event took place that brought them and their Emotional Headquarters into battle over which emotion would have victory and lead the situation.
For some it was a challenging to get focused and get started, for others it was difficult to think of a situation to write about, and others just had a hard time with the mechanics of writing, even though I told them it wasn’t for a grade. Each of those challenges gave me insight into new tools that The Club could add to our curriculum to better serve our youth
Yet when I read their papers later that night, I was starkly impressed with what they had created.
Below you will read 3 stories from young men who have participated in this new project called: The Inside Out Project: Emotional Headquarters REVEALED.
*All stories are unedited except for small grammar changes for contextual purposes.
Story # 1: MT – 11th grader – EPAA
One day my little brother and sister woke me up at 3am because they were scared and couldn’t go to sleep. I was sleeping comfortable and when they woke me up and anger started off by yelling at them.
ANGER: I am going to hit these two kids for waking me up and yell at them for waking me up in the middle of the night when I was resting perfectly.
JOY: It’s OK, they are only little kids, maybe I should help them and stay with them until they go back to sleep.
SADNESS: I really just want to go back to sleep, why did they have to wake me up
DISGUST: They got boogers in their noses?
FEAR: what is going on, who is making all that noise, in the middle of the night?
Story # 2: QC – 9th grader – EHS
I remember a time when my brother and I were arguing, and I couldn’t control my emotions so we started fighting, and I realized that I was out of control and we stopped. I felt a pain that was in me, that if we kept fighting we would loose interest in each other. Until now, I still feel a disconnection, like part of my heart or life is gone and I have no way to bring him back (my brother drowned a few years ago). My emotions were all over the place and I couldn’t understand my emotions.
JOY: The Joy in this situation was after all the tension, and went outside. We mostly enjoyed ourselves instead of holding a grudge.
SADNESS: I hated when we argued and fought all the time.
ANGER: I thought that everything was his fault. And I thought he would always get me into trouble, but he wasn’t, he was only teaching me the right thing.
DISGUST: When we both disagreed on a particular situation and made us feel weird inside.
FEAR: I was afraid to not have a connection anymore. Every time I fought with him I thought it made our relationship weaker, but it made it stronger because we learned from our mistakes and evolved from bad habits and other bad influences.
Story # 3: QC – 8th grader – EMS
I remember a time when I was having fun at Rockin’ Jump; doing flips. But then when I did a back-flip of the wall and sprained my foot really bad I was very mad and sad and I couldn’t do nothing for 2 weeks.
SADNESS: I can’t play sports no more
ANGER: I can’t walk for 2 weeks
JOY: At least I did not break my leg
FEAR: What if I can’t walk again?
DISGUST: They might have to put a cast and when it’s done healing, I have to wash off the dead skin.
These stories told by our youth, shine a light on the fact that they are distinctly aware of the varied emotions that exist in the ‘Headquarters’ of their minds. They are often clear that many different emotions speak to them at a given moment and it’s our responsibility as parents, guardians, caretakers, educators, and mentors to help them add tools to their emotional toolbox. These tools prepare them to better know how to identify and deal with the emotion and respond in a Respectful, Responsible and Relevant way. This is the work EFC has been doing for 11 years to serve young men in the Bay and and as we bring our work to the world in a more deliberate and scalable way, we will always start with empathy and the voices of our youth to guide anything we build and create. Our work is even more powerful for young men when we partner with other organizations who provide additional tools that add value to their lives.
Each of our youth go through a modern day Rites of Passage weekend with the Young Men’s Ultimate Weekend to add even more tools to their toolboxes. In addition to having a lot of fun the young men learn a human development technology called The RIGHT Way which was created by Dr. Mark Schillinger, founder of the YMUW.
RIGHT stands for:
- R – Respect — esteeming with reverence
- I – Intelligence — applying intuition and experience into wisdom
- G – Gallantry — engaging in heartful acts of courage and courtesy
- H – Humor — celebrating with amusement and gratitude
- T – True — living life with integrity.
Through our connection with YMUW, The Ever Forward Club was selected to be featured in a documentary called The Mask You Live In which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. The Mask You Live In is created by The Representation Project and follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. You can see the trailer HERE
EFC’s signature workshop is called Taking Off The Mask and we look forward to partnering with your organization to provide a powerful, self reflective, community building experience for your youth.
If you are interested in donating, volunteering, mentoring or partnering with us, please connect with us on our website. Or sign up to receive updates and stay connected as we prepare to serve more youth and positively add value to the schools and communities in which we work.
On the heels of Summer solstice here in California, after a lovely evening walk where I was privileged to see a resident horned owl as well as a king snake meandering through Eucalyptus bark, I write to you, my spirit family. Some of you have asked me about the lessons learned from this current journey with a broken wrist. So I thought to write, record and share some of my reflections and possible learnings.
So first, I’ll cast the scene in which I’m writing. It’s almost dark now at just about 9 PM the day after summer solstice, and I’m sitting outside with my feet in a bath of Epsom salts. A woodpecker called just minutes ago and hummingbirds dashed by as the pink sky of the west descends into gray duskiness. I appreciate my home more and more these days, here in the beauty of the Ojai Valley. If there is a good place to experience a broken bone, Ojai is it! I feel blessed to be able to sit here and welcome the gathering darkness with such gratitude in my heart for the blessings as well as the challenges of these last weeks.
When my sons were teenagers, 3 1/2 years apart, they were circumcised. Though they may not love that I would write this, I have always considered that to be a rite of passage in their lifetime. Similarly, I knew early on after this happened, exactly one month ago yesterday, that I could recognize this as some kind of initiatory experience. Though I’m certain that more is to be revealed, there have been such moments already of revelation. Though there were already pathways that I was following, this “break” has made changes and transmutations more urgent and present-centered. I feel my heart has been opened in so many ways that nearly daily my eyes well up with tears in gratitude and emotion.
Not all has been easy. Fear has grabbed me in so many ways. Though I might know and trust the perfection of all on some deep level, on the human level I still felt myself spiral down with doubt and fear. The gift? Acceptance of my humanness, my acknowledgement of living on many levels of reality. Fear seeps in unwelcome and unbidden yet tended by the mind, my mind. Fear about the unknown, about the repercussions, about the physical results. Yet at the deepest level I could say that there were angels affirming and encouraging me to trust and surrender, giving me messages quickly, affirming and reminding me of the ability of my body to heal itself. I walked to the doctor three days after being in the emergency room. On my way home I stopped by what’s left of a vernal pond and cried tears of weariness, pain and fear. In that moment an elder of the community came and gave guidance and affirmation. She was a 91-year-old angel, chiropractor all her life, who looked at me and said with confidence “the body heals itself. Surgery is good when it’s necessary but your body will heal. It will take longer but it will heal.” And then as I walked further on my way home another angel stopped me, blessed my wrist, and said this will heal without surgery. This was after every doctor thus far had said you need surgery.
In addition, so many more angels in Ojai came to my aid. Whether it was making bone broth, or picking me up at the emergency room, or taking me shopping, or driving me places, so many friends and community members offered their help. How does this feel? It still is overwhelming and brings tears to my eyes. I’ve had friends stay with me at the subsequent doctors’ visits that helped me through some very difficult and stressful times. This was after thinking I would take a bus to the orthopedist and just be there on my own. What was I thinking!
I’ve been told by many, including at the doctors office, that there were so many breaks and fractures that week. I’ve heard some explain this as a transformation of our physical bodies. Of course I would love to feel that my injury is part of some shift on a global scale, some transmutation leading to greater alignment in an evolutionary process, at the risk of sounding grandiose! Again, my experience is on the human level as well as cosmic level!
More gifts? SLOW DOWN! Although I already had felt like I had made great strides in this realm, I am now forced to be home, to find steadiness and rhythm in a more contained environment. Fortunately, I’m able to do my work as program director for the Ojai Foundation from home for the most part. I can walk to one of the best organic food places ever within 10 minutes. I can walk to the nature preserve where snakes, swallows, owls, hawks, bees and so many living relatives greet me, including close by friends who also walk and enjoy the preserve!
I’ve been asked “what do I need a break from?” One answer that has revealed itself is living with such intensity. I find that I can have health and wholeness in my body without intensely exercising or doing so much, that I can work from a steadier and more flowing place where I mix up what I’m doing and flow from one thing to another in a much more natural pace.
I had already been working with the idea of detaching from any identity, including musician, drummer, swimmer, biker, program director, percussionist. One of the lessons that I’ve always felt from Hazrat Inayat Khan’s life Is that he put down his vina at some point and acknowledged that he himself was the instrument of the divine, that he didn’t need any external instrument. I’m realizing more deeply that my womanhood and my expression as a musician is not dependent on these external instruments. So I continue to work with these perceptions, and wonder how the repercussions will shake out. I don’t know why I needed a physical break in order for this to happen, but this is what has happened. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m giving up playing an instruments!
I know many of you have probably asked what Louise Hay would say about a broken wrist or wrist pain. I really didn’t look it up right away because I think some of that work is not so valuable. I have always felt that there are many levels of reality with any situation that we might find ourselves challenged by. The opportunities and lessons can be for many, not for one. The situations are much more complex than a simple meaning. However, eventually I did look it up and saw that flow and movement was connected to wrist injuries. This is a surprise as I’ve been working with the medicine of Saraswati, she who flows, for months, years, lifetimes possibly. So I really can’t tell you whether this is true or not for me right now. I continue to invite and embrace flow, ease, grace in my life, in every aspect. I know that my love and welcoming of the medicine of Saraswati has influenced me deeply, and is why I can feel the grace of this challenge along with its difficulties.
Some other gifts … Finding out about automatic dictation on my phone and on my computer … Being free of playing an instrument while singing in an ecstatic kirtan solstice eve and feeling the freedom and aliveness of that! … Playing didjeridu more and singing harmonics on my cast for a vibratory healing experience! … Feeling the flow of social time and inner quiet time, appreciating both, as friends come and go from my home … Having a direct experience with the medical field, which has directly resulted in looking at fear, and breeding more compassion for those who are in chronic pain … Surrendering to the world of insurance and doctors, which led me to the doctor that I feel was best suited for me … taking pleasure in small crazy ways, such as the hilarity of some of the typos in automatic dictation! … Strengthening my left hand and subsequently right side of the brain, the nonlinear intuitive functions … saving water and still staying clean!
It’s so dark now, as the moon along with Venus and Jupiter will rise a little later this night. So grateful for this time to write and reflect, serenaded by chirping grasshoppers and running water, cool night air and comfort in the darkness. The gifts as well as the challenges will continue I’m sure. I hope my writing might serve in some way. Thank you for reading.
Some recent auto dictation bloopers …
Tripping grasshoppers rather than chirping grasshoppers
In my castle rather than in my cast
Cure time rather than kirtan
Screw this pathway rather than through this pathway … both are true!
At my core, before I am anything else I am an artist, and the experiences I’ve encountered and lessons I’ve learned along my path more often than not fall back to art as a context that makes sense to me. Now returned from a week spent getting to know Los Angeles and putting faces, voices, and hearts to the work there has me thinking a lot about ceramics.
On first glance, working with clay always seems rather simple or at least intuitive from the outside. However, to actually take what is basically mud and through a dedicated practice mix, knead, shape, inspect, and fire it into a finished ceramic is often a true battle between invoking the fiery and creative abandon of the Dionysian and relying on the rigid and unyielding rules of the Apollonian, a constant and ever evolving dialog between vision and reality.
This analogy, in my opinion, has never felt more apt to where Youth Passageways has come to be over the past two years. Still deeply [and hopefully always] immersed in working through the very large questions that gave it rise:
- What does it really look like to bring a feeling, a desire for connection, collaboration, and shared work into a structured and lasting context?
- What does it really look like to take often localized efforts, based primarily in deeply personal heart to heart contexts, to connect them physically and equally when possible, providing a digital platform to foster and grow those connections in the interim?
- What does it really look like to recognize, draw upon, and include the wisdom and voices of both first nations and marginalized peoples which is so needed now, and to do so with respect and permission, while determining how to aid them in ways that are actually practical and fitting of their needs?
The last time our community met en masse was in Ojai in 2013, when what this community network would become was still very much like that wet muddy clay, being carefully and methodically formed while still holding the energy and momentum that an idea like this brings with it. And after a great many versions of these questions and their histories were brought to the circle, we left both hopeful and cautious about the hows. Since then I have seen this organization grow tremendously, and yet simultaneously incrementally. At every turn that I have been a part of this community, or as I’m reminded this week family, has gone out of its way to ask the hard questions. We have held true to the idea that a thing done the right way will take exactly as long as it has to, conflicts and storming included. With the launch of our new website, the offering of the Cross Cultural Protocols, and a great many other things just at the wings nearly ready to come onto the stage, YPW is at a turning point, a point in which we are inspecting the hardened clay and determining if we’re ready for the heat and pressure of the kiln.
All this to say that it’s impossible not to acknowledge that an enormous amount can be seen to be resting on what our next physical gathering will look like, what it will address, accomplish, and put into motion over time. So when Darcy told me that LA was looking more and more like where that gathering would be, it would be an understatement to say I had my doubts.
For those that know me and in consideration that there are great many who I’ve yet to meet, I’ll say historically and rather infamously there’s never been much love lost between LA and I. From the fact that it ‘borrows’ water, to the insane and supercharged methods of city travel, to the encroachment and embracing of a form of life that is highly geared towards superficial vanity, an uncompromising pursuit of profit, and many other things. However if experience has taught me anything it’s that life has a way of making you come face to face with your misconceptions and misgivings founded or otherwise. And the part of the above judgements that I have made fail to ask the most important questions: What must it be like to come of age in that kind of a place? Who are the heroes and heroines working to support that process? And, what can we gain by learning about and supporting them as a place specific endeavor and in relationship to the greater community of those dedicated to bringing this work more fully into the world?
From the moment Kruti Parekh of the Youth Justice Coalition, who so graciously offered to host us, welcomed us into her home, it was as if we’d always lived there. The hospitality was palpable, from the ‘shop talk’ we all know we’re ever prey to, to watching her wonderful son engage with the world, I was immediately given an immense and much needed dose of perspective. More importantly I can’t speak to how important it was to be in physical proximity to youth while we were at the business of thinking about next year, and coming back always to our dedication that youth be integrated into our efforts.
A stop from a tour of Chuco’s Justice Center, taking a look at a memorial for the many youth killed by police violence in the area.
Over the next 5 days so many practitioners and community members made time and space for us to continue to get to know them, their work, and to begin painting the picture of what the community in LA really looks like, what it’s needs are, and what it has to offer. During our main meeting with several of the leaders in the youth work community I think Chris Henrikson of Street Poets said it best:
“There is a deeper transformational story surfacing in LA now inspired by many of the earth’s indigenous traditions, those that originated here and those that have found welcoming soil here beneath its violence-plagued streets. It’s about community rooted in nature, our ancestors, the rebirth of ritual, old wisdom made new. This gathering will be an opportunity to explore and uncover some of those roots and to see how they are supporting social change on the surface of our city – all with the understanding that the antidote for what ails us as a society can be found where the poison is most present.
I don’t know what I was expecting to find, not really, but what I did find was a group of people who are doing exactly that, channeling old wisdom into modern contexts in some truly beautiful and awe inspiring ways. Ways that I truly believe will invoke aspects of those larger questions above and bring new perspectives into the mix.
The alter from Street Poet’s Seeking Peace Circle, in which youth are invited to engage in finding their voices together through writing, sacred space, and community.
From the very urban Chuco’s Justice Center, the home of the Youth Justice Coalition who blend education, activism, and healing into an integrative practice, to Wolf Connection and their plans for growing a beautiful and large scale community outside the city to Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore a local community bookstore and event space who support youth and indigenous works of all kinds championed by the Los Angeles poet laureate Luis Rodriguez to Youth Mentoring Connection’s work right in the heart of the mainstream community within Paramount and Universal Studios, as well as a great many more. There are already a great many relationships formed, yet still with the ripe possibility of widespread cross pollination it’s easy to see how the idea of Youth Passageways on the larger level is and wants to emerge on smaller, more localized scales. This is something that Darcy and others brought to the circle in a way I hadn’t really thought of before, one that has really informed my idea of where we are. The idea that YPW is a pretty unique organization for many reasons, but one of the most pronounced being that it is really and truly engaged in having a conversation that is simultaneously global AND local, wilderness AND urban, ancient AND modern. That the heart of what we are, is the creation of a container that can hold the fiery and explosive visions of our many different partners and supporters while still able to craft and apply the infrastructure and needed foundation of what is possible in reality. And that to me, is more exciting than words can articulate.
Kruti and Kahlil getting to know Maya, one of the many wonderful animals with Tao who runs Wolf Connection.
In summation, it’s safe to say I arrived with a lot of baggage. I think it’s a fairly human thing to do. Yet through my time there I was given the gift of having my assumptions turned upside down, not just about LA but about where I feel YPW is, as an organization, a network, and a family. I find myself now increasingly inspired by what LA will offer our network, and dually what we as a whole, will offer it.
To properly teach and model healthy closure during the final session of Youth Mentoring Connections program at Paramount Studios, each mentor and mentee excange rocks with values and qualities they see in the other and have written on them, some of which have been together for as many as 4 consecutive years.
Where I’m left, is while acknowledging that though there are [and will always be] imperfections in our clay, that we have done everything in our power to knead and shape this work with meticulous care and concern. And I believe more fully than I ever have that we are kiln-worthy, ready for the fire, pressure, and yes, even the expectations that our next gathering will invoke, that LA is a perfect place to do so, and that where we go from there is a place we’ve been working towards one way or another since this began.
In gratitude for all of those who have and continue to support this wide eyed and emboldened endeavor, and for the 7 generations both ways for which we strive,
Social Media Intern | App Deadline 7.7.15
POSTED: June 16th, 2015
Youth Passageways is seeking a highly creative, smart, motivated, and skilled intern. Youth Passageways is an evolving network of individuals, organizations, and communities supporting the healthy passage of today’s young people into mature adulthood during a time of global transition.
Your purpose as an intern will be to work closely with the Youth Passageways Assistant Coordinator to implement the outlined social media plan. This will include but not be limited to: research and data entry, communicating with partners in our network, finding and managing relevant and dynamic content, managing a posting schedule across multiple platforms, helping to foster and catalyze web based engagement, expanding the YP outreach base, being available for bi-monthly web meetings, and being available for YP specific marketing/outreach campaigns as need be.
- Type of Position: Internship (10-15 hrs/wk, depending on availability and area of work)
- Location: Anywhere with internet access.
- Start Date: As soon as possible, with rolling admissions
- Duration: Initial 6 month commitment
- Compensation: Volunteer
- How to apply: Please submit a resume and cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can expect to hear back from us within two weeks. Applicants will be accepted on a rolling basis.
WHAT WE DO
Youth Passageways unleashes the creative energy, leadership capacity, and collective impact of a dynamic network of partners toward the healthy passage of today’s young people into mature adulthood. We strive to:
- NOURISH connections and collaborations among ever widening circles in an active community of learning, healing, self-reflection, respect, sharing, and resource development, fostering traditional cultural preservation as well as emerging cultural innovation.
- CULTIVATE broad public awareness of the impact of healthy initiation on the resiliency and vitality of our youth and communities, and increase access to tools, practices, and resources.
- HARVEST the collective wisdom, learning from one another how to effectively meet the changing needs of youth in our communities, and sharing these seeds widely in ways that are accessible, useful, and relevant to different communities.
- GROW the capacity to influence educational, institutional, and governmental policy and funding priorities in order to integrate healthy youth initiation into our communities on a broad scale.
WHERE YOU COME IN
In its second year as an organization, Youth Passageways is working to further develop its network, in particular through social media and a mixture of innovative and traditional methods of outreach and communication. You will be a key link in this process, helping to channel the myriad brilliant and beautiful work, information, and experiences from across our community into an interactive and engaging resource for our partners, youth, families, youth workers, and the broad public. We’re a seeking creative, smart, motivated, and skilled individual to help continue making this vision a reality.
WHO WILL BE ON YOUR TEAM
- On a day-to-day basis, you will report to the Youth Passageways Assistant Coordinator, and consult with, and work alongside members of the Web Team.
HOW YOU WILL KNOW YOU ARE A FIT
You will know that you are highly qualified for this position by the extent to which the following describes you:
- You are passionate about supporting the healthy passage of today’s young people into mature adulthood during a time of global transition.
- You have skills/experience across various social media platforms including GoogleDocs, FB, Twitter, Youtube, Vimeo, Linkedin, etc.
- You have a personal laptop you will be able to use on the job
- Solid understanding of the internet and social media best practices
- You are highly motivated and work well independently and as part of a team.
- You have excellent communication and people skills.
- You are detail-oriented, highly organized and focused in your tasks.
- You are punctual and deadline-oriented in producing deliverables.
- You are able to work with a diverse group of individuals of all ages and cultures in a positive, professional manner.
HOW YOU WILL KNOW WE ARE A FIT FOR YOU
We are a growing network with a big vision, diverse strategies for getting there, and a commitment to finding our way together. For many years, we have been crafting a dream, and now we are trying to bring it into being, equipped with keen eyes & ears, sharp minds, humble hearts, and playful spirits.
We explicitly build into our work new ways to innovate, collaborate, empower, support each other, take care of ourselves, work hard, and have fun all along the way. If this calls to you, we may be a great fit!
OUR COMMITMENT TO DIVERSITY
We are an equal opportunity employer, with a deep commitment to engaging the skills and leadership of people of color, people from low-income backgrounds, people of LGBT orientation and identity, and people of other diverse backgrounds. If you identify with these and/or other historically marginalized backgrounds and communities, we strongly encourage you to apply.
TO APPLY SEND A RESUME AND COVER LETTER TO: email@example.com
Starting this newsletter, we will be bringing you interviews with some of our partners, both to help us get to know our community more in depth and to share lessons and resources cultivated through our accumulated experiences. Kicking this off is Andrew Lines, co-developer of The Rite Journey, based in Australia.
Andrew is first and foremost father of two daughters and two sons. He also happens to be a Physical Education / Outdoor Education teacher who has been teaching for 20 years. Growing out of this exchange between movement, play, and education, Andrew turned his passion to providing relevant learning experiences for students, especially in the social, emotional and spiritual realms and this has led him to being a deeply influential contemporary Rites of Passage creator and one of Australia’s most recognised boys’ educators. More than 6000 young people in over 60 schools were initiated into adulthood in 2014 through his school based year-long Rite of Passage program ‘The Rite Journey’ totaling 20,000 students since its beginnings in 2005. He has worked with thousands of teachers in hundreds of schools to facilitate a process which honours the transition of our children into a responsible, respectful and resilient adulthood. His contemporary methodologies for working with students in middle years’ classrooms are being used by schools throughout Australia and New Zealand and now in South Korea and Europe.
Describe your work in your own words, how do you define rites of passage or talk about it in relationship to that work? What brought you to this work? Are there specific mentors or teachers that come to mind?
As a teacher, over many years I had been somewhat surprised by the young males who are placed in my care. A significant number of them struggled with bullying, family problems, anger, sexism, homophobia and racism. I found myself asking the same question over and over again: “Who is helping these boys learn to be responsible and respectful males, whilst acknowledging and celebrating their transition into manhood?”
In thinking about my own personal development two decades ago I read Steve Biddulph’s book Manhood (1994) which presented some revolutionary ideas to me as a man (an “early twenties generation x’er”). I was called to action by Biddulph’s statement regarding “helping teachers develop a co-parenting and mentoring role in boys’ emotional development (so that school is an extension of family, and the ‘whole boy’ is the focus and aim)” (p. 149).
A proposal was presented to my school which would see Year-9 boys in single gender classes undertake a program aimed at developing the “whole boy” that focussed on guiding the boys through elements of becoming responsible and respectful adult males.
The program was initially presented over one term (three 50-minute lessons per week) covering areas such as gender construction and identity, feelings and beliefs, non-violence, problem-solving skills, and pathways to change. The program ran successfully from 1996 until 2004, when I began to dream of a full-year course that would allow more interaction with the class, a richer relationship between teacher and student, and an exploration of the field of initiation and rites of passage.
In early 2004 I got together with a colleague and we started to explore various options and began to formulate the structure of a year-long program for Year-9 students that we believed would speak to their hearts and satisfy a yearning in their souls. Just as this concept was being given tentative approval, we heard internationally acclaimed Australian futurist Peter Ellyard, speak these words at a national education conference:
“I propose that Year 9 be totally reconstructed. The traditional program should be scrapped and replaced with a comprehensive Preparation for Adulthood program…On the threshold of adulthood young people mostly lose their commitment to learning the traditional fare which is offered to them. However, there is much they want to learn at this critical time in their lives, when they are leaving childhood and are anxious to learn about the mysteries of adulthood. What they want instead is to learn how can I become a successful adult?” (Ellyard, 2004, p. 18).
Ellyard put forward the idea that on the threshold of adulthood, young people do not tend to learn what they are being traditionally have been offered. However, if they are offered a curriculum of developing the capabilities required for successful 21st century adulthood there is evidence that they will become passionate and committed learners again.
Ellyard suggested that some of the tasks of a Preparation for Adulthood initiative would be to develop system-wide programs to enable young people to:
- nurture their own self esteem;
- respect others, including parents and elders;
- initiate, nurture and maintain successful relationships;
- develop healthy and sustainable lifestyles;
- become enterprising, self-actualizing individuals;
- become leaders of self and then of others;
- become lifelong, learner-driven learners;
- create career paths which bring economic and social security;
- understand that individual rights should be balanced by reciprocal responsibilities and service to others and the community;
- respect and know how to nurture the environment and other species; and
- respect and tolerate other cultures and religions, particularly indigenous cultures (Ellyard, 2008, p. 386)
In our endeavor to realize such an expansive selection of aims we decided to devise a program which we believed offered the above opportunities but also fitted within the context of our school. So we set about individualizing our objectives and arrived at the following principles:
- Show students by example that they are loved.
- Lead students on a journey from being “overgrown children” towards being “developing adults” and celebrate this transition.
- Introduce health topics in an organized, coherent way.
- Cover gender-specific issues in single-sex classes.
- Develop strong relationships: student to student and student to teacher.
- Employ mentoring by “elders.”
- Confront students with their own talents and abilities.
- Help students move beyond “self” towards “others.”
- Celebrate the physical, social, emotional and spiritual growth of students throughout the year.
- Nurture the self-esteem of students.
- Help students understand that individual rights should be balanced by reciprocal responsibilities and service to others.
- Encourage students to respect and tolerate other cultures and faiths, especially indigenous religions.
- Lead students to become enterprising, self-actualising individuals.
- Incorporate a variety of methodologies to stimulate the student learning
Once all of this was in place it was time to develop a girls’ program to run parallel to the boys’ program and to begin formulating the structure of what came to known as “The Rite Journey.”
The Form of “The Rite Journey” – Ceremony, Celebration, Ritual and Rites of Passage
“Boys everywhere have a need for rituals marking their passage to manhood. If society does not provide them, they will inevitably invent their own.” (Campbell, cited in Pinnock, 1997, p. 17).
For centuries traditional societies have celebrated rites of passage associated with coming of age that provided boys with guidance through the ending of one phase of their lives into the beginning of a new phase.
In today’s Western capitalist society, young people looking for a defining rite of passage to move from childhood to adulthood often have only the options of binge drinking, vandalism, drink driving, gang activity, sexual activity and self-harm or suicide attempts.
The last few decades have seen a renewal in the creation of rites of passage for young people in the West. There are a number of wonderful initiatives reaching young men. A common point amongst most of them is that boys require a significant adult male in their lives to acknowledge the need for a rite of passage and then to call them on it. Sadly, there are many boys who do not have this adult male in their life. Therefore, we believe, in an attempt to reach all boys, the school system is the most effective route.
Generally current Western rites of passage programs involve a one-time camping experience that is usually expensive. Within the school setting, the process is affordable to the individual, and a teacher-guide can offer a year-long program in which he works alongside boys, both providing such rites but also exploring with them throughout the year what it means to be a respectful and responsible adult male in society. The teacher-guide meets with the boys a number of times each week (often adding up to 100 hours over the year), providing a suitable framework for discussing and working through issues that are being experienced during the year. The Rite Journey then becomes a central part of guiding boys into the adult phase of their lives.
One of the most important and indeed unique aspects of The Rite Journey is the place of ceremony and celebration throughout the year. We believe that the experience of young people is deeply enriched by offering symbol-rich ceremonies to celebrate their journey. The program is been based on the concept of the hero’s journey, which consists of the following phases:
- The Calling
- The Departure
- The Following
- The Challenges
- The Abyss
- The Return
- The Homecoming
These seven stages structure the course and frame the ceremonies and celebrations that occur throughout the year.
Workshops with school staff help them to acknowledge the absence of rites of passage in our culture. Staff gain an understanding of the purpose of the rites and learn about the benefits to schools of rediscovering such initiatives. The sessions with a school staff further help them develop ceremonies specific to their context and often involve seeking out local landmarks which are meaningful to the students that help symbolise their journey and provide appropriate venues for the celebration.
What have been your greatest lessons and in turn greatest joys in establishing it?
My greatest lessons in establishing The Rite Journey have been:
- The importance of empowering others to do this work…even those for whom this is on their ‘learning edge’!
- For us to reach hundreds of thousands of young people requires us to empower thousands of men and women to mentor, support and transition our young people.
- Not taking things personally…especially when working in a field which can ‘press the buttons’ of parents and educators.
- Learning to ‘live in the mystery’ when things don’t necessarily go as I had hoped.
My greatest joys in establishing The Rite Journey have been:
- Sharing in the lives and hearing the stories of my own Rite Journey students.
- Watching the program grow to transition 40,000 young people into a responsible, respectful and resilient adulthood.
- Creating a community of over 300 like-minded teachers and educators devoted to transitioning students.
- Seeing the program be effective internationally.
- Working with fellow educators/facilitators who are passionate about creating this process for young people.
- Creating a flexible program which ‘meets’ students from all cultures, backgrounds, faiths, socio-economic levels, academic abilities etc.
- What is your hope or vision for the work/field as a whole, what do you see as our learning edges as a community?
It is my dream to have every young person on the planet offered a Rite of Passage of some description, relevant to them in their situation.
In the context of the response to the initial part of the question I see our learning edge as being the ability to trust and empower a large number of people to carry this work which will then enable us to reach hundreds of thousands if not millions of young people.
What interested you about being part of the Youth Passageways community-network, what do you see as the main benefit from being a partner?
In my dream to have every young person on the planet offered a Rite of Passage I think it is vital for us to share our ideas globally. I am hoping that there are perhaps other educators around the world who are interested in adapting and trialling The Rite Journey in their country. At present we have schools in Australia, New Zealand, UK, South Korea and (soon to be) Belgium. I am also keen to see what other processes are being offered around the world and to receive and give support and ideas to other practitioners in the field.
Part of Youth Passageways’ focus in the coming year is on growing an intergenerational learning community. What does that mean to you? How would you seed it?
I see an intergenerational community as a system of mentorship which donates the roles that each generation has to play in society. As Robert Bly notes in his book ‘The Sibling Society’ we live in very much a horizontal system… where there is not much honouring of the various stages of eldership. The Rite Journey deliberately encourages cross-generational conversation and also a mentoring process with a same sex adult which is chosen by the parents/carers in consultation with the student. The mentor and student spend a few hours a month together working on a project and present their efforts at and expo at the end of year ‘Homecoming’ ceremony.
Is there a specific tool are resource that has been the most useful to you?
The human resource has been the most useful to me, along with continuing to work on my own personal development. I have two monthly men’s groups that I am a part of along with a biannual ‘Celebrating Manhood’ weekend which I help facilitate and have attended now for 11 years…our 22nd weekend is coming up later in May. My connection with other men of all ages (my own sourcing of an intergenerational learning community) is by far the richest resource in my life…both personally and professionally.
For more information, visit the Rite Journey website.
by Joshua Gorman
YPW Stewardship Council, Chair
Like so many young people today, I came of age at a time when the art and practice of initiation has largely been forgotten. I grew up in a fragmented and materialistic culture, one that did not recognize the transformational process I was going through as an adolescent, and that failed to call forth my deeper gifts. There were no mentors, elders, or community members that came to meet me at the threshold of adulthood, or to welcome me into the great chain of being and the vast mysteries of life. I felt lost, alone, and abandoned as I attempted to navigate the stormy seas and overwhelming crises of our modern world.
As I began to wake up and spread my wings in the archetypal ways that humans do, I discovered the books of Herman Hesse and Jack Kerouac, and the soul-searching protagonists of their epic tales helped to awaken my own call to adventure. At a time when my peers were heading off to prestigious universities, I made the courageous decision to leave my prescribed place in society, and to embark upon a hero’s journey in search of greater purpose and meaning. I spent the following years traveling and exploring, expanding my horizons and sense of self, and questing deep into who I was and what Life was calling for in a time of societal transition that eco-philosopher Joanna Macy has called the Great Turning. With grace and good fortune, I survived the ordeals of my coming-of-age adventures, and I found the gifts at the core of my being to bring back into the heart of my culture which is embodied today in the youth-serving organization I run called Generation Waking Up.
It was only after I had completed my hero’s journey and returned to the mainstream society I had grown up in that I learned there were such things as rites of passage and initiation processes for young people. It was so clear and obvious in hindsight, and I found myself having a deep “aha moment” in realizing that initiation – the process of consciously helping a young person transition from adolescence into adulthood – was what I had been missing and what my soul had been longing for. It was out of that realization that I found myself being deeply called and committed to join the community of people, organizations, and traditions who are working to restore the practices of initiation once again, and that commitment has remained strong ever since.
I began connecting with everyone I could find who was engaged in youth rites of passage work, and in 2008, I joined forces with a contemporary rites of passage practitioner named Melissa Michaels to organize a gathering on the Big Island of Hawai’i bringing together one hundred youth development specialists, rites of passage practitioners, and community leaders from a wide range of generations, cultures, and backgrounds. The intention for our coming together was to engage in cross-cultural sharing and cross-sector learning, and to explore how we could work together to bring the vital practices of youth initiation back into our communities everywhere. It was a powerful and challenging event, filled with deep connection and cross-cultural conflict. While some of our intentions were realized, many fell short, and in the wake of coming together, we chose to let the fields lay fallow for a while, trusting that the connections between people would continue to weave and knowing that “the Call” that had brought so many of us together would sound again in due time.
A few years after that gathering, I found myself attending a teen rites of passage summit in Oakland, California spearheaded by the filmmaker Frederick Marx. Many of the same questions and intentions were being explored, and there was the same strong sense that something so much more could be possible if we joined forces to synergize our resources and amplify our collective impact. Following that gathering, a small team including Frederick Marx, Darcy Ottey, Gigi Coyle, and myself collaborated on hosting another gathering in Ojai, California. We cultivated the soil for a larger collaboration further, and out of that gathering a dedicated group went on to hold a seminal retreat where Youth Passageways (YPW) was formally born with its mission to serve as a “network of individual, organizations, and communities supporting the healthy passage of today’s young people into mature adulthood during a time of global transition.”
Today, I am honored to be a member of the Youth Passageways’ Stewardship Council, which serves as the equivalent of a Board of Directors in a traditional organization. Guided by the YPW Spiral Governance model and core values, the Stewardship Council is working closely with the YPW staff to build the foundation for a vital organization and network to grow. We engage in a wide range of issues, from fundraising and legal incorporation to establishing organizational principles and protocols. We meet virtually on a bi-monthly basis and we gather in-person once a year for a deep dive Stewardship Council retreat including key staff and advisors. As the Youth Passageways network expands, our hope is that the Stewardship Council will continue develop as a diverse and representative body of the individuals and organizations YPW is serving, and that the collective wisdom of this Council will play a critical role in helping Youth Passageways realize its mission in the world. Currently, nominations for new Stewardship Council members are being accepted. If you are interested and/or if there is someone you would like to nominate, you can do so here.
Bill Plotkin writes, “One of the most important things we can do is to rediscover, reinvent, and reclaim the practices that help young people grow up in a healthy way and enhances their chances of becoming fully human and in particular, initiated adults and initiated elders.” As the Youth Passageways network and movement grows, my highest hope is that our individual and collective efforts will ripple out widely, and that today’s young people will increasingly find themselves surrounded by a community and culture of initiation that welcomes their life-transforming gifts into a world that so desperately needs them.
by Lance Williams, Ph.D.
Posted with permission from the Black Child Journal
Transitions from one developmental stage to the next are very challenging periods for all human beings. African American youth, many of whom suffer from identity crisis caused by acculturation, are particularly strained. Because of the unique cultural circumstances Black youth face during critical transitional periods and the negative sociocultural implications precipitated by these difficulties, youth development programs that served Black youths have been adding cultural paradigms to their existing programs, or developing new cultural programs all together. Incorporating cultural paradigms into the existing programs address the youths’ needs for cultural reformation. Inspired by the African-centered movement that emerged in the late 1980s, the Black community at-large, including its social workers, educators, sociologists, community activists, and parents, among others, have recognized the need for a more formalized method of socializing Black youth that rely heavily on cultural reconnection (Pinckney et all, 2011; Harvey & Hill, 2004; Harvey & Rauch, 1997). During this time period, African centered approaches were very popular among cultural interventionists who served African American youth populations. Following this trend, leaders in the contemporary youth rites of passage movement began planning, implementing and evaluating rites of passage programs around the country to help Black youth in their developmental transitions.
Leaders in the contemporary youth rites of passage movement and others have noted that during these developmental transitions, the prominent role expectations shift from one of “carefree and self-centeredness” to “responsibility and self development.” This important role shift is not only imposed by society, community and family, but is personally reinforced as these social expectations are internalized in to one’s own value system. Hence, the search for adulthood becomes a major life crisis for young African Americans.
The intention here is not to diminish the strain of the adolescent-to-adulthood transition for youth of all races and gender. But, the chronic sociocultural implications specific to Black youths has made their transition a special psychosocial challenge (Bowman, 1990). The extreme difficulty in the search for adulthood experienced by increasing numbers of Black youths is non normative and has far reaching implications. Teen-age pregnancy, substance abuse, delinquency, violence and other antisocial behaviors are manifestations of these implications that must be addressed from a developmental perspective.
Adaptive Cultural Resources
While intense adulthood search conflicts carry psychological risks among Black youth, cultural resources that are transmitted from one generation to the next may facilitate adaptive as opposed to maladaptive modes of coping (Bowman, 1990). We currently know far too little about the factors that differentiate Black youth who fall victim to barriers in the adolescent-to-adulthood transition from those who some how manage to make the transition successfully. Adaptive cultural resources may combine with the successful resolution of fe/male conflicts to facilitate adaptive coping with impending adolescent-to-adulthood role barriers. A growing literature on Black youth supports the adaptive value of unique patterns of African centered methods of socialization and behavior modification, as well as subjective cultural resources such as strong bonds with Black role models (Asante, 1987; Jagers, 1996; Hill, 1991). Like any other ethnic group, Black Americans may transmit such cultural resources to each generation to help them cope with the barriers they face in major life roles (Bowman, 1990). Rather than regarding them as mere reactions to oppression, African centered scholars view these African American cultural patterns as essentially African forms that are strategically adapted to shifting economic, social and ecological imperatives (Bowman, 1990; Nobles, 1990).
In psychosocial terms, adaptive cultural resources may empower young Black Americans in two major ways (Bowman, 1990; Nobles, 1990). First, cultural resources may nurture a general sense of personal efficacy by facilitating adaptive coping with adulthood role strain. Second, adaptive resources may enable youth to overcome impending barriers in the adolescent-to-adulthood transition. Social learning studies demonstrate processes through which role success at one developmental level may increase a sense of personal empowerment and efficacy in coping with role barriers during subsequent stages. Similarly, cultural resources that promote mastery of role barriers at one stage may provide the psychosocial basis for successful adaptation to future role strains. Personal empowerment, which is rooted in culture and prior childhood role success, may be the basic formula for a successful transition from adolescent-to-adulthood.
Traditional African Rites of Passage
Traditionally, many indigenous African ethnic groups relied on a complex system of rites to transmit adaptive cultural resources and to facilitate the adolescent-to-adulthood transition. These rites are presently referred to as rites of passage. Rites of passage are those structures, rituals, and ceremonies by which age-class members or individuals in a group successfully come to know who they are and what they are about – the purpose and meaning for their existence, as they proceed from one clearly defined state of existence to the next state or passage in their lives (Mensah, 1990). Traditionally, African rites of passage have been rites which accompany every change of place, state, social position, and age (van Gennep, 1960). Such rites, also called transitional rites, indicate and constitute transitions between states where transition is regarded as a process, a becoming, and even a transformation (Turner, 1987). Among the Ibo of Nigeria the rites of passage are rituals and ceremonies that punctuate the phases of life of man on earth, such as, birth, childhood, passage from puberty into adulthood, marriage, old age, death and passage into the next world (Onuh, 1992). The Akan of Ghana exercise these rites as ceremonies that accompany the individual or group in their life crisis. Secondly, they function as an educational process for accelerating growth in a passage of an individual or a group, pointing to special needs in a particular passage; to a social position that needs to be understood, accepted or rejected; or to a movement from one status to another (Mensah, 1990).
Van Gennep (1960) has shown that all rites of transition are marked by three phases: (1) separation (preliminal), (2) Margin (liminal), and (3) aggregation (postliminal). The first phase of separation comprises symbolic behavior signifying the detachment of the individual or group either from an earlier fixed point in the social structure or a set of cultural conditions (a “state”). During the second phase, the intervening liminal period, the state of the ritual subject (the “passenger”) is ambiguous: he passes through a realm that has few or none of the attributes of the past or coming state. In the third phase, aggregation, the passage is consummated. The ritual subject, individual or group, is a stable state once more and, by virtue or this, has rights and obligations of a clearly defined “structural” type, and is expected to behave in accordance with certain customary norms and ethical standards (Turner, 1987).
The subject of the passage ritual is, in the liminal period, structurally, if not physically “invisible” (Turner, 1987). Traditionally, liminality has been characterized by a state of death, decomposition and catabolism. The neophyte in this liminal period is characterized by having nothing. They have no status, property, insignia, secular clothing, rank, kinship position, nothing to demarcate them structurally from their fellows (Turner, 1987). This symbolic death is a state of waiting to be reborn (Turner, 1987; Onuh, 1992; Mensha, 1990). The concepts of the “invisible”, “dead” subject of passage is of particular interest when discussing the adolescent-to-adult transition. During this period of liminality, the subject is theoretically “not-adolescent-not-adult.” S/he is in a state of “betwixt and between” or in a perpetual “state” of nothingness (Turner, 1987). These ideas of invisibility and death may explain the condition of Black youths who suffer from chronic adulthood search strain and the lack of a process that will help them out of the state of liminality. On the other hand, liminality is also characterized by a state of reflection (Onuh, 1992)…
Would you like to read more of this report? You can read the full version by downloading the PDF here. Or you can order a copy of the original publication here.
This article was originally printed in the Black Child Journal Special Edition, Rites of Passage: Foundations and Practices (Summer 2013). “This special edition on Rites of Passage (ROP) is a very important and valuable addition to our knowledge and understanding of the way in which Africans in the US can Africanize and socialize males, females, youth and adults. It reports on programs that have been conducted primarily in the USA, and one in both the USA & Ghana. This issue is not a ‘how to conduct ROP’ but rather a report, update and reminder of the work being done and the work yet to be done.
Guest editor and publisher for this issue is elder Paul Hill, Jr. Brother Hill is also the founder and President of the National Rites of Passage Institute (NROPI), based in East Cleveland, Ohio. He has studied, written about and conducted rites programs for over 30 years.”
The issue covers ROP foundational issues, practices, descriptions, and/or curriculum from a variety of perspectives including:
- rescuing and re-imagining parenting and raising African American children;
- theory and practice in evaluating ROP programs;
- application of ROP at the post-secondary/college level to insure academic success;
- a ROP program for adolescent females;
- a Pan African, African centered international model ROP program for urban adolescent males;
- application of ROP process as a retooling process for Black youth during adolescent-young adult period;
- application of ROP work with incarcerated adult males in prison settings;
- faith based issues of alignment with ROP programs;
- themes and/or topics in curriculum found in ROP programs;
- a memorial tribute to Dr. Anthony Mensah, esteemed Ghanaian ancestor in the transmission of ROP, theory, practice, and training;
- a closing summary of ROP issues to be tackled.
This issue of The Black Child Journal is an invaluable resource and reference for anyone currently engage and involved in conducting rites of passage programs or is interested in doing so.
Welcome to the launch of the Youth Passageways website. For some of the readers this is something that’s been anticipated for a while and for others this is a new discovery. For all audiences I would like to share an essence of what this website’s polyfunctional goals are from the perspective of those who created it.
This site is by and for people actively engaged with youth work that supports the initiation of youth into adulthood in a positive and supportive manner that also benefits the Earth and future generations. It is a response to a need established over the course of the past many years during summits that began the task of convening many established groups doing this work around the world. That need is for a presence on the internet that is a network hub for us to both find others in this re-emergence of initiatory practices for youth as well as to help foster it further and allow it to reach new audiences. Additionally it is a place to provide resources for programs to help them thrive strengthened by the research, lessons, best practices and experience of others.
This initial launch is a call out for those we do not know in the world doing their related work to join us if there is resonance with our mission and vision statement. For those of you reading who already are affiliated with YP network we’d like to ensure you’re included in our database which has only just begun to be compiled. This will with help from the network be one of the most important features of the website.
We would like this blog section of the website to feature writers from this vibrant network who can periodically contribute postings that inspire and inform our blossoming community network in diverse ways. This blog will also feature updates and network announcements from Youth Passageways and its Stewardship Council.