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School of Lost Borders ~ Nature-based Rites of Passage

*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.



About the Author: Gigi Coyle

Gigi‘s life and work are focused on integral healing through right livelihood, social action, rites of passage, council and the arts. She is a catalyst and consultant, a facilitator and guide: a person who assists in building bridges, understanding, and awareness with individuals and groups.

In the late 70’s after a decade of work in social justice and international relations, Gigi turned her attention to a deeper look into the healing and system changes she and others longed for – thru the study of different spiritual traditions, modern and ancient healing methods, direct personal experiences of ceremony and Nature. This led to her arrival in 1981 at The School of Lost Borders and The Ojai Foundation – the beginning of a long-term relationship with fellow educator Jack Zimmerman, with whom she developed the Council Practice as a means of heightening one’s capabilities for deep listening and truthful communication. She is co-author of The Way of Council, co-founder of the Center for Council Training and continues to work as a community facilitator and trainer of trainers. She has served as Co–Director and Co Chair of the Board of Ojai Foundation and as an Associate Director, guide and trainer for the School of Lost Borders during the past 30 years. Currently, she serves on elders council for both organizations and gives much of her time and attention to an inter-generational pilgrimage of service – Beyond Boundaries and Walking-Water.

Gigi was also a principal in the development of the Terma Company, an alternative publishing venture and corporate training program, responsible for co-creating The Box; Remembering The Gift. She continues her efforts today assisting similar artistic activist projects that guide and inspire regenerative life, work, and community.

Gigi has been instrumental in the founding of Youth Passageways, providing vision and guidance throughout the process. She was part of the core organizing team for the 2012 Summit at Ojai as well as Youth Passageways’ founding Stewardship Council gathering, and has continued to provide leadership and support ever since.

She resides in Big Pine, California, at 3 Creeks, a small oasis, where she works with her husband Win, members of the Biosphere Foundation and others to create a sanctuary of care.

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