I was thinking this morning that, as I near the age of 60, I am finally just about feeling happy in my own skin. By that, I mean it has taken me nearly 60 years to value myself as an individual and to feel content with who I am, most of the time.
I began to wonder if it takes everyone this long, and if our culture fails to instil confidence in us as we grow into adulthood.
I wondered if things have improved for younger generations, and then I remembered a scene I viewed in an urban area not long ago:
A woman and her five (ish) year old son were walking along a footpath, as I crossed the street to join them. The woman began berating the young boy for walking in the long grass instead of on the concrete path.
I am sure, in her own mind, she had very good reasons for this, but at the time, I thought it was very sad that this child wasn’t free to be a boy. Now, as I consider how much confidence our culture gives us as individuals, I know that it is the little episodes such as these, which undermine our confidence in childhood, such that when we reach adulthood, we tend to undervalue ourselves and our abilities, and look outside of ourselves for all of the answers to our problems.
I have been learning about Native American spirituality, and since then started to read a book called Walking in Light – The Everyday Empowerment of a Shamanic Life, by Sandra Ingerman.
Sandra raises the issue of rites of passage into adulthood, as most traditional shamanic societies have some sort of initiation ceremony or rite, in order to transition from childhood into adulthood. She quotes an African proverb: “If the youth are not initiated, they will burn down the village.” She suggests that perhaps modern youth’s penchant for body piercing and tattoos may be a desire to create some physical sign of their initiation into adulthood. Similarly, flirting with the law and engaging in risky behaviour can be seen as a desire to prove their adulthood.
During tribal initiation rites, members of the tribe proved their value as individuals, but it was their value to the community which was honoured. In our society, we lack the community culture of indigenous tribes. Individuals never get the chance to prove their value to the community or to themselves. Could this be the reason that many young people feel the need to join gangs, in order to find the community which will value them as individuals?
It is suggested that during ceremonies to honour the initiation of a member of the tribe into adulthood, the death of the child is mourned, and the birth of an adult is celebrated. Could it be that the lack of death of the child in ceremony is a factor in the high suicide rate in teenagers?
It seems to me that our culture fails to provide the support for children to transition into adulthood. During vision quests, Native American teenagers would go off alone into the wilderness for a number of days. There, they would have a spiritual experience, often encountering power animals or spirit guides during visions or dreams. They returned with a sense of achievement, a strong connection to the spiritual world, and confidence in themselves as valuable members of the community.
In some American Indian tribes, a young woman’s first menstruation was a cause for celebration for the whole tribe. This is a sharp contrast from our western culture’s view of any talk of menstruation as taboo.
Traditional Native American cultures looked to nature for knowledge. They viewed menstruation as a natural and beautiful part of life which allowed for bringing of new life into the tribe. Just as they saw the value of male and female in every species in nature, they honoured male and female individuals in their own societies.
When I started thinking that our society may need some form of initiation, I looked into the different rites of passage that different peoples around the world have had. I have to tell you that that nearly put me off writing about it. Included in the list of initiation rites were what, to me, seemed to be some truly barbaric practices, including circumcisions of males and females without any anaesthetic, and which take months to heal.
Western cultures have had some forms of rites of passage. Debutante balls, where the daughters of elite families were introduced to society, may still be found to this day, but they lack the spiritual aspect of the initiation ceremonies.
Of course, there are the Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah of the Jewish faith, and Confirmation in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican faiths, in which a young person is intended to take responsibility for their own religious faith. Not having been raised in any of these faiths, I cannot say if they instil confidence in a young person in the same way that traditional indigenous ceremonies would.
From my interaction with those raised in many Christian churches, including Catholics, it seems that, instead, we are often left with a great fear of life, death and God. Christian Churches definitely do not give us the relationship with spiritual beings, which helps to provide those in indigenous cultures with confidence to face the difficulties of life.
There are many in our society who have had no religious or spiritual training whatsoever. These young people are expected to cope with all the trials and tribulations which life can throw at us, without being given any tools with which to do it.
Although I would not like to see our society adopt practices which physically scar young people, I think it is worth considering if we might be able to do a better job of instilling confidence in them, and preparing them for life.
I would love to hear what everyone thinks about this.
Given your time over again, is there a process or ceremony which you think could have helped you achieve a more joyful transition to adulthood and a more joyful life?
Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net