On Initiation — Yikes

“Initiation” is a rather powerful word, isn’t it. I’m not totally sure what it means, but it feels very important. I’ve been thinking about initiations — about belonging and community and maturation — for the better part of the last ten years. I’ve found a few points of clarity. I’ve also found some thicker soup to stir.

Francis Weller, a psychotherapist, writer, and soul activist, is really informing a lot of my learning lately about initiation. “The Wild Edge of Sorrow” is one of those sources. So is “The Alchemy of Initiation.”

I love the notion that there is more soul work to do in this life. It’s not just 70-80 years on the path of material consumption and transactionalism. I often find myself speaking of the soul work as “finding the trouble that we are meant to find.” The trouble we are meant to find isn’t just a path of escalating successes. The trouble we are meant to find, I would suggest, also includes some heartaches, some loss, some illness, some things that just didn’t work.

This search into soul — yikes — it’s involved. It grows us. It can grow us, particularly when we are supported by others who have done, or are in their soul work. It can grow us if we make it through. However, I don’t think “making it” is guaranteed. Yikes again.

The conversation I’ve most been in about initiation lately is “initiated to what?” I’m a bit puzzled by this question. I suppose because a part of me wants a more clean reply. But when I go to the guts of it, I think that a very important aspect of initiation is into an improved capacity to be in uncertainty and unknowns. Yikes again. I almost don’t like writing that sentence. Learn to unlearn. Learn to not know. Learn to strip further the layers of certainty. I can find my own resistance flare as I listen to my words.

Yet, I’ve learned, that resistance doesn’t imply wrong. And when it comes to baseline skills, energetic clarity, ability to encounter self and other — fundamental to it all is being willing to release the convenience and psychological dependence on certainty.

Many of us have choices to avoid or deny the depth of soul stirring within us. And, let’s face it, so much of contemporary society is structured to help us do just that — avoid and deny. I continue to learn that the initiatory language really is fruitful in making sense of and leaning into the needed troubles of our times — individually and collectively.

Stage 1: A departure from the norms of what we reside in, known or not. Often departures are brought about by gut-punching reality. Stage one is a severance from the familiar. Easier to write than to do.

Stage 2: An ordeal encountered that is significant enough to alter one’s identity. Illness can do this. Relationships ending can do this. Death can do this. Loss of jobs can do this. It’s an ordeal that changes the game.

Stage 3: A return as changed being, witnessed by elders or those who also have been in their soul work. The return with an initiation that sticks, is to know that you can’t go back to what you were before. And you come back with wisdom earned (including the wisdom of not needing to know).

There’s so much more. The idea that the initiatory experience isn’t for the individual, but rather for the community. That’s gold — thanks again Francil Weller.

I think a lot of us are trying to make sense of the times. A lot of us are recognizing the impact of adolescence run amuck, whether in young teenagers or in older adults, whether in others or within ourselves.

I’ll stay with my yikes — or as some friends have told me, “this isn’t for sissies.” I’m grateful for friends, youngers and olders in their soul work. Just to see them and to be seen by them, in these troubles of these times.


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