Rites of Passage

We have just concluded our Alchemist retreat in the hills outside Barcelona, and what a week that was. Our time together is designed to reintroduce the benefits of rites of passage that we missed.

Tribal cultures use rites of passage as a clear measurement of each stage of one’s life journey, but the Western world has bypassed these important moments, replacing them with banal and repetitive stimuli that become hypnotic and beguiling.

It is much easier to scroll and swipe than to create a real relationship with life. Courage atrophies, capability diminishes, and we forsake our human obligation to be the best version of who we can be.

Once upon a time you were a newborn child and everything was possible. Yet through the gradual erosion of your miracle-self you were taught that to belong you had to be a certain way, to perform well, or to win to be worthy. Your self-esteem became subject to influences from the outer world – your parents, siblings and peers.

A life of striving without acknowledgement or recognition is dulling and it sucks the vitality and inspiration right out of us. Performing well in a sick world is no real accomplishment, and to measure our success by how many others we ‘beat’ or ‘likes’ we get is a fool’s game.

I believe that a ‘mid-life crisis’ has become a normal life event for so many because of our societies lack of rites of passage. Without these passages, we are forced to realize by illness, breakdown or the crumbling of our fragile self-esteem, that we are capable of greater things than those we chose to believe in. This is a shocking moment as our ‘world’ collapses in a rubble of self-loathing and despair.

But when we introduce rites of passage into our lives, we get to change things. We get to measure our progress as humans with ancient wisdom, rather than electronically induced waves of oxytocin. We are gifted with the understanding that our human journey needs challenges to be overcome in order for our self-respect to take root.

It is only through the mastery of our challenge that we can reach our greatness, and when that challenge is provided in a fair way, when it is clear that it will arise to test us – our alertness and commitment – then we can approach it differently.

If you are a parent of young children, consider what you can do to reintroduce these important thresholds for them. You don’t need to send them off into the jungle to steal a tigers foreskin with a pair of chopsticks. There are simpler ways that they can be challenged in order to rise to their greatness. Remember, if you are inspired by their capability they will become stronger.

There will come a moment when our daughters menstruate and our sons ejaculate; these are mother nature’s way of marking the passage from a youthful dependent, to a powerful creator. If as parents we don’t give due attention to these thresholds, is it any wonder that our children grow confused, as they are catapulted into an adult world unready and over-equipped?

Likewise as we grow older, what rites of passage have we bypassed innocently, our minds and passions driven or drawn by our past, or a fantastical future that actually never comes into existence?

I remember being inspired by my guitar teacher, a young man about to be married. His rite of passage was to go into the woods of southern England, and stand in a circle with his male peers. Each of them would ask him a question to test his strength of purpose, his readiness and his commitment to the union that was about to occur. The next stage was to enter into a circle with the female friends of his bride-to-be and answer their questions.

Juxtapose this conscious rite of passage with the drunken clowns on a flight to Ibiza on their way to a 5-day binge of alcohol and drugs – another version of a rite of passage which only offers the chance to test the boundaries of indulgence and the arrogance of ignorance.

Further on, as we become elders, understanding that wisdom is born from our own mistakes and the time we have taken to reflect on them, do we remain forever in pursuit of mastery? Is Kingship or Queenship the ultimate achievement of a lifetime?

A few years ago in Bali, as I speculated on my journey to mastery, a lady younger than myself gave me six words in return:

“Mystery is the antidote to Mastery.”

That stumped me, most of all because it was unwelcome. What has my life been for if not to master at least something about it? After all the effort, was mastery of no value?

Another rite of passage that is called for is the preparation for our final passing. If we are to pass through the eye of the needle of death, there isn’t room for any baggage. What we don’t resolve or work out will become our legacy to our heirs. This last period of life offers the chance to shed the burdens, to atone for our prior mistakes, and bow humbly before the greatest mystery of all.

That’s what our Alchemist Transformational retreat is about, a chance to consciously choose a rite of passage for each stage of our lives. We are born as a result of a miraculous process, and to accept life as a diminished version of who we are is as indulgent as drinking our way into oblivion.

Now is our chance, not just to walk our talk, but to wake up and walk our ‘Why.’

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