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We Will Still Initiate
Trading culture for chaos, the rebellion will come from within
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I remember sitting in the library computer lab during 9th grade, taking a career aptitude test. The top result: Logger 🪵🪓
As a youth whose life was primarily defined by tap dancing and scholastic achievement (with very little time spent in nature), I completely disregarded this test. Yet, ignoring the advice to join the logging industry didn’t bring me any closer to knowing what I was meant to do for work.
At 17, I was the top 3rd student in my class, had a 4.1 GPA, and excelled within most academic departments. Since I was in the top 5% of my class, I was guaranteed admittance into the California University system (think: UCLA, UC Berkeley, etc.)
However, a complex family dynamic revealed itself right as I began applying for colleges. I was told that zero money had been saved for a college fund (despite my thinking otherwise) and that neither parent would co-sign on student loans. So, either I would need to get a full-ride (100% tuition paid for) or forget the traditional college path altogether.
My main caregiver told me, “You will work during the day and take night classes at a local community college just like I did.”
I didn’t like this plan, but I also didn’t have another one. Soon thereafter, I dropped out of my advanced classes, did the bare minimum to graduate, and began living recklessly.
While most of my peers were heading off to 4-year universities, I was working as a waitress and beginning a chapter marked by drugs, alcohol, and lostness.
Until then, my entire adolescent identity had been wrapped around the “good student” persona. It was unfathomable that I would not go to college — that’s what we were all “supposed to do,” after all, and that’s what I had been groomed for since Kindergarten.
I often think that many other teenagers would’ve fought their parents at this moment and found an alternative way to still go to college. Enrolling the help of teachers, guidance counselors, and friends. I did not. I do not even remember telling anyone.
I simply slipped through the cracks of the young American Dream — disempowered, confused, and without direction.
What ensued in the years after was nothing short of a chaotic, self-imposed rite of passage while I attempted to mature myself with little guidance, structure, or support.
In nature-based communities, initiation into maturity and the discovery of one's calling are often integral parts of the cultural fabric. These societies recognize the importance of connecting young individuals with nature, the cycles of life, and their own unique gifts and talents.
The Haida, an indigenous culture of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America, believes that every individual possesses a unique gift or “haw” that contributes to the community's well-being. Young Haida are supported in discovering their gifts and talents through ritual, ceremony, guidance from elders, and connection to nature and spirit. Their roles may range from artistic expressions like carving and weaving to storytelling and leadership.
Everyone has a role and a place, which is discovered well before the age when Western youth are applying for college.
Across many nature-based cultures, coming-of-age ceremonies were required to ceremonially transition from youth into adulthood. Rituals, dances, storytelling, physical challenges for boys, and menarche guidance for girls symbolized the turning of a life chapter.
On the other side, these youth were changed for the good. Already wiser, clear on their life path, anchored in their gifts, and embedded into the fabric of their communities — both human and the more-than-human.
At first glance, it may appear that we have little in common with the Haida people and other nature-based cultures. Our modern Western upbringing traded coming-of-age ceremonies with socially awkward birthday parties. Girls are handed a box of tampons and pads when their menstrual cycle arrives, with little knowledge about what this change means beyond pregnancy. Boys are shamed for displaying signs of aggression and strength, as well as displaying weakness and vulnerability. We are sent off to jobs and colleges that may or may not have anything to do with our innate gifts.
However, exactly like these cultures, we will still initiate.
What I find incredible about the human spirit is that it has an innate yearning to come fully alive and awaken to its true potential. Without guided transformational experiences, we will create our own makeshift rites of passage. Whether it happens at age 14 or 55, it’s inevitable.
We will push boundaries, rebel against expectations and do whatever it takes to discover our own vitality. We’ll experiment with substances, chase adrenaline-fueled experiences, explore promiscuity and passion, and engage in reckless behavior — all in an attempt to become truly alive.
This impulse, this deep longing to come fully alive, reflects the universal human desire for self-realization and the actualization of our inherent potential. It is an integral part of our collective human spirit whether we were born in a suburban capitalistic wasteland or within a close-knit nature-based community.
While our paths may differ from those cultures, our yearning for initiation and self-discovery is universal. We all seek transformative experiences that shake us awake and propel us toward realizing our unique gifts and purpose.
With hindsight, I’m grateful that the opportunity for a typical 4-year college experience was taken away from me. Not having a spelled-out plan for my early “adulthood” meant that I was thrown into the fires of the world, life, and decision-making.
I failed a lot. Made ill-informed choices. Worried my family and looked insane from the outside in. I hit rock bottom many times, had nobody to bail me out, and kept finding my way forward.
This journey helped me foster a deep sense of individuality, forced me to step up into integrity, and made me confront some of the most existential questions a human can ponder, like “Who am I really?” and “What’s really going on here?”
Although I felt like I was “behind” in the Western sense of things, I could tell that I was finding something special that no diploma could provide.
It is through these self-initiated rites of passage that we seek to reclaim our authentic selves, connect with our passions, and transcend the limitations imposed by societal expectations. Fortunately, while there is an increasing sense of disconnection amongst modern humans, there are also a remarkable amount of opportunities for self-discovery.
Without traditional practices, we have the remarkable opportunity to forge our own paths of initiation and self-discovery. As we mature, we can transition from reckless outlets like substance abuse to more generative practices such as participating in women's and men's groups, engaging in rituals and ceremonies, and seeking guidance from mentors, coaches, spiritual guides, and elders.
I’ve had the good fortune to spend the better part of the last six or so years exploring many of these — from a wilderness-based vision fast and plant medicine journeys to living in foreign countries and spending weeks in meditation centers. Gradually, these experiences alchemized my youthful rage and helped me see a genuine reason for my existence in the wider web of things, the gifts I’m here to bring, and the perfection of my journey.
While there are many incredible places to turn to for your healing, maturing, and awakening, here are a few amazing humans sharing their gifts today:
Brooks Barron ofand the Power Awakening Program for discovering your Soul’s purpose
Alex Olshonsky ofand Natura Care Programs for psychedelic-assisted addiction treatment
Jonny Miller ofand Nervous System Mastery for cultivating self-regulation in a dysregulated world
Charles Eisenstein ofand The Sanity Project for holding and growing sanity in turbulent times
Till next time, stay wild ❤️
Quote I’m Pondering
“Negativity is totally unnatural. It is a psychic pollutant, and there is a deep link between the poisoning and destruction of nature and the vast negativity that has accumulated in the collective human psyche. No other life-form on the planet knows negativity, only humans, just as no other life-form violates and poisons the Earth that sustains it. Have you ever seen an unhappy flower or a stressed oak tree? Have you come across a depressed dolphin, a frog that has a problem with self-esteem, a cat that cannot relax, or a bird that carries hatred and resentment? The only animals that may occasionally experience something akin to negativity or show signs of neurotic behavior are those that live in close contact with humans and so link into the human mind and its insanity.
Watch any plant or animal and let it teach you acceptance of what is surrender to the Now. Let it teach you Being. Let it teach you integrity — which means to be one, to be yourself, to be real.” ~ The Power of Now. A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle