Significant life events are benchmarks of change and transition. Memorializing these events builds community and prepares us for the future. Our modern culture has attempted to remove these from our lives. It makes you wonder why?
Any event which changes your life could be a benchmark worth remembering. A rite of passage is a ritual marking these points, but our modern culture has attempted to remove these from our lives. It makes you wonder why?
Some transition points are spiritual rites of passage worthy of commemoration. For instance, births, deaths, graduations, and marriages are major life transitions. Unfortunately, accidents and illnesses can also be major life transition points.
Any major event brings the opportunity to memorialize the transition. It is common to memorize or honor these transitions with a ritual. The ritual involved does not have to be elaborate. A moment of silence is an example of a ritual to honor a significant life event.
We should not overlook the importance of these benchmarks. They remind us of the different phases in our experience and help us learn important lessons. This provides us with the courage to heal. Benchmarks are a reminder of the actions that led to the event. These could be transitions can either be positive or negative.
For example, earning a degree takes a lot of hard work. The degree is a memorial to the hard work it took to get it. This achievement is a building block that helps us to accomplish other things. Similarly, if the event is an accident caused by negligent or bad behavior, this serves as a reminder of what not to do.
Every benchmark is a spiritual transition because we are spiritual beings. Every day changes in our lives represent incremental spiritual transitions. Unless we are self-aware and keep a journal, we miss these. Some transitions we plan or expect, and other times they are unexpected. Sometimes they are transitions we anticipate will occur but don’t know exactly when. Our physical death is just such a transition. There are three ways to group these transitions or benchmarks.
- Cultural Rites
- Spiritual Rites
- Personal Rites
Cultural Rites of Passage
Ancient cultures use these transition points and milestones as glue for the culture. They had rites to celebrate every kind of transition from childhood to adulthood. These were opportunities to rally and celebrate. They also provided both examples of acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
Most importantly, they can show the cohesiveness of society. When people share the same transitions, it helps to bring people together. Cultural rites can include spiritual transitions, as well. These events or catalysts for the transition do not need to be positive. Any catastrophe such as an earthquake or plague can bring out the best or the worst in people.
When people rally around each other, it builds community. For example, people from diverse backgrounds can build powerful communities and protect the weak in the group held captive in concentration camps. Or a crisis can cause the entire culture to fracture if people do not rally around each other. We see people acting with greed and selfishness during the pandemic when leadership does not bring people together for a common cause.
For example, when a leader steps down to give another authority, there is a ceremony to honor his service. This marks the transition of their power to the successor. There were rites for different offices and authority, from warrior to healer. These cultural rites differ depending on the cultural narrative.
Spiritual Rites of Passage
There is a common formula for spiritual transitions; separation, cleaning, death, and rebirth. This process is cyclical in nature as with the coming of each season. And, most interestingly, you’ll see this same pattern reflected in many cultures. Joseph Campbell noted anthropologist coined the term Hero’s Journey. We use this in the same pattern in our blended learning strategy of the Hero’s Journey in three phases, awakening, transforming, and inspiring.
Separation or Awakening
The separation aspect is important to draw focus on the processes to come. This corresponds with the awakening aspect of the Hero’s Journey. In ancient cultures, this separation was often a physical one. For example, in some cultures, they take away the candidate on a physical adventure. This symbolizes the inward journey. They may even blindfold them and then take them into the wilderness.
Sometimes they put the candidate in a cave, hut, or sweat lodge. Today, the weekend retreat where we turn off electronic devices works as an effective substitute. Separation provides space for awakening. Solitude separates us from normal day-to-day activities. So we all can take this inward journey.
Symbolic death is reflected in many religious traditions as well as spiritual rites of passages. This corresponds with the transformation aspect of the Hero’s Journey. Some ancient cultures did not realize the death was only a symbolic act, and many candidates thought they would be put to death.
To emphasize the importance, some cultures used scarification, tattoos, and even dismemberment. This symbolic death would be a sign of their level of initiation, which makes them worthy and certainly committed and focused on learning.
Symbolic death often represents the removal of previous beliefs and barriers. Because without the ability to leave them behind, we often cannot access or use spiritual technologies that require an open mind.
Today we use a process of examining our paradigm and then deciding to move beyond our limitations. A necklace with a small trinket symbolizes their expanding awakening that will come from this process.
The final aspect of the spiritual rite of passage is the symbolic rebirth. In the Hero’s Journey, this corresponds to both aspects of transformation and inspiration. We transform to live-in-spirit. This comes about as a direct result of applying the new spiritual technologies. Perception changes to the extent that one adopts to greater awareness.
Seeing things in new ways also has unintended consequences. Your conscience and your heart grow. Now see both the good and the bad and, so you must act on these motivations. This is what makes the world better. We need more people who find a passion for the greater well-being of the planet.
Personal Rites of Passage
If the culture does not recognize important life events and benchmarks, then people create their own. That’s because they are important landmarks for our psyche. So, if there is no “space” for this in the popular culture, the subculture will develop its own milestones to commemorate major events. These personal rites can reflect elements of both cultural and spiritual rites.
Gangs and religious sects are examples of the creation of personal rites. They create new subcultures. Then develop rites of passage to commemorate entry and levels rank and hierarchy within the culture. Along with these rites, they develop their own symbols, create objects of power, and memorize rituals. Many symbols link to the powerful typologies that influence our thinking and values. These bond them to the new subculture.
When a culture fractures, it’s a sign that it does not otherwise support everyone’s cultural diversity. Fracturing causes more division as the subcultures set up boundaries, which often create bias and prejudice. The emphasis of modern culture is on creating a homogenized monotone environment where commerce can take place. It does not support individuality unless it can they can package and sell it to you.
Your Own Spiritual Rites of Passage
You don’t need to belong to a gang or religion to create your own meaningful rituals to celebrate meaningful life milestones. As mentioned above, modern culture often does not recognize these personal milestones. So, you are free to develop your own rites and rituals. These are often the keys to unlocking your spiritual gifts. This is probably another reason why modern culture downplays these events.
When you create your own spiritual rites of passage, you are celebrating your heritage and accomplishments. Any significant life event is worthy of this type of celebration.
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(1) Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia