Rites of Passage as Gateways for Awakening

"Every positive change—every jump to a higher level of energy and awareness—involves a rite of passage. Each time, to ascend to a higher rung on the ladder of personal evolution, we must go through a period of discomfort, of initiation. I have never found an exception."

- Dan Millman

Pause for a moment to take in the above image, noting any thoughts and feelings that come up. Then use your imagination to place yourself within this image. Behold, close-up, the purple-hued stones; feel the dry breeze; smell the parched land… Now, see yourself at the bottom of this scene, beginning to walk toward the opening in the stones, and, then, following a winding, circuitous path calling you deeper and deeper into the mystery that is your life.

Living Within the Labyrinth that is Your Life

As a young man, living in North Carolina, Jeffrey Sawyer realized that his life was no longer working. In the midst of his Breakdown, Sawyer decided to quit his job, ditch his belongings, and head West on foot. In describing his time on the road, he wrote:  “For two-and-a-half years I walked back roads connecting small towns. The roads and communities became a monastery of sorts to me, a place for playful inquiry… I carried no ATM card, no credit card... Most of the time I had no sleeping bag and no money... As I walked, a few questions became predominant: Must a person work, and what happens if one does not? What happens when one has no money and no motive to get any? Is it possible to live entirely free in this culture?”

As Sawyer wandered, he discovered that the things that he needed to survive had a way of simply showing up! He found food to eat by foraging in the woods alongside the roads where he walked, while also, from time to time, receiving a few bucks from strangers, even though he didn’t ask. In his words: “Money would come and though, at the time, I didn’t really need it, turning it down seemed to offend the giver. The [gift of] money gave me an opportunity to find out how rarely it brought me a true sense of security. Some days I would give away what money I had to see if the absence of it made me miserable. It didn’t. Rather, the giving opened up my mind and heart to an abundance that exists regardless of whether one has money or not.”

Though it's unlikely that you are wandering across America on foot, you are, nonetheless, on a journey. We all are. Our journeys begin with a calling from within to seek and discover our life’s meaning and purpose.

The Journey of a Lifetime

There is a story that humans have been telling one another for thousands of years. Variations of this story have been enacted and shared all over the world, in every tongue, by every manner of person. Mythographer, Joseph Campbell, has dubbed this ageless story, The Hero’s Journey.

This story is about growing up; it’s about persistently questioning assumptions and identifying and letting go of limiting beliefs; it’s about being willing to see ourselves and the world with new eyes. Ultimately, it’s about discovering why we are here—i.e., about discerning the deeper meaning and purpose of our lives. As depicted in the image below, The Hero’s Journey is not a once and done process. It a lifelong journey of self-discovery.

You can become acquainted with of the stages of the Hero’s Journey by viewing this compelling video.

It’s important to note that the Hero, in the context of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, is not the pop star, not the sports idol, not the famous social entrepreneur, not the flashy billionaire. Nor is the Hero someone who is exalted for an isolated heroic act like rescuing a child from a burning building. What genuine heroes do share in common is a passion for truth, a readiness to question everything, a hunger to move beyond the confining strictures of the status-quo, and a yearning to contribute to the healing of the world. Sadly, this inborn impulse to AWAKEN is often undermined by the societal pressure to conform—i.e., to follow the crowd. Yet, despite societal pressures to the contrary, the impulse to embrace our lives as a journey lives inside all of us, waiting for us to summon the courage to heed it.

What to Do?

While it is true that none of us has asked to be born into these uncertain times, we find ourselves here, nonetheless! So what are we to do? How might we break free of the cultural shackles that often stifle our spirits? How might we awaken?

A brave first step is to recognize that we are all asleep to varying degrees; and that, if we are to awaken, we must care enough about ourselves and the world to reflect on vital questions such as those listed below. So, please, take a deep breath, and tilting your head downward, attune to the low, resonate notes that are always there beckoning you into the wild Unknown that is your life.

Q1 - Where, in your life, are you conforming to cultural scripts that are rooted in fear? In other words, where have you been playing it safe, turning away from the possibility of awakening because of fear?

Q2 - What secrets do you keep from yourself? Why?

Q3 - How many times a day do you say “should” to yourself and what would happen if you were to eliminate the word, should, from your vocabulary?

Q4 - What symbols and themes run through your dreams… through your nightmares… and what might they be revealing to you?
Q5 - What would it look like for you to step bravely into unknown, embracing your one-and-only precious life as a Hero’s Journey?

"We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us."

- Joseph Campbell

"The power to become the author of our destiny resides within us.”

- Katie Pettine & Liz Karcewski, Steppingstone #8 Guides

Join the conversation hosted by
Katie & Liz on the Community Page