Rites of Passage

Rites of Passage.

I heard this term first when I was reading about the rituals that tribes in Africa use to pick and later on celebrate the new hunters. Aspiring young males, were sent to the forest with only a spear to kill a lion. Those who survived and succeeded in the mission were accepted as part of the hunter community. Week-long celebrations would take place and the whole tribe participates as a sign of support to the new hunters through their transition to the new status in the tribe.

After that, I encountered the term several times but I never really stopped at it.

Unfortunately, I did what many of us do when we encounter native rituals. We get more focused on the costumes and the festivities without going deeper to understand the core of those rituals.

However, recently I was listening to an audiobook that mentions the rights of passage and highlights their importance to personal development. As the book explains, the rituals are intended to dramatize ones’ life milestones in order to bring to the person’s awareness of the transition that he or she is going through.

In our modern lives, we do have what we may call rites of passage such as birthdays or marriage celebrations or even some of the religious rituals but usually the focus is mainly on the festivities rather on giving the person the space and the support to understand the transition while the whole community is giving the support.

When we move through major events in our lives such as puberty, adulthood, relationships, serious sickness, career shifts …etc. We are really going through phases that touch the core of our identities. The transition is always accompanied by the loss of parts of who we are and the birth of new parts. Our identities are shaken and there is chaos that we need to navigate during that transition.

People have different tendencies in dealing with life transitions. The minority do it mindfully.  Typically, people would either tend to panic and resist the change especially if it is unpleasant without really understanding what they are going through, or alternatively they would just rush through it as “business as usual” pretending nothing is happening and pushing away their confusion and fears.

Of course, I belong to the latter group!

We develop how we deal with transitions very early in life, and this becomes a pattern until we realize and start intentionally working on shifting that pattern.

One of the major transitions in my life was when I first came to Beirut to attend university.

I was raised in a family with close ties and with protective parents. My whole world rotated around my family and I almost knew nothing about real life. I was completely dependent and being a girl growing up in Saudi Arabia made it more difficult.

When I turned 17, the little shy introvert girl, had to leave the safety of her home and to go live on her own and become suddenly a very independent semi-adult. I am consciously saying little girl and not a teenager as I think my personality and skills were not developed to the level you would expect of a teenager. Another transition that my life journey decided to skip.

I remember my parents talking to me about most of the logistics of the move and how I should look after myself and behave. They had high expectations. However, I don’t remember we ever talked about separation, independence, loneliness, meeting new people, the stress of not fitting in, and the 100 fears I had.

I spent most of the first year at university sick, depressed, confused, running to classes then coming to hide in my room. I was ashamed of what I was going through. It was obvious that everyone expected me to manage so something was wrong with me.

In order to cover for my feelings of guilt and shame, I studied really hard and finished my year on the Dean’s honor list.

Of course later on, I learned how to enjoy my new life. I was being reborn and I can never express enough gratitude for that specific experience.

Was there a way to make that experience more conscious and less harsh?

One of the patterns that I developed during those days is to push through any experience without much drama. Whether the change is a happy or a sad, I rarely stop. To me it is something that needs to be managed and I don’t need to make a big fuss out of it. I even sometimes wonder why my friends are concerned during my own transitions and why are they making a big deal out of it.

As much as I am happy that no transition paralyzes me, I am learning to slow down during transitions. To be honest, my body is forcing me to do so. It is funny but I recently noticed that every time I go through a major transition, I get very sick for some time. By now, I know that this is my body’s way to force me to stop, acknowledge the transition and to give space to the process.

The void time between the ending of a phase and the start of a new one is usually the most difficult time and the most critical. It is the time with the emotional and mental chaos and many times it is that period when we feel really blocked and don’t see a way out.

We tend to rush that time and to try to pay it forward as this is the most uncomfortable stage of a transition.

“Life has its own way in testing us by having too many things happening or nothing happening at all”.

What is very dangerous when we don’t process transitions mindfully or help close ones to do that, is that we risk getting stuck. We think that we are being strong and solid, however, we end up either sabotaging the whole transition or managing the transition but having ourselves stuck with blocked emotions or negative behavior.

Did you ever meet people that you feel they were stuck at a certain age? Everyone sees that they are stuck in that period except them and many are very smart people.

I noticed that we get stuck at the age that we have least processed our personal transitions.

Our emotions get stuck in our bodies, old parts of who we are never released, and proper integration of our new parts in our identity are never completed.

I wonder how can we create in our modern lives rights of passage that helps us process real transitions in our lives and the lives of those around us. I am happy to do rituals with dance and drums and feathers but even mindful conversations can be a good start. It may be my personal perspective, but I am not sure how much in our Arab societies we are ready to have those very difficult conversations with ourselves and our loved ones while major transitions are happening. The general tendency, and I might be overgeneralizing here, is to keep it silent. If no one is complaining and if we don’t have to talk about it, then let us all pretend it’s not happening.