Initiation: Taking Your Life To The Next Level

This past Sunday I had the privilege of welcoming back a group of women at the completion of their initiation process. After 10-months of weekly meetings – discovering their wounds and their gifts, exploring their scary edges and their hidden joys –these women left Wednesday evening for the culminating weekend of ritual and celebration.

And on Sunday afternoon, their community welcomed them back. As they walked under the archway and into the circle of friends, I could see, shining through the exhaustion from four days and nights of ritual, the new light that each of these women had tapped into. I could feel the way in which each of them had opened to a deeper understanding of who they truly are.

The highlight of the day was hearing their initiated names, chosen by the leaders, with the help of Spirit, as a lifelong reminder of their purpose and gifts. While I cannot share their actual, initiated names I can give you a taste. They were names like:

Drinks from the Well of Worthiness
Flaming Stone
Speaks Compassionate Truth
Healing Phoenix
Bringer of Sacred Irreverence

These are names that, once given, can never be taken away, and will never be forgotten.
You might wonder what initiation has to do with coaching? It has everything to do with coaching in the way that I approach the work.

Initiation is about stepping into a more mature level of commitment to your life and the manner in which you engage with the world around you. Wherever you stand on your path, the initiatory process propels you into a more active and intimate relationship with the life experience you are creating. Formal initiation marks your transition from one life stage or level of awareness to the next.

While coaching cannot replicate or replace a true initiatory experience, it certainly can help a person discover their unique gifts and find meaningful ways of offering them to the world. In our culture, where formal initiatory experiences are hard to come by, that can be a powerful offering.

In our culture we do have events that offer glimpses of an initiatory past, but very few of them retain their previous power. Weddings, potentially a profoundly initiatory experience, have become an excuse to have a great party. The birth of a child has become so sterilized and anesthetized that the majority of new parents miss out on the opportunity to consciously step through the threshold into parenthood. Most religious initiations have become watered down and no longer serve the purpose for which they were created: namely the conscious and intentional maturation of a person.

According to Jewish tradition, I was initiated into adulthood when I was thirteen. I went through the preparations, learned how to read my Torah portion and chant the other stuff. But when it came right down to it, in my middle-class, reform community, the underlying initiatory element of a Bar Mitzvah had been lost long ago. When I completed the process, my bank balance was larger, but I was no more a man than I had been before the ceremony.

And don’t you dare ask me to remember what Torah portion I read, or anything the rabbi said to me, or the words of wisdom my male elders passed on to me. That is all long gone. What I do remember is the party! We cleared out our garage and turned it into a barn to have a big square dance. Where I came up with that theme, I have no idea. It probably was not even my idea.

In contrast to that, my wife and I created our wedding with the intention of acknowledging and exploring the underlying initiatory experience. We chose to consciously step through the threshold of that initiation into our new life-stage. I will always remember the connections I felt as I walked around the circle of friends and family gathered to support and witness us. I will always remember being asked, at the end of the ceremony, if I was ready to step into the world in a new way, in the role of husband. And I will always remember, after having said “yes,” the surge of power and joy that filled me as my wife and I walked through the gateway into our new experience.

Will the women who participated in this recent initiation remember their experience?

You bet! They’ll carry their initiated name with them for the rest of their lives. They’ll carry the memories of the edges they confronted and crossed over, as well as the edges they confronted and were unable to cross. They’ll remember the dark places they discovered within themselves and the hidden gifts that they found waiting there.

And most important, these women will never again live in quite the same way. They have forged an intimate connection with their gifts. They cannot turn their backs on their gifts anymore than we would turn our backs on our ability to walk or speak or breathe. Can you imagine waking up one day and deciding that you no longer had a use for your ability to walk? Our deeper, soul’s gifts are just as powerful, perhaps more so, and yet, it is far too easy to deny these gifts. The women who went through this initiation no longer have that option. Their experience, their initiated sisters, and their community, will now hold them accountable for offering their gifts to the world in a more expansive way.

Because it is so rare to find an opportunity to participate in a formal initiatory experience, we must become the stewards of our own conscious maturation. We must, on a daily basis, affirm and re- affirm our choice to move into a mature adulthood.

Without formal initiation, our maturation process is evolutionary. It happens each day, in small, incremental moments and movements. By bringing our attention, and intention to the micro-initiations of our daily life, we can achieve the same result as going through a formal initiation. We can step through the threshold to our next level of maturation or awareness.

If you would choose the path of initiation, then begin to pay attention to the opportunities for transformation that happens every day. When something happens in the outer world that propels you to an inner edge, stop and explore it. Don’t be in such a rush to turn around and get away from that edge. When someone says or does something that irritates or even angers you, stop and ask yourself what wound inside you has been activated. When you find yourself resisting an opportunity to offer your gifts to the world, stop and uncover the old beliefs that hold you back.

By committing to your own initiatory process, and using the seemingly insignificant events of your everyday life to catalyze your awakening, you will discover your gifts and the ways in which you are meant to share them with the world.

For more information on initiation, I recommend the following books as a great starting point: Soulcraft: by Bill Plotkin and Of Water and the Spirit: by Malidoma Somé