In traditional indigenous cultures the village takes part in everything. That is what proponents of village life have to tell us. People that experienced it firsthand, like Martín Prechtel, Malidoma Somé, and Francis Weller speak of the unity and power of the village in creating human beings.
It was understood by these cultures that, left to our own devices, we never quite develop into full-fledged humans. Instead, we retain the characteristics and behaviors of adolescence.
The predominant characteristics of adolescents are a desire to break away from the behavioral norms and social patterns of the adults in the society. It is a time when hormonal changes wreak havoc on the adolescent’s body and mind. An adolescent is concerned mostly with how to establish himself as an individual. He wants to develop an identity of his own, one that sets him apart from his parents and aligns him with his friends. He may take on behaviors that break social expectations of him, even to the extent of using violence, drugs or breaking laws to demonstrate his “independence.”
There is nothing wrong with this phase of life in and of itself. It is part of our human development. However, it is by nature me-centered. The entire focus of the adolescent is to have his needs and desires met. The ways of achieving this are often irrelevant, because the adolescent hasn’t grown into an understanding of how his actions affect his community or the natural world. When adolescence goes unchecked it develops into the world we see today.
Nowadays, people that never moved beyond that adolescent stage overpopulate our society. Everything from corporate CEOs, to politicians, medical doctors, celebrities, to the next-door neighbor and maybe even you are still in the stage of adolescence.
This is dangerous. It means that people that have never experienced the psychological shift from a me-centered worldview to an us-centered worldview run the world. In other words, those in power are concerned with what they can get for themselves more than how to assure the safety and longevity of their communities.
This type of thinking rips natural resources from pristine forests, pumps toxic chemicals into the waters of the Earth, exploits those that are in desperate need at home and abroad, declares war for financial gain and masks it with some righteous ideological cause. This type of thinking destroys the world.
Cultures that practice ritual initiation understand this. They know there comes a point when the individual must be forcefully ripped from this me-centered view of the world for the good of the village. The practice of initiation serves as a catalyst for the destruction of the adolescent mind and the birth of the full-fledged human being.
There are various types of initiation practices. Some of them include a physical rite of passage that forces the young man to come face to face with his own mortality. Others focus more on the psychological and spiritual shattering of the adolescent perspective in order to open the young man up to a deeper understanding of human connection to all things: human and more-than-human.
These initiations and rites of passage are taken on as the responsibility of the entire village. Every adult in the village takes it upon him or herself to participate in the preparation of the child, and later the adolescent, for the ordeal that is to come through the initiation. Likewise, every person in the tribe is there to welcome the newly initiated adult back to the village when he returns. There is an understanding that the entire village benefits from having the young men and women go through their initiations into adulthood.
In some cases, when a person is initiated he receives a new name. When he returns to his village he is introduced by this new name. This is because the village understands that the adolescent and the adult are two different people. The adult that emerges from the initiation chamber has a purpose, which is related to the wellbeing of the village as a whole. The selfish desires of the adolescent are left behind in the initiation chamber.
If we are to survive as a species, we need more initiations. We need more elders to guide the young through the process of becoming full-fledged human beings. It is only through these initiations and rites of passage that we will be able to collectively move beyond the adolescent mind that knows no end to its self-absorbed hunger. Nowadays the number of groups offering these initiation experiences is growing, but perhaps not fast enough. You can be a part of making this happen so that we can move forward as full-fledged human beings and start taking care of one another and of the Earth. It takes a village.
*Originally published as Inlak'ech Transpersonal Coaching