Soul Topics

Rites of Passage: Growing Up into Adulthood (Manhood or Womanhood)

There is something sacred and divine about the journey of growing up into adulthood.

Here and there, there are striking incidences, trials and hardship, along with tangibly felt moments that provoke and inspire. Every now and then, the individual – whether a young teen or an older man – experiences subtle yet authoritative messages that are deeply personal.

Such moments could be easily lost and forgotten, but their subtle messages could otherwise serve as a doorway into another world. These messages, when heeded, potentially guide the individual on a journey to separate from the ‘unthinking masses’ and embody a distinct personal identity.

Thus in growing up, as with every other transition phase in life, we are called to make important decisions; responsibility befalls us as a curse and a gift. Whether or not we choose to encounter this sense of numinosity – i.e. the call of the sacred or what Joseph Campbell terms as the ‘call to adventure’ – would crucially define who we become.

Yet, what does it mean to encounter and pursue the ‘sacred’? This is intimately tied to the question we all inevitably ask growing up: What makes us a man or a woman?

Initiation, Mentorship and Ancient Wisdom

In ancient wisdom literature, one is initiated into adulthood by the elders of that society who are wiser, more mature and experienced. They would provide essential mentorship through initiating certain ceremonies – what are known as rites of passage – for the younger ones to pass through as they transit into adulthood.

For example, this could first involve a clean break from the parents, whereby the novice boy ventures into the wilderness, followed by a wound given by an older man, a scarring of some sort such as the knocking out of a tooth. Far from inflicting meaningless pain, these initiations carry deep meaning; the boy would forever associate his broken tooth with a living connection of some sort, such as a highly revered or respected hero or teacher of that community who has similarly lost a tooth. These ritualistic ceremonies are purely symbolic, but under the guidance of the wise, the messages and lessons they carry are heavily instilled upon the younger ones.

Of course, the situation is different today. The challenging ceremonies of the past requiring endurance and pain are commonly reduced to many mainstream religious ceremonies today, symbolic but nevertheless highly sanctioned and softened. Arguably, the mentorship we need for soul growth is severely lacking, and we are more confused than ever in a highly abundant and stimulating technological age.

Creating Our Own Rites of Passage

However, a teaching we could adopt from the ancient rites of passage is that in the key transition phases of an individual’s life, there are rituals, carefully designed and deemed necessary for the individual’s transition.

These rituals involve a process requiring a certain mental, emotional and physical toughness. Not everyone could be successfully ‘initiated’ into adulthood; only the ones who are ready would make that transition, bypassing a certain threshold where something in the psychology and character shifts.

Rituals done consistently and purposefully are associated with discipline.

Hence, we could create our own rites of passage by constantly – ritualistically – subjecting ourselves to the training of our mental, emotional and physical faculties, through a dedicated course of action that is personal to us and our growth.

A writer might find a very different set of rituals from an athlete who cultivates with weights, or a programmer, businessman, salesman or construction worker. A daughter from a dysfunctional family severely abused from a young age would find his/her path indeed very different from the average woman. The testosterone raging young man moves toward hope and progress, whereas the old man is discharged by death of ambition, and embraces a process of letting go and spiritual renewal.

The decision to undertake a particular chosen course of action lies upon the responsibility of the individual to decipher life’s messages and what his/her personal ‘call to adventure’ is. It is essentially greater than oneself and has all to do with the mysterious, invisible and sacred.

Through the committed undertaking of ritualistic practices, a transformation in the psyche is imminent. One eventually makes that transition into manhood or womanhood. The art of discipline instills into the individual a unique and spirited identity, and empowers one to become capable of meeting the intensity of life’s many trials and tribulations.

What is your call to adventure? What are your rites of passage?