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Achievement vs. Rights of Passage

This summer has been a time of intense introspection for me, as well as inner change, on the topic of achievement.

We all hunger to bring forth our potential in this world, and a healthy society recognizes that and does give the necessary encouragement to its members as they progress on their journey to full expression and blossoming.

Indigenous cultures famously held rights of passage – or initiations –  for their people, at carefully chosen times throughout the lifecycle when an individual was known to be undergoing certain organic changes that were maturing them from the inside out.

This involved a careful study of human development and how it related not only to the physiological maturation of the body, the maturation of the mind, emotions, will, and so forth; it also incorporated how the life cycle of a human was affected by the planets and celestial bodies, and the rhythm of their immediate natural environment.

Such rights of passage offered validation, encouragement and “seeing” of the individual in a way we are virtually starved for nowadays in the modern societies (though some families continue to offer such rituals). Imagine being seen, actually seen for who you really know yourself to be, by your family and community members, who, upon seeing the unique gifts you have to offer, bless you on your journey to actualize those gifts.

Would you not feel more empowered, more full in your confidence to be here on this earth, and to explore your essence?

And, being granted that validation, would you not feel more goodwill towards others, more willingness to cheer them on on their unique journey? Would you not feel more inclination to rejoice at others’ successes and reach out a hand when they stumble along the way?

Success, in this sense, is the full embodiment of who you are. It isn’t success by an outside standard, or by anybody else’s standards for that matter – it’s a feeling you discover inside of yourself when you follow the path that is only illuminated by the compass of your own heart.

And this kind of success is, ultimately, a cultural phenomenon. No matter how much we pretend, we cannot feel fulfilled and “successful” in the long term while our brothers and sisters are suffering in degradation right beside us. We will always be struggling not to look, to convince ourselves that they are separate and “over there” and that those people’s problems need not affect us. And yet, they always will. We’ll come home and feel depressed without knowing why, or we’ll drink too much, fight with our spouse, yell at our children, etc. Not letting in the pain of others will always backfire. 

By contrast, a successful culture is one in which we all uplift each other! 

A right of passage is a ritual whereby a healthy community initiates an individual into the next phase of their journey.

Full of confidence and courage, that individual meets the challenges and riddles of this next chapter with the strength of their entire community behind them.

No more lonely sitting on the couch at home eating ice cream. No more burying loneliness in a gossip magazine or the home shopping network after a long day’s work. No more gratification in the demotion or suffering of another under the false pretense that their loss could be your gain.

In a culture that wants for rites of passage, we’ve glamorized a substitute: achievement.

For many, achievement has become an addiction and a desperate search for self-confidence and courage. The problem is, degrees, promotions and other highly-regarded achievements in modern cultures only hint at recognizing the true nature of the recipient. They bestow an accolade based on a certain standard, but they do not offer the seeing and celebrating of the individual’s true essence that the soul so hungers for.

As a result, as with any addiction, more is never enough.

While of course this isn’t true all the time, often when our life is centered around achievements, we walk around like hungry ghosts, looking for the confidence and courage that we never seem to find.

If you can give another a gift in the coming time, one very potent gift is to give them the gift of your seeing. Try to penetrate beyond the veneer of who this person is – the superficial adornments of their job, marital and financial status. Try, instead, to pierce directly into their soul to the beautiful gift that is waiting for the right time and conditions to emerge. It is there, it is always there. Tune your gaze to see it.

Ultimately, this isn’t about romanticizing cultures of the past, it’s about creating communities of the future. If we all tune our gaze to truly see each other, we will all soon have nothing to fear, as our true nature is reflected to us everywhere we go, and our tank of confidence and courage to persevere is topped up at every turn.

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