“We cannot, today, recreate the original ‘wilderness man’ in shape, form and habitat. But we can recover him, because he exists in us. He is the foundation in spirit or psyche on which we build, and we are not complete until we have recovered him.” Laurens van der Post
It seems most of the men I know are watching reality shows like, “Survivor” or “Survivor Man,” programs about living and existing with no food, no shelter and no fresh water. I would rather watch paint dry than watch something like this, but it occurs to me that there is something missing out of these men’s lives, something primal, perhaps it’s an initiation experience, an ancient ritual no longer present in our modern world.
Many traditional cultures escorted their young men into the world of adulthood and the sacred through an elaborate series of rituals. These rituals occurred in space set apart from the rest of the community and took place over many weeks or months. Preparation for initiation was often extensive and included witnessing the ongoing life of the people and observing the qualities displayed by men of spirit. Underneath and holding up this initiatory process was a deep and abiding relationship to nature and the spirits of the place. This passage was also rooted in a nearly endless succession of generations that had come to learn the necessity of such a transition.
The awareness for this is essentially universal: a process of intense focus, communal reflection and immersion in the natural and supernatural worlds must shape a man’s soul. In other words, to become a man, certain gateways needed to be crossed in order for that territory to be fully embedded within the man.
An additional value of initiation for modern men concerns the need to reestablish a link with the wild. Some say this constitutes a regression to the past, while others see it as an opportunity to sanction a letting go of restraint. While these two options are intriguing, they are nonetheless far from what is being advocated. Thoreau said, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” It is precisely this wildness that we are in search of, one that fosters an authenticity that is most like nature. The depth of conditioning that we are shaped by is immense and the levels of crippling self-consciousness that results depletes a man until he lives a life, as Thoreau also said, “of quiet desperation.” The world is in great need of men who live genuinely and who are willing to stand outside of consensus reality and speak words of truth.
Initiation experiences are archetypal as well as deeply spiritual. They have been a part of the human journey for thousands of years and act as a rite of passage. This experience represents a very specific archetypal journey meant to challenge you to discover unknown power with in you. Extreme conditions are either chosen – as in going on a Walk About when a young Aboriginal man comes of age, or presented to you through unseen life events such as illness, accidents, family death, divorce or any other life circumstance that starts a person on this extraordinary experience. As is often the case today, most people do not even recognize that they are on an initiatory experience, as it is a spiritual journey hidden within the chaos of ordinary life. In fact, chaos is required for our lives to unfold.
These reality shows demand that the people confront their own weaknesses or be consumed by them. You can only come to believe in the power of your spirit – and the Spirit – by needing that power yourself to survive. Then you can speak about that power with respect and reverence, and the Spirit will assist you because you understand how to pray with humility.
Maybe these reality shows are worth seeing. Well, if you’re a man anyway.