I. Initiation, Proper
At the utterance of the word "initiation" there is a tendency for our minds to summon images of blindfolded oaths made at swordpoint, or secretive, incense-laden temple rites. Perhaps we imagine branding, scarification or ritualistic poisoning by alcohol & other intoxicants. We understand that the structured ordeal is a necessary sacrifice in the process of becoming. With these types of initiations, there is a sense that the initiate is trained or prepared in advance, possibly over many years, for this dramatic eventuality. All of these ceremonies confer a special status or inclusion within a culture, sect or social group -- be it large or small, public or private -- upon the initiate. All of these ritual transformations are endowed with a cultural symbology & all are conducted by a human person or persons on behalf of another human.
INITIATION: ini·ti·a·tion noun \i-ˌni-shē-ˈā-shən\
a : the act or an instance of initiating
b : the process of being initiated
c : the rites, ceremonies, ordeals, or instructions with which one is made a member of a sect or society or is invested with a particular function or status
: the condition of being initiated into some experience or sphere of activity : knowledgeableness
First known use: 1583 -- Merriam-Webster Dictionary
But what of the initiation which originates from something outside the human domain?
|"initiation" by fijalkowski of deviantART.|
II. Initiation, Irregular
I call these precipitated-by-an-Other initiations, "spontaneous" or "organic." Whether they are sublime or traumatic, they fall into the "shit happens" classification. In all likelihood, the initiate will be taken relatively unsuspecting & unprepared. Initiation in this manner can leave the initiate feeling shell-shocked, estranged, isolated & misunderstood. Most of Western society is not prepared to validate this type of experience. We may grapple with unmanageable emotions, post-traumatic stress, cognitive dissonance, doubt regarding our mental faculties & countless other after-effects of the ordeal. With energies & attentions focused on the healing, integration &/or social re-entry processes, it may take time -- possibly a great deal of time -- to actually recognize that an initiatory process has taken place.
Spontaneous & organic initiations can manifest in countless forms; high or low, fast or slow, euphoric or devastating. They can also fall in-between.
"Organic" initiations, as I define them, generally relate to highly influential, "natural" or biological events. Childbirth is a perfect example of an organic initiatory process. No matter how we prepare for this event, we will always be taken by surprise in one way or another (or in many). It will not turn out the way we envisioned it. It will leave us a permanent members of a social group: the parents. You can never not be a parent once you become one, although some parents manage to sidestep the responsibilities. For most parents, they will find that after the birth of a child, their lives are profoundly & irreversibly changed -- their existential condition has been reworked.
|"Devotee" by RAM75 of DeviantART.|
Some spontaneous initiations are blissful. Mine, not so much.
Having an unmistakable brush with an unanswerable or overwhelming "force" be it natural phenomena, "otherworldly" influences or internally driven (of course, they could also be externally driven, appearing internal) events such as dreams or visions can precipitate what I like to call a "spontaneous" initiation. These too will leave the initiate permanently changed, but the social groups, for the most part, are not a clear-cut as those belonging to the organic initiations (excepting, say, becoming "born again"). This can cause a great deal of social discomfort if the initiatory experience falls outside the parameters of societal acceptability.
Many non-traditional initiations blur the boundaries of these two categories. For instance, a person who endures the painful process of testing, diagnosis & treatment for a chronic illness may (but not always) find this to be a process which causes a "basic change in existential condition." They also gain the dubious honour of membership in a social group; people with rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, mental illness, multiple sclerosis, etc. In all likelihood, the process will change their view of themselves, their lives, their behaviour, their relationships, their reality... everything. These are undeniably biological happenings, but they fall outside the "biological norm." Parallels to the above scenario can be drawn for someone who experiences a profound state of euphoric possession, revelation or transcendence, perhaps unexpectedly & even repeatedly during a daily routine. So, are they organic or spontaneous? Probably, a bit of both, but really I think it matters not.
I could prattle on about a variety of potentially person-changing experiences -- the imagination could run wild all day considering the permutations (believe me, it has) -- but since I have been writing this entry for 12 days now, I think I will let it rest with this: initiation in its spontaneous & organic forms covers a wide spectrum of possibilities & crosses many boundaries. This, partnered with a lack of formality & preparation (possibly) is what makes it both surprising, compelling & exceedingly difficult.
Just over two years ago I was cast into an organo-spontaneous initiatory journey which lasted many months. It changed everything, utterly & completely. It also bestowed upon me many diverse gifts; some which were initially very painful, some which caused me to doubt my sanity, some which restructured my values, habits & priorities, some which shaped my relationships & all of which brought me closer to others, Others & to myself.
It also is what prompted, or rather, urged, the creation of this journal.
"I write because of a persistent 'knowing' that I must... Perhaps I do this to simply bring into form that which originates in formlessness. Perhaps I write words in an effort to help me contain the experience. Perhaps the writing is an expression of hope, hope of communicating, and therefore reducing the loneliness that such experiences create." -- Janet Adler, Arching BackwardAt this anniversary, I am able to reflect back upon the journey with less discomfort & more gratitude. With hindsight, I see how radically my being has changed. I am not the same animal I was before I cast doubt* at the Moon & walked through the Fire.
During this anniversary period, I have reflected a great deal on the events preceding the ordeal. With hindsight, I am of the opinion, that I was being prepared, unknowingly -- whether by the strings of our tangled Web, or the gentle pressure of a subtle force -- to survive, to endure what I can only characterize as "hell." I don't subscribe to hell in the Judeo-Christian sense of the word, but if we use the following definition:
hell |hel|noun• a state or place of great suffering; an unbearable experience : I've been through hell |he made her life hell.
2 he made her life hell: a misery, torture, agony, a torment, a nightmare, an ordeal;anguish, wretchedness, woe. ANTONYMS paradise. -- Apple DictionaryI can honestly say that I have been there... & lingered. I also came out the other side & the gifts have been epic. Some of them have also been strange.
|"The Dance of Spiritual Transcendence" |
by ryan432 of DeviantArt
So here I am, two years later. I recognize the gift manifested in my insatiable desire to write (even if it results in great struggle since my time for it is so limited) & also the uncharacteristic aspirations to sing & dance (really?). But there are many other gifts; deepened relationships, new connections, a marked ability to "listen," a mysterious openness, a rekindled craving to learn, greater chutzpah & confidence paired with a fresh vulnerability. I also have a compulsion not to dally or delay, not to linger in the doldrums, but to "make it so," to embrace life, right now:
"Ennui is the death of the only soul worth having." -- Patrica Geary"That is my favourite quote. It is my personal motto," I used to say. Now, instead of saying it, I live it.
There is also weirdness which laughs at my rational self & teases my sensibility mercilessly. I am driven by instincts & inspiration, the sources of which are uncertain. I commit irrational acts of Love, Reverence & Freedom. I converse with the taboo. I manifest weirdness. Somewhere along the journey, the conduit was opened. I am conduit. But, not at my own expense -- I have not sacrificed self-expression or self-actualisation for this gift. I simply live it.
Living it. This brings me to a question I have been considering: Once the process of initiation has commenced, does it ever really ever end, or is true initiation just the genesis of endless unfoldment, evolution & growth?
If so, I had better get some sleep.
*"Suspicion" might be more accurate.