There is a Celtic tale about a warrior giant named Mac Lir who came back from battle to fing that the woman he loved had died while he was away. With a broken heart, he grieved her deeply. His tears would not stop. Thus, creating an ocean around him. His mother, Macha, not wanting her son to suffer any longer, turned him to stone to stop him from experiencing the terrible grief of this loss. This transformation to stone, lead him to be stuck, solid in the middle of the ocean of his own tears, unable to feel or move anymore, stopping him from becoming the leader her was meant to become. The mother, of coarse, had good intentions. She wished her child to feel better and found that the way to do this is to prevent feeling emotions all together.
We all have played the role of this mother, blocking emotions or uncomfortable situations that feel like they may be too much if we really let ourselves feel them. How and when did we become so intolerant to discomfort?
Every year I go out to fast on the land to meet this discomfort. Not only do I find myself devoid of creature comforts, no food, no shelter and no company. But this is a vehicle to invite in the meeting of parts of myself I have been ignoring or avoiding for the fear of the discomfort it would evoke. In this, I begin to give full attention to the shame, the grief, the anxiety and depression. I sit with them in the heat, the wild wind, the cold nights, the rain, the scary noises, the self-generated ceremonies, the appearance of elk or woodpecker at just the needed time, the bee that won’t leave me alone, or the cloud that looks suspiciously like a lion, and the beavers flipping their tails in the water at night and because lion is on my mind I cannot sleep, and the constantly devising of plans for how I will call for help if something attacks yet waiting for the attack none-the-less. I don’t do this because it’s comfortable. I do this because it’s important. All parts of me need attention, even the parts that are wildly scary and distressing to meet.
Why doesn’t our culture have Rites of Passage practices any more?
Is it for this very reason? It’s too uncomfortable?
Is it why we drink or use drugs to not feel and we can’t stop because it would bring up this discomfort over and over again? Is it why we come to experience the absence of emotions, leading to our epidemic high depression rates? Is it why we so easily have come to rely on taking pills rather than tolerate the discomfort of our feelings? Is it why we constantly state “I just want to be happy,” but cannot understand why it feels impossible to get to. Is it why we lack attention to our teens and elders because we cannot tolerate the discomfort they exude and speak of?
One of the many elements of Rites of Passage ceremonies is The Ordeal. The Ordeal or Trial is not comfortable. In cultures across the world, this ordeal can vary from circumcision, to wearing bull-ant gloves for a period of time, to an intensive study of a culture’s stories so that alone the person can present what they learned to the community. None of this sounds comfortable, all present a challenge. An ordeal offers the individual a marking of the transition they face in their lives and provides a severance of the old life toward an initiation into the next phase of life. If we don’t do this, if we don’t meet these uncomfortable places how will we know what we are capable of? How will we grow up and becoming who we are meant to become? How will we find out and feel into our purpose? Will be ever become adults? Or will we stay a society of children?
Let’s face it, being human is not comfortable! And as long as we strive to stay comfortable, can we really say we are embodying our human nature?
Mac Lir, taken out of his stone spell, without a doubt felt through the discomfort of his grief, transformed by it, became the Sea God he was meant to be. Our tears lift our boat to new places. We need these uncomfortable feelings in order to grow and become who we are meant to be.
Acknowledging our culture and what would be considered an Ordeal for our modern world and way of living, Oaks Counsel offers an invitation to explore these places. Check out our programs and nature-based practices to learn more.