When Leaving is About Returning
A rite of passage, as a friend once said to me, is a process that begins with a death and ends with a birth.
After the nine-day Wilderness Quest, you naturally turn towards the pull of home. This happens at a soul level–the reborn, renewed, remade person feeling the call to step back into the river of life, and to enter the life that is waiting on the other side. During this time, much feels fresh and new, even if it’s deeply familiar. Places that we’ve grown to love, parks and gardens, feel like visiting a beloved, with a deepened sense of intimacy and comfort for the earth around us. The people we care for become precious to us—it’s like seeing them for the first time. There’s an abundance of gratitude for life, for family, for community, and for the natural world.
During the first few weeks home, you can set a course based on what was received during the Quest. This is a time of heightened awareness of the choice that each moment brings, of living in accord with your inner guidance. You realize during this time that other people, family, friends, community and job have not changed; you alone have changed. And while it’s true that people sometimes make radical changes after the quest—like ending a relationship or quitting a job—that’s not a common outcome. More often, you will return, during this stage of the journey, to the world you left behind, and face the challenge of bringing the new self, with all the gifts you’ve found, into that world.
The teachings of the Four Directions, brought to Rites of Passage by Native American author and teacher Hyemeyhosts Storm, tell us that you can’t get rid of anything, you can’t transcend, you need to face your life. So it is on the return. Old habits will come back. Difficult relationships will still be difficult. Tendencies toward depression, or procrastination, or workaholism, or whatever, will still be there. But when the old ghosts return, you have the capacity to meet them in a new way, to “dance with them,” as we would say. You have the capacity to remember your soul truth, and to steer your life from there. You can turn and face the shadows–even befriend them–just as you did during the wilderness solo.
The Wilderness Quest is not a refuge from the world. A few years ago, a man returned from a quest with his heart opened to the beauty and spirit of the natural world. Inspired by his experience, he drove up to the Eel River to take a couple of weeks to deepen his bond with the wild. While he was there, a train derailed, the toxic chemical in its tanker cars spilling into the river and killing all the fish along that stretch of water. He returned to his home in the Bay Area, not in bliss, but in grief, which led him to commit to work with others to protect the river. His heart led the way and his actions followed.
You’ve lived through a death and a rebirth on your Quest, and you can use everything you’ve learned to live your life in integrity and harmony. And it’s not just about you—you can, you must, find a way to bring your gifts back for the larger community.
Mike Bodkin, Executive Director