Our spiritual well being is balanced on a triangle. In one corner sit our own needs. In the second are the needs of our community and in the third is our environment.
--Thomas Flanders, The Way of the Real People
Community is the spirit, the guiding light of the tribe, whereby people come together in order to fulfill a specific purpose, to help others fulfill their purpose, and to take care of one another. The goal of the community is to make sure that each member of the community is heard and is properly giving the gifts he has brought to this world. Without this giving, the community dies. And without the community, the individual is left without a place where he can contribute. The community is that grounding place where people come and share their gifts and receive from others.
--Sobonfu Somé, The Spirit of Intimacy: Ancient African Teachings in the Ways of Relationships
Since our founding 35 years ago, we've recognized the importance of rites of passage to the health and well-being of both individuals and the larger community. If people don't know who they are or what gifts they carry, how can they make a meaningful contribution to their "village" or community? We saw how in our fragmented modern world, people were getting lost in crisis, unable to complete their passages, confused as to their nature, their place in the world and their gifts. In traditional societies, if there was a coherent community, people undertaking an initiatory rite could bring their finest selves back to the container of that community, where they could be recognized, affirmed and encouraged to take their place.
For many years we placed an especial emphasis on strengthening the individual, and that's a still critical component of our work. If we are not strong and whole as individuals, how can we contribute to the healing and wholeness of our community? An important purpose of rites of passage has always been to strengthen, heal, complete, purify, and give sacred vision to individuals to carry back to their communities.
This individual focus took on something of a heroic cast. Everyone was expected to carry their load, both literal and figurative. You had to find a way to get your two gallons of water into our walk-in base camp! Preparation talks were done with each participant and the guides, while the rest of the group waited, so people didn't learn from each other's stories. And bonding within the group was not necessarily encouraged, as we were concerned that people would get too attached to each other, and then reluctant to return home at the end. The experience of living in community in the field was not yet recognized to be of real importance in itself; the task was always to go back home as a hero and begin to give ones gifts.
Several factors have figured into re-visioning this model to emphasize the importance of community. When we asked people about the world to which they were returning after a Vision Quest, they would often tell us that their community was damaged, fragmented, or simply missing. How could they envision contributing to community life when they had no experience of it? We began to see that our work was not just as Threshold guides, leading people to a transformed sense of self, but also as Incorporation guides, embracing, and helping others to embrace, the task of creating a world which would welcome initiates when they returned from their rite of passage.Read more: Community & Rites of Passage