In many cultures, there are rituals that take us from one stage of life to another. Coming of age ceremonies or rites of passage symbolize leaving childhood to enter adulthood. Sometimes the rituals involved are physically demanding – others are simply a public recognition and celebration after instruction. Religions also have symbolic ceremonies to represent a major transition such as Jewish Bar Mitzvahs and Confirmation in the Lutheran and Roman Catholic Churches.
Leaving Something Behind
We leave something of ourselves behind in our endings as we reach forward to a new beginning. And even in the excitement of a new beginning, the ending can be bitter-sweet. We leave for college with anticipation and excitement over being free from parents and in charge of our lives and discover pangs of homesickness, missing the comfort of home, advice and reassurance of Mom and Dad.
We wait with anticipation for that first child, only to discover in the non-stop busyness of bottles, diapers and potty training, that we never again will experience that total freedom to come and go – we are now a parent.
Or we finally reach that long awaited retirement, only to experience restlessness after awhile which stresses a need to redefine our identity and create meaning and purpose in our lives in a different way.
Most of us go through life transitions fairly quickly. But sometimes in beginning a new role or direction in life, we fail to complete our endings. And at some point we find ourselves discontented and unhappy, but do not know why. We no longer feel pleasure or satisfaction in the things we do or thought were so important.
Going Into the Wilderness
At such times, it can help to make a solitary journey into the wilderness to redefine what is important to us, what we have left behind, what we have brought with us and are still struggling with.
In the wilderness there are no distractions from life as and we have the opportunity to wrestle and come to grips with our struggles and make sense of where we are in the world.
A good friend of mine has gone backpacking in the desert many times with just a visual map to guide her. At first, it was to make some discoveries about herself. Now she just enjoys the solitude of her trips.
Going to the desert or going on any wilderness excursion, takes us away from our norms and comfort zones. It is in the wilderness where we are challenged to confront our vulnerabilities, fears and doubts. It challenges the status quo.
©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC