Last time I wrote on why initiation is vital for the modern western man. Not only in adolescence, which, thankfully, is starting to occur, but for older men (anyone over 30, and many who are under 30) who are entering the second half of life without the tools needed for the journey.

In this blog I want to talk about the ‘what’. What is a Men’s Rite Of Passage (MROP)? To a great extent, it is secret men’s business. No man will tell you what happens on MROP, because they want every man to experience it without his rational defences in place. Without the element of surprise, “ah, this is that” would diminish a transforming impact into a dull, box-ticking exercise. No man brings pen and paper (or any electronic device) to the rites. It’s more the opposite. Things are taken from him. His wallet. His phone. His keys. His watch. We seek to free men from all the western white male trinkets that anchor the fragile ego’s desperate need to be in control. It’s a strangely naked feeling to be rid of all this stuff and finally just be for a few days instead of the endless hamster wheel commotion of do… do… do… At first, it’s unnerving. After a day or two, men become aware of everything, especially their deepest unresolved longings.

The unconscious uses the language of symbols to express itself. Notice your dreams; they often make little sense to the rational mind, yet they can have profound emotional impact upon us. Similarly, our corporate unconscious has ways of communicating through images and archetypes, which are merely forms without specific content. For example, the word “father” is an archetype which has great meaning for everyone, but everyone responds to it differently. I’ve met very few men who have reached manhood without a father wound.

So symbols and archetypes are used in MROP because they transcend reason. They allow every man to engage in his own journey without limiting him to a single logical construct. The symbols always contain meaning that is hidden from our rational selves, but invites us down and into our interior lives, where we really live, and where so much undigested emotional material lies buried. A man engages with a symbol and his past opens up to him, troubling him and confronting him. This is not to distress a man, but to invite him to incorporate the energy he’s spent the first half of his life corralling and supressing through resolve, achievement, medication and distraction.

A phrase we often use on MROP is “trust the process.” It is a process and it unfolds over five days in a safe yet mysterious way. Another phrase that applies to both leaders and ‘initiates’ (the men embarking on MROP) is to “show up and get out of the way.” The work is done in us, for us and often despite us. This work is not possible without an encounter like MROP. Our way of life prohibits it.

The tragedy is, we are like icebergs, and 90% of who we really are lies buried and hidden from our awareness yet controls our conscious lives. If we don’t pay attention to this, then the titanic struggle to stay afloat will become increasingly desperate as we age, and fittingly, especially if we proclaim that we are unsinkable. Another truth that emerges on MROP is this buried iceberg is not a curse, but a gift. “First there is the fall, and then there is the recovery from the fall. But both are the mercy of God” wrote Julian of Norwich. Franciscan priest Richard Rohr, the architect of MROP, sagely adds that this is hard to believe until we understand the second half of life.

As well as symbol and archetype, other transrational elements invite a man to discover himself. Nature, silence, poetry, music, solitude, drama, drumming, fire and more. My own experience in 2009 was that of a reluctant, burned out pastor. “I hope this isn’t some weird, whacky cult” I murmured to myself in the weeks leading up to MROP. This is a constant challenge for those of us who seek to communicate MROP to others. Men build personas that will go to any length to stay in control, and we are inviting men to a place where they are not in control. This lack of control is apparent even in the team’s unwillingness to give details of what happens. It is not for every man. It takes great courage and a desire to change to engage in the process. I don’t think any serious man would want it any other way.

In a future blog, I will discuss in more detail the ‘who’ of MROP. Who should go, and when? But for now, let me share what happened as I sat in a sacred space and observed (and, to my surprise, engaged) in the first rite. Despite me, tears flowed. Something deep within me was destabilized. I felt the ancient, crusty layers of self-preservation fall away. I fell into something dark, terrifying, yet unmistakably true and ultimately so very freeing.

And so I know this has not sated the curiosity of most. Mystery cannot be explained in narrative. It can only be lived. So, instead of information, I will close with words by the early 20th Century German, Rainer Maria Rilke. It is all have to offer, except the invitation to participate in the rites, and thereby into all of life, not only the parts that seem shiny.

“I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”