One of the things about focusing my life on supporting people through transitions is that being willing to face my own is kind of a job requirement. And the truth is, our changes are constant—they simply don’t stop.

My mom said a couple of years ago that gardening taught her that there aren’t four seasons, there are 365. Last year when she drove from New Jersey to Seattle, she observed that transitions across the landscape were marked by similarly subtle gradations. I see this in my own life, as well—how each passing day marks a subtle shift in who I am and how I relate to the world around me, an opportunity to cling and try to control, or to surrender and observe what unfolds. Or—as is usually the case—to do some weird contortion of both at once, a thoroughly uncomfortable and awkward dance.

Young guides from across the globe at the recent International Wilderness Guides Council gathering in Germany, surrounded by a circle of love and support. Photo by Marjeta Novak

Young guides from across the globe at the recent International Wilderness Guides Council gathering in Germany, surrounded by a circle of love and support. Photo by Marjeta Novak

The other day I witnessed 20 young people from across the globe—South Africa, Ukraine, Germany, United States, Italy, Czech Republic, and more—give voice to what they need from the adults and elders in their community. They spoke of the need for space to try things out and be seen and heard, the need to be witnessed and honored for their gifts, the need for resources, love and support, the need for their wisdom and deep unity to be amplified. Sitting on the outside of that circle, I felt excitement at what this emerging generation is bringing forth. I felt the turning of the wheel in my own life, and gratitude to my teachers and elders for giving me space and honoring me as I was growing into full adulthood.

Reweaving rites of passage into the fabric of our communities is not a part-time task, a nice addition. Raising healthy young people, in an unhealthy culture, requires that we fully show up in our own lives, and in our communities, as adults. This is hard work for all of us, and carries big questions:

Where do you turn for support through your own transition, as you step deeper into your life

How do you build a feeling of connection with your ancestors and cultural lineage?

What do you need to be ready to bring rites of passage into your work or your community?

How do you build your own resiliency to show up in difficult conversations, and support your organization or community in becoming ever more deeply transformative and inclusive?

How do you align your work with the deeper pulse of transformation?

A wild salmon makes its way upstream. Photo by David Moskowitz.

A wild salmon makes its way upstream. Photo by David Moskowitz.

Recently I’ve been thinking about the idea of restoring cultural habitat. The image came to me along the Twisp River where the Yakima Nation has recently been spearheading salmon restoration efforts in recent years. In June, I gathered with a group of aspiring rite of passage mentors and guides at a basecamp along the river, where bulldozers restored a meander of the river last summer. Workers submerged large logs, creating deep pools to slow the rate of water movement. Metal cages and meshing protect recently-planted saplings from hungry deer, as cottonwoods, willow, and red osier dogwood once again create streamside habitat for birds and other wildlife. And salmon—the lifeblood of the region—can once again venture upstream to deposit their eggs.

As our small group made our home in this landscape and considered how to restore rites of passage for young people, we learned from the river, the trees, and the salmon as well as each other. We learned from the process we observed of what it takes to restore natural habitat.

Our bodies are ecosystems. Our communities are ecosystems. Our families, schools, churches, organizations are ecosystems. Just as we’ve damaged our wetlands, oceans, streams and rivers, we--as members of Western culture today--have damaged our human ecosystems as well, filling them with toxic waste and diverting their natural flow.

The Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. This used to be the site of a hydroelectric dam. With dam removals along the river in recent years, the waters are again flowing freely and salmon are venturing further and further upstream.

The Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. This used to be the site of a hydroelectric dam. With dam removals along the river in recent years, the waters are again flowing freely and salmon are venturing further and further upstream.

So what would it really look like to create a world where our bodies, our hearts, our spirits can thrive? Just as healthy natural ecosystems look quite different from place to place, healthy cultural habitat has many variations as well. General themes of restoring cultural habitat include:

  • Restoring the connections between our communities and natural world, and reclaiming the practices handed down over millennia that connect People with the earth, with their ancestors and the future generations, and with each other;
  • Reclaiming the wisdom in our bodies and in our hearts, learning to honor and nurture our own creative and generative capacity, as well as our limits and boundaries;
  • Reorienting the way we relate to money and resources, away from hoarding and exploiting, and towards supporting the free flow of exchange and sacred reciprocity;
  • Addressing unequal structures of power, both explicit and implicit, to ensure that all members of our communities are safe, secure, and able to live free lives and contribute to the broader good.

The pictures of healthy, viable cultural habitat are still forming. What once worked will likely work no longer in many places, and new forms are emerging. The changes needed are large and complex, and look different in each of our lives, and in each of our communities. As I follow this thread, I invite you to join me, and let’s explore together. Whether that’s as a participant on one of my upcoming courses, in one-on-one mentoring work, bringing me in as a consultant or trainer, or as a collaborator, I would love to hear from you!

Banner photo by David Moskowitz