Almost 15 years ago I fled my life in Vancouver heading as far away as I possibly could: Australia. I’d seen an advertisement on a message board at university, promising a work-abroad experience in the land down under.
I hadn’t taken a “gap year” (as the Europeans call it) after high school, succumbing instead to the threat of falling behind my fellow students in the great race to find that perfect career. I spent two years wandering through various first and second year studies before finally admitting: I was lost.
Aimless and broken hearted from my ex-girlfriend, I built up my savings over the summer before boarding a flight in early September 2001.
I spent two weeks on a layover in Fiji, during which an infamous attack transpired in New York, all the more surreal while staring wide-eyed at a grainy TV from a remote tropical paradise. A week later I landed in Sydney, a few thousand dollars to my name and the vow to stay for one year.
A random assortment of what followed: falling in love with a Swedish girl at the first backpacker’s hostel I booked. 10 hour days stuffing envelopes with flyers at printing house (or as I called it ‘junk mail factory’) outside the city. DJ’ing debaucherous hostel booze cruises in the Sydney harbour for extra money. Getting fired for the first time for failing to wear the proper attire for a serving gig (I had grey pants instead of black). Falling in love (again) with a German girl while trekking 2 weeks through the endless outback. Lasting one week on a banana farm outside tropical Cairns, while avoiding massive spiders and wandering boars.
And a thousand memories more.
I didn’t know it then, but I had attempted to craft my own initiation. I had forcibly removed myself from everything and everyone that tethered me to my old life, grappling the demon/angel that every adolescent must eventually face: am I supposed to be here?
Modern culture no longer practices initiation on its youth – instead, we are left to cobble it together ourselves, often through misguided rebellion, substance abuse, and reckless displays of daring. This instinct to push boundaries is often characterized as idealistic and foolish – yet these behaviours hint at the innate longing to be recognized as worthy.
Charles Eisenstein calls this The Great Robbery:
“The Great Robbery is first and foremost the pillage of their childhood. Childhood is supposed to be a realm of exploration in which we discover our passions, our selves, our life purpose. What we get instead is enslavement to schedules and obligations. Bereft of the chance to explore our inner world, we grow up not truly knowing what we love or what we want to make of our lives.”
Much has been said in recent years about the need for millennials to remove their unicorn-coloured glasses and recognize the world can be a hard place. Whether through depressing economic statistics or well-meaning Boomers, the message is reinforced again and again: no matter what we told you as children, you are not special. You are like everyone else.
Eventually, it’s time to grow up.
Many of my peers continue to resist the “inevitable” by chasing the next relationship, the next party, or the next fantasy. Or they trade in their spark for a steady income, broken-hearted for something they cannot explain, awash in depression and repeating the prescription of “self-love” as the antidote to the grey void that gnaws at their forgettable days.
Here’s what could have happened: the old ones in the village could have showed up at your family doorstep years before, just as you began to wonder, “am I supposed to be here?” They could have gently but firmly gathered you from your parents arms as they wailed and wept, knowing that it cannot be otherwise. And they could have welcomed you to the catastrophe: a way that was made for you, down into the mysteries of life, where you die a necessary sort of death.
This is not the death of you, but the part of you that keeps you firmly in the centre of the story. And when you return home, you are welcomed back the community as an adult – your worthiness now planted in the soil of the village, tethered to the wheel of the world.
From this place, as Charles Eisenstein writes, your adolescent suspicions about the modern era ring clear: “The world is not supposed to be like this. Your intuitions of something more beautiful are valid. You are meant for an amazing, divine purpose. You are brilliant, possessed of unique gifts just waiting to be discovered.”
15 years ago, Australia was my land of haphazard initiation. After 8 months, I returned home among beautiful and familiar family and friends, but no village. It took me another 7 years and a pilgrimage to a Temple in the desert to discover my purpose.
Now, I’m heading back to the land down under, invited to speak on what I’ve learned along the way, my attempt at a dispatch from the future. Maybe these words are what I whispered back to that younger man as he grappled with his angel/demon: “Keep going.”
Maybe these words are your future village whispering back to you now. “You are worthy. You are enough.”
The plane is boarding. I’ll see you on the other side.
First published on FB. Read the comments here.