By Darcy Ottey, Rite of Passage Supervisor
We sit in a circle long into the darkening night, not far from South Point, Hawaii, the southernmost tip of the United States. One by one, each person shares the story of what brought them here, and with this story, the intent that they have been meditating on, preparing for just this moment. As they share their intent, they are pushed, challenged, encouraged to explore even further into their hearts to find the words to express what the world is asking them to step into in this moment. When they find just the right words, they stand and proclaim them loudly to the rest of us as witnesses, and to the stars above us.
I am a whole and worthy man who listens to his soul and follows through.
I am a graceful, vulnerable woman who seeks connection and community.
I am a grateful and forgiving man, consciously connected to all people, and living for spirit.
These are a few of the intents of our Program Guides, Supervisors, Therapists—staff of Pacific Quest that have answered their own personal call to sit and listen, fasting on the land, deepening into their unique place in the world. Their intents represent the distilled essence of what they feel called to step into, in their work and in their lives. Two weeks ago, six courageous Pacific Quest staff gathered to take part in a vision fast, an age-old rite of passage ceremony.
Since Pacific Quest’s original inception, rites of passage (the intentional, meaningful marking of transition from one place in life to another) have been fundamental to our approach and philosophy. In fact, we’re the only therapeutic program in the country (maybe the world!) with a full-time Rite of Passage Supervisor. We believe that each student’s time with us is a rite of passage on their journey between childhood and into adulthood (with each student in their own unique stage in that passage), and we support them in moving through the universal rite of passage stages: severance, threshold, and incorporation. In addition to supporting students through the transitions that they find themselves in now, this also teaches powerful tools for navigating transitions they will face in the future, building their resiliency moving forward.
This philosophy does not end with our students, however. The founders of Pacific Quest recognized that for us to most effectively serve our students, staff too must have personal experience with the rite of passage process. So four times a year, I have the inspiring and humbling opportunity to facilitate a rite of passage for our staff. This personal and professional development opportunity never ceases to amaze me. The way the staff engage in the process, their honesty and vulnerability, is a gift they give themselves that serves them long into their future. And having had this opportunity, they can serve our students from a place of deep understanding of what the students are being asked to do. While our student’s rite of passage experience looks different than the staff’s—it is tailored to the developmental stages of our students as well as their own unique needs—the foundational process is much the same. Thus, when students begin to develop their intents, staff know from personal experience what tricky work it is—where to push, where to allow students to find it on their own. When students speak of what they want to let go of, staff understand how difficult the work of severance can be. And when students return from their own rite of passage with their story, staff are able to mirror the student’s experience, looking for clues and themes that speak to the essence of the young person in front of them, using the same process they experienced themselves.
One by one, they return, carrying empty water jugs and sleeping bags. They silently stand and watch as the sun rises over the ocean, then turn and enter the threshold circle we created three days before, just as they departed on their individual journeys. They smile as they enter the circle, and we bathe them in the sweet smell of sage, cleansing them for their return, and proclaim their intents once again. As they exit the circle, they are greeted with fresh fruit, avocado, strong warm tea—their first foods in 72 hours. Soon, they share the stories of their time in solitude, their encounters with whales, baby birds, goats, rocks, sun, wind, waves. They share stories of their grief, fear, and joy. They return feeling more deeply connected with themselves, with each other, and with this beautiful island of Hawai’i. They return with new-found gifts and renewed commitment to offering their gifts to their communities, and to the students of Pacific Quest.