When it’s time to leave the nest, it’s time to leave the nest! In this respect our ancient ancestors, much closer to inner nature’s wisdom, obeyed two major rules: the incest taboo and puberty initiation rites.
The incest taboo is nearly universal in our species. Perhaps its most important function is to create a limited situation that forces the child to leave home and grow up. If the option remained available to have all needs met at home, including sexual needs, a regressive potential in humans to stay in the family home, safe and satiated, would clearly result! The human animal must leave home to mature.
The puberty rites of our ancient ancestors survive mostly on a symbolic level today, in religious traditions such as confirmation and bar/bat mitzvahs. The difference between ancient initiation rites and those practiced today is that our modern practices end with the newly initiated continuing to remain in the family home as children, cared for by parents. In ancient times children returned to their villages as adults, often never to return to their family home, in many situations never to speak with their parents again. These children really became adults. The community recognized, treated and expected them to be adults.
Our modern world, with its lengthy process of education, often extending into the late 20s and early 30s, dissociates young people from nature’s deepest push to become independent citizens truly capable of standing on their own. Furthermore, with such emphasis on family ties and closeness throughout life, emotional ties are encouraged to deepen within the family, dampening truly independent maturity and self-sufficiency out in the world.
Letting go is painful, both for parents and children. Parents must suffer the terror that their children might get hurt or not be able to hold their own in the world. The guilt and fear that they didn’t do enough or did things wrong can be overwhelming, yet when it’s time for the children to go parents must be able to close the door and suffer the separation.
Children too must face life out in the world on their own, learning how things work through trial and error, for truly very few people navigate life unscathed. With our modern cultures so devoid of true initiation rites young people seek all sorts of self-imposed initiations. The tattoos and piercings so prominent in our modern world are such self-imposed surface symbols of initiation, images born from deep within the child’s own psyche of ancient practices now manifesting as mere outer stylings. Often young people go deep into the challenges of addiction, also reminiscent of the fierce challenge of ancient puberty rites, which sometimes ended in death.
Sometimes children find themselves arrested for drug related crimes, resulting in imprisonment, a situation that forces both child and parent to be initiated into a world where there can be no parental savior, where the young person is challenged to survive on his or her own inner resources on the road to separation and adulthood.
In my personal experience, the underlying loving connection and parental protection that I bestowed upon my children may have contributed to both of my sons challenging themselves with every parent’s greatest terror, heroin and crystal meth. It took years of rescuing, countless near-misses with death, and plenty of emotional exhaustion for me to finally cut the cord and let nature take its course.
With one son, I had no contact for three years. We are connected again; the addiction has passed and love indeed survives, but the separation truly was an initiation rite. I suffered inordinate amounts of pain but never backtracked, regardless of the fact that each moment might have been my son’s last.
What has emerged is a mature adult who stands on his own. I notice that we meet now as if we shared no past. There is no sentimentality of childhood. We meet as equal adults, beings who barely know each other. The emotional attachment of parent to child has transformed; it has completely evolved into mature love.
We cannot get away from nature’s archetypes. Eventually they will play out in some form of modern drama, even as we humans continue to ignore and confound our own deepest nature. Perhaps we will find our way back to the ancient imperatives within us, to new puberty rites that are better suited to our times. The whole issue around addiction might lose its grip if we truly submit to initiation by nature’s design.
Really letting grow ultimately means releasing all of our attachments in this world. If we can’t let everything go when we die, we sow the seeds of karma, because how can life proceed into new journeys if we refuse to let go and move on? Not an easy life challenge, but it must be why we are really here in Earth School, to love, to attach, and to allow love to mature and transform when it is time to grow and move on.
Honor thy parents, teach your children well, let go and let grow,