adolescence, wisdom

By Nikki Nau

My oldest son turned 15 this year, and he was growing up in many ways. His attitude about life was maturing, and he was sharing insights about spirituality, justice, and truth. While observing his current place in the journey toward adulthood, I saw him meeting the cultural benchmarks of independence, like getting his driver’s permit and entering high school.

Somewhere in observing my son growing up, my husband and I began talking about coming of age ceremonies and wondering what these ceremonies are today. We started asking questions like:

Why do we have these rituals?

How have they served youth in the past?

What are the rituals we experienced during our youth and adolescence?

What are the intentions behind these ceremonies and benchmarks?

mother, coming of age, son

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

What emerged was an idea that became important for me as a mother watching my baby grow into a young man. As I later learned, it was an important part of my son’s journey as well. It began with inspirational words from the book Living Passages for the Whole Family by Shea Darian. In her book, Darian describes various ideas on creating a coming of age ceremony.  For young men, she says:

“A youth receiving the affirmation of his most revered male elders and mentors to cultivate his emotional and spiritual life, as well as tending to the more traditionally male aspects of adulthood, can greatly affect a youth’s destiny, attitude, and choices.”

I realized I wanted to give my son a gift that symbolically affirmed my role as his mother while recognizing the reality that my part becomes less central in his life as he journeys closer to adulthood. I respect this natural progression, and I wanted him to know this. I also wanted to point out to him that he has amazing men in his life and these men are always available to him as he navigates the path to manhood.

I decided to ask the men in my son’s life to help me – the men who have watched him grow up and have had a positive impact on his formation. His grandfathers, uncle, great uncle, family friends, and our pastor all participated in the project. They did so graciously with such wisdom and love; it moves me deeply as I think about the words they shared with my son.

young men, coming of age, male mentors

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

Here is the letter I sent to the men in my son’s life:

Hi Everyone,

I am writing because my son will soon turn 15 years old (hard for me to believe) and I would like to put a gift together for him. I am hoping you can help.

We have been discussing coming of age ceremonies lately since we are we watching our boys get bigger and taller:), and especially now as our oldest enters high school. Our culture seems to have ‘dropped’ traditional coming of age ceremonies. However, we (my husband and I) believe we still need to affirm the beauty, spiritual power, and grace of growing up.

Here’s where you come in.

As he continues to move along his journey to adulthood, I want to gift him with the wise words from the men he loves, respects, and who have been a part of his youth. I want to give you the opportunity to share your wisdom, blessings, and guidance with him. If you feel moved, please share words, a song, favorite film, image or anything that you would like to pass on to him. I plan to compile them into a book for him.

I am asking you because:

You are important to my son.

You have been 15 years old at one time.

You have progressed through this leg of the journey to manhood.

You are one of his most revered male elders and mentor.

As mom, I realize my time of nurturing and guidance will become less and less relevant as he grows up. This symbolic gift allows me to share my blessings for him as he continues the journey. The compilation of your words and thoughts is a symbolic passing to him the affirmation of the male elders and mentors he can trust as his journey progresses.

Thank you for being who you are and being a part of my son’s life.

 

I sent this off with no idea of what would emerge.  Those who chose to participate sent letters filled with love, wisdom, grace, and powerfully, gentle words. It brought tears to my eyes as I read their stunningly, beautiful messages.

After putting these words and photos into a book, my husband and I discussed how to give this special gift to our son. We decided to be intentional and simple.

My younger children went to grandma and grandpa’s house to play during a November Sunday afternoon. My husband built a fire in the fire ring and also a fire in the tiny cabin on our property. (Alternatively, we thought of building a fire in our fireplace in the house.)

I told my son we had a gift for him, and, like some of the birthdays from his childhood, today he would be going on a little journey. (We used to do scavenger hunts, obstacle courses, and other themed birthdays when the kids were young.)

My son and his dad started by the outdoor fire. My husband recalls talking about growing up and the importance of being true to yourself. While the things of the world seem very important now – clothes, basketball, peer acceptance – inner soul work is always part of the journey. Being able to honor both brings balance and harmony to your life.

After spending some time with dad by the fire, my son was sent down to the tiny cabin – a 10’x10’ room with a wood burning stove. There he met me – mom knitting by the fire.

adolescence, wisdom

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

I read him the letter from me:

As your 15th birthday was approaching, Dad and I were talking about how you are changing and growing in really amazing ways, and how we would like to somehow acknowledge the journey of manhood that you are traveling.

As your mom, sometimes it is hard for me to accept that you are a young man and moving into the world. I remember holding you as a tiny baby, meeting you for the first time, and looking into your eyes with great love. You continue to teach me so much as I strive to support you with love, guidance, and some boundaries. I will always be your mom, of course, and I always love you with everything I’ve got. And I am always here to listen and to share. But I am your mom, and I do not really understand the ways of men.

I was inspired by this quote from Shea Darian in the book, Living Passages for the Whole Family:

“A youth receiving the affirmation of his most revered male elders and mentors to cultivate his emotional and spiritual life, as well as tending to the more traditionally male aspects of adulthood, can greatly affect a youth’s destiny, attitude, and choices.”

This book is from some of the men who love you and care about you deeply – some of your male mentors and elders. They are sharing beautiful, loving, wise words with you.  What a gift! You are truly blessed and that brings me so much joy.

Love you always, mom

Space to Receive

I then gave him the book and sat quietly knitting as he read the words from these amazing men. He opened the first page and started to read the letter from his dad. He paused and said, “I feel like this is a really big deal.”

He continued to read. Paused once and a while to take a deep breath. “This is so crazy.” I could hear the emotion welling up in his voice.

When he finished reading all the letters, we talked for a while. He was very emotional – these words and love touched him deeply. We all know it can be hard to express the depth of emotion in the midst of experiencing it. But my son articulated so beautifully: “I just have never known them (these men) in this way before.”

I think he voiced the vibrant beauty and freedom of this gift. These men were given an invitation, and those who took it revealed the depth of their own wisdom and gave it to this young man. Together, we created a profound gift that ripples beyond my son, and husband, and myself, and into the lives of each of the men who shared, and into the lives we will ALL continue to touch.

My son will have these words forever, and they will continue to unfold in meaning as he continues to grow and experience life. I am grateful beyond words for this gift.

The reason I share this story is to reveal how we can very simply create a profound experience for our children given the right intention. I had no set expectations for this gift. I just knew I wanted to do something for my son. What was created by a group of us was a very meaningful experience for my son. When I told him I wanted to share this story with some other moms, he encouraged me to do so, and made me promise I would give this same gift to both of his brothers. This testimony alone helps me to understand the depth of his experience.

________________________________________________________________

Here are some simple steps to consider if you decide to create a coming of age gift or ceremony for your child.

  1. Simply set the intention.
  • What do you want to give your child?
  • What is the purpose of you giving a gift or creating a ceremony?
  • What do you want to pass along to your child?
  1. Reach out – write a letter.
  • Who do you want to be a part of this gift or experience?
  1. Send it.
  • Some will respond and others won’t, and that is all ok. Create something from whatever shows up. And give them a timeline – I think it helps.
  1. Follow through and create something that is good enough for now and safe enough to try.
  • The intention is the key; perfection can be released.
  1. Present the gift in a simple, intentional way.
  • Give quiet, distraction-free time for your child to accept the gift and to begin processing it.
  1. Do it all with love.
  • Root every step in love -because this is all about loving our children and being free in that love.

I encourage you to be courageous and intentional and most of all, I invite you to create a gift or ceremony that is uniquely and truly from your own heart to your child.

 

community, belonging, courage, self love

By Nikki Nau

 

“Belonging is the innate human desire to be a part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

By Brene Brown, Gifts of Imperfection

 

Self-acceptance

Compassion, Kindness, and Love for oneself

Acceptance of self may be one of the most significant challenges we all face.  Acceptance that is free of pride, vanity, and illusion allows us to accept all our mistakes. Recognizing and working with our imperfections frees us from shame and regret. Accepting oneself includes paying attention to one’s needs, being kind to oneself, and loving unconditionally. Self-acceptance does not hinge on what we say or do, or how we look, or who we know; it is only about being who we are.

 

Forgive Your Imperfections

In the search for true belonging, you must first authentically belong to yourself. Belonging to yourself means loving yourself even when you make mistakes. Mistakes are normal and part of our growth as whole human beings (mind, body, and soul). Understanding this essential process of making mistakes, learning, and moving forward is not selfish. Thomas Merton, a 20th Century Trappist monk, reveals that our mistakes are often for the benefit of others.

 

“It is by making mistakes that we gain experience, not only for ourselves but for others. And though our experience prevents neither ourselves nor others from making the same mistake many times, the repeated experience still has a positive value”.

-Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island  

 

Living and learning are part of our daily experience. When you accept that making mistakes helps you learn and helps others learn, you can more easily forgive yourself and move forward.

 

Be Yourself

“You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great”.

by Maya Angelou

 

Once you accept yourself, be brave enough to be yourself. Confidence in who we are draws deep into our wells of courage. The messages of the world often beat us down and make us question ourselves. Often we are inspired to go against the comfort of the status quo because we are awake and aware of our inner spirit. This can put us in a vulnerable place. While vulnerability may elicit thoughts of weakness, the reality is that allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and authentic is a reflection of our courage. Being who we really are is our destiny and our calling in this life. Denying this can sidetrack us along the way. Being vulnerable enough to ask for and accept help, and admit when you are wrong helps you expand into the full awareness of who you are meant to be.

 

It is not always comfortable to be who you are. Sometimes you have to speak up when it is uncomfortable, and sometimes you have to deeply listen when you really want to scream at someone! Going deep within oneself while residing in courage and strength, love and compassion are challenging and worth the struggle. As Maya Angelou says, “The reward is great!” We have to push ourselves, take the next step, and trust that the reward is great even though we cannot even begin to imagine how great it is.

Belonging Is Not About Fitting In

Fitting in is about being like everyone else. In contrast, being authentic and uniquely you are gifts to yourself and everyone around you. Being who you are allows you to engage in meaningful relationships instead of shallow ones.  Being yourself means you just show up and be you. It helps to understand that comments from others are most likely reflections of their inner struggles and not judgments about you. And if you do sense judgment, you always have the option to inquire deeper and ask for more information. You also have the opportunity to free yourself from owning judgment – it’s not about you, it’s about another person’s perspective.

Miguel Ruiz’s wise words from the book, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom explains:

“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.”

Being Alone is Not Loneliness

When we know ourselves, and we can love ourselves, then we are comfortable with being alone. Being alone in a quiet space helps us to connect with the divine within us and connecting with our source gives us our highest sense of belonging. Time for quiet contemplation is essential in our journey to understand and love ourselves. In silence, we can more clearly hear the quiet voice of the divine and the needs of our soul.

 

Self-acceptance is about being guided by the love within yourself. It is about recognizing yourself, who you are and all of your circumstances – good or bad- and working with the divine source to move through daily life. In this process of intentionally surrendering to the highest power of Love, you begin to recognize the love given to you at every moment of your life. This love is the same love you have permission to give yourself – unconditional and infinite – and the same love you can give to others.

Healthy Boundaries Stated with Love

When we love ourselves, we experience the freedom to establish healthy boundaries with love. First, we have to understand our own needs clearly. Then we state our needs with kindness and love. Of course, we need to honor the boundaries we set and stick to them in order to authentically respect ourselves. These are essential steps in developing healthy relationships. We create healthy boundaries not to punish others but to honor ourselves, to be honest about our abilities, and to respect those we love by communicating our needs.

 

In a loving relationship, we honor each other’s needs and feel honored when someone feels comfortable enough to voice their needs. In unbalanced relationships, setting boundaries is imperative for the survival of both people. Setting boundaries honors the innate dignity of every human being. Someone who violates these boundaries without respect towards you may be a toxic entity in your life. Stating boundaries helps to identify what needs to be weeded out of your daily existence or gives clarity on what you can release.  Setting parameters also offers you the opportunity to interact with others with more compassion and empathy.

 

Brene Brown reflects on her research around true belonging in Braving the Wilderness:

“Participants who put true belonging into practice talked openly about their boundaries. … The clearer and more respected the boundaries, the higher the level of empathy and compassion for others. Fewer clear boundaries, less openness. It’s hard to stay kind-hearted when you feel people are taking advantage of you or threatening you”.

Be In Community

We, in this human family, are all connected whether we are aware of it, or not, and we belong with each other in community. We are made to connect with each other. A community can be your family or a best friend; it can be your office co-workers or your book study group. And we often overlook the broader community of nature in which we inherently belong. Our belonging expands beyond our families, friends, and communities into the larger world of all of humanity and all of nature. Spending time in the natural world is a beautiful place to remember our essential connections and allows us to welcome peace and strength. Remember your crucial relationships in this life: You always belong to yourself, to the Divine, to nature, and to the human family.

 

Beloved Community

Our goal is to create a beloved community, and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Each of us is invited to participate in creating the beloved community envisioned by the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It begins with loving and accepting ourselves and then being authentic and loving in our relationships with others. Intentionally connecting with your soul and bringing forth the gifts of your genuine being are qualitative changes we can all make. Moving into the world in this way creates a ripple of love and compassion that begins to change the lives of others.

 

The best way to do this is to be who you are. There is no need to make excuses or hide our true selves. When we are comfortable with ourselves, we are naturally drawn to communities that support and accept us. Being alone in a quiet soul space allows us to hear the gentle voice of the divine and the forward calling of our lives.

 

We are made to experience joy and laughter, and these can indeed be the best medicine for us. Connecting with others and doing fun stuff can be one of the best healing choices we make in our lives. Creating and supporting a beloved community comes with hard work and joyful playtime. Embrace the challenges of the tasks at hand and enjoy the rewards of the joy and laughter that follow.

Ask Questions and Listen Deeply

“I am determined to practice deep listening. I am determined to practice loving speech.”

― Thich Nhat Hanh, True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart

 

A healthy culture claims all our identities. Belonging does not mean identical. The real beauty of true belonging is when you are accepted even when you have a different opinion than others in the group. In our current age of bi-partisan, wall building, and finger pointing, engaging in civil discussions that maintain respect, love, and deep listening even through disagreements encourages deep healing and transformation. Instead of needing to have the last word and attempt to convince others, ask questions and sincerely try to understand someone else’s perspective. If you accept yourself, and you are authentically comfortable with who you are, your confidence allows you the freedom to hear other’s ideas without needing to own or resist them.

True belonging Begins Within

True belonging begins within you. You must accept and belong to yourself first. Then, you can recognize you belong to the divine within you, to your fellow human family, and to the natural world that sustains you. True belonging is part of the journey to whole healing. I invite you to open your mind and spirit to this love of self and to bring this love into the communities you belong. You are the light in this world; please let yourself shine.