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  • Gavin Conochie

Initiation: Growing Up and Facing Our Pain

Updated: Oct 4, 2019


There is something in our culture that, when faced with the pain and discomfort of life, instantly starts looking for ways to make things better.


How can we make this go away, either through medication, therapy, spiritual practices, recreational drugs or alcohol, distraction through over-work or other addictions?...The list goes on. There is no end, it seems, to how creative we can be in our project to avoid confrontation with our individual and collective pain and, ultimately, with death.

From the mythic perspective what's required of us is not to find a way to make our pain go away but, instead, to surrender to it. Some of you reading this now may be experiencing a sense of relief hearing those words. Others might not like the sound of what I'm saying.

But here's the thing: where have our attempts to avoid or bypass our pain ever got any of us? What have we bought for ourselves as we wriggle like a fish on the end of a hook, other than more suffering? Wouldn't there be a relief somewhere in finally turning towards the beast we have been running from for so long and at last allowing it to consume us?

Because that is what's called for here ultimately: our own death. Not literally (although that will come too in its own time) but a metaphorical death. The death of the small self, the self-serving, self-obsessed self. Only by turning and walking willingly into the jaws of the initiatory forces in the world that are seeking to consume us, only by letting ourselves be eaten, can we then be reborn in the service of something bigger than we are.

To the part of us that must die, this feels like a terrifying prospect. We can spend a lifetime avoiding that moment, sometimes only confronting it as we are faced with our physical death, or confronting it not at all.

In avoiding the necessary moments of initiation that life presents us, we evade the need to grow up. It's as if something in us believes that, by keeping ourselves trapped in a state of perpetual emotional and psychological adolescence, we will avoid ever having to grow old and die. Instead, the outcome of trying to cheat death in this way is that we never truly get to live. Death and life are two sides of the same coin. To the extent that we avoid one, we sacrifice our experience of the other.

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