Sunday, 3 November 2013

Adolescence and Ashes - As Little Green Shoots Emerge from the Cinders

Cinders: definition as a noun
  1. a. A burned or partly burned substance, such as coal, that is not reduced to ashes but is incapable of further combustion.
    b. A partly charred substance that can burn further but without flame.
  2. cinders Ashes.

Time of the Cinders
In Robert Bly's book Iron John there is detailed discussion about a particular time during the adolescent period that has been identified throughout many different cultures.

It is a time where a child takes to solitude and reflection. In this place being takes precedence over doing.

So many developments are taking place in the mind, body, heart and soul of a child as they go through puberty.

A part of the neo-cortex in the frontal lobe doesn't reach full physical development until the early twenties, and at around the age of thirteen bodily hormones start to cull brain cells.

Teenagers are struggling to find out what is truly necessary in terms of the skills they will need to acquire to reach their full potential. The extraneous dross must be singed away and the ashes sifted through before diamonds can be mined.

Young people need space, time, solitude and support as they seek to empower their authentic self within the framework of their culture.

Adolescence is the time in life when most people gain a "sense of self" or an identity.

It is also the time when other people's opinions and the norms and values of the wider culture can have the greatest effect upon self esteem and confidence.

These effects can reverberate through into later life too.

It is during this critical time that adolescents begin to "see beyond themselves" and learn abstract thinking and objectivity for the first time in their lives.

Context suddenly becomes overwhelmingly important.

Inner Worlds
Many Northern European cultures referred to this sensitive period as the time of the cinders.
Children would often take to sitting by the fire all day.  

Unmotivated, simply letting the world go by, they would seem to be doing nothing and getting nowhere. (sound familiar to anyone with teenage children.)
 That's right typical teenager, eating, sleeping, suddenly unproductive to any external evaluation of their condition. Spending long drawn out hours alone in their bedrooms...

But the ancient people's were wise to this and let the child simply "be" with themselves.

Sometimes the children would even cover themselves in the ashes of the fire, making a cocoon from the remnants of the past in which they could hibernate until they were ready to emerge transformed and fully realized.

There is something inextricable about the "teen" years that makes children want to reach toward their own shadow.

Touch the darkness a little.

In Christian families, teenagers are compelled to understand the sin that exists in both the world and themselves.

Others seek to confront the complexities of life head on relentlessly questioning the authority on which established assumptions of life are founded.

Children must be given this time I believe.

They must be given the time to dwell in the cinders.

Something is going on even in the motionlessness. Deep inside they are becoming.

They need to be given this space in which to unfold their wings naturally and fully.

Initiation and Ritual
In ancient cultures people saw the wisdom in treating the stage between childhood and adulthood with great care and sensitivity.

Initiation ceremonies were an important part of helping define a young persons place within their own community.

In this way young people developed a sense of belonging and value.

The natural "gang mentality" of young men became subject to and brought into line with these wider reaching and higher ideals.

We watched a beautiful film called Whale Rider recently, which tells of how the ancient Maori traditions are being brought back in the indigenous communities of New Zealand as the wisdom behind them is being rediscovered.

The traditions and rituals that go back thousands of years are giving meaning and a sense of empowerment to a community that had begun to fragment under the industrialized concepts of the modern western world.

Listening, Honouring
I have to listen to my child as she grows.

As she matures, she will guide me to meet her needs.

I will honor that.

Today we may lie for a while in the cinders. Let's not disturb them.


For tomorrow the green shoots will find their way out of the ashes and into the light.

"The ashes nestle in around her. Cover her as though a quilt of down. 

Warm and soothing, they seem to say, "Lay back and rest now. Take your time. No hurry. We will help you if you let us.........listen, watch. 

Rest but remain aware. You are not alone unless you choose to be. 

Ask the questions but remain quiet long enough to hear the answers." 

And with that the girl fell into a rhythmic pattern of breathing. 

Her first sleep in the arms of the ashes. It was then that the gentle blue light smiled in the room for the first time and whispered, "Now she is ready to begin." 

Stories of young women and men, facing the loneliness and angst of adolescence and early adulthood, fill the pages of fairy tales and legends. 

The common scenario in many of these stories is the tending of a fire and the cleaning out of ashes as the troubled youths examine their lives and all of life. 

Cinderella. Ashes Boy. Cinder Biters. What is this stuff of ashes? 

What is the message the creators of such timeless and ageless stories longed to impart? 
Ashes stories are stories of youthful angst. 

They are the story of nearly every thoughtful youth who is moving into adult responsibilities. 

Ashes stories are the stuff of personal growth, the development of values and morals, the becoming of identity and self. 

But there is a rub. 

Our culture allows little time for lying in the ashes. 

Just as the personal mind, body, and spirit are saying, "Slow down, take some time to figure all this out," society is saying, "Get a major, get a degree, get a job." 

Just as the mind, body, and spirit begin their questioning.....leading the individual to seek solitude and introspection.....society is saying, "Be this, be that, choose now, decide now, join, be a part."

Quoted Excerpt from Goodfinding

Let us learn to be gentle with ourselves and our young.

"I am glad that so much movement happens in this stillness."
 Richard Land