Mature Masculinity, meanwhile, flowers from the same idea: Marx notes that millions of boys “are not accomplishing the transition from adolescence to adulthood,” and calls for the initiation of boys into a manhood of integrity, accountability, emotional intelligence, and at harmony and in balance with the feminine. Of course, Marx believes all teens should experience initiations, though he notes (with an apology for indulging in sweeping generalities, “It’s arguably more important for men to have a sense of mission or purpose in life because they’re more dangerous without it.”
Marx brings considerable persuasive power and storyteller’s craft to his calls for initiation and mentorship, clear-eyed action steps for the short and long term, and a welcome willingness to acknowledge his own blind spots and generalizations. He often lets thinkers he’s interviewed make the case, quoting at length from Chike Nwoffiah (“Do we prepare our young people so that as they are moving from one stage to the next, that they understand that for every privilege there is a corresponding responsibility?”), Meredith Little (“we’ve grown up in a context that really doesn’t have community”), and others. The result is a warmly provocative endorsement of the Rites of Passage movement and the idea of guiding all people, young and old, through life’s great transformations.
Takeaway: An impassioned, well-argued call for initiating young people into adulthood through organized “rites of passage.”
Great for fans of: Li'a Petrone’s Rites of Passage for the Young Black Male in America, Maryanne Howland’s Warrior Rising: How Four Men Helped a Boy on His Journey to Manhood.
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Marketing copy: A-
We live in a culture that could be characterized by the absence of the sacred. Our education, our business, our healthcare, our transportation, our media and entertainment most often lack a sense of connection to the vast, tender, powerful, mysterious, sacred nature of life.
And even when we have a personal brush with the sacred, when someone near us dies, when we take special time in the high mountains or connect with a moving work of art or are present for the birth of a new child, the compelling sense of sacred mystery can quickly fade as we resume our quotidian chores.
This absence is exacerbated by our divisive political discord, our racial and economic divisions and injustice, by our unattended trauma, individual and collective.
Yet underneath, when we get quiet and honest, there is in almost everyone, a longing for deeper connection: to our self, to the earth, to the community around us, to life.
This deep connection to the sacred, and to your own unique gifts and courageous place in the world is what Rites to a Good Life, and Rites of Passage reminds you is possible.
My own high school and university education did not provide this, nor help me learn to handle my own fears and pain, longing and love. Somehow I knew I needed this. I volunteered for the Peace Corps and then in my early 20s, I ordained as a Buddhist monk in a remote Thai forest monastery near the borders of Laos and Cambodia. With ocher robe and shaved head, every morning at dawn I would walk barefoot for miles to collect alms food offered by lay supporters from poor local villages.
I learned to trust that there would be enough food, that I would not starve. I learned to steady myself in meditation amidst the monsoon rains and the tropical heat. I grew up and matured in ways that my western education never offered.
In Rites To a Good Life, Frederick Marx shows us the possibility of finding this transformation and courage in our own culture.
The text is filled like a banquet with rituals, stories, medicines, quotes and models, recipes for genuine growth and transformation.
Sometimes these rituals focus on grief, as the elder Mircea Eliade tells us, “....tears are required for sacred space to appear.” Other times they focus on joining the community in movement. The playwright Moliere explains, "All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing."
While a collective process, often these rituals of initiation and rites of passage also require time alone, difficult trials, testing of limits, facing oneself. They all require strong and steady mentors. All our children need them, the children in the poorest and most marginalized communities who deal with the deadly streets, and the prosperous children who deal with the deadly white fog of the suburbs. All need to be initiated and mentored, their gifts seen, honored and acknowledged.
Rites to a Good Life is a call for us all to reflect on our own personal journey and its place in the culture and cosmos around us. It is not just for our youth. We need the gifts of these Rites at every stage of life and we need ways to continually renew our connection to our deepest purpose and the sacredness of life.
I hope this book inspires you to do so.
Read it slowly, take notes, turn down the corners of pages, let it be a reflection, and inspiration, a mirror held up to your own journey.
And then take the medicine of Rites of Passage and meaningful Ritual, and bring it alive in your life.
Spirit Rock Center 2021