Toward a Culture of Healthy Elders and Effective Mentors

ancestor-treeMany lament the lack of initiated people in modern western culture. We often do not have rituals that honor passage into man and womanhood, motherhood, fatherhood, elderhood, livelihood, life’s work, and more.

Also, because many medicine lineages were lost or abandoned when our ancestors immigrated to North America and wished to assimilate, there are many lineage holders of a large variety of spiritual traditions who remain uninitiated. These people often find themselves holding gifts they do not know how to work with or offer to others.

The belief is that if we had more initiation rites, people would feel more settled and grounded, have a feeling of belonging and purpose and we would all experience a healthier and happier culture.

While this concern holds much truth, it overlooks another serious problem. To be initiated, one must have someone willing to initiate them, and there are far too few of these people in our culture. We cannot return to being a culture of initiated humans until we have people willing to initiate others in a healthy and sustainable way outside the context of the marketplace. And therein lies the problem.

The Importance of Initiation

Initiation is very important for many reasons: it tempers one and prepares them for the role they are transitioning into, honors the passage and makes a clear demarcation of before and after.

Initiation means one has been guided, led and mentored through a process. One has been carefully cared for through it. This is what is truly missing in our culture. It’s not only that we have not been initiated; it is also that we have no initiators. We have no elders. We have no mentors.

It is true that those who seek participation in spiritual practices outside of currently established religious traditions are often left wildly unguided, unprotected, unlearned and uninformed—uninitiated. But how can we expect to bring initiation rites back without having any mentors willing to truly initiate? We need more people willing to  guide, lead, mentor and initiate.

How to be a Healthy Mentor

To be a guide and mentor, you need to be a healthy adult. There are far too few of these in our culture. Many of us have never really grown up. This is a systemic problem. Partly we have not grown up because we lack healthy elders to help us and model that for us. Partly because we live in a culture that idolizes youth and all things associated with it, growing up and becoming adults can seem like a death sentence. But it is time for us to stop this nonsense and grow ourselves up.

In order to be an adult, and a good mentor, you need to have worked through many of your personal issues so you do not get entangled with your initiates in ways that are unhealthy for them. You must allow them to retain their autonomy and free will and encourage them to trust their own direct experience. At the same time you must offer them the guidance and basic teachings that they will absolutely need to know to go on to do the work you are preparing them for.

It is important for you to be able to lead someone through this process for the sole purpose of why they are journeying through it, which ultimately has nothing to do with you. You initiate someone into their womanhood or manhood because you want them to be firmly grounded into their masculinity or femininity in order to have a healthy community. You initiate someone into a spiritual lineage as a medicine person because you want to see the medicine thrive and grow.

Control and manipulation are not appropriate. Ego gratification does not belong. Domination, lording over, absolute authority are not part of the process either; in fact they are toxic to it. You must rid yourself of the need for these.

One must be willing to be questioned and disagreed with without being rattled or triggered. The main question to hold is whether or not the person is able to go on to do the work in a healthy and sustainable way and then figure out how to best assist them in doing that.

The situation we find ourselves in right now, especially with regard to initiations into spiritual lineages—many people longing to be initiated, guided and taught, with very few true mentors available in the culture—makes the field ripe for abuse.

If you cannot mentor people without being abusive, controlling, domineering and traumatizing, better to not mentor. It is extremely damaging. Recovering from the pain and trauma of an abusive mentor is very difficult.

I challenge people to rise to this task.

The Money Issue

Unfortunately, in the west everything is tied up with money and people are forced to pay their mentors, often, obscene amounts. This creates a very distorted picture.

I am not arguing for denying people an income or asking people to do something they simply cannot. I also am not pretending I have the all the answers, but I am asking for us to take a look at this if we truly want to live in healthy communities again. We must understand that we can only mentor a handful of people at a time to do a good job. And we must not charge a lot of money.

Initiating hundreds at a time is not a reality. Also, you cannot fully mentor and guide someone into a spiritual lineage in the short span of a weekend workshop. Weekend workshops are just that. They are weekend workshops, and though often effective opportunities for growth and learning, they are no substitute for a full initiation process.

Therefore, the first problem is the monetary gain or lack thereof in this business of being an initiator/mentor. One must be willing to spend a lot of time over a span of many years (mentoring does not end with initiation) for low pay from a only a few. Who is willing to do this?

The Solution is the Revolution: Teaching Your Mentees How to be Good Mentors

For those willing to take up this challenge, the non-monetary rewards are many. Once you put in the initial work and establish yourself, the work will decline and the rewards will increase. Rewards include seeing people come into their true power and purpose and experiencing deep community healing.

What I have learned is that I can only mentor a certain number of people at one time. Then I have to mentor those people how to mentor others and let the mentoring and initiating spread in that way. Having received this themselves, your mentees are more likely to be willing to offer it, as they understand the inherent value of it.

In a capitalist marketplace mindset this does not make good dollar sense. From that point of view, I am actually giving my income and livelihood away to others and they are giving theirs away to others and so on and so on. No one has access to the big pot of gold reserved for the one at the top who knows all and holds the keys to the kingdom. All are being given permission to be the one who knows all. The big pot of gold is shared with all. There is limited monetary profit. But from the point of view of spiritual lineages and initiation rites, this is the way it wants and needs to grow, horizontally not vertically, and, if allowed, (everyone willing to relinquish control and greed) exponentiate itself.

If we think about it, that is how life perpetuates itself, by putting out seedlings that find viable soil and then grow to create their own systems which continue to perpetuate themselves. Families reproduce families, forests reproduce forests, roots spread horizontally through the soil. In this same way initiation rites and the ones who initiate others can spread and grow.

The key here is to not only learn how to mentor people but then teach people how to mentor others and let it spread that way through the culture. These initiated medicine people will naturally include other kinds of initiations into their practices, those of entry into womanhood, manhood, motherhood etc. Those are all held under the umbrella of the multiplicity of flavors of medicine work waiting to return.

One initiator begets another and so on and so on and so on. If enough are willing to take up this task, before long we will be living in a vastly different culture, one with more true adults and many initiated, thriving and engaged members.

~Theresa C. Dintino

©Theresa C. Dintino 2016