Rites of Passage

Practical Ways a Wilderness Expedition Can be Used to Facilitate Self-transformation
(Brown, 1987, pp. 8-9)

James Neill
Last updated:
13 May 2005

Rites of passage involve a symbolic, often exhausting journey or challengeRites of Passage...for change & transformation

First thing in the morning, take the time to do some gentle exercise.  Feel the Earth.  Breathe deeply, release your physical stress and psychological tension through slow and conscious movement.  Enliven and enjoy your body, stretch, touch the sky, reach out and embrace the world around you.


Come to a complete stop for a significant period of time.  Shut down the left brain and turn on the right.  Sit quietly and attune yourself to the natural world.  Move beneath  persistent thoughts and the ever talking mind.  Absorb the silence.  Feel the warmth of the sun.  Listen to the music of the birds, to the wind, to the whispering trees.  Empty your mind and let nature fill your senses.


Take a minimum of food on your wilderness or backcountry trip.  Get a little hungry.  Break your pattern of eating by the clock, and eat only when you really need to.  Fast for a day or two if you really want to heighten your senses and experience yourself in some interesting new ways.  Let profound contact with the natural world nourish you and satisfy your appetites.


Take a journal along and enjoy the finest functions of your left brain: evaluation, analysis and reason.  Write about your important experiences.  Reflect on the seasons, the elements, your triumphs and disasters outdoors.  Note your patterns, motives, behaviors and responses as they become clear, and discover what really moves you.  Reach for inspiration, maybe document your insights in poetry or song.


Draw pictures of your fascinations on the land.  Conscious penetration into the symbolic and metaphoric dimension of the right brain is a critically important part of the transformative process.  Take the time to really see nature as you sketch, paint, and draw, or portray the meaning of your experiences in symbolic art.


Get your body involved in kinesthetic imagery.  Be creative, take some chances, and expand your potential for self-expression by physically identifying with nature.  Become the forest, move like trees, identify with the life around you.  Open the channels of your physical body to the powerful and unsuspected currents of energy that lie dormant within you.


Take the time to share your discoveries with a few other people.  Listen with respect to the experiences of others, and learn how to share what moves you in open and honest ways.  Interpersonal skills can greatly improve through sharing meaningful and significant events that occur on wilderness and backcountry trips.


Finally, before you walk out of the wilderness, make an action plan.  Consider the insights you have gleaned, the inspiration that has moved you, and decide how you can renew your life back in the regular world.  Take responsibility for grounding and integrating your insights and inspiration, by drawing up an action plan for the week or two immediately following your trip.


Reference: Brown, M. H. (1987). Wilderness Vision Quest: Exploring the Frontiers in Human Resource Development.  Paper presented at the 4th World Wilderness Congress, Estes Park, Colorado, September.