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Cultural Twilight and Transition (Sept 19 2022)

Twilight is the time of transition – of comings and goings, of withdrawal and emergence, of liminality. In his work The Ritual Process, Victor Turner explored the liminal or threshold states created for and entered into by participants in initiation rites within tribal groups. Participants were led to confront a deconstructed reality with disrupted and confused boundaries, categories, expectations – a journey through a twilight environment designed to help participants integrate in a profound way the nature of the change they were going through and help them to both release necessary elements of the past and embrace emergent elements of the future. The process generated an understanding of roles, responsibility, privileges, mutual obligations, community support and connection. These processes were shaped and deliberately shepherded by individuals with skill, knowledge, experience and understanding about life, and not simply possessed of a set of techniques. They provided a framework for successful transformation. To be successful, they required the active engagement of participants – who may have participated ”because they were supposed or expected to” – but who had not only to participate but succeed in doing so nonetheless. These could not be passive processes.

For modern people, the night has lost much of its mystery, and the twilight along with it. Electricity and cars have stolen the dark’s mojo bag. Is it only coincidence that transformative processes in our lives have also lost much of their power, and structure, let alone our respect for them … and as such their positive role in our personal transformations and social fabric? Our culture puts great stock in magic numbers like 18 and 21 and 65, and in conferred titles like chairman and PhD and executive director and manager – but there appears to be little awareness or deliberation around the investment of meaning in these things. On the one hand, these designations or markers of transition appear passive or superficial, on the other hand the community dimensions of these transitions have largely atrophied or failed to coalesce. We float as individuals through society as members of family, school classes, scout troops, sports teams, men’s clubs and knitting circles. We join political parties and activist groups and churches. But we do so in a largely random, formal or even unconscious fashion in a way largely disconnected with any framework for the healthy fusion of individual growth and sociocultural integrity. For many of us, inflicted trauma is our primary rite of passage – and we go through it alone and in the dark. Collectively, we seem to have little in the way of a commonly understood language or wisdom or map of transformation, or a cultural or social “fabric,” including experienced elders, that forms a safety net for transformative processes.

Vietnamese Buddhist nun Sister Dang Nghiem observes that as we age in this society, “our shells get bigger but our core does not change.” Former US President Donald Trump offers confirmation with his assertion that he is the same person in his 70s that he was in first grade. In our schools we see many students passed along and receiving diplomas despite failing to master the basic skills; likewise, we see many individuals ranked as adults and accorded power and prestige despite failing to master the necessary transitions of maturity.

But twilight will come, as will night, for each of us. And many of us are not handling it well. Collectively, rates of drug and alcohol abuse, domestic abuse, eating disorders, and divorce indicate a population that is suffering. Overlay this with a level of greed that riddles our society with gross inequality and now a political atmosphere poisoned with distrust, violence and dishonesty. We have aged as a society but the substance of our transformation into maturity is questionable at best. It seems unfair to children to characterize the profound cultural inability to stand accountable for wrongs done as “childish.” But under-developed? Most assuredly. The passivity and hollowness of our markers of maturity may yet prove deadly to our culture in the absence of transformative change. Perhaps it is time to come together as twilight pools and deepens and shadows loom: to set a common course through the dark and disruption and build those frameworks and processes and markers for the journey.

Here in this blog I will be sitting in the twilight, exploring issues like transformation and digging into rigid ideas and concepts that raise obstacles to personal and cultural growth. You are always welcome to join me and I hope you will.

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