Martin Shaw, in his Branch from the Lightning Tree, discusses the red, black and white stages of life. These stages represent stages of initiation. When we are in the red stage of life (approximately 13-30) we are fully alive, feeling the blood, libido, life-energy coursing through our veins, stirring us into passionate action or reaction. It is almost as if we are so alive that everything hurts, either in a good way, one might say ecstatically, or in a strengthening, testing way . . . either way, life owns us.
In the black stage (30-50), we slow our pace a little, learn to look within, at least some of the time. We are aware, on some level, that we have responsibilities to ourselves and others. Time to take ourselves more seriously. Not everything is a head-on adventure, not everything is possible, and some things that go wrong actually are our fault. If we don't realize that, we are in for some hard lessons. We have a shadow: what we choose to do with that knowledge is up to us. Our beliefs and ideas and values are going to be tested by life. Community becomes more important. We develop empathy, learn more about the mysteries and subtleties of love. We begin respecting other peoples' struggles. We will mature, for better or worse.
In the white stage (50-75), we get some clarity for all our trouble, we realize that there is a spiritual aspect to the universe, if we didn't realize this before; now we are ripe to harken to the source and pay attention to what we really want to do with our lives. We start developing wisdom. We are ready for deeper relationships, both inner and outer.
In (older, intact) initiating societies, passage through these stages is facilitated by initiation. Critical life-changes are anticipated and enhanced at each crossroad. In our society, no such luck. People often get stuck in one stage or another with no elders to advise when it is time, for example, to go up on the mountain.
The dangers of going through life uninitiated are many. When one is uninitiated one is essentially alone, winging it. Passing through the stages of life is simply part of living and sometimes life meets us more than halfway at those junctures as if one is being watched over. But without initiation being structured into a culture, to kick in when the time is ripe, there is little chance that one will make it through those changes unscathed, undamaged or untraumatized. Not only do the uninitiated suffer trauma but they perpetrate trauma on others, unwittingly. (The best example of this that I can think of, from my own life, is how my high school teachers, a few of them mentors who stuck with me for years through some tough times, still utterly failed to prepare me for confronting the reality of the Vietnam draft.)
The uninitiated must live in a world of boxes in the sense of feeling they are boxed in or prisoners of their own minds. But because our culture does not initiate its own, it has, instead, become very good at creating containers for all of its uninitiated citizenry so they don't become a danger to themselves or others, or, on the dark side, so they can be isolated and manipulated.
Shamanic training teaches us that life is a big dream (the antithesis of a "program"). It is easy to get completely swallowed up by the urgent mundanity of existence, the just-so-ness of life in the middle world, and forget that there is a symbolic value to almost everything that happens. And if nothing happens that one might interpret for one's own benefit and grow from, then it just means that the one doing the living has fallen into the habit of objectifying everything, an easy mindset to slide into - a mindset that negates the contribution of the soul and ushers in an existential nightmare where the dream becomes a program. I am making this sound like living a life that is more shamanic might just be a simple matter of rousing ourselves from a life of routine or complacency, but it's nowhere near that simple. This existential nightmare (of living a life of questionable or no meaning) is so commonplace and culturally entrenched that it has spawned its own self-perpetuating institutions that have hard-wired certain powerful assumptions into our circuitry, a program in effect, that tells us that everything outside of us is objective in the sense of separate from us, so the nature of experience is forever bound to be dualistic (binary). Accordingly, we are taught from birth, and just in case it doesn't stick, we are reminded again and again, that there are only two values to reality - objective and subjective.
Shamanism teaches that, in fact, the exact opposite is the case - that reality, or shall I say, the dimension in which things relative to life and consciousness happen, is to be found between the polarities of objective and subjective.
That is hard to write about (because writing is the process of objectifying thought!), but harder still to grasp in the abstract, because most of us are prisoners of our experience. Selling the idea of a non-dualistic reality to someone who isn't buying is like trying to explain to one who has only known prison, that there is a whole world out there with birds and trees and rivers and meadows and towns. Fortunately how we experience is filtered through our awareness or consciousness and consciousness is always evolving. What this means is, we can change how we experience and this brings us back to the point of initiation.
Source: These passages are from the author's 13 Seeds: Health, Karma, and Initiation (2016)
(Article changed on Jul 26, 2022 at 12:38 PM EDT)
(Article changed on Jul 26, 2022 at 6:38 PM EDT)
(Article changed on Jul 27, 2022 at 2:16 PM EDT)