Wounding is part of initiatory rites in many primal cultures, and childhood wounds — and their healing — play a part in almost every workshop and vision quest I’ve ever led. But along with the commonality, there are obvious differences.
A basic condition of childhood is that the child is small and the world around it is – relatively – immense. When nurturance is lacking, this fundamental truth can lead to difficulties and consequences – wounds — that can echo through a lifetime. 1) We can be overwhelmed; the outer world dominates us. We are hurt, suppressed, controlled, as our boundaries are violated in assorted ways. 2) We experience abandonment. Dependent on the outer world for our very survival – physical and emotional – we lack positive affirmation and nurturance, resulting in a constant search for attention and approval, all the while wondering, “What’s wrong with me?”
Physical wounds to the body can have traumatic effects — injury, loss of vitality, a heightened defense against invasion. Shock, shutting down, and scar tissue may result. These have analogies in the psyche, corresponding psychic expressions manifesting on multiple levels – anxiety, body armor, dissociation, depression, etc. — that are deep and hard to access. In children the psyche is fragile, and this wounding can have consequences and coping mechanisms that last a lifetime.
Wounding — from the ego’s point of view — is a violation, and the predictable result is avoidance, or a strong defense and better boundaries. But seen neutrally, a physical wound is an opening where the inner life – vital and vulnerable — makes intense and intimate contact with what’s outside. Through this opening the world enters us, and what’s within us also flows out into the world. As a metaphor, the “world entering us” could be dangerous or nourishing – infection and toxicity – as well as food, affection, or sustenance. And this “flowing out into the world” could describe our passion, voice, or work, in addition to exhaustion or bleeding out.
In primal societies, initiatory wounds can include trials, tests, and ordeals. A young boy might be cut, scarred, or have his front tooth knocked out by an elder to connect him with a forest god who also lost a tooth. These wounds create physical changes in the body and strong impressions that are not forgotten. But, due to their context and circumstances, they differ greatly from childhood traumas. They presume and take place in tight-knit communities, which the “wounded child” lacks access to. They’re shared with others and undergone with the assistance of allies and elders. Neither random nor unpredictable, these tests are rooted in rich mythologies, sacred teachings that provide meaning, connect them to larger forces in the cosmos, and – along with instruction — defines their proper place and potential contributions within the tribe and universe.
Most people today don’t have strong communities, elders, or initiatory rites in their lives, and their wounds have only resulted in damage and disconnection. But, the process of making wounds sacred can still happen by way of revisiting and re-experiencing those wounds through evocative processes, reframing them with appropriate teachings, and sharing these experiences within circles of supportive allies.
Consciously and intentionally entering our wounds — no longer covering and protecting these “sacred sites” – is an undertaking that can create healing. With help and courage, we can find or take back what we may have lost; cast out poisons we may have ingested; and, through this process, find meaning in our lives and the choices we’ve made. Much like shamanic practices of extraction and retrieval, in doing so we are practicing sacred medicine.
Entering realms of primal experience with open eyes and an open heart has the potential to change us. Our stories become heroic rather than tragic. How a person enters the darkness and fully experiences that deep core — whether through vision quests, therapy, transformative breathwork, or something else… galvanized by inner pressure or external circumstances — is a matter of fate, technique, or preference. But our past wounds are openings, and by entering them creatively and consciously, we can reclaim lost parts of ourselves. Things become clear – we’re able to see where we have come from, along with the paths and choices open to us. Through embracing and claiming our present, our past, and our journey, we may find, indeed, that it has given us gifts.
Wounds become sacred when these ancient “openings” cease to be characterized by feelings of fear, shame, and victimhood, or unconsciously surrounded with defense and protection mechanisms. No longer are they defined as tragedies or injustices, insults to the perfectly nurturing life we think we deserved. Through giving up passivity and victimization, and owning our journey and actual life experiences, these former injuries can be transformed into sources of strength. By venturing into even the darkest parts of our lives with acceptance and a fierce, open heart, the archetype of the hero can be constellated in us.
As we grow and heal, our suffering can become initiatory, a portal and opening to our souls, spiritual journeys, and a wider dream of our lives. Through this process we can find courage, our calling, and compassion… the willingness to embrace our own experience fashioning a doorway through which we let in the world and connect to others.
— Sparrow Hart… — August 9, 2017… (Photos of Chama River Wilderness)
For a powerful video on men working with their childhood wounds, click here.