Petra Lentz-Snow, School of Lost Borders

The School of Lost Borders offers vision fasts and rites of passage training which cultivate self-trust, responsibility, and understanding about ones’ unique place within society and the natural world.

A Rite of Human Passage?

At the very core of the vision fast is death and rebirth, and the paradoxical understanding that letting go, no matter how frightening, is the way to live the gift of life full on. At this moment, just like in the vision fast, people around the globe are being asked to pass through difficulty, isolation and the fear of loss, and one can already sense the possible transformation this is calling in.

Many are asking if this is a collective human rite of passage. My personal answer is it depends. Crisis needs our participation and intention to turn into opportunity. Those drawn to mark a life change in a vision fast ceremony often do so in response to a personal crisis, a life shift, a loss, an irrepressible knowing that they have outgrown a certain stage or version of themselves. Life is offering initiations of all kinds by its very nature, but it is up to us (and the visible and invisible forces of support within us and around us) how we respond. Ancestral communities of every culture and place knew to make space to partner such times, to witness, and affirm the movement into a new emergence. They understood that human life depended on co-participatory relationship with the cyclical patterns of change.

Whether or not the pandemic is a rite of passage is resting with each one of us. Will it be the system change we’ve been waiting for, or will it lead to the feared escalation of civil rights liberties repression and further marginalization of the most vulnerable parts of our populations? The outcome will depend on the healing work, the re-setting of the bones, the rain-making, that is going on in each of our homes. And minds. And hearts.

Befriending the Unknown

The invitation of this time–for humans all over the world–is not so much about going out or getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city to some pristine natural place far from our civilized troubles. The medicine of this ceremony seems to be all about going in.

Instead of braving the elements going without food, shelter or company, humans in many countries are abstaining from consumerism addiction, and the incessant need to be anywhere and everywhere except on the ground right under our feet. Death has taken a place at the table, right here in the heart of the most industrialized nations. Many folks have lost all access to the outdoors for weeks now.

It may look differently from what we may think of as ceremony. It may look like shelter-in-place orders, job loss, and remote team meetings on zoom. It may look like missing paychecks, home schooling, or closing a small business that means the world to you. It may find you hunting for limited grocery supplies in half empty stores, feeling the long and twisted cord of the supply line all the way to the source for the first time. It may find you in deep service, risking your life at the frontlines or quietly on the couch, imploding with boredom and depression or without a safe place to be. It may all feel like a strange dream.

However different the taboos during the pandemic may be, the heart of the ceremony remains much the same. Those who’ve been in the threshold before know that while we are here, we are asked to suspend knowing and befriend the unknown. To make moment by moment holy by being willing to simply experience it. To make sanctuary where we are. To examine, remember and unearth the reason we took birth and what we are living into, what is holy to us, what sustains us, what gets us through this challenge. At some point in the process, mystery willing, we begin to let go, we shed like snakes, giving away what weighs us down, what we can no longer take with us. Beliefs, money, privilege, shame, anger, hatred, fear. And something new is born.

Living the Questions

As we are settling into what feels like a global pilot project of smaller human footprint experimentation, the skies above our cities are clearing. Deer are happily grazing, birds are singing their hearts out, and whales roam wider parts of the oceans than in a long time, thanks to decreased nautical sound pollution.

Creatures everywhere are reclaiming the living spaces they have been forced out of, and the climate is breathing a sigh of relief. Crude oil prices have crashed ending in negative prices per barrel for the first time in history.

What then is ours to do as humans during this time? Most everyone I know is cleaning out old closets, and coming more current with their resources, and maybe more than just the outer world ones. Dust gets blown from living wills, or they get written for the first time.

What conversations want to be had, what relationships are in need of repair? What is my deepest passion and how is it using me? What action is being called out in me? Is supporting my neighbors and communities part of my ceremony?

This is a time of living the questions. Of opening ears and hearts wide. Of listening for the great universal heart beat that so easily becomes audible when fasting in the wild, in a silence so profound, in a place so exposed that there simply is no way not to be found. It is here now. It has come down from the hills to reach deeply into our homes for our fugitive hearts.

Can we let it in?

Petra Lentz-Snow has guided vision fasts and wilderness rite of passage programs for over 20 years and is currently the Executive Director at the School of Lost Borders. Previously she was the executive director of the Wilderness Guides Council, a network of guides supporting wilderness ceremonies around the world. Her wilderness training in the U.S. began at the Bear Tribe, founded by Chippewa medicine man, Sun Bear, and concluded at the School of Lost Borders with Steven and Meredith Foster in 1995.  Born and raised in Germany, Petra is a licensed practitioner of naturopathic medicine and a mother of three young adult children.