Initiation & Awakening – Filling the Void

Posted on February 2, 2014 by David Blumenkrantz

I first heard this old Yiddish story, which has roots in the Talmud, from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz 1.image1-feb-revised2

 Photo Credit: Lucretia Robbiani

While we are in the womb, we know everything there is to know about the universe, but we forget it all at birth. At a later time, to help us remember, God runs a finger from the bottom of our nose to the top of our lip. That’s why there’s an indentation.

At the time of puberty there is a special opportunity—and a need—for an awakening to that original wisdom. Rabbi Steinsaltz says:

“… every child is born with a soul. The time of bar (bat) mitzvah is not just an occasion for celebration, it is the time of puberty and the awakening of the soul. Awakening of both physical and spiritual energies.

“There are periods of life when there can be an awakening. Everybody is called but most people don’t hear it. There are other distracting forces moving within a person.

“ I hear a knock and I know it but I may not be ready. Later on I feel the void… ….. after ignoring the call there will be a feeling of the void. If I miss it, I can go on a quest. But I missed it, whatever it is, I missed it”(p .27).

Wisdom begins in wonder.

Adolescence is a time of wandering minds, wondering about the complexities and mysteries of life and all the possibilities. They begin to remember and wonder about an original wisdom, essential to their life that needs to be known. Adolescents are searching for opportunities to “awaken” and have access to this original wisdom. This, in part, is the attraction of drugs and other distracting forces to which Rabbi Steinsaltz refers. It gives them a sense of awakening but not an awakening guided by adults, that leads to a spiritual experience and the knowledge of this original wisdom they know they must have. If children are given no occasion to become awakened during their coming of age, then the void of missing this original wisdom becomes increasingly painful and must be filled. Young people may learn to fill the void with violence, with cynicism, or with drugs, alcohol, and other forms of acquiring, ingesting and abusing anything with which they can have a relationship.


Rites of Passage: Nature’s Pathway To Fill The Void
Evidence of their existence goes back 40,000 years and indicates that rites of passage are our natural way of responding to youth’s desire to wonder and seek an awakening to remember this original wisdom. They intentionally guide children’s awakening to connect with this knowledge, which they need to know in order to achieve authenticity, balance, connection and wholeness in their lives. This knowledge fosters in them a deep connection with all of life which they come to believe are their natural relations - knowledge which gives them a sense of gratitude and grace and the love of Mother Earth. If one feels the love of Mother Earth, just for an instant, it will be sufficient for one’s whole life. That is the purpose of initiation and rites of passage.

In the absence of rite-of-passage experiences that lead to an awakening to this original wisdom, the search to fill the void continues. For many, childhood never ends and seeking behaviors attempting to fill the void continues into adulthood and is played out in violence, dominance, manipulation and other dangerous ways that impact one’s health and the health of their families, communities and the planet.

If the young are not initiated into the village,
they will burn it down just to feel its warmth.
African Proverb

The above is excerpted from "Coming of Age the RITE Way: Youth & Community Development through Rites of Passage,” Oxford University Press (Spring 2016).   Coming of Age... details the relationship between initiation/rites of passage and the psychological sense of community.

For more of the story you can request the following article:
Blumenkrantz, D.G. Rites of passage: Pathways to spirituality for adolescents. Search Institute: The Center for Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence, (2007)


1 Parabola, Spring, 2005

Blumenkrantz, D.G. & Hong, K. L., Coming of age and awakening to spiritual consciousness through rites of passage. New Directions for Youth Development Summer (2008).

Posted in ROPE

Read more about Youth & Community Development through Rites of Passage in the new and highly acclaimed book by Dr. David Blumenkranz.

David Blumenkrantz, Ph.D., Ed.M., Founder & Executive Director, the Center for Youth & Community

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