What am I going on about? Do you remember, dear reader, when you were young? Before it all happened? The disappointment. The sadness you never speak of, yes – that, what you don’t want to think about, that person, event, experience or place where you left your power and sense of self AND you have never completely recovered. Well, today – I want to talk about this particular kind of squeamish uncomfortableness – yes that gawky awkward stage the collective races through and never speaks about again – adolescence.
A Psychologist, I greatly admired, called John Cheetham, now sadly passed away – but before he died he wrote one of the most useful books and resources I had to offer Families when working with Young People or Adolescents. The titles says it all, but is a little provocative. It was called, “Grow Up!: How to Raise an Adult by Being One Yourself”.
Let me put this to you, dear reader. Look around the Adult community in which you live and ask yourself sincerely, privately, quietly – how many Adults do you know? Not just human beings whose bodies have matured past the age of 25 years. A biological adult is a human being who has progressed through the developmental phase that is uncomfortably described as sexual maturity but psychological or even spiritual maturity is much less obvious and much more difficult to evolve through. It all boils down to the willingness and capacity to be responsible for your actions and more importantly, the impact those actions have on the people around you.
So how many Adults, do you know … now? I’ll go first. I will be honest but diplomatically and name no names. I know very few Adult human beings, by “adult” I mean individuals capable of maintaining their own independence and at the same time take actions and decisions that maintain a sustainable way of living for themselves and those around them. I know people who try. Then there are people who are very good at saying they are ‘trying’, others who are good at explaining why it is not possible or not working and yet others who avoid responsibility entirely and point the finger either directly or indirectly – at others.
I find this weird because … let me take you back to ‘when you were young’. The first thing that strikes me immediately about Young People, and I will wager you were no different, not truthfully – is, their bullshit barometer is bang on. They are beings still guided by their instinct and if they cannot ‘feel it’, they feel little or no motivation to comply in any way at all. The second thing they are all wired to do, and this will come as no surprise to Parents of Young People – they want their freedom. They are willing, if pressed, to accept independence – because truth be told whilst they want their own way, they do not – despite overt claims – want to be completely rejected by the tribe. Not truthfully. Human beings like cuddles and relationships. It’s how we are.
Young People are ready, willing and wired to take on adventures – romantic, political, physical, you might even say spiritual. What’s an adventure? It is a battle that boils down to a physical, psychological and or spiritual encounter with ‘Death’. And what the stories say about Death is true, an encounter will transform you in a way that you cannot return to what you were. This is the nature of Death.
Young People are wired physically and primed psychological to begin learning about ‘power’, more specifically – personal power. In fact, the personal for a Young Person, is the political. This is why many Young People and their Parents end up in emotional charged unresolving conflict. Young People perceive their Parents ‘have’, the power they so ardently crave. They instinctively feel if they express their desire for this power with sufficient emotion – it will somehow fly in to their hands. This is the beginning and end of their strategy. In fact – there is no strategy, full stop, they are after all Young People and self awareness is beginning to dawn.
Many Parents fear and loath the Adolescent Phase of the journey. There are many reasons for this. On the surface, many do not like conflict and there will be conflict as Young People try and make sense of their struggles with power and ‘getting their own way’. If we go deeper than this though, there is something much more worrying to discover. Many Parents themselves have not passed through the trials of Adulthood and are themselves ill equipped to parent and guide a Young Person through these treacherous and challenging paths. They take the conflict levied at them personally, feel inadequate but don’t want to confront this, maybe even feel betrayed by their child. They may even use their feelings of resentment towards their child to justify ignoring or neglecting them. Let us be clear – Young People are just that, young. But Adults, are not.
Many Adults have not, themselves – passed through the testing fires of maturity and claimed their personal power. What is this ‘personal power’ you speak of Imogen? Well … in order to have a snowflake’s chance of managing in the Adult world you need to be able to survive. Surviving in human culture means working with others and at the same time being in control of your life, being able to direct your life and meet your survival in a way that others will accept. Sounds easy. But if it was … Planet Earth would be doing much better. We’d Smoke the Peace Pipe instead of bomb the Gaza Strip, no one would go hungry or without healthcare.
An Adult Human being is capable of meeting their responsibilities to themselves and others, those dependent on them for care and provision, saying “No” and “Yes” to a person, place or situation and managing the consequences of these decisions so Peace is maintained. Understanding and establishing connection is the Master Class, extra points are given for this. If you can do this, you have – ‘Personal Power’.
Most Adolescent Young People I have worked with and or known in our Whiter than White Western Science oriented culture crawl, clamber, climb or claw their way up to the precipice of Adulthood poised for their first battle with power and find … crickets chirping. No worthy opponents. No Parents or Adult Guides that can instruct them on how to ‘take the hill’. No meaningful encounter with Death, that is needed – because they have outgrown the Young more Dependent Version of themselves. Their teeth have grown and they are spoiling for the fight that will ‘cut them’.
The antidote is ofcourse – an encounter with Death. If a human psyche cannot find an experience it needs consciously, that is – if there is no formal rite of passage recognized by the Elders aka the Parents (the Adults), the expression of this need will be driven in to the unconscious or shadow life. Young People are by definition “Thrill Seekers and Risk Takers”, but what they are seeking is an encounter with Death that will transform them meaningfully from a Dependent Child in to an Independent and capable Adult member of our Tribe, I mean community.
The life of the instinct drives the development of the human psyche. Instinct is at once road map, life plan and template for the human experience. If the expression of instinctive desires are restricted to much, for example Young People are expected to be placid and never challenge authority in any way, psychological disorders will develop with or without Headspace. For the transition from Child to Adult to be completed and successful – several elements are required. Firstly the Young Person must encounter Death in a meaningful way, they must demonstrate mastery over a circumstance where they are genuinely powerless in the beginning and lastly – the transition from being powerless to powerful must be witnessed by those who are perceived to and actually hold power in our community.
If Young People are not able to make this transition with conscious awareness of both the process, the tasks involve and also a witness to the process – their instinct will seek to get these needs met in an unconscious and chaotic way. Young People will act in a way that forces an encounter with the Adults that are perceived to be Powerful. This would be Parents, Teachers, Police and members of the Judiciary. Many of our Young People find crime or elicit drug use risking overdose or risk behaviour such as suicide attempts to be the only way they are able to create the encounter with both Death and Power that is necessary for their Psyche to complete its growth.
Most people in our culture have not completed this journey. Or they have done so partially with their Psyche, self of identity or self, making it ‘across the abyss’in pieces. They are not whole and the cracks become obvious as they encounter Adult challenges for which they are not instinctively prepared to handle.
Australia, and I mean the Land now – is a very very helpful Parent, Guide and Witness when none more conscious can be found but living in the City, comfortable as we are in cosy homes with screens and fly spray makes it harder to sense the rhythms of this Ancient Land we who live in Australia call home. My Father was suspicious of The Big Smoke and its ways so as a child we lived much closer to the Bush, the Land of Australia – The Dreamtime, but more importantly – the deadly wildlife. Nothing to sharpen your instinct better than a Red Belly Black Snake, or a Redback Spider Nest, Crocodile, Shark or one of those Short Brown Snakes that like sand dunes.
It is conscious this Land of Australia, you can talk and the Land will ‘speak back’. Don’t believe me? I cry for the instinct you can no longer feel. Listen to the Land, she will lead you back to your Instincts, no matter how many pieces you have been broken into and help you rebuild a more resilient sense of self, instincts intact. You need your instincts. They are the foundation to the Authentic Self, help you see around corners but more importantly are the only way to understand to develop ‘Personal Power’.