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Rites of Passage

Throughout history, cultures worldwide have provided their youth with sacred initiation ceremonies marking the transition from childhood into adulthood. This initiation is a rite of passage from one way of being to another. This process of initiation helps youth to become aware of their life’s purpose, and awakens them to the special gifts they have that will enable them to contribute to the overall well-being of the world. Malidoma Some, an initiated elder of the Dagara tribe of Burkina Faso in West Africa has spoken articulately of the need for healthy rites of passage in the West: “The absence of formal initiation in the West is why young people create their own informal initiations, such as engaging in reckless and dangerous behavior... “ He goes on to say that “Maybe drug addicts and alcoholics are trying to break into a different state of reality, as happens in a true initiation. The problem is their initiations never end” (Some, Leslee, Two Worlds, p 6).  ReTribe provides safe space for youth to go through this vital transformation that they so desperately need, in a healthy, supervised environment. Additionally, ReTribe provides these opportunities to the many adults who did not have access to these experiences during their youth.

Initiation into what Culture? The key question today is, what kind of culture are our youth being initiated into? Without a tribe or even an extended family in most cases to re-enter, what does it mean for these youth to become adults in a culture of adults that are primarily un-initiated themselves? It is the goal of ReTribe to initiate youth into a new culture, one that holds acceptance and sustainability as its primary core values. It is a culture where individuals are not divided and classified by geography, race, ethnicity, gender, or spiritual beliefs, and one that lives sustainably in rhythm with the cycles of the earth.


At ReTribe, youth live in a culture of acceptance on all levels: acceptance of human differences, acceptance of a diversity of paths to the sacred, and acceptance of the wounds, histories, and specific needs of every individual. 

Human Diversity

Through grants and scholarships, ReTribe fosters a dynamic, socio-economically diverse group of participants. We  are dedicated to a compassionate understanding of, and curiosity about, all of our  human differences: race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and social class. We hold gender circles and discussions on what it means to be a woman/man/other, and how we all have elements of the divine masculine and the divine feminine. We create a space for youth to learn who they really are as individuals, and celebrate their differences as well as their similarities.

Diversity of Spiritual Paths

At our retreats, we offer a variety of practices from many different spiritual traditions that help youth to both center their minds and open their hearts to profound transformation. We practice daily meditation and mindful-movement, exposing youth to mindfulness practices, yoga, as well as earth based spiritual/indigenous practices of meditation, movement, and ritual.  We believe that there are many different paths that all lead to the same healing space, and we are dedicated to providing youth with a wide scope of practices so they can find the ones they resonate with most. 

Acceptance of Wounds

One of the primary goals of our retreats, is to hold a safe space for each participant to bring into consciousness and then let go of some of their past history and childhood wounds that may be holding them back from a healthy transformation into adulthood. We hold deep sharing circles daily, and use healing processes such as Breathwork to allow participants to express and work through some of the emotions that arise as they let go of the emotional pain from the past. We focus on healing rather than ostracizing, in addressing behaviors and habits that do not serve the individuals.  Healthy conflict resolution techniques such as non-violent communication are used rather than punishment to create an environment that respects everyone’s needs

Connection to the Earth’s Cycles

Just as the seasons flow and change, and nature goes through constant cycles of birth and death, so we can move smoothly through the transformations in our lives. As we connect with the earth, we can see how our own lives go through cycles of birth, growth, maturation, and death, and in witnessing the grace with which nature surrenders to these changes, we can begin to understand how natural it is for us to grow and change as well.  Daily life on our retreats is in constant alignment with the earth, through the food that we eat, the energy we use, and the way we dispose of our waste. We use music and ritual to feel and understand our connection with nature, and we spend time each day in solitude and silence immersed in the natural world. We teach wilderness survival skills, and gain an appreciation and understanding of what the natural world gives us, and how we can give back to it as we come to realize that each of us is just one part of the whole.

The Rite of Passage Process

Our retreats flow with the four basic stages of a rite of passage: separation, preparation, threshold, and re-integration. 


Teens leave their homes and come to the retreat center where they are separated from their parents and friends and enter into a new culture. 


We use community-building techniques of cooperative play, trust exercises, and music making, to create a space where teens can feel safe to express themselves. We hold deep sharing circles where teens can begin to see and be seen by their peers and mentors, and get in touch with the parts of themselves they would like to transform. In order to change, they need to know where they are and where they want to be. We also prepare the teens with meditation and mindful movement practices that help to center their minds and bodies and give a solid grounding to the deep emotional work we do. 


We use a variety of methods to create a threshold experience including - The Adventure Game, Breathwork, trance dance, wilderness solo, and sweat lodge.  What these processes all have in common is the ability to bring teens into a sacred space where they can experience new states of consciousness to open them up to deep healing and transformation.
See Threshold Experiences for more info.

Reintegration: Bardic Circle

We always finish our week with a Bardic Circle where teens have the opportunity to be seen by their community and to celebrate the personal transformation they have gone through.This Bardic Circle and final evening is also a party, and  through celebration we experience the joy that comes with growing and changing, and see that though the process is hard, the payoff is well worth it.

After the Retreat

ReTribe is committed to continuing to mentor teens after the retreat is over. Each teen is assigned a mentor who stays in contact with them through the process of their reintegration back into their homes and families. We also help teens to stay in touch with their peers from the ReTribe community, who are able to provide an important support network. ReTribe also offers after school programs and organizes gatherings between retreats to help teens stay connected and continue their transformational practices. 

Processes of Healing:


Threshold Experiences

While all ReTribe retreats hold to the same principals of earth connection and acceptance, and all include meditation, mindful movement, music, ritual, community building, and deep sharing, at each retreat we predominantly use different methods of generating the transformational experience. At "The Adventure Game Retreat," we use improvisational theater and role play adventure and at "The Inner Journeys Retreat" we use  Breathwork; deep breathing techniques that induce healing states of consciousness, Nature Immersion practices such as steam lodge and wilderness solo as well as Shamanic Journeying and Ecstatic Dance.

The Adventure Game Retreat

During an Adventure Game, retreat participants learn improvisational theater and play. Teens are taught to duel with foam swords, and practice "dying well." They are introduced to an imaginary “world,” and are taught to transform themselves into a character within that world. Each teen puts their everyday clothing on a shelf, and exchanges it for a costume, which encourages them to put their old personality (their habitual ways of acting, thinking and feeling) aside, and try on a new one of their own creation. A shy, withdrawn girl may play a domineering, evil witch, while a tough kid may become a kind, heroic prince. Then, at the end of the day, when it's time to put their old clothes back on, they may not wear their old personality in quite the same way. They will have had a glimpse behind their mask, and have seen that their personality isn’t who they truly are; that who they really are is something far more universal, more enduring, than their outward personality. It is at this point that they will have a deep realization that they have the ability to choose who they really want to be in life.

Because they will be acting out their old and new roles in a live action adventure, they will be gaining these insights, not merely intellectually, but in a deep, visceral way. In the adventure, many teens will come face to face with “death,” and be confronted with psychological, emotional, and physical struggles while playing out their roles.  Malidoma Some talks about the importance to teens of experiencing a real sense of danger and even the possibility of death: “Let’s remove the [actual] danger…but we shouldn’t remove from their minds the possibility of death” (Some p9). Though we will never trick teens into thinking they are at real risk during the game, they will still be able to experience, through fantasy play, some of the chemical and emotional reactions they so desperately seek when they engage in reckless behavior. This experience serves to "wake the teens up," and to support the development of a strong and healthy ego that is necessary for maturation.

After spending the day "being" a totally new personality, teens come out of the adventure with the understanding that they truly have the freedom to transform themselves, and become whoever and whatever they want to be. They have the opportunity to experience what Shakespeare meant when he said: “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players…and one man in his time plays many parts.” Teens leave knowing that they can now choose to play, not the part they think they must play, but rather the one they want to play in life, a role which will best serve themselves and the world.

Inner Journeys Retreat


During our Inner Journeys retreats, we use Integral Breathwork, a therapeutic modality that uses full and deep breathing as a means of healing and transformation. An energy charge is created in the body, and as the energy disperses, it serves to release, or to cleanse blockages, both physical and emotional. Possible experiences include resolution and release of current problems and unresolved childhood wounds, birth memories, past life remembrances, encounters with archetypes (gods and goddesses etc.), nature identification (i.e. the experience of being a tiger or a mountain), transcendence of time or space, and direct experiences of the primordial vibration in the form of inner light or music, and deep peace.

Nature Immersion Practices:

Each day teens have a time to sit alone in a chosen space on the land. Towards the end of the week the teens go out on an extended solo (between 6-24 hours depending on the commitment level they choose) where they can be with themselves and connect with the natural world. This process is followed by a community steam lodge, where mentors and teens join for a ceremony of release, giving thanks, and meditation inside a lodge heated with stones. 

Quotes about Rites of Passage:

If you do not initiate the young people, they will burn the village down to feel the heat. – African Proverb

In modern culture, our Rites of Passage are often missing or minimized in importance. We seem to have lost many of our communal and sanctioned ways of taking risks and acknowledging the transition from childhood to adulthood. 

Daniel Siegel, M.D., Brainstorm: The power and purpose of the teenage brain.

These studies confirm that when youth lack a rite of passage experience, there are extraordinary consequences related to such problem behaviors as violence, substance use, gangs, bullying, and delinquency. Citations in professional literature and popular media ascribe risk-taking behavior of youth (Lewis and Lewis 1984; Merten 2005) as their attempts to create rites of passage for themselves.

Rites of passage during adolescence

Scott D. Scheer*
Stephen M. Gavazzi
The Ohio State University

David G. Blumenkrantz 
Center for the Advancement of Youth, Family, and Community Services, Inc.

When Dagara (African) boys undergo their initiation ordeals, the people of the village realize that a few boys will never return. They will literally not survive. Why would the Dagara be willing to make such an ultimate sacrifice? Although the Dagara love their children no less than we do, they understand, as the elders of many cultures emphasize that without vision, without soul embodied in the culturally creative lives of their men and women, the people shall perish. And to the boys, the small risk of death is preferable to the living death of an uninitiated life. Besides, when we compare Dagara society with our own, we find that an even greater percentage of our teenagers die, through suicide, substance abuse, auto accidents, and gang warfare, in their unsuccessful attempts to initiate themselves.

Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche, Bill Plotkin, Ph.D.­­ at 2:03 audio


Most spiritual life calls for times of sudden radical transformation brought about by powerful initiation and rites of passage. For modern young men and women this is a desperate need. If nothing is offered in the way of initiation to prove one’s entry into the world of men and women, it will be done unguided in the road or the street with cars at high speed, with drugs, with weapons.

Jack Kornfield, Crossroads, pg 42

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