Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Supermarket:
Initiation in the Modern Age
by Patricia Ariadne PhD
The great metaphors from all spiritual traditions — grace, liberation, being born again, awakening from illusion — testify that it is possible to transcend the conditioning of my past and do a new thing.
~Sam Keen, Hymns to an Unknown God
Change Begins Within
In my psychotherapy practice, I see individuals going through life’s most difficult transitions—divorce, death of a loved one, illness and disability, loss of home or job, a broken heart. In the last several years, I have often witnessed how these crises trigger profound transformations of a spiritual nature in people willing to navigate the complex process of spiritual awakening. For my book, Drinking the Dragon: Stories of the Dark Night of Soul, I interviewed people undergoing intensive changes activated by distress and adversity. I believe that what I am seeing is not limited to my own practice but is an indication of a wider cultural trend triggered by environmental, economic, social, and political upheavals.
We can see what is taking place in the wider culture by simply witnessing the deep-seated changes taking place in the persons around us, including relatives, neighbors, and co-workers. Outer trials and tribulations can bring us to our knees, putting us in the frame of mind to question our former life priorities and motivations. When things are at their worst, we begin to ask, “What is life all about? Is there a purpose? Is there meaning in what is happening to me?” It’s clear that if we continue to enjoy the status quo, and all remains well with our world, we rarely begin asking the questions that lead us to ponder our purpose, the seeming inequities of life, and the apparent randomness of events.
It’s possible to see this emerging shift in consciousness in the popular media, particularly in movies, television, and books. This shift can be seen in recent movies that question consensual reality, such as Cloud Atlas, Inception, Sliding Doors, and The Matrix; or in TV shows such as Fringe and FlashForward. In recent years, a smattering of TV shows, such as Joan of Arcadia and Saving Grace, have directly explored the main character’s relationship to God or Source. In some modern fiction, the main character embarks on a journey or quest to find more meaning in life, such as in The Road, Eat Pray Love, and The Alchemist. Other recent novels with spiritual themes include Bee Season, Keeping Faith, A Live Coal in the Sea, and Saint Maybe.
In addition to shifts in media trends, there are reports of significant changes in religious affiliation. Those persons reporting themselves to be “not affiliated with any particular religious group” is a rapidly growing sector of the population, many of whom are “spiritual but not religious” or SBNR. The SBNR seekers are hungering for a personal connection with a higher power of their choice, an individually defined spiritual belief system rather than a specific religious tradition. Related to this research is the growth of New Age spirituality, which emphasizes the integration of body-mind-spirit and is inclusive of both science and spirituality as well as Eastern and Western spiritual and metaphysical traditions. People who practice New Age spirituality or who embrace its lifestyle are included in the Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) demographic market segment, which is estimated at $290 billion and includes approximately 13-19 percent of the United States consumer market or nearly 41 million Americans (1 in 4 American adults).
Major trends and transitions seen in the culture, whether in art, media, religion, or lifestyle, both reflect and stimulate, in an ongoing reciprocal relationship, profound psycho-spiritual transformations occurring in a significant segment of the population. Personal transformation is related to social change precisely because society is made up of an aggregate of individuals. More than ever, life’s difficulties are ushering us into pervasive processes of psycho-spiritual change, needed today to quickly advance the human consciousness toward more life-affirming values and activities. I believe that many of the transformational processes taking place within individuals today are identical with the human evolutionary program of initiation.
What is Initiation?
The path of initiation is an inherent blueprint of human spiritual unfoldment that is embedded within our basic genetic coding. Initiation means, literally, going into or entering into something. It’s the opening up of the individual, in graduated stages, to greater spiritual energies and awareness. A person who enters into the path of initiation is linked to the Light and Sound of Spirit on the returning wave to the Source. In a true initiation process, the spiritual forces within an individual are activated, and these energies bring about a total transformation of a person over time as well as a gradual expansion of consciousness. The switching on of our genetic codes (evolution) during this process is matched by an influx of spiritual energies entering into the body (involution). Our inner “channels” are opened up so that we can more easily receive the messages of Spirit in dreams as well as in daily life. Consequently, initiation, as a living religion, brings a person into immediate experiences of God.
More or less consciously, the person stepping onto the path of initiation has made a decision to enter into a more fully awakened life; confront all that he or she has ever been; seek a relationship with Soul; and become a co-worker with the Divine. This is not an escape from life but a taking hold and a settling of accounts. Advancement on this level of spiritual development does not lead to power over others but to power over oneself. Lessons learned must be applied to the physical life, as the initiate dedicates his or her life to God while simultaneously living in the everyday world. The notion that we must “kill the ego” is really about achieving a right relationship between the ego and the Self: we need an ego to navigate through the physical world, but the ego increasingly becomes subordinate to the Self, which is a representation of the fully realized human being.
The life of the initiate is not glamorous because spiritual work, especially in the beginning, demands purification and refinement. Depending on the lessons to be learned at each level of initiation and the specific needs of each person, experiences widely vary. But overall, progress on the path of initiation, especially during the earlier initiations, involves “meeting self”: facing the little self or ego and confronting, transmuting and assimilating one’s most unsavory, shadowy qualities. A person cannot achieve a stable state of higher consciousness without first passing through his or her personal negativity. Those who leap for the stars without first “cleaning up their own back yards” are attempting a “spiritual by-pass.” Facing oneself brings the fires of suffering, but suffering brings purification, and purification brings awareness.
The transformed consciousness via initiation is the gateway to higher spiritual planes and greater spiritual mysteries. Ultimately, the path of initiation leads to graduation from Earth School; rather than taking several more lifetimes to unfold spiritually, a person can now participate in an accelerated process of spiritual growth leading to Self- and God-Realization. Work on the path entails learning to connect and listen to the Higher Self, to open the heart to giving and receiving love, to be of ever-increasing service to others, and to realize greater spiritual freedom, wisdom and joy. The purpose of initiation is to develop an increased awareness of God’s plans for the world as well as an increased capacity to further those plans. However, the ultimate goal of the initiate is to begin the return journey home to God.
Life Itself is the School
In a sense, initiation has gone mainstream. For many people, the ordinary living of everyday life is a more or less unconscious process of initiation, offering many challenges that require the development of strength, perseverance, and courage to endure: business failure, a broken marriage, financial ruin, a spouse’s death. When someone comments to a person who has weathered troubled times, “You’ve really been through the fire,” there is more truth to the remark than is generally known: the modern Path of Initiation uses the tests and trials of everyday life as a means of purification by “fire,” or emotional anguish. Great suffering burns away selfishness and childishness, allowing for the growth of compassion, humility, and generosity of spirit.
Today, as people are being catapulted headlong into a deeper experience of the initiatory process through the crises of everyday life, they must experience the radical transformative experience of an initiatory process while grocery shopping, watching their child’s baseball game, participating in a meeting at work, or sitting in traffic on the freeway. Once the rites of initiation occurred in ancient mystery schools, with the guidance of hierophants (spiritual instructors) whose role it was to prepare spiritual students for this process. Later, the challenges of initiation took place within the walls of an ashram, monastery, or convent, where individuals could retreat from the demands and exposure of the outer world. Now, the everyday challenges of modern life—achieving a promotion, experiencing the end of a relationship or the death of a loved one, suffering physical or emotional illness, giving birth, or winning in sports—have taken the place of the experiential scenarios created for specific levels of initiation encountered long ago in temples and sacred groves.
Western individuals who no longer attend church or follow a structured religious teaching still have dreams that are full of the themes and symbols of initiation. Without prior knowledge of ancient religious practices, contemporary dreamers are re-experiencing the types of events described by holy persons, shamans, or high priests: being embalmed, dismembered or flayed; transforming into animals or birds; roasting in a blazing fire; negotiating the convoluted pathways of a subterranean labyrinth; taking part in a mystery-rite baptism; or being the honored guest at a sacred ceremony or feast. In their dreams, people report taking perilous journeys, descending into caves; jumping into great voids of inky blackness; or meeting with guides and mentors on other planes of existence. Though dream themes and imagery of this type can indicate transformative psycho-spiritual processes actually occurring on the astral plane, they are often symbolic of effects created by everyday events.
One of the great challenges of our times, and my reason for writing this article, is that the persons having these experiences are often not aware of their true meaning or significance. Modern persons are not schooled in the process of psycho-spiritual unfoldment; our traditional religious institutions do not teach us how to integrate immediate spiritual experiences. In the past such experiences have been left to saints and holy persons. Today, it’s clear that many of us are part of a great sea change in consciousness: life itself has become the initiatory school of tests, tears and trials, and we ourselves are the Path!
The First Three Initiations
There are several more initiations after the third but the first three initiations concern the bulk of humanity today. Humanity itself is on the brink of the Third Initiation and will qualify for this step with, among other things, advances in environmental solutions, improved relationships between men and women, and progress toward peace between nations. Each initiation corresponds to a plane of existence, and the Fifth Initiation takes us to the level of Self-Realization. Because each individual is unique in character, temperament, and inherited characteristics, and also varies in the extent of spiritual preparations made in this or previous lifetimes, the sketches below are very general. However, they highlight commonalities in the peculiar challenges associated with each initiation. Some persons may go through the initiations (especially if they have been initiated in past lives) more easily or quickly than others. For some, initiates may need to return to the physical world to complete certain initiation levels until they no longer need to reincarnate. At each level of initiation, specific tests and trials are presented, particular inner changes are made, and certain measures of spiritual wisdom are imparted.
First Initiation – “Birth”
Physical Plane, the Physical Body, the Root Chakra
Very large groups of people on the planet have already achieved the first initiation, but many have yet to recognize this fact. By this time, these individuals have experienced copious lifetimes of survival followed by numerous lifetimes in the pursuit of pleasure. They are now beginning to understand that what is missing in their lives can be characterized as a God-shaped hole. There may be dreams of entering into a cavern or cave, there to give birth to a Holy Child, a baby with special powers and perceptions. This is the birth of the Higher Self or Soul, sometimes referred to as the Second Birth.
Because the First Initiation symbolizes the dedication of the physical body and life to Soul, there is a general effort to begin cleaning up immoderate physical habits regarding food, alcohol, or sex. There is often the implementation of a spiritual practice such as prayer, meditation, contemplation, or yoga. In addition, there may be a renewed search for a compatible spiritual path and an outer teacher. The spiritual student begins to understand that there is more happiness in giving than in receiving, and in this way, cultivates compassion. The individual wants to leave the world a better place.
During the First Initiation, persons start to separate from identification with the collective. This means that they are no longer wholly dependent upon outside approval, and so are sometimes out-of-synch (usually temporarily; sometimes, permanently) with family and friends. Self-examination in regard to family-related patterns of behavior, especially those that are reactive or dysfunctional, is an important step toward a new level of personal integration. This initiation calls for the practice of discernment and discrimination: who and what are good for me and who and what are not? Persons grow in the ability to stand back from their own emotions, thoughts, and actions in order to observe themselves from an objective viewpoint (i.e., watching their egos perform from the perspective of the Higher Self). This can be viewed as a progressive detachment from Maya, or from physical world forces. The new initiate learns to accept responsibility for his or her own actions.
At some point during this Initiation (or in some cases, during the next), individuals may be hit by a crisis that throws their lives into an extended tailspin. This crisis is magnified by the likelihood that the initiate, in a previous moment of grace, contacted an influx of higher frequencies, or an experience of enlightenment, which required assimilation. When these divine energies eventually subside, there is a desire to return to the previous elevated state, and a difficult adjustment occurs. The apparent loss of the connection with these spiritual energies brings great suffering. Initiates may go underground for a while, into temporary seclusion. They sometimes slide into a state of confusion and despondency that goes far beyond the effects of the initial triggering event. Some find themselves falling into a Dark Night of Soul, a long, difficult period of anguish and self-doubt.
During the Dark Night of Soul experience, the initiate enters into a kind of purgatory, the emotional intensity of which has been characterized as “the burning ground”—a burning through or clearing off of emotional reactivity and dysfunction and karmic debris. While ultimately beneficial, the clearing out of old debris can be difficult to calibrate in the body. In modern psychology, this process has also been called meeting the shadow aspects of one’s personality. These persons may go into a deep depression, experience harrowing dreams, recall unresolved events from childhood, suffer from bouts of anxiety, and become fearful or angry at what seems to be an unfair and bewildering turn of events.
After a time of upheaval, individuals may find themselves suffering through a long “desert” period, in which the old life is at an end and the new cycle has yet to begin. Everything seems mired in mud and at a standstill, creating a feeling of emptiness and futility. This is often the time persons learn that they cannot control this process but only collaborate with it. Unless tutored by relevant spiritual teachings, many people are not aware that they are in the throes of a deep-seated karmic cleansing—they are learning to “die” in life by relinquishing old self-concepts, emotional reactions, and behavioral patterns. During this time, it is helpful to find an understanding cleric or psychotherapist, to cut back (if possible) on work hours, read spiritual scriptures, take walks, work in the garden, listen to world class music, clear out the social calendar, and spend less TV and computer time. This time could be called “learning to wait on the hand of God.” Ultimately, this process prepares us to open to give and receive more love and to bring greater spiritual energy and upliftment into the world.
Second Initiation – “Baptism”
Astral Plane, the Emotional Body, the Sacral Chakra
The Second Initiation is truly an initiation into purification and refinement in Spirit, a baptism into a higher reality. A true commitment to the Path of Initiation is made at this time, and there is no turning back. This initiation strengthens our connection to the Inner Guide, enhancing the communication between Soul (Higher Self) and Ego (Lower Self). At this initiation, the emotional body becomes baptized or “cleansed” so that the messages of soul, often received as intuitions, can be more readily received.
The purpose of the work at every initiation level is not for the initiate to become perfect but to become whole. To this purpose, the initiate learns to discover, accept and integrate all aspects or parts of his or her personality. The challenge of the Second Initiation, which can be tumultuous, is to transmute sexual and emotional energies (often symbolized in dreams by bodies of water) into creative action and love. Sexual feelings, sexual identity, anger, jealousy and envy, guilt, shame, fear, distrust, and bitterness, will-to-power—all come up for review, processing, and integration. Issues of childhood that remain unresolved, such as rejection, abandonment, and insecurity, may arise at this time for healing and resolution. Emotional glamour, which refers to emotions such as fantasy, distortion, illusion, and self-deception, are confronted and transmuted. Additional work at this level is the exploration of polarities at work in the initiate, such as masculine-feminine, love-indifference, obedience-dominance, and caution-courage, so that the individual learns when to use any quality at the right time, right place, and to the correct degree.
As the Initiate faces the challenging difficulties of the First and Second Initiations, family, friends, and colleagues may not comprehend or empathize with what the initiate is experiencing. This fact adds to the spiritual student’s frustration, disillusionment, and distress. Feeling cut off from others or misunderstood by them creates a great loneliness in the initiate. These intense emotions “cook” the initiate, so that emotional suffering transmutes base emotions (e.g., rage, jealousy, bitterness) into higher values such as compassion and unselfishness.
Since dreams primarily process emotional content, they can be especially turbulent during this initiation. Initiates may face their greatest fears in dreams, perhaps pitching forward off of a cliff into the open air, trusting only in Spirit for survival. Some may dream of being overtaken by huge tidal waves, symbolizing the experience of feeling emotionally overwhelmed by life events, or may alternatively dream of “walking on water,” which indicates progress in the control or mastery of the passions. In the ongoing effort to harmonize diverse personality elements, the initiate may dream of romantic pairings and weddings or of groups smoothly working together in a game of sports or as a team effectively collaborating on a project.
At times, the psychological and spiritual changes taking place within the second initiate require periods of introversion and self-reflection. This tendency is balanced by a growing desire to be of unselfish service to others. The initiate’s gifts and talents are not for him- or herself alone, but are now dedicated to the greater good. The great inspirations that benefit the world flow through initiates, who as appropriately refined conduits, give form to inventions, artistic creations, social and religious ideals, and governing principles that impel the world toward wider spiritual freedom and greater consciousness.
Third Initiation – “Confirmation” or “Transfiguration”
Causal Plane, the Causal Body, Solar Plexus Chakra
By the Third Initiation the initiate has become fully committed to the Path. This initiation is the beginning of unfoldment of the human consciousness into true spirituality. The birth of the Higher Self at the First Initiation—when Soul first came into outer expression—has led to the full maturity of the Babe so that in the Third Initiation, the initiate is directly merged and linked with the Higher Self. As a Soul-infused personality, the Initiate is increasingly functioning as an integrated whole.
The major challenge during the third initiation is learning to control the mind and to achieve some mastery over the quality of thoughts. The spiritual student at this stage recognizes and rejects mental illusions, erroneous or habitual thought-forms, and negative thoughts formulated by the mass consciousness. In society, these detrimental, fear-based thoughts are passed along by family members, news media, advertising, and separative political and religious organizations. On the global level, a hazy cloud of negativity—augmented by conflicts and wars of every kind—hangs over the world like a miasma. The initiate helps to cleanse this atmosphere of negative psychic debris by transcending lower-self thoughts to send out positive and uplifting thought patterns into the world.
As the Third or Causal Plane is a repository of records for all physical incarnations, persons at the Third Initiation often recollect and resolve past lives at this initiation. Either in dreams, visualizations, or through contemplation, Third Initiates may connect and work with past life material as it impacts the present life. These realizations can help to resolve long-standing tensions and misunderstandings with persons and situations in the initiate’s life. The Causal Plane, likewise known as the time track, also houses the individual’s future experiences, which are seen as possibilities rather than as certainties.
The Third Plane Initiation ultimately produces an internal synthesis within the initiate that allows the spiritual student to work from a focused point of unity, enabling him or her to channel a great spiritual force for good into the world. The inner conflicts that drain or divert the energies of other humans have been largely integrated within the Third Initiate. Only at this level of wholeness can the initiate truly surrender his or her life to the Divine, because persons must “have” a Self to surrender It. This is not servitude but freely given service to all of Humanity.
Today, Western culture—indeed, the whole world—is working to achieve the Third Initiation. We are currently in the throes of the Dark Night of Soul, a process that brings, through upheavals and turbulence, the purification and spiritual liberation of humankind, whose true name is The Initiates. The Third Initiation will is heralded by the coming together of formerly disparate factions to solve environmental, racial, gender and other global problems. The difficulties we are facing can bring, if we so choose, realignment with humanity’s ultimate purpose: to walk the sacred spiral way home to the Source.
 The 2007 Pew Forum Religious Landscape Survey reported that 16% of the U.S. population considered themselves to be “not affiliated with any particular religion,” making them the nation’s fourth largest “religious group.” Close to 100,000 of those polled designated themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”
Cultural Creatives are included in the LOHAS demographic. Cultural Creatives–a term coined by sociologist Paul H. Ray in his book The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World (2000)–“demand …products of equal quality that are also virtuous.”
 This reference is attributed to Helena Blavatsky.
Dr. Patricia Ariadne is a licensed psychotherapist with a private practice in Encinitas, California. Known as the Transition Therapist, she supports clients through difficult life events such as divorce, the death of a loved one, loss of a home or job, or health issues. Patricia focuses on dream and visualization work to help clients resolve inner conflicts, heal childhood wounds, and find inner guidance and direction. She works with individuals in her office as well as via phone and Skype.
Patricia regularly presents dream workshops and speaks to organizations and at conferences on personal change as it relates to cultural transformation. The author of three books, Women Dreaming-into-Art, Drinking the Dragon: Stories of the Dark Night of Soul, and Marjorie Klemp: Her Spiritual Journey through Service, she is a frequent guest on radio programs, such as George Noory’s Coast to Coast Radio and Sedona Talk Radio. She has written articles and been interviewed for numerous magazines and newspapers, several of which can be accessed on her website: www.TransitionTherapist.com
Drinking the Dragon: Stories of the Dark Night of Soul focuses on the spiritual awareness gained from adversities in the lives of everyday people. Increasing numbers of persons in western culture are being forced to greater spiritual consciousness through experiencing The Dark Night of Soul.
Drinking the Dragon Book: $20 + $5 shipping/handling.
Women Dreaming-into-Art features a collection of dreams and dream-related art of seven well-known women artists. In separate interviews, the artists relate how dreams have guided their lives, influenced their art, and connected them to emerging trends in the culture-at-large. The artists work in various media such as performance art, painting, literature, dance, music, and film. Of special psychological interest are the life crises and transitions experienced by each woman in her quest to find an authentic artistic voice.
Women Dreaming-into-Art Book: $20 + $5 shipping/handling. www.drariadne.com