May 8, 2013

The "Walking Toward Manhood" Rite of Passage

I got out of the military in 1971. I had entered the service as a frightened young man and came out a few years later as a slightly older, very confused, and still young man. After catching my breath for a few months, I bought a ticket to Amsterdam on Icelandair for two hundred bucks and began hitchhiking around Europe, alone, for 7 months. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was honoring a call from deep in my being, and in doing so, repeating the ancient rite of passage of walking toward manhood.

In Australia, there is an old tradition in which young male Aboriginals set out on their version of walking toward manhood. It’s called the walkabout. The goal of a walkabout is to enlighten and heal the walker as he wanders alone across the Australian Outback.

The Aboriginals believe the Outback was literally formed by the songs their ancient ancestors sang and the directions for crossing and surviving in the desert are embedded in the music. The young males on a walkabout would follow these songlines for guidance.

Lacking any ancient tradition for guiding young males in my culture, the route, experiences, and lessons learned during my walkabout in Europe were pretty much left to chance. What I did have in common with all the young men who, each in their own way, head out on a walkabout, was that I left my people, comfort, the familiar, and my confused state behind. I didn’t realize it then, but like so many wanderers, I was on a quest to find myself to discover important lessons and values that could anchor my life. I was looking for the man I could become.
One beautiful example of a contemporary walkabout and young male rite of passage is the walking journey of Andrew Forsthoefel. At 23, he set out on a coast to coast adventure to walk across America. Along the way he wore a sign that said Walking to Listen. Because this young male journey is archetypal, wired into our human psyche, his quest was recognized and supported in important ways by countless people who crossed his path. Lucky for us, Andrew recorded himself and many of the voices that carried gifts for him.

In the recording below, Walking Across America - Advice for a Young Man, you can hear Andrew’s story. Listen closely for the ancient rite of passage elements, the departure, the trials he had to endure, the important lessons learned, and the struggle to incorporate it all into the wiser man who returned.

Because you are a fan of Man-Making, I can promise you will be seriously moved by the telling of this tale. It may help you to recognize walkabout hunger in our young males, remind you of your own, or encourage you to set out on your own journey of discovery if you never have. It's well worth the time you'll invest.

If the player is not visible, you can find Andrew’s recording at this website.

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  1. Wonderful listen! That lady singing "Amazing Grace." Wow.

  2. I'm really jealous of this young man's adventure. That beautiful song/woman, and all the other rich experiences. What a great way to learn about yourself and the world around you.

  3. Tim Wernette9:55 AM

    This blog made me reflect on the many different kinds of "walkabouts" I've done in my life, and perhaps continue to do. The common theme, as you mention, is leaving the familiar and exploring some aspect of the "unknown" or different. While us guys may emphasize the physical aspect of this journey, it's important to acknowledge the psychological, social/cultural and perhaps spiritual dimensions of these journeys. I just returned from a very strenuous 8-9 day backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon, and while overcoming and persevering through the physical challenges might seem my greatest accomplishment, I remind myself that the powerful spiritual dimensions of the trip are what keep me returning to my beloved "spiritual home" of the Grand Canyon.


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