3 | Separation in Rites of Passages with Kamya O’Keeffe 💕
Talking with rites of passage elder Kamya O’Keeffe about matrescence as a rite of passage. What can this mean for us in modern motherhood?
This week I’m talking to my friend Kamya about rites of passage, particularly the first stage we know as “separation.” A major shift in my personal matrescence has been a rapid reeducation in connection with myself, my community, and the natural world. I see so many mothers echo this growth… as well as the growing pains we experience as a result of aligning with reconnection in a culture of disconnection. How can we support mothers through this process? That’s what we’re talking about this week.
Allison: Hello Kamya, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for Matrescence Monday.
Something you said to me last year really rocked my world and continues to inspire me. We were discussing mothers’ rites of passages… specifically how I was thinking about the “shock of separation” as a driving force behind maternal distress.
You said to me, “The separation is from isolation and disconnection.”
“Woah,” I thought. “Yes!” The shock is more likely the rapid reconnection and deep relationship we can feel living moving into mothering in a dominating culture that teaches disconnection through hyper-individualism, competing needs, and scarcity.
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Would you elaborate on that for us by sharing your thoughts about the first stage of a rite of passage where we separate from what we’ve known?
Kamya: Thanks for the question and yes I remember our conversation fondly. 🥰 First, let me offer some background so I can elaborate more my “the separation is from disconnection” comment.
A rite of passage is usually seen as the time when an individual steps from one life stage to another. It is a bio-psycho-social-spiritual maturing. The initiate is inevitably leaving one stage and stepping into a liminal space of transition to enter the next stage/phase of life. Rites of Passage were traditionally the human social technology created to support transitions for an individual human to mature within a community or culture.
Rites of Passage are generative ritual ceremonies when:
they are held in relation to others,- intergenerational humans, other than human species of that place, and any powers, deities of that culture,
they are ongoing practices that feed and nourish the continuation of a culture/community, and
an individual initiate has the opportunity be witnessed and honored by their community.
The separation stage was the time when an individual was compelled by their community or culture to step into the next life stage, leaving the known for the unknown. This is most often understood through the shift from adolescent to young adulthood; or as an adult becoming a parent. And any ritual is really about marking that moment, planting the seed of meaning for the next stage.
Allison: Right. We see this technology applied a lot with matrescence because Dana Raphael described matrescence as such in her critique of anthropology’s treatment (or really absence of treatment) of mothers in their accounts of traditional culture’s treatment of the shift from adult to parent.
Part of my concern with the use of rites of passage as a framework for mothers is that we seem to have disconnected (ha!) it from the generative qualities you mention above. There are also important questions about whether or not this framework supports modern consciousness. You know? The idea that rites relieve the stress that individuals feel when great changes or rearrangements in their lives occur because they provide instruction in and approval of the new roles that may arise through such occasions. Our modern consciousness is driven by much more individuality and choice than mothers may have had in the past.
Kamya: Yes, rites of passage are commonly misunderstood or misapplied in a modern context as simply a change experienced by an individual in their relationships, family or professional status. The aspects of spiritual maturation, community coherence, and cultural continuation are often notably absent.
Much of what is now generally understood as rites of passage appear to be a mythically ascendant quest for success or power, the triumph of hyper-individuality, of good over evil, of human over nature. In this way rites of passage have been unfortunately co-opted to serve patriarchal capitalist colonizing values and systems.
Motherhood (as we know it) has similarly been constructed to be performed through the rules of these systems via intensive mothering ideology. And therefore the necessary isolation of mothering within these systems means mothers are often disconnected, judging themselves and others, and seeking validation from those layered systems.
Allison: So the rite of passage technology can evolve but is at risk of becoming shorthand for any change, rather than a holistic and relational experience that can support someone through something like the dramatic transformation of becoming a mother.
Kamya: The necessary perspective shift is from the trajectory of (solely) individual growth or change to an inclusive generative process that is about wholistic collective wellbeing.
Within a motherhood context, which is always shaping us whether we are mothers or not, then the separation stage in a rite of passage will necessarily be about coming out of the isolation of patriarchal motherhood, toward connection.
Allison: Because otherwise it is not a rite of passage in that it is not supportive of maternal and collective wellbeing?
Kamya: Yes so a rites of passage can only be a ritual of transformation if it is generative process both individually and collectively for mothers and the project of motherhood.
Therefore the ‘challenge’ will then not be about improving our parenting practices or ‘how to be a better mother’, but to courageously face the vulnerability and grief we have as mothers in a world that values our isolation. And Aurelie’s statement "motherhood is countercultural” is true because so many of the changes that occur within matrescence are exquisitely designed to support us to be more connected, not less. By exploring my own transition of motherhood, I was literally transformed through connection, initially through birth and the connection to my child, but then through a growing sensitivity and awareness to sacredness of life.
In the rite of passage programmes I guide, it is through the sharing of our stories with each other, (the birth story that we haven’t voiced, the disillusionment, or unexpected grief we experience in times of ‘joy’, perhaps it’s our maternal ambivalence that we are conditioned to feel shame about.) Through this process we get to see and hear about the feelings and patterns that we share, the seasons of living and cycles of mothering, the interdependent ecological systems around us, and the challenges that we thought we alone faced.
In this way our souls are nourished through connection and we have the opportunity to expand our sense of who we are on this journey of matrescence
Allison: So more connection is the balm for mothers’ separation from disconnection which can feel quite shocking in our modern context.
Kamya: It’s true that often even the notion of coming to a retreat or even to join an hour long circle can be such an unknown entity for many mothers. Concerns of “I’ve never done this before” or “I have no idea what to expect.”
And this hesitancy is so understandable where combative intensive mothering ideology1 and mummy wars’ exist. But despite that, and in defiance of that, I notice that mothers have often heard a ‘call within' or have a tender ache for belonging... some memory or longing for connection despite all the barriers. It is this experience of mothers over years that forms the basis of my statement on “the separation stage for mother is coming out of disconnection and isolation.” It is their courage, their presence, and vulnerability together that helps manifest this transformation and transition to connection that in itself resists the isolation of motherhood.
Thank you for reading this week. I hope you found this conversation as exciting as I do. Paid subscribers have a reflection offering tomorrow. Until next monday!
How to cite this issue:
Davis, A. & O’Keeffe, K. (2023, February 20). “Separation from Isolation and Disconnection” with Kamya O’Keeffe. Matrescence Monday.
Tending Practice is a place to apply matrescence to our lives with expressive reflections. They are available for paid subscribers. Here is a sample:
The separation stage of rites of passage is one way of thinking about the transition into motherhood that emphasizes movement and change. We discussed the idea that some mothers may be separating from disconnection and isolation as they move into their mothering role. Very few roles are so intimately relational.