Her hands were delicate and her fingertips ink-stained.

Over the course of weeks (months?) we looked at images: That line weight is too heavy, she’d say or I love this! But it’s way too detailed: it will look like a blob by the time you’re fifty.

I got my first tattoo when I finished my Master’s degree. After three universities and enough course credits for a PhD, actually finishing— degree in hand— felt like befriending a personal dragon or summiting an inner-mountain. This was no small moment and I wanted to mark the occasion.

Many people (especially my parents) thought it odd that I would literally and permanently mark my body. But that was exactly what I wanted— a permanent reminder of who I had become. I was not the same woman who had begun degree-hopping six years before and I was craving a way of expressing my inward change in an outward way.

And permanent? Absolutely.

Because, let’s face it, we often take two steps forward and one step back, treating our personal growth like a cosmic cha-cha.

This time I wanted to own it. I wanted it to be inescapable: I wanted it etched on my skin.

This was the first in a series of tattoos, each marking an important shift in my psyche. The next tattoo came after what I call my “Jesus Year,” when I went through a personal death and rebirth. The weeks before my marriage brought me again to the tattoo parlor. And recently I got a small tattoo on my forearm. The shifts within me were so new and raw and fresh that I spent the first week tucking my arm under blankets and shirt sleeves, savoring the secret marking (I’m truly not sure Andrew has noticed it yet!).

Ancient cultures knew the importance of marking inner-milestones, they knew that internal changes needed outward celebration. After an initiation into a new way of being, you went through a rite of passage: a ritual that allowed you to see and be your new self within your community. Perhaps your name was changed or a piercing added to your body, maybe you were tattooed with woad or given a cloak of feathers to wear to ceremonies.

We have precious few rites of passage anymore and the ones that we do have have become so rote as to be practically meaningless for most people. The exception (hallelujah!) is the wedding ceremony; there we still see the kind of creativity that replenishes meaning and brings life to dusty words.

While I can count our culture’s rites of passage on one hand, as individuals we have initiatory experiences often… at least we do if we are on a path of personal empowerment.

These shifts in the psyche can be subtle things, often inexplicable in language. How do you describe a dream which alters your life’s work or a frisson of clarity which comes as you walk alone in the woods?

Initiations are funny and don’t always come when or how you expect. You can spend five years going on “life changing” retreats only to have everything shift as a deer leaps in front of your car and scampers off into the undergrowth.

The thing about these cosmic lightening bolts? If we don’t pull them from the hazy spaces of our minds into the material world, we lose the texture and tone. We may slip slowly back to the past version of ourselves as the moment of shift sinks into subconsciousness.

And that’s where a rite of passage comes in. If you’ve had an initiatory experience (i.e. you were initiated into a new way of being or thinking), how could you create a personal rite of passage for yourself to acknowledge your shift? What symbols in the outer-world mirror your experience in your inner-world?

What if our lack of confidence in our own skills and wisdom comes from a lack of these rites of passage?

What if all it takes to become the person we most want to be is to acknowledge our inner-landscape and it’s subtle shifts? To celebrate our new way of being so we can truly step into it?

I walked into the tattoo parlor last week and marked my skin as a reminder to witness, everyday, who I am becoming. How will you make your spirit seen so that, over and over again, you can celebrate yourself and your growth?

Big hugs—