The School of Lost Borders: Learning Rites of Passage in the Wilderness 

Last year I had a strong feeling that I was in the middle of a personal transition. I knew there was a change that needed to happen, but I was not aware how, when or what it would be. The knowledge of upcoming change, but the lack of clarity of what it was, made me look for ways to facilitate it. 

I went into a deep rabbit hole of potential modalities, teachers, organizations and communities in order to find one method that would resonate with what I was going through and could offer a safe space for me to process what I needed to process. As I did this, I realized that I needed some sort of rite of passage, something that would allow this transition to happen in an individual ceremonial space.

That is when my path put me in front of the School of Lost Borders. An organization based on the teachings of Steven Foster and Meredith Little, that offers fast quests and nature based trainings to help people go through their own rites of passage.

After months of anticipation and preparation, I was finally in Colorado where the fast quest would take place. The land was wide open and there was a comforting silence that created a nice sense of safety and belonging. I was supposed to be there, because I had already been there. It felt like home. Once there, we set up camp and the guides showed us around the property. The next morning we would begin our twelve days together. 

The following morning, we got the lay of the land and a sense of what the next two weeks would be about. We were told our experience would be divided in three phases of four days each: Severance, Threshold and Integration.

We were also introduced to the core of the entire experience and what the School of Lost Borders is based on, the Four Shields. It felt familiar to me because of the Four Directions shamanic prayer I’ve heard and said so many times in ceremony to ask for protection. However, this version had a new element that made it more of a life guide than a protection prayer. 

What made the Four Shields different for me was that it focuses on the life stages of a human being: Childhood, Teenage/Puberty, Adulthood and Elderhood. Each direction represents a life stage and has a deep and thoughtful meaning that helps illustrate where you are and where you need to be. Even though the direction or life phase itself is the core of the 4 shields, the proper or wrongful transition from one to the other is as important, or maybe even more important.

In order to be a healthy representation of any life stage, there needs to be a proper transition from one to the other. In other words, one can’t go from childhood to adulthood, without going through puberty. Sounds very simple, but as we learned more and more from each stage and what it represented, it was clear how detrimental and how common it was to skip a step.

The foundation for the entire twelve day experience was the Four Shields. This was the north star of all the conversations, rituals and ceremonies between everyone there. 

Going back to the three phases of the retreat, after we had the lay of the land on the first day, the Severance phase was officially kicked off. 

Severance means cutting ties to the person that arrived to the land. So for four days, we sat in council to define who we were and who we would leave behind. Everyone had their turn to share their own experience with the group and at the end be able to share their intention for the next phase. I’ve been a part of many council circles, word circles, music circles and intention setting circles. However, I’ve never felt more seen and heard than when I shared my story in this council. 

Before opening the circle, the guides shared the four rules of council:

  1. Speak from the heart.
  2. Listen from the heart.
  3. Be lean with expression.
  4. Be spontaneous.

As everyone shared their stories, I would see myself in them and would start thinking about what I wanted to say when my turn would come. However, I kept going back to the rules and mindfully stopped thinking of what I would say and instead be fully present for the person sharing. 

Once my turn came I took a breath and started sharing my story. Initially there was a sense of shame and guilt for sharing my story, because everyone before me had an incredible story filled with struggles, abuse, victories and defeats. I thought “I haven’t had the struggles these people have gone through. I had a normal childhood with no traumas. My story is not deserving enough to share and I am disrespecting everyone by sharing it”. However, as I was taking a deep breath wondering what I would say, I realized that I did not need to be ashamed. My story was mine and is what made me who I am, meaning I have the same right to life as anyone on this earth. I spoke for twenty minutes telling my story of a childhood where safety was missing and having a sense of always needing to escape struggle in order to feel safe. At the end, something came over me and I started telling my intention. The words started to flow, I felt myself standing tall and saw the look of the rest of the group admiring the man standing in front of them. I now had a clear intention and was ready to walk through the threshold.

After four  days of Severance, I was ready to go out to the land for the Threshold phase. For four days I would be completely alone, with no shelter, no food and with nothing other than my intention. During my alone time everything was a ritual and a ceremony. Each day I would honor each of the four shields in order to embody the learnings from the Severance phase. 

The first day was about honoring the south: childhood, body, creativity, sense of play and wonder. I walked to the south and climbed a hill and spent the day there. Everything was light, fun and I was filled with curiosity to explore life and the land. I played with sticks, threw rocks, played my flute and made wonderful creations with the clouds. 

The next day I honored the west: puberty, soul, self inquiry and finding out who I was and who I was becoming. I walked to the west and climbed another hill and spent my day there. I sat under a tree and went over my life until that point. I went through all the decisions that have really affected the outcome of my life. I can’t remember the last time I sat under a tree and took a nap. By the time I was ready to go back to where I was sleeping for the night, I had a new-found sense of who I had become up until that moment and who I felt I was ready to become.

The third day was the most powerful one and the reason I wanted to do the quest in the first place. The north represents adulthood, ancestors, sense of community and purpose. During this day I was already starting to feel the fast, so I took it slow and didn’t go too far from my spot. This day was all about self reflection, really focusing on my purpose and how to better support my family and community. At night I performed a purpose circle ceremony to say goodbye to who I was and welcome who I was to become. I drew a circle in the sand and sat in it looking at the west calling out the parts of me that were ready to die. The one who is impatient, the one who doesn’t love unconditionally, the one who is angry, the one who is insecure… This lasted the entire night. When the sun started to rise, I turned to look to the east to see the sunrise and called in who I wanted to be born. The one who is patient, the one who loves unconditionally, the one who is filled with joy, the one who is secure. This was the perfect set up for the following and final day.

On my final day I stayed at my site, just resting, meditating and praying. It was the day of the east: Spirit, elderhood, wisdom and new beginnings. This day I was one with the land and I was able to hear her messages. Messages of strength, nurturing and teachings. Messages of appreciation, spirit and love. It was a beautiful day and a reaffirmation of all the life decisions I was previously questioning and regretting. During this day I performed a death lodge ceremony to call upon spirits of my ancestors to close ties with those I had karmic ties with and invite others whose wisdom would help me in my new found path.

The morning after the fourth day, I packed what I had and went back to camp. I was not hungry, I was not scared, I was not alone. 

The next four days were about integrating what happened on the land. We all sat in the same council circle and shared our experiences. Since I was last when sharing my intention, I chose to go first. My voice was clear, strong and confident and my story was true, rich and more importantly my own.

I’ve had the joy of participating in many sacred plant ceremonies, native American rituals and spiritual retreats. This fast quest was one of the deepest, most enriching experiences I’ve ever done in my life.

I now know how to be alone with myself and crave those moments where my own wisdom is my only guide. I trust myself and I look forward to spending the rest of my life in my own company. I will always have the land to hold me, my stories and my life.

And to close, I’d love to share my intention:

“I am the accountable and integral man whose footsteps I’ve been trying to follow.
This is now my path to walk with pride and intent.
I am a medicine man who embodies joy, safety and peace.
I offer compassionate presence, by fully listening to myself and those who cross my path.  
I honor my gifts and they will be shared with those who need them.
I am complete.”

Carlos Rangel

Carlos Rangel is a Sacred Plant Facilitator with years of dedicated experience in holding transformative spaces for individuals seeking profound healing and self-discovery. Passionate about the potential for personal growth and spiritual exploration, Carlos has cultivated a rich tapestry of skills and knowledge to guide others on their sacred plant journeys. Carlos brings a unique blend of expertise to the realm of plant medicine. In addition to his personal experience of sitting with sacred plants in different countries, cultures and facilitators, Carlos has also devoted himself to a life of continued learning and self development. A graduate of the Synthesis Institute's trauma-focused facilitator training, Carlos is well-versed in navigating the delicate terrain of psychological wounds, ensuring a safe and supportive environment for participants. This commitment to safety extends to comprehensive screening processes and thoughtful integration practices, fostering a holistic approach to healing. In addition, Carlos holds an Inner MBA in Mindful Leadership and Management from Sounds True, showcasing a dedication to combining traditional business acumen with mindful and compassionate leadership practices. This dynamic background allows Carlos to bridge the gap between spiritual exploration and practical, grounded approaches to personal and professional development. A firm believer in ongoing learning, Carlos will continue to expand his skill set with additional training in integration, death and dying, liminality, and Integrative Psychotherapy. This commitment to continuous growth reflects Carlos’ belief in the ever-evolving nature of both personal and collective transformation. Central to Carlos’ facilitation approach is the emphasis on attentive listening and compassionate presence. By attuning to the unique needs of each participant, Carlos creates a space where individuals feel seen, heard, and supported throughout their sacred plant ceremonies. The integration of mindfulness and sound healing further enhances the depth of the experiences Carlos facilitates, offering participants a holistic journey towards self-discovery and healing. As Carlos continues to evolve on his own journey, he remains steadfast in his commitment to facilitating spaces that empower others on their path to healing and self-realization.

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