I've just returned from holding space for thirteen courageous people who walked solo into the bush at first light one morning carrying not much more than water and a sleeping bag, to sit in a small circle, fasting, praying and dancing for four days and four nights.
There is often a motherly moment for me at the point where they give the final silent nod of departure at the campfire, their eyes full of trepidation, when I want to bundle them up and protect them from the hardships they will inevitably face.
For they are about to confront not only the unknown of the wilderness, but the wild unknowns in themselves.
It takes me back to my first quest. I was worried about fasting but what I wasn’t prepared for was how incredibly vast ninety-six hours could feel. The experiences of blissful reunion with nature and the cosmos that I expected were brief blips in an otherwise monotonous sea of tedium and physical pain. Still, for months afterwards, I felt clearer and more sure of my purpose than I could remember.
Since earliest times, peoples have sought to receive profound insight about themselves and their world by means of some kind of vision quest, the Aboriginal ‘walkabout’, for instance. The basic universal elements include a remote wilderness setting, fasting from food, solitude (with the exception of non-human companions), direct exposure to the forces of nature, and a significant period of time.
For Native Americans, the vision quest is a rite-of-passage in which initiates sit within a small circle on a mountaintop for three or four days, fasting and praying for a vision that will set the course of their adult lives.
It’s a trial of sorts, designed to break the habitual patterns of the mind and allow a deeper knowledge to arise. ‘The sledgehammer’ is the other word I’ve heard it described, a less romantic but perhaps more apt name for the fierce beating the ego receives every minute that passes with almost zero stimulation.
On the fifth morning I wake before first light, and, along with my two co-protectors, rekindle the fire in anticipation for their return. Almost ghost-like they wander in one-by-one, so steeped in the silence of the forest that human words and gestures return slowly. I approach them with a gentle welcome hug, and seat them by the fire with a steaming cup of miso.
I can see that although they are the same faces I farewelled, they are different too - lighter, clearer, radiant even.
Even though the Vision Quest is essentially solo, this time I realised how equally the experience is empowered by the presence of others. It's what I have come to call 'supported solitude' - rather than stark loneliness, the shared experience gives rise to a sweet aloneness, from which the true voice of the soul can arise unimpeded by the kind isolation anxiety so prevalent in our culture.
It’s a beautiful irony, that the richest solitude often arises when there are others to return to.
Almost two weeks on, the questers are telling me of a new solidity and confidence in themselves; a clarity on the ‘what next’.
I take my hat off to this amazing bunch, brave and passionate enough to really 'lean into their sharp places'. Sometimes it takes a test of our strength and commitment to know our own worth. What a privilege to help guide them through this doorway.
Contact us to find out about the next Vision Quest.