Jump to the following topics:
- What is a vision quest?
- The benefits from a vision quest.
- The vision quest has been used for centuries.
- We prepare for a vision quest.
- We go into the wilderness to start our vision quest.
- The vision occurs.
- We return to civilization.
What is a vision quest? It is a period of solitude in which we seek an inner revelation -- a "vision" -- which grants profound meaning and direction to our life. This initiation leads to maturity and an understanding of our responsibility to ourselves, our society, our natural environment, and our soul.
- The vision itself. It gives our life a new significance, course, and mission.
- Confidence. If we emerge from the wilderness alive and healthy, we feel more certain of our abilities and our strength, because we have survived raw nature and our own imagined limitations. We did alone, but we also discovered additional sources of power from beyond us.
- Stronger connections. We enhance our link to nature, humanity, and spirit.
- Appreciation of life. We cherish it more intensely, after facing possible dangers and death in the wilderness. Our temporary deprivals also increase our appreciation of our friends, our food, and our material comforts.
- The realization that we have our own source of wisdom. The vision comes to us directly, intimately -- without books, churches, or religious teachers.
The vision quest has been used for centuries. It is associated primarily with Native Americans, but it has been practiced throughout the world. As an expression of the archetypal "Heroic Journey," the vision quest has been enacted in religious pilgrimages, mythological tales (including the story of the search for the Holy Grail), and our own daily pursuit of truth and purpose. Today, there are companies which sponsor vision quests; they provide a wilderness area in which it is to occur, and they give instructions and guidance before and after the event.
We prepare for a vision quest. We ready ourselves in the ways which are prescribed by tradition, texts on the subject, and the counseling which is given by a teacher. The vision quest will challenge us spiritually, psychologically, and physically.
- Physical preparation includes fitness conditioning (for the hiking and other physiological stresses), a medical checkup (so that we are aware of any problems which might be aggravated while we are in the wilderness), lessons in first aid and camping skills, fasting and general cleansing (to prepare for the long fast which will occur during the vision quest), one-day excursions in a forest (to become acquainted with nature), and the procurement of gear (e.g., tent, sleeping bag, warm clothing).
- Psychological preparation includes strengthening and balancing of ourselves in anticipation of the possible psychological shock and disorientation which could happen when the vision quest gives us a new direction and foundation in life, and new values, and a redefining of our identity, and a new connection to the mystical and mythological aspects of life. We review our past, and our reasons for wanting the vision quest, and our expectations for the changes which might transpire, and our plans and hopes for the future.
- Spiritual preparation might include meditation, prayer, journaling (including dream journaling), a sweat lodge, the reading of inspirational books -- and a study of the vision quest's significance, archetypal undertones, and history.
- Solitude. We are separated from our usual environment, habits, social roles, mass media, technology, creature comforts, books, religious teachers, friends and foes, and other distractions. We are alone with our thoughts, our spirit, and our soul. However, because of the possible dangers in the wilderness, some participants work in a pair -- never seeing the other person during this time, but going to a common site once a day (synchronizing our visit so that we won't be there at the same time), to leave a marker which indicates that we are still alive and well.
- A relationship with nature. We are immersed in nature -- not as a casual visitor but as an organic part of the process, no different from the countless other vision questers from ancient times, and little different from the other living beings around us. As the quest continues, we sense a deepening awareness of nature: we realize that nature has a numinous beauty which we notice only when we stop to contemplate with it; it is our home; it is breathtakingly honest in both its nurturing and its terrorizing; it is a holy cathedral; it lives and breathes (even through the rocks and the planet itself); it is our mother and father; it is vibrant with mysterious power, energies, rhythms, cycles, archetypes, and beings (e.g., "nature spirits").
- Fasting. We fast to purify our body of its toxins, and to disengage from the earthbound heaviness which is engendered by a stuffed belly, and to disrupt our mindless habit of eating according to schedule and routine. Instead, we find a new understanding of the body's needs and patterns. During the fast, the belly's emptiness symbolizes the emptiness of a spirit which is waiting to be filled.
- Spiritual practices. We can use meditation and prayer, singing and chanting, rituals and dancing, ceremonial bathing (to cleanse ourselves physically and spiritually), religious alters and fires and "power objects," dreams and visions, contemplation on the meaning of surrender and life, the search for a "power spot" where we will sit and sleep, and the inner search for a vision.
- Death and rebirth. Spiritually we prepare ourselves for a symbolic death and rebirth; our old self dies, and we await renewal through the birth of a new self. As in physical death, we confront our fears, our self-concepts, and our attachments.
The vision occurs. It does not have be a literal vision -- something which we would see with physical eyes or "inner eyes." It is more likely to be an intuitive revelation, perhaps triggered by a dream, or a thought, or simply an inexplicable gift of knowingness from spirit. The vision might occur when we are meditating, or walking, or listening to a bird's call, or watching clouds, or sitting in wordless observance of the living vitality which is flowing through us. As a result of this vision, we discern our purpose, our life's work, our future, our deeper identity. In some cultures, the vision gives us a new name which expresses our new sense of self.
We return to civilization. Despite the wonders which we have experienced in the wilderness, we cannot remain here. This has been only a "rite of passage," to prepare us for our larger duties, back in the world of people and service. Indeed, our people expect us to bring back something to share with them; some of the vision is for us alone, but some is meant to enrich others. In traditional vision quests (and in those which are sponsored commercially), our solitude does not end abruptly with a return to civilization. Instead, we go to our base camp to meet counselors and fellow questers, with whom we discuss our experiences, our awakenings, and the ways in which we can incorporate our new wisdom into everyday life. We gradually re-adjust ourselves to "the real world" with conversation, a meal (to end our fast), and the long drive back to our homes. In the subsequent days, we contemplate the memories and insights from our experience, and we try to express them as a part of this new person. Occasionally we can return to the wilderness, so that we can refresh our connection to nature, and to the sacred memories of our vision quest, and to a source of wisdom which will teach us even more.