Four and a half decades have flashed by in an instant of time since I embarked on an initial vision quest in the red canyons of far West Texas. My initiation into the process was in a Native American model, and yet I have come to see that the wilderness quest belongs to all of humanity, indeed all the great religions of the Earth. The first emphasis I want to make to those of you considering this form of remembering who you truly are is this: no matter what your background the vision quest process belongs to you.
Earthtribers in the Southwest are currently preparing for a vision quest to be held at Commanche Outpost, a sacred place on the banks of the headwaters of the Frio River, a few miles from the edge of the Chihauhauan Desert. Six people will go out, three women and three men. There will be about thirty tribal supporters who will offer an energetic context for this quest. They are: Ron Epperson, Lisa Dvorak, Marlan Curry, Mary Lee Wallace, Kevin Post, and Terri Terni.
Earthtribers in the Northeast will embark on a vision quest encampment in early September, 2002. I use the term, Earthtribers, loosely here. Those in the Northeast lodges hold fiercely to their independence. They don't want another popelike figure telling them what to do, and rightly so. They might or might not answer to the term Earthtribe. For me, the term simply means that I honor the Earth as my Grandmother, and I treat her with respect and love. In my framework anyone who so honors and loves Her is an Earthtriber if they so desire to use that identity to enhance their journey.
Following are a few of the conversations I am having with vision questers about the practical, psychological, physical, and spiritual dimensions of vision questing.
In the introduction to my book, NATURAL MYSTICS, (found under books in this website) you will find a brief story about a grandfather teacher I had as a boy. In some ways he is a composite of early teachers I had. By the time I was adolescent, most of the teachers had, for various reasons, disappeared. In a series of vision quests in the canyons of Northwest Texas and Eastern New Mexcio I fumbled through, with some of my friends, a birthing process of questing without experienced guides. It was at that time I saw the necessity for a tribal context for the deeper spiritual journey. If you look closely at your history, you might see that your soul sought out a beginning quest in a scouting trip, a family vacation, or some other venue you might not have thought of as the stirrings of a quest.
In the late 1970's I had returned to my roots of a nature-based mystical pathway. The path had taken me from my nature-based origins through traditional Protestant Christianity, a study of Buddha where I taught both Jesus and Buddha, the practice of Taoist meditation and movement,a thorough exploration of Western psychology both as a client and as a psychotherapist. In May of 1981, I believe it was, I participated in a vision quest in New Mexico not far from the original quest setting of my boyhood. It was the culmination of a extensive period of training with a circle of Native shamans. At the end of that quest they gifted me with a sacred pipe and trained me as a co-leader of vision quests. For years we worked together on integrating traditional questing with Western psychology. During this period of time the Earthtribe began having one or two vision quests each year.
A good example of the early quests can be found in Chapter I of NATURAL MYSTICS. It is enough here to state that we slowly evolved from a strict Native American process to one that draws on the "Great Eight," the eight major religions of the human endeavor. We have integrated many practices from the Hindu Yogis, Buddhist practitioners, and Christian/Jewish mystics into our process, not to mention teachers of the Tao. It is not unusual, for example, for a person who is preparing for a quest to learn the morning practice of Qi Gong. Michael Wood, an Earthtribe elder, has introduced that practice into my life, and I follow it each day.
Yes and no. "No," in the sense that we do not offer weekend workshop vision quests. I know of several groups that do a good job of conducting vision quests like a workshop, and I refer people to them if the seeker is in a hurry. We don't do that in the Earthtribe as a rule. "Yes," in the sense that anyone can express a deep desire to quest and explore with us the possibility of our guiding in that wonderful journey. I teach that as soon as you hunger and thirst after a quest, you are on a quest. It is only a question then of when, where, and how you will manifest this quest. We ask all persons who are considering a quest to come to a vision encampment to work as a supporter as a respectful introduction to the process . We live in a fast-food culture, and this requirement is our way of slowing things down.
Yes. Then, you would work with several of us through 2003 to prepare to circle sit, fast, and cry for a vision. For the year following your going out to quest you would work closely with an elder or spiritual guide in processing the experience and developing a practice that encourages the unfolding of the experience. So we see the quest as having three important legs: a year to prepare, a year to quest, and a year to process. This is our way of showing respect for the tradition I was trained. The respect arises in the midst of the three year practice.
The vision quest is another way of talking about the great journey of life. Elsewhere(NATURAL MYSTICS, Introduction and conclusion) I have discussed a parable that I wrote concerning our earthwalk. Briefly, in that parable I speak of the Eternal Circle where we all began. We choose to leave that circle and make our earthwalk at this time and this place. Just before we left the Eternal Circle we were touched by the Divine fire on the upper lip with a fingerless finger. At that moment we forgot our true identity as One with the Eternal Circle. The journey, then, is the slow remembering of who we really are, our Unity with all that is, our Buddha nature. Or, as the Upanishads put it,"When you see yourself in all beings and all beings in yourself, you lose fear.
My proposal, based on a quest I was on in the Cave of the White Shaman, states that we are here to expand our awareness(Buddha is a principal teacher for me in this area) and to develop our compassion (Jesus is a principal teacher for me in this area). We are actually manifestations of the Sacred in human form. As parts we represent the Whole here on Earth. As we journey, we expand our awareness. As we quest, we expand our compassion. The final judgement, in my proposal, is our sharing what we have learned with the Eternal Circle a fter we walk across that part of the journey we call death. This expands the awareness base of the Divine Whole that we are. The compassion and love the Divine unfolds with our moments of learning and expressions of compassion.
As we come to different junctures of the journey, we need power boosts that come from a glimpse of the deeper reality of who we really are. That is how come we get new names given to us by Nature during the quest. It emphasizes to us that any identity we have within this body and this personality is passing. Nature approaches us as we sit in the circle and says,"I am the particular aspect of the natural process (say a bird or a blade or grass or a cloud) that is here to reveal to you for a moment the clarity of your true nature.
The Buddha nature would be your expanding awareness and the Christ nature would be your expanding compassion. Both teachers were, of course, aware and compassionate, but they came to me personally in a vision to emphasize the bi-focal nature of reality: awareness(being) and compassion(doing). Put another way: you cry out for a vision. You soul comes forth from the background from the powerful reality that undergirds you. It speaks to you through various forms---dreams, representatives of nature, spirit speakers all. You see, if just for a moment, that you are a wave that emerges out of the body of the sea. You are a wave only for a moment, the span of a lifetime. Then you return to the sea. You are the sea in your most fundamental nature, your natural identity.
Selecting who will be your primary supporters is a large learning process. You will need one person in particular to stand with you through thick and thin. This person will need to be someone far enough along in the unfolding process to reach beyond the ebbs and flows of their own personal lives for the next six months. They will need to be able to transcend their own personality problems to be there for you even if they don't feel like it. The major learning they will have is the difference between a co-dependent enabling and a tough love.
You will experience what it is like to have 50 to 100 people praying for you and including you in their meditations on a regular basis. The tribe elevates its functioning as a group on your behalf. This means that people put a large effort into being awake for themselves and for you. It means that they elevate their games(as we say in the athletic world) on behalf of the quest. They reconnect with their own vision quests. They go through "remembering exercises" where they get closer to their essence on their behalf and on your behalf. The core group promises to be there for you as a container for your vision for the foreseeable future. They promise to assist you in building your own container for the vision so that you can hold it in a special place inside so that it can slowly unfold into your awareness.
We strongly encourage the vision questers to participate in the monthly sweat lodges the year following their quests. By regular I find that ten of the next twelve lodges keeps the vision fire burning. Otherwise, the fire may die down. Also, we suggest that the vision questers plan to be in a vision encampment the year following their quest so that they can experience their unfolding vision in the context of being present for those who are where they were the year before. This models for all the Jesus teaching of: love others as you slowly come to love yourself.
Talk first with your Earthtribe supporters and elders. Then, Judith and I are available for processing as well, either through emails or in person.
We prefer that vision questers emerge out of a context of psychological work either in psychotherapy or some other form. Psychological issues are important in two ways. First, psychological issues such as tensions with families of origin must be attended to in a beginning way before the vision quester is really ready to see very deeply inside. Second, the very troublesome issues in the personality(ego) become openings through which the vision Spirit flows.
Let's say that you are dominated by a particular aspect of your personality like, for example, the rescuer. Your marriage or relationships are built on your relating to the outside world as a helpful and good person. This is your identity: you are a "good guy." If in therapy or elsewhere you begin to loosen the hold that the "rescuer" has on your inner microphone, then your catch a glimpse or vision of your deeper essence. This soul/essence has a better opportunity to move forward out of the wings onto the stage of your vision circle. Making room for newer aspects of yourself to emerge out of the hidden world that we often call the unconscious is a powerful dimension of the vision quest. The work of good therapy or another psychological process is particularly necessary for those of us who are children of Western civilization. A vision quest could be defined in this context as seeing beyond our cultural identity to our true identity.
If you wake up to the process, you will see that you relate to your supporters from the Earthtribe and the natural world in similar patterns that you have in your other intimate relationships. Breaking new ground and forming new habits of intimacy is a central focus of the quest as we see it. Put another way, you have an incredible lab for learning how to be intimate with your deeper nature and thus with "other," whoever or whatever "other" is. As you do that, you will learn how to be intimate with the outside world. Having an ongoing community is essential to this kind of learning. Notice the little tensions during your questing period that intensifies in the weeks and months prior to the vision encampment. What happens in your relationships? What happens at work? What happens in your backyard? What happens in your urban traffic? These are all important aspects of your quest.
Check with the presiding elders of the vision quest about the length of time you will be out. It depends on what the Sacred Web gives. Sometimes the elders themselves don't know, as was the case last year. The weather determines much. A huge storm with the threat of a flood altered the length of time the questers were out last year. As to fasting: experiment. Some like to fruit fast one day per week. Others like to give up sugar, caffeine, alcohol, excessive fat, meat, and the like several weeks before and after the actual quest. The guideline here is to engage in a practice that wakes you up to your usual patterns. Food and drink are so dominant in our culture that fasting is a powerful tool for confronting our habitual patterns.
The vision quest process is not a magical answer to all our problems. It does offer a powerful glimpse through the windows of our personalities and the stimulations of the essence of Nature into our deeper soul. It erases temporarily enough of the writing on those windows for us to see, if for a tiny moment, the nature of reality in the domain of the unseen, the Spirit world. As the poet William Blake put it: "If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite." What we do with that glimpse, how we train our usual minds, and how we integrate the new experience at the new level of reality we called to varies greatly. In the case of the examples you gave, what appears to the usual mind as a disaster is not necessarily such for the soul.
At this moment I am tired of words. Those who know me well know that words will return.