Around this time last year I was preparing for something called a vision quest. The core element of the vision quest being a three night solo fast in the wild. My wild would be aspen forests and mountain meadows at 10,000 feet amongst the rugged San Juans of southwestern Colorado.
“You’re doing what?”
I can still hear my mother’s voice ringing inside my head.
I know, it sounds wacky. No food. No humans. No tent. Just water, some kit to sleep in, and your lonely self for three days in the wild world.
Something pulled me toward the vision quest, even if I couldn’t pin down exactly what. I booked a session with a coach named Elle Harrison – the first time I’d ever hired one personally – to help me extract some clarity and check in on my mental and emotional soundness for the immersion into solitude and my own inner wilderness. Elle writes about her own vision quest in her book Wild Courage, so I knew she could relate. Mostly, I was hunting for confirmation that I wasn’t crazy or a fool for wanting to do this.
When I rang Elle, her first question to me was:
“What’s your intention for going on the vision quest?”
I don’t remember exactly what came out of my mouth, but it went something like this:
It started five years ago when I began writing. Writing made me a self-observer of sorts, becoming a 3rd person narrator of my life in attempts to relay my own experiences. Sharing my experiences drew me to the art of storytelling. Storytelling led me to myths, in particular those stories that felt electrically charged with deep and ancient truths. Myths opened up new dimensions of the human experience for me. I became curious about rituals and initiation rites, wanted to know the natural world more intimately, and wondered how to become a mature human being in our modern age.
Sometimes I felt as if I wasn’t living a story, but rather a story was living through me. Something pumped through my veins driving me to make seemingly random choices and say ‘Yes’ to beckoning new experiences. I devoured the work of Joseph Campbell and Bill Plotkin who helped me place my own individual experience inside a deeper, more universal context. Both gave me confirmation that, Yes, I had experienced something special, and Yes, keep trusting in that lived experience. Maybe my story wasn’t just my story, but alluded to a much larger, universal human story? This became the subject of a TEDx talk I gave in 2014. Or at least the message I tried to convey.
It felt like something was bursting at the seams of me. Both Campbell and Plotkin hinted at frameworks for going deeper, becoming bigger, to keep flowering. I’d largely been doing this work on myself, but now I wanted guidance. I hungered for elders from whom I could learn from. Campbell passed away years ago, but Plotkin was alive and well, leading vision quests for small groups. I decided to book myself on a vision quest with him.
Years ago I made a commitment to myself and something beyond myself to pursue this path and keep doing this work. Part of me also worried I’d drift backward, or worse, fall back asleep. My intention was to reconnect and recommit to this path – the path of the heart.
The vision quest represented all of this and more. This was my intention.
Elle’s question invited my story and intention to flood the space.
The word intention would visit me again on the quest. After seven days of prep with four guides, our intimate group of ten questers would find our individual spots of solitude, or rather, let our spots find us. Then over the next three days we were each presented with a single task: fill the space with your intention.
But what was I hoping to achieve? What were my goals for the quest? How would I know if it was a success? Or if I had become more successful as a result of it?
These were the questions I felt like I should be asking myself, but wasn’t. Nor was it the point to ask myself these questions.
“Outlining that book you’ve been meaning to write, thinking about your business plan, imagining what you’ll cook upon your return home – these are all fine ways to spend time. But that’s not the purpose of the vision quest.”
This was serious business, but Plotkin injected it with levity.
Meditate on your intention. Create spontaneous ceremony around your intention. Embody your intention. This is how one spends a vision quest.
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