By Angela Earle
Vision quest is a return to our true nature, a mystical adventure that encompasses all of who we are – a literal walk on the wild side. It is not a feel good spa adventure - it goes deep to the source of who we are. It is beyond our own life and time that we connect with, it is with our very humanity, expressed through our bodies, minds and souls. It is in a solitary return to where we originated – in the cradle of nature, in a state of conscious perpetual connection.
While one might immediately might think of the Native American lore that surrounds the idea of Vision Quest, this return to nature to discover the true self has been going on across cultures for a lot longer than our written records. Vision quests, as developed for Western culture, began to gain momentum in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Modified and adapted techniques from many cultures are used, creating a cross-cultural experience that echoes with our archetypical human selves.
“When I left everything behind and went into the wilderness, I did what people have been done for generations in countless cultures. The process and the truth of the process are profoundly connected to the collective unconscious, of which I was but a discrete member. The force of all those who had gone before entered me, not because I was worthy, but because I was human.”
~ Steven Foster, The Book of the Vision Quest
The core purpose of the vision quest is a rite of passage. The term “vision quest” refers specifically to the solitary time spent in the wild, and is surrounded by pre and post quest events, ceremony and guidance taking a myriad of forms. In it simplicity, it is removing oneself from the world, and spending at least 2 full days alone in the wild, with only water, a journal, and spiritual tools such as a medicine wheel for company. It is in this sacred spot that the real transformation occurs, without words, without trying, without friends, without great exertion. It is a space in-between two worlds created and supported by guides and spirits and the forces and voices of nature which allow all of the chatter to fade away, for the fears to present themselves, for the issues to confront us, and for the truth to break on through.
All of the people I spoke with, though focusing on different aspects, and methodology, repeated a similar theme: our current culture does not support us as fully integrated, multidimensional beings, and because we lack rites of passage and the handing down of skills, information, and honor, our power becomes routed through other venues. Boys who do not undergo a rite of passage into manhood lack focus in their lives, and their masculine energies are unfocused. Women not initiated into the “feminine mysteries” need to be taken care of, and are out of touch with their own earth connection. In the Co-ed vision quest led by Gary Grimes healing, inspiration, and transformation occur in a multigenerational setting, and a reconnection and remembering of the land takes place.
Here in Idaho, and in the surrounding western United States, we are surrounded by wilderness possibility and are fortunate to have several people who act as guides through this transformative process. I sat down with three groups who are planning vision quest in the near future in Idaho, Utah, and beyond….
with Gary Grimes
“As you get rid of all of your emotional baggage, your vibration speeds up and you can communicate with animals and different beings.” – Gary Grimes
When Gary did his first vision quest 19 years ago, he felt a connection with nature in a way he never had before. Part Cherokee Indian, shaman, and medicine man, Gary incorporates Native American elements into his vision quest experience such as drumming and sweat lodge, and elements of indigenous traditions from around the world. He incorporates the Four Fold Way which “focuses on breaking harmful family and cultural patterns that get in the way of being all of who we can be,” developed by Angeles Arrien, a world-renowned teacher and his mentor.
Deep in the Canyonlands of Utah, Gary leads, along with other teachers and guides, an 8 day process in May, of which three are spent alone in the wilderness. His experience, however, is that the process is already working participants long before they arrive camp. Gary helps prepare participants for the things that will begin to come up in their lives before they arrive, and the first three days are what he refers to as a “clearing” process that help people reconnect, re-dream, and re-vision their lives.
In June, Gary will be leading his first parent and teen vision quest in the Smokey Mountains in Idaho. Incorporating similar elements as his May adventure, Gary will lead a process to allow for a deeper level of sharing and communication between parents and teens, surrounded by the space and “container” for people to achieve new and lasting breakthroughs in relation to self and each other.
Gary echoed everyone I spoke with when he said that it is hard to describe in words the process that one undergoes alone on the vision quest. That it is a total sensory experience, and language falls short of adequately conveying the depth of what happens. He speaks of the communication from the land, with the animals, and the clarity that arises through the physical, mental, and spiritual clearing that participants undergo. During the re-integration process after the return to camp, stories are told, a celebration occurs.
The process does not end when people get in their cars to drive back home. Gary follows up with what he terms “sustained breakthroughs.” For his own part, his experience from participating and leading visions quests can be summed up in the following:
“I am very comfortable inside my body and I do not have a problem telling the truth. This process frees up your creative energies in all areas of your life. Dreams become more powerful and prevalent.”
Women’s Vision Quest in the White Cloud-Boulder Mountains
“This is not about hard core suffering, but there needs to be some challenge and sacrifice and hardship to make the experience have value. You’re sacrificing who you’ve been and the comforts that went with it.” – Judy Hall
East of the Boulder-White Cloud mountains, alongside the East Fork of the Salmon River, Sandy Hyde and Judy Hall will be leading a group of women on a 4 day vision quest once again this July during the full moon.
Sandy, who has been doing vision quests for the last 13 years and a Jungian psychotherapist (among other things) by trade, met up with Judy Hall in 1998 as Judy was preparing to move to the Wood River Valley. The two connected and have been working together ever since, and leading vision quest together since last year. Judy is in the process of becoming a certified Soulcraft Guide through the Animas Valley Institute in Durango, Colorado.
The women’s vision quest incorporates the greater ideas of the vision quest, with a decidedly feminine angle. Sandy described the process as an “initiation into the feminine mysteries,” through a gentle process of incorporating art, meditation, drumming, journaling, and rituals such as walking a grass labyrinth and soaking in natural hot springs.
For many women, a foray into the wilderness alone may seem very daunting. Judy noted that for some, it may be their first time alone in nature, and with no men around, there is no one to take care of, and maybe more importantly, no one to take care of them. The tools and wisdom for women to become independent feminine warriors and leaders in their own right is sorely lacking in our society, and it is to this focus that the women’s vision quest arises.
Like Gary, Judy and Sandy spoke about the messages and guidance that comes during the solo outing after one has gotten in touch with her deeper self. The women described animal guides, and mother nature’s teachings through metaphor using the landscape as her canvas. The result of the vision quest is not only this initiation into a new phase of one’s life, but a commitment to the self and to the world.
The women’s vision quest runs from a Wednesday night to Sunday night, with 2 days of preparation, 2 days in the wilderness alone, and one day of celebration and integration.
Men & Boys
“Kids do not even know what they are willing to do.” Forrest Melton, Jr
Forrest has been working with troubled kids for a long time. He has led wilderness therapy groups and worked with a variety of organizations before he broke out on his own to develop his own program for working with adolescent boys and men of all ages. Scott Wytomi, partner and colleague, works alongside Forrest.
Their perspective is that our society’s lack of rites of passage and role models for the transmission of wisdom that boys need to claim their power and purpose as men results in men who do not know who they are, do not empower and guide their families, but rather live lives based on empty consumerism, and who act out the negative sides of male energy. The process seeks to pass on and re-create a process of self-discovery that will reconnect men with nature and their true purpose. They truly believe that once men rediscover and are initiated into the world of spirit, things such as video games, and the desire for money and worldly power, will bore them and be recognized as the distractions to spirit that these things are.
Ceremonies and rituals seek to first establish a bond with the boys and men and to reach a place where they “can’t mouth their way through the process” anymore. They learn how to make fire, do sweat lodge, and partake in other events not spoken of outside the circle. They recreate the stories of their lives, go deep into their own actions and resentments, and come out the other side with a new story of what their lives are all about, and in taking responsibility for their own actions.
In being a real man, there are aspect of both strength and vulnerability, leading and following, connecting and guiding. And to older men who have never claimed their power or been initiated as men, spirit will set it so they will be forced to do so, often by what we think of as mid-life crises.
Off on My Own Adventure!
As I will be joining the women this July for vision quest, I pay special attention to what everyone says. I walk away with the feeling that this is serious stuff. While none of the guides believed that suffering was the point, for the experience to have any real value or effect, it had to be challenging. I am excited and I am scared. The prospect of days without food is unsettling, and what about the bugs?! Though Gary says that they stop bothering you after a while, after you become more attuned with the energy around you, I have my doubts that that will extend to the arachnid world.
I am also in touch with the idea that having an experienced guide that can lead you through all of the dimensions of the process is so important, and such an act of trust, on both sides that this aspect, too, must be integral to the quest. The people I met with were mainly doing what they are doing because of the amazing and positive effects they saw their work having in people’s lives, and by what they themselves learned in the process. I would trust each and every one of these people to hold and nurture my spiritual path.
Ultimately, however, my fear is the fear that we all must someday face, in some form or another: when we hit that wall, when all of our words are used up, when there is nothing standing between ourselves and that which we have been running from our whole lives, will we have what it takes? I am assured that the answer is always yes, that that very idea is the eternal truth, that who we really are is every-changing, the core of who we are, in our lifeblood. It is the greatest irony that we can only rediscover this unmovable truth when we stop running, sit down, and face ourselves.
I also am told that the vision quest is a fun and joyful experience, that after the first day, I will be surprised how much my body does not miss food, how the animals will come with messages, and how nature, the ultimate guide, holds us and supports us through the process, and is always there when we are aware enough and silent enough.
I consider this article Part I in a two part series – the next installment will be next Spring – after I have joined the Judy and Sandy for the women’s vision quest this July, and chart my own progress and transformation through the months preceding the event. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you, in reconnecting with source, and with communing with the spiders……
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Stages of the Vision Quest
Guides will give all participant a list of things they will need to bring, and
while out on the solo part, will be holding the space in the main camp with prayer, ritual and ceremony, and keeping track of where everyone is at, with systems in place in case of emergency.
1. Severance: from family, daily life, the clock, human constructs
2. threshold: stepping over into the other side, a new stage of life, transition, new information and responsibilities, clarity
3. reincorporation – integration, bringing spiritual knowledge into daily life, incorporating changes during rite of passage
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Upcoming Vision Quest Opportunities
Vision Quest with Gary Grimes:
May 6-13, Canyonlands, Utah
$700 per person
Parent Teen Vision Quest
June 21-25, Smokey Mountains
$500 per person
For more information:
VISION QUEST FOR WOMEN
During the full moon in the Boulder-White Clouds
July 12-16 Wednesday evening -Sunday
Sandy Hyde, LPC and Judy Hall
Guide Fee: $400
208-726-9051 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or
MEN of the FIRE Vision Quest
Red Rock Canyons, Utah
April 24-28, 2006 $1,950
BOYS in the FIRE
Rites of Passage journey
Spring & Summer ~ $1,500
For more info contact
ALIVE adventures 208-331-2852
Forrest will be here for the Sun Valley Wellness Festival and will have a booth at the Exhibit Hall and be available to answer any questions!
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