Quietly Given Gifts: The Story of My First Vision Fast (Vision Quest)

In the spring of 2014, I found myself alone and starving in the desert, completely exposed to the elements.  I hadn’t eaten for days – three days to be exact – and I was weak.

I’d paid good money for this.

I was on my vision fast.

Now, if you’re like most people, at this point you’re asking, “A vision what?”

What IS a Vision Fast/Quest?

The ceremony of the vision fast (or more commonly called vision quest) is a physically intense, spiritually-rich ceremony that’s been enacted by people all over the world for hundreds of years.

Maddisen Krown, executive coach and fellow vision quester, wrote a wonderful article for The Huffington Post that does a great job of explaining what quests are and why one would choose to do one.  Here she describes what a vision quest is:

“The term “vision quest” was first coined by 19th-century anthropologists to describe the rite-of-passage ceremonies of certain Native American cultures. Traditionally, these rituals have been performed to mark significant life transitions or changes. Generally speaking, they are seen as both personal and collective events that are guided and witnessed within the community, and often involve the “quester” spending time alone in nature in search of a personal vision that becomes a vision to support the entire community. An important vision quest, for example, is one that marks the passage of adolescents into adulthood.”

A traditional Native American Vision Quest consists of a person spending one to four days and nights secluded in nature, typically with very minimal shelter.  The idea behind this is to make oneself as available to nature as possible.  In this way, the “quester” is fully exposed to the magnificent and mysterious forces of the natural world, and also to the whisperings of her owl soul.  The quester also goes without food, and sometimes water, as a way to empty herself out and alter her consciousness, in hopes of receiving a “vision” to bring back to her community.

My First Fast

My first vision fast was held just outside of Capitol Reef National Park (Utah), during which time I spent three days and three nights out in wild nature – and also out in wind, sleet, rain and sunshine.

And, while I intellectually knew that nothing REALLY BIG and MYSTICAL would likely happen out there (that is, White Calf Medicine Woman probably would not descend from the heavens and bestow the vision of my life upon me), I still secretly held hope that SOMETHING would happen out there; that SOMEHOW I’d find the answers to the burning questions I’d been carrying around in my heart. Questions like, What am I here to do, really?  What is my soul here to give?  What is my life for?

So, on my first day out, I sat down on a log and began to rattle.

Now – before I go on I must say this:  there is A LOT of time when you are out on the land, not eating, for three days and nights.  As such, there are many ways to pass that time:  write in your journal; fix your tarp; look at the mountains in the distance; fix your tarp again (because it’s incredibly windy up on the ridge you’re on, and you really cannot fathom what possessed you to place your camp HERE of all places. But oh well – here you are); find a good sitting spot; walk around; drink lots of water and subsequently pee a lot.  You also get creative: at one point, I was so hungry that I even drew a picture of a raspberry scone and steaming hot cup of coffee in my journal with my blue ballpoint pen, just to make myself feel better.

However, there are also moments of deeply meaningful rituals; moments when you talk with the tress and the lizards and feel them as your kin; moments when you see meaningful images in the immense star-filled sky above; moments when you feel that the mere fact of your own humanity is truly astonishing.

Back to the rattle, though:  there I was, rattling away, when out of the corner of my eye I saw something move.  I turned to my left, and there, just a few feet away was a snake winding it’s way through my camp.

Now, as any good soulful vision faster would likely do, I got down on my hands and knees and attempted a conversation with it (Note: it can be seen as a real blessing when an Other comes to pay you a visit. Also, the fact that it was a snake was personally poignant, as I’d been seeing Snake almost every single time I went out in nature for the past year).

You might imagine, then, that I’d have been delighted to see this beautiful creature!  In all honesty, however, in that moment, I didn’t really make much of it.  My conversational attempts with it were short, as it slithered quickly through my camp.

After three days, the end of my solo time approached and as far as I could tell, that was the one thing that had “happened”during my time out.  As I made my way back to “the village” on the last morning, I felt a mixture of relief, joy, and also some disappointment that I didn’t get the BIG ANSWER I’d been hoping for.

The Return

The morning of my return, I crossed back over the threshold and returned to my group of fellow fasters (when one begins the vision fast ceremony, they cross a threshold of some kind to mark their departure from the “village”.  When they return, they once again cross back over a threshold. These thresholds act as psychospiritual markers and consciousness shifts for our psyches, telling a deeper part of us that we’re moving into or out of ceremony).

Once back, I was handed an avocado with salt on it (after fasting, you need a simple food to “break” your fast).  OH MY GOD was it good (to this day, it ranks as THE BEST avocado I’ve ever eaten in my entire life).

When we were all properly fed, the group then gathered together once again. It was now the moment when we’d each get to be witnessed by our human community in telling the story of our fast.

As I sat there and listened to magnificent story after magnificent story from my fellow questers, I felt less and less eager to share.  My mind kept saying,  “But nothing happened to you out there!!! You went out and came back with nothing!  You were dreaming about scones of all things!”  In short, a part of me felt like I’d failed.

When I was called into the circle, I told my story.  I shared about Snake (no one else had seen ANY sort of creature besides me).  I shared about my unanswered questions, as well as my deep pride for having enacted this physically demanding ritual at all.  I shed tears of both grief and release.  I was witnessed.

At the end of my share, one of my guides (Bill Plotkin) selected and read a poem to me (one that has since made it’s way into my bones):

 

Beyond the Question

by May Sarton

The phoebe sits on her nest

Hour after hour,

Day after day,

Waiting for life to burst out

From under her warmth.

Can I weave a nest for silence,

Weave it out of listening,

Listening,

Layer upon layer?

But one must first become small,

Nothing but a presence,

Attentive as a nesting bird,

Proffering no slightest wish,

No tendril of a wish

Toward anything that might happen

Or be given,

Only the warm, faithful waiting,

Contained in one’s smallness.

Beyond the question, the silence.

Before the answer, the silence.

 

Today

As I look back now, what “happened” on my vision fast was far more subtle and profound than I could have understood then.  That time began the initiation of the girl of me into the adult of me, which is what I’ve been living into ever since.

Since my fast I’ve also been learning the value of deep, dark, uncomfortable, sometimes agonizing patience.  The kind of patience that my soul is comfortable with, but that my mind can’t bear or even comprehend.  The kind of patience it takes to watch a plant grow, or the landscape change, or the earth move around the sun.

My next Vision Fast

I will be going on my next fast in just a few day from now.  I will again be going out with prayers in my heart, and questions.  But this time, I also go with patience.

These days, I know that I cannot demand the answers.  I cannot demand my soul to move faster than it will.

Over the past few years, I’ve often found solace in these words of Rilke:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

 

As I stand at the threshold once again, I go with my heart open, my prayers offered up, and with my good friend patience at my side.

“…But one must first become small,

Nothing but a presence,

Attentive as a nesting bird,

Proffering no slightest wish,

No tendril of a wish

Toward anything that might happen

Or be given,

Only the warm, faithful waiting,

Contained in one’s smallness.

Beyond the question, the silence.

Before the answer, the silence.”

 

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3 thoughts on “Quietly Given Gifts: The Story of My First Vision Fast (Vision Quest)

  1. I see, now I have a better idea of where you have been and where you are going! Thank you for sharing 🙂 I must admit, right after I read this blog post, I ate an avocado with salt…

  2. What a timely post. I had an experience last week, a vision induced by a guided meditation as I was lying in bed, that stirred up many questions with the need to “figure things out.” I’ve never been good with patience unless it’s waiting for something I know will begin in X-minus-Y-minutes, but patience seems the way to go. I like the Rilke quote a lot.

    • Dear SittingPugs, Thanks for your comment! Yes, the Rilke quote is one I go back to often, especially when I’m feeling full of doubt and/or uncertainty. It’s sort of like a healing balm for my over-active mind 🙂

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