I have done a number of Vision Quests over the course of my adult life, but three, and now a fourth, stand out as pole stars around which the rest of my psyche and life revolve. The depth of insight into Self and world from these experiences is unmatched by anything in my experience.
I will briefly describe the first three, and then in more depth the one I undertook just this week. The first one took place around the time of the end of my career as a minister. Knowing a shift was coming and being still unable to conceive of it, something from deep inside of me said, “I need a vision quest.” I don’t know where that came from, as at the time I had never known personally anyone who had done one, and barely realized that they were still practiced. “Ask and ye shall receive.” Very shortly after that I met a woman at a gathering who was part Native American. She mentioned that she led vision quests. I asked her without hesitation if she would conduct one for me. She did. After careful preparation with her I sat awake under the stars from sunset to sunrise in the mountains outside of Malibu, California. It was the simplest, clearest, most pure rite of passage I could ever have imagined. Within a month I resigned from the ministry that had been my life and career for 20 years and embarked on the rest of my life with new vision.
Some years later, after my ex-husband and I had separated, a situation that was unbearably traumatic for me, I began work with a Nigerian dibia who conducted a training and initiation for me over the course of about 9 months. It was the year 2000. Eze instructed me during that period that I should shave my head. I dwelled upon his suggestion for a time and then one night the thought hit me. Ok, I will shave my head, but when I do I am going to go out into the wilderness on a solo vision quest for 10 days to sit in raw nature and listen deeply. It came as a crystal clear vision and I committed myself to it on the spot. I spent several weeks preparing for this, and then did so. It was one of the most magical, informative and transformative experiences of my entire life. I have written and spoken about it elsewhere many times since then, so will say no more about it in this writing.
In 2004 I moved from my long home in Los Angeles to live in the wilderness within the mountains of Western North Carolina and start a retreat center. As I think about it now, the intentions behind this move were largely based upon the experiences I had during those vision quests. While working through the processes of making such a huge adjustment, in 2006 a friend who is a professional nature photographer, Lori Kincaid, invited me to hike to Shining Rock Wilderness with her where she was going to take photographs. I jumped at the chance. Shining Rock is a miraculous mountain of crystal rock that ages ago exploded out of the earth when continents collided. It is a white and brightly colored rock several stories high. Looking up at the side of it while we were there I saw a little cave-like grotto half way up the wall of stone. I heard a clear message that said “Come back here for a 10-day quest and spend as much time as you can in this grotto.” This I knew would help me to relocate my spirit to this side of our continent and get a vision for the next phase of my life. I committed to that vision and prepared myself for a couple of months before I came back. This experience was, equally and differently, as profound and transformative as the other two quests I described had been. One of these days, possibly, a book or writing of some length will come out of all of this, but for now my life itself is a testament to the quests and an outgrowth from them.
Now, in 2013, I have just made a move from my wilderness home into the city of Asheville, North Carolina. The move has been an earthquake in my soul, a shift that has rocked me enormously. When my friend Lori mentioned recently that she wanted to return to Shining Rock and did I want to come, I knew it would be a perfect time for me to reboot the power and the experiences from that 2006 quest. We went for two nights and three days this past week. Hiking the 4.7 miles in over rocky terrain with heavy packs on our backs I felt the weight of the experience in more ways than one, but the anticipation in my heart was so high that I barely felt the strain. When we got there we put our tent exactly where my tent had been those ten days before. I prepared the circle in the ritual methods I know. While Lori was off photographing I spent the time in communion with the familiar rocks, woods, trees, and spaces that had been my home and my village in 2006. I told Lori that a million dollar vacation to an exotic location could not have made me happier than I felt being there.
I spent timeless time in the area of my tent home, in the grotto, in what I called my tea garden, and in the spot where I had written down my dreams and in my journal every day previously. The spirit of the place was fantastically alive for me, and I felt fantastically alive as well. Memories of where and who I had been in 2006 were clear, reflections and questions about all that has transpired since then emerged, and information from nature that had been sealed into me then flooded back and expanded.
On the final morning I revisited and spent timeless time reflecting in all of my familiar areas, and explored some new ones as well. As I sat leaning on the tree across from some tall rocks in the location where I had done my journaling, I mused upon the stones in front from me. For the very first time I saw a face in the stone as clear as if it had been carved like the busts on Mount Rushmore, only this one more beautiful as it is nature’s carving. The face is of a Native American man, high cheekbones, smiling eyes, perfectly chiseled nose, chin and mouth. I could barely believe I had never seen it before. (I will include pictures in a future blog post. New programs automatically added to my computer changing how things used to work, and now using a new smart phone rather than my camera, prevent me from knowing how to do this just now.)
When I made the intention to quest at Shining Rock the first time, I happened upon a statement in the book called Shamanism by Joan Halifax saying that the Huichol believe that the spirits of departed shamans go into the crystal rock, inhabiting them, and from there they instruct the living shaman. When I encountered these words I got chills all over and knew that the idea to go to the rock for those ten days had been inspired by the shamans living in the rock. And now I was actually seeing the face of one of them. As Lori said to me when I showed it to her, “I believe this is an omen.” I was an unexpected and very powerful blessing.
A dear friend of mine, Chris Moors, recently encouraged me to publish my blogs in book form. He said that to him they represent how the indigenous mind handles modern world challenges. He wrote these words that have reverberated within me and mean very much to me: “Can it be done to hold ancient space in the modern world? Yes. How do I know? You are doing it.”
This is indeed my quest. My commitment. My hope. My longing. And my journey.
Vision Questing is a profound ritual. I commit myself to providing and reviving these rites for modern men and women. Just yesterday a friend and client who attended a vision quest that I conducted on the mountain years ago spoke passionately and eloquently about the profound benefits and life-altering effect that experience has had on her, effects that increase and continue to move her constantly.
May each of you who reads this find and follow your deepest visions. I ask the blessings of nature and the ancestors for you in this.