Vision Quest Essay:
By Mark Jackson
So there I was, along with your typical assemblage of "Tom Brown's Tracking, Nature, & Wilderness Survival School" types: Tatted/pierced X-games-type goat-beard young dudes, blond-dreadlocked, b.o. & hairy-pits-rockin' eco-hippiechicks, couple of 'Nam vets, yer senior-citizen eccentrics, yer kahki-wearin', guns-'n-ammo-talkin', "Soldier-of-Fortune" magazine readin' mountain men, a passel of women in their mid-forties who were there to figure out how to forgive their husbands for cheating on them, and how to stop cheating on their husbands, and a sprinkling of other various and sundry societally marginal types that defied description. That Beck tune kept repeating itself through my mind, "I'm a loooz-ah bay-bay, so why-doan-cha kill me...". After five minutes of cynical observance my conscience whispered "judge much?", and so I proceeded to make myself start talking to people and of course met some beautiful souls. Made a couple of friends for life. So here's how it went:
NATIVE AMERICAN VISION QUEST:
It's 4 days/nights, sitting in a 10-foot diameter circle in the woods or desert - isolated from people. No food. Only a gallon of water per day. You have some clothes and a sleeping bag. If you're really doing it right, you're naked (I tried that for a minute but sitting in the underbrush was brutal on the ass). The idea is to break down the logical mind with fatigue to the point where you kill it - it's called by native people the world over - "Dying the little death." Your old self dies, and you are reborn. This is why it was used as a rite-of-passage; the child dies and the adult emerges.
So your logical mind shuts down, and you are left with the core of your being. This core is then open to signs, symbols, dreams, visions, feelings, emotions - which is how the spiritual world communicates with us - never the logical mind. You pray alot, you pray for a vision. Basically what you are praying for is your birthright, your destiny, the path you laid out for yourself with the help of your Spirit Guide before you incarnated - your true path, your purpose, your reason for living on this earth. You pray that this be revealed to you. You go in with a list of questions; you may be at a cross-roads in your life and not know which way to turn so you ask those questions over and over again and wait for an answer. These generally get cleared up on the 2nd day.
Most visions are subtle. Earth is the greatest teacher. Small insects will communicate tremendous teachings to you. Everything in your quest circle is teaching you constantly, that's why it's a four-day meditation in essence; you try to clear the mind of all distractions (except when you're praying). Then you'll be open to the wealth of teachings. And when you come out of the quest, it's a good idea to immediately journal the entire experience down to the finest details, because it'll feed you for the rest of your life. All quests after the first one are considered "Clarification quests."
Your defenses break down. I was annoyed and irritated by all manner of flies for the first two days, but by the third day, I hardly noticed them. Mosquitoes were a problem. I had to cover myself with bug repellent, which made me want to dry heave, but they'd still buzz and whine around my ears all night. I got no sleep whatsoever the first night, and was exhausted the 2nd day.
They tell you to be careful of your expectations of what the quest should be and do for you. I thought I had no expectations, I'd been involved with spiritual things for long enough to know that I most likely wouldn't get a mind-shattering Vision, where my Spirit Guardian materialized in a blinding light, trumpets blaring, (Tom calls this kind of vision the "White-Winged Buffalo) and loudly proclaimed my life's purpose. I figured I'd get a subtle message from an ant or some such thing. But I thought I would be dying the little death. By the third day, I still felt pretty good; I thought, "Aww damn, I'm too strong for the 4-day quest, I shouldda had the 10 day quest to break me down." Well, on the 4th day, I felt pole-axed, could barely move - felt like I was dying. So I was happy.
All my questions were cleared up. It's generally not a great idea to talk about the answers you receive, because anytime the spiritual world communicates with you, it's a powerful thing, and talking about it dissipates the power. You literally gab away your gift. If you tell others, they'll start going, "Naaah, that doesn't sound right to me, I think your subconscious desires caused you to come up with that, you oughta be doing this...." And your logical mind will go, "Oh man, that's so logical, they're right! I should be doing that...." And you'll be right back to your old self, not knowing which way to turn, thinking the hell out of everything, and confusing yourself.
You get subtle answers, but they're deceptively simple, such slight shifts - things that make you say, "Well... du-uh! Of course. Why didn't I think of that 15 years ago!" On the third day, after asking my questions over and over again, I just started running through them out loud, and then all of a sudden I started answering myself - "What should I do about that?" "Well, you should do this." And it would make total sense.
You dance. It's called the stomp-dance, and what you do is you go in a circle around your area and stomp your feet into the ground, toe-heel, toe-heel, etc. This is to keep your mind from drifting, to regain focus, and to release big emotions when they build up. I wore a 10-inch trench in the ground, and on the third day, I unearthed an ancient camp-fire. It was buried about 8 inches down, and I could tell no one had been in that area for years so I thought it might have been one of Tom's childhood camps - possibly one of "Grandfather's". I told an instructor and he said, "Whoa, that's good medicine, judging from that area, I'm pretty sure it was one of Grandfather's" ("Grandfather," or Stalking Wolf, was an Apache elder/mentor who taught Tom Brown, Jr. all the old Native-American ways of wilderness survival & spirituality) So I got myself a "medicine bag", and I put some little things that I had gathered from the quest area in it, including one of the old cinders. So now I can carry a little of the energy of my quest with me always.
They tell you about the distractions, they break it down into the 4 days: The first day is the "Day of the Body"; you'll sit against your tree (you can have a tree in your sit-area) you'll notice the ants, the leaves, the grass- hoppers, the flies, the stones, all the things around you, you'll notice the hair in your armpits and notice that you never really noticed this before; you'll pick your nose and notice that, you'll fiddle with your pits some more, you'll fiddle with your belly-button. Then your ass will start to hurt. So you shift to one cheek and save one for later. You sit with your feet up, you sit with your feet down, you sit with them stretched out. You look some more, you fiddle some more. Then you stand up.
And it's a whole new perspective from up there. So you start all over again - you'll notice the ants, the leaves, the grass hoppers, the flies, the stones, all the things around you, you'll notice the hair in your pits and notice that you never really noticed this before...
Day 2 is the Day of the Mind. You'll make endless lists, figure out how many matches are in a match book, balance your check book, count all manner of things, rehearse songs, rehearse speeches, (Oscar-award-ceremony speech) remember your childhood, come up with things you haven't thought of for years and years... you'll make recipes....
Day 3 is the Day of Emotions. You soar with ecstasy only to fall down into the blackest despair the next minute, followed by apoplectic fury, then stitch-causing laughter, and around and around.
Day 4 is the Day of the Spirit. You go through all this stuff again and make your peace with all of it.
I didn't have much of a problem with this. They were describing what would happen for your regular Joe-on-the-street who'd never confronted themselves and been alone with their thoughts for very long. That's why they tell you to cut the labels out of your clothes and take the labels off the water jugs beforehand, so you don't start playing word games, and not to drink huge amounts of water so you can engage in "recreational peeing."
I thought I knew my mind pretty well, but I did some real good remembering. But mostly for 4 days, I focused on my quest-ions, quest-ed for my vision. When my mind would drift I would do the dance.
They tell you to fight sleep up to the point where sleep becomes a distraction. Then you lie down and get 10 minutes, 3 hrs., 6 hrs., - basically whatever your body needs to focus again, and then you get right back into it. So I did that. Also, after ten years of bartending and days of standing for 13 hours straight, I could do some pretty good standing. I stood better than I sat at that point, so basically, I stood in one spot for four days.
The legend goes - the more you suffer, the more the ancestors will take pity on you and give you a vision. The third evening a massive thunderstorm blew up on me. I saw it rolling in fast from a distance and scrambled to rig an A-frame of black plastic tarp over a line strung between two trees. Just as I dove into it, huge rain drops starting hitting. It was a deluge, almost a flash-flood. It was uncomfortably stuffy in the tarp because it wasn't breathable, and a large, cold puddle slowly gathered at the foot of my sleeping bag and soaked all the way through my boots. I somehow managed to sleep, but woke up in the morning with the inside of the tarp crawling with huge daddylonglegs. I've had a bad case of arachnophobia since I was five. I know daddylonglegs' fangs are too short to break through human skin, but I also know that if they COULD, they are the most venomous creatures in the spider family - way worse than black widows. I suffered.
Every dawn you go out to the trail and put a marker in your "marker box" so the protector people who are running the quest will know you're alright. (I found out later, a few people freaked and had to come out early - we never found out who they were) You check for ticks twice a day. I got covered with deer ticks, those are the bad ones that carry Lyme's disease, and got bit a lot, but I saw a doctor right after the quest who told me they have to be newly born ticks, only some of them carry it, they have to be imbedded for over 24 hrs., etc... So no problem.
You get close to the earth. You feel a part of it. You realize how artificial modern society is. It gives me alot of strength to know this Manhattan nonsense is just a little crazy anthill, and right outside the city, there's Mother Earth.
They said you do your first quest out of curiosity, and you have to be dragged kicking and screaming to your later ones. The Native-Americans did a quest every season. Directly after the quest I swore up and down I'd never do another one, - too much pain!!! - but I know now that this is a sure-fire way to getting un-stuck in your life, and I know I'll get stuck again at various points in my life. I know I'll quest again when the situation calls for it. It becomes a way of life. Tom Brown, Jr. calls it the "sledge-hammer" approach to purifying Inner Vision."
I could go on & on, but the most amazing part was coming back into camp on the fifth day and watching everyone slowly coming back in. There were some people, (mostly the younger, hard-core survival dudes) who were covered from head to toe with mud & dirt, all you could see was the whites of the their eyes - just REBORN out of the earth. It's a powerful change. And then the men and women all split up and went swimming which was a great bonding experience & you all feel like you've been through a war together.
So I recommend this. If you feel stuck, and want to make sure you're on the right path in your life, start getting your questions together (I had 24 questions) and think them out in detail and extreme specificity and go quest and you WILL get answers. You will know your life's path. Every culture, without failure, the world over; from Siberia to Australia, from Scotland to Africa, from South America to Japan, from the Vietnamese to the Kalahari Bushmen to the Inuits - had some form of retreat experience that involved 4 days, fasting, isolation, & direct one-on-one contact with the Creator.
When I told my acting coach in acting class about it, he first made a show of rejecting the whole thing Woody Allen-style, like, "SHEEESH! BUGS??! NO FOOD?? AND YOU HAVE TO PAY TO DO THIS???!!" etc., but we spent the first half-hour of class with people grilling me with questions. I could feel the primal pull of this thing, people just sense how powerful it is and are drawn to it. And apparently, the usual anger that had manifested in my acting work for years...had disappeared...