I had the great benefit of being outside with Mother Nature this weekend, as I tended fire for a young Vision Questor. I reflected on the fact that so many world's people are leading a life that has taken them far, far away from the natural rhythm of nature. They have forgotten where they came from and that the human kingdom is only a small part of this very big and complex planet we call home. Many people will live and die never having slept outside under the stars. They will have never watched the full moon rise in the East and set in the West. Or watch the Pleaides reach its zenith in the winter and slowly disappear into the western horizon in April. They will have never watched Raven chase and dive at Hawk or see Hawk outmaneuver Raven. They will never know that the desert at night is teeming with life. And worst of all, they will have never taken the time to know self or know how to heal Self.
My experiences have taught me that nature heals, and ceremony heals, and that they are the best psychotherapists I know. I don't believe that a two week stay at a spa could relieve the stress of separation from self and others that this world pace is creating, but a Vision Quest could. A vision quest is a ceremony which has the intention of giving the participant a chance to "cry for a vision." The participant leaves everything from the everyday world behind and takes a certain amount of time to be alone in the wilderness. Through sincere prayer, inner reflection, fasting, and listening, answers to your toughest questions can be heard.
There is also another place to vision quest and that is inside the sweat lodge. The young man who came to quest had no idea what to expect. It was going to be more difficult than he could have imagined, because inside the lodge the inevitable meeting of "your Shadow Self" takes place. The lack of water, food, light and movement would be the least of his challenges. I, on the other hand, had the easier of the two tasks (tending the fire all night). I got to appreciate the benefits of being outside with the unusually warm weather, a result of the severe drought that has been plaguing the Southwest... the crackling fire, dancing sparks, the stars, the partial moon and the sounds of the nearby coyotes. My senses were delighted. I stoked up the fire, pulled on a blanket, had a cup of tea and relaxed into a state of remembering... while this young man, only a few feet away and separated from me by only the coverings of the lodge, would be struggling with his inner demons.
On the second evening of his quest , it was too quiet. I felt his struggle. I knew that it was not just his physical discomfort, but more so, the inability to get away from himself. You see, the lodge will thrust you inward and what you meet is not always what you expect. On a quest in the lodge, it is your shadow side that seems to have the upper hand. The shadow dances in your mind taking any shape and form that it feels like. It plays with you and you have to listen because there is nothing else for you to do. None of life's diversions are available... no movies, cell phones, radios, computers, cars, noise, people, pets, partners, books, or food. Even someone with a disciplined mind will wonder at its grasping nature. Going into the lodge for a solo quest maybe the first time that you have been truly with yourself. It maybe the first time that you have really been silent and still in your entire life. If you make it for two days and two nights you will emerge with a new sense of self and making peace with that self can be the most difficult and consequently most satisfying experience of a lifetime.
Making peace with the shadow is not about "destroying" it, but giving it only the attention that it deserves and nothing more ... integrating it into a greater whole. The shadow is one who should walk behind us pushing, and urging us to grow. Not out in front, holding or inhibiting our growth.
Should you ask if the suffering that takes place during a vision quest be worth it, just talk with someone who has gone there. They will tell you that answers, insights, and visions were their gifts... Are you willing to Stop and Listen?