We live in a time of quick fixes and spiritual tourism, with organisations beginning to provide a short Vision Quest process with little time for thorough preparation. At Wild Rites the preparation phase at base camp is four days long.
We have heard from some that a lack of guided preparation results in a “disappointing” or “un-meaningful” solo experience because they didn’t have time to clarify and gain deep insight into what was calling them to quest.
Our experience has taught us that a four-day preparation benefits both a meaningful quest and the ability to translate that meaning into evident every day doing. Or to put it another way, fruitful incorporation begins with thorough preparation.
The recipe for an effective preparation includes:
Building community. A safe container to provide a mirror during preparation and to support and nourish questers as they rebirth during the quest time and afterwards - many questing communities are supporting each other post quest.
Refining questers ability to recognise and listen to the mirror of Nature. To develop an I-Thou relationship to Nature, which was previously a given in indigenous questing cultures.
Identification with Soul. Wild Rites describes soul as the experience/ experiencer of being an unlimited spiritual being in a limited world. The ego experiences fasting simply as suffering, the Soul experiences meaning in the suffering.
Self-generated ceremony. Learning about the ceremonies that are in our bones.
Tarp craft and physical aspects of the quest.
Intent, or the inner tension, which will be discussed next.
Intention; to be in-tension
Vision Quest is a surrender to the Will of Self. This is very different from giving up. Surrender is about knowing that something greater than the personality is holding you and therefore an act of faith and conviction, an act full of personal will. Giving up is an act of apathy, an act devoid of personal will.
Intention is of paramount importance for a meaningful and fruitful quest. Mahatma Gandhi, a long-time practitioner of fasting retreats writes “The mere fast of the body is nothing without the will behind it. It must be an irrepressible longing to express truth and nothing but truth… All fasting, if it is a spiritual act, is an intense prayer or preparation for it. It is a yearning of the soul to merge in the divine essence.” (Fasting in Satyagraha, 1965.)
We will now gradually unpack Gandhi’s words to better understand the necessity and practice of a well-formed intent.
The word intention comes from the Latin word intentionem which means a purposeful stretching out, exertion or effort, particularly towards a goal or objective. We could say that to have an intention for a Vision Quest is to create an inner tension where the goal of that inner tension is Self-realisation
To develop greater Self-realisation is often why folk quest (although they may not use these words explicitly). To stretch towards the goal of Self-realisation, the stretch needs to be one of body, emotions and mind towards our spiritual Self.
This is both incredibly sophisticated and at the same time very simple! The first stage is to begin to relate to our personal body, emotions and mind to recognise where and who we are in the present. Let’s consider the body, emotions and mind as three horses pulling a chariot. The charioteer is our unique spark of spirit-in-matter and our centre of awareness and will. We call this our “I”.
The days preceding the intent ceremony are spent supporting questers to come into relationship with these aspects of themselves by using a map of the human psyche called a Medicine Wheel. The Medicine Wheel is a map of Wholeness which enables us to see ourselves reflected through the mirror of Nature.
Some questers can be overly identified with one of the three horses, commonly the mind or emotions, or they may be unaware that one horse is pulling them off course. This is not simply about imposing one’s strong will over the horses, we must first befriend and love them.
Once aware of our horses (body, emotions, mind) we can dis-identify from them by identifying with the charioteer, or the ‘I’ and experience our personal will. Ultimately, Will is the energy that radiates from the spiritual Self (Spirit) and at this level we would call it Transpersonal Will because it is beyond our personal sense of self. We also have our personal will, for example, ‘I will do the washing up’ and ‘I will live a meaningful life that expresses my true nature and essential gifts’.
Our personal will includes an aspect of the Transpersonal Will because Transpersonal Will is the energy that animates all of creation. Nevertheless, we have ‘free will’ and are able to choose - consciously or more often unconsciously - to either live a life out of alignment with our spiritual Self or in alignment. Much of our suffering and dis-ease comes from misalignment between the personal and Transpersonal Will. Think of a person who at heart has an unrefined talent for music and yet because of their beliefs that musicians don’t make any money becomes an unhappy investment banker!
A thorough preparation and well-crafted intent ceremony brings the personal will into greater alignment with the Transpersonal Will, as Gandhi calls it ‘the expression of truth’. It is essential for the guides we train and those who wish to live a sacred life to understand that the intent of the Vision Quest is a process of bringing an individual into alignment with what is seeking to emerge in and through them. “What you seek is also seeking you.” Rumi.
Intent is very different to “I want”. Intent is a deeply energetic process and we hold an intent ceremony at the culmination of 4 days preparation. The ceremony focuses on energetical alignment as one component, with the second component being the right amount of inner-tension (IN-TENTsion) to bridge the gap between who we are today and who we are emerging as. Too much tension and we see a vertical splitting and disconnect from either matter or spirit. Too little and individuals can remain solely identified with ego and spend four days suffering hunger or enduring without meaning.
Our intent ceremonies are conducted with the other seven questers as witness, holding a circle with open hearts. This open-hearted witnessing requires first building a community and supporting the community to develop heart-sight. During the intent ceremony, when the inner-tension between the personal self and the spiritual Self is just right, we see the individual fill with Transpersonal-Will. This can be a deeply somatic experience such as shaking, filling with colour, dropping to knees, roaring or tears of joy. This is accompanied by an ‘I am …..’ statement that anchors the energy and provides a thread or bridge to the emergent Spiritual Self. This “I am” statement then acts as a personal mantra.
The bridge and alignment created by intent is essential for a meaningful quest. When fasting for four days the psychological structures and membranes that we associate with our identity are stressed and become more porous. A clear intent ensures that we are focused on the spiritual Self, rather than only visiting the ‘attic’ and ‘basement’ of our psyche and opening up to the collective unconscious.
At Wild Rites we posit that to become a guide of the vision quest requires Heart-sight; the ability to perceive an individual’s spiritual essence. This sight then needs to be combined with a deep understanding of a human psychology that recognises where an individual is currently at in their psychospiritual journey. These two combined enable a guide to see the gap between who a quester is in their current life and what is emerging in their potential. When this gap is held with compassion the quester begins to see, and more importantly, articulate their own gap and can begin the Vision Quest working aligned with Mother/ Father Nature to bridge their gap and ultimately occupy a their place in Creation.
About the Author:
Jon Keen is a co-founder of Wild Rites. Jon’s journey to become a vision quest guide includes an 8-year apprenticeship to the metis-Cheyenne medicine man Stone Sitting. He was adopted as the Spiritual Grandson and taught by the medicine man and author of Seven Arrows, Hymeshosts Storm. Jon then trained for 6 years in Psychosynthesis psychology, a psychology of spirit, as a guide, coach and therapist.
He has also completed shorter trainings in the USA such as with the School of Lost Borders month long on guiding Vision Quest. Jon wrote his psychology M.A. thesis on the vision quest from a psycho-spiritual perspective because he had seen too many people experience luminous experiences without incorporating them into their lives (including himself, until integrating by training with the Institute of Psychosynthesis in London).
Today he guides quests and Soulmaking programmes in Nature. He trains guides over long-term apprenticeships and helps organisations (modern communities) to come into greater alignment with Spirit.