There comes a time when you must leave family, friends and work behind and go off alone, looking within to discover your purpose and your gifts. A modern enactment of an ancient ceremony, the quest enables men and women to engage in a sacred journey in three stages: release of an old life, stepping across the threshold of sacred time and space, and return to the world reborn. The Rites of Passage Vision Quest will provide core teachings and practices for this journey into the mythic world.
We have taken the universal elements of a rite of passage in designing a program for people living in our contemporary society. Our staff are guides and teachers, serving to mirror and support participants by helping them first to prepare for their solo, and then to understand and integrate their experience.
The quest can help you find purpose and vision at any life stage—for example coming into adulthood, finding a soulful work path, preparing for marriage or children, healing of old wounds, or entering elderhood.
The program follows the principles of the Four Directions teachings:
South: Leaving everything behind and trusting the leap of faith.
West: Listening to one’s own inner voice and guides to find strength and support for the journey, moving through fears, and descending to the realm of dream and vision.
North: Claiming the power of the journey as an adult, one capable of living one’s inner truth.
East: Recognizing a connection to one’s own guiding spirit and the spirit of nature, a freedom and wildness that can be best experienced in solitude.
FIVE CORE ELEMENTS OF THE WILDERNESS QUEST
The Wilderness Quest program has five core elements that serve as both challenges and supports for the journey: Solitude, immersion in nature, fasting, and community.
Solitude has been a part of mystical and initiatory paths throughout human history. It puts us in touch with ourselves and our world, inviting us to discover our own deepest nature and to open ourselves to the richness of our inner soul life.
2. IMMERSION IN NATURE
Immersion in nature takes us back to the truth, that we are part of the Great Mystery and not separate. We return to our place in the natural world with humility and gratitude, finding renewal and reflection in the wonder of creation.
Fasting is another ancient cross-cultural practice, one that opens the mind and heart. Most people are able to fast during the solo period of the Wilderness Quest, generally 3 days. This practice can be modified for people who cannot fast.
4. PAN-CULTURAL TEACHINGS
In our work, we apply practices and teachings drawn from more than 40 years’ experience guiding rites of passage in nature, including the Four Directions teachings (given to Rites of Passage by a Native American teacher); dialogue with the natural world; singing, chanting, and dancing; journaling; and other eco-psychological practices. We also teach and model ceremonial practices, such as the all-night vigil on the final night of the solo, and personal ceremony for quest participants.
Traditional rites of passage always take place in the context of community. The gifts of understanding, love and compassion that flow from the ceremony help renew and nourish the whole of society. On the Rites of Passage Wilderness Quest program, we work to develop community in the field, so that group members feel safe to speak from the heart, knowing that the container of community will safely hold them. This allows for deep sharing and witnessing; from there, the healing circle of community is carried home to loved ones, and out into the world.
THE NINE-DAY WILDERNESS QUEST
1. TRANSITION AND ORIENTATION IN COMMUNITY
The group begins at a campground near the wilderness, where we will get acquainted and begin preparations for the quest. We’ll review flora, fauna, first aid and safety procedures, and begin to present tools such as the medicine wheel teachings. After our first night together, we drive into the back country where we’ll set up a base camp. This will be home for a few days, offering community meals, company, shelter, and a safe container for heartfelt ceremony.
There is time for sharing with other participants and staff, or for just sitting quietly. You have a morning to look for your solo site, going in the direction you feel called to explore. Safety concerns are addressed again in the field, and you will have a buddy from the group that is pledged to help you if the need arises–but you will not see each other unless there is an emergency. You will leave a stone for your buddy each day at a stonepile located between your sites, a small reminder of the spirit and heart you share with others on this path. On the last evening together in base camp, the whole group will meet in council circle, where you’ll have a final opportunity to share deeply of hopes and fears. The next morning, there will be a beginning ceremony at sunrise to bless you and send you off.
2. THE SOLO
During the wilderness quest solo, you enter sacred time and space, living by yourself in the wildness of nature. In the weakness of fasting [or eating lightly, for those that cannot fast], you become more open and transparent. You live between the inner world of dreams, feelings, fantasies and the outer world of cold night air, the warming sun, the sound of a coyote howling, the sight of a lizard doing push-ups, the vast view of a desert plateau. You may be visited by dragons whose names are loneliness, boredom, fear, and regret–among others. You engage them with your heart and spirit, recognizing them as worthwhile opponents. They push you into your depths.
Time can slow down on a Wilderness Quest, and the stillness of the desert can be very powerful. As your thoughts begin to empty out, you can look into the pool of your own being, noticing how you are, what your dreams are made of, what you need to let go of. The sacred dimension is present there, and you can enter it naturally. It is possible to feel connected to everything, to the small fly buzzing, to the cactus in its rocky home, to the moon and stars wheeling overhead at night.
3. THE NIGHT VIGIL
On the last evening you build a circle of stones to represent your life, entering it at dusk and remaining awake until the dawn releases you. During the long night, you can sit, stand, dance, sing, pray, or just huddle from the cold. You are bearing witness to your own death and rebirth. What is important to carry into your new life, and what needs to be left behind? You ask Spirit to help you find your way. Your prayers are answered as the first rays of sunlight pierce the darkness. It’s time now to come down off the mountain and begin the journey back.
And the sunset itself in waves of ether
Is such that I can’t say with certainty
Whether day is ending, or the world, or whether
The secret of secrets is again in me.
4. RETURN AND INTEGRATION
The return from the nine-day Wilderness Quest is often a time of great energy and joy, celebrating the healing and wholeness that you have found. After participants return to base camp, we’ll share a delicious breakfast, then spend the balance of this day, and the next two, exploring the teachings of the Quest, reflecting the beauty and meaning of each story, and the challenges posed for the return. The task here is to re-enter your life, bringing your unique gifts and opened heart back to family, friends and community. As Mirabai asks, “Without the energy that lifts mountains, how am I to live?” How can I bring my vision and purpose into my world–the world of work, relationships and ordinary life? The modern vision quester returns to our de-mythologized society powerfully moved by having lived close to the healing power of nature and to his or her own living spirit.
Note: This practice goes by many names and has roots in many cultures. We acknowledge learning from Native American teachings and teachers, among others, as well as from our own connection to this land called “Turtle Island”. But we must also make it clear that our program, which has been developed for people living in our diverse modern society, is not a Native American Vision Quest.