I have written other articles about how the Vision Quest has influenced my direction and spiritual path, but in this one, I want to focus on a different aspect, but one that has most definitely helped me along my path. Whether we’ve experienced many changes in our lives, or relatively few, there is always some anxiety involved when facing an unknown future. As humanity continues on our destructive path, this is amplified in all of our lives. I would like to share how the Vision Quest has made me more resilient to change, facing the unknown, and overcoming fears.
Anyone who has done a Vision Quest, or even contemplated one, has faced some level of anxiety, even fear, around the unknowns of the experience. Reading or hearing of others’ experiences, we have a sense of what will occur, but we really don’t know how we will do with these experiences.
One fear I had before my first Quest was about being outside without seeming protection. I had done plenty of solo backpacking but it’s amazing how much protection we feel from a tent, a simple piece of cloth. Just that little separation helps us to feel so much more secure. So, before my Quest, I would do sits at night out at the back of my property. I had racoons and opossums and an occasional deer, even though the property wasn’t large. During my sits, I would find myself worrying at each sound. What was the animal? Was I safe? Would I be afraid out in the woods alone? So, going into the Quest, I still had some nervousness about this, especially after one of the questers had seen a bear while we were setting up. The reality of the Quest experience though was very different. I had a whole day to be in that space. To hear the sounds. To feel the concentric rings. When darkness fell, I was at complete peace. The animal noises didn’t frighten me, and I felt an incredible freedom. I was no longer worried about being exposed and unprotected. I had become part of the landscape. I belonged. Even though I thought I had been comfortable in nature before, the Quest had provided a much deeper connection that has translated into any wild setting I’ve entered. I learned how to connect with the place, to use its energy to understand and become comfortable with it. Now going into a new setting, I am aware of the real dangers, but do not fear the unknown.
Another anxiety was around the fasting. I had never gone without food for four days. I had no idea how I would do with it. What would it feel like to be truly hungry, and could I do it? Well, this unknown was also faced. And not only did I discover that I could handle being hungry that long, but it changed my relationship with food. There is nothing like the first sustenance you take after a fast. The appreciation. The delight. The rejuvenation that comes to your body. It changes how you feel about food. It enlivens our gratitude and takes away the fear that our bodies need three meals a day. Knowing that hunger may be a part of our transition to wilderness no longer worries me. Through Quests, and longer fasts, I know better what my body needs to sustain itself and don’t have to panic about possible breaks between when I can get sustenance.
Another anxiety was about temperature. If we live in a house, our temperature is kept in a fairly narrow band, and we don’t have to deal with the extremes of cold and heat. But the Quest has shown me I am capable of existing in a huge range of temperature and weather conditions. I’ve been frying in the sun that I cannot escape. I’ve existed in extreme cold. I’ve been soaking wet. I’ve basked in the warmth of first light. There is great comfort in knowing that your body can exist with many different temperatures and can endure even in extreme conditions. When you translate this to real life, when you can change locations, build a fire, make a shelter, find a cooling stream… you know you can endure, even in difficult climates and can learn to adapt to extreme conditions.
Along the same line, is the realization that physical discomfort doesn’t have to be a hindrance. That you can sleep directly on the ground, sit on uneven, unpadded surfaces and face other discomforts. I’m not saying your body is never in pain from it, but that it becomes just another reality, not something to burden yourself with. The question of whether you can walk away from the physical comforts of home, is answered.
One of the things I appreciated tremendously in the Quest is the realization that I don’t need all the distractions in my life. We get so tied to the things we do- the things we read, shows we watch, internet, sports, games, hobbies, music, exercising, people…that it can seem like living without them all would be a hardship. In the Quest there is nothing to distract, and, in that space, we discover it is not the emptiness we fear, but all the things- emotions, memories, fears… that come to fill that space. This is the great healing of the Vision Quest. We also discover not only the pain we’ve hidden, but we find the space to allow in insight and enlightenment, realizing our distractions have kept us from these as well. When we become comfortable in our own skin, we no longer fear the empty spaces and hence break our addiction to distractions. Not that we can’t choose to do the things we enjoy, but we no longer need something to be happening at all times. We can see ourselves living a life in the wild, without panicking about the things we will do without.
And finally, many of us, knowing we cannot really fathom what we will experience, ask the question of ourselves, “can I do it?” At the end of four days, we’ve been challenged and beat up, we’re hungry and tired. We’re high as a kite and buzzing with energy. And no matter the many highs and lows of our experience, we walk into camp knowing the answer, “yes, I can.” It is a very empowering experience.
So, these are not the reasons people choose to Quest. But they are outcomes many of us experience from the Quest. And each of these gives us just a little more experience, confidence, and comfort with facing unknowns and experiencing the natural world, all of which will serve us well in the future. So, if you struggle with anxiety about change, unknown challenges and your ability to be at peace in the wilderness, the Vision Quest can provide tremendous experiences, in addition to the things we usually seek; the healing, spiritual growth and visionary direction for our life. This resiliency has impacted my path in unfathomable ways.