- Do you feel called to seek out wilderness during a time of life transition?
- Are you hungering for a vision that will guide your life and contribute to the greater good?
- Do you want to find your wild and true self, your soul?
Wilderness-based rites of passage have been used as a means of initiation, healing and spiritual guidance by earth-based cultures the world over for millennia. In many North American cultures, the form has been called a vision quest. Similar rites exist in other cultures, all including elements of leaving the world behind, being transformed, and returning with a gift and a purpose. The initiate undergoes a ritual death and rebirth, often experiencing some degree of transcending the ego. One of the main goals is for the individual to gain clarity in how to be of service to their community and the Earth.
Unfortunately, our culture has lost connection with nature and with the importance of nature-based initiatory rites for the well-being of individuals, communities, and the Earth. While we have advanced greatly in our material and technological culture, we seem to have lost our souls and we hunger for some greater sense of connection and meaning in life.
I practice and guide an initiatory ceremony called vision fast, which is an adaptation of the vision quest for modern Western culture. Vision fast was adapted by Stephen Foster and Meredith Little, founders of the School of Lost Borders, after immersion in traditional vision quests with Native elders and after study of similar rites in other cultures. The basic form of vision fast includes the following 3 elements:
A time of preparation and a time of leaving behind one’s everyday life. The moment one decides to do the ceremony, the ceremony begins. One spends times clarifying one’s intention prior to meeting up together. One to a few days are spent together in a base camp, learning about wilderness survival skills, finding a solo site, preparing all that will be needed during the solo time, and learning about self-generated ceremony. In council (a talking stick circle), we voice our fears and clearly state and clarify our intentions. We leave for solo in the morning, walking ceremonially into and out of a medicine wheel that the group has constructed. By passing out of the medicine wheel, our severance from our normal life is complete and we enter the threshold.
The threshold is typically 3-4 days and nights of fasting alone in the wilderness. In the vision fast, we have access to a warm sleeping bag, a tarp and cord, a sleeping pad, and sufficient water, but typically no food and no tent. It is a time to be with oneself and with nature, mostly in one spot (the solo spot). Modified fasts are possible for those with medical conditions that contraindicate a complete fast. Safety is of utmost concern, and we have a system of communication and support that can be accessed as needed during the solo. Meditation, dancing, chanting, singing, praying, shaking a rattle can all be brought in, based on what one is called to while on the land. Self-generated ceremony is encouraged as a way of moving energy and transforming. Encounters with wild animals, rocks, plants, clouds, or other aspects of nature take on special significance as our teachers during this time. We wait and pray for a vision on the last night, often staying up all night. In the morning, we return to be smudged back in through the medicine wheel.
We return to the base camp, the guide, and the group, with a story of our experience. After eating and resting, we gather in council to hear the stories. We listen silently to each story of the solos, and then the guide(s) mirrors the story back in a way that clarifies the strengths of the person, the power of the story, and the gifts received. We do not depart back to our everyday lives until at least the next day. And when we do, we bring with us the gift and the task that will put us in service to our community and the Earth. Incorporation implies that we integrate the experience of the threshold into our everyday lives. This is hard work that does not end with the conclusion of the group experience in the wilds. Our transformation continues for some time beyond the official ‘ending’ of the vision fast if we truly take on the task of incorporation.
Personalized Rites of Passage
Depending on what is going on for you, rites of passage can also be personalized as a one-on-one experience. This allows for deviation from some of the more rigorous aspects of the vision fast. Vision fast is meant to be a challenging ordeal. If what you are dealing with has already taken you beyond your edge and is overwhelming, then a shorter solo time, simple small meals, or a tent may be in order. We will design such a ceremony together, with the help of your intuition, to maximize its benefit for you.