Four Days in the Woods – Part 1

Lessons From a Vision Quest 

On August 15th, 2017, at about 7:30 PM, I walked into the woods alone after just finishing a delicious, over-filling pasta dinner. It will be about 72 hours before another morsel of food or a drop of water passes my lips, and over 90 hours until my next meal. I was about to begin a vision quest.

Many people find it hard to understand why someone would voluntarily abstain from food or water for so long, and spend that much time alone out in the woods with virtually nothing to do but sit in one place. Within many indigenous cultures, especially Native American, the vision quest (or more correctly translated to “crying for a vision”) is a regular part of life. It typically marks a significant event in an individual’s life, such as a boy transitioning to manhood. The boy, upon his request, would be sent out on a vision quest by an elder of the tribe (often the spiritual leader) to seek his purpose and mission in life. He will usually take nothing with him but a blanket or animal hide to keep warm. Upon his return to the community, he brings valuable lessons to share, perhaps a vision to be translated by the elder, and a new direction in life as an adult.  Fasting is an important aspect of the journey. It’s a sacrifice to both the land and to spirit, which shows that one is willing to first give before receiving their valuable teachings.

Today, the vision quest is accessible to many Westerners as an opportunity for deep reflection, discovering purpose and direction in life, to work out specific challenges, for healing, and for many other personal reasons. For me, it floated onto my radar about two years ago after becoming the host for a boys’ rite of passage event on my family’s land in Vermont. I am truly fortunate for the opportunity to participate in this amazing ceremony in which a community of about forty men and older teens send thirteen-year-old boys out into the woods for a solo overnight experience.  The lessons they share with us upon their return the next day are often profound teachings for all of us – and they are just kids!

Having observed the powerful impact of the rite of passage ceremony, I was inspired to run an adult version of it (a vision quest) on the same property and to participate with the group. Over the next year or so pieces began to come together and I had a vision quest planned and ready to go with a few people planning to join me. But the Universe had a different plan for me. At first it was just the group idea that didn’t work out, when one by one people backed out for various reasons. I was still committed though, even if I would be doing it on my own (with an experienced guide assisting me through it). Then two days before the event, the whole thing had to be cancelled.

Lesson 1 – Surrender to the Outcome

The first lesson from this experience happened when my initial plans fell through. I learned about surrender. I was initially frustrated and disappointed that the vision quest wasn’t going to happen my way. But I had a sense that there was a bigger reason for this apparently bad situation. I decided to have faith and be patient. In the end, my vision quest still happened, and I met an amazing community of supportive, caring people that I would never have met had I proceeded on my own in VT!

I learned that once the big picture is set, the details of how it will happen are not necessarily in your control. By surrendering to the outcome, knowing that the Universe is always looking out for your highest and best good, when one plan falls through you can rest easy knowing something better is on the way. Just be patient. Looking back, it’s clear that the way this unfolded for me was absolutely for the best, even though it was far from what I initially imagined!

As I walked up the hill into the dense forest, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I’d fasted before, but never for this long. I had never gone without liquids for more than a few hours, and I had definitely never sat alone in one place for 4 days with nothing to do!

The first night was uneventful. I set up my tent with the little bit of daylight I had left, then cleaned up the debris around my space using a headlamp to see what I was doing. I stayed up for a little while with my “campfire” (a large candle) set in the middle of my clearing thinking about the long days ahead. I was definitely a little worried about what my condition might be by day 3. Then it was time to get some rest.

To be continued…

My spot in the woods before clearing out the debris and setting up the circle. I decided against any photographs of the finshed site as it’s sacred space better left alone.