For our first 15 years of marriage Susan and I had been running metaphysics workshops. Our journey started to move in a different direction when we went on a Vision Quest.
I had been doing well at work – top 30 sales trip to New York on QE2, fly home on Concorde! I had moved out of sales into marketing, been promoted and was about to start a new job as Head of Competitor Analysis, working with an old friend. We saw that Denise Linn was running a Vision Quest near Seattle. I asked my new manager for a three-week holiday and off we went.
We had a day to ourselves in Seattle and then we all met up in a park, the next morning. There were about thirty participants, Denise and her team, and a bus that took us to a ferry, that took us to a big island, to a small boat that took us to Canoe Island, in the middle of the Puget Sound. The island was sacred to the indigenous tribes because it was where they took their canoes to be blessed. It was currently privately owned and there had been a school on the island. We slept in tepees and used the school building for preparation and food.
Denise is a very special person and she set up a wonderful journey for us. The first three days were preparation, sensitising ourselves and gradually reducing our food intake.
One sensitising exercise stood out. Me and a partner went out into the thick woods about quarter of a mile from the school. One of us was blindfolded. A drum started beating and we had to move towards the sound blindfolded, with our partner making sure we didn’t damage ourselves too much. We both had similar experiences of moving slowly at first and then picking up confidence, losing fear and, at the end, running by instinct, like we were flying to the drum.
On the fourth day we were left to find a spot to quest in and were told how to prepare the visioning circle, using salt and tobacco for protection. Just before dusk we were sent off in ceremony to spent three nights and days in the circle. I felt like an explorer, with my sleeping bag and water bottle, and bin linings to keep dry. I found my spot, created my circle mindfully and settled in.
A Vision Quest / Retreat is a tool common in most tribes and most religions. Sitting on your own out in nature you become more aware of what is going on around you, the rhythms and energy of nature, and also what is going on inside you. You have nothing to distract you so, slowly, the inner chatter calms down and you start to reflect on your life and where it is going, and you gain insights (a vision) of what is meaningful to you and how you might want to change.
You only leave the circle to relieve yourself. I was fasting and had taken a big plastic bottle of water for the three days, which tasted of hot plastic after the first night. My spot was on the edge of the sea. My circle was split level so I could sit on grass or on rock. I use a branch to rest my legs on so that I didn’t slip down the slope when I was sleeping. The only people I saw or heard was one of the helpers, who came out once a day to make sure we were ok.
I wasn’t lonely! I saw eagles and cranes. I woke each morning with a yellow banana slug sticking to my face. One night I woke to feel something breathing into my nostrils. When I put my torch on, the deer and I were both surprised. I felt my dad’s mum near me a couple of times. She came with a smell of roses. There are no roses on Canoe Island! Best of all, every night I would hear the burrchicking of two raccoons coming along the beach. They would climb on a branch that went over my circle and talk to me. On the last night they took my love to Susan.
A Vision Quest is a personal thing. The revelations I received were not earth shattering. When I held the question “What should I be doing?” in my heart, the answer was “Keep going the way you are going.” I knew I just had to trust myself on my journey, feel rather than think. I realised how important nature is to me and I felt the energy field around me and my connection to trees and birds and raccoons.
In late afternoon of the last day, of the quest, the drum was sounded. I packed up my gear and returned my circle to nature and walked towards the drum. As I approached it Denise came out and we walked together hand in hand to the sacred place where the canoes were blessed. It was great to see Susan! A sweat lodge had been set up and a fire was blazing with the stones for the lodge. We stripped to our underwear, took a towel and entered the lodge moving clockwise. I am not great with heat so Susan and I sat at the back so that I could lift the canvas and sneak some cool in, if it got too hot.
Denise ran the ceremony. She called in the hot rocks to go in the hole in the centre of the lodge, she added the water and the herbs. It was hot but we were fine. We did 4 rounds for the four directions. Each lasting about half an hour, with a short break between each to cool down and drink water. Each round had a different purpose. We had prayers for ourselves, our families and Mother Nature. The last round felt like thanksgiving. I started singing “Teach your children’ and everyone joined in. It was wonderful. We felt like family, like tribe.
After the last round we went for showers and a change of clothes and then attended the feast that the helpers had prepared. It was carnage! We got a whole small chicken each. One of the boys ate two! We were stuffed.
For the last three days we shared our journey and our revelations. Instructed by Denise’s husband, we had made our own drums out of deer hide and gut. We were given our beaters and used the drums in ceremony to give thanks for our quests.
Finally, we left the island and went back to Seattle. That evening Susan and I met up with two other questers for a quiet Italian meal. We had been told to go easy on the alcohol because we were in a heightened state. The rest of the group went to a restaurant, had just a couple of drinks, and were eventually thrown out for being too raucous. We all met up the next morning at a Pow Wow, which was taking place on the Seattle sea front.
Since this experience we have facilitated 10 Vision Quests. Six were in a quiet place on Ashdown Forest, a place I knew well. We must have changed the energy of the place because on the fifth year we had one dog walker and on the sixth year we had half a dozen, so we stopped using that space. Two were held in the grounds of a large house. Two were in the grounds of a private school.
We decided to run short quests. The first quest was for just 6 hours during the day. The rest were overnight. Most native people don’t have a word for wilderness. They are used to going without food and water. For most women and men in the UK a night on their own, fasting, in one spot in nature is a challenge. All the quests are done in silence, from the ceremony to send them out to the first words spoken in the ceremony after the return from the quest. They have all brought wonderful experiences and change to the participants. Everyone has had what we call ‘vision eyes’, which tells me that they have gone deep. They have all felt special.
Our vision quest was significant for both of us. It sent us in a different direction.
To be continued…… Sedona