Your Job was to Show Up

(This is the first of what will probably be three or four parts following my Vision Quest odyssey.  I try to publish on Wednesdays.  There is a subscription service on the right that will enable you to sign up for notifications of further posts.  Thanks for your patience as this experience works through me and is integrated: I’m just barely a step ahead of whatever I write here!)


Too smooth, too easy: that’s how I felt a day and a half into my 3 day solo Vision Quest. The fasting felt easy, the solitude felt easy. The ground was boney but I had no need to sleep a whole night at a time, so I slept until my hips and/or back hurt and then got up and gazed back at the stars, the moon.

I began to get uneasy. Yes, I had visions. Yes, I was in a mild state of altered consciousness from the time we drove through the front gate, and that intensified once I was up in my solo site on the mountain. Check and Check. But there was no sturm und drang, no bring-me-to-my-knees dramatic breakthroughs.

It was lovely. Time passed simultaneously slow and fast – so much happening in the great patience of sitting still that sometimes it seemed like hours had passed and it was only minutes, at other times I could barely comprehend that another day had evaporated.

Day 2 slid by gracefully as I sat with lizards, birds, insects. I sighted a spirit bird unknown to the ornithological experts I consulted when my quest was over. Hummingbirds buzzed me repeatedly, nudging me to stay alert.

My inclination to worry raised it’s head: was I wasting time when I should be engaged in deep conversation with spirit? The message came back loud and clear, “Your job was to Show Up, you did that, so just relax.” As the last evening approached I was discouraged when my mind suddenly snapped into clarity and planned the details of my packing and departure the next morning: disgusted, I went to bed early, then awoke into the glory of a midnight sky spattered and layered with dustings of stars, some so infinitely far away that I’d never seen them before. I watched until after the moon rose at 1:00, then slept for a few hours before waking to watch the sun rise for the last time.

Soon after sunrise I snapped again into ultra this-world clarity: I broke camp, packed, I treated myself to a wet-wipe bath and dressed in fresh clothes for my re-entry. I carried my bundles down the path to the road below, keeping with me only my bug spray and the luxury of my folding chair. Within moments of returning to my site and resuming sitting, I was back in an altered state of consciousness: again alert and aware of messages flying between me and the tree people, the rock nation, the sky, the cloud people – all of the many tribes I met with from my mountain perch during those three days. I sent gratitude and love from the depths of my aching-with-the-beauty-of-it-all heart, and just before the truck was due I walked down to meet it.

There was no talking. Other Questers jumped off of the truck in silence and grabbed my pack, the water jugs, loaded us up: I slipped into the cab of the truck as my first tears began to fall. When everyone was retrieved we turned and headed back down the jostling, rutted road. At the base camp we unloaded in silence and filed down to the fire circle for a ceremony of return and release from our silence.

But I wasn’t fully back yet, and from the kabuki faces of one or two others, I wasn’t alone. So while most hugged and began halting conversations, and with laughter ringing harmoniously around me, I wandered back to the outside dining area and sat apart, tears now flooding
my cheeks. I had heard the words before, had heard someone say that spirit “broke my heart open” and thought it a metaphor, but as I felt the jagged ripping inside my chest I knew it as a literal experience. The physical sensation was vivid. The tears had their own lives, and seemed unconnected to any specific emotional crises, they simply flowed until they were done.

Each of us was given a beautiful, perfectly ripe peach. I know that food is grounding, it helps bring us back from an altered state, yet eating that peach seemed impossible at first. I prayed endlessly over it, thanking it for it’s exquisite beauty, for it’s willingness to sustain me physically; I prayed that it be in harmony with my body and bring me health, and that anything that I did not need would fall away.

The first bite was amazing. I knew in my body for the first time that food is sacred medicine, and how it should taste and feel.

Having a Physical Moment…

It’s popular to prescribe seeing oneself not as a human having a spiritual moment, but as a spirit having a human moment.  While this is true, it’s not enough to say “human” without insisting on including sensation.   To be incarnated as a human  is to be entrusted not only with a brain and a heart, but also with a physical body.  Of the many realities we experience, this may be the only physical reality.  Is it our inexperience with the physical that so often leads to our mistrust and denial of our physicality?  Ascetics deny it by declaring it “illusion” and by avoiding the sensations that affirm it.  Many see it as a separation from spirit, yet spirit is fully here with us in our “human moment” whenever we choose to notice.

When we locate ourselves exclusively in the head and heart we forget how very wonderful it is to be in the physical, what a joy to be able to partake of the sensations of this world.  Of course that includes sex , but there is so much more!  The scent of the evening breeze, the soft prickle of grass, the shock then the gradual numbing of feet wading in a cold river, the shushing of the leaves as the wind dances through them – there is so very, very much to experience here, so much that can bring a wild joy to the heart.

Sensation is a very particular way of sidestepping the tyranny of the brain; that is why sex has been a sacrament and a path in so many religious traditions, and demonized in those that deny personal agency when connecting with the divine.  Personal connection with the divine is unruly, uncontrollable.  It encourages individuals to seek their own path instead of following rules and books of instruction.  It is dangerous to established religions that seek a governing role in lives.

We like to pretend that connecting to the divine means being without appetite, being untouched by the physical.  It’s a philosophy well suited to dividing the self against the self, to establishing a war within that can be mirrored in an external war against the ‘other,’  yet there is nothing so peaceful, so blissful as a human perfectly satisfied in her/his physicality.