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.

Emptying for Change

Our lives push us to constantly ‘gear up.’ We put ourselves into higher gear/high alert and rev our internal motors; we also gear up by acquiring gadgets –  stuff we deem necessary to support what we do.

We rarely prepare for change by dumping things and relaxing. Yet there is much to discard: old ideas, old identities, old patterns of being. If we look objectively we see much that no longer serves us.  Both the accumulation of ‘stuff’ and the accumulation of outworn identities stifle us, make us feel choked.  Yet letting go is hard: instead of seeing traps, we use them as shorthand to self identify : we talk about our “stuff” from wardrobes to record collections to yachts – and the things we’ve done – traveled, made babies, held jobs — without regard for whether all of this is still current.  The experiences will never be deleted; each outworn identity contains skills and learning that are part of us forever.  Still, there is a crucial difference between continuing to identify with a role that no longer belongs to today, and simply holding it as a foundation.

It can be painful to let go.  We cling to roles that no longer fit.  We see this when a father dominates a son or daughter into adulthood, without letting them establish their own identity boundaries; when a politician leaves office but continues to engage with political detail that is no longer in his charge.  And we see it when men cling to their football hero self from high school, as their wives cling to their high school cheerleader self.  All of those identities inform who we once were, but no longer are.  Clinging to outworn identities keeps us from moving forward and finding a role that fully engages all of our abilities in the now. It keeps us from growing.

Tension freezes energy out: it stiffens our body and slows energy flow; rigidity and tension create less room than expansiveness and flexibility do. So all of the forms of ‘revving up’ must go too, so that our relaxed selves won’t exclude opportunities that wish to become part of our lives.   Right now, instead of ignoring everything that isn’t  familiar, I am taking a more flexible stance.  I am allowing my boundaries to become fluid instead of rigid, I am questioning the habits that automatically exclude those characteristics I am not yet comfortable embodying, and I’m taking the time to look again.

I’m looking to learn not who I am, but who I might next become.  I am conducting a Spring Cleaning of my Soul.

Learning from Fasting

Maintaining a weekly 24 hour fast is helping me learn to think about things differently.

A fast doesn’t begin when you’re hungry, it begins with the end of a meal. Mine never begin at an exact time, but after breakfast is finished. When my meal is complete I look at my watch and say, “yes, it starts now.”

It doesn’t start when my will power is lowest, but when I’m sated. I manipulate the timing so that the most difficult hours happen when I’m asleep. There is room both for my strengths and my weaknesses in this pattern.

My body has become accustomed to these weekly fasts, and so have I. I know to drink lots of water, eliminate or minimize sugar the day before. I feel “snackish” more than I feel real hunger. That’s interesting to me, and shows me how my body sends signals to my brain long before my body is actually hungry. In an environment where each meal takes a couple of hours to prepare, it makes sense. In our world of easy food access, it permits over-eating. My impulses to EAT are very strong, very emotional: in the beginning they carried a sort of desperate energy, and a feeling of despair when I knew I wouldn’t be eating for a long time yet.

Now, knowing them so intimately, I am less pushed by the emotion, I find it easier to notice and then just let it go.

During the rest of the week I’ve become more indifferent to meals – if I miss one, I know that it’s no big deal – only a few hours, after all, not 24!

Today, as I finish my comforting pre-fast breakfast and check my watch I wonder what other habits might be more easily controlled using some of the same practices and techniques that I’ve learned from fasting?


I am terrified of fasting.  I’m sure that I will have horrible headaches, nausea, cravings.

Yet I have chosen to fulfill my dream to do a Vision Quest, and the one I’ve chosen to join offers me me the opportunity to Quest, and to fast, for 3 days.

It sounds beautifully organized.  We will each have a whistle for emergencies, and every day we will walk over to a common spot in our pod of Questers and wrap a piece of colored yarn around a stick to show that all is well, pick up our new container of water and go back to our private site.  I suppose it’s possible, in theory, to arrive at the same time as another Quester, and interrupt our solitude, but it’s unlikely and as none of us will want that, I’m sure we will linger at a distance if such a coincidence occurs.

The idea of the fast, however, looms so large in my mind that I can scarcely think of anything else.

I choose to start my preparation 10 weeks in advance, and for the next few weeks I will ease up on a 24 hour fast.  This week I start with 12 hours, next week will be 14, after that 16, and so on.  When I arrive at 24 I will stop increasing the length until it is time for the real event.

I’m told the first 24 hours is the hardest.