What is a Vision Quest?
A Vision Quest, or a Quest for a Vision, is an indispensable experience of transformation and awareness.
In today’s modern world where most people miss this type of adolescent initiation into adulthood, it is extremely important that we do it now and not wait any longer.
Fortunately, it is never too late to claim this rite of passage, no matter at what age or status in life.
What Happens On a Vision Quest?
A large piece of what happens on a vision quest is an expansion of consciousness (facilitated by group council, fasting, solitude, and ceremony) where the natural world is normally seen as “external” to us and with the Quest, nature is directly experienced as “internal” as well and a wild intimacy develops where there no longer any inside or outside of the head or mind.
In this experience of the Quest, there is little or no perceived separation between different types of living beings. Plants wave and acknowledge the quester, while animals and insects and birds deliver messages. The lines of nonverbal conversation are open and dialog between the quester and the environment slides open and the possibilities of communication become limitless.
For adults of modern culture, so cut off from our wilderness roots, where everything humanly possible is done to avoid the kind of hardships endured in this type of rite of passage, the decision to embark on a quest for vision is one that is usually brought on (though certainly not always) by some type of life crisis serious enough that only by going “into the wild” will healing, wholeness, and new life be found.
Why Do a Vision Quest
For many people, the decision to embark on such a quest is a truly heroic act, because there is the realization that the only way to truly go forward is to leave everything behind and scale the mountain of fears and dreams with only oneself and the mountains and deserts as your home.
Your councilor is the wind, your supporter the earth, your nourishment the sun, and your only companions are wildlife. In this sense, you transform yourself into one of your ancient ancestors, who lived in a wild and untamed world free of technological entanglement.
For many people in today’s modern world, it is easy to forget that we are born with a destiny, a unique calling.
The demands of jobs, family life and just getting by from day to day can easily drown out the nature of our heroic call to follow our own unique path, that not only fills us with purpose and meaning, but also brings gifts to others and our communities; gifts that others and our communities desperately need to foster health and wholeness and well-being for everyone.
Discover Your Purpose on a Vision Quest
A Vision Quest is a response to discover or reaffirm our calling.
Your time alone in nature awakens that call and brings clarity and purpose back into your life. You leave behind what no longer serves and you embrace the natural evolution of your life’s journey. Making this rite of passage helps open the door to the next phase of your life.
Those fundamental questions that you may have been putting off looking at, or have been just at the edges of your consciousness vying for your conscious attention now emerge with immediate intensity. Where am I now in my life? What am I ready to leave behind? What am I ready to step into and celebrate?
What is calling me to move from one place to another?
Spending time alone in the wild, with no food and minimal equipment is the wild place you have always been searching for inside you. The time alone in wild nature, surrounded by mountains, trees, deserts, water, sun, and stars will reflect your inner world in a way that can transform your life and clearly mark your passage from one stage of life to another.
Surrendering to the natural world in this way opens you to the wisdom of nature and your own inner wisdom blossoms in response. Your soul speaks to you of your unique calling and new energy and vitality streams into you as the path is now more clearly seen and new commitments can be made.
How Long Is a Vision Quest?
The normal length of time for a Path to the Wild Vision Quest is eleven days. As described below, there are three stages to the Vision Quest:
- The Departure – the first three days
- The Experience – 4 days and 4 nights on the land
- The Return – the remaining days.
The Three Stages of a Vision Quest
There are traditionally three stages to a Vision Quest.
The first stage is the departure. In this stage you leave everything that is familiar. You remove yourself from your everyday life and leave behind your family, friends, job, and responsibilities both at the physical and psychological level.
When you depart on the vision quest journey, you will never come back to the place from where you left; you cross the border into unknown territory. In this sense, with your very first step, you leave your old self behind and begin walking into your new state of being.
It may be helpful to associate this crossing with the symbolism of a doorway, threshold, gate, or passageway. What is most important is that you carry with you a clear and firm intention as to why you “go to the mountain”.
This will be the foundation for entering the second stage.
When you have gone into the paradox of the “gateless gate” you will arrive to a new land.
This second stage is the actual experience of the vision quest as you arrive to the place in the wilderness where you will fast and experience the truth of your intention that you have brought to this sacred ground. This time is your ceremony to mark your own life passage! Base camp will be held not far from your sacred site and you will have a “buddy” nearby who will check a sign from you each day to ensure your well-being.
Upon your return to base camp you will share your story of your solo time. The guides will “mirror” your story back to you in order to bring it into the world in a concrete way. The witnessing by the group will ensure there is no doubt about the transition you have made and its alignment with your soul’s purpose and calling. You will be given help in preparing you to embody among your people what you have received during your Quest.
After the Vision Quest
For most vision questers, the real challenge of the quest was not the solitude, or the fasting, or the fear of wild animals, but the reincorporation process following the quest.
This can be a very challenging time!
For this reason, there are regular opportunities to receive support for the first year (the most crucial and challenging) from your guide(s) and your “tribe” from your quest.
A Note on Cultural Appropriation:
The use of the term Vision Quest is used by Path to the Wild with great sensitivity to our Native American brothers and sisters, especially the Lakota, for whom the vision quest was and is a major rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood.
There are some Native Americans for whom the use of the term vision quest by non-natives is an affront and another example of theft from their culture. Other Native Americans don’t care. I have chosen to keep the term, at least for the present, for it clearly and distinctly describes the purpose, intention, and experience of the Rite.
While often associated with Native Americans going on a quest for a vision, a vision quest has been undertaken by people in diverse cultures almost to the beginning of human history and it is for this reason that I continue to find the term Vision Quest or Quest for a Vision meaningful and relevant to modern non-native peoples.