Many people are concerned with the experience of a vision quest itself, while others’ questions have to do with the long-term effects — “Will it change my life in a way that’s rich and lasting?”
This is a good question — maybe the most important one — and the quests I lead have a strong focus on “bringing it home,” finding fertile soil and planting the seeds of “your vision” in the ground of daily life.
At the end of a quest, I speak to that question, and offer a host of ideas and tools for bringing what seems so alive and precious to “the other side of the mountains.” One of the things I suggest is to write a “letter of intention” for returning home — part hopes and aspirations… part inventory of dangers — a map to describe when you’re on the path or have wandered astray.
The following is a sample “Letter of Intent” for returning home written by a man — “BP” –who recently quested (May 2016) in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. While his particulars are, of course, different from those of anyone else who has or might undertake a vision quest, his focus and the keen eye with which he looks at his life may be instructive or inspiring for others who are considering this process.
Gila National Forest, 5 hours from Albuquerque
Looking Back & Looking Forward
– My Letter of Intent, Returning from the Vision Quest –
For Joseph Campbell, the hero’s journey, enduring across cultures and time periods, comprises 3 stages, each fraught with opportunity and danger, and each both metaphorical and also very real: 1) the call to adventure, 2) leaving home, the descent into the land of primal forces, and 3) the return. This letter concerns itself with the last (and sometimes most perilous stage): the return. Having stepped outside the confining comforts of home, familiar habits and crutches, braved the wilds (inner and outer), and in some cases finding clarity in unexpected places about one’s purpose and next steps, the return can be disorienting, where all that was familiar is now strange, where one’s healing gifts are not universally welcomed, where resistance manifests in many forms (inside oneself and from others), and where many forces collude to put us back to sleep (to numb, sedate, control, etc).
“Old BP he had a farm, ‘E-I-E-I-O.’ And on that farm were many shoulds, ‘E-I-E-I-O.’ With a should-should here and a should- should there, here a should, there a should, everywhere a should- should. The old BP he had a farm, ‘E-I-E-I-O’”
Casting forth into the world necessitates a retrospective assessment of the key gifts and messages received on the Quest. Seven things stand out to me from my experience with Sparrow Hart and the others who quested with me in New Mexico in May 2016. The action commitments associated with each one are listed below .
- How Should I Be and What Should I Be Doing? I have had a lifelong obsession with these questions, and I try very hard to do everything right in the hopes of getting the rewards (or avoiding the punishments of being ‘wrong’ or ‘below par’), perpetually convinced I should be diﬀerent, or better, in each moment, in constant need of ‘improvement’. Therefore I’m, by definition, never good enough, never able to relax. Tight self-policing in order to be a ‘good boy’ to be liked by others (so that I can then give myself permission to like myself!). The quest was an early turning point (one of several this year) in an ongoing transition from living according to ‘shoulds’ to living a purposefully chosen life, more intentionally aligned with what I authentically value and desire to manifest in the world and for myself. Direct experience of making those choices over and over rather than defaulting to survival or being at the eﬀect of others was a powerful motivator for change in [Note this is also closely related to the ‘demon of expectations’].
- When I notice a ‘should’ arising, question it using Byron Katie’s 4 questions (‘The Work’). Remind myself of the turn- arounds: I don’t need to figure it all out; I need to not figure it all out; I would be worse oﬀ if I (thought I had) figured it all
- I don’t need to understand / figure out / know more, I need to Get in touch with my feelings. Don’t be shy. No hiding. Feelings will lead me to greater truth.
- notice and verbalize anger as it arises
- acknowledge and take care of my needs, and make requests
- claim my self-centeredness rather than pretending it isn’t there
- get myself a Mullein plant for home , and take Mullein tincture (see sidebar)
- look up the Goddess of Compassion, learn about her, sense into her Obtain a picture of her for my altar. Meditate on her daily.
- make space and time to process/integrate the many blocks to freely flowing life-force and purposeful life (mistrust, rage, fear, deception, self-centeredness, forlorn, grief, lust, etc).
- resist the temptation to overdo this list, becoming a quest over-achiever. Zero in on Allow time for things to manifest in their own rhythm. Trust life.
After completing the Vision Quest
- Getting Out of the West. I’ve developed a tendency since childhood to try to understand/figure out what’s going on in the hopes of reacting better or positioning myself better or not being caught oﬀ-guard. In the tradition of the 4 Shields, being over-invested in the West means going inside (introspection, into my head) and not coming back It’s time to move into action, to free up life energy & get it moving again. The old dualism of being versus doing gives way to a finer distinction between doing from “should” versus doing in authentic alignment.
- when I notice myself caught up again in my mind, speak it out to tree, rock, the river
- when in doubt, choose action; consciously switch gears into action (dance, forward movement). Staying immobilized by the Paralyzer builds stuck energy as agonizing restlessness. Life is
- from Purpose Circle: I am too quiet! Too serious!
- more dance and song, & other ways to come out of my “When did you stop singing?”
- Most of What I Fear(ed) Never Came/Comes to Pass. Life is consistently more generous that my worried ego gives it credit Learn to trust.
- make a fearless inventory of all my fears and review it once a month for a year, adding to it as new ones come
- do Michael Brown’s daily Presence Process every morning (10-15 min) and repeat the 10-week process before Christmas
- Linking Inner and Outer Change. The quest confirmed my abiding interest and commitment to exploring and leading around the myriad interconnections of inner and outer change at this crucial transition in humanity’s
- start an inner/outer change Meet-up group back
- add a session on inner resilience/change to GGR434
- change how I tell the story, as per 50 of my VQ jnl; bring in more storytelling
- build a line of work on inner/outer through new TLCA
- write grant proposal on inner-outer change (interview activists, others)
- write a book on inner-outer change (in next few years)
Mullein Plant softens people up who are hard on themselves, teaching us to be gentler on ourselves. It assists in spinal alignment of Earth and Sky in the heart, to soften and open to divine guidance.
The Return road home.
- The Importance of Meaningful Community. Nourishing relationships formed around key shared values of conscious evolution contribute enormously to my well-being. I thrive in meaningful
- generate and send first Stonepile letter by late June
- continue to nurture relationships with the ‘Fireflies’ group I’m part of; express gratitude for their core role in my unfoldment
- actively cultivate male friendships (and consciously nourish the friendship with _____)
- contact my sister about spending time with her before the end of my sabbatical leave, and write to her monthly
- make a conscious (re)commitment to my relationship with A, based on the primacy of mutual support in our conscious evolution
- find a Kirtan singing group at home
- suggest to that we do a Death Lodge at some point during our holidays together this summer
- continue to accompany what in me harbours wariness toward and resents her for not giving me everything I want when I want it; sense into what needs and wounds lie behind this
- every time I’m attracted to a woman that I feel drawn to cuddle and hold (and be held by), I will take it as a delicious reminder to connect with what in me needs holding and warmth that only I can consistently provide
- I commit to releasing my child (&myself) from the burden of me expecting him to love me & want to be w/ me
- Daily Practices Matter. They set the context for the day, and protect space from the corporatized world for the sacred, the profane, the playful, the continued quest for
- play the rattle or drum PLUS flute or digeridoo for 10-20+ minutes a day
- stand in my purpose circle each morning
- do Michael Brown’s daily Presence Process every morning (10-15 min) and repeat the 10-week process before Christmas
- each morning sense fully into one thing I’m grateful for in my life; each evening review the day and find one thing I’m grateful for in my day.
Sacred rituals and objects are potent reminders of what matters, and allies for staying in our purpose
- work hard during the week (albeit with self-connection time every morning and evening), but take Sundays oﬀ to read, explore, go in nature
- learn one new sacred/Kirtan song each month for the next 6 months
- spend at least one hour each week in nature at a slow pace
- read a section of my quest journal each month
- weekly focusing with through the year
- don’t ignore restlessness – it’s trying to tell me something about stuck energy and resistance
- practice letting grief and other emotions I keep at bay wash over me, releasing them into the loving earth through my left foot, as I did at the outset of the Purpose Circle. Grief is an ally (feeds my journey, needs to be expressed into the world).
- Confirmation of my Medicine Name. Confirms and proclaims essential qualities I already possess and need to own more: strength, gentleness,
- Use my medicine name as my middle name… like my former PhD supervisor.
- change my gmail address to include my medicine name.
- practice cultivating gentleness and warmth towards myself, invoking spirit guide as needed for assistance
- bring Willow energy to the transition (strength, rootedness, warmth, compassion). Soft and hardy like
- sense into how else Willow energy wishes to manifest in my life
- Connecting With the Divine/Sacred Feminine In and Around Me. Part of my attraction to women is to the soft feminine energy that I’ve exiled in myself and projected onto women. It’s time to re-own those qualities in myself. Indeed Presence requires the pairing of otherwise cold impersonal awareness of absolute clarity (e.g. seeing one’s own patterns) with the warmth of the divine feminine, a tenderheartedness that Buddhists call
- read Sally Kempton’s book Awakening Shakti, doing the exercises
- do one Shakti meditation from Kempton’s audiobook each day
- focus on, meditate with, & call in, a diﬀerent Shakti goddess every week (Durgha, Lakshme, Kali, Dhumvati, etc), noticing their energies in me and around me, and noticing what I’m drawn to and what I’m wary Print their pictures for my altar each week.
- a big part of my sense of contribution and ambition for the coming year is to embody loving-kindness in all my relations (with myself and with others), and to use my admin roles to practice tenderheartedness and also a steadfastness in the face of bullshit
- see also section on Willow/Mullein energy, insofar as they embody the gentle power and fierce compassion of the divine feminine
Also many ideas for how to frame the new Healthy Cities Institute (with Community Health Development Unit at its core) and how to organize my time with “A.” diﬀerently.
There will surely be many challenges associated with keeping the Quest alive in the coming year, and some may come as a surprise, unexpectedly. Here are a few I’m aware of (and thus able to watch for and address as they arise):
Staying stuck in the West – prioritizing analysis and understanding over action.
Taking on too much – overambitious, underestimating time required, setting myself up for disappointment, failing to prioritize, feeling like keeping it simple and focusing on doing just a few things well is not suﬃcient or is for ‘ordinary’ people…
Getting sidetracked by work – when there is potentially so much to be done and my colleagues all work ridiculously long hours, it’s hard not to get lost in work and forget to come up for air. This could be a significant challenge given the new responsibilities I’m taking on when I return from sabbatical leave, and my prior history of workaholism
Lack of adequate nature connection and space to let loose – living in an apartment in the heart of downtown Toronto means limited access to green space, and limited opportunities to be wild (even inside, given the proximity of neighbors and inadequate sound insulation). Using public parks in the city to be on all fours eating twigs and crying to the trees risks bringing out the men in white lab coats! Where are the spaces to be wild in the city, in this culture? I will need to find spaces to commune with nature and spaces where I can cry out, scream, roll on the ground, rattle and drum. I sense this will mean taking up the oﬀer to access lands east of the city that have been allocated for this purpose.
FireFlies group – This precious community is committed to mutual awakening and conscious evolution, and is guided by “G’s” profound knowledge of ritual/ceremony, shamanic healing, inner relationship focusing, deep intuition, Presence, and non-violent communication… and the commitment of each person in the group to take responsibility for their own wounds and healing.
Totem animals and beings – frog, horse, snow, willow, mullein, antelope, black panther, deer, crow, and more…
Music, song and dance – playing the drum I made myself of bison and moose hyde, playing the ceramic flute and the digeridoo, crystal bowls, rattle; kirtan songs; sacred drumming & sacred music
My spirit guide(s) – bringing guidance & loving kindness on my path
Shakti goddesses – the energy, spirit and form of Durgha, Kali, Lakshmi, Dhumvati, Saraswati, Chinnemasta, Lalita, and Bhuvaneshwari goddesses; helping manifest divine feminine in and through me
Abundance and gratitude – sensing the abundance all around me, all that I’ve been given and have access to; feeling and expressing gratitude daily for the abundance in my life
Inspirational reading – authors who impart wisdom that I find compelling and inspiring; Adyashanti, Ekhart Tolle, Sally Kempton, Pema Chodron, Sparrow Hart, Michael Brown, Almaas, Marshall Rosenberg, Osho (Tarot), and many others.
Daily Practices that serve as potent reminders of what we hold most dear, and that help anchor us in the realm of the sacred, living an intentional life; The Presence Process, Inner Relationship Focusing, NVC, Shakti meditations, yoga, gratitude journals, & more.
Colleagues who sometimes see my potential more clearly than I can, and who are genuinely interested in me and welcoming my unfolding awakening.
Laughter. Need I say more?
As I reflect on what I’ve written, I wonder if I’ve lost sight of the forest for the trees.
What stands out as the handful of items and commitments that most speak to me are those related to manifesting the sacred feminine and the tenderheartedness of bodhichitta in my life, stepping into a consciously chosen life, and the daily practices to keep me anchored in what matters most to me and that keep the flame of self-connection and connection to the Divine Mystery alive.
Ultimately it’s about finding inner peace by letting go of egoic strategies (attachment to comfort, planning for the future, image management, the illusion of control that fuels the impulse to figure things out and govern myself accordingly) and cultivating an abiding connection to the Divine Mystery in all her radiant ecstatic beauty. The normal preoccupations with career, where to live, and what to eat pale by comparison to the splendours of living at the feet of the great Goddess(es), immersed in the bountiful beauty of the sacredness of all life forms in our midst into which they breath their Kundalini life force…