Vision opens us to what was previously unknown, unacknowledged, or unrecognized. Vision could be a grand illumination reminiscent of Buddha in 500 B.C. – realizing an identity beyond all previous versions of yourself as human, separate, and embedded in social roles. Or vision might be more simple or practical — how to hunt, find food, or function in the world; how to be a good husband, wife, or partner; or a discovery of what you’re on this planet to do. Whenever you’re opened, touched by, and embrace something not previously recognized, the new realization is called vision.
Vision could arrive as an overwhelming mystical feeling that everything is love, perfect, or pulsing energy… as an undeniable aliveness, or pure white light. The visionary state can be imaginative or symbolic, a recognition you carry an archetype or an energy passed down through millennia.
Many people come to vision quests with some desire to “have a vision,” and they could be seeking any number of things. They might be looking for cathartic spiritual realizations like those of sages in the past. Some assume the word vision implies an altered state with transcendent feelings of rapture, psychedelic landscapes, or meetings with magical beings beyond the ordinary.
Vision could be all or any of these things, but ultimately, I define vision as “seeing what is.” And a “vision” — small or grand – will usually be free of judgment, self-importance, and attachment to perspectives that want to package reality in a box that’s acceptable or enhancing to the ego.
Vision does not have to be a mystical or “enlightened” experience. It could be that. “Seeing what is” can be an experience of the multi-dimensional nature of the universe where you perceive all of creation as infinite, pulsing energy; a realization that everything is perfect; or overwhelming feelings of bliss. But it can also manifest as a powerful and undeniable encounter with one’s shadow.
In the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, step four involves undertaking a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of oneself. With that focus and intention, “vision” could involve seeing one’s shame, resentments, judgments, and habitual ways of feeling superior — all the ways we remove or distance ourselves from others. The insights resulting from this “fearless inventory” might include a recognition of one’s shadow, a realization of the negative stories you tell yourself, or an awareness of the fears that prohibit you from having an open, loving, and curious view of the world.
This type of vision may not make you happy because “what is” can be painful, unjust, or dysfunctional. These realizations involve loss – saying goodbye to continuing on the way you were – as well as the necessity and responsibility of change. This can be daunting, but ultimately it leads to greater potential for joy, a more balanced or harmonious life, and an opportunity to live true to your values with integrity and authenticity. But in the short term, these realizations may not be pleasant.
Years ago, a man in his mid-thirties — divorced a year and a half, with two young boys from the marriage — came to undertake a vision quest. Though the divorce was over, he remained filled with resentment about its terms. He’d lost his house, paid child support and alimony that required him to work at a job he disliked, and was allowed to see his sons only two weekends a month.
He wanted to move on and be free of resentment. His anger toward his former wife and the settlement was bleeding into his relationship with his sons. Picking up the boys for a weekend triggered feelings of mistreatment and being screwed over. It was difficult to resist bad-mouthing their mother. These intense emotions colored the weekends set aside for his sons, getting in the way of expressing the love he felt or being the father he wanted to be for his boys. At times, he felt so hurt he wanted to disappear and have nothing to do with his sons or any part of his former life.
He arrived at the quest desperate to deal with his resentment in order to become the man and father he wanted to be. He spoke often about this during the preparation time, and was offered several rituals and tools he could use while on his solo. On his return, he shared what had happened.
He had many wonderful encounters that included coyotes, hawks, and other forces of nature. He heard melodies coming from the ancient rocks and had taken on a medicine name, Singing Mountain. But the vast majority of his story was about his relationship to his sons. He carried a renewed and deeper realization of their importance to him, and he returned entirely committed — in the two weekends a month he had with them – to being the best father those boys could ever hope to have. Everyone who heard his tale was moved by it. And at the end, after sharing all that had transpired, he added, “But I didn’t have a vision.”
For a few seconds, there was silence (I think everyone wanted to slap him.) It’s true, there wasn’t any psychedelic event where luminous angels announcing he’d been a light worker for 2,000 incarnations and was now free. But Singing Mountain had a vision — a powerful vision of what was truly important… a vision of the path in front of him… a vision of what he needed to do, and who he needed to be, in order to live with passion and integrity as a loving man and caring father. His “vision” wasn’t psychedelic, other-worldly, or transcendent. It was simple, clear, and resolute in showing what to do and how to act to be a man of honor, character, and authenticity.
Sun Bear, a teacher I once had, said, “If your vision doesn’t grow corn, I don’t want to hear it.” Singing Mountain had a vision that grew corn, a vision that would help feed his sons. And growing corn often involves work — hoeing, weeding, and moving a little manure.
— Sparrow Hart……….. September 5, 2017