So much of my ideas around time revolve around doing things. This meeting or that activity measured in certain amounts of time. I put aside time to do things and then fill it with actions. On vision quest all those channels are removed. My experience of time itself changes. Most of it is noise. When I sit with myself for any extended time I see that clearly. Most of it is different kinds of noise, little of which matters or has much bearing on reality. But my attention is trained in a particular way so put me in social context and watch me run. I run myself as if I were in control, in the illusion of thinking I am the pilot. Who am I kidding, I am little more control of myself than I am the weather. The difference is it appears like I am and I have society behind me telling me that I have this thing called free will. That’s a topic for another conversation. Suffice is to say that I don’t see anything free about my will as long as it’s at the whim of my conditioning. The freedom I find on the mountain is precisely because of the constraints. That intelligence moves me beyond my predictable patterning.
This part of my writing then I am calling – grappling with my story.
The structure of the quest is broken into 4, 7, 9 and 13 days. You complete one and move onto the next the following year. The 13 day being the quest that integrates the entire process. You go through all previous quests and then add another 4 days on just to make sure you get it. What is one getting? many possibilities but for me the most pressing, I need a lot less than I think I do. In fact needing nothing at all can produce the most ecstatic states.
The essential self is the ground of acceptance. Without it there is little hope for acceptance because the ego is very simple and predictable by nature. It either doesn’t wants or does. In either case, resistance is at the core of experience. Resistance to losing what I have or to having what I don’t want. In either case, the underlying tone is discontent. Freud called it ‘normal misery’. I don’t think he is was far off. In this mode of push and pull, I need an awful lot of control. The quest is a way of ripping the band aid off. Giving my ego very little of what it wants, all I need do is witness my own dismantling.
This is what catalysed the journey of acceptance. Up the notch of discomfort, take away the usual distraction and see what’s there. How am I? this is where it gets fascinating because from the outside, there I am sitting there looking like probably not much happening. From the inside, another reality all together. Thoughts like flies are my constant companion. They can be agonising, calm, sometimes insightful, memories, imaginations and projections and whatever else. Thankfully mind does quieten in nature.
…. Humility – day 1 to 4 – colour Red – element Fire – direction East
The first 4 days the prayer is for humility. I have to accept the fragility of my body. I am dying slowly. I feel the absence of water more than anything. It is an incredibly physical journey on the level of bodily sensations. The dry fast puts me face on with my instincts. There is a fight in me. I feel like a wet cloth being rung out. I wake up with the first light, a whole day ahead of me without water. The first day passes with relative ease and the second arrives before long. It’s a good feeling have these days behind me because I’m in it now. On the 3rd and 4th day I experience waves of thirst but also longer periods of calm.
I am on my back a lot. Sometimes I find myself in foetal position finding solace in the holding. Every posture has a cycle and I sense myself coming to the end of one and moving into the next. One of my favourites is on my back with my legs up on the side of a tree. I feel so much support from the tree as the soles of my feet find a place on the bark. As if tree speaks through my feet, telling me I am a part of this nature. I love this feeling of feet connected to tree. Even better when the sun finds my body and warms me to my bones.
My days are spent in only a handful of different positions and there is some routine. The end of one leads into the beginning of the next. From my back I sit up. many people ask me if I meditate. I never meditate because the quest itself is one long meditation. There is no getting away from it, mind follows. Each moment is a choice of presence or distraction. I sit up, not meditating, just sitting. Everything else is the same, mind heart body continue as they did when I was on the ground.
I enjoy the sitting but this too will give way into a new position like squatting. Squatting too feels good for a time and then I am on my back again, this time I may stretch. From there I walk around my space, or just stand for a while. And those more or less are my movements for the duration of the quest. I find a rhythm in them, there is a comfort in each one because they contain a beginning and end. Similar to a story, mind relaxes in story, finds an orientation in story.
My thirst peaks on day 2 and into day 3, thereafter I am in a fasting state punctuated by longer periods where strangely the thirst disappears. I am left needing nothing, a welcome feeling. 4 nights pass and I am visited by the support team around midday . It’s a welcome sight, knowing that relief is imminent. I always have the thought that If I can do the first 4 days then I can do anything that follows. But the painful emotions, the ones I spend my life avoiding can feel harder than not having water.
…. Will – day 5 to 7 – colour Yellow – element Earth – direction South
On day 5 to 7 the prayer is for will. These are the prayers set within the tradition we work within. My will as it connects to universal will, remembering purpose beyond my personhood. What am I here for, what is mine to give. My experience of this time is usually a clearing ground for whatever I pushed aside that stands in the way of me listening to life. My fear, insecurity, worth, resistance to life come into view.
My palette is clean and my body is ready to receive every last drop of nourishment. I have to ration my fruit to about 2 pieces a day but before fruits, tea. This is the sacred sacrament of peyote. Just imagine how ripe you are after 4 days to receive this medicine. I know little else that feels as healing to the body, mind, spirit. My cells feel like they are in an ecstatic dance. I am incredibly thirsty so take in more than half the 1.5 L allocated.
I am in heaven. It is a strange transition to be on the other side of thirst. Will comes when I relax, when I open to an intelligence beyond myself. This new phase of the quest helps me with that by putting me in relationship with my condition in very real way.
Our conditions are complex, multifaceted and connected to past. Who knows how many generations back. I carry the stories of my ancestry. They are alive in me, both strengthening and weakening forces. I am spun into the whirlwind of everything that I am and have been. The project at hand is coming to terms with the version of myself I have become.
I am cast back to a young boy. I know this boy but have not fully embraced him. I wish he had done it differently as I imagine who I would be now had he been able to stick it out at karate.
I feel angry with my dad because the story I am telling is that he let me quit. He should have shown me a way through rather than back away from challenging. He didn’t. That’s the father I had. There is more fight in me. Maybe I’m even angry at God, how could it have happened this way. Aren’t I supposed to be someone else.
I say acceptance runs deep because the things I need to accept are almost always rooted in the past. I have to feel what that boy felt, remember what his life was like. He needs compassion. It’s too easy to think that little guy should have done it differently.
The hard part about accepting the choice to quit was accepting all that came after that. Accepting the implications to my life, how this would shape me all the way through to present day.
Only with hindsight’s view do I see the unfolding story. When I take the perspective of that young boy, I see the truth of the choice that he made. To him with everything he had at his disposal, the life that he had lived up until then all culminated in that being the best he could do. I find a way of softening with him, seeing him. Accepting him just as he is. I think of the pain of excluding him.
There is no middle ground when it comes to acceptance. To accept life is to take it as it is, no argument. Those choices start the sketch of the character I will become, the major themes that will play out, the backdrop to my life. Accepting the little boy in me and respecting his choice to quit puts me in relationship with all the versions of myself that would follow. They too needed kindness and understanding. They all had their reasons. I must become even more intimate with my story, finding a way to love everything that has come before in my life, and the lives before me.
Accepting my life as it is then also accepting the inevitable archetypical journey that I step into by incarnating. From there novelty can emerge. What an opportunity in that, to do it differently in ways that count not only my own life but all that I am connected to.
Next and last post in this series – Blessing of water and dreaming the deeper dream
Credit to Joe Flemming for the feature image.