On the 18th of September, I will leave Middlebury for 10 days, 4 of which I will spend on a solo fast.
Anthropologists coined the term “vision quest” to describe a particular Native American rite of passage. The practice of going alone into nature, fasting, and seeking vision, insight or clarity.
However, this practice is ubiquitous across human histories and beliefs. Jesus, Moses, and Siddhartha Gautama all completed “vision quests” of a sort. I’m not trying to say I’m like any of them, of course. My point is this: such a tradition has roots in so many groups and cultures, and belongs to none.
The program I have chosen to participate in strikes me as an archetypal rite of passage, following the classic anthropological characterization. There is a beginning (“severance”), a middle (“threshold” or “liminality”), and an end (“reincorporation”). There are, additionally, a fast and a period of isolation. The form, meaning and context of the ritual, however, depend on the individual.
The vision quest has a rich and varied history. Still, I find myself sheepishly telling some that I am “going camping” for 10 days. Others, I know will understand and support my intention immediately. And some, upon hearing my real plans, ask, “Why the hell would you want to do that?” An answer is never quick to reach my lips.
And so, I am sharing this letter of intent (requested by my program) for the first and the last category of people. For those whom I have not had the courage to tell, and for those who have not understood. Because I am proud of myself for choosing to embark on a journey that twines with the sacred and echoes across time. I want those people, and others like them, to understand why.
I want to do a vision quest because the prospect of going alone into nature, facing my fears, finding my path, and meeting my deepest self appeals to me on a primal level.
I feel that I am at a moment of deep transition. I have recently graduated from college, and stand with one foot through the door to the rest of my life. Not just the physical trappings, but also the emotional, metaphysical, and spiritual material of my life seem to be hovering in limbo.
I would argue, too, that physically the last 23 years have comprised a prolonged transition from total protection and dependence to total self-sufficiency. These shifts call for ritual. I believe we need ritual and ceremony to mark significant passages, and I have chosen that which speaks to my Truth.
I see my preparation for this journey as an opportunity to articulate for myself and for others the kind of transition I hope to undergo.
I want to bury frivolity, selfishness and vanity. That is not to say I wish to let go of levity—the six-year-old girl who laughs unstoppably at silly jokes and chases after bubbles can stay. That is also not to say I wish to part with confidence, for that is possibly the greatest strength I possess.
The 18-year-old woman who tested her power at the expense of others can stay in the past, though. So too can my high school make-up and gratuitous “selfies.” The pride that stops 22-year-old me from asking for help or accepting criticism may stay behind as well.
Every coin has two sides. I would like to exchange frivolity for meaning, selfishness for generosity, and vanity for humility. I want to discover the outlines, the shadow, even, of the path I am on—the underlying purpose of my actions, choices, and the work I find myself doing. I want to explore the gifts I have not had the chance to cultivate, and then I want to share them with those who might benefit. Finally, I hope to do this for the right reasons, to avoid both praise and confrontation. I intend to return quietly, with grace.
Moreover, I invite an abundance of joy, laughter, adventure, magic, spirit and stardust into my life. I wish my journey to be a never-ending pursuit of these things.
Now the hard part. What obstacles block me? What do I really fear? I am afraid I don’t know my weaknesses. I don’t know what I really fear. That in of itself seems a major lacking of knowledge. I cannot fully know myself without it. Maybe it is dangerous to wish for, but I hope to find my fears while I am alone. Until I know what they are, I can’t confront them. Until I know what they are, I can’t defeat them. I am, undeniably, afraid to find out.
Lastly, my strength. It flows from water. From the moon. From the earth and the stars. I do not connect with these sources often enough. That is, to end where I began, I do not spend enough time alone in Nature. When I stop to listen, though, the wind whispers secrets in my ears. The trees teach me to grow roots. The birds teach me to grow wings. The earth sets a rhythm for my heart to follow, and the rivers sing as they flow through my hair. They know why I am drawn to do this. I want to do a vision quest so they can tell me too.