The Vision Quest as a Native American Rite of Passage

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My vision quest experience starts with a decision.

You see my family with whom I lived within Arizona were planning on moving back to our home state Texas. I knew I didn’t want to go, I was resisting leaving the familiarity of Arizona where I had been raised. I didn’t want to leave my friends and the environment that I had been living in for 20 years. I had signed up for the vision quest weeks before, but as fate would have it my parents choose the same weekend to move. So the morning came for me to drive to Camp Verde and leave my family not even being sure I’d see them again or when. So, I said my emotional goodbyes and promises of calling and staying in touch and began driving to Master Virginia’s place knowing I’d never go back to that house I had been living in for years again.

My decision and this drive were a big deal.

I felt strange, uncertain, uncomfortable but determined. I listened to some nice native music by a group called Burning Sky and tried to comfort myself that I was moving in the right direction. So I arrived at Master Virginia and Michael’s house to find some of the other students sitting outside at a table, so I reluctantly went over and introduced myself and made chitchat. Slowly everyone began to show up and we said our Hello’s. I felt awkward and out of place. Everyone was so nice and it was nice to be around others of like spiritual interest. Michael especially made me feel welcome as if I were the guest of honor or something. That made me feel better. Then Master Virginia drove up and I was nervous. I tried to shake her hand but she pulled me into a hug with a shining smile on her face and in her eyes.

Everyone was very nice and interesting, but I felt awkward.

I have to admit I usually find myself the only one in a group with an interest in spirituality and feel confident in this respect, wise, but with this group, it was like I was amongst the wisest people I’ve ever met and I didn’t measure up. Night came and I participated in my first ever sweat lodge experience! It was very relaxing, and I loved the warmth, the lighting, the music, and the scent. I stayed in there until everyone else had left and just enjoyed some time alone. I slept in a tent in the backyard that night, everything felt like a dream, it was all so out of the ordinary for me.

I awoke the next day and we were driven to our spot where we got out and hiked the rest of the way to the cave. Now I was beginning to feel more at home, more in my element. We conducted a ceremony in the cave together to initiate the official start of the vision quest. I remember feeling a strong desire to allow myself to just be more and not do anything because I felt obligated to, so I just bowed my head during the ceremony, not that I wasn’t participating, just that I was being true to myself.

Four days together in that cave with no food, no water if we wanted to try to go without it, and a vow of silence. I remember how loud and thick the silence was when Master Virginia and the others left us there to start our journey. We each picked out our spots and communicated when we needed to with looks and hand gestures. We laid out our sleeping bags and I went in search of wood after having been nominated the official fire tender. Then there was nothing left to do but hang out. We would lay on our mates and just be there, no talking, no TV’s, no music, just laying there, being. Hours past by like days and I felt like I was in that cave for a lifetime. The first few days I enjoyed going for hikes, being alone and exploring. Or I would climb the rocks and jump from one to another and stand on the very edge of a cliff and just look around. I remember certain thoughts kept slipping into my mind and I really just wanted to be rid of them. I didn’t want to think about that situation or that person. I felt I was out here to have a vision and that it was meant to be spiritual and these thoughts were just residue from my everyday affairs and didn’t belong out here, with me in this desert, in this cave, in that sacred place. So I spent the first two days, laying around, hiking, thinking, trying not to think. Those first two days felt like two years to me. Master Virginia would come by every so often and check on us. She told us to try not to drink any water if we could manage it but that we were not obligated, I almost made it two days but eventually circumed to my fierce thirst. Yet I didn’t feel bad, it seemed my intention and my lesson throughout this journey was one of nonresistance, and I was proud of myself for having made it that long without water. The lack of food didn’t bother me at all in the sense that I never found myself thinking about it, however by the third day I was growing very weak from lack of substance and when I attempted to go for hikes or climbs on the 3rd and 4th day I felt every step was a huge effort-consuming my last drop of energy I had in all of my body. More then once I went out of the cave for a hike and thought I wasn’t going to make it back. By the 3rd day, I had also stopped resisting the thoughts and feelings that were trying to get my attention and the moment I did that I felt immensely better inside. At peace and I just allowed myself to think and feel whatever presented itself to me. Now thoughts came, but because of my lack of resistance they also went and I was happy. That night I went outside of the cave and rested against a rock and watched the stars. It was very peaceful and I was extremely happy I had made the decision to do it, I was also very happy that it was almost over and looking forward to the last day! That last day seemed like the longest. I had started to think about food again and my stomach was bare and reminding me it still existed and wanted attention. I rolled up my sleeping bag and gathered my stuff and waited… and waited. When the time was drawing near for us to leave we all agreed to start talking again and the man was it nice just to hear some voices besides the one inside my own head. I had been hiking around so much I knew the general direction back to the road so I lead us questers back to the road in faith that I was right. Luckily I was the cause if I had been wrong and gotten us lost I know I would have been dinner that night.

It wasn’t over yet, however. Master Virginia came and picked us up providing Gatorade but we still weren’t allowed to eat. That night we were to participate in another sweat lodge, one 1000’s of times more hot and intense than the first. So we prepared ourselves, still hungry, still not quite completely out of that cave yet, and entered into the lodge. She warned us ahead of time of how hot it was going to get and then we began.
Within minutes the small compartment that held us 12 people was filled with scorching steam and out went at least 4 people immediately who couldn’t bear it. I kept a towel over my face and tried to breathe in the thick hot air. My skin was burning and I squirmed around as if I could somehow escape the inferno. Then, one after another everyone was piling out of the lodge yet I stayed, the one moment in my whole experience I surrendered to an obligatory feeling. I stayed in that oven drenched in sweat. I stayed in there till my vision began to fade. I was moaning quietly and still squirming around light-headed and knowing any moment I was going to pass out. Finally, having reached my limit I quietly asked if I could leave the lodge and crawled out onto the patio feeling 1000’s of miles away from my body. Someone helped me up and I couldn’t walk on my own. They helped me to a chair where I spent at least 20 minutes recovering to the point that I could at least stand again without my knees wobbling. That night we were treated to a huge wonderful dinner and I stuffed myself, savoring every taste and the sensation of a full stomach.

Wilderness Trip

The next day, however, was the best part of the entire experience. I rode a horse for my first time with Master Virginia through the desert. That time with her out there on these horses was the most completely satisfying, peaceful, humbling moment.

I felt I was right exactly where I was supposed to be and although I was faced with the question of where I was going to live when I went back to Prescott, or where I was even headed in life, I felt totally secure.

Everyone was very nice and offered me help and support. I went back to Prescott, a few months later quit my job. I was still resisting where life was trying to urge me to go, and I actually, gave away or sold all of my belongings except for my motorcycle. I was going to just be homeless and give up, but one day, after a nice long talk with my higher self I decided to stop resisting and went through yet another four-day journey. I rode my motorcycle from Prescott Arizona, to Humble Texas. It took me four days but I made it and it was quite an interesting trip, that that’s another story. I’m happy I finally stopped resisting and listened to my guidance. I’m happy here and things are going great. The overall lesson from my vision quest experience was one of nonresistance and I practice it every moment of every day now.

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