There is a reason why vision quests are traditionally something that adolescents engage in as a rite of passage into adulthood; young people are clearly better able to withstand the physical demands. But, ultimately, a vision quest is not about suffering; it is about receiving a vision.
In my case, I received benefits even before my first [vision] quest began—from the moment I contemplated doing it. That night, I had multiple dreams of dying and being reborn into a new awareness, of connecting to ancestor spirits emerging from the ocean and floating through the air. I also began to hear differently, both in my dreams and in waking life. Common sounds—bird calls, branches swaying, leaves whispering—became more prominent. Spirit seemed to be telling me that it was all about listening. I could feel the muscles behind my ear twitching in anticipation, and I eventually realized that I was being prepared for something that my rational mind could not possibly understand.
When the time came, I set out on the quest, high in the mountains above Cloudcroft, NM. I selected and set up my space as I was instructed to do, drawing my circle with my prayer stick and placing four rocks at the four cardinal directions and my altar in the center. I had also brought sacred objects of my own, including sage, tobacco, bear, and eagle fetishes. I brought Tibetan bells and a singing bowl that I have used for years—or should I say for the ears—since they serve to awaken one to hearing increasingly subtle vibrations. I knew the bells would be important. I blessed the space with tobacco and said my early morning prayers, chanted, prayed more with the bells and singing bowl, and then sat down to listen to the sounds around me.
Almost immediately, I experienced an acute increase in my hearing that was rather astonishing. I heard ravens from a great distance speaking in their distinctive staccato voice—CAH CAH. When the ravens came closer, I heard them make guttural, rumbling sounds that I had never heard before. Then, a blue jay spoke in an even sharper tone, almost hawk like, and at a much higher pitch, JAAY, JAAY. The bird was far away but eventually came into my field of vision, and flew directly toward me, coming to rest about fifty yards away and remained silent for a time. It was then that he opened his wings, and I was surprised to hear the sound—and loudly. In fact, the sound of the wings was not “out there,” but in my body. I felt waves of electric vibration coursing through me, opening me to a frequency I did not know existed. The jay then came up to me, sitting on the ground beside me, clearly acting as a welcoming ambassador. We exchanged something, but I cannot translate the language, at least not yet.
A particularly magical time was when a honey bee came to linger at several flowers that were in my circle. I experienced the relationship between the bee and the flower as the lovemaking that it is. While the bee was still there, a soft rain began to fall, and then a more insistent downpour. I could feel Mother Earth opening up to receive the blessing from the sky. This too was a form of lovemaking, with Father Sky impregnating the earth with future growth. After the rain tapered off and then ended, the blue gramma grass, still twitching in ecstasy, began dancing with the breeze in what seemed to me a conscious celebration. The sun shone upon its body, and the raindrops glistened. A great peace enveloped me.
Gradually, I slipped out of rational mind, as if I were taking off excess clothing. Instead of focusing my egoic attention outward, I allowed events to present themselves to me and to become truly wrapped up in them. Again, it was sound that was the most prominent shift. I realized I had entered an entirely different world—one in which sound was no longer the operative word. It was a world of vibration. And everything that exists vibrates. This world seemed to have infinite layers upon layers of subtlety, and I was only able to get a glimpse of it all—to at least realize that there were vast dimensions I could not see.
As the afternoon shadows darkened, I marveled at the perfectness of nature’s timing. So much of human action is about trying to control what is, to know “what time it is,” to select and separate one event to focus upon over another. But nature is not a sequence of events; it is an orchestra of things happening all at the same time. A vision quest or other forms of sacred contemplation can teach us to soften our focus, to accept things as they are without trying to control them with our minds. It is all about trust.
Much of what happens on a vision quest—or any time in which rational thought is suspended—is hard to describe in words. Rational thinking prevents us from becoming involved in nature. But when we do become involved, we sense something of the unlimited reservoir of blessing and knowledge that has been available to us all along. On my quest, I came to see every blade of grass, every plant, rock, tree, or insect as a teacher. I felt their energy as aware and alive and imbued with spirit. I knew that Spirit was all around me and moving though me, carried by what I used to call “wind.”
At times, it was blissful, like being hugged by God. At times, it was intense and challenging, because of the sheer magnitude of the power I was experiencing. In the end, I came away with a vision that did not replace my vision of reforming education but deepened it. I now realized that we need to reeducate our minds even prior to reforming education, and that the reform of education will naturally follow when our minds are ready.
I have sensed this before and thought I knew this before, but I did not really know it. Through vision quest, I experienced a deepening of something that my rational mind knew about like a traveler might know about a distant land they had not yet visited through a travel brochure or movie. On my first quest, I went into it being intellectually aware that we are all composed of 70 percent water. But it was quite another thing to go without water and to feel right down to the marrow of my bones that: I AM WATER and from that place to have a new relationship with all the waters in the world. Direct knowing is different. It is an experience, not an abstract learning about something.
The preceding was excerpted from Original Thinking: A Radical ReVisioning of Time, Humanity, and Nature by Glenn Aparicio Parry, and is reprinted with the permission of North Atlantic Books © 2014.
Glenn Aparicio Parry, PhD, also given the name Kizhe Naabe (Ojibwe for “Kind-Hearted Man),” is a writer, educator, international speaker, entrepreneur, and visionary whose life-long passion is to reform thinking and education into a coherent, cohesive whole. The founder and past president of the SEED Institute, Parry is currently the president of the think tank: The Circle for Original Thinking. Parry organized and participated in the groundbreaking Language of Spirit Conferences from 1999 – 2011 that brought together Native and Western scientists in dialogue, moderated by Leroy Little Bear. His new book Original Thinking will be available in Spring 2015 from North Atlantic Books. www.originalthinking.us
Image by Julie Jordan Scott, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.