Twelve years ago, I spent four days and four nights in the Texas wilderness completing a traditional Native American Vision Quest and was given a hand made peace pipe as recognition for keeping my commitment. I was tasked with praying, meditating, fasting and doing my best to sing traditional songs in Lakota as a gentle April rain kept me company and VERY damp for the duration of this four day journey.
This journey began many years before when I went to visit my first Vision Quest Ceremony on the same land where I participated in central Texas. This raw land was bought and continues to be managed by people who studied with Native American Leaders and teachers from South Dakota reservations. These leaders believe that if they teach their people’s ceremonies to all races and cultures, the world will be better. This has been a very spiritual and risky journey for these leaders since other Native Americans consider sharing their religion in this way as disrespectful to their people.
I can really appreciate that many full blooded Native Americans are not enthralled with the idea of their religion and rituals being shared with the white race who, in earlier generations, took their land, killed much of their population, and stole their ceremonies. In fact, some Native American ceremonies were actually illegal in this country until 1978 when American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed. Of course many people continued to practice despite the laws, and others have lost a connection to their own religion. Only about one in ten of Native Americans practice a form of their indigenous religion and it makes sense that those that do, are often very protective of it. I am really in awe of the leaders who often have very little in the way of possessions or wealth but are so generous in sharing what is most sacred to them.
Because of their generosity I was able compete a vision quest process where I focused on what my purpose is on the planet and found answers. This process included four 7 day ceremonies that occurred once a year in April. Over the four years, I spent time one on one time with elders and as well as with the larger community who was supporting or participating in the ceremony and on my own in the wilderness. This “on my own” portion of the quest started with one day in the first year and then two in the second, and then three in the third, culminating with four days in the last year. During this special time, I was on my own I was given time to reflect, face my fears and enjoy divine energy. It was a thrilling and precious time for me.
One of the practices that is inexplicable and magical is that the community members back in camp eat, drink and pray for you while you are visioning. I actually experienced very little hunger and thirst while fasting and all this special prayer helped me through close encounters with spiders, mice, a rattlesnake, an armadillo, an owl and other assorted creatures who came to visit me. Each the animals brought lessons and every time I went into my vision space, a little more was revealed about who I was and who I was becoming.
I am BEYOND grateful for the opportunity to have been welcomed and supported to this culture and religion. It has been the most powerful collection of experiences I have had so far and continues to influence how I live my life every day. Because of it, I have devoted myself to respectfully translating this ancient practice into an accessible and contemporary version that is now my life’s work. I have the great honor of helping children, teens and adults have their own personal vision quest-like experiences, without the fasting, rain and animals. I would not have this privilege without the wisdom and teachings shared with me and honor all the indigenous tribes that have kept these traditions through hardship and trusted their loving hearts enough to share it with those of us that were thirsting for healing and knowledge that has been part of humanity and the earth for thousands of years.