Vision Questing in the Postmodern World: Now More Important Than Ever
Vision questing is a very personal topic for me; I have vision quested for years and also developed wilderness therapy programs that put hundreds of people out on vision quests. I’m talking about the traditional type of vision quest here, in which the individual goes into the wilderness and finds a spot. When we were helping people find their spot, we used to say, “Look for a place that would be a good place to die.” In other words, find a place where you can really go through that process: die, and be rebirthed into the next unfoldment of who you are.
I think this is an essential part of becoming a truly mature, actualized human being—an adult who has worked through their childhood issues, their adolescent identity issues, and who is now prepared to quest and search, asking, “How can I participate? What is my path of service? What is my particular medicine that I have to give to the world?”
All kinds of people throughout the world do various forms of vision questing, but I learned most of what I know from the Plains Indians tradition here in North America. One of the translations describes the vision quest as a lament for a vision, where you’re really pouring your heart out to the creator, the universe, saying, “Please, please, please, please. Give me a vision. Show me how, which way to walk, and what to do.”
The ancient Hebrew prophets said that without a vision, the people perish. How true this was then—and maybe even more true now than when it was first uttered thousands of years ago. Without a vision, without light on the trail, without a deep, intuitive understanding of what our lives are supposed to be about, we just lose our way in the postmodern, technological, existential confusion and jungle.
A traditional vision quest is a very admirable and also a delightful thing. It connects us deeply with nature. When you go out there, and you’re fasting in your spot, you’re not wandering around, generally speaking. It’s not a walkabout. It’s a sit down and pray about. You become very connected to the animals, to the sky, to the stars, to the wind, the trees, the plants, and everything that’s there. It reconnects us to our mother, to the Earth. I think it was Alan Watts who said, “We don’t come into the world; we come out of the world.” I like that. We’re not aliens from some other place; we actually come out of this mother here.
Not all of us can go on a traditional type of vision quest, but we all need to go on inner vision quests. With the new VisionQuest tracks that iAwake Technologies has put out, we have a new tool to do that—maybe not in the traditional way, but anciently traditional in the spirit in which we embrace it. As our practice deepens, we begin to confront the bigger questions about who we are and what we’re here to accomplish, whether it’s to raise our children; start a company; to alleviate suffering in some field; to be a creative thinker, producer, artist, musician, poet, writer, fireman, cop, or whatever it might be. We have to find our way, and once we do, everything just shifts. It becomes a different universe.
Sometimes when we’re living unconsciously, we are pushing toward what we don’t understand yet, out of a certain hunger and need to be searching. But, often, we move into the dark space of the existential void, where we’ve forgotten who we are and what we’re here for. Life can seem like a painful, random, cynical joke, and not a very funny joke at that. We get lost like a rudderless ship, blown about by every wind, every storm, and frozen by every doldrums we encounter.
It’s a painful place to be, because I think it is inherent in the human species to search for a deeper meaning, and begin to understand who we are, why we’re here, and what we’re supposed to be doing. This is why there has never been a group of humans found anywhere on the earth, in the most isolated places, that has not had some sort of traditional way of addressing that which is beyond the self and the deeper mysteries.
So, if you haven’t found your mission, your vision of what you are here to do, then, in the spirit of the vision quest, look deep. Be willing to hold the question and not know the answers. Be willing to realize that your discursive, intellectual mind is a really, wonderful, and gorgeous thing, but it won’t show you what you’re supposed to do with your life. It may give you some hints and clues, but it’s not the place that wisdom emerges from.
Just like the Buddha, who, after years and years of striving, went to sit under the Bodhi tree, where he prayed and meditated, declaring, “I’m not budging until I get it.” Then, of course, he was tempted by many different things that came up. But he stayed with it, and stayed with it, and boom! He saw into the true nature of reality and woke up. He saw enlightenment.
Jesus, too, went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights before he began his period as a teacher. That’s a long, long time. The story goes that he was tempted by Satan and all of his shadow stuff came up. He stuck with it—just like the Buddha—saying, “No, no, no, no, no, no” to all of the temptations. And then, he had the illumination. The rest, as they say, is history.
So, in your practice, and in your deep prayer, however you pray to divinity in the second person—in other words to God, or spirit, or to an active intelligence that you’re in communication, dialogue, or communion with—ask, “What am I supposed to be doing? How do I accomplish my highest purpose to the benefit of all sentient beings, even if it’s a seemingly very small thing?”
Gandhi said that what one individual can do is infinitesimally small, but on the other hand, it is absolutely essential. We are all living in some really unsettled times—times of great peril and great potential. Thankfully, we have our practices, both traditional and technological, to keep us on track, keep us waking up, and keep us becoming more deeply human, more skillful, more intelligent, more compassionate, and more creative. It’s just extraordinary.
Adapted from iAwake Technologies’ free, weekly teleconference call on April 24, 2013.
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John Dupuy is the CEO of iAwake Technologies and the founder of Integral Recovery, a holistic addiction treatment approach inspired by Ken Wilber’s Integral Model. As a pioneer in the use of brainwave entrainment in therapy and personal development, John has dedicated his life to helping others deepen their spiritual practice and transform their lives.
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