I keep meaning to get back to the story of my first vision fast, but today I feel inspired to tell you about my second vision fast. Did you ever see the wonderful Japanese-Icelandic film Cold Fever? It tells the story of a Japanese man who feels reluctantly obligated to travel to Iceland to perform a mourning ritual at the place where his parents died in a river accident during their trip to Iceland 7 years before. This movie was very inspiring to me, and in 2001, the spring after my father died, my family held a private ceremony to scatter my father’s ashes in the Horsefly River. We sang Amazing Grace on the hillside overlooking my mother’s ranch, and then walked single-file to the river, each holding a candle. We released his ashes into the river, and poured in some of his favourite vodka. The candles bobbed on the water, floating with the current until one by one they were extinguished. I was very moved that my mother and four siblings were each willing to participate in this nature ceremony that I had created, and each brought their own unique contribution to add to the ceremony.
But mourning a parent can be a long process, and when I set out to do my second vision fast, in 2006, I still had many unresolved feelings about my father and our relationship. I was still mourning him, and seeking some kind of peace that eluded me. My father was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 1998, after driving into a ditch when his vision blacked out. He gathered the family together in Kelowna to tell us the news, and had an operation soon after. Luckily, he lived for two more years after the operation, before the tumour grew into different parts of his brain and took his life. This gave us time to spend together and make peace with the past as much as we were able to, each one of us. I know my father sought forgiveness for his failings as a parent, and he asked each of his children for this forgiveness. I thought I had given it to him already, but there are many hidden places in the psyche, and they reveal themselves in their own time.
My father was not on my mind as I prepared for the vision fast in 2006. I was travelling to Boulder, Colorado with my friends Dorrie and Marvin, and we were going to rendezvous with the rest of the group in Parachute, Colorado, about 4 hours west of Denver. I had been fooling around on the monkey bars at the park near my childhood home a few days before leaving, wrenched my shoulder, and was in severe pain as the trip began. It seemed the purpose of the trip for me was learning to accept feeling helpless and let others help me. When we arrived at the slickrock basecamp in the high mountain desert, I couldn’t carry my pack or set up my tarp. For someone who is fiercely independent and likes to do everything herself, this was very difficult! One of the members of the group was a doctor, and he advised me to take ibuprofen every 4 hours, and double the dose I would normally have taken. Another participant was a sales rep for Motrin! She had plenty of tablets with her, and gave me enough to last for the remainder of the trip. The apprentice helped me set up my tarp, and during the days of preparation for the solo, I received incredible support from the entire group.
We all selected our solo spots, and it turned out my friends Dorrie and Marvin were each nearby, though out of sight and hearing. I was surrounded with gentle sweet holding support. And once on the solo, nature took over, guiding me to do exactly what was needed. Originally my intention for the fast had been to deal with my fears, because during my first fast, that is what I was faced with, over and over. But for this fast, Being had something else in mind for me. I spent the first few days laying in the sun, fully clothed and with every inch of my body covered in cloth or mosquito netting to keep out the biting gnats. As I lay there, helpless, and baked, my soul was infused with the warm sun, the delicate precious desert flowers, the sound of Marvin’s drumming at dusk, the constant drone of gnats. Water, peeing, dozing. The crisp hours before sunrise and at dusk, before the gnats were out, I lay cozy in my sleeping bag. Letting myself rest and be, a vision of a ceremony began to take shape. Halfway through the third day, I knew what I needed to do.
I wrote my father a letter, telling him about the things he had done that had hurt me, and that I believed made it impossible for me to have a committed, enduring romantic relationship with a man. It is strange how the sharpness of painful incidents can resonate over the decades, outweighing the much more constant facts of Dad going to work to design logging mills to feed the family, and taking us on camping trips every summer, and mowing the lawn, and teaching me to play crib and chess. As my thoughts turned to what was unresolved with my father, it was the painful events that still cried out for resolution. In spite of years of therapy and inner work, layers of imprints shaped my soul and were not letting me be free.
Then there were the last few years of my father’s life, and the regrets I had accumulated over not being there for him as I would have wished to be. I took all of these thoughts, memories, regrets, and walked them out on a sandy path 20 yards long, in the late afternoon of the third day of my solo. Back and forth I walked barefoot on the sand, as the shadows of the scrubby juniper bushes lengthened. I spoke to my father as I walked, telling him everything I could think of. The time he asked what we did when I was young—because of the tumour he couldn’t remember the early days of our family—and I said we watched TV. A moment of anger because I could not forgive him for the abuse. How I wished I could have opened up to him in that moment, and had a real conversation about how it was when I was young, and the fullness of our family life back then. The good memories of him wheeling me and my sister around the yard in the wheelbarrow of grass cuttings, him making loud exclamations of peril and me and Kim screaming with laughter. I told him all the memories, good and bad. For hours I did this walking meditation in conversation with my father. A one-way conversation, but I felt he was listening. I told him everything that still hurt my heart. I talked until there was nothing left to say, and it was nearly dark. The sand had grown cool under my feet.
Feeling quiet and empty, I moved off the sandy path I had made, back to my solo spot, where I intended to carry out the next part of the ceremony—the burning of the letter and letting go of the hurt and resentment I had carried all these years. But the spirits of the ceremony had other ideas! The wax-coated waterproof matches I had brought with me in my pack would not light. Over and over I struck them, but not a spark or sizzle of cooperation would they give. Time for Plan B. A less dramatic but equally effective symbolic act was to bury the words and all the feelings that they contained. So I dug a hole in the dirt. I ripped the letter into tiny pieces, and buried them in the hole. Invoking the spirits of the four directions, of the land, of my ancestors, for support and witnessing, I spoke my intention of letting go of my anger, bitterness, and resentment towards my father. Kneeling there in the darkness on the cool earth, I felt my father’s hand gently brush against my head. I knew he heard and forgave me, and that all that was left in his heart was love for me. I felt the gentleness of his unbreakable loving connection to me, and I cried. Shards of blue and white confetti light rose into the sky, releasing the pain with my tears. My softened heart opened to the vast, personal warm holding of my father’s love.