Fasting for a vision: preparing for the journey

Cathedral rock, red desert, WyomingThe story of the vision fast I was going to undertake in June 2005 begins with the preparations I made in the threshold phase. The vision fast was a component of the three-week residential portion of the summer semester at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. This would be my fourth trip to Boulder; I’d previously attended three other residential sessions. The last one was in January of 2005, in Boulder, when my class met our two vision fast guides and we had the opportunity to ask questions to help us prepare for what lay ahead.

The two guides, Nancy Jane and John Boyer, were very patient with us. I was worried about wild animals, and whether my sleeping bag would be warm enough. I was somewhat belligerent as I spoke my questions to these two strangers who would be guiding me and my classmates. Other people in my class asked about different aspects of the ceremony, such as meal planning before and after, and what to do on the solo time. As we sat around the table in the Naropa cafeteria, excitement mixed with anxiety as our questions tumbled out. I didn’t realize yet how significant these two people and the vision fast ceremony would be to me.

Nancy Jane and John had guided together many times. For many years, they had taken the Grade 12 Waldorf School students in Boulder out for a rites of passage vision fast. Nancy Jane also guided for the School of Lost Borders, and John had put hundreds of fasters out on the land near his ancestral ranch in Wyoming. My group was going to fast in the red desert of Wyoming too, at a special place that John had known since his boyhood when he had gone out gathering fossils and arrowheads. It was a place that the Native Americans had used for sacred ceremonies, perhaps for thousands of years. Ancient stone circles and other evidence of sacred ceremonies remained on this land, and wild horses lived there too.

To help us prepare for the ceremony, we had been given various tasks to perform. The medicine walk was one. Another was to write a letter of intention, stating what we were claiming on the vision fast—our reason for undertaking this rite of passage—an ordeal that would involve sacrifice, discomfort, and the risk of death. I had also been writing down my dreams, and performing impomptu sacred ceremonies on my land. During this time of preparation, it seemed that everything was infused with mystery, magic, and significance.

One cold evening at Monkey Valley in February, wondering what my intention really was, I went out into the cold starry night to find out my true heart’s desire. I found it was to be right there, in the cold starry night, on a rock with snow and trees around. Nowhere else. Not different than exactly how I was and reality was in that moment. It was to meet my man-god, fully matching my godself. It was to open out and be consumed by the whole valley and hills. To dissolve into the breadth of it. It was to have the black mystery swoop in and engulf me, annihilate me. It was to know the mystery. And too, to know the sacred embrace of making love with all that—the dark mystery. The passion of being alive filled me there in the darkness. To be continued.

Fasting for a vision: the threshold time

Golden moonThe time when we are preparing to undertake a vision fast is the first of the three phases of the vision fast ceremony. It is called the severance phase. The medicine walk I’ve been describing was an important step in preparing for the vision fast, as well as being a ceremony of its own.

In some ways I had been aligning my intention to undergo the mystery of the vision fast since 2003, when I decided to do the master’s program in ecopsychology at Naropa University. The vision fast was a component of the program—for 3 credits! When I read about it on the Naropa website, I was fascinated. The opportunity to partake in this mysterious ceremony of the first peoples of our land was a strong factor in my decision to pursue the program at Naropa. I wondered what it would be like to go for three days and nights without food. I wondered if I would be scared, sleeping outside, alone in the wilderness. I wondered what magic would befall me.

As I write this a golden moon hangs low in the west, shining through my kitchen window. It shares with me the warm secrets of all I have experienced between then and now. My heart glows in answering honey warmth.

This morning I have been pondering whether to share this story of my first vision fast. It is a sacred ceremony—not to be treated lightly. And yet the purpose of the vision fast is both personal and social. It is a journey of discovery of self, nature, and our place in the world. The culmination of the journey is to bring the gifts of discovery back to our people. You, dear reader, are my people. I will share my story with you.

Beckoned: reflections on the medicine walk

Mushroom, moss, and lichenSeeking meaning in our experiences is a human compulsion. It is part of how we build and maintain our self-image and our view of reality. Looking back at the meaning I derived from my medicine walk, I am struck by how I concluded that the day’s adventures affirmed my affection and love for the land. I felt that the land and her creatures were innocent, and I wanted to protect them. I believed in the power of the ceremony, and the sacredness of the interactions I had with the various animals and nature beings on my journey.

Even though the mosquito breeding ground terrified me, I accepted the tormented run home as a demonstration of the actions of my mind, always pushing me on, frustrated, unable to rest and be at peace. How willing I was to open to the postive in my experience! Perhaps this is one of the gifts of the vision fast ceremony: learning to view all that is arising as part of something mysterious and beautiful.

I was beckoned by the many encounters with wild creatures. Beckoned to listen to the bear, telling me that if I am humble and have basic trust, I can stand my ground. Beckoned by moose telling me I am awakening to the preciousness of my life’s journey. Enchanted by the surprising almond scent of the mushrooms. Loved and held by the giant, ancient fir tree. Instructed by the stern granite rock face. Entertained and companioned by the chattering pika.  Beckoned beyond just the adventures of the day, into a new calling for creating sacred ceremony with others in nature. Aho!