The influence of our environment
I was asked to write about a life-changing experience, called a Vision Quest, when Tina, Al, Irene and I had been having a chat over lunch about the enormous impact that environment has on us. We talked about how environment influences our experience with drugs, addiction and withdrawal.
Al mentioned an experiment with rats that chose cocaine-laced water in a stressful environment and normal water in a “healthier” environment. This led the conversation on to miners in Latin America, who chew on coca leaves whilst mining, but when above ground exhibit no addictive behaviour or withdrawal symptoms. This reminded me of a personal experience regarding caffeine withdrawal; I get headaches if I’ve had no tea or coffee, but when I did my Vision Quest, I was fine!
My life-changing experience
My Vision Quest took place 15 years ago, with a girl called Chrissie, who was not well known to me then, but a certain situation threw us together, and so, we were given the details of a lady in Sedona, Debra, who could run it for us.
It was on my Reiki 2 course that I first heard about Vision Quests and I was fascinated! As I recall, a Vision Quest was a method used by the chieftains of Native American Indian tribes’ people, to seek answers. They would retreat alone to a place in the desert, or a cave, and build a sacred circle of stones, which they would sit within for 4 days and nights, without food or water – a form of sensory deprivation, resulting in hallucinations, or perhaps that fasting is said to produce a singular clarity of the mind.
I was asked to join them on their Vision quest – to which I probably replied with something like “no *** way!” “Why not?” I was asked. Because I was scared, I replied. What was I scared of? The unknown. Now I can’t remember what this guy said, but whatever it was, something inside shifted and I said, “Ok, I’ll do it!” He was obviously a master psychologist and linguist!
Two months later, I was in Sedona! An amazing place with vast expanses of red rock – just think cowboy and Indian films. Preparation for our quest involved spending reflective time in nature, practicing yoga each morning, and having treatments such as Reiki and massage. Everything was about slowing down, quieting down, becoming still, to help connect us to our inner voice. No television, no partying, no computers – all by choice. In fact, when we first arrived I asked about “rules” or guidelines that would be conducive preparation. One of my concerns was about continuing to drink caffeine and how that might make my experience worse, by suffering withdrawal symptoms, on top of whatever else I’d be facing. Anyway, there were no rules, other than take your shoes off at the door.
Not my usual environment
The evening before our Vision Quest, we did a “sweat lodge” (a whole other story!) designed to cleanse and strengthen the mind, body and spirit. The next day, we got up early and were taken to where we could see Bell rock and Cathedral rock, and trudged upwards with 6 litres of water each, a ground mat, a sleeping bag and the various stones we’d gathered over the past week (this required more endurance than the sweat lodge!).
We then looked for a place to make our circles, a good distance from each other. Chrissie chose a very open, bare, flat bit of land. I chose something that I felt was more interesting, with a rock and a black knarled tree and not very flat. I created my stone circle and had my aura cleansed with a sage stick before entering it. I was then left alone for two days and a night, with just water, a mat, a sleeping bag and my journal. No phone, no food.
One of the things I commented on in my journal was that if this was boredom, then boredom is not that bad. Perhaps what I’d thought was boredom, was something else. A huge realization was that being alone was not the same as feeling lonely, and I did not feel lonely out there! The most profound experience came about when trying to sleep. It was then that the constant internal chatter and beratement escalated. I worried about “things” dropping out of the tree above me, onto my face, scorpions getting in my sleeping bag, or strangling myself if I rolled down hill. In the end, I got so fed up of my own voice that I decided if tonight was the night I was going to die, then so be it. And, at this point, something magical happened: total peace. I slept soundly under the stars.
The next day, I awoke to the sight and sound of a humming bird, which was truly awesome. There is something both awe inspiring and humbling when close to nature in this way. Memories that stand out are standing on the rock and howling like a wolf, uninhibited and free. Also, the joy of seeing Debra appear the next evening, how long the apple she brought us took to eat and how good it tasted! We went home to a feast and to talk about our experiences – which were both very different.
This new environment gave me the chance to learn more about myself
My learnings were many and great, and like many tools for change, these learnings were born not only from the event itself, but the journey. Learnings came from such things as my friend Chrissie needing to research everything about Vision Quests before we went in order to be prepared. However, I didn’t want other people’s views, knowledge and experience tainting my own experience. I felt that the less I knew, the more fully I could embrace the experience for what it was. Sure enough, Chrissie did suffer disappointments and unrealized expectations, because it wasn’t supposed to have happened that way…
We couldn’t have been more different and this couldn’t have been more perfect. We were on a quest together and so we were drawn together to support each other through our fears and vulnerabilities, and called each other soul sisters by the end of it. We are still great friends today! She was introvert, and I was extrovert. She wanted her own space and I wanted to be in her space! Nature was our teacher in this quest, and nature reflected so much about ourselves back to us.
How a different environment changed me
As to “the vision”, I suppose this is like clients expecting an epiphany from a session. Sometimes they do! Sometimes it’s more gradual. Sometimes things happen unconsciously and we find ourselves changing with no cognitive understanding of how.
The label “vision” indicates a visual experience, but it could be auditory or kinaesthetic. I tried to fit my experience to this label and decided that the most profound reverie was of a mother and toddler playing. As our brains seek meaning, mine interpreted this one way, but with hindsight (through observation, not speculation), I now interpret it very differently.
The event marked a significant change for the better in mine and my mum’s relationship. It seemed that she changed towards me, but as Debra had said: “the universe is a mirror of our inner self, create an inner shift and it’s reflected back to you”.
Other changes, and I’m sure there were many, were that I stopped smoking, I could no longer drink two coffees in a day, as the second made me feel sick, and I stopped rushing around like a Duracell bunny trying to fill my time – usually with people. However, the most profound change was a quiet head. I tried to maintain this, taking time out in nature, turning the radio off in the car, etc. – but it didn’t last. How can it in this overactive environment we dwell in? Ironically, the next time I experienced it to that degree, was with 12,000 people doing a Tony Robbins fire-walk seminar.
Seeing a Cognitive Hypnotherapist could be the beginning of your next quest
So, I guess, like many Quests, the seeker wishes to find treasure, literal or otherwise. The treasure I sought were answers to my questions and greater peace to my soul. In Alchemical terms, it’s turning your base metal (lead) in to gold. In mythology, it’s known as the Hero’s Journey, where we leave the comfort of the kingdom and go out into the wild, slay dragons, and eventually find the treasure. This we bring back to benefit the kingdom, i.e. ourselves and others. So, whether the journey is 100,000 miles and a circle in the desert, or 3 miles and a therapist’s chair, it is one and the same. If the kingdom is to continue to flourish and thrive, then there will be many journeys to take and much treasure to seek along the way.