Like a lot of things in life, my recent vision quest began the moment I really committed to taking it on. And like a lot of things in my life, I’d like to think the journey to getting there was as revealing and significant as the actual vision quest itself.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a vision quest is a Rite of Passage in many Native American groups, usually taking place before puberty, where an individual goes on a journey to find themselves and their intended spiritual direction. I resonated with this deeply, knowing that my life had reached a major crossroads and I wanted some kind of ritual to mark the moment.
Now, I first heard the words “Vision Quest” when I was in high School. Having been raised Catholic, I loved the ‘mystical’ quality of the phrase, but figured it was something only Native peoples did. Then, about ten years ago, when I heard a friend talk excitedly about her first vision quest, it caught my attention. She’d been alone out in the desert at Joshua Tree with nothing but water and a blanket for three days and three nights, praying for a vision of where to move next. It sounded powerfully intriguing and truly daring. She got the clarity she sought and I secretly began to wonder if I’d ever have the balls to do one.
A few weeks ago, I finally discovered I do have the balls and it was time. My wife was out of town on business and I’d just come home from an improvisational theater rehearsal downtown. I was lying in bed alone with eyes closed and my palms resting on my chest. A fountain gurgled on the night table in the corner and I could feel the glow of the bedside lamp through my eyelids. I lay there thinking back on the evening; the drive downtown with an old friend and the conversation about the stresses, changes and uncertainties of modern life; her invitation for me to get out of town and clear my head on a 10 day silent retreat; and then coming home to check the retreat dates online and seeing none would work for me.
Still, I lay there knowing she’d planted a seed of possibility. I could feel myself getting inspired and that something magical was beginning to happen. I certainly wanted it; I’d recently left the TV show I was working on and I wasn’t sure what was next for me. I had some old injuries I was healing and I had a little bit of time to see if and how I could combine my gifts into a new venture. And, I didn’t know if my wife and I were moving back east as we’d been thinking about. I wanted some kind of out-of-the-ordinary experience to help me re-invigorate my trust and faith that things would all work out.
I took a deep breath, inhaling a sudden array of out-of-the-ordinary wonders: “What would it be like to sleep outside for a night? Where would I go? The beach? The overhang of that bank around the corner?” These were edgy thoughts to consider being purposely ‘homeless’ for a night, but it wasn’t the kind of sustained risk I needed. Then it hit me.
I could go to the desert for several nights. I could go and test my will beneath the stars. I could finally meet the mystery of what a vision quest was all about.
The very next night, while preparing to perform downtown, I shared the news with my friend Teo. Standing behind a low black curtain in an enormous, 14,000 square foot loft on the top of a 14th story building, he excitedly told me he’d done several vision quests. While other cast members talked giddily, nibbled on food and stretched their legs, Teo described some of the places he’d been and some of the edge-of-terror predicaments; a coyote, jaw wide open and growling, coming toward him as he sat in a cave in Joshua Tree, and a rainstorm with a rising creek bed surrounded by brambles threatening his survival in the Santa Monica Mountains, among them.
A few days later, another friend invited me to counsel with a relative of his, a Native American Medicine Man. I called him on the phone and, paraphrasing he said, “You need to study with an elder for a month. Then, it’s four days and four nights sitting in one spot and praying on a hilltop. No food, no water- just a blanket, very minimal. The elder comes to pray with you in silence each morning. It’s a 24/7 thing and you have to be very focused.”
I was compelled by, and respectful of, the traditional, Native way, but I didn’t have a month- I had the following week. And I wanted the journey to be personal, an artistic expression of me and where I was at right now. Maybe I was stubborn in this, or maybe my intentions were missing the mark. Or, maybe I just needed to trust that the Universe was simply getting ready to deliver a little more magic.
Fortunately, some of the most magical moments on the journey for me were sharing the preparations with my wife. She was incredibly supportive and I was, mostly, guarded. I didn’t yet fully see the enormity of what I was doing. Some part of me was still in my 20s and 30s, free wheeling and free of responsibility. Through her counsel, I was continually encouraged to ask for what my deeper intentions were; to communicate with my family and let them know what I was doing; and to really meditate on where the vision quest should take place. It was she who inspired me to consider going to Death Valley over Joshua Tree. Given what an important time it was, Death Valley just carried a lot more oomph.
As I filled my backpack the night before leaving, in reverence to the Medicine Man, I thought I was committed to being as minimal as possible. That said, I had been tracking the weather, and it was projected to dip into the mid-30s at night. So, I may have overdone it a little.
I brought one pair of long pants, one pair long underwear, two long-sleeved underwear shirts, one sweater, one hoody sweatshirt, two down jackets, two pairs of wool socks, two pairs of wool gloves, one cashmere scarf, one wool hat, one bottle of Lavender hand lotion (ok, I admit it my skin gets really dry in the desert), one bottle aloe vera sunblock (I admit this, too, I am not much for being macho and getting burned), a swiss army knife, two bottles of essential oils, a sleeping bag, one blanket, one towel, a small, 4” x 3” wooden cross I’d made on a film and a 7” diameter dream catcher. It all fit in one small backpack, so even though it doesn’t sound very minimal, it certainly felt like it to me.
Save for contacting my family, I felt ready to go. I committed to e-mailing my mother and sisters in the morning, before leaving, and I used the last few hours on the eve of departure to meditate and think about whom else I might want to communicate with. Then, out of the blue, I thought of Riun.