Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Vision Quest in Death Valley- First Night

The night began in meditation.  Standing barefoot a few feet from the torso-sized boulder, I gazed at the sunset for close to thirty minutes. Following a protocol I learned several years ago, one derived from ancient Vedic and Egyptian texts, I was meditating with the sun as a form of worship.  Far from making me blind, I was in heaven; breathing slow and full and gently spiraling my hips, I was savoring the final, most tranquil moments of the day.
            True to my nature, I became so exalted by this warm and blissful state I conveniently let go of what was coming- the cold, cold night.  I’d been checking the forecast for ten days prior to my arrival in Death Valley and I knew the temperatures were expected to dip into the mid-30s.  This was not unlike knowing there was a huge wave out in the ocean coming toward me; I figured there was really no way to imagine the force and magnitude of that wave until I was in it, so I trusted I would deal with it when the time came.  Now that the time was upon me, I realized I probably could have done better to prepare by replacing my almost useless, twenty-four year old sleeping bag.  I didn’t even think of this, though, as I was genuinely inspired by the Medicine Man’s instruction that what I bring be ‘minimal, nothing but a blanket;’ so I balanced this awkwardly in my brain, making the concession that an old sleeping bag was probably not unlike a simple blanket. 
            Minutes after the sun disappeared behind the mountains, the temperature began its sharp descent.  I started to feel the coming wave and scrambled excitedly to get ready for bed.  I put on long underwear beneath my khaki pants, doubled up on my wool socks, put two down jackets over the hooded sweatshirt that covered my wool sweater and long underwear shirt, and added wool gloves and a wool hat before quickly jumping into my sleeping bag.  Once nestled inside, I got a quick taste of what I was in for; the wind whipped ferocious gusts over and through me, quickly sending the first of many shivers up and down my entire body.   Undeterred, I held my gaze fixed upon the sky, giggling audibly between shivers, waiting for the first stars to appear. 
            In those first several minutes, I felt like a kid in a movie theater about to see his favorite superhero. Given my vision quest’s intention to deepen in feeling with my heart and my creative self, it seemed fitting that Venus, named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, would be the first light I saw.   Immediately after Venus appeared, my eyes began darting all over the sky, excited to catch the next arrivals.  And as each new star appeared, I felt such a surprising sense of joy and excitement.  My body registered the visceral ‘blip’ of each arrival I caught, as if each star was passing through a gelatinous membrane.  I even started to playfully mimic the sound out loud as stars came into view; “blip, blip, blip.”  And with each blip, there was also a tangible lifting sensation in my heart. The experience seemed to deftly touch on so many fields of inner experience; my delight at having that many more twinkling ‘companions’ to share the nighttime with; having that feeling when a new light of love or friendship starts shining in my life; and, more delicately, witnessing that expansive moment when a new baby is born and I am duly touched by its fragile emergence.
            As exalted as my spirit felt, it wasn’t long before my eyes grew tired from all the movement.  Having very little concrete knowledge of the constellations, things slowed down even more and I began assembling patterns and shapes straight above me, as if that portion of the sky was now my own private etch-a-sketch.  Not unaware that I was just beginning the step-down process toward sleep, I might have lasted only 15 minutes at this, the sky becoming so full of stars it overwhelmed me.  And then, most peculiarly, the sky went flat.
            I kept blinking my eyes to be sure if what I thought I saw was really happening.  Having not slept much or well the night before, and having essentially become a ‘breatharian,’ (one who survives by breath alone) I wasn’t sure if the sky flattening was pure delusion or simply an optical illusion.  Whatever it was, I was fascinated; it was so different from what I’d ever experienced before.  Intellectually, I knew I was looking into deep space, but I started to feel as though I was creating a solid barrier at the edge of my world; in effect, a womb.  Within minutes of awakening to this place of comfort amidst the increasing cold, the relentless wind and the deepening darkness, the twinkling stars gently lulled me to sleep.

            I’m guessing I woke up about an hour later and I was disoriented and mildly cranky.  I was cranky because when I looked up and to my left, at what turned out to be Orion’s belt, I could tell not much time had passed because it hadn’t moved very far.  I was disoriented because I’d lost awareness of my breath and had unknowingly fallen down the first steps of what would gradually become the dominant, chaotic current the rest of the night.  I began to wrestle with the blanket beneath my sleeping bag.  My toes, despite being covered by two layers of wool socks, were beginning to stiffen, so I wiggled them vigorously and wrapped the blanket around the lower end of the sleeping bag.  From then on, I distracted myself from the cold and wind as best I could by watching the sky, occasionally catching a glimpse of a shooting star.  Occasionally I followed the blinking lights of jets and imagined who was in them, my little life a reflected dream of their little lives.  And, occasionally, I latched onto the path of a satellite (or maybe it was the space station), in the form of a silent and stealthy presence, magnetically arcing its way around the earth.  I’d watch it until I couldn’t see it anymore and always think; “I wonder how long it’ll take for it to come back around again?”  Then I’d be inspired to wait and stare at the same spot, but reliably forget, get bored or, if I was blessed to, fall asleep for perhaps another hour.
            The waves of brief unsettled sleep and brief unsettled waking continued unevenly throughout the night.  While awake, I tracked the movement of the stars, a tracking that ranged from sleep-deprived fascination to the unconscious annoyance of wishing they’d move faster already.  Attempting to sleep, I would toss and turn, moving to my left side to avoid the wind from the North, then to my right side to avoid over-aggravating a left shoulder injury.  Once I’d finally fallen under, I’d wake up sometimes with the blanket unfolded from my feet and have to unzip myself from the bag briefly to re-wrap the woolen covering, then hunker back down again.  And there were times I woke up in the almost comical, most hysterically victimized version of myself, mumbling to the stars, “C’mon, c’mon!  Would you fucking move already?  It’s fucking freezing here!” 
            Yes, I was losing it.  I was frustrated that I was not much closer to morning and the new warmth of day.  I was frustrated often by the rocks beneath my back and butt, jutting up in all the ‘wrong’ places, compelling me to adjust my position or repeatedly reach beneath the towel and scrape them away; but more than all that, I think, I was frustrated that I wasn’t letting go into the prayer of my experience.  I’d fallen into a state of such mindless suffering.  So it was, in the most poignant and perfect way, that the first night of my vision quest had become the polar opposite experience to that which lit up my first day; gone was the rich, nourishing focus on my breath; gone was my heartfelt commitment and audible devotion to prayer; and gone was the sense of willingness to surrender gracefully to whatever Mother Nature had divined for me.
            After the Big Dipper had risen in the Northeast and moved halfway across the sky to my right, I finally began to surrender.  I finally began to breathe with some awareness again.  And I finally let go into dreaming….
            My mother was driving her BMW SUV.  My oldest sister was in the passenger seat and I was in the back, alone.  My mother was younger than she is now, but my sister and I were our current ages.  It was a cloudy afternoon in late spring and we were driving on a bridge over the Connecticut River in Northfield, Massachusetts, not far from where we grew up.  Actually, we weren’t just driving; we were barreling across this bridge.  And this was no ordinary bridge: it was a one-lane, uncovered, tires-turning-on-open- boxed-metal-grooves-kind-of-bridge with no guardrails.  The span was about 2/10ths of a mile across and as we sped toward the verdant, leafy bank of locust, oak and maple trees, we must have hit 60 miles an hour.  The moment we did, as if it knew exactly what it was waiting for, a barrier in the form of a 4’ x 8’ plate of thick metal mesh shot up just at the end of the bridge.
            My mother, hardly known in real life for anything resembling ‘reckless driving’ floored it.  As we approached the metal gate, I quickly took stock of what awaited us on the other side.  There was a flat landing area, roughly a 10’ drop off from the bridge.   Unfortunately, it extended no further than 10’ beyond the bridge before the hill of trees rose up at very steep angle.  We slammed through the gate,  my mother hit the brakes, and we plunged toward the packed-earth landing.  With the car airborne, she turned the wheel sharply to her left positioning us perpendicular to the bridge.  Her movements were precise and perfectly timed, as if she’d done it every day of her adult life.  No surprise to her, we landed like a cat; upright, on all fours, and ready to spring into action. 
            My mother threw the car into reverse and gunned it again.  Instantly, we were rocketing backwards and parallel to the river beneath a canopy of overhanging trees.  At some point on this harrowing stretch of hardened-earth road, my mother morphed into my father.  As the dirt road gave way to pavement, he hooked the car sharply sideways to the right.  Now, I had been looking side to side up to this point, but not behind me; and when he turned the car we went skidding across an ever-expanding intersection of streets that reminded me of an enormous, empty church parking lot.   
             Suddenly, through all that skidding, we'd been transported to the outskirts of Boston, Massachusetts, two hours East of Northfield.  It was raining.  There were gas stations at each corner of the intersection, one of them also sporting a Dunkin' Donuts.  The streets were almost empty, and as we careened across the intersection, everything went into slow motion.  I remember feeling grateful for all that space, the less likely we would back into anyone.  I was also grateful that everything had slowed down so I could finally catch my breath.
            Perfectly on cue, the moment I began to feel safe, everything moved back to normal speed.  My father stretched his right hand further behind the front seat for greater leverage and he shot me a menacing, penetrating look.  His eyes became a wild ocean of blue, and I braced myself.  Completely uncharacteristic of the normally submissive and respectful person I had been in his presence while he was alive, I spontaneously yelled, “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING??!!”  
            With his foot still on the brakes, he spun the wheel to the left, sending us lurching oddly to our right and into a grey Prius.  We gouged our way through the entire left side of that car, and shattered all the windows of both cars.  I remember ducking down and closing my eyes just as the glass came flying at me; then, everything went black.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Vision Quest in Death Valley- Day 1

            It was about 7:30 am.  The sun was bright, the wind was one incessant gust and the two-lane road was empty.   Dressed in black pants, black down jacket and my blue and white Converse sneakers, I moved slowly South along the road’s wide, packed-earth edge.  I moved slowly due to the wind it is true.   But also, for the first time in my life, I was fasting from both food and water; and with an unknown distance to walk before me, I was highly aware of conserving energy and letting the even flow of breath determine my pace. 
            To the East on my left, the road gently hugged the base of the ochre, reddish and brown foothills.  To the West on my right, the expansive, open valley floor stretched for miles and sloped upwards quickly into jagged peaks nearing 10,000 feet high.   The wild winds kicked up enormous clouds of the signature, salty earth in the valley’s center and I loved it all.  I loved the vast, welcoming space, especially with barely any cars passing by.  I loved that liberated feeling when an adventure is finally beginning; and I loved surrendering to the open road before me.
            About two miles from the campground, I rose up a small hill and, right on cue, that feeling quickly dissolved.  About ½ mile off in the distance, there were 8-10 cars filling the Golden Trail parking lot, my initial, hoped-for destination.  Again, my heart sank in brief disappointment.  Again, I breathed to center myself and get present to, as my wife Christina often says; “what really wants to happen next.”  Again, my journey was being sculpted.
            In this case, I began to sense an invisible force field preventing me from going any further South.  It was truly palpable.  I just stood in the road, unable to step forward.  Uncertain what to do, I played it out in my head: If I did walk down to Golden Trail, I’d then have to navigate other hikers in terms of finding the solitude I sought.  It might be a few miles into the desert from there, and given my commitment to ‘put in an appearance’ at my car each morning, I realized the further South I went, the further I’d have to walk back and forth each morning.  This was exhausting to even consider, and I was drawn to just lie on the earth and pause.  The Eastern side of the road had been plowed at some point, likely after flash floods had washed tons of sand-colored earth into the road; and for a moment, I imagined I was resting on a 3’ high snow bank and it was magically relaxing.
            I lay there a few minutes, staring blankly at the bright blue sky.  As relaxing as it was, I also had that all-too-familiar wondering  ‘And, what about getting there already?’  Minutes passed breathing to let that go before the whooshing sound of trees in the distance grabbed my attention and I pulled myself up.  I crossed the road and headed west toward the open valley floor.  I trod over gorgeous, empty rivers of earth that had been sculpted by the rain, leaving the impression of Mother Nature’s wildness.  And one-quarter mile further on, I walked amongst the trees, following my nose and repeatedly asking that wordless question,  “Does this feel right?”  It soon didn’t, and I walked away back toward the road; the wind rifling through those stumpy Cottonwoods was too loud and because most of them were close to dead or dying, it was not the vibration that felt most compatible with, as Riun had said the day before, “the infinitely absolute vulnerability of the womb.”
            I headed back toward the spot where I’d initially paused on the road.  The foothills to the East loomed both large and inviting, with so many entrances to choose from.   I hiked up the wide and gentle incline toward the rounded, ochre and brown mounds, appraising their formidable size.  I was amazed by the dynamic, undulant waves of how they cascaded upward.  I saw myself rambling up to one of the higher plateaus to find my spot, when the wind began to gust harder, quickly chiseling away that vision.  Clearly, I wasn’t interested in ‘fighting’ with my experience any more than I might already be doing unconsciously and it was another moment of shaping and being shaped by the journey.  To the best of my ability I was allowing Spirit to guide me, to let the entirety of the experience sculpt me, not my ego.  My ego had wanted the four days, four nights, top of the mountain, extreme shebang to prove something.  My Spirit wanted nurturance, a safe place to expand in and hopefully something a little more protected from the wind.
            When I reached the base of a deep, brownish-red foothill, the carved-out swath of rain and floods invited me further to my left.  It curved side to side for fifty feet and brought me past two small, green desert holly bushes to a modest, nondescript draw.  I stopped and looked around; it was an area no bigger than a one-car garage, albeit with rocky inclines in all directions.  The wind gusts lessened slightly and much to my surprise, it felt perfect.  I was surprised because the spot didn’t feel grand in any way; it felt so aesthetically insignificant as there were dozens of similarly shaped spaces all along this range of foothills.  I was also surprised because I could just barely see the road some 300 yards to the West and I admit it was a challenge to believe that would be ok.  As I tucked myself a little further back into the odd, bowl-like space, I felt far more discreet and waited.  I wanted to hear how it felt when a car did go by and when it did, rather than upsetting me it inspired me to breathe in and out fully and audibly.  It turns out my breathing had drowned out the engine.  I was sold.
            I set my backpack down next to a torso-sized boulder at the center and flattest part of the space.  I pulled out the yellow towel and the light brown blanket from the main compartment, laid them on the widest part of a tapering channel of earth before me, and then plopped down on my back.  I am embarrassed to admit that I was so excited and relieved to have finally claimed my spot that I didn’t even create a blessing to mark the moment.  No bells, no prayers, no offerings; just me giving a moment to take a break from the wind and rest.  Perhaps that was blessing enough. 
            It was deliciously warm lying in the sun, but I soon grew distracted.  The ground beneath me was uneven with numerous small, palm-sized rocks jutting up through both the towel and the blanket.  I wiggled to move onto my side, pulled a few of the rocks out, re-settled myself and looked around.  The rocky terrain rose to a twenty-foot high plateau on both sides and behind me.  I could see where the rain had made tiny pools in a slender, stepped valley behind my head and then I momentarily lost it.  My thoughts became a pinball machine of sharp, sudden self-criticism; “There’s no way you can call this a vision quest!  You aren’t on top of a hill; you can’t draw a flat circle around you for the slopes, and you won’t be sitting in one exact spot for 4 days straight now, will you?”  Then, literally shaking my hands to shift my thinking, I remembered something else John the Medicine Man had said; “You’re going to be tested.  It’s 24-7 to hold the focus.  You must pray constantly.”
            Now, I was raised Catholic and attended church regularly until I was 18.  From then until now, I have sampled many other spiritual practices and moved in and out of periods of regular prayer, so I thought I knew a lot about ‘connecting with the Divine.’
            Inspired by the echo of John’s words, I rose up from the blanket.  I calmly grabbed the oak cross, dream catcher and Tibetan bells out of my bag and kneeled on the blanket.  I held the cross in my left palm and the bells and dream catcher in the right hand.  I closed my eyes and centered myself in the rise and fall of my breath.  The wind was screeching across my down jacket and literally moving me around, challenging me in my wait for Spirit to move me.  I must have waited 4-5 minutes and Spirit was clearly testing me, to make sure I was really ready and willing. 
            Then the floodgates smoothly burst free; I rang the bells, inspiring a cascade of spontaneous, toning “Oms” to divine the moment.  When the last “Om” was complete, I surrendered to a flow of words with barely any pause for nearly 20 minutes.  I called in God, Great Spirit and the Divine Life Force pulsing in every living thing; I called in all my benevolent ancestors; I called in my spirit guides; I called in the elements of Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Ether; I called in the Ascended Masters, the Divine Deities and my Guardian Angels to protect me, to guide me and inspire me; I prayed for clear visions of what to do next in my life and for how to live in the highest and most loving service to all beings.  I prayed with gratitude for my wife and all the love and riches my life is filled with.  I prayed so I could breathe more powerfully into the present moment.  But, mostly I prayed for healing with my experience of being in the womb and I prayed for healing with my mother and family of origin.  I breathed in and out fully; praying the bigger womb of the Earth would hold me in it.  And finally, after this feast of frenzied rambling, I went silent. 
            I listened to the wind and the sound of my breath.  I listened to the blessed calmness of my thoughts.  And I listened to the stillness of the space and felt complete.
            I rang the bells three times. 
            I waited until the faintest echo could be heard. 
            I bowed slightly, setting the cross, bells and dream catcher by my bag. 
            Then, I shifted to sitting cross-legged and thought about my mother.

            Perhaps, more accurately, I thought about forgiveness and my mother.  In the wake of my prayer, I felt my heart was more open, self-less and clear than it had been in a long time.  Staring blankly at the earth before me, I could see the prayer had created a field of forgiveness in my heart; forgiveness for the drama I’d created with her over the last few weeks, and forgiveness for my ego’s desire to push her away.  I could let it go now.
            This was such a welcome revelation; a big sigh flew from my chest and I rolled gently backwards.  I turned to protect myself from the wind and came face to face with the torso-sized boulder, a rock comprised of dozens of other rocks.  I breathed there for 10-15 minutes, just savoring the experience as best I could; until the shapes and textures and the violence that must have forced all those rocks to merge soon distracted me.  I closed my eyes and my brain swiftly began to replay scenes from an odd assortment of films I’ve enjoyed over the years- The Bourne Trilogy, The Princess Bride, and, Blade Runner among them.  Like a conveyor belt, chaotic scenes of fights and chases kept scrolling across the flat screen of my mind, creating an apparently soothing form of companionship.
            I say ‘apparently,’ because I quickly came to see how human is my addiction to the past, to something known, to the ‘fight’ for life.  By expanding my heart so much in the prayer, in the words of my mentor Gay Hendricks, I had “hit an Upper Limit.”  I’d broken through an imaginary ceiling of being, such that my heart and Spirit felt alive, present and willing to expand, but my brain wanted to stay stuck, ‘safely’ in the past.  
            This awareness inspired me to breathe in fully and audibly again.  The sudden rush of new life was not unlike pulling the plug on an obsolete appliance or removing a crusty old ‘pacifier.’  I kept breathing deeply and fully as I had all morning and the day before, centering myself back in the present.  Still lying face to face with the rock, and not unlike some amphibian with no lungs or gills, I envisioned breathing in through all the pores and cells of my skin- even through all my clothes.  My body started to feel expanded and gently juiced by the new current of possibility.  I was ready for more. 
            I rose up again, grabbed the cross, the bells and the dream catcher and began a new round of spontaneous prayers.   I felt captivated and energized, as though I’d found a new rhythm.  And I rode the waves of that rhythm- praying, resting, going unconscious and coming back to prayer- for 5 more hours until the day turned to night. 
            Then, beneath a vast canopy of stars, a whole other rhythm was born.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Journey to the Vision Quest (Pt. 3)

            My mother said, “I just think it’s risky, dangerous and foolish!” 
            It was 6 pm and I was in the center of Death Valley, CA, talking to my mother 3,000 miles away in New England.  I was standing on a low berm of earth and rock on the edge of a flat, tree-less, RV Campground.  Generators hummed nearby and the wind was gusting hard, challenging me to maintain my balance.  To the West there was the faint orange glow from sunset dissolving over the jagged, rocky ridge that ran the length of the Valley.  It was a dramatic setting, and as my history of calls with my mother went over the years, this was playing out to be one of the most dramatic as well; I hadn’t heard her this upset since my father died, 16 years earlier.
            I said, “I’m sad that I’ve upset you.  It wasn’t my conscious intention.  And, I’m sad I was so avoidant and then hasty in communicating with you.  But, I assure you, everything is going to be OK.”
            She said, “So, you’re still going to go through with it aren’t you?” 
            I paused.  I heard the echo of concern and sadness in her voice.  I heard the echo of something she’d said earlier in the call; that the last thing she wanted was to receive any bad news on her birthday, two days from then.  And, I heard the echo of my own breathing.  I’d long been a practitioner of various forms of breath-work and meditation, but more recently, since my time earlier in the day with Riun, that sound had become my deeper ground; a place I could instantly and consciously claim to center myself.
            I said, “Yes, I am still going through with it.  But, honestly, I don’t know how long it’ll be. My intuition tells me it might be three days, but who knows?  I may receive my visions sooner and be done.”
            We said good-bye a few minutes later and I looked up into the rich, dark night.  Of all the things she said, I savored the words “risky, dangerous and foolish” the most.  While not overly cocky about it, I do admit that my ego was mildly pleased; after months and months of not feeling as though I was a man who, as the author David Deida puts it, “ is living at his edge,” my mother’s words inspired a different perspective. 
            Still, the call had shaken me somewhat.  I felt uplifted by the fact that my heart was genuinely open and receptive to her experience, but I began to ask myself, “Why had I created this whole drama with her anyway  “What did I want without really knowing I wanted it?”  Staring at the stars twinkling overhead, it didn’t take long for the answer to come shooting through me: “attention.”  Right, I’d wanted my mother’s attention.  Instead of asking for it consciously over the last few weeks in a nurturing dialogue about the vision quest, I was getting it the old-fashioned, unconscious way; by causing a little trouble.  My awakening to this was good news, yet my awakening was also an alarm bell to where I still needed to mature and wonder about how I might let go of this old pattern.           
            Standing back on the berm of earth, I drew in three quick, deep breaths to shift the energy feeling of the moment, then headed for my car.  Sitting in the front seat, I prepared a ‘last supper’ of smoked salmon with a salad of mixed greens, tomatoes and avocado.  With the dome light on and the wind jostling my car side to side, I thought about my relationship with my mother.  Even though I am 47 years old, for her, I will always be ‘the baby,’ the youngest of five.  While I may loathe the moniker, and the ways I have unconsciously still acted like a baby over the years, I had to respect her experience and her feelings.  Then I remembered what Riun had said about having compassion for the absolute vulnerability of the womb.  It occurred to me it wasn’t just my experience in the womb; with my mother’s birthday looming in two days, it was hers as well.
            After dinner, I spoke briefly with my wife Christina.  We shared the highlights and epiphanies of our days and I thanked her for being such an amazing support.  All along the way, she encouraged me to be solid in my intentions and she encouraged me to give the journey all the time it needed to bring the clarity I sought.  I told her I loved her and how blessed I was to have her in my life, and then I huddled up in the back of my car.  I had purposely left my tent in LA knowing I wasn’t going to use it during the vision quest; but I honestly hadn’t even considered where I would sleep the night before the vision quest.  I knew I’d be testing the limits of my ability to handle discomfort during the vision quest, so I reasoned one night sleeping in the back of the Prius would be a perfect way to acclimate.  And it was.
            The next morning, I woke up well before sunrise, sore, cranky and rattled from a poor night’s sleep.  Being positioned diagonally and largely unable to stretch out; sleeping in a sleeping bag that was over twenty years old and had definitely lost most of its down-filled power; and the fact that the wind had woken me every few hours by literally shaking my car, all took its toll.
            After a quick trip to the bathroom, I stopped at the information kiosk on the edge of the main road circling the camp.  Standing before the 4’ x 6’, plexi-glass-covered bulletin board, I ravenously absorbed every line of text on every posted sheet of paper.  If nothing else, I am a man who does my best to respect authority and the laws governing all places.  In this case, I wanted to make sure I was aware of all the rules of the park and campground.  I’d driven the night before to a trailhead a few miles down the road, thinking I might leave my car there and hike into the desert for three days; until I read the sign that said,  “No overnight camping.”  The sign on the bulletin board in the campground delivered a similar, momentary, blow: “Do not leave vehicle unattended for more than 24 hours.”
            To me, my journey to the vision quest was a living sculpture.  Each step along the way- from the preparatory conversations with Theo and the Medicine Man, to my time with Riun, and then the call with my mother- was a bold thwack of mallet on chisel shaping the form of the journey.  This latest bit of news was one of the boldest thwacks yet; for in one line, those words effectively fractured my ideal vision of sitting in one place for several days and nights, momentarily splintering my emotions and sinking my heart.  I re-read the line to be sure I had it right.  It didn’t mention what the consequences were, but I knew I wasn’t going to risk creating any more drama.
            I turned and faced my car.  The sun was well up and bright now, careening shards of glare off the RVs before me.  Once again, I closed my eyes and centered myself in my breath.  Despite the trails of diesel from nearby generators and cigarette smoke swirling downwind from a few of the locals enjoying their morning smoke, I inhaled deeply.  I knew that over the next few days, my breath would essentially become my food and water; my breath would help me maintain strength and clarity of mind when my emotions wavered; and my breath would be my deepest and truest form of nourishment and self-love.
            Within seconds, I realized this ‘setback’ was a matter of perception.  It might dampen my ability to call this a ‘true vision quest,’ but it suddenly made the journey more creative, challenging and that much more my own.  Standing on the loose gravel by the road’s edge, I closed my eyes again and imagined breathing in and up from the bottoms of my feet.  I gave all my attention to expanding my awareness of where my nourishment could be coming from- the rocky desert floor, the layers of earth beneath me and even the roots of trees far off in the distance. The more fully and consciously I breathed in this way, the less affected I was by this ‘setback’ of ‘divine sculpting.’  The less affected I was by it, the more perfect it became.  The more perfect it became, the more I was reminded that there was ‘my vision’ for this quest and there was also the bigger vision that was beyond my control.  I assured myself I would be best served to go with the flow and embrace the distinction.
            Back at my car, I finished organizing my backpack.  I placed the Tibetan bells, dream catcher, wooden cross and essential oils in the outermost compartment.  The main compartment held everything else- sleeping bag, hat, scarf, extra pair of wool socks, extra down jacket, long underwear, towel and a woolen blanket.  Inside this compartment, I tucked my hand and body lotion, toothpaste, sunscreen, dental floss and night-guard into a black mesh sleeve.  I turned off my phone and placed it under the front seat and closed and locked the car.  I swung my pack onto my back and gazed upon the open desert before me.  I wanted to take in where I was headed and mark the threshold of departure.  Then, I heard a voice say,
            “Good morning!  Finding everything OK?”
            I was facing southeast, absorbing the sunlight on my face and saying a little prayer.  I was enjoying the Mystery of the moment, on the edge of a great new adventure.  And abruptly, I was wondering how this new voice would be sculpting my journey in the days to come.
            Before me was a man with graying hair beneath a green baseball cap, strong hands and a welcoming smile.  He was seated in an electric golf cart holding a brown clipboard with white papers on it. The moment I took all this in, my brain registered him as the ‘authority;’ a kind version of authority, but authority nonetheless.
            I said, “Yes, absolutely.  All set.”  We introduced one another and spoke for about five minutes.  Roger, originally from Ottawa had been coming to Death Valley for ten years with his wife and he was now one of the hosts for the campground.  He asked about my visit and I told him I was looking forward to making a lot of day hikes, which was essentially true.  I thanked him for his time, stepped away from my car and started to head for the desert.
            He said, “You got enough water?  Make sure you have plenty of water.”
            I gestured to my backpack, lifting it slightly and said, “Yup, all set.”

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Journey to the Vision Quest (Pt. 2)

(The initial desire to write about my vision quest was to share a unique and seminal experience.  In the organic unfolding of that, I began to build a ‘story,’ a ‘drama,’ out of that experience. At this moment, I am uncertain whether this is my true ‘authentic voice,’ my ‘style,’ or how I will continue.  However the ‘story’ unfolds, I pray it offers healing somehow, for others and for me.)

            I first met Riun about a year ago.  My wife and I were participating in a yearlong training and he and his wife made up one of the 13 other couples present.  Standing about 5’ 7”, in his early 50s with short, gray hair, he emanated a softly commanding presence that impressed and intrigued me.  Over the course of that year, outside of our weekend trainings, I shared a few brief, but really enjoyable experiences with him; I grew to appreciate our dialogues and often wondered when and how we’d connect again.
            After I finished packing for the vision quest, out of nowhere, I had a clear thought to contact Riun.  He’d missed the last weekend training and I was wondering if he’d be there at the final one, in two weeks time.  I sent him an e-mail and, originally a resident of Calgary, Alberta, found out he was in Nevada at the time, en route to Ventura, CA.  We had a brief skype call and made a plan to meet in Olancha, 30 miles West of Death Valley.  Suddenly, my sense of a Divine force guiding this journey was renewed; it was clear to me Riun held the last piece of my preparation for the quest.  

            I woke at 5 am the next morning, knowing what I had to tell my family, but not knowing how best to do it.  I rarely have contact with my two older brothers, and my father has passed, so in terms of immediate family, my mother and sisters are it; and they’re all 3,000 miles away.  and, dspite my wife’s best encouragements, I’d put off writing until the last minute.  After I woke, I went for a walk, breathing in the cool morning air and began to imagine what I would write. 
              I came back from my walk and at 6 am, with my backpack and food waiting by the door,  I sat before the computer and closed my eyes.  I breathed in and out three times fully, opened my eyes and wrote in a streaming flow.  I hit “send” and with the last piece of ‘official business’ taken care of, I shut down my computer and was out the door.  I was free to fly.  Of course, if I’d known my flight would be skidding to earth with a minor thud 12 hours later, I might have worded things differently. 

            I drove North out of Los Angeles, ecstatic to finally be on the road.  When I cleared the sprawling suburban communities of Lancaster and Palmdale a few hours later, the Mojave Desert opened before me like the door to an old friend’s house.  And while I hadn’t known Riun that long or that well, he, too, felt like an old friend.           
            We met for lunch at a quiet, roadside restaurant, sharing our most recent epiphanies and insights over BBQ steak and over-cooked baked beans.  After lunch, we walked amongst the sagebrush and Cottonwoods ¼ mile from an abruptly rising and jagged mountain range.  It was mid-afternoon, the sun was bright and the air had warmed to the mid 50s.  As we followed a half-trail toward the mountain, we suddenly started talking about growing up with, or in my case without, guns; I felt like we were two school kids on an adventure in the unknown.   What an understatement.
            We crossed an irrigation ditch and walked along a curving, undulating gravel road.  I told Riun about the book I was reading, “The Secret Life of Babies,” which is, among other things, about the life-long effects of neuro-emotional behavior that get established in utero.  Riun shared about the new healing work he was creating that resonated closely with concepts from the book.  After about 30 minutes, we looped back toward our cars and I said, “Can we just stand in silence for a bit?”
            Now, I’ve grown very fond of sharing silence with friends.  As a younger man, I often felt restless.  I was nervous to not do or say anything, always feeling, unconsciously, that I had to ‘fill’ the empty space with words or something to distract my mind from really being present.  Now I find the silence helps quiet that mind and often allows something entirely new and more interesting to come up for discussion.
            Riun eagerly agreed to share the silence and we quickly settled into a comfortable distance two feet apart, just looking at one another.  The wind was whipping the branches overhead, the sun was getting close to setting and I had a moment of concern that I might not get to Death Valley before nightfall.  Abruptly, I thought about the thousands of times I ‘faced off’ against my father, brothers and other boys and men when I was younger, playing soccer, hockey and tennis.  I felt the brief surge of that old impulse to have to fight and win something, then watched that impulse fade as quickly as it appeared.  Looking at Riun, I thought about what a powerful presence he was; yet I also thought about how there was nothing to fight about.  I could feel how we weren’t against one another; this experience was about being for one another and sharing in the mutual power of our presence. 
            After several minutes, I closed my eyes briefly.  When I opened them again, Riun was smiling. In my excitement I said, “Man, wasn’t that amazing?  It was as if I could feel the whole history of “men” just dropping off me- how they’re either trying to beat you, conquer you, get through you, past you or outlast and endure you- and we were just being.  God, I love that.”
            Riun excitedly grabbed a branch and with passionate, disciplined strokes, began to draw a diagram on the earth; eventually creating a picture that was 10’ long by 5’ wide.  There was a figure eight for eyes and a large circle that represented a head.  There were horizontal lines representing various levels of awareness in a ‘body’ formed by a few quick curves.  Surrounding it all, there were long arcs representing flows of energy from top to bottom.             
            As he drew he said, “This is my interpretation of the divine alignment of the masculine energy in us.  Alignment occurs with surrender of the mind; as it truly opens it allows the soul to fill the body.   The body and heart struggle to surrender to the great truth of who we are- valor, strength, with integrity and wisdom - all through the heart.  As man stands as a pole to bring forth the true essence of the divine masculine, only then he can truly surrender to the infinite mind.”
            Standing over the drawing, this resonated with our time in silence together.  I began to wonder how I might surrender even more deeply into this ‘infinite mind’ alone on the vision quest.  I could feel a new level of responsibility calling me forward and I felt deep appreciation for Riun as friend, brother and “elder.”
            He looked at me and said, “You know, this is kind of out of the blue and it’s just my take on it; but given all you’ve shared today, I think this vision quest is really about you having absolute compassion for the vulnerability of the womb.”           
            I was bowled over.  The words no sooner left his mouth then I realized the absolute perfection of why there’d been such magic to meeting him.  I realized that while my intentions for going on the vision quest were still important, they felt linear and incomplete.  Riun’s words added a bigger dimension; I thought about the bigger womb of the earth and cosmos I would be nestling in with for several days.  I thought about that book I was reading and my journey to heal energetic traumas from pre-birth and early childhood. And, consumed in the moment as I was, I thought very little about what my mother might be going through at the same time.
            An hour later, when I arrived in Death Valley, flying high from the consciousness-expanding experience with Riun, there was a voicemail from one of my sisters bringing me back to earth.  “Hey Richard, can you please call mom right away.  She’s really, really upset.  Thanks, and I hope you have a safe trip and you find what you are seeking.  Love you.”