The third full day of the vision quest was magical in every way, shape and form. By the time I returned from the campground, the wind had died down, offering the most minor of breezes, the sun felt warmer than the day before, and I was full of anticipation. My thoughts gravitated back and forth between surrendering to whatever was supposed to happen, and whatever visions I might see that day, and the occasional, ego-based chirp of “Hey, I’ve worked really hard here. I better see something!”
Fortunately, I was far from disappointed. I gave the morning to alternate between long stretches of meditation and prayer, and unlike the gravitations of my mind, they were deeply calming, confident and unwavering in their trust. After a brief nap, I awoke on my right side and glanced up into the sky. My heart was immediately lit with joy. There were clouds in the sky! Wispy, swirling, tenderly dynamic clouds! The sky had been absolutely free of them for three days and I’d been so focused on my prayers that I’d forgotten they even existed. I quickly reached into my bag to grab my glasses and then what appeared ‘tender’ to the unsharpened eye, quickly took on whole new dimensions of power and intensity.
Similar to that first evening, watching the stars come out to shine, I was that boy in the matinee theater again, excited to devour all I could see. In the west, there was a strong, mythological delicacy to the shapes above me. Together, numerous individual visions formed a gorgeous, parallelogram-shaped tapestry. Stylistically, Mother Nature was combining echoes of the 16th Century Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel, Pablo Picasso and the more contemporary phenomenology of painter Alex Grey. There was a bull-headed man blowing smoke, a large lynx, a roadrunner, a spiraling dragon, a man diving from a high dive, and a man swimming amidst the strong, swirling currents of white all around him. Studying each image, closing my eyes to breathe them in, and then impressing their temporary presence in my mind tantalized me completely.
If the Western sky was filled with the more dynamic motions and projections of life in all its mythical exuberance, the Eastern sky was filled with its polar opposite- Death. In the east there was only one clearly defined form and it felt more gruesome than anything I’d ever seen in person. The form was a large, pre-historic cat, lying on its side, and it was so huge in the sky, it must have been dozens of miles wide and long, only enhancing its grip on me. The stylistic tone was a hybrid of the 18th century Spanish painter Francisco Goya and the contemporary British painter Francis Bacon, evoking a gaudy scene of madness. The cat’s mouth was open and its tongue was hanging out and limp, evoking a horrific, silent scream. Its right eye was literally bugging out of its head and its belly was ripped wide open, exposing ribs, entrails and parts of what looked to be it’s half-eaten offspring. Lying on my back, my head arching backward, I gazed upon the scene in shell-shocked fascination; I could practically hear the vicious tale of attack by some larger life form, evoking the deepest sense of sadness and loss in me.
Over the course of the next half-hour, I lay trading glances at these opposing portraits of east and west, absolutely riveted by the differing intensities and deeply curious as to how they were all going to change. As the high altitude winds shifted subtly, I watched the cat grow more and more enormous, the features of horror becoming only that much more pronounced. It was as if I was watching a once-thriving beast decay right before my eyes. The ribs flared out, cracking into the open blue sky; the hips splayed open and the hind legs broke apart, gradually became severed from the rest of the body; and it’s enormous head, still so filled with shock and pain, twisted at the neck upward and splintered away on its own.
If the Eastern vision of clouds was a pre-historic horror show, the Western vision evoked a graceful dance of lyricism and freedom; not only for the forms themselves, but also for how the forms moved and evolved. Hovering directly above the center of the Valley floor, these clouds initially changed very little. Gradually, the winds over that part of the Valley must have turned, such that each image slowly expanded in size with some, like the dragon, the lynx and the roadrunner absorbing the forms of the other shapes. Then, the entire vision began to move steadily southward, staying directly above the open Valley floor below. Within forty-five minutes, it had reached the Southern end of the Valley and rested still above a low-lying ridge of mountains. In its movement, the multitude of forms had gracefully dissolved, leaving two large splotches of fuzzy wisps to flank two enormous birds in profiled, directed flight. I watched transfixed by how so many shapes and individual stories had magically been distilled into just those two birds. And they seemed to be no ordinary birds; they were iconic, not unlike the image of an airline brand- in perfect tandem and harmony with one another.
Occasionally, as the western vision was gravitating south, I would pull myself away to check on the cat’s dissolution, and it was barely recognizable. Not unlike the way a fallen trunk on the forest floor will decompose into myriad thumbnail-size bits of cellular granules, the cat had splayed itself in shards across the quiet battlefield of the sky. Then, within fifteen minutes, as if God had swept a dry eraser through the air, the entire sky returned to its previously perfect, cloudless state. I was stunned, yet satiated. The magic show was over.
I lay back to rest and it took me awhile to move again. The potency of the visions was so striking and visceral, that for the next few hours, all I could do was breathe and pray in thankful amazement for the brilliance of all I’d seen. And in that prayer and amazement, something novel occurred. For three days, I had been giving thanks for people and forces outside of me, and in the wake of absorbing these visions, that shifted. It shifted when I gave thanks to me. I gave thanks for the dramas and obstacles I’d created in the first two days and the weeks leading up to that moment. I gave thanks for my devotion all along the way. And, I gave thanks for my willingness- to pray, to fast and to be open to receive those visions in the first place.
Over those hours, my breath became an even stronger anchor and a stronger beacon of warmth and insight. Any time the breath wanted to shorten and my thoughts solidify into a victim-story (especially around my projections that all those visions were created by my psyche, the large cat being my mother, and it was I who created her suffering), I envisioned full deep breaths again coming from my fingers and toes. Immediately, I was out of my head, back into my whole body and taking flight back to the present moment. The more present I was able to be, the more I was able to choose which image I wanted to focus on. And as fascinated as I was by the tale of pain the cat exposed me to, I intentionally willed myself to focus on the vision of the birds: there was more life in it, more possibility and far more joy.
At that point, I was sitting cross-legged on my blanket, staring almost blankly at the brownish-grey rocks before me. The passing of a car down on the road briefly interrupted the stillness of the moment and when it was out of earshot, a familiar pair of calls swung my head around. I’d heard them the day before, one a low honking and the other a nasal-toned cackle. I looked up and watched as two ravens passed over from south to north. They flew closely together, occasionally dipping and swooping one after the other. As I had the day before, when I saw them fly in the other direction, I imagined them to be a mother and child, for the distinction of their calls, for the fact that one was a little less black in tone, and for the fact that one was just noticeably bigger than the other. But then I remembered that this was early February and they had to be a male and female. With spring coming soon, they had to be enjoying some moments of play, preparing to mate.
The vision of all these winged creatures was benevolent fuel for my spirit and crude sludge for my ego. By day’s end, as I moved deeper into my sun gazing meditation, my arms found their way into fuller, more expansive expression. Beginning crossed over my heart, I inhaled and extended the limbs as far to either side of me as I could reach. On each exhale, I brought my arms back over my heart and continued in this way. I gradually lowered my hips and established an enchanting rhythm, the wingspan of my full body relishing the act of unfolding my heart to the world. My spirit was soaring, my heart began to open more fully to feeling so good and alive, and my ego grew jealous.
Inflated and fantastical visions began to be manufactured and I lost the fullness of my presence. I lost myself to fabricated visions of going back to LA and emerging on the scene as the hottest and most magnetic teacher. This fantasy consumed my meditation, distracting me from what was most genuine, true and rich in my connection with the Sun, the Earth and my body upon it. It distracted me so thoroughly that, unbeknownst to me it planted, as it had so many times before, the seeds of great, unmet expectations amidst a salty sea of smothering self-sabotage.
Blissfully ignorant of these seeds’ presence, I prepared for sleep. Having learned so much from the previous two nights struggles, I performed two simple actions that would help make this last night’s sleep a divine, uninterrupted respite of deeply nourishing proportions. First, I finally cleared the earth beneath my bedding, pulling free all the rocks that were jutting up in an eight-foot square area, and sanding it all smooth with my hands. And secondly, before climbing into my sleeping bag, I wrapped my toes in the bright magenta, cashmere scarf I’d brought.
I fell asleep savoring the moment- my whole body was warm, the sky was filling up with friendly, bright stars, and I was dreaming of steak and eggs for breakfast.