Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday: Vision Quest Revisited

Two weeks ago, I shared the story of my first vision quest in the woods of southern Mississippi. Since I received such a favorable response to that post, I thought that I’d unveil a little more about that life-changing experience.

This weeklong La Terre Quest (as mentor James called it) – a self-imposed coming-of-age ceremony that I underwent with three of my Unitarian Universalist buddies – taught me a wealth of critical life lessons, including the importance of writing things down if I have any hope of remembering them. Although I once believed that I had a memory “like an elephant” (whatever that means), I’ve come to accept, at the age of thirty-two, that some memories are beginning to elude me – which is why I’m so grateful that our fearless leader, James, encouraged us to record our thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a journal bestowed to each of us at the start of that amazing week.

So, given that this is “Thoughtful Thursday,” I realize that it might be beneficial for me to open my weathered journal and take a peek inside, with the hope of learning a little something from my first foray into the therapeutic act of meditation. The first entry – which I recall writing after trekking through a bramble-filled ravine and having an orientation lunch with James; his assistants, Steve and Keith; and my five fellow questers, Julia, Antonia, Daryl, Jeremy, and Sean – was enlightening in a way, but please remember that I was thirteen at the time (so be kind and judge the writing style accordingly):

Well, here goes! The start of my first self-discovery trek. Things started out unexpectedly, but nevertheless terrific. The birds sound lovely through the trees, along with the woodpecker. You should see my legs – they look as if a cat (with very sharp claws) just ran amuck, dragging its hind legs behind it.

But does that matter? Nah.

I sort of found my meditation area near my home – among the tall trees in a fairly shady area. (I felt like the child in
My Side of the Mountain – one of the best books, in my opinion, I have ever read).

James, the head leader of this expedition, said we have to write an analysis of needs
[as I remember it, he wanted us to make a list of the things we required during the vision quest and how that would translate in the “real” world]:

Shelter – tarp over rope between trees {a house}
Coolness – shade (lots of it) and water {air conditioning}
Hunger – food supplied by the camp, cooked by me {a refrigerator}
Thirst – water {plumbing}
Bedding – sleeping bag on leaves {bed}
Comfort – me {?}
Bathroom – hole in the ground {toilet}
Light – candles and flashlight {electricity}
To keep dry – cover everything, go in tent {?}
Entertainment – sing, read {?}

I know, I know. You’re probably even more mystified than you were two weeks ago. Despite the fact that I wasn’t much of a writer back then – and forgetting that “hunger” and “thirst” are technically not needs but conditions, and that I apparently didn’t know how comfort, dryness, and entertainment could be satisfied in the “real” world – I think that analyzing my needs was an extremely helpful exercise. After all, it forced me to meditate on my present situation and my immediate concerns. For, as I understand better now, once a person’s basic needs are satisfied, he or she will find it much easier to clear the mind and focus on the spirit – which is, after all, the goal of meditation.

During that unusual week in June of 1990, James spoke a lot about becoming a “warrior” (in a spiritual sense, not a militaristic one) and learning to “walk the red road” (a prevalent Native American concept whereby a person learns to follow the “right” path, in harmony with nature and those around him). So, the next entry in my journal (also from June 25th, the first day of the quest) outlined the steps to becoming a warrior. Because my note-taking skills were less than perfect then, I’m going to paraphrase here:

– Erase personal history.
– Take control of your own life.
– Have a cloud around you; don’t let other people know all about you.
– Lose the self by contemplating the self.
– Lose self-importance – if you refrain from taking yourself too seriously, you will learn to control your reaction in situations where you fail to get what you want.
– Remember that everything is equal, so talk to plants, apologize for your actions, and never waste resources.
– Use death as an advisor – if you realize that each moment might be your last, you will accomplish your next task to the best of your ability.
– In a world where death is the hunter, remember that there is no time for regrets or doubts – only time for decisions.
– Embrace no routine so that you have a choice between being accessible or inaccessible.
– Leave nothing to chance, and take nothing for granted.
– Stalk your prey and do not worry, for only then will something happen.
– Do not cling to something that longs to be free; it will only lead to exhaustion.
– Do not embrace helplessness, as it only indulges in self-pity, remorse, boredom, and apathy.
– Allow petty tyrants to test you, then stalk them in kind.

Now, I’m not sure how I feel about all of these lessons. Some, like not letting other people know much about you, seem to conflict with the very nature of blogging... and, for that matter, writing. Others, though, like purging yourself of regrets and doubts, seem like sound advice – and a lesson I’m still struggling to absorb.

So, how do you feel about some of these life lessons? Have you applied some of them to your own life? Do you disagree with one, more, or all of them?

In the weeks to come, I plan to explore other journal entries from my thirteen-year-old self. Perhaps it seems self-indulgent, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to channel the optimism I felt that summer – and apply a few meditative concepts to the chaos that is my current life.


A misinterpreted wave said...

I believe that so many of them are true. I especially like the advice not to wallow in self pity. Here in Australia we might say that a person who does that has a 'mighty chip on their shoulder'. Carrying around a victim mentality does you no good, but you do have to purge yourself of those feelings. Now that (purging) directly clashes with the idea of keeping information to yourself. I agree that blogging is also a bit of a contradiction for this ideal. For me, however, I keep so much to myself, that what I tell others is of little consequence. Information that is interpreted as personal by one, may in fact be not psychologically deep at all, and would therefore have little impact with its revelation.

I like the idea that everything is equal. To me that means to be thankful. I am constantly thankful for everything that I have in life, and try to see the lessons that I need to learn from the things that I really wish never happened in the first place.

Thanks for sharing your 13 year old self. I really enjoyed the trip.

Stephanie Faris said...

That list could probably help me. Especially the part about losing self-importance so that I don't take things so seriously. I tend to get upset about things beyond my control.

Laura Martone said...

Chris - I'm really happy that you enjoyed a peek inside my 13-year-old head, and I'm glad you found some truth in those lessons of old. I agree that carrying around a "mighty chip" on one's shoulder does no good - for that person or those with whom he/she interacts. One should purge oneself of such self-pitying notions - and then move forward. It can be done without sharing such information with the world.

I probably reveal more about myself through my blogs than you do (although your poetry certainly reveals a lot about your interests and concerns), but I find that it's therapeutic to share my notions with others... easier to see that none of us are utterly alone in the world.

I'm thankful, too, Chris - for my husband, my kitty, my family, my health, my passion as a writer, and so much more - but I'm constantly striving to purge myself of regret, doubt, and worry, and I have a long way to go. Thanks, though, for sharing your feelings... I really appreciate your perspective.

Steph F. - I, too, tend to get upset about things beyond my control. At times like those, I try to remember the serenity prayer - about having the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference. Beautiful sentiment - though often hard to apply to "real" life.

Weronika said...

This was such an interesting post for me. Thanks, Laura!

Also wanted to mention that there is an award waiting for you at my place! :)

Laura Martone said...

You're welcome, Weronika. Thanks for stopping by - and thanks for the award! You just made me blush!

Julia said...

Hey Laura,

I reread some of my journals - including from the second quest, where I wrote down "I wish Laura was here"!

I'd forgotten about petty tyrants, and it's a useful reminder.

Here's the list of needs from my journal:

Shelter - meeting place, home area {my house, school, friends homes}
Warmth - fire, long pants, sleeping bag {sweater, long pants, jacket, heater}
Coolness - Breeze, shade, water {AC, fans change of clothes}
Drink - water only, not cold {Ice & water, soda, milk, OJ, all cold}
Food - only at mealtimes {go to fridge, pantry, cookie drawer}
Bathroom - pit latrine with sheet {use toilet, sink}
Amusement - assigned tasks, thinking, writing {Read, watch TV, play computer, play games}

much love to you and Dan

Laura Martone said...

Hi, Jewels! Too cool. Glad you still have your journal, too. When did you do your second quest? Mine was right before college.

Yeah, I needed the petty tyrant reminder, too. How many there seem to be in the world.

Thanks for sharing your needs... wow, yours were a lot more detailed than mine! (I especially liked the cookie drawer!) :-)

Much love to you and Adam! I miss you both!