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You are here: Home Resources E-Newsletter Archive Summer 2008, Issue I Earthlink Search Party

Earthlink Search Party

A Vision Quest reflection by Darcy Ottey, Executive Director.

Praying together on the earth, we heal ourselves, each other, our ancestors, and future generations.  We accept this mantle, and will do our best.                                                                                                  --ESP ’08

Early this April, I had the opportunity to take part in a wild & crazy, inspired, and personally & professionally affirming experience:  a vision quest in Death Valley with young guides from around the world.  A two-week journey that included a 4-day solo fast, the idea was the dream of California vision quest guide Kent Farion.  Kent’s idea was ambitious, and had never been done before:  bring together twelve guides, two men and two women from North America, Africa, and Europe (the three continents where contemporary vision quest work is established and links have been formed between guides), to quest “apart but together” in search of a common story. 

The single criterion for participation was:  one must be “committed to doing this work in 20 years” (and therefore young enough for this to be reasonable).   Kent sought out his promising young guides through word of mouth, and the national networking organization, the Wilderness Guides Council.  Once invited, if we accepted his invitation, Kent & his wife Farion generously provided an all-expenses paid (that’s right, travel from around the world) trip to participate.  Our commitment, in exchange, was to full-heartedly participate, share our stories in our home community, and return to share our story at the next International Wilderness Guides Gathering, taking place for the first time in the US in April 2009.  Kent—in his usual whimsical way—called the journey the “Earthlink Search Party (ESP),” as the stated goal was to uncover the story that linked us all, across the globe.

From the beginning, the focus of the vision quest proved elusive and difficult to comprehend:  all of us, ranging in ages from 23 to 42 and from locations as diverse as Capetown, Kiev, and San Francisco, knew what it meant to take part in a personal vision quest, and we have all helped others prepare for them:  how to look back over the course of one’s life, to be fully present in the moment of one’s quest, open to whatever one’s heart or the universe offers, and how to incorporate these insights into the future.  This is, of course, difficult work.  But we had added to the challenge:  do this not just for ourselves, but for, when we allowed ourselves to be most grandiose (which wasn’t often), all of humanity.  That is, look back over our collective history, be fully present on our individual vision quests and open to what our hearts or the universe offer in terms of collective insight about where we’re at as a People right now, and explore how to incorporate these insights into the future.  An audacious goal, full of individual and collective dangers:  individual arrogance & projection, language barriers among the participants, and a style of vision quest that none of us (including our four elder guides) had ever done before.  And yet—the idea was so beautiful that all of us accepted the challenge, and from the moment that we came together there was magic.

I’ve only been home for two weeks now, and what happened out there is still forming in my own mind and heart, and for the other “Earthlinks.”  As with a personal vision quest experience, it’s hard to be coherent about our experience, or to articulate exactly what happened and what we learned—there is no dream that all 12 of us had one night that sums up the future of humanity and tells us what to do, no voice that we all heard arising out of the earth or coming out of the sky.  But there are themes, themes that will be developed over the next year as we prepare to tell our story to the International Wilderness Guides community next year.  Here are a few of those that stood out for me, and I humbly offer them as my piece of weaving together the collective story:

Healing

Each of us came to the vision quest with our own wounds in need of healing.  Many of those wounds were reflected in the relationships between group members—individuals from dominant groups and traditionally oppressed groups, people whose family histories placed them on opposite sides of wars and conflicts.  We brought these histories to our experience, and being together was a healing balm for those wounds.  Among our group, no topic was taboo, no wounds left bandaged up, out of the light and air.  Rather, we exposed our wounds to be healed by the collective, and in the sunlight & air of our sharing, our feeling, we began to be healed.  The importance of healing is reflected in the beginning of our group confirmation sentence, at the beginning of this article: Praying together on the earth, we heal ourselves, each other, our ancestors, and future generations —our collective confirmation that we all took out to meditate on, to pray on, to be with, during our individual 4-day fast.

Trust

Perhaps because we all have experience with vision quest work, perhaps because our group was crazy enough to participate in this wild experiment, perhaps because it simply is time to see it in the world—the trust that emerged from almost the very beginning of the quest was one of the most profound group experiences I’ve ever had, and certainly the deepest without years of history for it to develop.  We trusted in ourselves, in the group, and in the process, despite the formidable barriers we faced.  And there were barriers.

From the beginning, what the structure would look like was a tension.  Was this an experience we were creating together, that the elders were guiding us through, or that we needed to do on our own?  For a newly-forming group to negotiate these questions is difficult work, especially when they’re also trying to open up in the way that people need to for a vision quest.  So we came together in council, and we shared our hearts.  And in the voices of others, we heard our own.  Without ever stating it, we made decisions by consensus, with trust that we would find solutions that worked for everyone.  We practiced the Hawaiian Maoli ideal of Mihikala (introduced by a Bay area participant)—the act of giving and receiving forgiveness before it is needed.  We knew that the language and cultural barriers may prove challenging, so we chose instead to trust in the heart of each participant. 

The Role of Elders

Among the four elders—our guides into territory where they’d never been before, the collective vision quest—tension over roles was also present.  For the 12 earthlinks, this tension reached a critical point during the final night of our fast—our time alone, together—still in the ceremony of the vigil night, staying awake in preparation for the morning’s rebirth, but, unlike a typical vision quest, we did it together.  In coyote fashion, a note was sent to the group, with the suggestion to tell our stories to each other that night, and bring down only our one collective story off the hill.  The troublesome note we received said that no one needed to know our individual stories—that the collective was what was important, and that we had the skills to help process one another’s experiences—we didn’t need the elders.  In the unrelenting wind, in the darkness, around a small fire, we broke our silence to discuss this unorthodox suggestion.  But everything was unorthodox—so why the heck not?

A powerful group consensus emerged:  We have been taught a form.  And we believe in that form, and in the way it works.  We are not the previous generation of guides, struggling to find information on how to do vision quests, or how to do rites of passage.  We can modify the form, but only when we see need to.  And we have elders.  And until they are no longer able, it is still the responsibility of the elders to hear our stories, and help us make sense of them.  This is what we’re asking them.

The Gift of Responsibility

One of the themes of our time together was “accepting the mantle,” that the last generation of vision quest guides is aging, and it’s time for younger guides to step in and take on the mantle of responsibility.   Personally, I struggled with this concept.  At the helm of Journeys for the last year and a half, I felt that I knew what “the mantle” felt like—Stan Crow had passed it off to me already.  And it’s HEAVY!  Carrying forward the work of reconnecting people with themselves, with community, with nature, with the sacred—is a hard task. 

What the coming together of all 12 of us from around the world allowed for was a sharing of that challenge.  We recognized that unlike the last generation of non-indigenous pioneers trying to tap into pan-cultural traditions from which our culture has become divorced, we have been initiated.  We have the tools, the form, the traditions to offer now.  We have the will.  And we have each other to turn to for support.  Believing strongly in the work that we are continuing in the world, we confirmed, “we accept this mantle, and we will do our best.”

Returning back to Journeys after what felt like a year but was only two weeks, I feel renewed and reminded of the importance of our work in the world.  Seeing the various rite of passage/vision quest lineages come together, how much we shared despite different training and program structures, and most importantly, the relevance of our work to a globally diverse population, re-inspired that the work that Journeys is doing is much bigger than helping individuals through life transitions, but part of a global movement to reconnect.  Finally, the world is ready again, for teachings that have their roots in the beginning of human culture.  I still don’t fully understand my own experience of the last couple of weeks.  But it’s an exciting time, full of possibility.

Darcy Ottey, Executive Director

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