Reflections From Thirty-Nine Years Of Vision Questing

“We crave relationship with that which exceeds us.”

A startling bit of news upon returning from my 39th year of vision questing in the Yosemite Sierra is that physicists at the Cern laboratory in Italy may have discovered something that actually goes faster than the speed of light, something that according to Einstein is not possible. While time and further investigation of their results may prove them wrong, the mere possibility that something, in this case a subatomic particle called a neutrino, moves faster than 186,000 miles a second, upsets the entire scientific base of our understanding of reality, what it is and how it works.

One of the reflection questions that proved fertile in this year’s quest addresses the ontological realm of what the physicists in Cern are exploring: “What do you believe in, have faith in and trust as truth about reality, from your own direct experience?” Based on the notion that there is wisdom in truth and truth in wisdom, seven others and I dove into the deep waters of nature unfolding from an ocean of infinite mystery.

The quest experience sets up participants as conscious hunters seeking prey, not for the body but prey for the soul: prey of in-sight, vision, understanding, courage, healing, inspiration, guidance, meaning, purpose. Sleeping intimately on the earth, with the Milky Way as ceiling, hearing thunder roar though the sky, feeling its power, rain-soaked cliffs avalanching tons of rock, drinking water from flowing creek w/ quick-darting trout, watching granite boulders grind down into sand, the powers of life and death, of coming and going, seeps slowly but relentlessly into body/mind awareness. What one sees outside is also what one experiences within. Boundaries begin to dissolve.

The physical ardors of hiking with full backpack in challenging terrain, fasting at altitude, sleep deprivation, coupled with meaningful ceremony combine synergistically to break down, exhaust and weaken the organism leading to change in perceptual function. You begin to experience the difference between looking and seeing. Looking is mental, words and thoughts colored by past associations and experience. Seeing is different, it entails waiting with attention using sensory modalities of the body to feel and understand what you are viewing in its wholeness and essence. What we really “see” is light (photon packets traveling on electromagnetic vibratory waves) bouncing off a specific energy constellation made sense of in the mind/brain. Seeing opens connection with the essence of what is actually taking place in the present moment. Instead of looking at a tree, you see a living vibrating, evolving being, conscious and communicating, but not in English or human words.

I choose to return to the same quest site year after year, and in doing so I see more of what is there, what I didn’t notice before. Granite bounders, mountain sides, trees, flowers, glacially-polished sculptures, bubbling stream, howling wind, fantastic cloud-shapes drifting across the heavens, open more, share more of themselves, perhaps in appreciation for respectfully sitting at their feet listening to what they have to reveal. It has been said that one can learn as much by climbing the same mountain 100 times as by climbing a 100 different mountains one time.  You can learn about place, about harmonious relationship with the resident life-forms, about change through time, as boundaries between your ordinary sense of self-in-environment dissolve into a wider sense of who you really are and your connectedness to creation.

I am the ocean, I am the sand

I am the mountain, I am the land

I am the fire, I am the grain,

I am the sky, the light in your eye

I am.


Rejuvenation comes through a dream one night when a car without a motor receives renewed enthusiasm and support to keep going on its journey. Another morning I awake to a 500 pound gorilla sitting on my chest asking – “Why get up and do anything today? Why not do nothing but just be?”

Damn good question!” I think to myself.

I lie in my sleeping bag watching the light of day creep down from the high cliffs toward my camp by the creek. Gradually a powerful sense of gratitude for all the gifts of my life begins to fill my awareness: Gratitude for a healthy functioning body able to hike into and behold this temple of natural splendor, gratitude for wellness, for healing from major illness and accidents, loving parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren, friends, community, good teachers, a comfortable home, protection, meaningful, gainful work that supports my family and I, the list goes on and on as I lay there on my back watching the day unfold.  Birds singing, chipmunks darting in the high branches of the pine trees rustling in the morning breeze.

Well, there’s one reason to get up, to give thanks for all those gifts!” I get it.  The grace of abundance and the abundance of grace all around me and throughout my life, even during the hard times. “Get up and give thanks for all that I have been so fortunate to have been the recipient of. I didn’t create those gifts, they were given to me by the Sacred Mystery, by Spirit, by the Tao.  Like my momma taught me long ago, when given something, say “Thank you”!


I climb out of my bag, put on my pants and shirt and stand up to face the sun. I offer tobacco as thank-you to the spirits and powers of above, below, around.  I hear the words of an indigenous elder I heard or read somewhere.  “There’s a really big law that we all have to obey…that law is respect. We have to treat everything with respect.”

My own voice speaks  – “Show respect for the earth that you have been living on these past several days, for the trees giving you oxygen and shelter, for the wood in the fire, the fish in the stream, the clear sky at night and the light of the full moon, say ‘Thank you’.  These beings have been giving to you, allowing you to live in their living room, their home. They are watching you, they are listening to you. Show your respect. Say ‘Thank you’.


So I do. The creative human urge to ritualize takes shape in and through me as I sing praise of thanksgiving. I play my flute, I offer purified corn mean.I dance, I sing. My senses remind remind me, once again, that this is a participative universe offering a co-creative relationship with mystery wherein we are given free choice about what we want to create in our lives. Only I can make conscious choice about what I want to experience, how I want to use the gift of awareness, my intentions for my life. To not get up and focus my attention on my intention is to choose to have my ego-identified, fear-based, socially-programed mind   run its software conditioning. This adds further response-fuel to the morning’s wake-up question of “Why get up and do anything?”

I get up to take advantage of the amplified power field I am in, to connect with it and channel it into my inner work. I get up to consciously align with it, opening my body and mind as a clear channel for its’ power to flow through me so my actions are empowered by their juice, not just my own.

Ok, I am up. I get it. Thank you.

Once up I send out loving energy to each of my fellow spirit-hunters wishing them well on their hunting process. I marvel at how each quester becomes a teacher for me, a mirror, a medicine wheel, helping me explore deeper into myself. I think back to our Give-Away Ceremony sitting around the Sacred Fire a few nights ago. Our last meal and night together before heading out for our individual time of solitude on the land, we go around the around the circle sharing what it is that we seek – our prey, and why.

One man, sixty two years of age, has depended upon others to make the tough decisions for him all his life. He seeks the courage to find and trust his own inner guidance hoping to gain self-confidence that has eluded him thus far.

Another man in his sixties speaks of how he has dropped out of his relationship with spirit for several years and now seeks to return, the Prodigal Son.

Another man in his late fifties seeks to face his fears of inadequacy and failure in front of others.

A feeling-stuck middle-aged woman seeks guidance on how to meet the challenges of her “medicine gifts”, in order to befriend them into helping allies that guide her in how to use those gifts for healing in the world.

A mental health worker seeks to break his life routines to create and live greater presence in the moment, with whomever and wherever he is, whatever he is doing, rather than obsessing about past events or fears of what the future might hold.


An accomplished artist and sound healer and recent grandmother seeks guidance on how to step into a greater sense of Grandmother-hood with a wider channel of service that just to own grand-daughter to become an ‘agent for transformation” in our world.

Each holds up a mirror of inquiry in which I see my own life, my own version of which they speak. We are all different expressions of an underlying reality that holds us together in an invisible web of oneness. Indigenous people who remember their ancestral ways remember this and live this out in their lives. We mainstream westerners live in a culture that has forgotten our interconnectedness and for this the whole planet suffers.

There is an old Hebrew myth that says when a child is born, an angel (an invisible presence, energy-messenger) takes it under their wing and recites the Torah to it. Having done that they put their forefinger on the infant’s lip and says one word, “Forget!”


And we do. Each human being on the planet has that mark of forgetting on their upper lip. Our challenge is to wake up and remember, who we are, what we are, why we are here.

Without remembering, we dream our life away. Maybe it is all a dream on a river that we are both rowing down and being rowed down by larger powers. The vision quest opens a portal to communion with a bigger dream and larger powers than the machinations of ego’s monkey mind, a bigger dream that invites us into a co-creative exploration of what is possible. Why limit our dreaming to old notions of what is or has been when the possibilities are infinite, when we live in an amazing field of “cosmic soup” where the speed of light may no longer be operative factor in what we call reality?

I hope to make it up to quest one more year, Great Spirit willing, my 40th, in September of 2012. Then I’ll take a year off to write about forty years of experience dancing with the Big Dream.

May it be so!

All Blessings to you for fulfillment of your biggest dreams.  tom



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