Most of us live our entire lives in a state of mild distraction. I literally can’t complete this sentence without my mind wandering to a dozen unrelated things. Whew. That was exhausting. Why do I do this? Is there anything I can do about it? I went to the moon to find out.
Ok, maybe it wasn’t the moon, but it was what I imagine the moon would be like. In fact, I was in Joshua Tree National Park. My plan was to make this a mini vision quest, which includes 3 major elements: nature, fasting, and solitude. Unlike my previous vision quest, I didn’t have any particular “topic” that I wanted to explore. But, with my wedding a mere 30 days away, it seemed like a good time to get away and spend some time with the wild horses that roam the vast emptiness between my ears.
Since my goal was to be alone and spring is a popular time to visit Joshua Tree, I entered the park at one of the less popular trailheads. After hiking in several miles I found a spot that gave me confidence I would not be disturbed by anyone.
The vision quest is designed to disturb. It disturbs your entire life system, by removing everything that provides structure and comfort in everyday life. You are left with only your thoughts and fears. In the midst of this disturbance, something interesting will happen. What follows is my rambling recollection of what emerged for me over those three days. I hope you find it useful...
I consider myself a fairly independent person. Still, the feeling of total solitude was incredibly powerful, even overwhelming at times. The desert is particularly skillful at evoking these emotions. Very few creatures choose to make this barren landscape home and it is easy to see why. As far as the eye can see, in any direction, there is nothing. For me, the nothingness brought forward a longing for connection. Connection to my friends. Connection to my family. Connection to Kathie. Connection to my work. It is so easy to lose my sense of connection when I’m living my life on the other side. It is too easy to take connection for granted. Connection. Is. Everything.
The act of fasting also brings forward some unexpected feelings. Most people imagine the hunger is unbearable. For me, hunger is more of an occasional annoyance; one easily held at bay with a sip of water. The thing that fasting really brings into view is the extent to which food provides structure to my life. My days are marked by 3 distinct events which center around eating. Coffee in the morning. Lunch. Dinner. Without these routines, my day feels empty. I find myself wanting to eat, not because I’m hungry, but because I’m completely unsure what to do with myself otherwise. Fasting allows me to notice the ways in which I rely on food, not as nourishment and fuel, but as a psychological crutch. This includes both when I eat and what I choose to eat. I need to be more intentional about what I put into my body and why. Without my physical structure, nothing else is possible.
This brings me to my biggest fear when doing a vision quest…bears. No wait. Not bears. Boredom. Without social interaction and without food, what am I left with? How will I distract myself for 12-16 hours each day? Just pause for a moment to think about the absurdity of that last question. Distract myself from what? Living. I need to distract myself from being alive. How sad is that? People often ask me if I would bring a book or some music. Of course, there are no rules, per se. However, I would be bringing these things as comforting distractions and this would defeat the point. My goal is not to find ways to pass the time, rather to notice the ways in which I need to find ways to pass the time. Trust me. Even without my devices, my little brain does its best to fill the void with endless chatter. Sometimes the chatter reveals a useful insight, but most of the time it is just a desperate attempt to fill the silence with something. Anything. It is terrifying to have nothing to do. I’m not even one of those people who is chronically busy and yet I am terrified. I have empathy for those people who load up their lives with the crushing weight of heavy tasks and real commitments. This was a reminder of how much I need to fill my life with distractions.
I’m grateful to be back on the other side of the mountain. For the next few days I’ll probably even be able to hold some of these ideas close to my awareness, which will bring a vibrancy to every moment. Over time, the vibrancy will fade.
My goal is to hold it as long as I can.