“One Warriors Journey”

Native American Vision Quests have always fascinated me. In traditional indigenous cultures, rites of passage served to mark and celebrate major life transitions. These ceremonial events took place within a framework of meaning that was supported by myth, social structure and spiritual practice. Young people were then encouraged to ask essential questions “Who am I? What unique gifts can I bring to my people? Who are my helpers on the path? What challenges will I need to overcome?” This right of passage tradition represents a turning point in one’s life, usually before puberty and consisting of a journey in the wilderness, usually without food or water and possibly leading to a refreshed life vision inspired by spirit.

Native American Vision Quests have always fascinated me. In traditional indigenous cultures, rites of passage served to mark and celebrate major life transitions. These ceremonial events took place within a framework of meaning that was supported by myth, social structure and spiritual practice. Young people were then encouraged to ask essential questions “Who am I? What unique gifts can I bring to my people? Who are my helpers on the path? What challenges will I need to overcome?” This right of passage tradition represents a turning point in one’s life, usually before puberty and consisting of a journey in the wilderness, usually without food or water and possibly leading to a refreshed life vision inspired by spirit.
Sadly, few meaningful rites of passage remain in the late twentieth century Western societies. Generally young people stumble towards adulthood(like myself), with little in the way of true challenge requiring courage and skill to test themselves, and to demonstrate that they are ready to take on a level of independance and responsibility toward self, others and community.

I’ve not considered myself too spiritual growing up, however as I turn the clock on 56, well past my puberty, a force has increasingly had me be more and more interested in experiencing a quest like this to dive deeper into my consciousness. A believer in synchronicity and life flowing what you need the invitation came to me from a friend, and fellow facilitator Bruce Wilson. Bruce is a professional guide holding a masters degree in Taoist Philosophy and Leadership and has a particular interest in leading people on personal journey’s he calls Wilderness Quests.

The Coronavirus Pandemic had hit the world with it’s impact being felt by virtually everyone on the planet. Media was in a frenzy, people were in a daze of fear, the unknown, isolation and forced social distancing being forced into virtually every corner of our planet.

With a long connection with First Nations and deep respect for aboriginal people and cultures, I was being called to listen to what the elders were saying in this planetary awakening that was happening. “Get out in nature, alone, with no food for an extended period of time” No distractions from modern civilization, connect with nature and communicate directly with our inner selves and Mother Earth.

Perfect, just what the doctor ordered! Everything I had planned was cancelled and we were told to stay close to home. There were no reasons not to make this happen, other than my fear.

This was going to be a 3 night, no food, solo quest in the mountain forest of the Pacific North West. I was joined by my son Jake and good buddy Jeff, who were stronger and quit a bit younger. The three of us would start off together on the initial hike to locate a position in the forest where we would create our communal rock pile. This rockpile was our only connection to each other throughout the quest where we would move rocks at specific times to let each of us know we were okay or if we needed anything.  Knowing that there is someone within 1-2 Kms that is going through a similar journey is not only an effective safety measure it can also provide the the needed strength to push through the challenging times that lay ahead.

With the stern regulations to stay close to your home because of the Corona Covic 19 epidemic, we changed our original plans and would start immediately out the back door of our house on the upper reaches of Grouse Mountain. This turned out to be the first unexpected gift that the quest would reveal in discovering how beautiful and wild the nature in our backyard is. Recent sightings of cougar and bears in our neighbourhood was another sign that the seasons were shifting, animals were moving and lets get in that flow too.

Bruce held 3 zoom calls to respect the social distancing measures and make sure we were all set up for a powerful and transformative quest. We went over the stages of the quest, what to expect, packing lists, survival videos and as much time as we needed to answer all of our questions. The most important part of the quest, was setting our intention and preparing for the ceremony of the quest. The sages of India observed thousands of years ago that our destiny falls out of our intention and the clearer this is the more fulfilling a life we can lead, so we each spent time reflecting on what would be ours. For me I knew I was in a time of transition, so my intention was to move past the areas of my life that were holding me back, and create a new way of being for myself that would instil a deep sense of confidence in my new path I was working on.

It was Friday, April 10th and after carefully packing my 50 litre backpack with the minimal survival basics and not much more than than a sleeping bag, ground mat and a tarp (no tents allowed) we were off, out the back door, heading up Mosquito Creek to see where we would be spending the next 3 nights.

After a couple hours of scrambling along the creek on random animal trails and openings in this lush rain forest, we found ourselves surrounded by ancient cedar and hemlock trees. The valley had been logged almost 100 years ago, but thankfully these grandfather trees were spared for us to find shelter and strength from.

Once we reached the snow line we let our instincts guide us to our agreed upon rock pile location that we would each check in at specific times every day.

With no fan fair, or long goodbyes, we agreement to meet Monday at 9am and we were off. Immediately my mood shifted as we were now alone, with no one else, away from all the digital distractions and the comforts of our own homes. This excitement mixed with fear and an anxiousness settled in immediately as I started to ask myself “what have I gotten ourselves into.”

Again, with our instincts and senses illuminated we set out in our unique direction to discover a location to start constructing our camp. I ended up being at the base of one of these massive cedar trees on the east bank of the creek. The heavy humous forest floor made for a relatively soft landing for my somewhat tired and hungry soul. It wasn’t perfect, but I could see enough qualities to call this camp for this long weekend, albeit no holiday location.

During a quest like this the forest and our interactions reveal different metaphors for us to discover and learn something about ourselves and our lives. I remembered from our pre quest discussions that how our camp spot and ceremony space showed up and gets built is a reflection of how we live our life. For example, If one has a hard time deciding on a camp location or is always looking for something better, then that may be a similar experience in our regular day to day life. In my case, it came fairly quickly with an obvious flat spot on the steep bank that I was attracted to, tucked beside a rotten stump for protection from the cold north wind starting to come down the mountain. It was mid April and I was right at the snow line, with patches of soiled snow showing me that it was truly a transition time in our lives. As it turns out on many fronts.

The Days and Nights while on a quest were filled with a mix of survival chores that needed to get done, like collecting wood, building warmth from a small fire, boiling water for Tea and setting a mindful pace to manage my energy. When not in survival mode, the balance of the time was spent being still, heightening all the senses to be one with the forest, aware of your thoughts, emotions, feelings, singing, dancing and praying.

During the days, I’d make a point to go explore and find direct sun to connect with and warm up. With the sun not that high in the sky yet, the only real warm sun was down in the creek, where I discovered a majestic waterfall to also absorb energy from. Absorbing the solar and water energy became a huge source of providing me the inspiration and strength for the long, cold nights ahead.

Sleep became a luxury. A few hours the first night was about as good as it got. The unexpected wind chill rolling in from the North was bone chilling and with every strip of clothing on, made it really hard to sleep. The message I was getting was that this part of the quest process and The suffering would open up new possibilities to discover something about myself. Our western society and I include myself have become extremely comfortable in our warm and safe environments that our minds have had the tendencies of becoming stale and stuck on same the narratives. Stories that hold us back, keep us safe from stretching ourselves on the road to be our best. I still suffered and it sucked no matter how much I told myself I was in the perfect spot, learning what was next for me. “What doesn’t kill ya makes you stronger “ was a phrase that kept me going.

The daily pilgrimages to the rock pile was a ritual I really looked forward to. Jeff, Jake and I added a note pad and pencil in a plastic bag, which served for some added communication. Everyone was doing fine until Jake decided it was time to end his quest. Lighting a fire became a challenge and the consistent cool temps became too much. Jake gave it his best shot and learned so much about being in the forest, alone and away from all the regular distractions at home like food and his phone. While I felt the disappointment Jake must of been experiencing, there was a sense of relief knowing Jake was home safe and sound.

We had been in the forest for almost 60 hours now and the final evening was about to offer the biggest transformational opportunity. At sunset we walked into our ceremony circle from a direction that we felt best represented how we were currently living our lives. In the days leading up to the quest Bruce guided us through the conversations about the different directions and what they represented so we could create the direction that best spoke to us. For me the North direction nailed it with its king and survival archetype. It was time to acknowledge it was time to start making a shift in attention to guiding a broader community through the more challenging times we all will be confronting as we grow older. The round granite rocks I’d gathered at the creek now lay on the north edge of the circle Inviting me enter in at 8:30pm. By now the temperature was plummeting as I stepped in enthusiastically expecting lightening bolts to go off…..but nope, the only light was from my small crackling fire.

We are asked to stay awake and alert the entire evening until sunrise, which required digging deep into your reserves both mentally and physically since I’d spent a couple of sleepless nights with no food. As expected over the evening you move through many emotions and thoughts. Thoughts from “WTF am I doing, this is crazy” to “it will be over, at some point, everything passes, and I can do it” . Emotions moved through my body as I kept the fire burning (not a small feat) , trying to remember, journaling my thoughts as my head bobbed in a sleep dream state. Encounters with bugs, the fire, my sore body, the mist from my breath and the forest’s sounds all had a life of their own with the many metaphors full of personal messages. Bruce in his pre-quest tone setting helped us create a potent context with a series of questions that helped me bring out the trapped thoughts lodged in our subconscious mind.

As the evening progressed I started to get connected to the deeper emotions that impact all of us if we like it or not. These are ones that we most often push away because of the fear and unknown they may reveal. On several small cedar planks I found hanging off a rotten stump I carved the words love, fear, shame, trust and guilt with my sharp pocket knife. After placing the emotional symbols around the fire I started to focus on my intention as I danced, sang, wept, stood still, and journaled lists on each of these emotions. Its amazing when you are calm, quiet, tired, hungry and cold with no one else but yourself and nature, what you begin to notice that normally is hidden.

A familiar childhood story emerged and would become a key breakthrough of my quest. I could see with more clarity than ever how the stories of “I’m not being good enough” and “I’m not likeable” had driven me subconsciously to want to be liked and loved by everyone and how difficult and hard this has been for myself and the people around me. We all of in some form or another have a version of these stories trapped in our bodies and it was time for me to take another piece out of this limiting belief thats been holding me back from my truest and best self.

With my eyes welling up, and the sky showing its first sign of light, now was the time for me to burn and let go of these emotional planks and the lists I’d gathered over the night and make room for the new ways that would serve me and the people around me.

As the sun was about to rise, an overriding exhilarated calmness which came over me in that moment that I’d never experienced before. The moment allowed me to fully appreciate my full existence in the presence of nature, feeling supported and connected. A confidence in the journey I was on came over me and I knew now I had everything I needed to take care of myself and the people in my life and begin looking broader.

At 8:36am, the sun finally rose, and I could hear chants in the distance. Jeff had just stepped out of his ceremony space and his masculine howl graced me to my core! My energy soared as I realized it was time to leave my circle. I chose to exit in the East direction which represented the Warrior archetype and a rebirth, a springtime renewal and awakening of what has been dead and frozen. It also represented the miracle of the sun rising each morning to fill the world with light. A sense of being able to think bigger, in more visionary ways considering the impact on future generations.

Feeling calmly alive and just enough energy to pack my camp, I met up with Jeff at the rock pile and we started our journey home. By now there was a noticeable lethargy in my step that showed up in my ability to navigate the rooty trail that we decided to descend on. Connecting and sharing with Jeff on our experience really grounded some of what we were able to distinguish during the past 3 nights and days. Jeff for me was so complete and grounded in his presence. This big strong guy, just went to another beautiful level of his power. We would continue to connect and share what was opening up over the week to come.

It took a few days to recover as calories and rest was restored. My life has shifted from being reactive to being responsive, a quality that brings new level of peace and love with myself. Now rather than having to figure out my life, a natural flow is present bringing opportunities and really fun things to do that light me up. Its simply unfolding in an unexplainable way and I don’t have to worry about people liking me….except my wife !!

One of the most profound realizations was the deep nature connection I experienced with the natural world. Reflecting on my quest, an intimate encounter with a flying bug blew me away. This little critter hovered perfectly down in the firelight, six inches directly in front of my face as I stood over the hot coals trying to stay warm. This perfect Insect being had a consciousness. It was amazing, as we locked our gaze on each other. Staring, silently, frozen each in full presence. After a brief conversation (mostly me talking) and continuing to stay focused on my eyes, he retreated back on his airborne route exactly the way he arrived and disappeared into the darkness of the forest. I was left with a knowing that Ill never forget that we are all connected, no matter how small and insignificant we may label different living beings. The small stuff…there is something to always learn and connect with. We so often think we need to have so much, bigger, better, stronger stuff when in fact we can get much more from much less!
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Which leads me to what now, and what will I do with this experience? Certainly, Ill never forget this quest for many reasons like the profound awareness I learnt about myself, the brothers I shared it with, and this time in our history of planet earth and human beings! It has forever shifted the foundation of how I will live my life. Like anything we must continue to practice and keep learning about ourselves on one level, while the next level may be how can we pass our experiences on.

Brent Martin Guide at Backcountry Enlightenment Wilderness Quest

While there are different guides you can hire to facilitate quests around the world with different Aboriginal cultures, Bruce and I have started to explore how we can make similar quest experiences available to anyone inside their own unique and local environment. For some that could be a simple food and tech fast at home, or a camp quest in a local campground in the province. Really there should be no limits on the creativity and limitations on doing one’s inner journey. This is important work we wish to invite you all. If you have any interest or questions about what you have read here or have started to imagine for yourself A similiar journey, please contact us. We would love to turn your dreams into realities!!

Happy Questing Warriors!