Throughout history, awakened individuals have sought solitude and immersion in the wilderness to experience authentic connection with themselves and spirit, to seek personal direction, to mark the passage into their next stage of development, and for healing. The preparation for that wilderness immersion, the actual solo wilderness time, and the period of incorporation following the solo time, is called: Quest.
So what does going on Quest really entail? Read on to discover the phases of Quest and to help you discover if Quest is for you.
Wilderness Quest and its related terms, such as Vision Quest or Rite of Passage, depict a time of deep reflection and personal transformation. It typically occurs as a solo event lasting several days, usually in the wilderness with as little protection from the elements as is necessary to remain healthy, and often involves not eating during the solo time of Quest.
PAN-CULTURAL RITUAL TO PULL US INWARD
Wilderness Quest is an intentional time set aside specifically for the purpose to move inward. The overall intention of Quest is to find or consolidate a new way of being as one transitions through a life or developmental event. Additionally, Quest is used for finding personal answers to important questions, to cast off past burdens or old ways of being in the world, and to move more deeply into a new self. Quest is considered a pan-cultural rite of passage, and therefore available to all.
Most white US-ians (white people who are at least second-generation residents of the United States), however, do not have a ready concept of Quest, because they have little or no cultural relevance for this event. Questing is much different for those who do not have the concepts of Quest embedded in their community life. Cultural awareness is important, and includes first entering this process being aware of that fact, then working to act in ways before, during, and after the Quest that will not overstep cultural or spiritual boundaries of cultures in which a person is not included.
LACK OF SUPPORT
Additionally, for those of white US-ians who do feel called to Quest, there is little in the culture that will give support for undertaking this sacred journey. It is important, therefore, to specifically incorporate support through all of the critical phases of Questing. This article is a part of an attempt to give support to those who may be wondering if they are called to Quest by providing an introduction to some aspects of Questing.
SEVERANCE, THRESHOLD, INCORPORATION
Quest is usually thought of as occurring in three phases: Severance (a time of active preparation physically, mentally, and spiritually), Threshold (leaving your familiar, safe, surroundings and purposefully entering into a time of uncertainty and testing), and Incorporation (consolidating what transpired during the first two phases into your daily life). I would, however, also include a fourth phase that occurs prior to Severance, and that is specific for white US-ians or those who do not have a cultural platform for their Quest. This phase occurs as an individual first feels called, or emotionally pulled, to undertake Quest, but before the realization that Quest is a part of what they have been seeking. Especially in cultures in which Quest or Rite of Passage is not typical, understanding that you are being called and having the confidence to begin seeking what that call is leading you toward, is an important phase of the Quest process.
UNDERSTANDING CALL TO QUEST
For many white US-ians it is only in retrospect that they understood there was this phase before Severance Many are not even aware that something like Quest exists during that phase. In my case, I became aware of the call several years before I undertook the three formal phases of Quest. At the time of that internal call, I did not know about Questing and had never met someone who had completed a Quest. Many people have since asked me what that internal call felt like. Unfortunately, answering that is a lot like trying to describe a specific color to someone. We have no way of knowing how another person experiences their world, and so can not in good faith validate that they are experiencing color in the same manner we do. However, I would say that for me it was a sense of discontent, restlessness, seeking, and longing for something that I could not specify. There was something missing and beckoning, that I could not define for quite some time.
SYMPTOMS OF DIS-EASE
White culture often interprets the sensations I described above as being symptoms of something wrong and may label them as depression, anxiety, unresolved past issues, or part of mental illness or disease. This, of course, makes the question of being called toward Quest even more complicated. Additionally, some therapies seek to decrease those symptoms through emphasizing goals related to a “return to previous functioning.” This type of remediation for those experiences is very different from how Quest operates, which sees those symptoms as being a dis-ease (the opposite of ease) due to not yet finding and living one’s path.
Additionally, the experience of Quest takes us beyond what we initially feel we are comfortably capable of, and so the natural tendency is to turn away rather than move through the experience. Due to the optional nature of Quest in white culture, therefore, turning away by attempting to “return to previous functioning” is most often seen as the preferred route. Therefore, some measure of emotional desperation, longing, yearning, dedication, and/or persistence, must be present to rise to the occasion of completing Quest and meet what that type of vulnerability has to offer. White culture tends to be uncomfortable with almost any emotions. Therefore, it can be difficult for those who are being called because they will need to balance emotions they have not been prepared to appreciate. In addition, they may be counseled to abandon what they are seeking out of preference to remain within the emotional bounds of that which is more culturally accepted.
ANSWERING THE CALL
Even after the call is identified as a call and Quest is being considered, all manner of uncertainties and seeming roadblocks usually rise. After all, Quest means going into the unknown, in an emotional, spiritual, and physical manner, and so questions and fears start to become evident as the decision to Quest is being made. This can be a confusing time, in part because the awakening vulnerabilities of being in Quest itself often take the form of what seems like legitimate barriers to undertaking Quest. Time away from usual responsibilities, financial obligations, and even non-consequential medical issues, can become the focus of reasons to not attempt a Quest. Without Quest being a tradition in white culture, undertaking a Quest can be seen as an oddity, a luxury, or a triviality. This often creates another confusing layer for those working toward Quest, as they attempt to determine what, if anything, is a compelling reason to abort their call.
Finding the person or people who will lead, support, and walk with you through Severance, protect the physical space through Threshold, and assist you with Incorporation, is important, but can be extremely tricky for white US-ings. Several Questing guides advertise themselves on the web, and do indeed provide a tender holding space and wise council for some aspects of Quest. However, in white US-ing culture, the leap to depend on these people must be made without the depth of an on-going relationship. Indeed, one can be in the position of attempting to make this important decision not even being sure of what qualifications or qualities of that individual will be helpful. Finally, however, that decision is made and the commitment to attend Quest is sealed, usually when the payment to Quest is completed.
What begins at that time is the formal portion of Severance During this phase of Quest there is a sifting, a fleshing out, a peeling back of layers, a separation of what is important and is to be at the forefront and what is to be left behind. Ultimately, distilling one’s reason for being on Quest gets encapsulated in a statement of one’s intention. The intention will become the focus and central point of mental and emotional return while in the solo time. Thus the intention is the anchor of the Threshold experience. No matter how far afield one gets emotionally, mentally, or spiritually during the Threshold time of Quest, the intention is returned to and grounds the experience. Depending on the Quest service that one is working with, the amount and type of facilitation for the phase of Severance will vary.
As one winds their way through Severance, however, the emotional table is being set for going into the wilderness alone. There are also many other ways one can prepare for the solo portion of the journey, through changes in diet, and strengthening one’s spiritual life. Obvious dependencies such as alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco are best being at rest prior to going into the wilderness, or the effects of sudden withdrawal will detract from the heart of the Quest experience. Typical dependencies, such as caffeine, sugar, screen-time, communication, and even time and schedules, are typically over-looked when preparing for the solo time. However, detoxing from these aspects of life is also best done prior to being in the wilderness for the same reason as obvious dependencies. Increasing time for self-reflection and connection during Severance is also important, as well as other activities to focus and heighten the intensity of this phase.
Then it is time to travel to the Questing site, meet the individuals who are also participating, and begin the activities associated with moving into the Threshold time. As typical daily responsibilities are left behind, Severance now becomes the number one task. Those who facilitate Quest often take one or two days at the Questing grounds with the group that they are facilitating for the activities of additional Severance and preparation for Threshold time. Sharing can be a very important aspect of this time, and one can increase one’s preparation by closely listening to others stories, as well as receiving the benefits of others witnessing one’s own story. Final physical preparations are also made during these last few days before solo time. Some of the tasks completed are finding one’s personal Questing site, ensuring safety of the site, making choices regarding what will be brought along, and reviewing safety protocols. The last meeting the night before stepping into Threshold can be powerful as one senses it is the last night of a life that is about to change forever. When final thoughts have been shared and people have retired to their base-camp resting spots, either sleep or insomnia will assist in preparing for the solo time for the remainder of the night.
On the morning of the start of solo time, there can be a somber sense of celebration as those who are Questing gather to wish one another the best, usually with a ceremony, and then depart for their personal Questing spot. What is done during the days and nights of Quest is a question often asked by those who are unfamiliar to Questing. Finding your personal answer to that question is something that is best reflected on during the Severance phase as it varies from person to person. Overall, there is no right or wrong way to Quest, although in general it is not considered a time in which one tunes out and distracts oneself as those activities are generally associated with staying the way one currently experiences oneself. Often, activities of Quest are: being still, listening, meditating, chanting, singing, drumming, journaling, creating ceremony, engaging in ritual, dancing, and praying.
As the formal part of Threshold comes to a close, those who are Questing return to base camp, often with a festive feeling, welcoming and congratulating the other Questers, and being welcomed and congratulated in return. A ceremony to welcome the Questers back and bring them out of the formal solo time is often offered. Then the Questers begin to eat again, following a diet that helps their body adjust to having food after the long fast. Sharing again can be an important aspect of the time coming out of solo, as well as self-reflection and the very beginnings of making sense of the experience. For many white US-ings, the only deep sharing of their experience will be with those who have participated at the same time, because no one at home will have experience with Quest.
Incorporation is the phase of consolidating the experience and beginning to live the new life which was found during Threshold. Here again, as in the Severance phases, white USings have little support. Those facilitating Quest can offer some support, and if the individuals who Quested together bond, they can also offer support to one another. This support is somewhat thin, however, given the immensity of what daily life brings, and what can be the intensity of the Quest experience. White Us-ing Questers often feel they have been through a profound experience, and yet may find that others have a very short attention span for hearing about the experience, or may misunderstand it as either a holiday getaway or a show of competition or bravado. It takes quite a bit of determination to remain dedicated to the changes that transpire during Quest, and to find ways to continue to self-support while continuing to live out new directions.
Many people experience profound changes associated with a Quest months or even years after their experience of a Quest. By then, however, most facilitators of the Quest, and fellow Questers, have moved on. So here again, support for the experience is often lacking.
Quest can be a profound experience that transforms and unburdens. Especially for white US-ings, the lack of cultural context for this pan-cultural experience, can make the experience more difficult or even impossible to accomplish. Finding the right kind of support in someone who is knowledgeable and been trained in Rites of Passage, who understands how to assist in each phase of Quest, and who has experienced their own Quests can be of vital importance. In this article I hope to help those who do not have a cultural context of Quest to understand the process more fully. I am also available for 1:1 consultation regarding Quest and am available to give ongoing support for those who feel Quest may be right for them.
THE ESSENCE OF QUEST
There is a space between now and what will be; between certainty and discovery. A space that is both as thin as a piece of paper and as large as the Universe. It is hard to get there. One must first walk past the end of certainty. Some combination of deep yearning, dedication, hopelessness, desperation, and persistence, are needed to do that. If you are using the dark companions, they need the balance of tolerance, acceptance, and love to really get you there. Then you must also pare yourself down, to become as thin as thin is possible, or you won’t fit into that paper-thin space. Think of the things you can’t possibly do without; self-doubt, self-judgment, shame, worthlessness, among them, and imagine jettisoning them as you are also leaving certainty behind. Those things accomplished, in as much or as little as you can achieve, you come to the place of Quest. Now Quest’s job is to open that thin space just enough so you can slip yourself inside, and then quickly seal the opening so certainty and your baggage won’t follow you. (Unless you keep calling for them, of course. For if you do they will come to you like the loyal dogs they are.) Once inside you become big again, even bigger than before, because you exist in the Universe of that space. A space where the conscious and unconscious meet in liminal velocity. And suddenly, all things are possible. Discovery.
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I invite you to get in touch to discuss your personal needs and goals for earth-based coaching and consulting. Online coaching is available, as are one-on-one outdoor coaching sessions in the St Louis area.