Going on vision quest is a fascinating tradition. In the old days it was assumed in nature to find answers to life's big questions, experience a oneness with nature and its forces find a meaning in one's life, or just sacrifice to the gods. It is an ancient shamanic practice that are associated with rites of passage, vision quest, andendurance tests, and virtually all indigenous cultures have some rites of passage containing elements of this.
In my personal spiritual practice, I have tried to find "home" to my self both literally, but also figuratively through nature, and it has had a great impact on my entire life. It has been as if I'm torn between two opposing forces pulling in opposite directions. On the one hand, I am a modern, intelligent and rational woman who enjoys all the benefits that you have in this time. I can include that I like big, fast cars, social media, Iphone, rock music and pizza! On the other hand, I need a completely different spiritual approach. I'm looking away from the vibrant, established and materialistic society to rediscover a spirituality that is not based on superficial values, beliefs, or is full of dogma.
A burning interest in myths, fairy tales, original folklore, superstition, witchcraft, herbal medicine, energy and nature and the forces of the universe have been my fate. I'm looking in the direction of a spirituality which is grounded and universal. I started early with an interest in spirituality, and soon I became preoccupied with Taoism, Paganism and Shamanism. Asatru (Norse mythology) has never attracted me, but I missed a system which was adapted to the scandinavian approach and culture, and I found through drudry, as practiced in England, as well as a Nordic native shamanism, wich "sitting out" is a part of.
To sit out in the summer night becomes both a psychological bravery exercise, a religious ceremony and a spiritual meditative practice all at the same time, and I hope my following story can inspire others to try the same.
I had wanted to conduct a out-sitting for several years, but had not had the courage to carry it out. This year would be the one, and I had also learned how the correct spiritual approach and attitude to the task should be, so I felt quite comfortable. I had been out in the forest and found my own sacred "place" and prepared myself mentally from home, including by meditation and formulating a specific purpose, and fasted.
As night fell, I packed my bag: a seat cover, a warm sweater, a blanket, a rainponcho, a festival chair (should only be used if it started to rain) and a bottle of mosquito repellent! A rather important ingredient in any out-sitting! I should not bring either a watch or cell phone.
I drove out to the area and stopped at the "gateway" where I said a short prayer, recited my purpose and asked for permission to conduct the sitting. A gate symbolizes a threshold or an opening in the landscape that invites you to step into another world. According to tradition, you agree to honor the sitting and let everything that happens have a direct impact on the experience and the subsequent interpretation.
The sun went down at 10 o'clock, and would rise around 4.30. My sit would last for about 6,5 hours.
I walked up to the area of the forest that I had chosen, which was a small area with tall, narrow trees, surrounded from three sides by fields, with views to the horizon.
I sat comfortable and began to wait. To begin with, it went really well. There was still light, and I could see all around. I was in good spirits and felt quite so optimistic. I saw a beautiful deer in the field. It stood for a long time and just waited. Maybe it was curiously of why I was here? The animal became more and more indistinct, and as dusk fell, it became harder and harder to see anything. I could hear a rhythmic throbbing far away. I thought that it was probably sounds from a town nearby. I was beginning to feel uneasy. I could imagine the cars gleam in the distance, and realized how alone I was out here in the forest. I thought to myself more than once during the night, that it was totally crazy to sit here alone in the dark, far from people out in a deserted forest, with no possibility to call someone if something should happen. In response to these thoughts, I heard another voice within that railed at these cowardly thoughts.
Part of me was determined to go through the sitting no matter what, but another part of me was afraid of the dark, for the animals and the unfamiliar sounds. I hid myself under my lovely rainponcho, and closed my eyes. Somehow I managed to calm slightly down, but every time I heard an unfamiliar sound like a branch broken or bird cries, waves of anxiety went through my body and I then sat up straight in the chair, with big wide open eyes that stared blindly into the darkness that closed more and more around me. I used a tactic that every time I felt an animal approaching, I coughed loudly, so that the animal would be aware that I was sitting out here in the woods. I cough many times!
I was not really that I was afraid of the dark, but the animals of the forest svared me. A friend had told me that she had experienced two badgers passing her her on her own out-sitting. My knowledge about the animals in Danish forests is minimal, but the story of these two badgers was to take up much time in my head throughout the night. I knew that the badger was a predator, but I was not sure if it would attack humans. I didn´t think it did, but what if it had rabies ....... We can probably all remember Steven King horror movie from the 80s, "Cujo", which is about an otherwise friendly St. Berharts dog that becomes a raging murderous monster, after having been infected with rabies from a bite of an bat. Was there infected bats in the woods? Could they conceivably attack me? Was there perhaps other animals? Foxes? Hares? Snakes? Deer? Fallow deer? Was it perhaps mating season? Could a big male deer become aggressive if it would defend its territory? Could a hunter to walk past, and think I was a big animal and shoot me? Was it hunting season?
I discovered again and again that I drove myself shitless with scaremongering in my own mind. Everytime I became aware of these scare thouhjts, my rational mind would again take over, and my breathing would again become normal, enable the body to calm down and relax. I felt how the body tensed up, and my nails drilled into the palm.
I was never on the grip of outright panic, but more like waves of violent tension and unrest flowing through my body.
My "rational I," tried to make me relax and told me about the positive aspects of the experience. It told me that I was brave, and asked me to remember how was wonderfully peaceful here was, and that I could relax completely surrounded by nature if I wanted to, and that the animals were more afraid of me than vice versa, etc. I actually had glimpses of great peace, a sense of belonging and a deeper than normal meditative state, but each time it was interrupted by forest sounds, which in turn led me to become tense and start coughing.
At one point during deep meditation, I saw a lovely baby and she had the most radiant and brilliant blue eyes. I knew intuitively that this was me and my husbands child, perhaps only spiritual, but very real. The vision was interrupted when I heard a roaring sound behind me that sounded like a large door being hammered in! I stood up in alarm, and cough and stomped hard on the ground, and the sound of heavy hooves thundered past the immediate vicinity. Some time had to pass before I got track of my heart rate and heavy breathing.
My inner coward tried to convince me all the time that I should pack up, I had sat here long enough, that I did not need experiences like these anyway, and it also tried to entice me with the fact that I could lie in myown comfortable bed under my warm blanket in less than half an hour if I ran now! The coward were constantly drowned out by a much stricter voice that made me keep going. Giving up was not an option - I would do it no matter what! At one point I felt my late mother's presence. She was beautiful and young behind the trees and smiled at me. I did hear her say that there was nothing to be afraid of. It reassured me a little while.
One of the things that makes me really uneasy is blowing wind. It makes me irritable and restless. I generally do not like it, and the night in the forest was full of houling wind. When you sit still and listen, all sounds magnifies, and the wind in the treetops, can be experienced very intense. When it began to rain, I froze and felt miserable. I had two jackets, a blanket and a my beloved rain cover, but the wind would blow up from under the rain cover, and the damp cold made my teeth rattle uncrontrollable. How long I sat and froze I do not know, but I guess a few hours. I felt a great compassion for my husband, who was sitting somewhere else, long way from me, at some ancient ruins, without either rainwear or a blanket. I sent him loving encouraging thoughts.
At one time I experienced a shift in nature, and I knew that now the worst was finally over! It was not because that it was becoming lighter, but something inside me knew that the light would return before long. It was still dark, but the air felt lighter and more joyful. A mysterious knowing. I felt great peace filling my body and I felt both warm and comfortable. A deep gratitude also filled my heart, and I thanked all the animals for leaving me in relative peace, all the trees for protection and all the forces of good for helping me find courage.
A lovely song popping into my mind that I had learned from my teacher of shamanism. Its text is very easy; "Lovely, lovely, lovely is the earth" which is sung three times with a nice simple melody. There I sat in the darkness, humming on my little song, with outstretched legs and arms behind my head, and just enjoyed the experience. I felt that now there was nothing more to be afraid of, and that I could bid all the animals of the forest welcome if they would come and greet. I sat and waited for the light, like a little kid waiting for Christmas Eve, but my struggle and sitting was not finished yet!
It began to blow up with cold rain and new sounds came: There was a rustling in the grass, a cry of an animal, the sounds of owls nearby, the wind in the treetops again and the sound of rain against my coat. I could not understand that I just now had been so calm! How could I feel so calm, and thinking that I would not be afarid anymore of the forest, just to see myself being turned over again and again be fear?
Who was I really? The one who was calm and collected and had a lovely spiritual experience, or this coward, who would just turn tail and run away home? Wich one dominates in my ordinary life? When am I the one, and when is the other taking over? How would my life look like if I didn´t let fear dictate my experience? How would I live my life if I could relax, indulge myself in the moment and avoid fear? How would it feel to not be afraid? Did I have to be a slave of the inner scared coward who constantly would dictate the danger of what COULD be happening, rather than to relate to ANY hazards if and when they happen ? I felt how I am surrounded by this coward all the time, and I wish that I could take him off, like an old, dirty and too small sweater, and just throw him to hell.
I finally took control over myself, and decided that turning my chair over so I could look directly at sunrise. I felt impatient and energized. Could not find peace to surrender and close my eyes. I felt it was getting a little brighter. Was it just something I imagined? No, the fields around me were surrounded by a soft glow of light. Suddenly I heard a little bird song. A deep gratitude flowed through my heart and body and I felt a great happiness. I had completed it! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
I listened intently for more birdsongs, but it was absolutely quiet. A crashing sound behind me broke the silence! I turned around and right behind me, about 10 meters from me stood 2 large deers! My heart stopped beating, and for a while we just looked just at each other. They took a few steps forward, but then it was all too much! I was still afraid of the animals, so I got up and coughed slightly. They were still standing and looking at me. I shocked my blanket and trampled in the soil, and then they turned around and ran away.
What had I just experienced? Why was I so afraid of them? Were they sent to me? Was I a big idiot who didn´t sit quietly and wait? Could they have brought a message? I looked in the direction that they had ran into, sighed and started to pack up.
Now birdsong filled the woods. It was becoming significantly brighter, and I felt happy and easy. I staggered out of the clearing, and found the path that I came from the evenning before. The song about the lovely land played like a mantra on repeat, and I felt every word to be true.
When I came to the "gate" I stopped and said a prayer of thanks. I thanked for the night's experiences, for my courage to implement it, the animals teachings and for the return of the light. When I came down to the road I felt like rejoining the human civilization as a newborn innocent.
I took my car and went to find my husband to see if he wanted to go home with me.
It was a battle between two wills in my mind. Two sides of myself, as I live with every single day of my life. These two sides became incredibly clear that night. Being confronted with my own fear of the unknown a whole night, and finding inner courage and perseverance to overcome it, triggering a personal liberation. As I drove home, I told my husband that I would not try out-sittings again in any near future, as it was simply too hard, but now that the experience is coming from a distance, I see much more clearly what was at stake. I see the gift of the sitting. I see how I got a very clear answer to my question. My purpose for the sittingen was that I wanted to find myself, and experience a oneness with nature and its forces. I got what I asked for. I got more than I asked for, and I kept turning down "gifts" several times. I coughed my way through refusals. I saw therefore directly how I am constantly dictated by voices that constantly defines my personal reality.
I had a realization of how my life and my experience of reality would be, if I could avoid fear and indulge myself to the pure experience. What gifts do I reject in my daily life? I got to see how I'm a slave to the negative expectations that my mind has to my environment.
I saw that inside of me there is a calmness and an ability to immerse myself in meditative processes, and that I can find myself in the deep quiet and dark. The forest is not dangerous. Darkness is not dangerous, but may be a gift, as it closes out the world, and invite me to inner explorations. Who is afraid of the dark night?
I saw my inner fighter that helps me create meaning and perspective when the coward is crying out loud. That the one is not stronger than the other. That I can actually cope with all the challenges in my life, because I have the strength to carry things out, although I am very afraid to throw myself into them.
I felt the heartfelt gratitude for life, and I have not felt that for a long time. Not since I held my newborns in my arms. A sitting can be compared with a birth. One gives birth to new insights and sides of themselves. That's why I felt like an innocent newborn on the way down to the road after the sitting was finished.
I also learned that I have much to work with. Maybe this is just the beginning. I have decided firmly that I will work as much with myself that I can implement a sitting without anxiety. I wil do the sitting again and again from now.
I know that I will be able to travel into the inner worlds without the cold grip of anxiety , and be filled up with energy from the tranquility and serenity of nature.
I will be brave.
Would you try it?
|This is the "gate". The trees form a natural passage. This photo was taken last week, and it is my husband in the front.|