Let’s say you’re one of those people who is cautiously curious about going on a Quest. There’s part of you that’s intrigued, but a stronger part of you that’s hesitant because of all the unknowns. This post won’t answer every question but will skip to some of the nitty gritty of undertaking a spiritual Quest in a wilderness setting.
1. You’re probably going to spend more time naked than you expect.
This I can’t explain. I don’t know what it is that makes being naked in the wilderness so irresistible but I have never heard of someone who didn’t at some point linger clothesless, surprised and delighted by the sensation of the breeze in places it doesn’t normally touch. There may be a desire for unabashed naturalness or wildness. Maybe it’s about risk and vulnerability. Perhaps nakedness fits well into your quest because your purpose is to reclaim the innocent unselfconsciousness of childhood.
Personally, I love the feeling of the sun on my lady bits with no chance of anyone disturbing me. I’ve made love to the sun many times on quest and it always feels as though I’ve absorbed a thousand volts of energy from the solar gods. I feel free and boundless when I’m naked in the wild.
Even if nudity isn’t your thing, I bet it becomes your thing. Rarely does the primal self appear wearing Gortex.
2. You’re going to catch up on approximately 5 years worth of naps.
Expect to spend a lot more time snoozing than you may think appropriate for a spiritual devotee. There’s no shame in it, though. Questing is tiring work.
Before you depart to find your Questing place, you’ll have already spent several days in Circle learning about the four seasons of spiritual development and their corresponding rites of passage as you prepare for your solo time. You’ll have learned and experienced so much about ritual and ceremony, plus wilderness survival and safety, that by the time you and your fellow questers each go your separate ways you’ll feel as though you’ve known each other for years.
Once you’re out on your solo, you’re dealing with exposure to the elements, establishing a temporary home in the wild, thinking about your life, observing natural phenomena, journalling, planning and performing rituals and ceremonies, exploring and going on walkabouts, crafting power objects and collecting talismans; all this can be totally draining!
For some people, there’s also the management of alertness – are you able to find a sense of peace or is there always an overriding vigilance when you’re in the wild? Getting your busy mind to shut the fuck up can be an endeavour in and of itself.
Mercifully, the body has a way of powering down into conservation mode, especially if you’re fasting with only water. Many people spend a lot of their quest in the dream world, hovering between consciousness and sleep, in a kind of hibernation. That, too, is a time honoured form of quest.
3. Turns out, food is not that big a deal.
Many people worry that they can’t go four days without food. But as one of my teachers likes to say, “Food makes hunger.”
It’s basic subconscious stimulus-response conditioning: we associate food with eating and hunger. If you don’t see food for several hours and your stomach doesn’t receive any when it grumbles, it “miraculously” stops.
You may have tried fasting at home or gone on a juice cleanse and found it difficult. But fasting in the wilderness is different. Without constant reminders of food and flavour, you quickly forget about food and find that it’s a non-issue. Or if you do a modified fast and bring electrolyte crystals for your water, you’ll notice within a day that your taste buds are more sensitive and quickly sated with just the smallest novelty.
4. Long dark nights are really, really long.
I’m not gonna lie, sleeping outside with no tent in the wild is pretty fuckin’ scary. I usually pull the drawstring of my sleeping bag tightly closed with my head inside, so I’m basically a burrito for bears. Or wolves. Or cougars. Or snakes. Or some wacko hermit. ha ha.
Yeah, the mind really goes places at night, you know?
It can feel impossible to get a good night’s sleep. Whether because of your wild mind, the numbing cold or the relentless wind or the sharp rocks in your back or the gnarly forest floor, restful slumber is in short supply. (Hooray for all the daytime naps!)
I have learned some tricks that vastly improve the sleeping experience and I share them with my questers in the pre-quest conference call on Logistic Concerns.
5. You’re never alone.
Ok yes, technically, you’re alone in the wilderness for four days out of our 12 day Quest. But a lot of the time, it doesn’t feel like you’re alone.
First, there’s the fact that you’ve been through a preparatory phase with other questers and you know they’re all out there somewhere on their own journey. You look forward to hearing what they’ve been up to.
Second, you start to develop a more intimate relationship with all the other beings you’re sharing space with out there. The trees, the rocks, the wind, the flora and fauna, the sun, the moon…you look forward to them, you talk to them, you listen to them in a much more attentive way than is possible with the din of the city or the running commentary of your inner dialogue. Everything inside gets quieter and the natural world is suddenly more chatty and animated. At some point, you’ll probably look down and notice the insect world is traveling a crisscross network of teensy trails, streaming by you at breakneck speed. Next, you’ll look up and realize you’ve been watching one square foot of earth, utterly fascinated and entertained for over an hour, wondering how you never noticed your tiny neighbours’ superhighway of activity before.
Third, you know that there’s a guide at basecamp keeping vigil for you every hour of every day you’re out there. I’m there tending the fire, praying for your safe passage, invoking help from the spirit realm on your behalf and holding your intention for you while you journey.
6. The earth hums.
I don’t know if this is the butterfly effect of trillions upon trillions of activities echoing through the ether, or if it’s just that quietness reveals that there’s no such thing as true quiet in the wild, but if you get really still, you can hear the earth. There is a constant hum, maybe it’s more like a droning, but it’s there. Underneath the usual expected noise of the world, there is a soft sound emitted from some mysterious place and once you hear it, it becomes something you listen for all the time. It’s the sound that says you’ve arrived in the heart of things. And it feels really good.
7. You’re tougher than you thought.
You might have doubted your ability to survive alone in the wild. Maybe you were worried about physical pain or discomfort. Perhaps you were afraid of solitude, or the dark, or wild animals. You may have held strong opinions about doing spiritual work in a context that to a certain extent involved strangers. Maybe you were hesitant about the whole concept of “the spiritual quest”.
But then you do it. Like, really nail that motherfucker. Like, emerge like a fucking Wildling from the heart of darkness with a ravenous hunger for more of whatever shit life thinks it can throw at you. Like a warrior or a long lost soul, you accomplish the task of returning to yourself and to a new world of your own making because you figured out what you’re tired of and what you want now and what you won’t tolerate anymore and what you are uniquely suited to creating in the world and, more importantly, you’ve become wise because the earth has told you what it demands of you.
It wants you to prove you want to live.
And that you’re ready to die.
And that you’re good with whatever spirit offers either way.
When you return from your quest, you will know things. You will have done things. You will have survived things. And you will be ready for life on a whole new level because of what you did.