Vermont Wilderness Rites
What is a Quest?
People choose to quest in the wild for many reasons. Often something is shifting or has recently changed in their lives and they seek to deepen their understanding of the transition. Some feel a yearning that cannot be named or are seeking a deeper understanding of this "one precious life." Others have crossed a specific threshold in life such as finishing education, recovery from disease or addiction, marriage, parenthood, job change, divorce, menopause, children leaving home, becoming a grandparent, retirement, elderhood, or a life threatening illness. Often people quest because there is no available ceremony to mark a life transition and they seek not only the ritual but the knowledge that is gained that informs their next stage in life.
The Vermont Wilderness Rites offerings are based on traditional forms of rites of passage and initiation in many traditions and cultures that prepare, support and witness the transitions and role changes throughout life. It has three elements: severance – intentionally leaving behind your life as you have known it; threshold – the time betwixt and between what you have known and what is emerging; and incorporation – the return with new knowledge, understanding and skills that will be integrated into the next stage of life.
Those enacting a wilderness rite do so willingly and with intention. They are guided in experiences that encourage deep listening to self, dreams, stories, nature, and spirit. People are offered ways to identify what is standing in the way of moving with clarity, purpose and intention into the next phase of your life. Time alone in nature, fasting, opens the way for teachings from the natural world, the seen and the unseen, heard and unheard. Participants are given the opportunity to develop practices that will support continued spiritual path and development.
Before returning to family and community, individual stories are mirrored by the guides to insure that each person recognizes the gift that has been received and will be given. If possible, there is a ceremony of incorporation back to community represented by previous fasters and participant’s family and friends.
This last stage of the quest, the return to the community, is an age old story – those who go into the wilderness to fast and pray return with information and wisdom that is critical to the future of the community. The individual’s story brings new hope and inspiration to the community. The community supports the return path of the person who has fasted for meaning and purpose. This mutual dependence is critical to our society and world today that has strayed so far from an honoring relationship with Earth and with each other.
Fasting for purpose and meaning fosters a relationship with Earth and Community that is based in gratitude and service. The individual's own spiritual journey is essential to the creation and nurturance of meaningful community that in turn supports the growth of the individual. This best occurs when the individual intention and gift meet the community need and future. Reconnecting individual, community, and Earth is the ultimate gift of a wilderness rite of passage.
Once you have say “Yes!” to the quest, everything that you do related to the journey is ceremony. Each thought, each journal entry, each activity, prepares you for the threshold ceremony – the solo fast. Much is revealed during the preparation phase that will hone your intention, clarify what needs your attention before the threshold time (the vision fast), and provide glimpses of what is waiting for you and wanted from you in the next stage of your life.
Some preparation will be done as a group. Much will be done on your own between gatherings. Following are suggestions for your personal reflection as you begin to lay the foundation for what lies ahead.
These questions are offered to help you frame your intention as you know it at this time. You may choose to answer one or all of the questions in your intention statement. During the preparation months, you will gain more insight and understanding about why you are questing. For now, answer what you know to be true.
- Why am I choosing to undertake this spiritual journey at this time in my life?
- What stage of my life is ending? What am I ready to say good bye to, leave behind? What no longer serves me in my life?
- What is standing in my way of letting go of what needs to come to an end as I have known it? What keeps me from doing what I truly want to do in my life? What are my fears? What are my demons?
- Who and what are my allies, my sources of strength? What is my relationship to spirit? How do I call on these sources in my life?
- What do I wish to call into my life? What am I marking by undertaking this journey? What do I want to integrate, take on, and accept into my life?
One way to explore the intention questions is to create a life map. You may use any form that seems suitable to you. The mapping of your past invites you to review the people, experiences, events, and places that have influenced your life. Allow the intangible a place on your map - loves, losses, fears, frustrations, hopes, triumphs. Do you see periods of time unfold when you were in particular emotional or spiritual place? What paths did you take? Not Take? Where did choices you made open up new territory in your life; what short cuts did you take? Where were the dead ends? Allow yourself to actually see yourself traveling this map and record what appears before you in words or images.
Council of Allies
You are enacting a personal spiritual quest. You are also part of a greater community – be it family, work, social, spiritual, neighborhood - and in that context, the work that you do on this quest is also the work of and for the community. The Council of Allies consists of your people who you want to witness and support your quest. The people you invite will be your allies to whom you return to with your story and your gift. You will be in their prayers as they may be in yours. When the details of the solo time are known, tell them and ask them to hold you in their hearts. They are your witnesses. Answer their questions. Listen to their stories. You are reflections of each other and part of them is taking this journey with you.
As you get closer to the actual solo time, you may want to actually gather your Council of Allies. We will speak about this in more depth during the preparation gatherings.
Recording of dreams, thoughts and experiences over weeks and months can deepen your quest. You will notice shifts in your thoughts and emotions as you walk this path. Things that are on the outer edges of your consciousness may become more available to your waking or dream mind. Keeping a journal can help you remember and reflect on these occurrences. This can be a form of daily meditation. Journal entries can be words or drawings or inspirations in the form of poems and pictures – anything that captures what is unfolding and opening in your life.
The day walk is a dawn to dusk walk that you take alone, in nature, fasting, listening. It is usually enacted within one month of your solo time. You are seeking information about what is coming in your life. The day will be like a story, your story, unfolding in nature’s mirror. Allow yourself to wander, following impulses and intuition. You may receive information that will be helpful in creating ceremony during your questing time. You will find one item on the walk to bring back (in actuality or metaphorically) that embodies the message of the day. Bring a journal and note all that happens around you and within you.
Mark the beginning and the end of your walk with a ceremony, stating your intentions and asking for the guidance, protection, and permission of the land and all that inhabits it. The day walk is not an endurance test – you may only stay out part of the day. It is more important to be clear about your intention and your available time at the beginning. Then walk, and listen “with the ears of your heart.”)
Prepare for the day by packing gear for the day: layers for the weather; an emergency kit (See the equipment list for recommended items. A rule of thumb is that you should be prepared for inclement weather and have what you need to be safe overnight.) Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
The following ceremonies will be part of the final preparation days and your solo time. They are mentioned here because they require some advance thought, meditation and preparation. These will be discussed in more depth during the preparation gatherings.
We will hold a Fire Ceremony before you go out on solo and you will be given information about enacting it during your solo time. In the Fire Ceremony, you offer an object to the fire that symbolizes what it is that you are ready to release – a way of being, an attachment, an old story that you have out grown – something that may tug at you, holding you back, as you stand at the Threshold. It is not a good-riddance though there may be great relief in letting it go. The Fire Ceremony honors what we have learned from habits, addictions, relationships, roles, messages from our childhood and offers them as fuel for the transformation that we seek in our lives.
The Fire Ceremony is also a prayer. We surrender what we have known to the Fire and ask for assistance and guidance as we stand without its help, waiting for the new learning and ways to emerge.
As you plan for the Fire Ceremony, select an item that is small and non-polluting to burn. Written statements can replace actual items that can not easily be burned. This ceremony can be enacted at any time, and many times, during the preparation or threshold time.
There are other ways to release that which stands in your way including giving an object to a river or burying an item. We will discuss these during the preparation gatherings.
Practices in Letting Go
In the quest we are releasing some aspect of ourselves, allowing a part of our life as we have known it to end, to die. It is a death of ego-held ways of being and doing that are standing in the way of what of we are inviting into our lives now.
The quest may also serve as practice in dying which can prepare us for the time of our eventual physical death.
When we face our own mortality, life is intensified and deepened. Consider what you would say to people you have know if you are dying. Imagine what others would say to you. You reminisce. You remember. You leave your things in order. You invite some people; others come unannounced. There is peace-making. There are some things left unresolved.
In the preparation days, we work with each person to create a ceremony that will allow you to invoke the sense of your own mortality, the preciousness of life and the ever presence of death. Death in this way becomes an ally, a reminder of what is most important in your life now.
You are encouraged to use rituals, songs, and prayers from your personal spiritual practice and faith tradition. Collect small items and ceremonial clothes in advance that you may want to use while on the quest.
The giveaway is a ceremony of incorporation but it is mentioned here because it often requires advance planning.
Physical Preparation for the Solo Fast
Walks: Each person will carry their gear to their solo site. (Those with physical limitations may do this in more than one trip or with assistance.) The distance from base camp to solo sites will vary from just a few minutes to half an hour. Walking regularly with increasing amounts of weight in a pack will help you get ready for the hike. At first you may carry only what is in the recommended emergency kit. Gradually add weight so that by the fasting days you are able to carry your own gear for at least an hour. There are several weeks before the solo time, so the distance you walk and the weight you carry can increase slowly.
Fasting: Most people choose to fast from food during solo. It is important to drink water for the entire fast – a gallon a day is recommended. Adding electrolyte powder to your water can reduce some side effects of fasting such as dizziness and fatigue. If you are on prescription drugs or regularly take over the counter medications or herbal remedies, consult your physician about you plans to fast. A very limited food intake can also serve as a fast for those who must eat for medical reasons. If you are not used to fasting, it is good to fast for short periods so that you know how your body reacts to not eating. Begin by skipping a meal once a week. You can build up to fasting one day a week and, if possible, experience a 2 day fast before September. We will offer the opportunity to fast for short periods of time on the preparation weekends. Consult the guides if you any questions about fasting.
Purifying your body: As the time for fasting nears, you will want to eliminate toxins from your body as well as heavy foods. Alcohol, caffeine, chemicals in foods, sugars, and fats (red meats, oils, dairy) can all haunt you physically during a fast. Examining your diet and making appropriate changes can in itself be a meditation during the preparation months.
Steven Foster and Meredith Little, The Sacred Mountain: A Vision Quest Handbook for Adults (Lost Borders Press, Box 55, Big Pine, CA, 1984) p.34f.
Of all the traditional acts of self-empowerment, fasting is the most universal. The empty, quivering sensations at the pit of your stomach are more than hunger. You are experiencing emptiness of self. You are letting go of the toxins and poisons in your spiritual (and physical) food. Since the dawn of human history, our ancestors have forged this link between physical and spiritual purification.
"When your mind is empty like a valley or a canyon, then you shall know the power of the way," said an old medicine man. It is not contradictory to associate weakness and emptiness with strength and fullness. The acquisition of personal power is more characterized by shaky knees than by physical prowess. Fasting produces states of being that attract and begin to store large amounts of power and energy. Even as the heart cannot be mended unless it has been broken, so the vessel cannot be filled unless it stands empty.
A fast does not harm anyone who is prepared and who has dedicated the fasting to some purpose other than personal gain (or weight loss). Fasts up to a week long are quite possible and even beneficial to many individuals who might never consider fasting. One might think that in a land of abundance like America, fasting would "go out of style." This has not occurred. There are many individuals of diverse persuasions who consider fasting to be neither foolish nor weird. They fast because it is a practical, time-honored means of attaining clarity.
The physical effects of a fast are usually far less upsetting than the psychological effects. With no meals to organize your day around, you are going without modern life's most common security blanket. Fasting will teach you a great deal about your psychological need for structure. You will find out how much of your physical hunger is really just social programming. Remember that one can go for several weeks without food -- and live. If hunger pangs plague you, allay them with a bellyful of water. A drink of water is also the antidote to a host of other fast-related sensations, such as nausea or headache.
The second day of a fast is often the hardest. You may feel weak, dizzy, and experience nausea or vertigo. Usually by the third day, physical hunger is a thing of the past. You have attained a kind of acuity akin to the "seeing" of the heart. This altered state of awareness does not change until food is again introduced into your system.
Fees and Cancellation Policy
Fees are listed with each program.
The Program Fee covers actual expenses of the program. Additional fees such as kayaks or canoes for personal use are noted where applicable. The Program Fee serves as the registration fee. Participants are encouraged to send in the registration forms and Program Fee as early as possible so that the guides can plan thoroughly for individual and group needs.
The Guide Fee covers the services of the guides including preparation and program time. A sliding scale is suggested so that participants can choose a Guide Fee that is affordable for them. In some instances, trade or barter of services and products are accepted in exchange for Guide Services. These arrangements must be agreed on in advance of the program and are based on the full value of the guiding services and the services/products offered.
Cancellation by Vermont Wilderness Rites
Vermont Wilderness Rites will refund 100% of fees paid if we need to cancel. Most programs have a minimum enrollment of 6 and we may cancel if less than 6 people enroll. Decisions on cancellation due to low enrollment will be made 10 days in advance.
Extreme weather forecast without an appropriate place to relocate or guide illness may also cause us to cancel. We will give as much notice as possible in these circumstances.
Cancellation by participants:
As soon as someone enrolls, Vermont Wilderness Rites incurs expenses on your behalf some of which is not refundable.
Program Fees may be applied to another Vermont Wilderness Rites program within one calendar year minus a $25 administrative fee.
Participants who must cancel after paying the Program Fee will be reimbursed as follows:
6 weeks or more in advance, full reimbursement minus a $25 administrative fee.
4-6 weeks in advance, 80% reimbursement
2-4 weeks in advance, 60% reimbursement
Within 2 weeks of the program start, 40% reimbursement.
Within 1 week of the program start, no reimbursement.
Any Guide Fee paid in advance of the program will be reimbursed in full.