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Post-Quest Update

"Through the Thicket of Mind" - © Michael Gambino 2013It has been several months since I returned from my recent vision quest, and people have asked me how things are different, and what is my life like now. Well, I guess I need to write about that now, even though I don’t really feel like it.

Try to imagine it like this: There’s this magic archway. On one side of the portal is your life as you know it with all the familiar habits, circumstances, relationships, thoughts, achievements, weaknesses, blessings, worries, pleasures, and love. As you cross the threshold of this archway, your old self is unable to pass through, and is sort of peeled off like a rubber suit as you continue on. You are now on the other side, feeling somewhat disoriented, somewhat vulnerable, but able to touch or sense the spirit of many living and non-living things. Not like seeing auras or ghosts, necessarily, but there is this unmistakable and undeniable connection, closeness, and sense of deep knowing that is present here. At first glance, things look pretty much the same as they did on the other side of the archway you just passed through. But there are important and subtle differences. Actually, they are more like shifts, than outright changes. Everything is more alive, and vibrant, and real. Everything in nature – animal, plant, rock, sun, wind, and water – has deep, time-tested wisdom and stories to share, and the conversations are just as real as talking with a person, though there are no audible words exchanged. It feels good to be there despite the unsettling feeling of being in a different reality than the life that is waiting for you back on the other side of that archway.

Having completed your quest ceremony, the time has come to return through that archway and go back to the life-in-progress as it was before the vision quest. You want to go home, but now you are just as nervous about going back there as you were about going through that archway and into the quest in the first place. You gather your courage, your new-found awareness and deep wisdom of the quest and you step through that archway and you are back home. 

Now at first, everything seems pretty much exactly as you left it. People are relating to you much the same as they did before the quest, though they may look at you a little differently. Your routines are more or less waiting for you as well – the useful and not so useful. You try to hold tight onto those insights and the sense of purity gained during the quest. Yet like those dreams you may have had of finding a sack of money and you realize in the dream that it is now yours. You are thrilled, of course, because many of your troubles will be fixed with all that money. So you hold tight onto that bag of money, close your eyes and try to wake yourself up. A great euphoria washes over you, and you feel at last a deep relaxation in mind, body, spirit, and emotions. The dream, really, is that you can carry the money across space and time and awaken in your bed with the money, rich beyond your dreams. Alas, no matter how hard you try, the money is not there when you awaken – your arms embrace only a pillow full of feathers. Trying to hold on to the vision quest experience as the weeks and months slide past proves just as elusive sometimes as holding onto that sack of dream-money. One great difference between the two is that the experiences and inner shift of the quest are real and true – even if they are not “visible” yet.

There are also the old habits you’ve returned to and you have to face them like estranged family members – perhaps happy to see them, but a little anxious about it too because the relationship has shifted. Worries creep back in, the stress level of your life seems cranked up by several degrees, and your exercise and eating disciplines have been derailed, and mood swings rise and fall. What used to be normal and reasonably comfortable and acceptable – that rubber suit that you left at the archway before the quest – is now feeling like a rancid thing. Slowly you have slipped into that old rubber suit that was your life, and it really does not fit well or comfortably. You are aware of this and it causes low-level anxiety infused with momentary spikes of panic. Tears of frustration and loss spontaneously happen here and there as you realize you are wearing that dead, pre-quest version of yourself. . . Welcome home, dear quester!

Gruesome as it sounds, the silver lining to this story is that you are aware of this condition, and you realize that the old self is just not going to get you where you need to go next. At some point, soon, there will come a turning point. One that allows you to stand up, fueled by the power of spirit and the power of your vision, and throw off that rancid suit of the former self. This will happen repeatedly over time. It is an internal event, that will begin to manifest in your life in small but noticeable ways. It may take years to accomplish the casting off of the old to reveal the new. The demons of distraction, you realize, were waiting for you to return from the quest, and they greeted you with things of comfort and familiarity and of fancy. After all, you have returned from a great journey where much was sacrificed. Surely you deserve rewards and some respite from the rigorous work of crying for your vision. You dig into the comforts with great appreciation at first, but soon after, instead of finding comfort and joy, you are finding much the opposite. It is like you are walking around on the set of an old movie, and the script for your character’s part now seems a bit wrong to you.

So this, by way of story and metaphor, is how I am doing at this point since returning from my quest. I have been here before, and that is how I know that the return from a quest is a process with many stages and levels, and many pitfalls and distractions. The hard part of the vision quest is not really the rigors of preparation and sacrifice for the four days and nights, difficult as they are, but rather in living a life guided by vision, honoring the gifts that were given to me through the quest while I tend to a life that needs adjusting.

How do I make the changes required of me now? I hold this question in my heart, waiting for an answer. Almost immediately I see before me a single dry pine needle falling gently to earth – an answer has been given: Release, gently and a little bit at a time, those parts of my self and my life that have served their purpose but no longer support my vision going forward. The earth receives the pine needle, and will take it and make new things from it. As for the pine tree, it looks very much the same as before, except for a shiny new leaf that twinkles in the sunlight, fresh and vibrant. Yet the tree is not the same as before. It has grown, taking one more step in expressing its life as a pine tree. It is the same for me, and it will require patience, deep listening, compassion, and commitment to the process. This is the adventure of an ordinary life.

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