Two weeks ago I went to Spirit Horse on the edge of Snowdonia to take part in a deep nature connection course called The Descent – an incredible experience I’m still trying to process. Two months ago I spent a day and a night in a wild place in southern Portugal engaged in a self-created vision quest which defied logic and challenged my worldview in ways I’m only just beginning to grasp.
I really want to tell these stories. I feel as though it is to tell stories like these that I created this website, which is the public face of a very personal research project I’ve been conducting for a few years now – an exploration of my deeper psyche through my relationship with the more-than-human world.
Right now I don’t know how to tell these stories in a way that would do them justice or does not cast me narcissistically in the role of hero. I’m become concerned that my blog posts have become progressively more personal and self-involved and I want to counter this trend. While I figure out a way to describe the linked experiences in Snowdonia and Portugal in a way that I feel comfortable with I thought it would be a good idea to share some of the resources which have played an important role in my journey over the last few months – all of which are connected in some way to the writer Bill Plotkin, a man whose name I had never heard until a couple of days before I set out on my quest in July. Since then his insights and reflections have proved startlingly resonant with my own experience on my quest – so much so that they have sometimes brought tears to my eyes.
Bill Plotkin is the author of a book called Soulcraft in which he describes in some detail the process of preparing for and engaging in a vision quest. Before I left for Snowdonia I found this description in an online excerpt from the book and was amazed to discover many similarities with the ceremony I created for myself in Portugal – a ceremony which I intuited and felt my way through playfully during the course of the day and which unexpectedly and quite dramatically ceased to be a game shortly before nightfall. What I had initially conceived as a kind of psychological experiment designed to tap into the wisdom of my unconconscious mind suddenly became a meeting with universal forces that can perhaps be best described as aspects of the collective unconscious or something deeper and more primordial still… but that’s another story – one I will hopefully tell another time.
Bill Plotkin’s 2013 talk at Schumacher College (see below) is a really accessible introduction to some of the important ideas at the core of his work. At the end of his talk Plotkin lovingly retells and decodes a poem by David Whyte called All The True Vows which captures the essence of a nature-based vision quest or rite of passage which is undertaken in order to uncover the truth at the centre of the image we are born with. I’m in the process of seeking permission from the author to reprint this haunting and remarkably simple poem in a blog post. In the meantime watch and feel nourished by Bill Plotkin’s talk on Soulcraft which culminates in a beautiful and humourous reading of David Whyte’s poem.