Who have I been since before I can remember?


As I contemplate with fear and excitement the possibility of going on a vision quest in September, it’s very clear there’s a part of me which does not want to commit. It’s understandable I guess, the prospect of spending four days and nights alone without food and shelter in the wilds of Dartmoor would cause most people to ask themselves the question, do I really want to do this? It’s an important question, and asking it and listening carefully for an answer is part of the process of preparing for something which, according to wilderness guide Petra Lentz Snow, is the male equivalent of giving birth.

I’ve created a kind of vision board above my desk which contains scraps of paper saved from a Sustaining Resistance course I attended three years ago. Part of an exercise designed to help me visualise and plan my next steps after completing the course, these scraps say things like “Doing activist support work” and “Regular meditation/sit spot practice”. Recently I’ve added more scraps: “Falling in love again with what I love”, “Experiencing joy in life” and other things which have recently re-entered my awareness as important aspects of my continuing life journey. In the middle of all these scraps is a heart, cut from red paper, to which this morning I’ve added the question: “Who have I been since before I can remember but have yet to become?”

This is a question which Petra has spent the last year or so exploring with a group of people who she will very soon be leading on a vision quest in Death Valley in Eastern California. It is a question which is asked of all those preparing for a vision quest facilitated by the School of Lost Borders, an organisation which has been teaching rites of passage for 35 years. I recently listened to an interview with Petra (see below) in which she speaks with great passion, candour and pragmatism about vision quests, as well as introducing the question which is now in the centre of my vision board and the centre of my awareness as I contemplate a vision quest in September facilitated by Rebecca Card of Nature Wisdom“Who have I been since before I can remember but have yet to become?”

When I had finished listening to the podcast and stopped to ask myself this question, the first thought that came into my mind along with a feeling of panic was: “I don’t know!” An understandable response! This is the question that one goes on a vision quest in order to answer. The funny thing is that, once that initial panicky response had subsided, I was left with a sense that actually I DO know on some level, but the answer to the question is written in a soul language which I have only just begun to learn. I believe a vision quest is the kind of journey I need to take in order to continue learning this language and the process of deciphering the message which is written on my soul. In fact, I have been on two vision quests over the last few years, experiences which have led me to know that this kind of journey is possible and can lead me to discover the truth at the centre of the image I was born with. This reminds me of something Carl Jung said in reply to a question about his belief in God which he was asked in an interview two years before his death: “I KNOW. I don’t need to believe.”

I imagine a skeptic or an atheist might be reading this and thinking I sound like a desperate searcher… maybe that’s the answer to the bloody question! It’s true, this is an important part of who I am. I’m a searcher because ever since I was a child I’ve never been satisfied with the easy truths and explanations which people have given me about why things are the way they are and what gives life meaning. I’m desperate because I know the world desperately needs people who are looking for the answers to these kinds of questions.

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs,
ask yourself what makes you come alive,
and then go do that.
Because what the world needs is
people who have come alive.

Howard Thurman

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