While I haven’t felt any anxiety or fear of attack through the night, I cannot find warmth. My sleep is continually interrupted by the cold and a gnawing tension I can’t comprehend. After hours of only brief moments of rest, I finally decide to surrender my struggle. I bring myself to a sitting position, facing the East. The crisp, cold air creeps through my blanket and finds my skin, but I try to ignore the discomfort and focus on meditating. Maybe if I can disassociate from my body. Maybe, if I can find the blissful state of removal, I will feel some peace. Closing my eyes, I pray.
I surrender, and still, I am cold. I struggle, and then, the idea comes, “The cold is my challenge. It is what the flies were. I cannot control the cold. I cannot escape the cold. I cannot surrender to the cold, so I must accept the cold.”
I don’t see how this is possible. I am so uncomfortable. I stare to the mountains beyond this valley, and I pray for the Morning Star. I pray for the message of a new day, with sunshine and warmth, but I fear it may never come. I do not know how to become peaceful in this state, but I sense none of the old ways will work. I must find a way to accept and appreciate the place I sit now. I will not be able to pray it away or escape into meditation. The cold is a gift, and I must come to appreciate it.
There is not much noise in the space around me. The grove where I sit is reasonably isolated. Even though its proximity is not too far from the Vision Quest Camp, I feel alone. I appreciate this isolation. I do not want to be interrupted or kept company. I would really like to be left alone but left alone with a warmer blanket, I think.
I wonder what it would have taken for me to make this time comfortable. Obviously, it is my way to make things as hard on myself as possible. I feel I must suffer to learn and struggle to grow. I have taken with me the same blanket on both vision quests. I realized my first year this blanket was not heavy enough to keep me warm through the night, but when people asked why I did not take something warmer, I insisted, “this is how it must be.” I think of those who sat on the mountain so many hundreds of years ago. They did not have the comforts I have now. We are taught we must leave behind our luxuries and go onto the hill naked of those things we think are needs. We must surrender our urban protections and rely on the Great Spirit for our protection.
I wonder if I have misunderstood this teaching. If I am to abandon food and water, why would I take with me warmth? Did the ancestors not have skins? Did they leave behind these comforts as well? The stories say they did. I should be willing to sit before the Creator stripped of my comfort and to allow Him to tell me what my life will be.
I struggle between the teaching I know is right, and with the words in my ears telling me I am not my ancestors. I am a middle-class mother from Anytown, USA, and I should not try to do what is beyond me. I hear the voices of my family telling me I am not strong enough to do this thing. I am not brave enough to sit in this circle, and I have not earned the right to these sacred teachings.
I know this voice is wrong, but I listen to it anyway. I fear I have expected too much of myself. I begin to doubt my entire existence and the belief I have any value at all. I am nothing more than a prey animal, bred in volume to feed someone who has positioned themselves higher on the food chain. I am as much at the mercy of the conqueror as any, for if I do not choose to become a predator, I must be prey.
I wonder if those are the only two choices I have, but I cannot comprehend another today. Today, I must admit I am weak and vulnerable and have allowed myself to become this way, not because I’m unwilling to fight, but because I do not know how and I have no desire to learn.
I sit thinking these thoughts, and I do not forget about the cold. I do not find an escape. I simply realize there is nothing I can do. My warmth is in the hands of the Creator. Wrapping my blanket tightly around me, I look up to the mountain, and there I see it, the promise of a new day. The Morning star comes, bringing behind it a veil of lighter blue, and I know it will bring lighter and lighter blue until eventually it pulls the sun from behind the mountains and shines it on my cold skin.
To honor this sign from the Creator, I drop the blanket from my shoulders and offer tobacco to the directions. The prayer does not relieve the cold. I shiver as I face each of the Ancestors and express my gratitude.
I spend the morning cold and wet from the dew. I do not feel warm again until the sun breaks the horizon and climbs high enough up on the hill to bring the heat to my skin and finally warm my bones. Even then, I must become brave enough to drop my blanket and feel the light upon my skin. There were moments throughout the night when my sponsor came to smudge my circle and pray. With each visit, I felt her nurturing compassion, but it is not until I drop my cocoon that I finally feel secure in my ability to continue.
After a few moments of soaking in the sun, I finally find the ground again and, closing my eyes, surrender to the sleep of one who feels safe in their circle.
I am in and out of sleep for most of the day, feeling blissful relief freely moving from one to the other. Apparently, flies are not as prevalent in this section of the stream. Under the canopy’s shade, I can lay my blanket over my head and sleep sound. When awake, I sit peacefully in my circle, allow thoughts to flow in and out of my mind. I shift myself to move with the sun, honoring each of the directions as I do. After facing the East and reveling in warm sunshine, I continue my journey to the South.
Like the thoughts, the dreams come and go, and I begin to lose myself in them, not really sure which come during sleep and which are waking dreams. None seem important.
I do not feel the length of the day as it passes. I am comfortable and rested, nestled into my bed of grass. Like a baby bird in a tree, I safely follow the direction of the sun, and I wait for my Creator to feed me. As the time comes, I turn to the West, imagining the sun setting beyond the dense trees that protect my circle. I imagine the people in the camp beyond these trees and think of their process. I think of them and of my son who sits with them in their circle. Like the doe with her fawn, I walk where I am guided to go and hope he can follow and learn. I think it was no accident deer was followed so closely by her child, nor do I think it was an accident the buck stood so far away.
Deer does not visit me tonight, and I am a little sad. I fear I have disrupted their habitat, and I hope they will return to this thicket when my scent has passed. I hope they will know this place is still safe and that I meant them no harm.
Losing myself in yesterday’s experience, I fade again from this place and into the dream world. It is not until the cooler air of evening touches my skin that I find myself suddenly thrust back into my body and the suffering resumes. I dread what comes as I turn to the North. The nights are cold here, next to the river. Everything I have is wet in the morning, and it takes a few hours to get over the chill. There is not much sun in my cove during the day. I appreciate the opportunity to rest under a shaded tree, but as night approaches, I quickly learn the vision quest lesson once again. Each circle is wrought with both challenges and gifts. You accept what you can of both.
I am still tired from my struggle last night, but I know I will not sleep. I have committed myself to face the challenge of the night this year and not return before my quest is complete, but the fading sky sends chills that are more than just the air through my bones. Still, I stand and honor the North and the Ancestors who live in this place. I pray for strength and for the courage to face the desert chill. I give them what I have to give and then settle on the ground, wrapped in my blanket, facing the North and the night ahead.
Early in the evening, sleep takes me, and I dream again. I am in the bed of snakes from my journey. They slither across my flesh, but this time, their bellies are cold. It is still a nurturing caress and comfort, but their bodies’ raise goosebumps on my skin. I struggle in the circle and cannot accept their gift, not from their lack of giving, but from my inability to relax and receive. I am too cold and I can’t surrender to the womb. I shiver and cry and pray for release.
Waking up, I feel fresh tears on my face. The night has begun, and the childlike commitment in my mind is to how it will never end. I cry, and I wish I could be anywhere else, but here. At no other moment in my life would I prefer any space to a vision quest circle. It is the cave for a prey animal. It is the place where I finally let down my guard and listen to my true self. How could I wish for any moment but this? How could I want for anything but the truth? I chastise myself, but the cold consumes me, and I can see nothing else but its icy tentacles upon my skin. Closing my eyes, I wrap myself in the cocoon and kneel before the mountains to the East. I pray for any kind of relief. I pray for guidance, and I pray for support.
Sometime, very early in the morning, I feel my sponsor come and walk about my circle. I hear her footsteps in the grass and smell the sage as she smudges me. I do not raise my head. I stay crouched in the fetal position, contained in the warmth of my own heart. But she has come. I know I can make it. At this moment, I see I am never really alone. I will make it through this night. The Morning Star will come, telling me a new day will follow. I will be warm again. This small act, it changes everything.
Not long after she leaves, I lay on the ground, whispering, “Thank you, God.” Then, I drift away to sleep and to dream.