On the second day of my quest, the morning star revealed to me the vision of an Inipi Lodge. I see the lodge and the ceremonies I will one day lead. I watch the water I will pour and the circles I will lead. I remember my commitment to the people and the place I hold in the community.
I think back to the experiences I had before coming to the camp, and I know there will be challenges for me in the coming days. In sharp contrast to the cold, I now suffer in my vision quest circle, the heat will bear down upon me and break me.
On the third day, I see the pipe. No vision, no night I’ve spent on any of my vision quests have stirred in me such fear. I have struggled most of my life against addiction to tobacco, and the idea of being a Pipe Carrier reminds me of the place where I fought and finally won against my addiction. For a long time, I would not draw upon the pipe during the Chanupa Ceremony, and now, I have received the vision I must one day lead in this prayer. I can’t imagine being called to this commitment.
Finally, the morning star rises on the fourth day of my vision quest commitment. The star is bright upon the horizon, but it cannot hold my attention. I am distracted by a warm glow I see growing in the south. I turn to look at the cedar tree that has been my guardian on the hill, and I watch it come to life. It rises tall, transforming into the Sundance Tree. I see myself hanging from it, exhausted from days of dancing until finally, I break. I become raw and vulnerable in the face of the Great Spirit and fall, offering my sacrifice to the people.
I cry out in anguish at this sight. These visions are too much. I am not a leader of the people. I am not a Lodge Leader or a Pipe Carrier, and I am especially not a Sundancer. I am not ready for these things, and I have no right to them. I am not worthy of their position, and I know that I would surely fail if I were to try anyone. How can I go back and share this vision with the people? They will stone me and chase me from the circle for my arrogance for having imagined such thoughts. I know this like I know the sun will rise behind the morning star today. It is a promise. They will not believe me worthy any more than I believe it of myself. How could this have been my vision?
Today, I will return to the circle, and I already know I am not the same. I am hardened and defensive. I feel the constant resistance of protection around me, and even though I try to be soft, I feel my nature push hard against people. I am ready to be someone new, but I don’t know that I can be this.
On this last morning of my vision quest circle, like the vision of me on the Sundance Tree, I break, and as the sun rises into a clear blue sky, I forget the cold. I forget the pain. I lay curled in a ball, weeping, broken, and vulnerable. I am terrified to face the people I have come to call my family. I am horrified over the thought of sharing with them what most would probably cherish as an honor. They will not believe this vision. They will think of it as an arrogant aspiration driven by greed. What they will not see is my wish to have had any other vision in the world.
I thought for so long, of this moment. I thought of the accomplishment of four days on the hill, and I believed I would relish the moment when I could return to the circle triumphant, sharing with them a profound vision, a gift. But now, I do not crave the moment of my return. I remain in my circle sobbing for several hours, continuing to cry even as I begin to gather my belongings and pull my flags. The squirrel is silent. Maybe she can sense my suffering, or maybe she sees I’m ready to go. It is time to begin the long journey down the mountain and back to people.
My journey is heavy. It feels like the last walk of the damned. I pray this foreboding is no more than baseless fear, and those I have come to respect so much will be more than the family I have known. I hope they will be proud of my potential and have faith in my ability to meet the challenge. I cannot imagine any other outcome than the one I dread, but maybe it is my hopes that are weak and not the opinions of the people in my community.
The mountain trail is long and far more treacherous than I imagined it would be. I am not as I was before. I have been weakened by far more than my new found vulnerability. My body has gone days without food, water, and even sleep. I barely have the strength to stand, let alone hike through rocks and thickets. It is only through the grace of God and the lifting hands of the angels that I make it to the bottom of the mountain.
Bruised and beaten by my many falls upon the hill, I find my way to the river and across. I then begin the more painful journey through the camp and to the circle beyond. The walk ahead of me is probably a half-mile, at least. Between the exhaustion of my journey and the weight of the tools I carry, I wonder if my body can continue in its current state. With each step, I wonder if it will be the one where my body finally fails me.
As I come to the road that will lead to the circle, I collapse again. I don’t know how many times I’ve fallen. I can feel fresh blood running down my shin, and I think tomorrow I might also feel the cut that feeds it. I pass through camp, watching the movement around me. I see people, but no one sees me.
I need their help. I can’t make it on my own, but I am invisible to them and I can’t cry out. I can’t speak to the people. I can’t even make eye contact, not before the ceremony that returns me to the Red Road. Fresh tears cut through the dirt on my face. I’ve never felt so alone.