As I come to the community circle, the other people in the camp sound distant. Everything seems far from me. I stand alone before the entrance, feeling the ritual in a way I have not before. I honor the directions, and as I turn, I look into the brilliant blue eyes of the Great Spirit, I feel true gratitude for all He and the Great Earth Mother have provided for us, their children. I offer the gift of a circle to the Ancestors before requesting entrance to the sacred space.
Through the gate, just to the right of the entrance is the main fire pit. The pit is due east of the larger of the two lodges in the circle. There are another lodge and fire pit set in the same way, to the left. This smaller lodge is used when smaller ceremonies are required, or the other lodge is in use. It is also commonly used for Vision Quests. Beyond the smaller lodge, there is a path to the river. A dam has been constructed there to form a pool. The water is about waist deep and very soothing on hot summer days. To the East of the smaller lodge, a large canopy is set in front of more of the deep thicket that edges the river. Chairs are set under the awning to create a common gathering place. It is used during the heat of the day or to escape the occasional rain showers that occur. A few people have already gathered this morning, but most are still at the camps preparing for their day or finishing a healthy breakfast. I will not eat this morning or drink. It is not in me.
I am not feeling communicative. So, I turn from the people gathered and go to a space near the fire. I’ll sit here and silently wait for my sponsor. We have agreed I will go out after breakfast. She will meet me here. The others in the group recognize the shift and allow me space to meditate. I sit silent and patient. Words do not stalk me. Fears do not find me. Expectations move beyond me. I am the sky and the trees and the fire and the earth. I do not recognize time. I do not run about with chores like the ants. I am not bothered with an agenda like the squirrel. I am patient like the living things which do not move. I understand all things happen when they should, and I am willing to wait with the trees and the rocks and the fire for the perfect moment to begin my Quest.
To begin the ceremony that will set me on the path to my vision, those who will help support me on my way to quest circle join me and my sponsor in the Inipi. Water is poured, and after the first round of prayers, I say, “Goodbye,” to those I love, and express what I hope to learn on this journey. I leave behind what I wish to surrender, and those around me say all they want to say. We empty our hearts because after the door closes again, I will move from my place in this world, and I will be with the spirits. Those who sit with me here will no longer be able to acknowledge my presence in this world. We understand; many who Quest do not return and many others who do return are no longer the people they were when they left. It is essential to speak the words in our hearts, as this may be our final chance to do so.
The second round of the Inipi Ceremony is poured, and I am forgotten. I am now just a memory until I return with a vision. The last two rounds of the lodge won’t be poured unless I return.
We rise, no longer together. I stand alone and journey to the location where I will meet with the Great Spirit. They follow with my few belongings. The place I’ve selected for my vision is upstream from the camp and is again on a rock bed, bordering the river. There is an old and gnarled tree overhanging the place where I will sit. The tree does not have leaves or thick foliage to offer shade from the heat of the day. I think maybe it is here, so I won’t be alone.
As we approach the circle, our silent march is broken by a chorus of snake rattles. The reaction is immediate. Everyone in the group pauses, unsure, but I smile. The snakes never sounded when I found this spot. I sat in it for some time and walked in and around it as I contemplated the time I would spend here seeking my vision. Through all of my maneuvers, they were silent. But as they sing now, I am reminded of the Journeys of my past. I remember the dark cave and the bed of snakes where I healed. I am grateful to have snake medicine here to support me in my Quest, and I am proud they have welcomed me to their space.
My sponsor wonders aloud if this is not too much; the rocks, the sun, the river, and now the snakes, but I know I found this place through prayer and meditation. When discussed my plan. I confirmed that I am clear. I am committed to seeking my vision here.
Watching the space around them cautiously, those who have chosen to help quickly pray and prepare my circle. Once the sage is in place, and the flags honoring the four directions are planted, my altar is arranged, and I step into sacred space. The door—represented by a small gap in the sage—is closed behind me, sealing me in a protective circle, where I will remain until I have received my vision. The sun is just clear of the trees which border the river as I watch the small group turn and walk away.
Once they have gone, the snakes join the silence of the landscape around me. I sit in my Vision Quest circle for a while, loving myself and the world and this new opportunity. I am peaceful and eager to see. But, it is not long before I lose interest in the warm fuzzies I feel and become anxious about my vision. As the world continues to simply turn around me, I succumb to childlike impatience. I want to succeed in my Quest. I want to find my vision. I do not understand it mus find me, and so as I begin, just like a child, I spend a great deal of time learning how to adjust to the experience of just sitting. I rarely sit without sound, but here I am forced to face the silence before me.
I listen for a while to the river next to my circle, but it eventually fades to the background. Next, I listen for a while to my drum, but eventually, it too joins the silence, and all I am left to hear is my mind. So, I listen to my mind, and I wait for it to run out of things to say. My first lesson comes in learning the mind rarely runs out of things to say. After the words that already fill it are gone, it begins searching the world around me for a new topic, for a sign or some great understanding.
I spend hours listening to the river and the birds and the many sounds of the mountain. I listen to my heartbeat and the silence and everything I have never really heard before. I listen to everything I can imagine hearing until finally, my brain succeeds in its search. I hear the bugs as they surround and consume me. My brain has found its victim.