A vision quest in the Native American tradition is a rite of passage and it’s usually only undertaken by young males entering adulthood. Each culture has their own term for their rite of passage and the term ‘vision quest’ is an English umbrella term.
Among the Native American cultures this type of rite is usually a series of ceremonies led by the Elders of the community and with the support of the community. The ritual usually includes fasting for four days and night alone at a sacred and isolated site chosen for the purpose. In some cultures, the site has been used for that purpose for generations.
During the vision quest, aided by the fasting and isolation, the person who is doing the quest enters trance and asks and prays to the spirits for a vision that will help them find their purpose in life, their role in their community and to be shown how they can best serve their people. The visions may include symbolism such as an animals or nature forces, and they may need to be interpreted by the elders. In some cases, this leads to the young person becoming an apprentice of a person who has already mastered the role the purpose.
The vision quest has been adopted in Western culture as a general term for a rite of passage that can be undertaken at any stage in life in order to deepen a connection to spirit, and to bring about profound levels of insight and to mark occasions of transition.
On a deeper level, we all understand the importance of rituals to mark and acknowledge big events in life. We use rituals to mark births, unions between two people and deaths, for example, because these are generally seen as big transitions in life. We celebrate graduations with rituals and each family seem to have their own unique ritual for celebrating more common transitions such as birthdays.
Undertaking a vision quest to mark an occasion where you are leaving a destructive phase in life behind, such as breaking addiction or just leaving an unhealthy life style behind, can be very powerful and can help make sure that you stick to what you have set out to do, really marking in your mind that you are transition from one phase of life into another.
Another way that we see vision quests as they are used more commonly in Western culture nowadays is to use them as a way of finding your purpose in life. Much like the young males in Native American cultures went on the vision quest to find their purpose a lot of people are now using it to find a way forward when they feel lost, or when they have left something significant in life behind leaving them unsure of how to proceed.
I also know of people who regularly do what they call a vision quest by travelling to places that are unknown to them to put themselves in situation where they naturally have to be present so that they can start to think and feel what it is they really want in life, and to receive guidance on how to proceed. If you are not keen on going the whole hog with a vision, fasting, trance and all, this alternative way of doing a vision quest may be for you. It is not what I would call a traditional vision quest but it can have powerful effects.
I have a friend who is very good at using her own surroundings as an oracle. She asks for guidance and spends the day out and about noting down anything that catches her eye. She swears by this as a way of getting guidance when she feels that she is stuck or kind find answers to something that is bothering her.
My daughter and I got into the habit years ago to just hop on a bus to anywhere, preferably somewhere we had not been before, and just spending the day seeing where we would end up. We would do it when we felt like we did not know how to move forward or like we were stuck. I have come to see these trips as mini vision quests because quite often we end up finding answers to things that are bugging us.
It is also a good opportunity to find ways to let go of things. Just yesterday we took a trip a beach that is located really far away from where we live to give something to the sea that we needed to let go of. In the middle of my doing my own little ritual a small pod of dolphins turned up to play in the surf and they stayed until my ritual was completed. I took their presence as a sign that my ritual was going to be successful and that I could transition, letting go, as I had hoped. It was also the first time I had seen wild dolphins so it was an auspicious moment for me.
There are times when we need a bigger ritual, a real vision quest, to figure out what we need to do next or what our place is in this life. There are times when a day out in unfamiliar territory connecting with nature is enough to allow us to see a path forward. Whichever one you choose it is bound to help find a way forward that is uniquely suited to what you are looking for.