Several years ago, I found myself at a mini vision quest in an upscale neighborhood in suburbia on a Friday night with seven other women. Actually, I didn’t find myself there. I put myself there. On purpose. For a writing assignment.
I had written a couple other pieces for this particular magazine. I liked them, they had been receptive to my ideas and they payed well and promptly. They also included good stories from other authors on yoga and meditation, compassion, religion and caring for the planet. Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, wrote for them regularly.
So when I saw an advertisement for a women’s one- night vision quest, I contacted this magazine to ask if they’d be interested in such a story. I’d go on this mini spiritual retreat, a sort of casual vision quest, and write about my experience afterwards. They’d have another engaging, publishable new story from me. I’d be on a roll!
They said yes. Sure! Go on the quest. Send us your story.
Truth be told, I had my doubts from the start because vision quests are supposed to happen outside, in the woods. Alone. And typically for several days and nights and without food. Profound spiritual insight into one’s purpose was the intended result and the one I would need to write about. The kind of insight you get when you spend several days outside. Alone. In the woods.
This one was going to take place in a five bedroom home with a hot tub on the deck. Did I mention in suburbia? Only in suburbia do we call a gathering with eight women who have payed ‘the experts’ to come and coach us through our night of seeking, a vision quest.
But there were rules at least. We had to fast the entire day before going to the home where this would take place. So by the time we all arrived, at 7pm, we were hungry. And the first thing I noticed was one of the women eating a banana. And it kind of ticked me off.
Why did she get a banana? I thought we were in this together, following the rules to ready ourselves for the big night. The instructions specifically said no food.
I let it go. We had some introductions. We were told that The Experts, a couple who were traveling from the next state to lead this vision quest, were running late. They might be there in the next hour or two. Maybe later.
And now I was getting discouraged. I needed to write a real story about a real vision quest. Okay, not a real one. Obviously it wouldn’t be a traditional Native American vision quest. Far from it. But I needed insights. I needed to convene with fundamental forces. I needed something to happen.
And what happened next was the hot tub. The banana eating lady was the first to get in, followed by two of her friends, and then one more.
They didn’t tell us we’d be going in a hot tub. I hadn’t brought my bathing suit. Apparently, neither had anyone else. They just went in the hot tub naked.
Is this how they compensated for not being out in the wild, like on a real vision quest? Strip down and pretend it’s a hot spring? I did not want to do the naked hot tub thing. I barely knew most of these women. But even if I did, I wouldn’t do the naked hot tub thing.
This had less to do with modesty than the fact that I think it’s kind of gross. I wouldn’t share my bath water with them, so why would I share this big tub with them? The water was hot, things could incubate in there. No thanks.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the vision quest leaders arrived, a husband and wife team. Alas, it was time to go to bed on the finished basement floor, where we wouldn’t actually sleep. We would stay awake all night long by playing loud, screechy, horrible music that contained the occasional chanting.
The leaders talked a bit, of what I cannot recall. Throughout the night they would occasionally walk around and move our arms around or our heads or feet.
This went on for six hours. I wrapped a blanket around my ears trying to tune out the music. If only the music would Just. Shut. Up. I just wanted to fall asleep so it would become morning and I could leave. Like a lonely child at a sleepover, I wanted to go home. I missed my husband. I missed our bed. I missed my kids and our house that is quiet at night.
I remembered the magazine. I thought about how, occasionally, I throw myself into a situation because it is challenging, or interesting. How I don’t let myself think about it too hard because I don’t want fear to ruin it. I remind myself that I have never died from failure or rejection or newness.
But I wonder if I might die from hunger. And I’m really getting kind of pissed off about the banana again. And about the leaders coming late and then not doing much except playing awful music and moving my arms around in a circular motion.
And I think well of course I can’t experience any profound internal shift or insight while in a group. I’m not made that way. I can’t possibly experience my own destiny or hear the call of my spirit while someone beside me is breathing loudly and the leaders are starting to chant a bit and it is distracting and annoying and really taking me outside of myself. Hell, this is why I don’t go to church.
Morning comes! We are encouraged to share the great things that happened to us during the night. Some people named some decisions they had come to or insights they had. None of them were memorable. And I added nothing. Speechless. Mute.
Get me the hell out of here.
A breakfast buffet was set up in the kitchen. It was a lovely buffet. I was no longer hungry. I ate a few strawberries with a scoop of yogurt and then I went home.
For the rest of the weekend I sweated over the story I would write.
What would I write? I had to follow through on a story.
I got my challenge alright. Make a story out of a non-story. Make something profound from invalid banana eating and naked hot tubs and screeching and questionable, do-nothing vision quest leaders.
I was struggling, digging deep to find anything. But I managed. I wrote the truth, minus the fact that we were in someone’s house. That just sounded so un-questy. So vision-less. So I just didn’t name the location, exactly.
After scraping up whatever meaning this experience held for me, (sometimes I have bad ideas? something good always come of them?) and putting it into words that someone might actually want to read, I sent it off to the editor.
I knew it wasn’t my best work. I was disappointed and figured they probably would be too. They might even reject it. I braced myself.
The reply was probably the best I could hope for. “Thank you. This will do!”
The exclamation gave me some relief. He wasn’t thrilled. He didn’t say “I love it!”. He didn’t even say “I like it”.
But he said “this will do!” And the check came. I never did look to see when the article appeared. I couldn’t bear to revisit that night in print.