Wilderness Quest Lecture

By JULIET GRABLE - Published October 07 2012

Why would you do it? Why would anyone willingly spend four days and four nights alone in the wilderness, undefended, with no tent, no food, no friends, no books and no distractions – in fact, with nothing but yourself?

In a word, the answer is hope – hope that you might emerge from the experience transformed, with a renewed sense of purpose and connection to the world around you.

The wilderness vision quest is an ancient rite practiced across times and cultures but markedly lacking in ours. Individuals and organizations across the country, however, are introducing the ceremony to modern Westerners. One of those individuals is Anne Stine, "eco-psychologist" and founder of Wilderness Rites, an organization that facilitates such ceremonies. Stine will be giving a presentation on "Wilderness Quests and Earth-based Rites of Passage" at the Ashland Food Co-op on Monday, October 15.

"One of the things that's missing in our culture is the human-nature relationship," says Stine, who felt compelled to participate in her first quest in the 1980s. "Most people don't know what it is to be alone, let alone to be in alone in nature, let alone to be alone in nature at night."

In Native American cultures, adolescents typically performed the vision quest ceremony as a rite of passage, using the ceremony to access a vision revealing their special purpose or destiny. Often this involved an encounter with an animal, whether real or dreamed, which then became their guardian animal or totem.

Stine thinks people can be called to "quest" at any age. "The ceremony marks change," she says. "It's an opportunity for people going through all kinds of shifts." Those shifts could relate to one's career, relationships or the transition from one age to another.

That all sounds good in the abstract, but what about the reality of spending four nights alone under the stars? What about bears and mountain lions? Is it safe to fast alone?

"Fear is normal," says Stine. "You want people to be at least a little afraid because it heightens awareness." She says the ceremony is "extremely safe," and that despite fears about animals, exposure to the elements and the consequences of fasting, the most truly terrifying aspect of the vision quest is facing yourself for four days with no distractions.

But the ceremony, which Stine calls "pan-cultural," is not just about spending time alone. During the days leading up to and following the quest itself, guides and fellow questers form a community. As guide, Stine uses the time before the quest help prepare people physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually for the challenges of the four-day solo.

"The ceremony is informed by one's intention," she says. "Part of the preparation is to help people get in touch with that intention."

Stine was in her mid-forties when she went on her first quest, at a time when few Americans outside the Native American community even knew about the ceremony. "All I knew is I wanted to go sit alone in the desert," she says. She eventually found an opportunity through the School of Lost Borders, an organization still going strong today.

Stine calls her initial experience "earth-shattering" and says she felt moved to incorporate the ceremony into her counseling practice. Over the course of twenty-four years, she has served as a guide for at least 1,500 people. Most of her trips take place in Oregon or California and include ten to twelve participants and at least two guides. And yes, it does cost money, a fact some people dislike. In Native American cultures, the ceremony was – and is – free and accessible to anyone who needs it. To that end, Stine claims, she has never turned away anyone because he could not afford the full fee.

Stine's free presentation, which starts at 7:00 p.m. at the Ashland Food Co-op's Community Classroom, will include a slide show covering all aspects of the wilderness quest ceremony; a question-and-answer session will follow.

To learn more, check out the Wilderness Rites website at www.wildernessrites.com. You may reach Anne Stine by phone at (541) 488-4899 or via email at astine@wildernessrites.com. Visit the Ashland Co-op in person at 237 N 1st Street in Ashland, or visit the website for a full calendar of events: www.ashlandfood.coop.

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