The following is an experience I had on a vision quest 5 years ago on Navajo land in northeastern Arizona:
Imagine a place. Imagine a place that’s quiet–so quiet that when you don’t move and make noise it feels like you have cotton stuffed in your ears. A place that is so still you can literally hear an ant crawling across the tarp you’re sitting on. Imagine being there, alone, with only the few things that you can carry–a tarp for cover, a sleeping bag, a small bag for a little food and water and your journal, the clothes on your back, your drum and rattle. Imagine when you find this place you have already been searching for it for over a week and when you find it you will be there for three days, alone, outside the reach and call of others, just you, the land and the silence. Imagine the sun setting on the first night, after seven days of preparation and searching, seven days of sleeping in a tent, carrying your water to drink and brush your teeth. Imagine stringing your tarp over a cord you stretched between two sturdy branches of an ancient, gnarled cedar tree, wrapping it under you and securing it to the other branches to make almost a C-shaped shelter, open to the east.
Imagine spreading out your sleeping bag, settling your few things in place, close at hand, sitting down and waiting, watching, listening. Imagine a tree a few yards in front of the space you have chosen that looks for all the world like nature sculpted many-armed Shiva from wood, the tree’s natural shape. Imagine the evening coming, cooling the intense heat of the early summer day. Imagine the sunset to the west as you watch and rattle, watch and drum, walking your circle. Imagine the coolness of night dropping over you like a dark blanket, pushing you deeper into the sleeping bag, making you happy for wool socks in June. Imagine drifting off, finally, first startled then soothed by the soft shushings of creatures and aspen leaves in the night and imagine waking at some unimaginably early/late hour, before dawn, after midnight, time unknown, time left behind with your watch and your clock and everything mechanical that’s somewhere in another dimension. Imagine getting up to move out of the circle to answer nature’s call and as you step out from under the tarp, there, in the east, so low on the horizon that it could be touching the actual tree tops, hangs the thinnest, hugest, most golden crescent moon you have ever seen in your life. You can see the dark part of the orb limned in the brilliant illumination of that infinitely narrow, sharp curve. You could pluck it out of the sky and wear it around your neck if you only stretched out your arm far enough. All bodily needs forgotten, you stand, transfixed, riveted to the ground, in the enwrapping silence, your body connected to the earth, your spirit soaring into the heavens with the moon and the stars twinkling around it.
Imagine sitting outside your tarp, leaning into a just perfect spot on your tree, watching the sun rise a short time later, listening to the birds wake up, the land come alive, just resting there against the tree, nothing else to do, nowhere else to go. Imagine closing your eyes and letting the sun warm you from the chilly night before.
Imagine deciding that ten days is just too long to go without water on your body. Imagine setting your gallon jug of water in the sun as it rises and gets hotter. After a couple of hours, imagine spreading down a scarf over the cedar needles to keep them from sticking to your feet, stripping off your clothes, and standing naked and alone in the hot June morning sun. Imagine taking the water jug and sluicing it down over yourself, the sun-heated water feeling like the most luxurious thing you have ever experienced. Imagine watching the dirt and sweat of ten days run off you in rivulets and the feel of the dry breeze flowing over your skin, sucking off the moisture before it hardly has a chance to make it to your feet. Imagine drenching yourself with another couple of glugs from the jug, feeling cleaner in that moment than at any other time in your life. Imagine, then, looking at the jug and realizing for that incredible feeling, that moment of utter delight and cleanliness, you have used exactly one-half gallon of water. That’s all.
Then, imagine sitting down in the sun to ponder how very, very little we really need to live.