RLGN 1320 A01 Introduction to World Religions
The Quest: Journey into Nature
Adapted from John Suler (1999) and David Creamer.
This assignment will examine two different ways in which humans have used contact with nature as a way of finding meaning and direction. The first part of the essay will analyze the Vision Quest of the Native American Lakota tradition from the perspective of Van Gennep’s theory of a rite of passage. The second part of the assignment will look at a modern interpretation of the Quest using John Suler’s categories of: Wandering, The Sign and Individuation
In earlier societies, the Vision Quest was a way of attaining psychological and spiritual insights. Typically, a person would embark on a Quest as a rite of passage into adulthood (the “Walkabout” of the Aborigines of Australia, and the Vision Quest of the Lakota honour the tradition of adolescents going off into the wilderness to search for added meaning in their lives and for assistance in the struggle through the transitional stage of growing into adulthood), to find a solution to a crisis confronting the individual or group, or to attain truth about oneself and one’s world.
In a broader sense, elements of the Vision Quest survive today in journey literature (Lost Horizons, Seven Years in Tibet), and something as ordinary as going for a walk or drive by oneself “to have time to think.” Carl Jung understood the Vision Quest—the idea of oneself as a wanderer, a seeker, a pilgrim—as a universal archetypical theme that surfaces in the lives of ordinary people as well as great religious leaders (Prince Siddhartha) and mythical heroes (Odysseus).
The ancient Vision Quest was characterized by several key elements: 1. Solitariness: it was done alone
2. A Physical Wandering from one’s normal environment
3. A Psychic Wandering of thoughts and emotions
4. Self-reflection and Self-questioning: seeking answers to a specific question about oneself (“Should I marry Jim?”) or a more existential question (“Who am I?”) 5. An attitude of searching, looking for, and expecting a “sign” or “vision”
This assignment is a drastic modification of the ancient Vision Quest! Your task is to go on a modern Quest, to write about it and to situate it in terms of theoretical models discussed in class.
Practising and benefiting from the Quest do not require a belief in the realm of the transcendent. The Basic Rules for the modern interpretation of the Quest:
1. For a period of at least 4 hours, leave your room or home and go out somewhere in nature, preferably to an unfamiliar place (if you have safety concerns, do this during the day and go to a place like Assiniboine Park). When you arrive, don’t plan ahead as to where you will go or what you will do. Just go where your instincts or intuitions tell you to go. Just wander (of course, don’t do anything dangerous).
2. Do this ALONE! This is very important! If you meet people you know, you may talk to them for a few minutes, but no longer than that. Continue on your way. Avoid interactions with technologies such as phones, ipods etc.
3. Try to eat lightly while you are doing this. Feeling a little hungry will help (of course, take all precautions to protect your health).
4. While you wander, concentrate on some question about yourself; something you want to know about yourself, or some problem you have been experiencing in your life. You could simply focus on “the meaning of life,” the question “Who am I?” or any similar question. Think, reflect, and ponder the question, but also allow your mind to drift (“let go,” daydream).
5. During the entire four hours, keep in mind that you are on a “Quest.” You are looking, waiting, and expecting something. Something will happen! There will be a sign that will give you an insight into the question. It could be something that happens to you, something you see or hear. The world out there will give you the sign! If you take the...
Citations: Hockey, Jenny. "The Importance of being Intuitive: Arnold Van Gennep 's The Rites of
Passage." Mortality 7.2 (2002):7 pp
Note: When including this entry in the Works Cited section, make sure to add your own Date Retrieved instead of mine (10 September, 2013).
Martinez, David. "The Soul of the Indian: Lakota Philosophy and the Vision Quest."
Wicazo SaReview 19.2 (2004): 25 pp
Suler, John R. “Vision Quest,”in Contemporary Psychoanalysis and Eastern Thought. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press (1993): 241-259. Print.
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