“Something ancient in us bends us toward the origins of the whole thing. We either drown in the splits and confusions of our lives, or we surrender to something greater than ourselves.” Michael Meade
Arnoldt Michaels -Trainee Leader Indigenous Knowledge Program
Life, death and rebirth…
During this month past, I have had one of the most intense and profoundly defining experiences of my life.
I joined my fellow Return to Origin trainee leaders and our mentor, Mbali Marais, on our second trip to the Cederberg Mountains, where we were to undergo the ancient initiation known as a vision quest.
This would entail each of us spending 48 hours fasting in solitude while being completely immersed in Nature. Vision quests, although under a variety of names, have been undergone by mystics and those seeking insight into their own nature and purpose as well as a deeper understanding of their relationship to their world.
Despite having been given a list of practices to maintain in preparation for this journey, which included regular meditation and fasting, I don’t believe that anything could have prepared me for the reality of this experience.
Already on the drive as we entered the Cederberg, I was immediately reminded of the sacredness of these mountains that I first experienced during our last visit here; recalling our “pilgrimage” as we walked from rock shelter to rock shelter while coming face to face with the rock art, which remained as a reminder of the importance of this land to the Bushmen who once walked here.
The creation of our Death Arrows was one of the first things we had to do upon our arrival within the questing space. We would carry these with us when we went off on our solo journeys, and represented those parts of ourselves which we would leave behind in order to make space for new growth.
We were also encouraged to formulate clear intentions on what we seek to achieve from the experience, specifically focusing on our work with ourselves, with others and with community.
The next two days that I spent on my own would provide more than enough time to reflect on such matters, as I came to realise how slowly time actually passes when I’m not distracted by all the activities which I occupy myself with during my day-to-day life.
Nature’s first lesson for me was the shock of realising how small I really was once I was removed from all the layers of constructed ideas that I’ve built up to form my identity, and left with not much more than the space my body occupied.
Although this was overwhelming at first, I soon came to cherish the freedom that was born from this… without any reason to pretend to be anything other than I am, I could for the first time truly come face to face with my true self and release all the built-up pressure to play out all the roles that I masked myself in, and soon found light-hearted joy in simply being fully present and open to whatever presented itself to me whether triggered by my observations of Nature, or bubbling up from the well of Inspiration within me.
I realised that the boundaries I set are what defines my integrity.
When the time came to return from my solitude, I was surprised by how difficult it was. I felt as if I had seen and been in the real world and now had to return back to a constructed reality.
Thankfully we were welcomed back by Mbali and the others who had stayed in vigil for us throughout our quest, and the sacredness of the experience was honoured and maintained during our next few days of reintegration.
But with death comes rebirth… and I set my intentions with the creation of a Life Arrow for what I would do now that I could show my true face to the world…
I will let go of my dependence on others and be self-reliant by standing at the helm of the ship of my life, but still remain vulnerable enough to trust in others to support me when Life’s storms throw me off course. I will open my heart enough that I can show my true self to others without fear of judgement, so that my eyes will be open enough to see their true selves as well. I will remember and do my part to reawaken the old and true sense of community in which each individual is supported and nourished to become their true selves and to remain within a supportive interdependent relationship with the rest of their community.
These noble intentions have been tried and tested repeatedly since my return to the city, yet despite having fallen multiple times I can keep rising up again in the silent memory of the glimpse of the real world that I’ve been afforded by this beautiful experience… and my duty to myself and others to keep it real too.
Lindsay Burch -Trainee Leader Indigenous Knowledge Program
“He was following a trail of suspicion and hints, as he continued to seek and meet his enemy face to face, and LOVE him forever more…”
The month of April was filled with growing and discoveries in many aspects of my life. We set out on a Vision Quest in the mountains which was radical in its ability to shift our perspective inwards. It was a precious time of solitude amongst the rocks and wilderness. Dangerous animals slithered and crawled around us innocently watching as our journey into the deep selves unfolded.
It all began months prior with precise preparation. This made me feel excited yet aware of the magnitude of which this particular quest held in the forming of a worthy life. By worthy I mean a life I want to live on a deep spiritual and mental level. At times it feels as if life is a wild bull running through the streets and I am one step ahead of the sharp and angry horns, looking for an open door to move into safety. This is when I feel worn out and lost; desperate for an escape. The contrast for me is when time slows down to a pace where I can feel myself and the world around me more fully. This is when breath and breathing is an exercise of gratitude. This is when the animals bring messages of warning, love and peace and I am able to take the moment to hear and feel the messages. This is a life in tune with my inner and outer nature, and it is so beautiful.
The Vision Quest gave me a taste and picture of nature as it can be for me when the proper time and practices are in place. When food becomes a life blood which feeds our body and soul, and not an indulgence of the mind and emotions. The fasting for two days on water and solution was a gentle awakening to an indigenous being that resides with my bones. This person is strong and true capable of magic and divine creation. This time in nature brought me closer to knowing who I am and why I was brought into this world. It sought to reveal the gifts I hold for myself and the ability I have to share it abundantly with others. It truly was a once in a lifetime experience which was powerful on many levels.
Once again, the challenges arose upon returning to life as it was back home. After many journeys now with return to origin, I was quietly confident with being able to integrate my growth and change back at home. This was taken too lightly in retrospect and I soon found myself lost and physically sick. This has been a common thread for me in the leadership program which once again lead to emotional and mental cracks.
The remedy as it has always been being simple in practice, take the time in nature to integrate the parts of myself and speak my truth always. It seems a lot easier writing it down in black and white now, but it was once more a difficult and painful transition. I feel that my protection of the light which was harnessed and revealed on the life altering journey needs to be protected much more actively. I can only do this by understanding my self and my inner enemy closely and feeding the parts of me that matter most to the one life that I have to live.
“Inside each of us are two wolfs, the Evil one; it is anger envy sorrow regret greed arrogance self-pity guilt resentment inferiority lies false pride superiority and ego. The Good one; it is joy love peace hope serenity humility kindness benevolence empathy generosity truth compassion and faith. Which wolf lives? The one we choose to feed.”
Angelique Michaels -Trainee Leader Indigenous Knowledge Leadership Program
This has been a month of intensive work. A month constituted of what I perceive to have been a vigorous unearthing of self, of toiling and stripping bear; of pruning back the inessential and with heart, tending to the deeply-rooted and elemental within.
The vision quest that I and my fellow leaders in training embarked on this month is an experience that has etched into my being a narrative that my spirit recognises as intimately mine and yet is so much greater than I am. In some way, I guess the quest has deepened my understanding of the importance of really embodying my reason for being here- the distinctive story inscribed in my bones, and simultaneously recognising its interconnectedness to the narratives of others.
Through what our Mentor Mbali Marais has introduced as Native-American concepts constituting the work with self, with another and the community, and Dagara elemental indigenous technology we have been able to frame and give both thought and heart to the interrelatedness of self and others and the importance of not only assuming authority over the lives we lead, but also the responsibility and commitment toward the greater whole of which we are an inextricable part.
The magnitude and potency of the quest goes beyond and cuts across the words deployed in my attempt to describe it in part because the quest far exceeds the days spent in solitude and even the time spent in the Cedarburg. It is as if the visions, the dreams, and teachings have embedded themselves so deeply into my innermost self that I cannot unlearn or decouple from them. My greatest surprise is that much of what I’ve experienced, thought or worked on out there, has leaked into my dreams, interactions with others and my relationship with myself, without me having to actively apply and make sense of the principles the quest imprinted on me.
The quest itself it would appear continues to work me; gently nudging me to embody all that I am and on occasions with more jarring prods steering me in the direction of my own authenticity. I find myself presently weathering one such an occasion, as I am made aware of the dangers of neglecting the physical structure stressed by my Mentor to be “the vital instrument and only vehicle” with which to experience this world. The mind/body dichotomy is splintered by this fever that has come at a time I felt most strong. My body, disregarded after having served as my truest guide and greatest teacher in the Cedarburg, fervently objects to this neglect and reminds me to value it and recommit to its protection and care. Out there, I learnt to listen to the flesh and bones constituting this body; to the cravings and repulsions, to the desires and aversions expressed through its senses. Through the body, I learnt of my own vulnerability and strength. I was reminded both of my contoured physicality and the blurred boundaries between the elements constituting my inner workings and those that make up the outer world. Out there, for a moment I could feel in my bones, the elemental energies existent in all things; the divinity in the faces of the rocks, the mystery in the trees and the fynbos, the wholesomeness of the land, the healing in the water and the potent messages carried by spider, locust, butterfly, ant and bird. I felt in relationship to time, that I formerly thought I understood, but out there assumed a curious and enigmatic air. I became aware of the rising and setting of the sun and how I felt most vitalised in its setting. I fell in love with the moon; the strings of my heart being pulled longingly with it across the dark and clustered sky.
In some ways it may have appeared that I was alone out there, but in truth, I was possibly less alone than I have ever been; and less lonely than I have ever felt. For I was in uninterrupted communion with the loving guides and ancestors, the elemental energies of the land, the rocks and trees. Without conscious awareness I was in communion with the prayers radiating from the distant home base like waves of protection; in communion with my fellow questers, Lindsay Burch and Arnoldt Michaels and in relationship to my own longings and to the dreams that filled my nights and seeped into my days.
When I close my eyes, I can still catch a glimpse of the last evening before our return; I can still drink in the deep shades of crimson in the sky that night and hear the faint beat of my Mentor’s son’s drum and further up, I imagined at the foot of a crag, one of my brother’s rhythmical raps on his drum and the other’s intricate melody emanating from the Ozark harp. I can feel again in my bones the interconnected distinctness of the moment. The importance of understanding that even in unity and oneness, we all stand apart, on our own journeys, our own quests.
Some days the ache for the wildness and realness of the moments lived in the Cedarburg is incontestable and I feel an anger at the narrow spaces and low ceilings of the so called “reality” to which I am subject. Then I remember the stillness in moments I could hear my own breathing, moments in which it felt as if my heart was both inside and outside of me, moments in which I could hear the deep rumbling of my own soul’s longing and I remember the secret inscribed in my bones; one that, when I am most still, whispers… Blessed be the wholeness in the hollow.