I am in solitude, sitting on a blanket in the Catskill Mountains, having committed myself to be there for four days and three nights. I have no food, water, or shortage of time to think about that question. Surrounding my blanket are hanging "prayer ties" representing a prayer for someone in my life. Each series of colored cloth is a different color, representing one of the four directions: white for south, red for north, black for west, and yellow for east. What i'm doing is known as a Vision Quest, a rite of passage ceremony for many American Indian tribes as well as other indigenous tribes around the world. This one follows the tradition of the Lakota Sioux Indians, a tribe who's lineage includes such notable figures as Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Black Elk. I am honored to be a part of it to say the least.
In my preparations for the ceremony, there were many questions and doubts from myself and the people with whom I would discuss it. Is it possible? Is it safe? How much would I suffer? Why would a person in their right mind want to do this in the first place? Fair questions, but my curiosity had been piqued and as I've learned during my time on earth, once this happens, I am not satisfied until there's a conclusion.
Why do we journey? I think the most obvious answer is that we journey to expand our boundaries. Whether you take this as a literal reference to physical boundaries or as a metaphor for any type of personal growth, I find that it works the same. Where else will we find the stimulation for growth besides beyond our comfort zones? And where are we more uncomfortable than when we are in Nature?
It is very easy for us to come out of direct contact with the natural world. Nature can be very fear inducing, but fear can be a strong indicator that there is a boundary to overcome. In my 4 years of guiding in NYC, I have seen kids and adults overcome this boundary to discover truly starry skies, the warmth of a campfire, walking on a beach, or touching snow for the first time. Whenever I watch this happen, the look in their eyes is one of ecstasy. The joy of stepping beyond that unseen veil between known and unknown is vastly powerful.
This is why I sat on a blanket with no food or water for 4 days. Because my curiosity got the best of my fears at a time when I needed more than a change of perspective, I needed my whole world broadened.
I was a student to the trees, watching them sway in the wind under a sky dusted with distant light. I learned patience from the blueberry bushes as we watched the arc of the sun, waiting for patches of it's invigorating warmth to cut through the branches and replace the night's chill. The birds, who's voices rose in chorus at dawn and dusk, taught me to celebrate both the arrival and departure of light.
It's still hard for me to describe how humbling it was to sit in such terrific beauty, and how grateful I was to be there. What I can say is that I walked down that mountain with deep sense of peace and with far less weight, both physically and otherwise, than I went up there with.
I'm sure that we have all felt this feeling at least once. I imagine that for many of us, that feeling is what directs us to be outdoors. That sudden and overwhelming peace that we seem to absorb from a soak in a clear blue lake, or from a deep inhale of the chill mountain air, or in the hush of the falling snow.
I was asked to chose one word for my Vision Quest. That word was peace. What is your word? What do you journey for?
As I talk to people now, I talk about how it felt to come down from the mountain and experience the world with a type of clarity that I wasn't used to. I talk about how it was pretty much a transcendental experience when the first thing we consumed in 4 days was smashed up watermelon and strawberries. But what is most difficult for me to describe how connected and at home I felt in those trees. My fear was silent, I was safe, I didn't want to leave.
Luckily for me, the commitment is for four years, one for each direction, each season, before my first cycle is completed. Also luckily for me, is that I get to be in nature just about every weekend, with a renewed enthusiasm and a fuller appreciation for where I am and how I fit into it.
The next time you go out, I encourage you to sit still and just listen while you watch how a moment unravels a little slower in the outdoors. You may receive an answer to a long forgotten question, you may feel yourself grow just a little bit, you may extend just beyond that boundary of fear, or you might even find yourself at peace, in your own home.
Health and Happiness,
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