Why Go On A Soul Quest?
Why would you want to leave the comfort and security of your home to go into wild nature to explore your soul’s purpose? Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed and Moses didn’t seek the vision for their lives and the lives of their people in the safety of shelters, amidst their busy day to day lives: the Buddha awakened under a tree in the wilderness; Jesus went to the desert and returned ready to take on the challenges of his life’s work; Mohammad was fasting and praying in a natural cave when the Koran came to him; and Moses went to the top of a mountain to bring back a vision for his people.
If you are thinking, “Well that’s good for them, but I’m no Buddha, Jesus, or Moses”, I’d suggest, at the very least, that you let the recognition sink in that across all times and places, the act of leaving home to seek your Soul’s vision is at the heart of all spiritual traditions.
And it’s not just religion that acknowledges the primacy of seeking your purpose in Nature. Psychologists, philosophers and mythologists point to this same truth:
The earth has a soul. – Carl Jung
Nature is the avenue towards nurturing your spirit. It is the way in which the divine most powerfully shows itself. – Thomas Moore
Let us consider the sensing body as a kind of open circuit that completes itself only in things and in the world. – David Abram
The moment the angel enters a life it enters an environment. We are ecological from day one. – James Hillman
The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature. – Joseph Campbell
Getting a Feel for the Journey
These quotes come from: Soulcraft by Bill Plotkin, and The Trail to the Sacred Mountain by Steven Foster and Meredith Little.
– At some point in your life, you began to wonder if perhaps there is more to life than another round of success (or failure) at the Standard Game of Security Building. We may begin to wonder: What is the core of us? How can I have a more soul-rooted identity?
– Your individual soul is the core of your human nature, the reason for which you were born, the essence of your specific life purpose. By soul I mean the vital, mysterious, and wild core of you.
– People have received profound insight about themselves and their world by means of a vision quest, whose basic, universal elements include: 1) a remote wilderness setting, 2) fasting from food, 3) solitude, 4) direct exposure to the forms and forces of nature, 5) attention-focusing and consciousness-shifting ceremonies, prayers, and practices, 6) a significant period of time.
– To enact a vision quest is to clear a space. To quest is to honor a fallow time in our spiritual lives, an emptiness into which something utterly new and generative might enter. It is to create an open vessel capable of being filled to overflowing by the sacred Other.
– Soul encounter can be brought about by many methods. Wilderness-based fasting rites are among the most effective.
– As a rite of initiation, the quest is a ceremonial descent to find our soul image and derive greater clarity regarding the purpose and meaning of our life. The initiation is not into any social, religious, or spiritual group but into our own soul path and deeper levels of authentic adulthood.
– The primary goal of the quest is to empower participants to commune with their souls which, they discover, are reflected back to them from nature as revealed through their senses, emotions, and deep imagination.
– …unless you reach the center of your longing, you will not be able to stay focused during your fast, to pray long and deeply enough, to offer your attention reverently to the animals, signs, images, and dreams that appear. To open the door to vision, you must surrender fully to your deepest yearning.
For more information about the philosophy of the Soul Quest please listen to the recording.
The Underpinnings of the Soul Quest
The rest of this page is primarily about the practicalities of preparing for your Soul Quest. Enjoy.
Module 6 Practices
You’ve got to take the ceremony seriously if you expect it to take you seriously. That means two things: intense longing and lots of preparation (followed by grace, of course.) The following assignments, to be undertaken well in advance of your quest, will help you to clarify your goals and prepare appropriately.
Practice 6:1 – 10 Years Process
Listen to the recording. Write a paragraph reflecting on what you experienced during the guided meditation.
Practice 6:2 – Ask Four Friends for Feedback
Tell your chosen friends (preferably different people then your Soul Circle) why you are performing a self-designed daylong Soul Quest ceremony, and then ask them for their candid opinions to the following feedback questions:
- How do I hold back giving my gifts?
- How do I not love or show up for myself?
- What is the greatest gift I can offer the world?
- What do you want me to give fully to life?
It is important that you simply receive the feedback. Don’t get into a give and take. It is OK to ask for clarification, but don’t get into explanations, justifications, or stories with the person.
Upon receiving your feedback from your four friends, look for commonalities in what they wrote. After sitting with the feedback for a few days, write about what you have learned about yourself through your friends’ sharing and email the results to your guide.
Practice 6:3 – Why Quest Now?
Consider and write at least a paragraph about each of the following:
- Why is this the right time in your life to seek an encounter with your soul
- What phase of your life is coming to an end?
- What new phase of your life is in the process of being born?
Practice 6:4 – Simplifying Your Life
In Soulcraft Bill Plotkin writes:
“What leaving your summerhouse (your provisional/first adult identity) does require is that you surrender what no longer supports your exploration of your deepest nature. You will discover soon enough which roles, relationships, activities, and possessions get in the way of that exploration: you are being asked to radically simplify your life.”
With this in mind, consider and write at least a paragraph about each of the following:
- 1. What relationships/friends get in the way of my exploring my deepest nature?
- 2. What activities get in the way of my exploring my deepest nature?
- 3. What roles get in the way of my exploring my deepest nature?
- 4. What possessions get in the way of my exploring my deepest nature?
“What’s involved is both a surrender of and a surrender to: first a surrender of your beliefs about how you were supposed to be and how the world was supposed to work, and then a surrender to your deepest and wildest passions.”
- 5. Surrender of: What beliefs about how I was supposed to be and how the world was supposed to work do I need to surrender?
- 6. Surrender to: What deep and wild passions (buried as they might be) do I need to surrender to?
Close your eyes and contemplate each question for a few minutes, then write a paragraph for each inquiry about what your intuition is asking of you.
Practice 6:5 – Reduce/Eliminate Addictions
These are preparatory pathways to Soul-encounter.
Reduce or eliminate: TV, sugar, junk food, alcohol, drugs, gossiping, heavy meals, online addictions (e.g., email, Facebook, web surfing, constantly checking your phone, porn, YouTube, Netflix), lying, workaholism, caffeine and other “addictions”.
Write a paragraph about what you’ve eliminated and your experience thus far of leaving behind this particular addiction.
Practice 6:6 Fasting and Diet Purification Plan
Purification is an important part of your preparation. Letting go of old patterns of eating helps us to let go of old habits of living. Purification allows us to practice the art of saying goodbye to whatever is unwholesome/toxic and makes us sluggish. It also helps make room for what is alive, energizing and supportive to our vision for our lives. Imagine that going on the Soul Quest is akin to a caterpillar entering a cocoon to transform into a butterfly. What would you bring into your cocoon of transformation to prepare for the journey? Put another way, imagine you are preparing for a wedding ceremony, to commit your life to another human being. What kind of breakfast would you eat to ready yourself psycho-spiritually for the tremendous power that is contained in the marriage ritual? Would you eat a couple of chocolate glazed donuts or a healthy breakfast? Consider that what you eat leading up to the Soul Quest ceremony can be a powerful aid in your preparations.
- 21 days before the Quest, or at the very least 10 days before your Quest – Consider reducing and then eliminating your caffeine/nicotine/alcohol/drug consumption. Cut out junk foods starting now (refined sugars, chips, French fries, etc.) Put another way, take your present diet (let’s say its a “C” or “C+” and change it into an “A”.
- 6 days before the Quest – A traditional Vision Quest entails 3-4 solo days in the wilderness without food. In lieu of 4 days of fasting consider purification of your diet as a replacement. Consider reducing and then eliminating meat, chicken and fish for the entire week preceding your Quest. Try to eat only organic foods. Put another way, take your diet to an “A+” level.
- 3 days before the Quest – Consider reducing and then eliminating cooked foods from your diet for the three days preceding your Quest. Consider a mono diet of moong dal (soup) – the easiest digestible food according to ayurveda. Consider a raw juice diet for the 3 days leading up to the Threshold ceremony. It’s up to you to feel into what would be a healthy and spiritually powerful way to eat during the three days leading up to the Quest day. This will help clean you out physically as well as emotionally/mentally/spiritually, to make room for something new in your life.
The intention here is to do a complete cleansing of your body. It’s really your decision how you decide to approach it. The practice of purification should be an enlivening experience for you. You are creating sacred space by approaching your body with reverence, caring and respect. You are attempting to support your transformation through mindful eating. Your Quest has already begun. Allow the 21 days prior to the ceremony to be a time of symbolic and literal letting go. Above all – enjoy the process! If you have health problems, please take them into consideration and seek some advice from an expert.
Adapt the suggestions above to your body/needs/health, and write a paragraph about what you intend to eat 21 days, 6 days, and 3 days prior to your Threshold Ceremony.
Designing Your Soul Quest Ceremony
The readings will help you orient to the unique ceremony that is the Soul Quest. If you don’t own these books presently, don’t worry about it.
- Soulcraft by Bill Plotkin – Chapter 10 – The Vision Quest and Soulcentric Ritual
- Nature and the Human Soul by Bill Plotkin – Chapter 7 – The Wanderer in the Cocoon – Late Adolescence (Stage 4)
- Trail to the Sacred Mountain by Steven Foster and Meredith Little
The readings will help you orient to the unique ceremony that is the Soul Quest. If you don’t own these books presently, don’t worry about it.
- Small Backpack
- Foam Pad (or something else for sitting during solo time)
- Water Bottles (with 2-3 quarts/liters of water, or more if it’s hot outside)
- Light boots or running shoes
- Toilet paper and plastic trowel (with plastic bag for used paper and brown bag to cover plastic bag.)
- Flashlight (for emergencies)
- Journal and pen
- Driver’s license (or other ID)
- Emergency whistle
- Watch (so you know when to come back to base camp)
- Sun glasses and a hat
- Small knife
- Hiking poles (recommended for going off trail to find your sit spot)
- Anakit if required (for bee stings)
- Antihistamine (such as Benadryl)
- Snakebite kit
- Camp chair
- Rattle or drum (or other trance inducing instrument)
- Insect repellent
- Small waterproof tarp and/or umbrella
- A few band aids, small first aid kit, tube of antiseptic
Dress According to the Weather
Cool-to-Cold Weather Clothing: Long shirt/fleece/warm jacket/hat, raincoat, gloves, warm socks, long underwear (you can get VERY cold on the land sitting still, if the temperature is cool and the wind is blowing, while fasting).
Please Note No Fire
Do not burn candles, light tiny fires in tin cans or make any kind of campfires. People can dramatically underestimate the dangers of fires running out of control, putting everyone else in danger as well. It is PGI’s policy that you not use fire during your Soul Quest.
What To Leave Behind
Matches/lighter, food, art supplies (other than pen and paper), altar objects, entheogens, recorded music.
Why? Because we want you to be as naked as possible for this rebirth ceremony. We want to bring as little as possible from your regular/ordinary lives into your circle. We want to bring as little as possible of our familiar ways of knowing ourselves into our sit-circle. We want to break out of anything that has even a whiff of routine. What would it be like to sit in your circle and just fall back into yourself, into your soul in the company of all the sacred others in the more-than-human realm?
How To Listen In The Wild – Tuning Into Soul in the Wild
How To Approach Wild Listening
Let us consider the sensing body as a kind of open circuit that completes itself only in things and in the world. In order to complete this circuit, we need only inhabit this truth: the recuperation of the sensuous is the rediscovery of the earth.
There is a reciprocity of perception. To touch is also to feel oneself being touched. The event of perception unfolds as a reciprocal exchange between the living body and the animate world around it. There is a reciprocal presence of the sentient in the sensible, and of the sensible in the sentient…both the perceiving human and the perceived are of the same stuff, the perceiver and the perceived are interdependent, the same Flesh. To touch the coarse skin of a tree is thus, at the same time, to experience one’s own tactility, to feel oneself touched by the tree. And to see the world is also, at the same time, to experience oneself as visible, to feel oneself seen. Thus at the most primordial level of sensuous, bodily experience, we find ourselves in an expressive, gesturing landscape, a world that speaks.
Experiencing Wild Listening
Multiple times during the day stop what you are doing (thinking, some activity, etc.) and open the doors of perception. Feel the presence of the wild: the temperature, the breeze on your cheeks, the buzzing of insects, and the melody of birds. Give abundant attention to any wildlife that you can see or hear. Lavish attention on the trees, let yourself even greet them (and they greet you!) Disgorge awareness, for a rapturous moment, into the sky, until there is no barrier between awareness and sky.
If there is one guiding principle in experiencing wild listening it is this: perception is participation. So, allow the very thickness of the present to enter you. Open to the sensuous present, the sensorial reality of the more-than-human world. Let the sensible take possession of your ear, your gaze, let the body become possessed by the perceived.
Journal Question: What happens to awareness when I engage in wild listening?
“Recognize your particular instinctive responsiveness to non-human Others (aka natural life) that reveals the mysteries of your own soul. ….. Discover that your unique and instinctive responsiveness to particular non-human Others reveals mysteries of your own soul, the enigma that poet David Whyte calls ‘the truth at the center of the image you were born with.’ This discovery launches or deepens ‘the largest conversation you can have with the world’.” – Bill Plotkin
Note: This section excerpted & reworded by Jonathan Gustin from The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than Human World by David Abram and Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche by Bill Plotkin.
Soul Quest Ceremony Worksheet
Note: Soul Quest Ceremony Worksheet is a PDF of this section for you to print if desired.
A Self-Designed Ceremony for finding/embodying your Soul’s hidden purpose.
Seeker of Mytho-Poetic Identity
Sacred ceremonies have a structure. This worksheet is designed to help you give form and shape to your ceremony. I recommend printing out the PDFs of this Ceremony Worksheet and the following Incorporation Worksheet. Bring them to your Soul Quest.
- Preparation (weeks or months)
- Crossing the Threshold (10 minutes)
- Threshold/Underworld Journey (8 hours or more)
- Recrossing the Threshold (10 minutes)
- Incorporation (1 year)
A sacred ceremony provides a container for your commitment. For example, a wedding ceremony formalizes a couple’s commitment to each other; an inauguration formalizes a person’s commitment to their political office. A Soul Quest is a ceremony of commitment to your soul’s purpose. A Quest’s steps/rituals enable the Quester to have a framework for exploring the meaning of their life. Like an elaborate multi-course dinner, your Soul Quest ceremony will have a number of stages.
1. Salutation/Crossing the Threshold: This is your warm-up, a calling in of your body-heart-mind-soul to your quest. You gently wade into the ceremony with rituals that draw you into the underworld journey.
- Finding your sit-spot and then ritually creating your purpose circle.
- Making an offering: tobacco/song/poetry, praising the natural world.
- Getting out of your mind: singing/chanting/rattling, and silent meditation to still the mind.
2. Engagement: The intensity of your quest is beginning to build. Start swimming towards the deep end of the pool by addressing soul:
- Calling in your allies: cosmic power of the universe, wild earth, evolution, entelechy, ancestors, etc.
- Stating your wish: Tell Soul what you are doing, and why you are doing it. Be specific! For example: “Dear Soul – I wish to receive my deepest calling. I wish to receive images, symbols, words, sensations, intuitions/hunches, and signs in nature about what my purpose is.”
- Telling your story/Talking Across the Species Boundary: Out loud, tell the story of your deep ache/longing to live your purpose.
- Belief Removal Ceremony: Address the ways that your fears/resistance/reservations have gotten in the way of your hearing your soul’s calling. One by one, describe each fear in detail (out loud), and then (only if it’s true for you) commit to releasing this impediment from your life.
- Journal: Write about the stage of life that is ending, then write about what you most deeply ache for. Next, compose a personal myth.
3. Activation: You are near (or at) your limit. The intensity of your prayer is surprising (even to you!) You are in the deep end of the pool. Start swimming! There are many strokes (soul-encounter technologies) to choose from.
- Nature movements: Breaking, piling, tying, burying, being naked, bathing, smashing, aligning.
- Art: ecstatic trance dance, drawing, poetry, singing, rattling, drumming, chanting.
- Inner: changing names, being in silence, journal work, storytelling, observing the natural world, Dreamwork, death lodge ceremony.
- Natural World: observing the natural world, seeing signs (events in nature that follow our request for help/vision), talking across the species boundary.
4. Crucible: You’ve been swimming in the deep end for hours. Now it’s time to dive where the pressure is greatest. The crucible is the time of absolute focus and total effort. The intensity of your prayer is shocking to you…you are surpassing what you dreamt you could do.
- Prayer: Cry, scream, whisper your prayer to Soul. Beseech, beg, cry out for a vision for your life. Don’t hold back, pray like your life depends on it (because it does!) Note: rattling, dancing, and praying out loud are all very helpful during this intense prayer phase.
- Grace: Efforting, while important is only half of the Quest. The other half is grace. At some point, when you feel you’ve prayed, lamented long and hard enough, you let go completely to grace in the hopes that your sincerity, devotion and passion are met with grace. Grace can come in many forms. Be open…you don’t know the form or way through which grace will bless you.
5. Completion/Recrossing the Threshold: Spend some in contemplation of the experience you’ve just had before readying yourself for your return to base camp. Make a few notes in your journal and/or use the worksheet below to record some of you experience. Thank your allies and reverently dismantle your circle, leaving the space as you found it.
Soul Quest Incorporation Worksheet
Note: Soul Quest Incorporation Worksheet is a PDF of this section for you to print if desired.
- Symbols or Images I received during my Quest:
- Plants, animals, or elements that spoke to me during my Quest (and what they said to me):
- Physical sensations, bodily “knowing” I experienced on my Quest:
- Feelings, emotions, sensations that I experienced during my Quest:
- Words received directly from Soul that I experienced during my Quest:
- Insights, understandings, profound thoughts that occurred during my Quest:
- Directions, directives, advice, pointers that I received on my Quest (especially from Soul):
Module 6 Summary
- 6:1 – 10 Years Process – Guided Meditation
- 6:2 – Ask Four Friends for Feedback – Email 4 friends today (preferably not Soul Circle friends.)
- 6:3 – Why Quest Now? – Questions to ponder during the Soul Quest preparation.
- 6:4 – Simplifying Your Life – What have you outgrown?
- 6:5 – Reduce/Eliminate Addictions – What are you letting go? What is the process like?
- 6:6 – Diet Purification Plan – Your 21 day, 6 day, 3 day plan.
Write at least one paragraph about your experience engaging each of the practices above. Email your writing to your Purpose Guide™ before your 1-on-1 meeting for this Module.
Managing Your Time
- 6:1 – 40 min (30 min recording, 10 minutes reflection and writing)
- 6:2 – 40 min (20 min writing, 10 min reading responses, 10 min reflection & writing)
- 6:3 – 30 min (3 questions X 10 minutes)
- 6:4 – 30 min (6 questions X 5 minutes)
- 6:5 – 10 min (writing your reflection)
- 6:6 – 30 min (writing out your plan)
Total = 3 hours
You can find all the needed information on the Soul Circle page. Hold Soul Circle Meeting 2 during this module.
Soulcraft – Read:
- Chapter 10 – The Vision Quest and Soulcentric Ritual