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The great expanse of woods surrounded me in all directions. Sunlight poured through holes in the green canopy of trees overhead. “Well, here is another mess I have gotten myself into.” This was what I had been thinking all morning.
“How will this even work? I mean my ancestors did this in the true wild, not just in some extremely overgrown park,” I whispered. My thoughts drifted to all the people before me, the ones I had inherited my blood from. They, too, had gone through this time. This time of trial, of pain, and of growth.
For two thousand years, the Cherokee people, as well as other Native Americans, had performed this ritual, a rite of man- hood. But this vision quest was not going very smoothly.
My mind retraced its steps. Two weeks ago, I had a dream, a lucid dream, the kind I was always taught to pay attention to. I dreamed of this moment now, sitting in the woods, while preparing to perform the ritual I had waited all my short life to execute.
So, I made my preparations. Now to most people, preparations involve bringing the comforts of the modern world into the wild. Tents, sleeping bags, various cooking equipment, and basics, such as food and water are only some of these things. But for me, I had none of these luxuries. For on this quest, my provisions were spiritual. For three days and three nights, I would be without food, water, and rest. For three days, I would close my head to the noise of the worldly thoughts that always invade my minds.
The time came. At four o’clock in the morning, I left my house, heading toward the woods a mile away. The night smelled stagnant. But as I walked farther, the first scents of morning came. The sweet waft of a breeze carried by the sun’s soon arrival stirred the placid air. My bare feet came in contact with dew beginning to form against the grass. Finally, there I stood. The opening to the woods looming large above, I thought of how easy this would be. Arrogance as my shield, I strode in.
With nothing to carry, my journey was unencumbered and easy. A mile in, something inside, an intuition, said I had found my destination. I sat down and began to clear my mind. For two hours, I sat still, awaiting the answers to questions. For two hours, I sat waiting for that epiphany that would change my life. Two hours later in the morning light, I was still waiting, and then the words came: “Well, here is another mess I have gotten myself into.”
Twenty-four hours later, my belly growled and twisted and turned like a fiery serpent from the lack of food. My dad had always said, “The best way to find the answer to any internal question is to retrace your steps.” But the answer I came to was not very pleasing, and the answer was: Arrogance.
“How am I going to survive this?” I asked. I began to think about all the things I had ever learned about vision quests. An idea filtered into my mind. It made my spirit itch with excitement as the words formed in my mouth. “Sun Dance.” A performance to the Great Spirit himself. A way Native Americans in time of haste could achieve their visions.
A sun dance requires that you focus your eyes on the sun, while singing words of the ancients, some of which no other language has translation for. Emotions, at their very base level, at the same time begin moving faster and faster in a rhythmic dance. No breaks, a constant force of life itself until the performer collapses into a coma or from heat stroke. There he finds his vision.
Ten minutes later, I was ready. I began, at first, moving, taking the tiniest footsteps. Feet placed firmly in the ground. Muttering the first few syllables of the feelings flowing through me, all thought removed, I moved slightly faster. I now flowed with my actions—bowing, dropping to the ground. Like a cat stretching in the sun, every bodily fragment slow and deliberate. I stood back up chanting louder now, frenetic. Gradually faster and faster I whirled until I felt like a blur.
Here I remained, every minute feeling like an hour. If I had my watch with me, I might have noticed only an hour had passed. My nerve endings numb, I continued. I no longer felt the baking heat of the sun, nor the weakness in my limbs, so I continued.
Another hour passed. Still feeling nothing, I continued. Until suddenly, the full impact of two hour’s weakness hit me. All at once, without warning, I fell to my knees. My back arched, lying on the heels of my feet. I could feel them digging deep into my lumbar. My aching, fatigued eyes blinked at the brightness of the azure sky. A dull pain like radiated from the core of my being, moving outward. I felt it coming. Like lava flowing up through my stomach, to my throat, I threw myself forward just in time.
The dinner I had eaten two nights past was displayed before me. Looking at it in awe I noticed black dots appearing; simultaneously a black aura materialized around my eyes obscuring my vision. The darkness closed in around me. I lost my body. It ripped away in the darkness, along with my humanity…
I felt…different. My earthly body was gone; the earth itself was gone, too. At first I felt foreign to this environment, and yet this experience stroked a native chord in my psyche. The first sight meeting my eyes was a vast city. Great buildings below me, much less than that of the one I was standing upon. The sky was different--not so much blue as green. I felt a chilly gust against me. Long, stark-white hair blew across my face… It was my own.
White-blond hair, similar to my own, danced across her face, a face with features devoid of color, save the piercing blue eyes which bore into me. She and I looked down upon the gathering of buildings and humanity, and she began to speak in a language only my soul could comprehend.
One image fades; another surfaces, and with it, the tone of our conversation changed. The image altered, I am now in an argument with this woman. There’s an immutable connection between us, and yet I sensed a dissonance. I feel as if death is coming soon—if one of us could just capitulate to the other, we can save ourselves and everyone else. But we cannot. In anger, I left.
I now stood before a horrid sight. Clouds of disgusting, ochre color fall from the sky upon the city. Mixtures of green, brown, and black coil, a swirling vortex descends upon me. But there is no escape. I am once again on that building; she, once again, by my side. The people sprint toward us for help, toward safety. The pack of frightened runners knows that death is coming swiftly. As if on cue, a wave comes, a wave a mile high across the ground. A tsunami of death, produced by the diseased clouds themselves, raced upon us. We search each others’ eyes. An apocalyptic canopy smothers us. All is dark…
My eyes jolt open. I gasp in air filled with dust. It itches, and my lungs convulse. The sun, now in the west, creates orange sky. No terrible hellfire of clouds, or mile high waves, nor the screams of the damned. Just birds, insects, and the peace of the evening sounds in the woods remain.
I get up, drained and yet renewed by an inner strength I cannot account for. So I walk from those woods to my home. The door to my house opens and I take in the familiar smell. Staggering to the kitchen I take the necessities to life: A piece of bread, a small cup of water. I find my bed quickly and my body like a burned out light bulb finally falls asleep.
I do not act as though I understand what I saw. But, whatever it was it changed my life. A new life awareness that may in fact change humanity, if they—the world, my family, those who would walk alongside me—only knew. It’s the questions that drive us. I am still in a search of the answers to mine, some of which I have found.
If you get nothing from this story, then merely understand this: there is more to our lives than meets the eye. But how much of that difference exists, varies like the moon and the sun, the wind and the rain, or of our life here on earth and that life that waits beyond.