As I anticipate leading another six-session run of the “Soul Coaching”® group program, (based on the book of the same name by my teacher Denise Linn), I recall the times I have gone through the program myself over the past few years. I do it annually usually to kind of “recalibrate” and get in touch with aspects of my life I may have been neglecting.
One of my favourite things about it has been the very last part of the process, after the exercises of the core 28 days have been completed — the personal “quest”. The core of the program, as you may read on my web site, is 4 weeks of different themed activities and assignments, a huge toolbox of techniques for gaining self-knowledge, a connection to your spirit, and finding ways to rewrite your life story in more empowering ways.
After doing all that, Denise suggests that you wrap it all up and integrate the learnings by doing a quest, a kind of gentler version of a native American style vision quest, although you may do it as intensely as you choose. The origins of the word quest is the same as for question…from a word meaning “to seek”. Basically we quest to seek answers about ourselves, our life, our purpose.
A full-fledged vision quest typically involves going out on the land somewhere, usually wilderness, for perhaps three days, maybe more in some traditions, with minimal equipment or food. These are best undertaken with an experienced quest leader who knows the area, the wildlife, the issues that may arise, and can prepare you for such a journey.
These are very challenging, often emotionally taxing, experiences where one is left alone with themselves in an unfamiliar environment, with no-one to call upon but their inner strength and their allies in the spirit realm, as they search for a vision or answers to questions about their lives.
In the Soul Coaching® program, we do a modified version, mainly because not all of us are trained wilderness guides and many people who just read the book on their own are doing this self-directed. In the quest suggestions, it can be as little as a couple hours or as long as a full day, even indoors if absolutely necessary due to winter weather. It must be spent alone, in silence (although drumming is permitted), within the circumference of a sacred circle created by the participant.
My first attempt was in our own woods, just out of sight of our house, where I had intended to spend a full night beginning at 5 p.m. one July evening. I created my circle of stones and branches, carefully blessed and smudged my circle with sage and honoured the four directions, and spoke my prayers for the evening. I brought a tarp because the forecast called for showers overnight, and a sleeping bag, and lots of bug repellant!
Yes, it was mosquito season, and try as I might to sit in a contemplative fashion, calling upon my spiritual guides and helpers, my power animal and all, I was essentially tortured with stinging needles for 6 hours until I gave in. No amount of toxic Deet, layers of denim and a sleeping bag pulled over my head was a match for hungry ‘skeeters.
Despite all that distraction, in the pitch black of the night before I surrendered, the sudden snorting of two deer behind me ran chills up my spine, as they stomped on the ground. I was an intruder in their territory and they were letting each other know, or maybe warning me. It was exciting and frightening as I tried to remain calm, not being able to see a thing. And a few minutes later they crashed into the bush and were gone.
I struggled with my frustration over my inability to persevere amidst the onslaught of bug bites, to receive any messages from Spirit, and decided after 11 p.m. to head home up the hill, feeling like a failure for not sticking it out.
I should have thought about Deer’s message as I proceeded to beat myself up. “Deer medicine” is gentleness, and in my case, it was to be gentle with myself. In hindsight, several years later, I would say that that was a great lesson of which I have often needed to be reminded. I am one of those many people who is my own worst critic, disappointing myself far more often than I disappoint anyone else. And I am rarely disappointed in others. But as I have learned in my Strategic Intervention coach training, I “create my own rules” about how easy it is or is not to disappoint myself. So, the rules are changing.
In spite of my aborting my first quest early, I really learned what I needed to that night, that I was enough, something I coach others about! When I checked in with Denise Linn and my class from soul coach training after that quest, her simple reply was, ”You don’t have to suffer to grow”.
For my next quest it was the height of winter, and questing outdoors did not seem to be an option here in Nova Scotia. So I did what Denise suggests and created a sacred circle indoors, with a great view out of large windows so I could watch the sky and see the clouds and a view of nature. I found a time when no-one was home and I would be undisturbed.
I spent some time drumming and vocalizing to move energy through and out of my body as I found my jaw and throat really got tight as soon as I had settled and called in the spirits to guide me. I have learned that for me, a tight jaw and lump in the throat means something is needing to be expressed, so the drumming and singing can help release that with the vibration. It took me a while to move it and settle myself but eventually my mind calmed and I began asking my questions.
And, as often happens when I ask questions of “the Universe” or my guides, when I am in a truly quiet and open head space, answers came flooding through, which I journaled. In response to questions about the meaning of particular aches or sensations in my body, I was reminded of specific things needed to do for my general health and well being. And then the flow just continued, telling me about my life purpose or path, what I needed to learn in this lifetime to get beyond certain patterns of past lives. It was fascinating and made perfect sense. And then after watching for signs in the clouds outside, I decided it was time to get back to my family of husband and animals and ponder the advice.
My most recent quest was last December. I wanted to do it close to my birthday, and found a day, December 9, with a moderate forecast, sunny, above freezing, and no snow on the ground. As it turned out, it was cloudy with only sunny breaks, and it proved to be quite cool as I ventured down to the back of our woodlot in the shade. I had created my sacred circle the day before, having spent a week or so dragging rocks down into the woods with me on my walks with the dogs. I had chosen a favourite spot among tall pine trees with no underbrush, and a carpet of rusty pine needles, in an area we had named The Cathedral.
I was bundled in layers of clothes and woolen toque and gloves, and had brought a sleeping bag for extra warmth, although I only intended to spend the day, not overnight. I wasn’t sure about dealing with coyotes in the dark of night a 20- minute walk from home.
I had set an intention for the day and a series of questions on which I sought guidance. Denise Linn gives different suggestions in her book for what you might address during a quest. I was ambitious and selected a few themes: first examining my life (reviewing my history), then confronting my fears, connecting with Spirit, and asking for my “Spirit name”, giving thanks, and asking for a vision. As I began to journal about my life and what I needed to examine or remember, words just flowed, things I had not expected or thought about in ages. I reflected on the relationships of people within my family and how I felt they had made an impact on me. I looked at turning points in my life and what meaning I had given them. Those meanings were the stories I had created around my life events, stories which had coloured my perceptions and in some cases, held me back.
At one point I decided to list all the things that I have done in my life that showed success or achievement in one way or another, as one of the ways to counter a belief that you can’t do something is to show the many ways in which you have already proved yourself very capable, even if you haven’t done the exact thing you are thinking about. So at this point I looked for both examples of others who had succeeded or who modeled doing what I aspire to do, as well as looked at all my own accomplishments.
As I made that list, something made me glance up suddenly, and I was astonished and delighted to see a beautiful barred owl on a branch not 50 feet away, staring intently at me in broad daylight. After a few moments he flew to another tree just across the trail, and stared at me again. And then to another tree, all about the same distance from me in my circle. And then as silently as he (or she) had arrived, flew east through the pines and disappeared.
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / pix2go
As soul coaches we are trained to “watch for the signs”, and I took this unusual occurrence as a big one! I walk this trail almost every day, all year round, snow pack permitting, and only once had I encountered an owl, and not like this in a staring match. The other time was searching for my dog Angus who had been missing for an hour, and the shadowy sight of an owl flying east through the trees had led me to sweet Angus, gasping for breath, his neck in a wire coyote snare. Owl had led me there in the nick of time to save him.
The meaning I gave to this sign during my quest was that I was on the right track reviewing all I had already accomplished, to restore faith in my ability to do other things as well. I continued to journal, addressing many aspects of my life, the words just flowed that I had needed to hear. I even found my Spirit name, which I choose to keep to myself, but it resonated so profoundly that I cried tears of recognition. So many great insights came as I scribbled in the increasing cold.
I had also been blessed when I had first arrived in the circle with the presence of Squirrel. I have seen squirrels many times on my walks in the woods, usually because the dogs are barking at them up a tree, but this was the first and so far only time in years that I have seen one in the Cathedral. They are never in that area, nor have I seen one on the ground scurrying from tree to tree as this one did. As well, the crows were very persistent that day in their chatter, and while they were not close to me, they had a prolonged period of very urgent cawing that was disturbing.
After about six and a half hours in my sacred circle I was starting to shake with cold and knew I needed to take care and get back home before dark. I packed up my sleeping bag and journal and water bottle, and just as I prepared to leave the circle I was shaken by a blood-curdling shriek that made my heart race! It came from the direction Owl had flown and I felt it was some kind of acknowledgement from Owl of my quest. Likely he was just hunting as it turned to dusk, but the timing was superb!
Upon returning home I checked my reference books about animal spirit guides and found that aspects of Squirrel, Crow and Owl were all very appropriate to the issues and questions I had been exploring that day, and the books were rich with messages that were spot on for me.
I know this is considered too long for a blog. I write lengthy emails too. But I am telling the story I want to tell… it is mine after all. If you are not reading this on a smart phone then perhaps you’ve made it to the end, in which case I applaud your patience and attention!
Questing, even for only a few hours, can be a very profound and insightful process, especially soon after completion of a program like Soul Coaching®. If it piques your interest, my Fall offering of Soul Coaching (in-person group) is coming up September 26, there is still space available. I would love to assist you on this heartfelt exploration to your authentic self.
Watch for the signs!
With love, Mary