Choosing to listen to the quieter voice deep within that asks for us to go only as fast as the slowest part of us feels safe to go – so that we may be more gentle and cherishing of our tender selves.
Our Slowest Parts
Go only as fast as the slowest part of you feels safe to go!
At 45, a year and a half out of the difficult relationship that was to mark the end of my interest in partnering (see Others' Views for more about this) and a year and a half into the process of becoming an unconditionally loving, fiercely protective mother to my self (see The Little Ones Story for more about this) I was at a threshold moment in my life. I asked Spirit for help in finding some ceremonious way to mark this crossing place.
In early spring of that year (1986), Spirit answered. I saw a flyer describing a 3-day Vision Quest experience for women in the Ojai wilderness. The trip called to me and, with a close woman friend, I signed up for it. (For the story of that trip, see Not Pushing Our Selves.) It was a deeply moving experience that set me searching for a longer Quest somewhere further from home.
Shortly after starting the search, while browsing through a Shaman's Drum magazine that someone had left at the library, I found an ad for a 10-day Vision Quest for women in Death Valley that winter. The leaders for this Quest were older and more experienced than the dedicated young women who had led the Ojai trip. That earlier trip had been a tantalizing appetizer and this one sounded like it would be an exciting full course dinner.
As soon as I'd registered, just as the brochure predicted, the Quest began for me. Everything that happened between that day and the day of the physical trip to the meeting place in Sebastopol seemed charged with meaning and portent. I felt that I was living in an altered state of consciousness, readying my self for something momentous.
I moved slowly and carefully through the so-called severance stage of my preparations for the Quest. It was the first time that leaving home for a trip involved me in consciously completing every project in which I had been investing my energies. I cleansed and tended my physical and psychic spaces as if I were never coming back to them. It was as though I were preparing for my own death. The process felt exhilarating rather than frightening.
I felt hungry for the four days that we would each spend alone with our selves in the desert. I was intoxicated by the idea of being so far from the civilized world, alone and yet protected by wilderness-experienced women leaders who would hold a safe container for us.
The three days before and after the solo time – days that would be devoted to meeting, traveling and developing a questing community with the rest of the dozen women questors, two leaders and three assistants – were of much less interest to me. Still, I could feel threads of magic weaving me into this web as the departure day approached.
My uneasiness about the not-alone time settled quickly once we gathered in our primary leader's home. As we arrived, we were asked to commit to being together in sacred silence through that late afternoon and evening as well as through the next day of travel. Except for the time each of us would meet separately with the leaders to set our intentions for the journey, the silence was to be broken only for instructions or emergencies. It seemed a perfect way to build spiritual community as we caravanned and kept trading places among the three vehicles that carried us across California and into the heart of the desert. It was a relief to know there'd be no irritating social chitchat surrounding me.
At the end of that travel day, in the desert though not yet at our base camp, we slept out under the stars. The following morning we drove to our entry point and carried our personal gear in on foot for the last couple of miles. Then we made several trips back out to the vans for kitchen gear, food supplies and the innumerable gallons of water we'd brought for our selves and for cooking. After the hauling, we spent the rest of the day learning about desert safety and the formal structure we were meant to use during our quest for vision in our solo time.
In my individual intention-setting interview, I'd experienced some uneasiness with Sedonia's (our primary leader) general approach. My disquiet increased through the teachings she gave those first and second days in base camp. Her style of leading felt uncomfortably male-model-of-authority: kind of imperious, top-down and somewhat impervious to the innate wisdom that each of us questors might be bringing to the circle. There definitely was a right way everything was to be done, particularly when we were out on solo. The gist seemed to be that since we were adopting this Native American tradition, we were to follow its form precisely. There was no room for any modifications to better fit it to our different context as Anglo women or to our personal styles/needs.
Since this was Sedonia's show that Spirit had brought me to experience and since no one else seemed at all bothered by the constraints I chafed at in the rigid rules-for-proper-behavior, I kept my concerns to my self. Certainly, once off in the desert, I could (proper form be damned) do only what felt right for me.
Part of Sedonia's instruction was a very strong message for us each to "really push your envelope," to move out of our comfort zones to our farthest edges and then beyond. This, too, felt very male-model and at odds with where I was in my own process of learning to be more gentle and less demanding with my recovering super-achiever self. I wasn't sure how well I could resist getting swept up again by this pressure that I'd lived with all of my life and from which I'd only recently begun to break free.
The second day we were sent further out into the desert to find a sacred spot for our solo. Once we'd found it, we'd be going back and forth to ferry our four days stock (nine gallons) of water out to it. Returning, we'd gather in circle and, with something we'd brought back from our spot, mark our locations on the leaders' rough map of the area. We'd be paired with the geographically closest other questor as rock-pile-buddies. On our way to our solo, we'd establish a rock pile together in a place between our secluded spots. Each of the four days of solo time, both buddies would separately come to the pile to leave evidence for the other that they were ambulatory and doing okay: drawings, rock arrangements, desert flowers and such served us.
Some of my cohorts went way out to the back of beyond to find their sacred places. One of the women actually wandered for hours before finding her bedraggled way back to base from her far away spot.
When I headed out on my search, I was feeling agitated by Sedonia's instruction to "push [my] envelope." I'd already spent too much of my life pushing my envelope, trying to do whatever it might be way ahead of schedule, way beyond what might be reasonable to expect of my self and way faster than the slowest part of me ever felt either safe or capable of going. (See Going 75 mph for more about this.)
Stewing as I walked out into the desert, I noticed that a small mesa just ahead was beckoning me. It was within easy walking distance. From it I could see the chaparral surrounding the base camp but not the staff people moving around inside of it. The mesa was the closest in that I could be while remaining invisible to base and having base remain invisible to me.
It was the perfect spot for my solo. Seriously pushing my envelope meant daring not to force my self into some super-achievement or over some more literal edge. Being this gentle and solicitous with my vulnerable self was the most powerful edge-walk for me. It was a blessing, having that sweet little close-in mesa calling me home to my slowing down self.
The following morning we were, in beautiful ceremony, birthed out of the womb of our base community and sent, with prayers, off to do our solo questing. I arranged a shade shelter by tying down my tarp as a lean-to at the bottom of the mesa, laid out my sleeping bag, water jugs, pens and journal and began the next phase of the journey: Four days of fasting on water while paying keen attention to everything around me, absorbing this wild place. Listening within for the voice of Spirit. Writing and drawing in my journal and trundling daily to the rock pile.
It was, as well, four days of being laid low, wrenchingly sick with nausea. At the time, I thought the nausea was a reaction to the heat leeching chemicals from the cloudy plastic of the containers into the water and making it so I could barely drink without gagging and vomiting.
Yet, when I told the tale of my questing time during the re-incorporation circle after the solo ended, I understood that the retching and nausea were also full of symbolic significance: Through the four days alone, I had been recognizing and experiencing the toxicity of the internalized societal standards with which I had mercilessly pushed and punished my self for most of my life. I had been retching and vomiting all of that out of my being.
The wind and heat of the desert had stripped away the forms I had come in with: my own life-long internalizations and all of what Sedonia's teachings had added to that package. Had I followed the form she set for us, I might well have learned something of value. Yet, in the cauldron of my nauseated sickness, I saw that my lesson was to listen only to the guidance from my own core – the part of me beyond all the toxic internalizations. This I did with fierce gentleness, aching and in tears for all the past years of breaking my own heart and spirit with those terrible incorporated shoulds.
At the close of our solo time, we were to spend the entire last night awake in the middle of the circle of stones we had arranged in our sacred place. There we were to sit in prayer for our own vision and for the psychic community of people and concerns represented by those stones. Earlier on that day, I had made my last trip to the rock pile. I felt hollowed out, exhausted. At the same time I felt filled by the undemanding love and grace with which I had tended my ailing self and my inner Little One(s) during this transformational desert sojourn.
On my way to the rock pile, I noticed something oddly out of place in the beige and pale gray landscape of my daily route: a small bubble gum pink lump with a trailing strand of paler pink fiber. I picked up what turned out to be a deflated balloon with printing on it. When I stretched it out to read what was written, I roared with laughter. The message? "Childcare is everybody's business!" A powerful yes from Spirit to all the work I'd been doing at the foot of my little mesa in the womb of my lean-to. I felt affirmed in the life path I'd chosen and affirmed for choosing to stay on that path in the desert despite the directions that would have had me act less caringly to my little selves. I had received my vision; an all-night vigil in my stone circle was unnecessary.
When we returned to base camp exhausted and radiant, we were ready to begin the re-incorporation phase of the process. Ceremonially welcomed, we were fed some mild fruit soup to break our fast and called to meet in the sacred circle of our desert-born community. We began the almost three-day cycle of sharing the stories of our solo quests. Sitting in solemn (and sometimes hilarious) witness to one another, we wove the mythic tales of our individual Heroine's Journeys.
Of course, as is often the case in my life, my experience was out at the far end of the continuum from the rest of my desert tribe. I sobbed my way through the telling of how my solo time repeated yet again my life long fight for the right to be and value how I am even while how I am leaves me as outsider, the odd one out struggling with the pressures to conform.
And, at the end of my tale, the epiphany. The pink balloon and its message from Spirit affirming my path, honoring the thread I weave into the fabric of the world: going slowly, caring for the little ones inside, recognizing the power of vulnerability. There was joy in that coming home to my self, feeling welcomed and seen as part of the community even as I lived in my differentness. Afterward there was the gift of being given my questing name: "She Who Walks Her Truth In Beauty."
Once we all had shared and been witnessed in our Heroine's tales, we began what I felt was the most enlivening ritual of the whole Quest: the Sacred Theater experience Sedonia herself had created as the final ceremony. With her orchestration of this amazing ritual I got to see and be touched by all of whom else she was as a teacher/facilitator, a woman holding power from the Sacred Feminine.
The staff disappeared at dusk leaving us questors to prepare our selves for this as yet unknown next step. Luminaria (votive candles in paper bags filled with sand) glowing orange against the night's blackness and the sounds of drumming and chanting guided us out into the further depths of the desert. There each of us – bedecked in ceremonial garb we'd been asked to include in our gear and wearing body paint we had been given to decorate our selves – processed into a candle lit circle/arena. There we each celebrated our selves with words, movement and song creating the dance of our journey and joyfully celebrating one another's beauty and power.
The gifts of that Quest were substantial. Sedonia and I (with one sick and sleeping questor in the back of her camper-pickup) drove the 9-hour journey back to Sebastopol deeply engaged with each other in a far-reaching and exuberant dialogue. I reflected on my experience of her two different styles of teaching/leading during the quest: from the masculine in the early instruction phase and from the Feminine in the Sacred Theater ritual. That sharing opened into talking and dreaming together about the possibility of holding power from the Sacred Feminine; about building new images of empowerment that went beyond the hierarchic forms we'd learned in patriarchal culture. We talked about form and formlessness. We talked about the power of vulnerability, the challenge of gentleness and moving slowly.
We birthed a soul-nourishing friendship on that drive that fed us both for the many years until her death. Our connection spawned a Women's Lodge that brought together ten powerful, empowered women who, for several years, gathered seasonally in circle with the intention to explore and experience how power looks and feels when held from the Field of the Sacred Feminine.
So much of power and empowerment in our world is conceived as connected with moving fast, doing more – always accelerating and expanding into bigger, more and finish-it-yesterday. It takes great faith and courage to break away from the relentless, pounding rhythm of that trance. It takes great trust and willingness to move differently, to listen for the quieter voice of the soul: the voice that asks for us to slow down, to listen inward; that asks for us to savor the stillness in which magic can be born; that asks us to be cherishing and gentle with our delicate selves.
May you find the courage to go only as fast as the slowest part of you feels safe to go.