Au Bout De L'Absurde: The Vision Quest

"Il faut aller jusqu'au bout de l'absurde pour s'en delivrer."

It translates roughly as, "One must go unto the limit of the absurd to deliver oneself." It sounds better in French.

I don't know who said it, or even where it came from. But I do know where I found it: one morning I walked into French class and there it was, written on the blackboard. A gift from the Randomness of the Universe, maybe. And, at the risk of taking this too far, it reminded me of the tradition of the vision quest.

The vision quest, while many think of it as purely Native American, can in actuality be found throughout the cultures of the world. It exists in nearly every mystery tradition (and by this I mean any spiritual traditions that search for or maintain contact with the "mysteries" of the universe). Especially any tradition that involves shapeshifting. Which is probably why it interests me.

The vision quest begins often with a ceremony to invoke the spirits or to aid the individual in going into a trance-state. The whole point is to have a vision that will either tell the individual about himself/herself, or to answer a specific question. Often, the vision quest is an initiation or a rite of passage, marking the transition from one part of the individual's life to another (most commonly from childhood to adulthood). Always, the vision quest is either a catalyst for, or a bringer of, change.

But why? And how?

Sometimes the individual purposely brings about the vision quest for reasons mentioned above (i.e. to find answers to a question, or as part of a rite of passage). This is usually done with drugs or fasting or both (although if you're thinking of going on a vision quest yourself, I do not recommend drugs or any other mind-altering substances, nor do I recommend any behaviour that will jeopardize your health). Other times the individual finds himself/herself in the midst of a vision quest whether they want to be or not (for example, Coyote might decide to pay a visit to your dreams). Either way, a vision quest is a powerful thing that brings about change within the self, and knowledge of the self.

Essential to a vision quest is the trance-state, which, I believe, is similar to what people call "lucid dreaming." During this "dream," then, everything starts off as the way you left it when you were awake, so that you aren't really sure if you're actually "dreaming" or not. As the dream progresses, things get stranger and stranger, and as they're getting stranger they're also getting frightening. Because that's what it does; a vision quest shows you things about yourself that you don't necessarily want to see, things you have to face, or let go of, or both, in order to keep your life and yourself from stagnating.

So you go through to the depths of yourself, right into the realm of chaos and the absurd. And just when you think you can't take it anymore, it's over and all you're left with is yourself; that's it, that's all. Sometimes you wake up right where you started, full circle and all, and sometimes you're someplace else entirely. Either way, the chances are that you've learned something; maybe it was something you realize upon waking that you knew all along, or maybe what you learned isn't really all that profound, but that's not the point. The point is that you go into the darkness and the madness of yourself and you face what scares you and you let go of what's holding you back. You strip yourself clean of everything that's not really you, and you learn more about who and what you really are. And I don't know about you, but I'm always looking to get closer to the truth. The truth about myself, the truth about life, the truth about the universe, whatever I can get my furry paws on. Not that I know what "truth" really is, or even if it really exists. But I still look anyway, mostly because it's fun.

And also because, every so often, Coyote and Loki being the way They are, I find myself thrust into the limits of the absurd (of course, now that I think of it, I'm not so sure that the absurd even has limits), and forced to look at myself. If it's what I was expecting, then fine. But it's never what I was expecting, so face to face with all my faults and fears and failures, when I can see myself for who and what I'm becoming, I'm much better at sloughing off what I don't really want or need. I can let go of whatever needs to be let go of in order to live dynamically, in order to keep from stagnating.

I don't know what other people see when they've gone off into the edge of the absurd. I know that whatever it is, it was both frightening and healing -- that's just the way it is. And I do know what I see. It's got spotted fur.


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January 23, 2005