Defeat Precedes Surrender: The End of a Vision Quest

  • On April 20, 2015
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The other day I was talking with a  friend who had recently returned from a solo car camping trip on the eastern side of the Sierras. He had intended for it to be a spiritual retreat – a time to let go and be deeply intimate with himself in the wilderness, as Jesus had once done. He had the feeling that he was on the verge of an inner breakthrough.

However, as he visited the places of wild beauty that had inspired epiphanies in the past, he found himself feeling surprisingly flat and increasingly dissatisfied and agitated. He reported feeling as if he was circling in on himself into a tighter and tighter mental space from which there was no escape. He cut his trip short, disappointed with his failed version of a vision quest.

As he shared his confusing experience, he quickly came to a growing clarity. He saw that his mind had been in seeking mode. He had been after something – some thing – an experience, a special state. Perhaps if he returned to places of prior inspiration, he would again open up. Yet every place he visited fell flat. There was no high to be found.

As I listened, a strange thought arose along with a quiet sense of delight. “You had a very successful failure,” I suggested with a chuckle. He immediately got the joke and the underlying insight – his search had to fail. It was doomed from the start.

He realized that he already was that which he was seeking and that no experience, no state – regardless of how expansive or blissful – would ever fulfill him; until his mind fully recognized the futility of this search, he would always be dissatisfied. There would be no surrender until his mind accepted its own defeat.

Sitting at the cafe, we both had a good laugh and enjoyed the current of love and clarity that arose in the moment. Stripped of his informal “vision quest,” he was open and I felt an upwelling  gratitude for the beauty of his unfurnished presence.

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