I am sitting on the floor of the Canyon de Chelly in Arizona. The towering red rock walls and Spider Rock glisten in their evening bath of sunset. Soon I will hear the yip of the coyotes and behold a star-filled sky.
During this last evening of the four-day solo portion of my first vision quest, I am thinking back to how it started.
A number of months ago I was feeling less than passionate about my life in general and my ministry in particular. I wondered if I had anything more of value to offer, anything new to contribute. One friend suggested it might be time for me to retire. And I thought that she could very well be right.
Yet I knew I couldn’t—indeed wouldn’t—consider retiring until our $327,000 Unity Santa Fe, N. Mex., building line of credit was paid off. It was the least I could do to honor two of our members, a couple, who generously obtained a loan on their personal line of credit on the congregation’s behalf.
* Southwestern College was originally founded as “Quimby College” which was entrusted with the personal library of Phineas P Quimby, Father of the New Thought Movement. The mission “Transforming Consciousness through Education” blends indigenous, New Thought and counseling principles.
The vision quest journey began innocently enough at a Southwestern College* board of trustees’ meeting, in which I was acting chair. During a break in the meeting, I looked to the other end of the table and asked our Executive Vice President, Katherine Ninos, if the upcoming vision quest class was still open. She replied, “No, it’s full and we have a waiting list. Why do you ask?”
I replied—experiencing disappointment mixed with feelings of relief (not being sure what a vision quest entailed)—that I was thinking of signing up. She looked me in the eye and said, “If you want to go, I’ll see what I can do.” I thanked her, brushing aside the slivers of panic that rose to greet me with the thought that the chance of me getting into the class was slim at best. Yes, slim at best.…
An hour or so after I arrived home, I received a call from Katherine who, true to her word, had “seen what she could do.” I, and all the others on the waiting list, were “in.” OMG! (Oh, my God!)
Over the next day or so I experienced mounting “healthy trepidation” as I learned more and more details of what exactly a vision quest entails. Specifically, what I needed to take (and not take) as well as how to handle any potential confrontations with bears, mountain lions or snakes. I further learned that I would be solo for four days and nights with only water—no food. Add to all this “good news” the fact that I would be tent camping for the first time in my life!
One thought kept going through my mind, “What was I thinking?” The vision quest would start in less than four weeks and I felt there was no way I could back out and face Katherine who made a special effort on my behalf.
With that thought I then realized the vision quest had begun the moment I was told I was “in.” And strangely enough, experiences I’d had prior to my even asking about the vision quest began to take shape in my mind.
For months I had been listening to Unity Online Radio. I was enjoying archived How to Be a Holy Rascal shows hosted by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, whose mentor told him he could not limit himself to Judaism exclusively. After enrolling in the vision quest experiential class, I drew more sharply in mind Shapiro’s main message: the importance of gaining an understanding of interspirituality for the spiritually independent as the wave of the future—interspirituality being an unhyphenated term coined by the late Brother Wayne Teasdale.
Among Shapiro’s guests that spoke of interspirituality as the cutting edge way of experiencing and embracing spiritual practices from all traditions and religions were: Thomas Moore, Matthew Fox, Mirabai Starr, Brian McLaren, David Robert Orb, Ed Bastian, Tim Miner and Carl McColman.
I think of interspirituality as a spiritual salad bar in which you can pick and choose what you most desire for your spiritual salad. It’s a way of not throwing away the baby with the bath water if a practice from your church of origin or another faith tradition nourishes and feeds your soul.
It struck me that Shapiro neglected to point out that interspirituality is, in fact, the bedrock of the founding of Unity and the entire New Thought Movement. Perhaps he didn’t know.
With the concept of interspirituality now gaining a fresher focus in my thoughts, I felt stirring in me the beginnings of renewed zeal and enthusiasm. I called my prayer partner and told him he had to listen to some of Shapiro’s shows. I shared with him my wondering if interspirituality might be the new focus for Unity Santa Fe. In particular, it might be an opportunity for the entire Unity and New Thought movements to shine a light on our interspiritual roots for the younger generation and other Cultural Creatives that research shows are not interested in dogma and doctrine.
Brendalyn Batchelor at Spider Rock
Setting an Intention
I took this into the vision quest along with a question about whether it was time for me to retire and how my whole-food plant-based coaching business might unfold. However, I didn’t take them into the vision quest as questions. I rather took them in as an intention which was formulated as my fellow vision questers and I sat “in circle” with our leaders. Each of us shared our questions. And although it didn’t seem related, the intention they guided me in formulating was: I am a woman free of structure.
While preparing for dinner around the campfire that evening, a young Southwestern College student asked if she could share with me her thoughts about my retirement question. “Sure,” I said. “Why not?” She said, “In my (Wiccan) tradition you are just getting started. Why would you consider retiring with twenty years of wisdom to share?” Wow! What a novel idea. It seemed to be God’s voice speaking through her lips.
Further clarity was revealed during my solo time in the wilderness: “You will know when to retire and it’s not now.” I will know—in the Middle Eastern sense of the word—beyond the intellect—with every cell and atom of my body, my heart, my soul and my mind. I will know that I know that I know. It will be beyond dispute.
But what about interspirituality and coaching? I don’t know where to begin. I need someone to show me how. I need a “structure” to follow. “Oh: I am a woman free of structure….” Oh! It’s not that I have to operate without structure. It’s that it has to be my own structure—not someone else’s. Aha and Ahhh—There’s the “click” the “knowing” accompanied by the expansive breath, loosening the constriction of not knowing in my chest.
Bringing Back the Vision
I reveled in this feeling of knowing as I broke down my solo campsite: the tent, the sleeping bag, the camp hammock strung between two oak trees in the meadow where horses and their foal greeted me some mornings. So as to “leave no trace” I disassembled the 8-direction medicine wheel where I sat in a 12-hour prayer vigil during Unity’s World Day of Prayer.
I gathered up the prayer ties I had made and strung together filled with tobacco, cornmeal and sage to burn in the basecamp fire pit. I packed away my altar, assembled in the middle of the white sidewall of a tire which had long ago lost its other side and the tread in between the two sides. I wondered if someone actually traversed this rough canyon land in a vehicle with white-wall tires. Not likely. This is definitely truck country!
In the backpack goes the drum, the rattle, the little-used journal. I tie to the outside the four empty, gallon water bottles that held my only sustenance during the four-day fast. I hike back to basecamp to join my comrades and allow myself to be smudged and drummed in a welcoming home blessing ceremony.
I am complete, feeling deep gratitude for our leaders and our three Navajo guides who kept watch over us from a distance—firing warning shots in the air to fend off bears and mountain lions that came too close to us. I am fascinated by the stories they tell about their people around the campfire that evening. I treasure the carved walking stick gifted to me by the guide-in-training.
I return home to Santa Fe with a rebooted passion for ministry and life.
Over the next six months our Unity Santa Fe congregation caught the still-forming vision and brought it into focus in a revised vision statement: Unity Santa Fe is a welcoming interspiritual community that celebrates the Oneness and Divinity of All Creation.
Reboot complete for the moment, I find that I am now ready to embark on my second vision quest this fall—this time as an assistant instructor. It’s an opportunity to support other seekers in their quest for a vision that reboots their passion and purpose.
Aho Mitakuye Oyasin — Lakota Sioux term to honor “All My Relations”
Brendalyn Batchelor – 5/19/2015
Creating a religion
A spiritual path
Of your own
Selecting those beliefs
That nourish your soul
Meaning and purpose
In your life
Making your own
From the buffet of
That span the ages
Philosophy and Psychology
Brain science to
New Thought to
A little from here
A little from there
Creating a spiritual path
As unique as you
That supports and
Personal spirituality in
A community of