We have been guiding Wilderness Quests for over four decades, helping to bring meaning and purpose to thousands of satisfied participants. We know how to help you get the most from undertaking this program. Our pan-cultural approach works beautifully with people of all backgrounds and faiths.
Here’s What Happens Over the Nine Days
1. Transition and Orientation in Community
The group begins at a campground near the wilderness, where we will get acquainted and begin preparations for the quest. We’ll review flora, fauna, first aid and safety procedures, and begin pan-cultural teachings that help us build a strong bridge between the nature that surrounds us and our human nature. After our first night together, we drive into the back country where we’ll set up a base camp. This will be home for a few days, offering community meals, company, shelter, and a safe container for preparing for the solo.
There is time for sharing with other participants and staff, or for just sitting quietly. You have a morning to look for your solo site, going in the direction you feel called to explore. Safety concerns are addressed again in the field, and you will have a buddy from the group that is pledged to help you if the need arises–but you will not see each other unless there is an emergency. You will leave a stone for your buddy each day at a stone pile located between your sites, a reminder of the bond you share with others on this path. The next morning, there will be a ceremony at sunrise to send you off.
2. The Solo
During the wilderness quest solo, you enter a different time and space, living by yourself in the wildness of nature. In the weakness of fasting [or eating lightly, for those that cannot fast], you become more open and transparent. You live between the inner world of dreams, feelings, fantasies and the outer world of cold night air, the warming sun, the sound of a coyote howling, the sight of a lizard doing push-ups, the vast view of a desert plateau. You may be visited by loneliness, boredom, fear, and regret–among others. You engage them with your heart and spirit, recognizing them as worthwhile opponents. They push you into your depths.
Time can slow down on a Wilderness Quest, and the stillness of the desert can be very powerful. As your thoughts begin to empty out, you can look into the pool of your own being, noticing how you are, what your dreams are made of, what you need to let go of. The sacred dimension is present there, and you can enter it naturally. It is possible to feel connected to everything, to the small fly buzzing, to the cactus in its rocky home, to the moon and stars wheeling overhead at night.
3. The Night Vigil
On the last evening you build a circle of stones to represent your life, entering it at dusk and remaining awake until the dawn releases you. During the long night, you can sit, stand, dance, sing, pray, or just huddle from the cold. You are bearing witness to your own death and rebirth. What is important to carry into your new life, and what needs to be left behind? You ask for help to find your way. Your prayers are answered as the first rays of sunlight pierce the darkness. It’s time now to come down off the mountain and begin the journey home.
4. Return and Integration
The return from the nine-day Wilderness Quest is often a time of great energy, joy, and celebration. After participants return to base camp, we’ll share a delicious breakfast, then spend the balance of this day, and the next two, exploring the teachings of the Quest, reflecting the beauty and meaning of each story–and the challenges posed for the return. The task here is to re-enter your life, bringing your unique gifts and opened heart back to family, friends and community. As Mirabai asks, “Without the energy that lifts mountains, how am I to live?” How can I bring my vision and purpose into my world–the world of work, relationships and ordinary life? The modern quester returns to our de-mythologized society powerfully moved by having lived close to the healing power of nature and to his or her own living spirit.
Five Core Elements of the Wilderness Quest
Solitude has been a part of the mystical and initiatory path throughout human history. It puts us in touch with ourselves and our world, inviting us to discover our own deepest nature and to open ourselves to the richness of our inner soul life.
2. Immersion in Nature
Immersion in nature takes us back to the truth, that we are part of a Great Mystery and not separate. We return to our place in the natural world with humility and gratitude, finding renewal and reflection in the wonder of creation.
Fasting is another ancient cross-cultural practice, one that opens the mind and heart. Most people are able to fast during the solo period of the Wilderness Quest, generally 3 days. This practice can be modified for people who cannot fast.
4. Pan-cultural Teachings
In our work, we apply practices and teachings drawn from more than 40 years experience guiding rites of passage in nature, including the Four Directions teachings (given to Rites of Passage by a Native American teacher); dialogue with the natural world; journaling; and other eco-psychological practices. We also teach and model ceremonial practices, such as the all-night vigil on the final night of the solo, and personal ceremony for quest participants.
Traditional rites of passage always take place in the context of community. On the Rites of Passage Wilderness Quest program, we create a community of participants and guides in the field, so that group members feel safe to speak from the heart, knowing that the container of community will safely hold them. This allows for deep sharing and witnessing; from there, the healing circle of community is carried home to loved ones, and out into the world.
The Wilderness Quest Changes Lives
Tired of going through the motions?
We feel empty when we abandon our hopes, dreams, and perhaps most of all our sense of purpose and contribution. When we simply drift through life, we lose touch with a meaningful reason for being and connection to a larger purpose. We spend our precious life energy unaware of what has true meaning and value, lost to the sense of passion of simply being alive and awake in our body and purposeful in our actions.
“I didn’t know what to think at first. I knew I wanted to go all in so I could get the maximum out of this program. I achieved it. Purpose is what I wanted, purpose is what I leave with.”
Consistently distracted and unable to focus?
“The way we live is eroding our capacity for deep, sustained, perceptive attention, the building block of intimacy, wisdom and cultural progress, moreover this disintegration may come at a great cost to ourselves and society,” writes Maggie Jackson, columnist for the Boston Globe. We are challenged, confused, and stressed in ways unique from previous generations. Without adequate space, time, solitude, and silence we lose our ability to recognize our internal guideposts, which hold our deepest values and give meaning and direction to our lives.
Feeling less emotionally resilient?
We live in stress inducing times to the point where it can be difficult to discern the trivial from the critical. When our minds and bodies become accustomed to being on constant alert, we feel worn and fractured. Our ability to roll with life’s punches and move into action when the need arises becomes clouded when we lose our sense of resiliency.
Experiencing a lack of contact and connection with nature?
Our urbanized culture has staggeringly increased the divide between humans and nature. The results are the devaluing and fear of nature and loss of knowing and experiencing the joy of wildness. We are at greater risk of anxiety, depression and attention deficit problems, in addition to physical health problems, when we remove ourselves from intimate connection with nature and with the wild places of the Earth.
Having difficulty with life changes?
Life transitions and change, predicted or random, anticipated with excitement or dread, can leave us feeling stressed, untethered and unacknowledged. When we feel unable to come to closure with what we are leaving behind, and unable to commit and adapt to the unknown that lies before us, we remain chained to the status quo, unable to move ahead with our plans, our goals, and our ability to thrive.
“I had the exact experience I needed. After a year of feeling lost the process and the guides helped me to prepare and meet my quest in the right frame of mind. Even when fear snuck in I was able to find the courage to continue. I am so thankful for the gifts I am taking home for myself and for my family.”
Lacking a sense of belonging and community?
We can feel completely alone even when surrounded by others. Social Isolation and loneliness have well documented negative impacts on mental, emotional and physical well-being. When meaningful social support is lacking or has come undone, we experience a loss of self-esteem and sense of continuity for a meaningful life. Lack of social and emotional support increases the body’s stress hormones, leads to changes in appetite and sleep patterns, and in general hinders our ability to cope.
“The most beautiful, healing and transformational experience of my life. This, the wilderness, the community, was the place for me to feel loved and valued and give this in return. Awe inspiring.”
Unlock the Change You Desire
Lead a purposeful life. Challenges help us find our calling.
The core elements of the Wilderness Quest, solitude, immersion in nature, fasting, and community remove us from our routine, our safety zone. The Quest challenges us to wake up, to consciously engage, to go to our edges, to push our boundaries, to become bigger, to find courage in our vulnerabilities, one step at a time. Completing a Quest is a significant accomplishment that cannot be easily dismissed. Living alone and fasting for three days and nights with minimal shelter changes how we experience ourselves and life. Taking strength from the sunrise at the end of a night-long vigil marks a new beginning. Inside that sunrise lie the seeds of new hope and the rebirth of a purposeful life. The Wilderness Quest is the starting point for authentic change.
“My experience was heart opening. It feels so powerful. I feel whole in a way I have never experienced before and it feels enduring. I have received a huge gift which I will enact in the world. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Ditch the distractions. Experience solitude.
The Wilderness Quest allows us to drink deeply from the well of stillness. A time apart for inner reflection, and paradoxically to become more attentive to the world around us. Without interruption, without the distraction of “too much, too fast, too often,” we begin to find the spaciousness of the wilderness reflecting the inherent spaciousness inside of ourselves. Dormant senses begin to awaken our creativity, our wonder, our capacity to receive true nourishment for our lives. We return from the Wilderness Quest having discovered gifts hidden in silence and solitude. We bring these gifts into our lives and communities.
The ability to handle adversity is important to our well-being, to the well-being of our communities, and to our world. This emotional resiliency can be developed.
The Wilderness Quest allows us the time, space and support to:
- Identify the voices that guide us in our lives.
- Accept that which cannot be changed.
- Hold self-compassion.
- Look for opportunities of self-discovery.
- Nurture a sense of perspective.
- Take decisive action.
- Find hope.
“So many gifts. I reconnected with nature, faced my fears, my inner critic became my inner advocate, I released shame from past experiences, I made incredible friends, experienced an emotionally connected and empathic community. All of this I bring home with me.”
Connect with the life sustaining power of nature.
The Wilderness Quest brings us into a deep relationship with the natural world that ordinary camping or adventure travel cannot. The entire nine-day program is held in nature, from campground, to base camp, to the solo wilderness site. Preparation meetings include introduction to the terrain, local flora and fauna, and weather conditions we may experience during the solo. Each step of the process helps us gain familiarity and trust in the land under our feet and the sky above our head. The wildness that surrounds us, both nurturing and challenging, accompanies us on the solo. In the mirror of wild places we learn about our inner stillness and storms, our strengths and vulnerabilities, and our place as human beings in the circle of life. In the intimate experience of nature’s majesty and power, we are invited to let go and trust in something bigger than ourselves.
“It was not easy. The quest showed me my ability to go beyond what I thought I was capable of. I reconnected with me, with nature and with love. I am changed. I CAN live a fuller life. I am forever grateful.”
Embrace life’s changes to move forward and flourish.
Consciously embracing and enacting our life changes and transitions allows us to confirm the innate strength and capacity we carry for the challenges that lie ahead. We find the courage to stretch beyond our current boundaries and to walk toward a new future. The Wilderness Quest provides a ceremonial container for conscious transition and change. There is time to review and release what no longer serves, to gather the inner and outer tools needed for the journey ahead, and to celebrate what is to come. When we claim and confirm our changes, we open to the flow of life. These transitions of life–childhood to adulthood, entering or leaving an intimate partnership, becoming a parent, gain or loss of position, and even death when embraced with respect and honor—afford us the opportunity to live into our highest purpose and fullness.
“Each of us had moments that change the course of our lives. The Wilderness Quest was the culmination of all those moments. It brought all the threads of my story together along with my gratitude for the beauty of this life and a deep understanding of my purpose.”
Explore community connection.
Humans are hard-wired for significant social contact and connection. Community is an important component of the Wilderness Quest; traditional rites of passage have always taken place in the context of community. The supportive in-field community of the Wilderness Quest allows us to become part of something larger than our individual self, expand our boundaries to safely experience a sense of belonging. There is ample time to share our story, to be witnessed, and to give and receive support. We enter a sense of belonging when we feel that we matter, that our experiences matter and that others matter to us. In giving we find meaning and purpose; in receiving we experience happiness.
“Intensely moving, powerful, challenging. I underestimated the impact of doing such a quest as part of a group with skilled and loving facilitators. The community that was created held space for healing, inspiration and growth.”