Mark Thurston, Ph.D.
How do you gain insight about your calling in life – your soul’s purpose? There are many self-reflection exercises and discovery tools that you can use to gain insights. But I believe that vision questing is an especially valuable approach. In many ancient cultures there were time-tested practices to stimulate such a transformational revelation about life-direction. But in our modern society those purposeful rituals have largely been lost. We need to re-invent practices of vision-questing.
Over the last eight years I have been working with this practice each semester with a new group of about 28 undergraduate university students in a course entitled “Consciousness, Meaning, and Life-Purpose.” Over fifteen weeks we explore the academic side of consciousness studies, how to find meaning in life, and the science of well-being and happiness. But most important to the course is experiential learning around life-purpose, culminating in a two-week personally-designed vision quest experiment. You could do this, too; and, you don’t have to be in a university course like mine. Let’s consider what my students have put into their experiments. Here are six elements to consider including in a vision quest of your own.
Formulate a question about soul-purpose. Make your inquiry very intentional. What are you hoping to discover through your vision quest? Examples include “What talent or gift do I need to fully claim in order to see my soul-purpose?” or “What is the next step in living what I was born to do? or “Who are my people and my audience for living my soul-purpose?”
Commit adequate time. When will you do your vision quest and for how long? Although some people may have the opportunity to set aside everything and focus exclusively on this inner discovery process for a long weekend or a week, most of us have too many duties and responsibility to be solely focused on the vision quest. That’s certainly the situation for my college students, and it may very well be for you, too. But setting aside an hour a day for ten days can work just fine – perhaps with one day in that span when you spend half the day or all day on special activities in your vision quest plan.
Create attentiveness to synchronicity. Most all of us have experienced the way in which “meaningful coincidences” can be a source of life-direction. We can use a divination tool such as the I Ching or we can just be attentive to life events. We cannot cause synchronicity because, by its very definition, it’s not the product of cause-and-effect. But we can create conditions in which we invite ourselves to be open and alert to meaningful “signs.” In a vision quest that might mean a daily practice of opening a book of spiritual wisdom to some random page and exploring how the teachings on that page prove to be relevant. Or, it can mean walks in nature during which you are alert to signs or events that remind you of principles and truths that need to be prominent in your life now.
Incubate a dream. Dreams happen every night to all of us, but usually we don’t prepare ourselves before going to bed. The dreaming mind is connected to that soulful level from which a calling and life purpose arises. Dedicating one or more nights during your vision quest to dream guidance can
be a powerful element of your personal exploration. Fall asleep with the central question for your vision quest clearly in your mind. And make sure you have put on your bed stand what you’ll need to record your dream just after awakening.
Meditative exercises. Some kind of contemplative practice is vital to a vision quest. If you already have a meditation practice, then here’s a time to deepen your commitment. Or if you are new to meditation, get started with even five or ten minutes daily during your vision quest.
Creative expression. Intuitive insight can often be awakened in the midst of creative endeavors. As part of your vision quest plan, you might include sketching a picture of your dream, using a musical instrument daily to create some music (not just listen to it), or drawing a mandala several times during the span of your vision quest.
By completing a personal vision quest, just like my university students do, I think you are sure to get greater clarity about your life purpose. Just making “dedicated space” in your busy life for something like this can be transformational. And there’s also a chance to you will gain a self-insight that will propel you into the next phase of your journey in living your soul-purpose.
Mark Thurston, Ph.D. is a psychologist, author, and director of educational programs at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. His university courses focus on positive psychology, mindfulness, and the science of consciousness. His most recent book is a second edition of Discovering Your Soul’s Purpose, published this year by Tarcher/Random House.
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