As I sit cross-legged ― or as it is known in yoga, Sukhasana ― I make prayer ties for the vision quest in which I will participate this summer. I will venture into the woods and find a place to be alone, without food or water. I will take my string of yarn with my prayer ties attached to it, all 401 offerings filled with tobacco and sage, to establish the perimeter for my quest. Once I have established my area, I will not leave it for three days and nights.
I have obvious concerns about going into the woods. I am concerned about all animals ― winged and four-legged; snakes and spiders and insects of all sorts ― that will visit me. I know they will serve as my teachers, yet I fear for my safety. Concerns about rain and cold weather also taunt me. Will I be uncomfortable? All sorts of questions beginning with “What if …?” have surfaced. I am scared, but I repeat to myself often, “Trust, trust, trust in the universe.”
And I look forward to reading the shapes of clouds for answers. I look forward to seeing Grandmother Moon and hope that Grandfather Sun will not burn me. Like my sacrifice of chocolate at Lent (an honoring of my ancestors’ connection to Catholicism), I will sacrifice, with utmost humility, my hunger, thirst, and fears, to be with my first mother, Mother Earth. I am preparing for what she has to say. I hope I am humble enough to hear her. I will only have my mind to record the memory.
I have only just begun to make my prayer ties. I begin with yellow fabric, cutting squares and then gingerly placing Native American tobacco into the middle of each. I tie one bundle after another onto the yarn that will define my sacred space in the woods. I handle the tobacco, knowing it is sacred and that it will burn, along with my yarn of prayer ties, after the quest. I will offer it into the fire, sending my prayers ― and me ― to unite as one with the Great Spirit. I burn sage, smudging myself free of negativity. I feel, somehow, as I burn the sage that the smoke rising from it is inhaled by those I cannot see.
I listen to music, to flutes and drums, to the voices of my ancestors as they sing and chant about Mother Earth. They sing of her heartbeat, of birds, trees, and the sun. I stop from time to time to pound on my own handmade drum with my recently healed, previously blistered fingers that spent hours stretching and pulling on waxed rawhide, tightening the skin around the base of the drum. I sing songs that come out of me that have not been taught but rather learned from within. “Trust, trust, trust in the universe.”
I drew images of owls, my sacred power animal, on my drum, knowing as I drew the owls that my quest would reveal other animals to seek and know.
I prepare while knowing that I will enter the woods fearful, excited, and hopeful and then leave the woods touched, changed, and full of thirst and hunger ― and this is all I know. My mantra of trust comforts me, as the tobacco-scented prayer ties are added to the yarn. As I ready myself for the woods, alert to hear what the trees will sing, my concerns mount tall ahead of me. I remind myself with each broad-faced fear that I must put to practice all that I have learned through yoga: non-attachment, to let go, to completely let go.