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Vision Quest Personal Growth Self-Help Advice

Written by Paul Wolf

One woman's story of searching for strength by going on a vision quest. Think bugs, water, no bed. What did she get out of it?

Every day when the sun was high, Laura Barbee was desperate to cool down. So she would wade in a stagnant pond and shift her position to find elusive patches of shade by some rocks.

Ironically, the dried-out riverbed she had chosen for her five-day vision quest turned out to be a heat trap. She would sit in her underwear on a hot boulder cooling her feet and calves in the slimy pond, hoping the bees wouldn't sting and the bugs wouldn't bite.

This voyage of discovery for the music teacher from Santa Cruz, Calif., took place in September 1994. But Barbee, now 51, calls it a turning point and a guiding force in her life today.

To an outsider, her sojourn in Henry Coe State Park on the Central Coast is a vision of hell. It's hard to imagine choosing to hike seven miles into the wilderness to mark a spot and stay for days with little else but water and a sleeping bag.

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To Barbee, fighting heat, insects and a barrage of long-suppressed thoughts formed a key experience that she claims changed her from a dependent and fearful woman to one of confidence, strength and independence.

"I know now, I can lose everything," she says. "All these things we see around us, all these conveniences, they are all fine, but they could be gone. I can survive anything. I know that now."

But to Barbee, the physical challenge was not the essence of the quest. The point was to grow emotionally and spiritually.

She discovered her first task was to grieve for her father, who had died two years earlier after a 20-year battle with multiple sclerosis. At the time, she had cried once and that was it. Then, two years later, tears and realizations flowed.

Facing problems and overcoming them are two very different things, notes quest leader Christine Jones. People shouldn't go on a vision quest in lieu of therapy, if that's what they need, she asserts. But Barbee believes that the undistracted soul-searching she enjoyed on her quest brought her problems, and in many cases their solutions, to the fore.

On her quest, Barbee had a realization that frightened her: She felt she couldn't bear it if her husband ever left her. But the personal strength and independence she discovered on her quest would transform her life back in "civilization" more than she was then aware.

So earlier this year when Barbee's husband left her for a younger woman, she kept on living well. "My friends were amazed how quickly I was back on my feet," she recalls.

Barbee says the vision quest taught her to accept change, to see the big picture, to stay connected with nature, to stay open to possibilities, to have faith.

Today she keeps the vision quest experience alive with two-hour sweat lodges and Buddhist chanting. "If there is something that needs to come up and out from my subconscious, I know I can get it out. I love to go to that raw place."

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