It is a commonplace of all religious thought, even the most primitive, that the man seeking visions and insight must go apart from his fellows and live for a time in the wilderness.
― Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey
Death is the only wise advisor that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you’re about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, ‘I haven’t touched you yet
― Carlos Castañeda, Journey to Ixtlan
Quite possibly as long as homo sapiens sapiens has existed, so has the vision quest, the desire to impose upon the mind a state of heightened awareness, the assumption that under certain circumstances intuitive wisdom may arise spontaneously…
The South Americans were using Trichocerus pachanoi cactus 10,000 years ago, a mescaline-containing plant later dubbed San Pedro, or Saint Peter, guardian of the gates of heaven.
Mexican use of psilocybe mushrooms can be documented to around three thousand years ago. India’s Rigveda, dated to around 3500 years ago, almost as long as written language has existed, talks about a plant called soma, which could grant knowledge and wisdom to the seeker.
The natives of America’s northwest engaged in highly ritualised vision quests, fasting for four days on the side of a mountain, awaiting a vision of their spirit animal, a path for their life. The journey they took was not one through the landscape, but one which brought them closer to mortality. By cleansing themselves of their fellow man, of their ‘earthliness’, they welcomed the other side of life, the one that touches the void.
There is a common thread that ties together modern man, that defines him more than any phrenological methodology, more than his language, his maths or his economies and politics. There is a spiritual need within him which transcends belfries and teepees, a journey that gives the years between birth and death meaning.
Everything else is white noise. The fear of death obliterates the search completely for most people. Silence is the sound of the abyss, staring back at us, and we fill that silence with a cacophony of distractions. Meaningless conversations, consumerism, the rush of dopamine, the inconsequentials that consume us as we consume them. The only conversation worth having is a discourse with death. And the journey towards it is the only one that matters. When we open ourselves up to the world, we invite death in the door, and we take the first steps toward understanding.
When we leave home and set our course for the horizon, towards we know not what, we are partaking in something intrinsically human, we become seekers, our egos left behind, our identities stripped…no yesterdays on the road.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the one who presides over the peyote ritual is dubbed the Roadman. He is the steering wheel of a psychic vehicle through the unknown. The idea that the road is more than a metaphor for growth, that it is one of the surest ways to purify, to amplify and understand the soul, is not a new one.
We do not own the human story. We are custodians of an urge that has existed as long as man. The cutoff isn’t one of skull dimensions or the shape of our teeth.
The bridge between what man was, and what he is, a journey that began around 200,000 years ago, is that urge to understand, the desire to expand one’s consciousness beyond survival.
Over a century ago, Nietzsche said that God was dead. For mankind, the transition between archaic humans and modern man represents the birth of God.
The search for meaning, more than anything else, is likely what separates the wisest of the wise from his predecessors.
To seek the open road, then, to open oneself up to questions without answers, to partake in the sacred vision quest, behind the wheel, in the last crimson vestiges of an outback sunset, is to walk the ancient path, to do what sentient life has been doing since the dawn of consciousness, to become human.