by Miranda Chapman
My husband and I got married a few weeks ago on land of the beautiful matrilineal Nipmuck tribe. Some structures in this area date back over 8,000 years; one of the most fascinating to me on my wanderings throughout the land were the ancient underground chambers.
A steward of the land shared that these chambers were built to accommodate vision quests. In the Nipmuck tradition they believe that the journey from the head to the heart is the most difficult terrain one will ever traverse. Thus, an important custom in their culture sent young men and women around the age of twelve into these chambers for three-days without food, water, or contact to enact this crucial journey. It was an important ritual to signify the threshold from childhood to adulthood and to encourage self-awareness and reflection at this formative juncture. Once down in the chamber a large boulder would be rolled across the entrance and one would be left alone for the duration of the vision quest.
I climbed down into the chamber and sat for awhile on the stone slab that formed a bridge across the narrow cavern. There was room only to sit or lay down. It was several degrees cooler than the world above and the walls were slick with water and a small pool had formed below.
I reflected on the prescient nature of this thousands of years old tradition and the incredible longevity of this cave of deep contemplation. I reflected as well on contemporary culture’s fear of being truly alone — no phone, no wifi, no NetFlix — and sitting with oneself without distraction from the outer world.
As I sat on the cold, unyielding stone I was reminded that the greatest, most terrifying, exhilarating adventures I can take are the ones within. And, the journey begins anew each time I make the space to sit with myself.
Miranda Chapman is the founding Program Director and Senior Faculty at Copper Beech Institute, the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice. Copper Beech Institute offers more than 40 transformational retreats and courses, as well as mindfulness practice and mindfulness at work offerings to help you awaken to the beauty of your life. Miranda will be co-leading a Knitting and Mindfulness retreat November 20 – 22, 2015 and the New Year retreat, Connecting to Your Light, January 22 – 24, 2016. Both retreats are opportunities to journey within and with Miranda.