Stuck in a Life Transition?

Maybe you need to fast on a vision quest. I did. It helped.

Joni Sensel
Feb 27 · 4 min read
My view of daylight approaching at dawn during my vision fast. Photo by the author.

When you tell someone you just returned from a vision fast, you can see the question dance in their eyes:

“Did you have a vision?”

It’s not the right question. (But yes.)

For me, the right question is, “Do you feel less stuck?” Or simply, “Do you feel better?”

The answer to that is a resounding yes, too. Here’s how I used a vision fast to feel better—and have fun (really!) getting unstuck.

We need challenging rites

Once upon a time, humans everywhere underwent rites of passage that marked key life transitions: child to adult, maiden to mother, adult to warrior, parent to elder, ordinary person to shaman or priestess, elder to ancestor. These rites challenged us, revealed our strengths, and helped us feel an important part of our group and, often, connected to the earth.

In today’s capitalist vacuum, the main thing that happens in most life transitions is that somebody buys a gift.

In today’s capitalist vacuum, the main feature of most life transitions is that somebody buys a gift. There’s little sense of accomplishment, no insight to our new capacities or role, and no social integration for that role. Graduation ceremonies starting in preschool mean that the all-important high school graduation is just one more boring speech-fest you’ve seen before, not a unique marker of adulthood or a launch into life. If there’s a challenge involved, it’s avoiding a drunk-driving arrest.

No wonder several of the mid-twenties adults in my vision fast group felt like they’d never grown up. They didn’t know how to separate from their parents. Tears were shed over their inability to stand on their own.

Several of the mid-twenties adults in my vision fast group felt like they’d never grown up.

Finding purpose

I went to Death Valley for another reason: I’ve been struggling with the loss of my life partner and needed a stronger sense of purpose going forward. Like the other 10 fasters in my group, I needed a time out to reflect and see what the gods or my subconscious suggested. Two weeks in the desert, four days of that solo and without food, appealed.

A desert campsite
A desert campsite
Cozy, if food-free. Photo by the author.

Others in my group were marking 40th birthdays, retirement, and recovery from substance abuse. Peak mindfulness and inner guidance were the goals.

During our preparations, we all discovered we need more ritual in our lives. Like rites of passage, ceremony has largely disappeared from our world, ridiculed by rationalism and dismissed as a waste of time.

But rituals connect the physical with the metaphysical, giving our emotional and spiritual realities tangible presence in our lives. Those realities need to be expressed and respected. (Unexpressed emotional realities turn destructive.)

I found I needed to hold my own funeral for my beloved. I’d had no say in the one his family had held. Plus, honestly, I’d needed a long while to be ready for or capable of one.


The desert obliged me, and I spent most of two days honoring my beloved and mourning.

It was immensely therapeutic, and it warms me to think of a special pile of rocks in a place we’d enjoyed. Getting by without him feels a mite easier now, and I crafted a number of next steps for myself.

The solo fasting itself was less challenge for me than sleeping on rocks for two weeks. (Your mileage may vary; a few of my companions reported feeling lousy.) I brought home a number of mundane benefits:

But the most important benefits were emotional, psychological, and spiritual. The intimate connections of our group were important. Nearly everyone experienced odd synchronicities or sudden, insightful voices in their heads, sometimes with messages for each other. Whether you credit divine spirits or our own wise subconscious minds, these messages were important to heed.

One of our group saw a centaur in broad daylight.

In addition to several useful dreams and a personal visit from Trickster Fox, near the end of my fast I had a dream I consider a vision. The awe of it woke me with tears of gratitude. I’m not ready to share it beyond my vision fast group yet, but it felt like a glimpse of Truth. Without being entirely reassuring, its key message was that life is life, all inherently the same thing, and we’re each a part of that eternal All.

Then again, one of our group saw a centaur in broad daylight. It had meaning for him. That’s what matters.

People have spent centuries debating whether meaning exists independently for us to find, but there’s no doubt that we can create it. If your life seems to lack meaning, consider a vision fast to find it.

It only sounds extreme. It’s simply a return to a proven tradition. Talented guides are out there, ready to help. It’s not guaranteed, but I found it worthwhile to figure out what I wanted next and get a jumpstart on plans for the answer.

Besides, seeing a centaur would be worth missing a meal for!

Joni Sensel writes for Fortune 100 companies, young readers, and you amid work on a memoir about intuition.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment.

Joni Sensel

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Exploring intuition, imagination, creativity, and other paths to the Divine. Writer, adventurer, creativity advocate.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment — in mind, body, and soul.

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