A Rite of Passage (on the Inaugural Ars Amorata Vision Quest)

Quite how I made the leap from ‘seduction coach’ to vision quest guide I’m not too sure: perhaps it’s a logical step that would happen to any man whose work is to lead others more to the core of their authentic selves. I pondered such thoughts as I made my daily rounds, where I’d swing and jump between tree trunks and vines, traversing the uneven and tricky ground of our private patch of sacred mountain in the midi-pyrenees. At the start of the week I walked unfit and panting. By the end of the week my strength had grown.

This was the second Vision Quest I was involved with during the period of just a month. The whole concept of ‘Vision Quest’ had descended upon (and taken over) my life like an alien intruder ever since I’d met Melissa last year. Since this ancient rite of passage came knocking on my door, there has been no escape.

While on my first quest I was a fully-fasting participant on a rocky descent to hell (I was saved from dehydration on the gravel road, emaciated and crying out for help!), my second quest was a smoother, yet no less insightful, experience. While I’ll talk about that first quest in an upcoming post, right now I’ll tell you about my experience on the Amorati Vision Quest, which happened just last week, and from which I’ve just returned.

* * *

If you’ve ever taken ayahuasca in the jungle, you’ll understand the nature of synaesthesia. You’ll understand, in your body, how a sound (such as the deafening wing-clapping of a thousand crickets) enters your nervous system, triggering a vibration that runs from your head to your toes, through your bodily organs, which unlocks a torrent of forgotten feelings (some of them pleasant, some of them not), a selection of images, memories (some of them pleasant, some of them not), before it takes you by the hand down the creaky wooden stairway that leads to the insightful forgotten dungeons of your soul. With the right preparation on ayahuasca, nature and psyche converge to display for us the high-definition, techni-colour movie of our subconscious lives. With the right preparation, nature and psyche converge to transform us.

And in this way it goes, even if more subtly, with the Vision Quest. Nature draws in through our senses and rips us a new one, so to speak. And my first “nature-based insight” came at the hands of the tiniest of caterpillars.

But before the caterpillars arrived, I was a bit of a restless soul. Between the end of my first quest in June and the start of the Amorati quest in July, I rented a long white car with booming speakers for six days, left Vision Quest land and took off with my girl to Provence. Oysters, rock-enlaced accommodation, lavander fields, champagne. The touch of the wallpaper in the Grand Opera hotel alone drove her to frenzy. We lived, in the flesh, the seduction-at-the-hands-of-France we’d studied in Sciolino’s book, the book we studied together in the Amorati. But even in the midst of all this bliss, something inside had me uneasy. Awake with fever on some nights; unable to sleep during others, preoccupations were tearing me apart. Did I fear the unknown of the impending quest? Did I fear responsibility; fear being the seduction-crazed ring-leader that lead a bunch of good-hearted men, Pied Piper-style, into oblivion? The most normal human reaction before involvement with a Vision Quest, I certainly believe, is fear. And this restlessness haunted me despite my best attempts to delight in the meticulous beauty of hot, Southern France.

But we soon returned to base camp at the foot of the mountain, and we discovered that while away we’d been subjected to a plague of moths: hundreds upon hundreds of spidery threads, laid by crawling creeping caterpillars, weaved together a sticky fabric throughout our land. The plague was so great that it became impossible to walk from the communal kitchen to our campervan each time without being covered by at least a dozen of the critters. The plague was so great that all the leaves within a half-hectare section of our sacred mountain had been completely eaten, leaving the lower-section of our mountain more reminiscent of a ghost town than an inviting enclave of Pachamama herself.

I got annoyed by the amount of creepy crawlies that wormed their way up my trouser legs, into the crevice of my neck, into my bed (and into several other places besides). Very fucking angry annoyed. And so I wound up calling them “creeps”, swearing at them profusely and flicking them violently from my arms and legs whenever I’d catch them. Flicking them towards their deaths, at least often, I hoped.

But what is a caterpillar if not an innocent youth, willing and fighting its way towards its transformation and a greater, more enlightened maturity? What is a caterpillar if it doesn’t represent something in us as people… in one way or another, aren’t we all creeps? Aren’t we all innocently (and painstakingly) climbing our way towards beauty, towards our own full blossoming? Yes, we might annoy a few people here and there are we crawl towards the answers to our major life questions, but that’s normal, is it not? At thirty-five, while I feel I now hold the answers to many of my life’s former problems, there are certainly parts of me where I still feel unaligned, lacking maturity, or even coming across as a “creep”.

Now the guys of the quest will probably tell you about the temascal in the coming days, but it was during the third round of that underground boiler-room where the heat and the pressure finally hit me. The songs, the passion, the rhythm and the sweat had beaten me into a foetal position on the sodden grass below, and my thinking mind lost control as I entered the world of trance and transmutation once more. Melted open by this shamanic process, the creepy caterpillar now loomed in the eye of my unfettered mind and I asked myself, “just how many times have I flicked away my brothers, even viciously, just as they were coming to me for help? How many times did I turn away from a creepy human caterpillar, trying with all his innocent might to resolve his major life struggle, while I got impatient and annoyed with his crawling upon me? ‘Energy vampires’, ‘leeches’, I might exclaim, and I’ve walled off and judged a fair few. But how many more people could I have served if I didn’t resist the crawling? Just how many people have loved, helped and tolerated me, in my creepiest of times?

Although humbling, it wasn’t an insight I could allow to linger. Understandings like these are a ten a penny when in the exalted awareness of the fasting state. The pace of the week pressed on, and each of the gentlemen with us were also deep in their learning processes. Beaten and passed out one minute on the ground, to wash the heat and the perspiration of the temascal away from us, we arose and ran barefoot across the stones and the grass and jumped into the midnight lake. How a swim in a midnight lake could wind up being so warm and so sensual continues to surprise me. I lifted every other caterpillar that climbed upon me that week with kindness, placing it, more caringly, on solid ground nearby.

Such is coaching when left to the wise hands of nature.

* * *

Now the romance of the Vision Quest had spread around the house during our first few days in the French countryside, and its legend had reached the ears of none other than my girlfriend, who had joined me to see my work, to lend a loving hand in the kitchen, and who quickly found herself seduced at the prospect of doing a Vision Quest too, if only for just a night.

It just sounded so alluring, that crazy adventure everyone was talking about.

I, on the other hand, felt slightly hounded and slightly pressured by her desire, knowing intimately the sheer discomfort and effort a walk to the top of the mountain would imply. Yet I found myself caught in a corner: how could I ever be a purveyor of romance and adventure if I’d refuse to walk my lovely girl onto a sacred spot of the sacred mount, overlooking the full moon, the full stars and the full lake, as soon as an empty moment in my weekly chores came up?

So as the group hunkered down for night three of their quest, and just forty-five minutes before sundown, me and my girl packed our bags and strode out of the house, walking the rocky road up to the land, and hiked through animal trails and steep inclines to scale the part of the mountain that all our Amorati brothers had missed. The part of the mountain that afforded, incidentally, the most bewitching views of all.

“But you have to promise me this,” I said to her, moments before leaving the road to enter the mountain’s wild greenery.

“We will pass a couple of Vision Quest spots along the way, so you must follow me in absolute silence, so as to not to disturb the guys.”

“Ok,” she nodded, affirmatively.

“What’s more,” I added, “I think Shamim is staying on the ledge just up from where we will be. Since sound travels upwards, make sure you talk in no more than a whisper throughout the whole night, otherwise we’ll disturb his process.”

These injunctions I gave her happened to contain some of the greatest relationship intelligence I’d ever stumbled upon.

Unable to talk, complain, or elucidate any of her numerous fears, my pretty girly girl followed me up treacherous mountain without uttering so much as a bleet, all the while scared out of her wits as we scaled dusty, crumbling rock faces on hands and feet, picked our way through thorny blackberry vines, never knowing the exact location of our destination as the sunlight faded on the mountain face. Our romantic “sacred spot”, it turned out, was much harder to reach than what I had remembered!

“We cannot go back down there in the morning,” my girl muttered to me. “I’ll fall off!”

“Yep, the only way out is up,” I said to her, pointing with my stick toward the summit of the land. We’d find out early the next morning that no human had ever climbed from our wild night’s abode to the summit and onto the safety of the farm the other side. One slip and either of us could have fallen fifty metres. We’re still finding scratch marks across our bodies until today.

But for around nine or ten dark black hours, the forest and lake illuminated by the Universe, all of nature would be ours. We marvelled together under crystal clear constellations. We stared wondrously at the moon. We fastened our hammock between thick, inviting trees in a secluded bit of dark forest, protected by a blanket of green and the intimacy of a nearby cave. Knowing that snakes, wolves and wild boar roamed these lands, we prayed that our sacred circle would protect us: our prayers more urgent and sincere than any we’d ever prayed before.

But my girl grew too wary of the forest: too vulnerable at the thought of being discovered by animals. The noise was incessant. Owls in heated political debate from across the sides of the ravine. Dogs (were they dogs?) complaining, whining, howling into the vast ignored night. And rustling — elephant sized rustling among the long grass — protruding from intruding hedgehogs. Yet as she and I clinged to each other atop a single-berth camping mat, quilted by barely a single multi-coloured Mexican blanket, just a metre from the long drop of the adjacent cliff face, I felt her body press tighter-than-ever into mine; half of it frozen through fear, half of it pumping with aliveness.

As we plundered down the pathway, exhausted, back to base camp the next morning, we felt more like survivors than the frenzied elopers we actually were. I was happy to have come to know nature so much that I could give her a night on the mountain — an experience so far beyond the edge of her comfort zone — that she’ll never forget.

* * *

Now building up to the ten days in the wild we give our participants an online course, and the final module of said course is a module about legacy. What exists on Earth because of you? And whose life will the struggle of your earthly existence ultimately benefit? The thing is with “legacy”, though, is that we so often see it as a fixed thing: the book, the contribution, the plaque on a building that bears our name long after we’ve departed. Legacy-thinking often means that a man aims, whatever the cost, towards the completion of a life goal so that its success (and his immortality, perhaps) may be fixed in stone. Quality of life gets sacrificed in the name of the accomplishment. The end comes to justify the means (and the felt spirit) of his lived life.

I see legacy as something more fluid, however, something more embodied. And if we were to drop dead this second, drop dead mid-sentence with our faces all contorted around the screen we’re reading this from, it would be said that the sum total of our work, our assets and our relationships would be our legacy. I see us, therefore, as kind of ‘legacy-ing’: leaving a legacy in every moving second. I see our living legacy as our influence in the world, and we’re either influencing the world broadly and deeply right now… or not so much. How wide is the span of your global impact, today? I find it interesting to put our awareness on the present-day scope of our influence.

“If a butterfly flaps its wings in New Mexico, it will amount to a hurricane in China,” so the quote about chaos theory goes. And China is the reference point of what touched me most during this quest.

In a conversation with one of our participants a couple of days before parting for the forest, in a silent moment between us he blurted the phrase, “you wouldn’t believe how much my girlfriend in China has changed since the start of this course.” He went on to tell me how her character had transformed: transformed under the influence of his love, his truth, and the little experiments he had made.

This was a man who’d shown up and done all of his assignments.

But I sat on my seat, inspired and shocked.

I wanted to make a programme to inspire and grow men. I hadn’t ever considered that the extent of my influence — that the fruit of this work we were doing together — would reach until China. I sit and I type and I talk and I call, but never do I stop to consider that I may help to transform the life of a woman I may never meet.

Our potential influence, as a brotherhood, inspires me.

Right from the very beginning of our Ars Amorata live retreats, since the first one we ran in Medellín in 2014, we asked ourselves the question: “how can we create a programme where everyone who touches it — the team and assistants, the paying participants and all the people we meet in the street — gets transformed by the process?

I looked over at Melissa, the shape and the structure of my co-leader’s body, and realised just how much she’d grown while leading this group of men. I looked into the faces of the Amorati I was lucky enough to meet during those days I traversed the forest: some of their faces had softened, some had wildened, others spoke to me from a state of ecstasy. I noticed the independence of the men of the group ramp up: less reliant than ever on guidance from us, they took charge of their creativity and set audacious life goals they hadn’t considered before their time in France. I looked back at myself and realised I have no idea what this whole process has done yet with me.

Where will our Vision Questers insert themselves back into society? How will these gentlemen act to transform culture, their families, and re-insert beauty into this run-down world? How far will the ripple of these caterpillar’s wings spread?

Time, I guess, will tell. And we embark on a 365-day integration process, allowing the dust to settle where nature dictates, staying in touch with each other during the process.

Where the old Jordan thrived on intensity, wanting to create ‘peak transformational experiences’ for others and ‘peak moments of intimacy’ for himself and his girl, my secret relief, the happiness that had me relax most profoundly during all these days in the vibrant fresh mountainside of the midi-pyrenees, was knowing that every single one of our men had made it back from the mountain safely. Every single one of our men had come back from the kambo, the ‘death lodge’, the canoe passage, safe. And that every single one of our men had felt ‘something’.

Caring for their well-being, I could finally fall asleep at night, and relax.

Never had I really considered before the supreme joy I felt at my brother’s safety.

Maybe this process has grown me up.

Maybe I did just undergo a rites of passage…

* * *

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