Self-Care and the Vision Quest

As a therapist, I have the tremendous fortune to be engaged with people on a very intimate level; we work together to move their lives from where they were to where they want to be. It's a very connected experience and we get to know one another well throughout the process, forging a great relationship along the way. The downside of this, for me, is that at some point people move on and I don't get to see the next chapters of their lives unfold. 

At the end of our time together, my clients and I have what's formally called a "termination session". We typically review our time together, the growth we've encountered, the obstacles for the future (if any remain) and any feedback that clients have for me. 

During my most recent termination session, a client of mine with Native American heritage, asked if she could share a story with me that relates to one of the lessons she was taking away from our time together. With her permission, I'm posting a version of the story here:

There is a man that lives in the center of town with his family and he is a very caring man. When his wife fell ill, he was there to care for her. When his neighbor went missing, he searched for him. So on, the story unfolds, that he realized he was helping everyone in the town; everyone was having problems and he was there to support them all. One day he woke up, himself, and found himself exhausted and run-down. He went to the Heyoka's home and said to him, "Heyoka, I need your help and guidance. I'm feeling run-down and exhausted after caring for all of these people and my spirit feels resigned -- I have no path or vision any longer. What should I do?"

The Heyoka replied, "Your answer lies in a Vision Quest. I shall be your guide along the process. Meet me here tomorrow morning before the sunrise and, together, we will begin your journey".

The man met the Heyoka the next morning and they set out into the woods and up the mountain, the Heyoka walking a slight distance in front of the man, but still in eye-sight. The man noticed that the Heyoka was stopping to pick things up off the path. First, it was deer scat. Then bear scat. Then deer scat. He placed them all into the satchel that he was carrying with him and kept on walking. 

When the two men reached the top of the mountain, the Heyoka crushed the animal droppings into a powder and used the powder to form a large circle. He instructed the man to sit inside of the circle and to remain there without food, water or shelter for three days -- on the third day he would return. 

The man followed the Heyoka's instructions and didn't eat or sleep for those three days. On day one, he thought, nothing happened. Day two, the same -- nothing happened. Day three began and, still, nothing happened. When the Heyoka returned that evening he said to the man, "Son, did you see anything on your Vision Quest"?

The man replied, "Heyoka, I saw nothing. This seemed pointless". 

The Heyoka responded, "Yes, my son, I understand. It's hard to have a vision when you're surrounded by other people's shit."

I couldn't help but laugh when my client delivered the punch line and together we enjoyed the moment reviewing the differences between self-care and being selfish. Often times people confuse the two together and never end up taking care of themselves. 

Ask yourself this, "Are you taking care of yourself the way you need to so that you can best care for the other people in your life?".

"Are you sacrificing too much of yourself, where you end up getting lost along the way?"

I hope you have your own "Vision Quest" after reading this and find the answers you're looking for.


All My Best,



Alexander Michaud