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When Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Meets the Vision Quest

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

By Julie Parker, PhD

Transcendence is about states of consciousness beyond the ordinary. The word is derived from the Latin trans and scandare, meaning “beyond,” and “to climb.” The 20th-century American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, placed “self-actualization” and transcendent experiences at the top of his famous pyramid modeling, “The Hierarchy of Needs.”

When Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Met the Vision Quest

Perched on top of a hill in Northern California at the magical time of neither day nor night, I sat in dry grass that held on to the last shades of green before summer laid down a tapestry of brilliant yellows and browns. The top of the full moon peeked over the hills in anticipation of unveiling all her glory. I waited for inspiration and a road map for the rest of my life.

This was my only vision quest, experienced in the context of a one-credit hour class for my master’s degree in Transpersonal Psychology. Mesmerized by the beauty of the falling night and the solitude of the place, I reflected on the relationship traumas that had pushed me out of North Carolina and into this new zone of discomfort. Stuck in the mire of existential anxiety, I had no idea why I was alive. I landed in California and did what any privileged 30-something-year-old woman trying to find herself would do: go to therapy and pursue a degree in Psychology.

So, I sat in the tall grass feeling the pain of physical hunger, mosquito bites, and a life empty of purpose. Nearing graduation, I counted on this experiential course to end with a clear vision that pointed the way forward. Eight of us spread out across the hills on this weekend vision quest, each in the distant eyesight of at least one other person. Adapted for modern non-traditional Caucasian Americans, this was far from the traditional vision quest of the Native North American culture.

In the Spirit of Animism

Native North American spirituality is based on the concept of “animism.” This is the belief that the universe is alive and organized by a supernatural power. All life (plants and animals), inanimate objects, and even the weather have a soul. All beings are part of an intricately woven tapestry, the conscious universe. In the traditional sense, the vision quest is a rite of passage for teenage boys seeking a vision of a guardian animal spirit and life purpose. He will journey alone into the wilderness, finding a special place chosen by the elders. Here he will sit in a circle of stones looking deeply into his own soul. He is not guaranteed a vision the first time out, but when he does it fortifies his spirit for life.

The Vision Quest Adapted

Although our journey was guided by our elder male professor, none of us were teenage boys. Young, middle-aged, and old-aged students took this journey. All but one were women. We pitched tents and set up small camp lights. We made our own circles in the dirt, and some even brought reading provisions. We were “roughing it,” but it was basically camping.

My special place was in the Manzanita grove near the top of the hill where this story begins. We arrived on Friday and would leave Sunday, but not before a parting ceremony when we’d each bring something of value back to the “tribe.” That Saturday evening, the full moon rose in all her wonder. Distracted by a thick cloud of mosquitoes with their annoying pinprick bites, there was no vision in sight. I prayed to the Great Spirit to take the mosquitoes and my pain with them.

And in the space of ten breaths, it happened.

Animism as a Lived Experience

The mortal enemy of mosquitoes everywhere, they came like an army of dragons. Dragonflies, that is. Dive-bombing and darting chaotically about me, they rivaled the beauty of the moon inching its way higher into the sky. There were hundreds of them. I watched their flight for about ten minutes, and as quickly as they appeared, they and every single vicious mosquito were gone. I sat on that hill before the full moon in utter amazement. With infinite gratitude, I woke up to a reality greater than myself.

No precious road map to my next steps after graduation was laid out before me. No life-altering insight was placed in my brain to egotistically enlighten my fellow vision “questers.” But in one transcendent moment, I was part of a conscious-living and loving universe.

The Modern Spiritual Quest

With today's technology, personal enlightenment and spiritual growth don't require a journey to the wilderness. It can happen in the comfort of one's own home. While personal enlightenment is a journey that each person experiences differently, we can create space for change and growth by learning from one another. As we progress on our own spiritual journey and raise conscious awareness, it is important to recognize where we are, where we have been, and where we want to go. When we come together to share our gifts and support each other, evolution can truly take place.

Personal Note on What I Offer to You

If you are facing challenges or generally feeling lost, I offer intuitive life coaching sessions and general readings on Zoom. If you are troubled by your paranormal or psychic experiences or a crisis in faith, we can meet for a paranormal consultation and clearing, also on Zoom. There is nothing that you can bring to the session that will shock or surprise me as my experiences are broad and probably equally "unbelievable" by the average non-experiencer. The space that I offer you is safe and non-judgemental. You will have 100% of my attention and I will use my skills to the best of my ability to help you.

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