Utah Stories

Vision Quest, a Simple Cure for Depression

Trading comfort and pleasure for discomfort, and living for a few days outside closer to nature, we become better acquainted with our true spiritual essence and gain greater insight into our more meaningful purpose for living here on earth, in this particularly strange era. 


Goblin Valley by Adam Hynes Photography

Utah Wilderness Retreats and Wilderness Therapy

Utah Wilderness retreats offer delinquent teens access to wilderness as a possible solution for behavioral problems. The concept of reconnecting people with nature by spending several days in the wilderness is nothing new.

Examining the website of RedCliff Ascent, it’s clear that they offer families assistance with teens who are disconnected from school, family and life. Wilderness therapy has slowly gained acceptance even among main-stream clinical psychological organizations. While other organizations and media outlets argue that these programs “lack in scientific evidence”  RedCliff boasts that they are accredited by the Joint Commission, which certifies public health organizations.

Wilderness therapy organizations, previously plagued by scandal, have become very big business here in Utah. Over twenty wilderness therapy organizations exist in Utah to treat 5-6 thousand “troubled teens” every year. But in the years of hearing the news about these organizations (for better and for worse), I’ve always wondered why do parents wait until their children are troubled? Why not connect kids with nature as a part of preventative medicine? Why don’t public schools offer more nature immersion programs? Why not connect kids with nature in Utah for a couple of hundred dollars, rather than pay sometimes over ten thousand for one of these programs?

Further, why do we as adults wait to treat ourselves to nature until life becomes overwhelming, consuming and we find ourselves depressed? Why wait until we want to jump off a cliff? Wouldn’t it be better to stand at the edge of a cliff in the wilderness to wonder at the magnificence and grandeur?

Moab Utah by Utah Stories.

The Ancient Practice of  Vision Quest

It turns out this tactic of returning a person to their essential nature is not new. The Native Americans called a similar practice a Vision Quest. The basis upon which a Vision Quest works to treat all sorts of disorders originates from the power we can harness by tapping into our own psyche and brain chemistry. A traditional Vision Quest might require a spiritual guide, but these parameters aren’t required to obtain a great result. Mostly it requires the courage to engage with nature to a degree which is outside of our comfort zone: leave home cell phones, pack just enough water and food. Eat and drink very sparingly or attempt to fast and witness the changes that occur in your mind.

The reason this works is because when we are persistently motivated by our deeply-biologically-seated instincts and desires: hunger, thirst, stimulation, sex and sleep, we are merely acting out our most basic internal brain mechanisms, which always believe more of everything is the answer. Satisfying our ego 100% of the time will result in depression 100% of the time.

This mode of being ignores our souls and consciousness. “Man cannot live on bread alone,” said Jesus. Even my dogs get depressed when we don’t visit the mountains. Depression and anxiety are running rampant in our society today. Why? Because most of us are completely out of contact with our true nature and our souls.

When we deny our carnal desires and engage instead in fasting, devotional prayer and renunciation, a simple exchange occurs: by sacrificing some comfort such as food and stimulation, we receive in return a greater sense of spiritual well being and an elevated consciousness. The idea of sacrifice was integral in all ancient cultures. Sacrifice is something fundamentally lost in our modern culture today. Some Christian still practice Lent. And Muslims practice Ramadan. But a few days backpacking in the wilderness takes this a step further.

Trading comfort and pleasure for discomfort, and living for a few days outside closer to nature, we become better acquainted with our true spiritual essence and gain greater insight into our more meaningful purpose for living here on earth, in this particularly strange era.

It might seem counterintuitive, especially with how we have been programmed to always believe that greater comfort is always better. But indeed, through discomfort of our flesh, the temporal nature of our being moves to the forefront, and we feel better connected with our souls, God, fellow man, and the earth. Why is it that anyone who has suffered from long-term illness always feels a renewed appreciation for life? Because only through discomfort do we gain this appreciation.

Certainly, chemicals (especially natural chemicals and ancient remedies) can also offer and achieve similar results in providing an ego-diminishing spiritual awakening, but our brains are indeed chemical factories. And our brains can produce all of the same effects found in the most popular chemical agents. Cannabis, psychedelics, and psilocybin mushrooms can induce epiphanies and provide insight into our own pain and depression, but so can fasting and long walks in the desert or in the forest, preferably alone for extended stretches.

The Great Salt Lake, a perfect place to get in touch with nature. Photo by Utah Stories.

This most ancient of all wisdom might sound too basic, too simple, and too difficult for our complex world and our modern era, but you will never know until you attempt your first Vision Quest. Try backpacking for even just a day or two or three in the San Rafael Swell, or Goblin Valley. Eat and drink sparingly and witness your depressed mind awaken in bliss and a state of awe over your surroundings. The inhospitable desert contours, sun-and-wind polished rocks, and prickly cacti find few takers, and this is to our great benefit. The rattlesnakes, scorpions and lizards have been dramatized and characterized into being our enemies, but they want nothing to do with us. This is the place where truth and meaning are born. Where did Jesus, Moses and Buddha find their sanctuaries? It was in the inhospitable regions in the desert, we have plenty of this in Utah.

Depression is disconnection. We are disconnected from our origins. The ancients are calling us. It’s time we answer the call of the billions of humans who came before us by spending some time among them in the sand, dust and wind from whence we came, and where we will ultimately end up. “Finding yourself” is a trite phrase. Find unity, purpose, meaning and connection in the wilderness.

Adam Hynes is an Oregon-based nature photographer with a real passion for the natural world. Adam tries to capture places in moments so unique, they feel like another planet. Photography connects him with the earth and the people on it. He loves photography, life, and people. Bringing them together is beautiful



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