Living the Practices- applying the bare bones

Many years ago, after training with School of Lost Borders’ founders Steven Foster and Meredith Little, I remember their strong urging to future guides: “Take the ceremony and make it your own.” Those words, I think, capture the innovation and originality of the programs under the branch of the School called Living the Practices. Here the personal interests, unique skill sets, and specialized passions of individual School guides find expression in offerings that apply the bare bones of the vision fast ceremony (immersion in wild nature, solitude, ceremony, teaching of the Four Shields, storytelling and mirroring) to specific topics.

This variety of specialized programs enables participants to deepen their own personal callings or integrate the tenets of the vision fast model into their lives. They also provide an opportunity to touch into the elements of the longer vision fast in a shorter and more concentrated version. For those who may not feel ready to do a full 12-day program, a 7-day offering can be a satisfying stepping stone and introduction to the power of deep time in ceremony and solitude in nature.

The teaching of the Four Shields has wide applicability to diverse topics and themes and often serves as the basic “map” during programs under Living the Practices. Each program looks at a particular focus through the lens of the four directions and applies them to: journey into elderhood, exploring ancestral trauma, the Diamond Approach, rites of incorporation, the contemplative journey, and being a queer man. These programs inspire us to find ways to apply the Four Shields to our own lives, to our own unique situations. 

Here’s an example of how it might look to bring together a focused topic and elements of the vision fast model, in particular the Four Shields. All programs take place in nature, involve periods of solitude and often a 24-hour solo, ceremony, and community. For example, if the focus is healing ancestral trauma, then these might be the questions participants explore during daily medicine walks that lead to a 24-hour solo:

South/Summer shield (place of the body; stage of childhood): Find a place on the land where you feel safe. 

Through exploring how trauma in our lineage and in our childhood disrupts our primal sense of safety and sense of belonging, both in our own bodies and in Life, we use the mirror of nature to restore foundational grounding.


West/Fall shield (introspection, stage of adolescence, memory): 

1) Take a walk on the land and have a conversation with an ancestor. OR 

2) Find wounding on the land. How does it mirror your own wounding or that of an ancestor?

Here, poignant conversations with an ancestor lend a fresh perspective or reveal surprising information or hidden dynamics in our relationship to our lineage.


North/Winter shield (giving our gifts; stage of adulthood; community): Find a pattern or bad advice from an ancestor that has impacted your relationship with others or capacity to serve.

Ancestral trauma often shows up in damaged relationships or impaired capacities to serve in the world. We may become rigid with our ideas or morally inflexible. We may over-serve and lose personal self-care and our own sense of self. How do such patterns show up in our lineage?


East/Spring shield (renewal; Mystery; elderhood/death/birth): Open to the resources of your ancestors that are supportive and help you live your life.

This is the day of the 24-hour. We touch gratitude and find more compassion for our ancestors and what we’ve been given, especially simply being alive. We see the bigger context of our lives and the possibilities for restoration and healing.

All of us can “live the practices” of the vision fast model and its many applications in ways that can be both innovative and inclusive of the fundamental elements of the vision fast. Here’s to creative offerings that enrich and inspire.


By Nancy Jane 


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