The Quester's Gift
by Jim Brinkley
The journeyman shaman smiled as he walked along the path, enjoying both
the sound and the feel of the gravel beneath his moccasins. He silently gave
thanks to his Guardian Spirit for the abatement of the fear that had so
pervaded his being on earlier journeys to this place. Once he had always
sought the company of his spirit helper on his journeys into the underworld.
Without Dolphin swimming in the channel beside the path, he had been terrified
of the fearsome beasts, raging infernos, great gaps in the earth, and other
seemingly insurmountable difficulties that would suddenly block his way.
The shaman again thanked his Guardian Spirit, this time for giving him
such a wise and powerful spirit helper. Dolphin had always been there for him
whenever he needed a teacher, a protector, or a friend. But now that his
skills were greater, the shaman was confident of his own ability to overcome
each and every obstacle set before him. These days he called upon Dolphin more
for companionship than for protection and today he was in a solitary mood.
Besides, someone else might truly be in need of Dolphin's spirit wisdom
on this day. So the shaman walked alone.
Of the many reasons shamans go on vision quests, only one motivated
him to visit the underworld this day. He wished to overcome as many obstacles
as possible and to have each one be every bit as daunting as it could. For he
knew that every time he overcame an obstacle in the world of spirit, his
experience would be reflected in his other world of physical form.
Since the ceremony marking his acceptance as a fully trained and
practicing shaman, his life in both worlds had become easier and happier. His
abilities to overcome difficulties and to create opportunities had blossomed.
Yet he still frequently made journeys to the underworld, seeking more and
greater obstacles. For even though his quests were now more like holiday
jaunts than fearsome challenges, he was aware that there was something more to
be learned in the underworld; something that until now, he had overlooked.
The shaman's smile faded as he rounded a bend in the path.
Before him was a log wall, so high that he could not see the top. It also
stretched to the right and to the left farther than he could see. There seemed
no way to get past it. He chuckled. Then he intensely directed his attention
on the center posts of the wall, as he simultaneously focused his thoughts on
getting beyond it. All at once the wall burst into flames. Quickly the fire
spread upwards, as well as to the left and to the right. In a short while
there were only ashes, and when these had cooled, the shaman went on. Already
he could see the brick wall that was blocking him from the next segment of his
journey. So, this was to be a day of impassable walls. No matter. Walls were
It took only a moment of directed thought for the shaman to soften the
mortar between the bricks so that a cluster of them collapsed, creating a hole
large enough for him to walk through easily. He did not even have to stoop. He
only briefly contemplated the wall of fire that loomed ahead. Without pausing,
he turned into an eagle and flew over the fire. While he was aloft, he saw one
last obstacle beyond the fire: an iron wall topped with barbed wire. He landed
before it and changed back into his human form. He began to laugh, while
staring insolently at the iron bars of this final wall. He projected his
shamanic power at the wall until, unable to resist, the wall simply toppled
over. The shaman climbed over the rubble and continued his journey. He turned
to the west, where he knew of a cave that concealed an entrance to a secret
path; a path which led from the underworld back into everyday reality. This
would be a good day. His early morning visit to the underworld had been very
successful. He emerged into the sunlight and once again, gave thanks.
It was one of those beautiful southern California autumn mornings,
marked by clear skies, bright sunshine, and for once; clean crisp air. I had,
as I usually do on Sunday mornings, breakfasted down by the ocean. I was
driving through Laguna, northbound on Pacific Coast Highway (you know, the one
they named the jeans after), deep in thought. I was reflecting on the story of
the shaman's vision quest. I knew it well, for I am that shaman. Then
came one of those flashes of insight. You know the kind; the ones you get from
your spiritual council of advisors, your spirit helper, or even your guardian
I suddenly realized what I had failed to see on each and every one of
my vision quests into the underworld. I was doing everything right... for a
warrior shaman! But I am supposed to be. have decided to be, a harmonizer
shaman. Please allow me to share with you what I learned on PCH that Sunday
As I reviewed how I had approached my encounters with the walls, I
realized that each wall I encountered I in turn defeated by taking a
warrior's action. The log wall I killed (burned it down), the brick
wall I injured (made a hole in it), the fire wall I defeated (thwarted
it's mission by flying over it), and the iron wall I intimidated
(frightened it into submission). Each action was successful but each action
was predicated on the basic assumption of all warriors: that every new
encounter is an obstacle to be overcome. The harmonizer's basic
assumption, however, is different. Harmonizer or peacemaker shamans see each
new encounter as an opportunity for cooperation and mutual decision making. By
the way, I refer to myself as a harmonizer or peacemaker shaman, rather than
as an adventurer shaman, in order to constantly remind myself of the path I
have chosen. After all, warriors have adventures, too!
After recalling that the harmonizer's basic assumption is that
each new encounter is an opportunity for cooperation and mutual choices, I
quickly returned to the underworld, while still driving my car on PCH. (We
shamans can easily be in two or more places at once!) Once back in the
underworld, I sought out the first fence. This time, recalling that everything
is alive, aware, and responsive, I spoke to it. I explained that while I
understood its mission; to keep uninitiated and unprotected spirits from the
dangers that lay beyond, that I also had my mission. My mission was to learn,
to teach, to heal, to be healed, and to spread love and cooperation. I could
only do these things by getting beyond the fence.
The fence replied with a most interesting idea - one which told me
that it too, would much rather be a harmonizer than a warrior. The fence said
that it should have a gate; a gate that could only be seen by harmonizer
shamans and that once seen, could only be opened by such a shaman. The fence
then asked me to build that gate! I replied that I did not know how to build
such a gate but that I would be more than willing to do so if I could learn
how. The fence told me to summon the master builder from my own secret spirit
garden. So I left the underworld, traveled to my spirit garden, got the master
builder, and asked him to come with me and to bring whatever spirit tools and
helpers he required for the job.
Now the log fence in the underworld has a gate; a gate so finely
crafted that I can find it only by means of a secret marker. Once found it can
be opened only by the pressure from my hand print, or the hand print of any
other harmonizer shaman who first seeks permission from the fence. After the
gate had been completed, I returned again to this time and place; to the
southern California sunshine on PCH. This time my vision quest had not only
been successful in terms of what I had accomplished. I had also discovered a
valuable gift of knowledge that had eluded me on so many previous vision
The lesson is this: what may seem at first like an obstacle is always
in fact a hidden opportunity. If one remembers that this opportunity is alive,
aware, and responsive, then one can approach it in spirit with love and
compassion. Together, you and the opportunity can plan a peaceful, harmonious
course of action that will allow each of you the best possible outcome.
What is accomplished in spirit is always reflected in the material
world. The more such encounters you have in the world of spirit, the more you
will have in your physical reality as well.