Soul-O-Union Vision Quest, guided by Keith Howchi Kilburn, Annie Nicol Kilburn, & Associates     

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Bee Flower in the Meadow - Original Photography by Keith Howchi Kilburn

My favorite part of Vision Quest is listening to the stories the Questers tell about their four days of solo time and the opportunity to reflect their stories back to them. What follows is my story of my experience as a guide on this Ukrainian Vision Quest.

Almost half the group had quested the previous year in the Carpathian Mountains. Questions of integration arose even in the preparation phase. Some provocative themes and ideas emerged. I had brought an American songbook with me for company and entertainment while traveling and while holding base camp. One song caught my attention and wouldn’t let me go, “The Rivers of Babylon”, which I had first heard sung by Jimmy Cliff many years ago. Here are the words:

By the Rivers of Babylon where we sat down,
And where we wept to remember Zion,
The wicked carry us away, captivity,
Required of us a song.
How can we sing Grandfather’s song in a strange land?
And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart
Be acceptable in thy sight over I.

In the original song the question is “How can we sing the Lord’s song…?" I opened our circle on integration by singing and talking about this song, the theme of finding oneself taken out of one’s holy or sacred land, an alien in a strange land. This happened to the ancient Hebrews in the Biblical story alluded to in the song. They were taken to Babylon, the site America’s present war of terrorism. The story was picked up by Christian Africans taken as slaves to the Americas. They were and are Coptic Christians with heritage and traditions going back to Ethiopia in the time of King Solomon. And thirdly, many of our Native American teachers come from peoples uprooted from their ancient and sacred homelands and confined to the strange land of reservations. Fourth, many people returning to the cities from Vision Quest feel they have lost a briefly rediscovered sacred homeland and are now exiled in a “strange land”. The answer in the song is the profession of faith in spite of captivity and exile contained in the last two lines. What will each of us formulate as a touchstone for faith in and remembrance of our experiences on the Sacred Mountain?

I wrote what follows as an assurance that I am as capable as the next human being of having a crisis of faith. So I had a crisis of faith and found new strength in this circle Eastern Europeans seeking to walk a path of Beauty and Spirit. The spiritual experiences of these relative newcomers reopened the channels of Truth, Awe, and Euphoria in this Elder who had come to their country to facilitate their Rebirths. How wondrously synchronous and deliciously and fully circular! So what follows is the story of the ordeal, death, and rebirth of my Vision Quest in base camp. Watch me descend into ashes and emptiness while doing my best to follow the directives I’ve built up over the years for holding space for others. Watch me be penetrated to the Source of my own Love, Joy and Bewonderment. Watch this Elder Brother whose vision had included taking Vision Quest to these wonderful Ukrainians and Russians refind his visionary Self in communion with his new-found younger siblings. Watch us be reborn together. And I reflect on myself writing this as part of my ongoing integration of this latest Quest. Love and Light!

My Ukraine has become an elusive dream lover. She is fascinating, tantalizing and the source of numerous peak experiences. I think she is mine to possess and enjoy to my heart’s content. I shower her with kisses, and she resembles that particular one beloved in youth who broke my heart and rode a foggy wind out of town. Here she has returned with all the innocence of that time of life and all the promise to live happily ever after. We have neither moved in together nor been unfaithful, so our illusions of perfection are intact. But of course in my cycle of depression she becomes an empty and ugly hag full of desolation and unrequited hopes and desires, only to show up again within a few days with all the promises and hormonal exhilaration of youthful love. What a mistress! What a soulmate! And on this trip I was indeed for several days the knight Parsifal after his rapturous night with the beautiful princess in her sumptuous tent. Suddenly awake with a parched throat and a headache, I found myself lying on bare hard ground with a hot sun baking me into the earth. She had abandoned me, and though I had to go on, there were no clues as to which direction to search and no tender breast on which to lay my head and seek solace. We had kissed passionately and now a barrier had arisen seemingly out of nowhere and prevented further consummation. Aching and bereft there was only my old reliable fallback position. Try to cultivate Buddha-hood. Meanwhile I went unconscious quite a bit and consoled my aches and pains with apothecary formulas and felt like resigning from my life.

Fortunately in this story of an errant knight, Princess Anima returned and her name was Oksana, Misha, Vika, Sveta, Seryorgia, Yulia, and Sasha. S/he expected the best of me. S/he expected wisdom, understanding, deep feeling, entertainment, clarity and insight. And s/he seemingly knew that I could supply these things. S/he knew that we could love and care for each either and gaze profoundly into each other’s souls. And this knowledge carried me like the most powerful of ocean currents, like the warm reliable trade-winds wafting over a southern sea. My sails filled and billowed and my ship began to cut through the water just like it was designed to accomplish this precise action. Princess Anima’s love and expectations breathed new life and inspiration into these limp and hollow sails caught in the doldrums of a muggy equatorial season. Together we soared like eagles. We soared like bumblebees. As children of the Sun our souls strode lightly over damp leaves in a cool dark forest. Our light shone from behind the clouds. We learned and began to manifest the gentle fierceness of a spike-horned Hart. We sought our own Source. We rode the Four Winds and gazed at our reflections in the Four Mirrors. We learned to love and hug like Bears. And we danced the brightest, most vibrant Red we could muster. The universe itself paused to glance in our direction unable not to take notice of something deliciously special getting served up in the Meadow of Yellow Flowers, in the White Birch Forest, beside the Talking Creek where Trees of Knowledge give Names to People.

We watched the sun go down. We felt the movement of the river and observed the natural flow and exchange of all living relationships in the taking of a single breath. Epiphanies arrived like bullets to the head or close encounters with flights of lightning bugs. Rattling in preemptive emptiness cleared space for moments of meditative bliss and beauty. Sometimes we even claimed that cleared space as our own. Visited by the foundation of necessary memories, we could claim our femininity, our masculinity, our adulthood, our playful child, our Spirit, our grief and other pain. Having claimed our space we could contemplate whose claim had greater merit, ours or the flies. Our hearts became heavy and overburdened with the events and conditions of our lives. Our hearts became light and easy in the purity and simplicity of each unique moment. We survived our ordeals. We made declarations of faith in our Selves. We reveled in the pristine presence of butterfly accompanists, and when lizards and deer visited we felt especially blessed and guided. We wandered in our dreams and wrestled with chimeras, and lost things and found things and discovered pieces of our Selves in the strangest places. We were given confirmations of spiritual gifts. We celebrated diversity. We found prayers of Nature to express the desires of our hearts and souls and saw signs that our prayers had been heard. We gave birth to ourselves in all of our perfect ugliness and imperfect beauty.

We purified our Selves in the steam of traditional Ukrainian banyas and the cold flowing water of our Talking Creek. We returned to the world and the challenges of the world and the pleasures of the world in the village of Lumshory. We feasted on Hungarian stew and shashlik, Ukrainian barbeque, and wild mountain blueberries. We ate. We drank. We were merry. We danced like coyotes and returned to our homes with new stories by which to tell our Selves who we really are. We have expanded our visions and experiences of all our Relations with new understandings of Right Relationship. We are preparing to give back and give away to the sources of our gifts and pleasures and to the great mystery and circle of the Medicine Wheel which includes everything that is, was, and will be. This ten-fold story of eight Questers and two Guides goes on with an expectation of more miracles and revelations. This story goes on with an understanding of cycles of darkness, dementia and depression. This story experiences confluence, the ebb and flow of yin and yang. We are Nature wherever we go, whatever we do. We are human beings, the two-legged ones, cultivating congruence with our Visions of Spirit, Nature, and Inner Voice.

Howchi & Geora on the bridge between 
cultures - Original Photography by Keith Howchi Kilburn

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©Howchi Kilburn