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I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

from Sleeping In The Forest by Mary Oliver


Sometimes there comes a time
when just refining one’s nature on an incremental,
daily basis is not enough to move powerfully into a different reality
and get a more expansive view on one’s place in the world.

To make this paradigm shift on a deeper level,
a grand gesture which embodies one’s commitment to change
can open a gateway to a whole new way of being.

The Native American culture has gifted us a model
for such a grand gesture, known as a vision quest. Traditionally,
this was chiefly a rite of passage for teenage boys during which,
after careful preparation and guidance, they went alone
into the wilderness to ‘cry for a vision.’

The sincerity with which the event was approached,
as well as the fact that the boys were alone for three days and nights
without food ~ and sometimes also without water or clothing ~ made this
ritualized transition from childhood to adulthood that much more intense:
for many young men it was an immensely powerful, clarifying,
life-changing and spirit-affirming experience.

The expectation, usually fulfilled, was that the quester
would directly experience a communion with their guiding spirits,
beginning to forge a union with them which would continue
to deepen and mature throughout their life.

Like the Zhouyi, the tradition of the vision quest
has grown beyond being merely a product of a particular
culture and era, still being of great worth for
men and women from all walks of life.

Many well-established centers worldwide
facilitate quests, with countless questers finding
their experiences relevant, profound and transformative.

If you go this route, ensure you fully resonate with your chosen center,
as you’re committing yourself to undertaking your grand gesture through
the lens of the ethos, framework and ritual forms that they’ve evolved.

It is also possible to go solo and arrange your own vision quest if
you’re confident you can still derive value from the experience without
this external support, feel pretty well grounded, and have the extra time
needed to research and organize the logistics of the expedition.

If you go it alone, you’re in charge of setting your own boundaries
such as letting someone know where you’ll be, and when you’re due back,
as well as spiritually and emotionally preparing yourself for the experience.

Making sense of it all once it’s over is especially important, and support
from someone you respect at this time can be particularly invaluable in
helping you to integrate the challenges and gifts you received into your life.

If you resonate with the idea of going on a vision quest,
the gua of wind-under-mountain, or healing (below)
gave me good guidance on it with the comment

before the change, three days. After the change, three days.

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Before the change, three days means that when
you accept that there are energies in your life which need
to be transformed, it’s essential to first clarify exactly what
you want to germinate, and what you want to release.

After the change - the three-day quest itself - three days
outlines the importance of fully grounding and integrating the experience
so that it can be the seed of a flowering, rather than an unusual
but soon-to-be-forgotten break from routine.

Three days
is a symbolic length of time
showing the process has a beginning, middle and end:
in reality, the time you take to reach a state of readiness
to go on a sacred journey such as this is indefinite.

Be aware, though, that if you keep feeling ‘not quite ready yet’,
that you may never feel completely ready. Sometimes a leap of faith
is called for, as to feel a degree of fear is only natural when considering
stepping out of your known world and into uncharted territory.


heroic journey to the heart



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A hero ventures forth from the world
of common day into a region of supernatural wonder:
fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory
is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure
with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Joseph Campbell

This leap of faith ~ and the tradition of the vision quest
as a whole ~ would be described by Joseph Campbell
as the ‘hero’s journey’. He also described this as the
monomyth, as its basic pattern is reflected in
countless tales and legends from
all corners of the world.

This has three over-arching stages of
departure, initiation and return, corresponding
with before the change, the change, and after the change.

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Within each of these stages can unfold many possible scenarios.
For example, 'rejection of the return' is common when the experience
has been so profound that the quester has no desire to return to
the ‘old’ world which they started out from.

This resistance, however, is one of
the many challenges which needs to be
overcome, else the story is left incomplete.

Below is a version of the hero’s journey
which pairs eight of these steps with a trigram,
or primary gua in the earth-to-heaven sequence
(see chapter six for more on this), to give
another perspective on its progression.

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On the face of it, the idea of thinking of oneself
as a hero can just sound like a delusional ego trip.
The idea that the age we live in now contains the truth,
power and potential of any glorified or mystified past or
future era can also be hard to genuinely feel and believe,
as expressed beautifully in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.

Though our point of power is only ever in the present moment,
it can be easy to be appreciative of the beautiful, miraculous,
exceptional and magical in other epochs, places and cultures,
only to lose sight of it in our own time, in our own being.

What I think is that a good life is one hero journey after another.
Over and over again, you are called to the realm of adventure, you
are called to new horizons. Each time, there is the same problem:
do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there,
and the help also, and the fulfilment or the fiasco.
There's always the possibility of a fiasco.
But there's also the possibility of bliss.
Joseph Campbell

Each individual unfolds their own unique myth
within the pilgrimage of their life, and the heroic
journeys within it. But to give a feel of what it could
feel like for a westerner in today’s world, here’s a story.

The tale begins with a child, who is male,
but who could just as easily be female.

He’s brought up by a family ~ a society ~
a culture ~ holding a particular world-view.

As the child grows, surrounded by these
people who see the world in this certain way,
he inevitably begins to take on this view himself.
As Castaneda describes this phase:

We are inside a bubble. It is a bubble into
which we are placed at the moment of our birth.
At first the bubble is open, but then it begins
to close until it has sealed us in.

The bubble is our perception. We live inside
that bubble all our lives. And what we witness
on its round walls is our reflection.

The thing reflected is our view of the world.
That view is at first a description which is
given to us from the moment of our birth
until all our attention is caught by it and
the description becomes a view.

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The boy’s realization that this view is only a view,
perhaps taking the form of a feeling of emptiness
or an awareness of how mundane daily life can
become, leads to the decision to search
for something deeper and greater.

So begins the odyssey which requires him
to separate from all he knows: to burst his bubble.
Inevitably, this is not an easy choice. The familiarity
and safety of his known world seduce him into believing
he should stay where he is, and friends and relatives
corroborate this view to protect him from danger,
for anything could happen if he
ventures into the unknown!

Mind, body and spirit rebel eventually against any
choice which results in a contraction of consciousness,
however, and as he continues to resist the call of his spirit
he experiences an increasingly dramatic decrease
in his joy and vitality.

As Joseph Campbell says about this stage:

Refusal of the summons
converts the adventure into its negative.
Walled in boredom, hard work, or 'culture,'
the subject loses the power of significant affirmative
action and becomes a victim to be saved.
His flowering world becomes a wasteland of dry stones
and his life feels meaningless ~ even though, like King Minos,
he may through titanic effort succeed in building an empire
of renown. Whatever house he builds, it will be a house
of death: a labyrinth of cyclopean walls to hide
from him his minotaur. All he can do is create
new problems for himself and await the
gradual approach of his disintegration.


Our hero eventually finally finds it imperative
to commit himself to his quest and, once he does so,
finds himself inexplicably enfolded in a world of synchronicity
as spirits lend him their guidance and support from
the invisible realms underpinning the visible.

The relationship the young man’s been struggling with
for the last two years has finally self-destructed, so he’s had
to move out of his ex-girlfriend’s apartment. This has coincided
with him unexpectedly losing his job, so leaving him at
even more of a crossroads in life.

He sees a film with a scene in it
which reminds him of a wildflower-strewn
mountain he used to love passionately as a child.
The next day, an old friend mentions that
she’s driving past there later that week.

On the way, they pass a billboard, some advert,
which proclaims Votre vie va changez:
your life is going to change.

This brings to mind Paulo Coelho:

When someone makes a decision, he is really
diving into a strong current that will carry him to places
he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.
At his request, his friend drops him and his camping gear
at the foot of the mountain, and he watches her car
disappear around the bend.

Excitement and a feeling
of huge and unknown potential coalesce
with raw fear as dusk starts to set in and strange noises
and searching breezes fill this darkening, unfamiliar world.
He spins around frequently to look behind him with an
irrational, spooky feeling of being watched.

The advice of his friends who told him he’d be mad to do this
(“Man, haven’t you seen Deliverance?”) comes back to him along
with a host of other unpleasant thoughts and images recalled
from films and media: the scenario of the victimized lone
individual in the woods at night, involving a struggle
with some form of demonic entity, is one firmly
rooted in cultural consciousness.

He turns off the track and finds a glade
where he pitches his tent hurriedly, aware that
it would have been preferable to choose his spot in a
serene, meditative state of mind, but unable to access one.
The wind picks up, revealing the tent’s weaknesses by rattling
its bony struts, pulling at its canvas skin with a crack which
makes the young man’s heart jump into his throat.

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Are you inspired by the idea of a Vision Quest?
Or have you already done one?

What would you like to let go of in life?

What do you choose to focus on, nourish and enhance
in order to grow into yourself more deeply?

What would a Grand Gesture to honor this look and feel like for you?


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© shenpen chökyi 2013-2014