Salka Wind Blog

Posts on the Andean Cosmovision

The Tale of the Sands

I find that to write about salka and the Andean Cosmovision I need to write what I feel moved to write at any particular time. When I attempt to layout everything in order then my writing grinds to a halt. I just don’t seem to be able to write “what comes next” or “what must come before”. That is the value to me of writing this blog. I write what I feel moved to write. Later, after I have said everything I want to say, then I can write a book where I put things in (a sort of mystical) order and I can then write the connections between the concepts. This post belongs somewhere down the line in Thread B…but I haven’t started Thread B yet. I hope you will bear with me.


When I began to study the psychology of consciousness one of the approaches I was drawn to was Sufism. I would, however, like to set a context for that statement. What I studied were the Sufi teaching stories compiled by the Sufi scholar Idries Shah (1924-1996). Shah devoted his life to collecting, translating, and making available to Western society classic Sufi teaching stories. He viewed these as a way of nourishing the development of human potential to its fullest extent, while escaping religious (and any other) dogma.

To say that I understand Sufism from reading those stories would be like saying that a person who has read hundreds of teaching stories given by Jesus, but who has never read the Bible, nor studied Christianity, nor attended a Christian ceremony, understands Christianity…so either not at all or a lot, depending upon your view of religion.

The books of Shah offer a rich collection of several hundred Sufi teaching stories. Some are beautiful, and some are funny, and almost all are at least interesting. A few of Shah’s books concern the character Mulla Nasrudin. The Nasrudin stories are all humorous. Their humor arises from the actions of Nasrudin, who either reacts to a situation in an unexpected way or reacts in a way that brings to light and pokes fun at our normal way of thinking.  The value of the Sufi stories lies in their ability to give us new options for how we can understand and respond to life. They give us a route out of our habitual, domesticated mind, and open us up to possibly connecting with the non-domesticated, salka, side of our being.

There is a story from the Shah collection that I would like to share with you. It is called “The Tale of the Sands”. The following link is from the Idries Shah Foundation web site and so I feel comfortable in offering it to you as a way of accessing the material.  It is a very short story, only about a page long and is quite beautiful.

The Tale of the Sands (link to story)

The second-to-last time I read this story was almost 40 years ago.  I read it again just a week ago.  I don’t want to discuss what the story is about, for to do that would be to move from story mind to rational mind and then (to me) the value of the story would be lost.  I would like to share that my experience of the story has been enriched by my journeys into the Andean Cosmovision.  I hope you enjoy it as well.

I am delighted to have discovered that the Idries Shah Foundation has put several of his books online to be read for free. This includes Tales of the Dervishes (which contains The Tale of the Sands) along with The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin, and The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin. I bet you can’t read just one Nasrudin story. The entire collection of online Idries Shah books can be found here.

This post is being written at this time in deep sympathy to the three hundred and five Sufis (men, women, and children) who were massacred this week while worshiping in their mosque in Egypt. It is thought to be the actions of a religious faction who consider them to be heretics. This is the world we are living in waikis. Can we stay true to our hearts?

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Like the Creek

As a society we are in a car heading for a cliff. When we go off the edge it will be too late to do anything about it. Saying we are sorry won’t help and we will take much of what is beautiful about the world with us. Meanwhile we are sitting in the back seat of the car, playing with and fighting over our toys. From a sense that something is terribly amiss, and that we must do something, we accelerate.

I have often heard the saying that the type of thinking that got us into this mess is not the kind of thinking that will get us out of it. I would like to expand that to say that the worldview that got us into this mess is not the worldview that will get us out of it. Not by itself. We don’t need to abandon the Western worldview, it can provide the tools for steering the car away from the edge. It won’t, however, get us to actually care enough to do that. It provides great tools. It makes a god-awful navigator.

The mythologist Joseph Campbell used to wonder (he is now dead) from whence the next myth of our society will arise, for we need one. The wisdom for directing our actions comes from that aspect of our being that is non-intellectual in nature, nor is it emotional, it is something else. It lives in some wider aspect of ourselves which also happens to be the realm of myth. The myth we need will not arise from our current situation; from our political strivings or our economic forces or our virtual realities and artificial intelligence. It will not arise from fascism or anti-fascism. conservatives or liberals, priests or atheists. It will not arise from any of the beliefs or causes that have their interwoven existence tied to Western culture. We can’t get there from here.

The author Martin Shaw suggests that the myths we need might be 5,000 years old. They will not provide a simple and easy way out. They will shake us to our bones, they will be challenging, they will require a life-time commitment to walking a path, they will not be learned in a week-long workshop. It will be tough, and long, but everyone outside of our current worldview (which values speed and ease above all) have always known that. Ah…but the rewards.

Consider our understanding of what is means to be a human being, the understanding available to us through the Western worldview. It is natural and easy to assume that is all we are. But our Western view of our existence is like viewing reality through a narrow, narrow slit. There is so much more of us, so much more of our existence than the West presents. We, the children of the West, have forgotten what we used to know about the vast and ultimately mysterious expanse of our own existence. The remembering of that is where we need to go, our total being is called for if we wish to change our current trajectory and to select one of greater beauty and harmony with nature.

We can’t rely on a representative sent down the path to report back the answers. That is the Western way. The answers, the wisdom, will not come from someone else, from a guru or a sage or a crone, they will arise from within ourselves. If we go deep enough inside of ourselves, we find the Cosmos, and we change, and we begin to join in harmony with a siren’s song whose beauty lures our society away from the rocks. There are many paths leading there, not just the paths that have their doorsteps in the Andes.

This morning a couple of waikis and I went to our favorite place to meditate, up the canyon by the creek. I told them I had much to say but just couldn’t figure out how to proceed. I pointed at the creek and said I wanted to write like that. My friend said, “You mean babble?”

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Stepping into the Same River Twice

The use of reason for self advancement poses a danger to the Cosmic order.
Heraclitus of Ephesus

I would like to start with an anecdote that the anthropologist Gregory Bateson liked to relate concerning the ancient Greek philosophers Heraclitus and Cratylus. Heraclitus believed that the most fundamental thing about reality, about the Cosmos, is that it is constantly flowing and changing. He is best known (among those who know of him at all) for having proclaimed that “a person cannot step into the same river twice.”  Which is worth contemplating.

Cratylus was one of Heraclitus’s students. He went a step further than Heraclitus (so to speak) to proclaim that you can’t even step into a river once. Cratylus believed that if everything is flowing, changing, then names (i.e. nouns) don’t make any sense.

Let’s take, for example, my name, which is Oakley. To what object does that name apply? Consider me first as a human body. Our bodies are constantly changing, getting rid of old cells and replacing them with new cells. Every month we completely replace all of our skin. We grow a new liver every 6 weeks. Over the period of a year we replace every cell in our bones. There are some cells in the body that appear to be more or less permanent, for example some cells in our eyes and in our central nervous system, but even they are the product of a never ceasing flow that involves getting rid of old atoms and replacing them with new atoms. Essentially there is not one atom in our bodies that was there five years ago.

On the mental level change is much more rapid and certainly constant. Every event we experience changes our nervous system; memories are formed, attitudes and beliefs are adjusted, skills are acquired or begin to atrophy. If you met my five years ago and then meet me now you will still probably call me “Oakley” but the Being to whom the name applies is actually a different Being, made of different atoms and being run by a different mind.

It might be more accurate to give me a different name every time you meet me; “Oakley 1”, “Oakley 2:, “Oakley 3”, comes to mind. Or, perhaps it would be easier to refer to me as the verb “Oakleying”, and thus identify me not as an unchanging solid object but as a continuing process, like a river, that is still here but never the same.*

Cratylus was convinced that our use of language fundamentally distorts our understanding of reality. Staying true to his principles he then gave up the use of all language and went around just pointing at things instead. But, as Bateson liked to add, because he didn’t tell anyone what he was doing no one understood what he was doing or what his point was.

*There is a little further we can go with this. I didn’t know if you would find this interesting or too dry so I have delegated it to this end note. While Heraclitus is best known for having pointed out that “no one can step into the same river twice” another version is that he said “a person both can and cannot step into the same river twice”. The molecules of water themselves, which constitute the river, will be different each time we step in. The rate of water flow, the patterns the water makes while flowing, the leaves and sticks floating along, and the river bed will constantly change. But still, there is a river there both times! So exactly what is there both times? A flow of water. In that statement a “flow” is a noun, there is “a flow” both times. But “a flow” is a “nominalization”, a verb that has been sneakily morphed into a noun. “To flow” is a process, not an object. But “a process” is also a nominalization, for it too is a verb that has been morphed into a noun. Nominalizations are distortions of reality. They distort not only how we talk about reality but also how we think about it.   It would be more accurate to say a river is “flowing water” rather than “a flow of water”. “Flowing water” presents an active image in my mind, and it only applies to the present moment with no promises about the past or future. Then there is one more nominalization to mention, that we are beings of the Cosmos.

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The Invisible Embrace

Sometimes I run across something from outside of the Andean Cosmovision that beautifully describes some aspect of that Cosmovision.  The following was brought to my attention by my friend Angela Rhinehart.  It is, to me, a beautiful description of Andean salka (undomesticated energy).

The imagination awakens the wildness of the heart. This is not the vulgar, intrusive, wildness of social disruption. It is the wildness of human nature. Social convention domesticates and controls us; it also imprints deeply on the interior life and would turn our one adventure in the universe into a program of patterned social expectation. We rarely break free; indeed, we are generally not conscious of how smoothly we slide along the rails of social ordering. The awakened imagination desists from this domestication. It returns us to our native wildness, to the natural and seamless fluency of our own true nature. Other worlds come into view and we are invited to risk new and original ways of dwelling in the world. —John O’Donohue, Irish poet, in Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, p. 146.

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It Is a Way of Being

The Andean Cosmovision provides a different-from-Western-Society way of perceiving and interacting with reality. It is not a way of thinking about the world, it is not a set of concepts and beliefs, it cannot be describe or encompassed with words. To explore the Andean Cosmovision is to enter into another way of experiencing reality that is so different from that of the West that it cannot be distinguished from actually exploring a different reality. I have found it to be a path that takes me through territory that my own society ignores. It takes me to my heart, to beauty, to love, and to a relationship with Nature and the Cosmos that fulfills my desire to sip at the cup of the sacred.

It isn’t easy. It is not a path that everyone would want to take, and it certainly isn’t a path that everyone should take, for it has no dogma, it has no rules laid down by an external deity, within the Cosmovision there is no moral imperative to walk this path. If the path itself is rewarding to you then keep going (if you wish). If not, stop, and try some other path, or no path at all. That decision is something that only you can make.

Today, like every other day,
we wake up empty and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Jalal ad-Din Rumi.  From The Illuminated Rumi
Broadway Books, Coleman Barks (translator).

There are many different paths that lead into the Andean Cosmovision, each has its doorstep in a different region of the Andes or with a different teacher. I really only “know” the path I have been shown by don Americo Yabar and don Gayle Yabar and that I have walked for many years in the company of several dear friends. I know something about some of the other paths, not enough to describe them from experience, but enough to know that they have some noticeable differences from the path I have taken. I would like to point that out, so that you will understand that what I share in this blog may apply only to the path I know.

In this path of heart the meditations serve as the portals for entering the Andean Cosmovision. That is a reality that has no limits, and I intend to be exploring it for the rest of my life, or at least so long as it continues to nourish my blossoming as a Being in this Cosmos. For me it is not a set of powers to be gained, or techniques to master, or knowledge to accumulate, it is a way of being in this Cosmos, and very much so it is a way of relating to Nature and the Cosmos.

There are times in my life when I stop meditating for a while.  This often happens in the winter when it is hard to go outside and I am busy teaching at the University and being all intellectual.  Engaging with the politics of a world that seems to be increasingly directed by fear and hate also moves me away from meditating. Much of what I love and value is under immanent threat of destruction.  There are times to meditate by the river and times to throw myself in front of the bulldozer. The two modes represent my left side and right side, respectfully, and part of what I value about this path is that it embraces all of who I am.  Occasionally I get glimpses of that aspect of myself that is greater than the sum of those two parts, for whom the left side and the right side are but two facets of my existence, but we are the diamond that has those facets.

Still, when I stop meditating, this path stops being something I am being, and it becomes a memory, an idea, which it can never be without losing its essence.  I have discovered, rather obviously, that when I abandon this path, this connecting with the Cosmos, that I slowly start to feel abandoned by the Cosmos.  I get depressed.  When I start to meditate again I return to this way of being, and its essence returns and my existence again puts on a mantle of meaningfullness.  My challenge is that when I haven’t meditated for a while, and I start to feel down, I don’t feel much like meditating.

I would like to share with you something that I have found to be useful.  I have put the following poem on the desktop of my computer where I can see it everyday:

Work. Keep digging your well.
Don’t think about getting off from work.
Water is there somewhere.
Submit to a daily practice.
Your loyalty to that is a ring on the door.
Keep knocking and the joy inside
will eventually open a window
and look out to see who’s there.

Jalal ad-Din Rumi.  From The Illuminated Rumi
Broadway Books, Coleman Barks (translator).


You might enjoy my book:  The Andean Cosmovision:  A Path for Exploring Profound Aspects of Ourselves, Nature, and the Cosmos.

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