Salka Wind Blog

Posts on the Andean Cosmovision

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Ayni Revisited

Ayni is, perhaps, the most fundamental principle of the Andean Cosmovision (please read the earlier post on ayni). It does not fall easily into Western thought, for it is essentially about relationship while we in the West tend to focus on outcomes. Ayni is about a balance between giving and receiving; between people, between people and Nature, and between people and the Cosmos (in a way that is hardly conceivable within the Western world-view of the basic inanimate nature of the Cosmos). Ayni is the organizing principle for the flow of energy in the expanded view of reality of the Andes.

In this post I would like to focus on the ayni between you and me, and between our culture and the Andean people. Let’s first consider ayni between you and me. It would be great for me to receive something back for the effort I put into this web site, but only if it has value for you. If you would like to participate in a relationship of ayni please make a donation on the Salka Wind Donate page. I have no recommended amount in mind, it rather depends on the value to you of what I have made available on this site and your financial circumstances.

After covering the minimal costs of maintaining the domain name and having Salka Wind hosted on a server I give 50% of what I get from my classes and presentations, and from donations, to the people of the Andes as ayni for what they have given us. I usually give the money in person to people in Peru, in ways that I think will nourish the traditional Andean culture and our relationship with that culture. This is almost always done in a context where asking for a receipt just wouldn’t be appropriate. I have hesitated on this web site to be so specific about what percent of the donations I give back to the people of Peru for ayni as I have no receipts to back it up, nor will I in the future, so please be aware of that.  The other 50% I use to defer my costs for going to Peru, or to have a beer, but mainly it is the effect it has on me to receive support for sharing what I can of the Andean Cosmovision with the people of my culture.

Giving to the Andean people in a way that both benefits them personally and nourishes their culture is a very important practice of ayni. You can bypass me and do this in a number of ways if you would like. Please see the Resources page of Salka Wind for a couple of options.

To keep this post from being too serious I would like to share a snippet from the delightful book Zen Without Zen Masters by Camden Benares (already referenced in the earlier post ‘Fallacies‘). Ho Chi Zen used to keep a careful watch on which of his students put money in the donation bowl before each of his classes. Any student who donated three times in a row was dismissed for being too gullible.

Oakley and the Club of Mothers

Oakley and friends and the Club of Mothers



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I would like to turn now to what may be the most fundamental aspect of the Andean Cosmovision, ‘ayni‘.  Ayni is the principle of reciprocity. The essence of ayni is that when you receive something you give something back in return. This keeps balance in the relationship, but it also does more than that, it nourishes the relationship as well.

Ayni informs the Andean people’s relationships with each other, and in that context it can be easily understood. It is when the Andean people apply ayni to their relationship with Nature and the Cosmos that we move into mysterious territory and begin to glimpse the profound beauty of their Cosmovision. To understand how ayni works in this context we first need to understand their very different view of Nature and the Cosmos. It is not possible to have a true relationship with inert, mindless, matter, and in the Western view of reality that is how rivers, and stones, and trees, and the Cosmos itself are basically seen. We can love a forest, or the Earth, but within our world view it is hard to conceive of them loving us back. The Andean people have a very different experience of reality, one that allows true relationships with Nature and the Cosmos. This was covered in the earlier post  Andean Cosmovision: The Basics and I recommend that if you haven’t already that you read it and the post Barefoot in the Mountains before proceeding so that you will be better able to understand what I am going to say about ayni.

Village men threshing wheat

Village men threshing wheat.

Let us begin by looking at ayni in the context of the Andean people and their relationships with each other. Ayni shows up clearly in the work that the people in a village perform together. When it is time to work a family’s field the men and women in the community unite to work it as a community. The sowing of a field, for example, involves a line of men working foot plows to overturn the soil, followed by a line of women who plant the seeds. When such communal work is done the recipients rarely express thanks, for it is just part of life that they will then establish balance by working their neighbor’s fields in turn. When you give you receive, and when you receive you give, balance is maintained, both sides are nourished, and the community is healthy.

Reciprocity is like a pump at the heart of Andean life. The constant give-and-take of ayni…maintains a flow of energy throughout the ayllu [community]. Allen, 2002, pg 73.

I would like to share some of my own experiences with ayni, from the perspective of a Westerner entering into a relationship with the Andean people. My trips to Peru involve working with various paqos and healers, and this ‘working with’ often involves my participation in the ceremonies and healing rituals that they provide. What I can give them in return to balance our relationship, what they really need that I have, is money.

At the beginning of my exploration of the Andean Cosmovision I felt uncomfortable about giving money in reciprocity. From my Western perspective it just didn’t seem quite right to give money for a sacred experience. There is a lot of cultural background to those feelings, tied to our views about the relationship between the sacred and the secular and how– when the two are mixed in the wrong way–the sacred becomes profane. Ayni, however, is not the same thing as payment. Ayni brings people closer together, the goal is balance rather than gain, mutual support rather than advantage. When I was able to shift from my culture’s Cosmovision to the Andean Cosmovision I was able to enter into the true ayni of the relationship. On their side they were willing to do the same, to interact with me in ayni within the context of the ceremony, rather than slipping into the Western capitalistic relationship that is encroaching into their culture. It is interesting that when the ceremony is over, and ayni has been completed by my giving them money, then the context usually does shift, the sense of the sacred evaporates, they pull out their goods-for-sale, and some hard haggling begins. The two ways of being in relationship, one of ayni within the context of the sacred, and one within the context of selling, could not be more different.

I would now like to share another context where I experienced how ayni works in Peru. This specific instance occurred in one of my more recent trips. I had brought along some extra money to give to the people of the Andes, not much, but it doesn’t take much to really help out someone who lives in the high Andes. The challenge was to find a context where the money could be given in ayni, for it is so easy for it to shift into a context of “the (comparatively) rich Westerner giving money to the poor and needy indigenous person” which is not ayni at all.

I was able to proceed with the help of an Andean friend (who is a genius at getting around my misled but well-intentioned efforts and helping me to do something even more beautiful than I anticipated). In this case we were in a very small village high in the Andes, which was probably important as there the people still lived a life governed by ayni. The following story is perhaps the best way I can share how ayni works.

Women of a village Club of Mothers

Club of Mothers

I was introduced to several people whom my friend knew could use some help. First I was introduced to a middle-aged man who was suffering from severe diarrhea, he asked if I had anything to help. Being the well-prepared gringo that I am of course I had some medication that is good for diarrhea, and I gave him some with instructions on how to take it. He thanked me most sincerely, and a few minutes later he returned to give me three eggs from his hens, which of course I thought was pretty nice of him. Then I was introduced to two young girls who were orphans and needed some money to get school supplies (in the small villages there are few resources for people who are outside of any family). They smiled and looked shy. I gave them some money and with big smiles they each gave me a hug, then one ran out and returned with a belt she had made to give to me as a present. The village Club of Mothers (who meet weekly to pursue activities for the benefit of the children in the village) gave me a live chicken in ayni for my support. I contemplated texting my sons that I was bringing them home a sister but we ate the chicken that night instead. And at the end of the day I was introduced to a very old woman whose family were all gone and I gave her the rest of what I had. She gently grasped my hand with both of hers and looked into my eyes with a gentle smile and said something to me in Quechua, which my friend translated for me. She said that she had nothing she could give me, so she would pray for me instead. It was a beautiful day.

While ayni in the relationships among humans may be easy for us to understand from our own cultural perspective, when we look at the Andean people’s ayni with the animals upon which they depend then we start to move into territory that is both different and beautiful. I would like to talk about the relationship between the Andean people and their traditional domesticated animals, specifically alpacas and llamas. The following description pertains to people who live in isolated villages in the high Andes, at or above the tree line, and who still live the Andean Cosmovision. These people, and their animals, and their plants, eek out a living at altitudes as high as 15,000 feet, in villages that may be a good two-day walk from the nearest road.

The alpacas and llamas make it possible for the Andeans to live at such altitudes. Unlike other ruminants, alpacas and llamas can graze upon the sparse, high-altitude, grass without damaging it . Llamas carry loads to and from the fields, and from one village to another. They can carry 70 – 90 pound packs, up to 16 miles a day. The hides and wool from both llamas and alpacas are used for clothing. Wool from the alpacas is sold in market towns to obtain sugar, and flour and other materials that cannot be produced in the village. When an animal is slaughtered or offered in a sacrifice every part of the animal is either consumed or used to make things. Dung from the animals fertilize the high-altitude fields or when dried can be used as fuel (it is not a very hot fuel, one time we decided to make hot chocolate at 17,000 feet and it took over an hour for the water to get kind of warm).

The Andean people recognize that their alpacas and llamas cannot survive without human protection, and they equally recognize that humans cannot survive without the alpacas and llamas. The people and their animals share the same resources, and the same weather, and the same hardships of life at high altitudes. The llamas and alpacas are not seen as resources to be managed, they are seen as partners in a mutually supportive dance of reciprocity among beings.

The llamas and alpacas are treated with love and respect, an Andean herder knows every llama and alpaca by sight and all are given names. The llamas and alpacas participate–adorned–in sacred ceremonies, so that the ceremonies may make them happy too. They join the people in appealing to Nature and the Cosmos in times of need.  Special ceremonies are held in honor of the llamas and alpacas. In the llama ch’allay ceremony, for example, the llamas are given chicha (locally brewed corn beer) to thank them for all of their work in carrying the harvests up the mountain. During the ceremony a small bell is rung near the llama’s ear to clean its energy.

When an alpaca or llama is sacrificed or slaughtered the event calls for a special ritual. The animal’s feet are tied together and it is laid upon the ground with it’s head in a person’s lap. The person sings to the animal and strokes its head and gently feeds it coca leaves. At the appropriate moment the animal is killed swiftly, and as it dies its feet are untied so that its spirit may begin its run to the sacred mountain Apu Asungate, accompanied by prayers by the people that Asungate may receive the spirit and send it back to be born again in the same corral. Through its death the animal’s spirit is a gift to the Apu who returns the spirit back to the herd in ayni.

As the life force [of the animal] flows towards the mountains and back in perfect reciprocity, the cosmic balance is maintained. (Bolin, 1998, pg 56).

Market at Pisac

Bounty from the Pachamama and her daughters

Now we will take a step yet further away from the Western view of reality to consider ayni in the relationship of humans with the Cosmos when it comes to raising crops. As the Pachamama (the great mother who is the planet Earth) is but a part of the conscious Cosmos yet has her own consciousness, and the Apus (majestic mountain peaks) are but part of the Pachamama yet have their own consciousness, the chakras (fields in which crops are grown) are daughters of the Pachamama and have their own consciousness as well. Each chakra is responsible for the crop that is grown upon her, and each chakra has a name given by the people who work that field. Before entering a chakra to work a brief ritual of gratitude and respect is given to the Pachamama and her daughter. A little chicha (corn beer) may be poured upon the ground to slake their thirsts. Upon leaving the field another brief ritual may given to thank them for their generosity, in this way ayni is nourished. At that time a little thanks may also be given to Illapa, the god of thunder, thanking him for sending the rain (and for not sending lightning).

Patchwork quilt of chakras on the lap of the Pachamama

Patchwork quilt on the lap of the Pachamama

On one of my trips to Peru we stopped to watch the people gather a harvest of potatoes. It was in the high Andes, on the land between Cusco and the Sacred Valley. The numerous plots were all small, and at different stages of ripeness and containing various crops. The ground stretching up to the mountains looked like a patchwork quilt upon the lap of the Pachamama. Thin trails of smoke rose from a dozen small camp fires scattered across the land. The fires were tended by young mothers and older women. The first potatoes taken out of the ground in the morning had been placed back into holes dug in the Pachamama, covered with earth, and then a fire was lit above them, cooking the potatoes for a meal later in the day. The custom is both practical and sacred, honoring the Pachamama, nourishing her children, and maintaining the relationship between the earth and those that live off of her bounty.

After appreciating this sight, we piled back into our van to continue on our way. As we pulled out my gaze fell upon a young woman tending a fire near the road, perhaps 20 yards away. She looked to be in her early twenties. She was wearing the traditional full skirt and sweater of the Andes made of a woven fabric dyed in colorful shades of green and brown, and a tan hat with a rounded top and a wide flat brim. She was sitting on the ground, in contact with the Pachamama, and nursing her child. As the van pulled away she looked up and for a moment our eyes met, and she smiled. It was the most beautiful smile I have ever seen, a smile that conveyed an absolute contentment with life-at-that-moment, a smile from the heart of the Pachamama.

In the Andean Cosmovision humans are not distinct from Nature, nor is Nature distinct from the Cosmos. The role of humans is not to use Nature for our own good, nor to serve as stewards over it, but instead to interact with Nature in a dance of respect and mutual support. We are but part of the fabric of life, not its apex; children of the Pachamama, but not her special children. Is it any wonder that the fields that the Andeans have cultivated for thousands of years feel as wild and natural as our National Parks?

In the Andes ayni goes beyond the people’s relationships with each other, and with animals, and with fields, to inform their relationships with the Cosmos. When the Andeans gather together socially, or in ceremony, or to do communal work, they perform brief ceremonies to invite into their circle the Pachamama and the Apus and other great Beings of the Cosmos, to honor them and to express respect and gratitude. In their sacred ceremonies, the Andean people offer gifts to the Pachamama, to the Apus, and to the various other Beings of Nature and the Cosmos. This is all done as ayni, to nourish a relationship of mutual support, of mutual service. They serve the Cosmos and the Cosmos serves them, and from this their sense of relationship becomes stronger.

Inge Bolin (1998) summarizes a night of ceremony among the Andeans as follows:

These ancient rites reconfirm a close interdependence among humans, animals, and nature. This night, through a dialog with gods and spirits, we entered the realms of the sacred. We wove threads which symbolically bound us to our physical, social, and spiritual worlds. We reinforced ties with the past, with the Apus, with those ancestral spirits living in mountain peaks, and we looked toward the future, hoping for the aid and compassion of the deities from whom we requested health, prosperity, and peaceful coexistence. We engaged in reciprocity, the hallmark of Andean life; we were offering and asking, giving and taking.

Every gesture and movement was performed with great dignity and elegance. Every ritual carried an expression of respect for others—for gods, humans, animals, plants, and the spirit world. On this night and in the days to follow, the message of the rituals is clear. Only where there is respect can we find a way to live and act together. We must adjust and readjust to accommodate the various benevolent and malevolent forces within the cosmos. Pachamama, the giver of life, is also responsible for earthquakes and other disasters. The Apus are protectors of the herds, but they also send malevolent winds which can bring disease and death. There is no trace of aggression or hostility, domination, or subjugation in any of the rituals. Our offerings, our thoughts, our efforts in dedicating this night to a spiritual dialog among humans, animals, and the powers of nature are meant to reinforce the positive,, to give hope to a life so harmonic and serene, yet so vulnerable in this marginal environment. (pg 43)

This I believe is the heart of the Andean Cosmovision.  Ayni is the pump that sends the energy flowing through the people and their Cosmos. There is a mistake, I think, in our culture to remove the Andean meditations from their context, to see them only as a technology for personal transformation. The meditations, however, are fundamentally about our relationship with Nature and the Cosmos. The benefits of the meditations come from this relationship, and being a relationship we need to attend to our side of the relationship as well, with love and mutual support and respect.

There is one level of ayni I have not talked about yet that I would like to mention. The Andean people are willing to share their Cosmovision with the West and many of us feel that we have benefited greatly by their willingness to do so. For the circle of ayni to be completed, so that not only balance is achieved but that both sides may be nourished by the exchange, we need to give back to the Andean people, particularly those who have given this gift to us. I recommend that if you pursue more knowledge about the Andean approach from various authors and workshop presenters that you look to see if any of the money you give them goes back to the Andean people.

If you find this Salka Wind web site to be of value to you and would like to donate some money as ayni you can do so at the Donate page. This nourishes my efforts in this work and leaves me feeling like we are on this path together and that this project is the best thing since puffed rice. I always give a goodly chunk of any money I receive from my Salka Wind work to the Andean people to insure there is ayni at that level as well. If you would like to give some money to nonprofit organizations that work to benefit the Andean people–in a way that is guided with wisdom so that their lives and their culture are nourished rather than damaged–you will find links in the Resources page of this web site, there are undoubtably other good nonprofit organizations working to help the Andean people out there as well.

Note there is a subsequent post on ayni called ‘Ayni Revisited‘.

This post on ayni draws heavily from the work (cited and uncited) of Inge Bolin. I strongly recommend her beautiful book Rituals of Respect: The Secret of Survival in the High Peruvian Andes. I would also like to thank Monique Duphily whose dissertation-in-process on the topic of ayni also contributed to the writing of this post.

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Wildflower Seeds — Workshops — Europe

Tossing salka seeds into the wind.

As part of my (self-directed) participation in the poetic salka movement on this planet I have written this blog, and a book, and have given presentations at academic conferences, and have taught several hundred Andean (salka) meditation classes and workshops in Utah. I would like to also offer presentations, classes, and workshops in other areas of the country and other places on the planet. The only way I can think to nourish this happening is to let you all know that I am available and interested.

Part of the cost in having me come to your area is the expense of transporting me there. But if I happen to be in the neighborhood anyway…..

This August my wife and I will be vacationing in Europe. I would love to connect with waikis in Europe while we are there. If you would be interested in arranging for me to give a presentation on the Andean Cosmovision, or an Andean (salka) meditation class, or a short workshop, please contact me at I can let you know the types of presentations/classes/workshops  I offer and if you are interested we can talk dates, logistics, and ayni.

Thanks waikis!

P.S. My academic vita can be found in this blog on the page Oakley’s Vita.

P.P.S.  The poetic salka movement on the planet was founded by don Américo Yábar and don Gayle Yábar who deserve all of the credit for the beauty of the path they have shown me.

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

  1. About this Table of Contents
  2. Overview of the Blog
  3. The Meditations
  4. The Book
  5. Integration with the Western Worldview
  6. Feeding Our Intellectual Mode of Thought
  7. Caressing Our Intuitive Mode of Thought
  8. Sharing with Others
About this Table of Contents

The Andean Cosmovision–the way the Andean people perceive and interact with reality–is not a set of beliefs or concepts, it cannot be described or encompassed with words.  The Cosmovision can, however be experienced and thus it can be explored.  The only way I can share this beautiful way of experiencing reality is by sharing the various Andean meditations.  Many of my posts cover these meditations. Each meditation is like a portal into another side of reality. I don’t know what you will find there, that will be yours to discover, but if it is beautiful and touches something deep inside of you then you might choose to keep exploring.

The next step is to figure out how to fit those experiences into the rest of who we are, including our intellect with its thoughts and concepts.  And then possibly go further and explore how to integrate this beauty into our lives in Western society, and in doing so to influence the trajectory of our society toward a future of greater beauty and health on the planet.  Many of my posts cover these aspects of the path as well.

Both types of posts, those that describe the meditations and those that describe how to fit the Andean Cosmovision into our lives, are of value to me.  Most of my more recent posts have been of the latter variety, simply because I have basically shared all of the Andean meditations that I know.  Now that I have written so many posts I have become concerned that the meditations might be hard to find in the larger forest of all of the posts.  So, I decided to make a list with links to all of the meditations.  As I was working on that it occurred to me that it might be useful to you if I made a complete Table of Contents with all of the posts organized into various categories.  I have completed the table and it can be found here, it is also listed in the Pages area of the blog in the right side menu on each page.  Please note that when I separate the posts into various categories they no longer represent the order in which I wrote them.  Still, I hope you find this table of contents to be useful.

Overview of the Blog

  • Welcome (start here).  An overview of this blog and of the Andean Cosmovision which it describes.

The Meditations

The Book

I created this blog as a place to publish rough drafts of the various chapters that would become my book:  The Andean Cosmovision:  A Path for Exploring Profound Aspects of Ourselves, Nature, and the Cosmos.  When I had enough material I selected which posts to include in the book, rewrote them, added a few more chapters, and put them in an order that made (artistic) sense to me.  The book is better but it is important to me that the material remain available for free in this blog.  I would love it if you bought my book as it creates ayni (the Andean concept of reciprocity) into our relationship; anyi flowing back from you to me in reciprocity for my sharing what I know of the Andean Cosmovision, and also ayni between our culture and the Andes, for I have been sharing half the profits from the book with the people of the Andes.

Integration with the Western Worldview

There are two aspects to our exploration of the Andean Cosmovision.  The first aspect is actually entering that way of experiencing reality.  The second aspect is how to then integrate what we find there with our lives back here in the West.  In the following posts I share some of the thoughts have found useful in integrating the Cosmovision into my Western worldview.

Feeding Our Intellectual Mode of Thought

Caressing Our Intuitive Mode of Thought

Sharing with Others


Thread A: Paths to the Other Side of Reality

This post is a continuation of Thread A and is pretty much what I have been working up to in that thread.  My goal is to shed further light on the Andean Cosmovision by viewing it within the larger context of various other paths that lead into the other side of reality.  I usually don’t step out of my path to compare it to others as I know them less well.  I would like to apologize ahead of time if I do not adequately or accurately portray the path you are on.  In any event I hope that you find this post interesting or useful or both.

In the post The Other Side of Reality I developed the idea that we do not consciously experience reality itself, we experience instead a neuronal representation of reality created by our mind, brain and sensory organs. This representation can be thought of as a map of reality, and like all maps it corresponds to the territory being mapped yet at the same time it is fundamentally different than, and much less than, the territory. The territory, reality itself, exists beyond all of our thoughts and concepts and perceptions. I refer to this essential “suchness” of reality as “the other side of reality”.

Our consciousness is the observer who experiences our representation of reality.  It is possible to turn off our mind/brain’s process of representing reality and when we do our consciousness becomes directly aware of reality itself. When we do this we turn our eyes away from the shadows cast by puppets on the wall (ala Plato’s Cave) and walk out into the ineffable, sacred, beauty of the Cosmos. Over the millenia many paths have been developed in many cultures for reaching that state.

In the post The Guardian of the Threshold I defined our “ego” as all of the thoughts, concepts, and beliefs we have about ourselves. Our ego is not who we are, it is our map or representation of who we are. We exist as Beings, however, beyond all of the thoughts and beliefs we have about ourselves. Just as the essential suchness of reality is ineffable, beyond all thought, and ultimately mysterious, the essential suchness of who we are is ineffable, beyond all thought, and ultimately mysterious.

A major challenge we face when we seek to experience the other side of reality is that when we endeavor to turn off our map of reality we are also turning off our ego. Our ego tends to respond to this as if it were facing death. In mystical approaches this is known as the little death, the (temporary) death of the ego, as compared to the big death (our actual physical death). Like the computer HAL in the movie 2001, the ego does not take the prospect of being turned off very well. The ego responds with everything it can think of to stop us. Its main weapon is fear. In this way the ego, in mythological terms, serves as the guardian at the threshold to the other side of reality.

In this post I would like to take these two ideas–the nature of the other side of reality and the nature of the ego–and use them to differentiate three paths that lead to the other side of reality; the Path of Knowledge, the Path of Power, and the Path of Heart. While the Andean Cosmovision cannot be encompassed with words or understood through thought, my intellect (yachay) likes to have some idea of where that-which-is-beyond-thoughts might fit into the scheme of things.  It is with that in mind that I would like to share the following reflections.

1) Mystics and the Path of Knowledge. The goal of the mystic is to turn off the brain/mind’s interpretation (map) of reality. When this happens our consciousness gets to know (in a purely experiential, not intellectual, way) the other side of reality. The other side of reality cannot be put into words. “The Tao that can be talked about is not the Tao” (Tao Te Ching). When mystics do attempt to describe the mystical experience their words point at that which is beyond words. The concepts of time, and of the universe being made up of separate objects, are concepts, part of our brain/mind’s map of reality, rather than being a part of the essential suchness of reality that exits beyond our thoughts. Thus when mystics attempt to describe the mystical experience they speak of entering Eternity (a state outside of time) and they speak of being One with the Cosmos (of no longer being a separate entity). They also speak of experiencing the Sacred (which exists beyond any belief system).

Many mystical paths use meditation to achieve this special way of knowing reality. When I first entered the field of psychology there was a great deal of interest in the psychology of consciousness, altered states of consciousness, and meditation. The following was proposed as a way of understanding meditation. I am not sure it quite does meditation justice, but I have found it to be interesting at least.

Meditations generally fall into one of two categories; those that call for us to “focus in” and those call for us to “open up”. Focussing-in meditations involve attending to an unchanging stimulus, such as a mantra, or our breathing, or a flower. Opening-up meditations involve paying attention to all of the every-changing stimuli reaching our senses in the moment. In order to work properly our mental processes that create our representation (map) of reality rely upon a certain rate of information flowing into our minds. Focussing-in meditations (attending to an unchanging stimulus) underwhelm our map-making processes causing them to collapse, rather like a wind sock with no wind. Opening-up meditations (paying attention to everything at once), on the other hand, bring in so much information that they overwhelm our map making processes, also causing them to shut down. With either type of meditation, and extensive practice, we can learn to stop our process of creating a representation of reality and when that happens we become conscious of what is left, the essential, unprocessed suchness of reality itself. This is what I believe is pointed at by such terms as enlightenment, satori, buddhahood, etc.

It may take many years of dedicated practice to collapse our representation of reality. But along the way benefits arise. Our maps of reality tend to be self-reinforcing. Our map largely determines what we pay attention to and what meaning we assign to what we perceive, which then tends to reinforce our map, which then determines our experience of reality, and so on. My relatively limited experience on the path of the mystic is that when I am meditating, cracks (metaphorically) appear in my map of reality, light from the essential nature of the Cosmos leaks through, and my map of reality begins to change in ways that open me up to new ways of Being.

To touch the other side of reality requires that we temporarily put aside our ego. It is a challenge to put aside our concepts of reality and our concepts of ourselves when moving through our social world. Everyone we meet reinforces our concept of the world and our concept of self.  For this reason mystics often seek isolation, by going to meditation retreats, or even by becoming hermits. It is much easier to shed our society’s view of reality and of ourselves when we are outside of our society. The archetype of the wise old person living in a cave in the mountains comes from this path.

2) Shamans and the Path of Power. The term “shaman” comes from the indigenous culture of Siberia where it refers to people who have special powers that fall outside of our normal map of reality. The term has since been adopted by our Western culture and applied to people with similar powers in cultures across the globe. I am simply using the term here to refer to individuals who walk the path of power. The power might be used to gain information on the origins of a person’s health problems, or to retrieve lost pieces of a person’s soul, or to alter the energy of a person or a situation, or for other purposes that lie outside of our culture’s view of reality.

An important characteristic of power is that it is not inherently good or bad. Technology, for example, is a path of power and technology can be used to heal someone (e.g. medicine) or to kill them (e.g. nuclear weapons). How power is wielded, for good or bad, depends not upon an inherent characteristic of power but upon the values of the person wielding it. Shamanism is a path of power. Some people become shamans in order to have the power to heal others, to do good, to serve humanity. Other people become shamans to boost their ego, to feed their own self-importance, and to manipulate the world to their own advantage. In observing people who follow this path I note that some are loving and humble, some are creepy and have huge egos, and others are somewhere in between. Power is power, it doesn’t care.

How is it possible for someone to enter into the other side of reality and at the same time maintain a big ego? How is it possible to have the mystical experience of immersion in the essential suchness of reality and still maintain a materialistic and selfish approach to reality? The answer is that it is not possible. The path of power is not a path into the essential nature of reality that lies beyond all maps of reality. It is, instead, the development of a different map of reality, one that includes aspects of reality that fall outside of the map provided by Western culture. It is still a map of reality, just a different map, one that opens up new abilities and power.

My understanding of this has been shaped by don Juan Matus (a Yaqui spiritual guide) in the writings of Carlos Castaneda. Don Juan used the term “sorcerer” to refer to people who are on the path of power. To gain power a sorcerer needs to experience a completely different way of perceiving, being in, and interacting with reality. This is no easy task, and to survive the challenges that arise a person needs to have the impeccability of a warrior. Much of the earlier work of don Juan with Carlos was to help Carlos develop a sorcerer’s map of reality.

In don Juan’s worldview there is also a step beyond becoming a sorcerer, and that is to become a “man of knowledge”. Having two completely different maps of reality (our every-day map and the sorcerer’s map) makes it possible, for a sorcerer who so wishes, to transcend all maps and know the ineffable suchness of reality itself. Thus the path of power can eventually become a path of knowledge. For this to happen the ego would need to be dropped to get past the guardian at the threshold of the other side of reality.  According to don Juan, relatively few sorcerers choose to move on to become people of knowledge.  Those who take the path of power to feed their ego and sense of self-importance, or to gain advantage in the material world, would be actively moving away from what it would take to reach the other side of reality.

I often see references to the Andean Cosmovision as a path of power. Peru is a land of many paths and some are paths of power. I have heard don Americo refer to shamans/sorcerers in Peru as “brujas” (witches) but without the negative connotation the word carries in English. On several occasions he has arranged for brujas he respects to work on my energy. I have noticed that he hangs around as they do, I assume that he is monitoring the work to make sure it is beneficial, and I have indeed benefited from their beautiful work. I have also heard many stories of shaman/sorcerers (in Peru and in the West) who do great harm, either on purpose or through ignorance. Power doesn’t care whether it is used for good or harm, only the people on the path of power care (and some do not).

Another term I have heard applied to people on the path of power in the Andes is “layqa”. I believe layqas are the people that don Americo refers to as brujas and brujos. I have searched the anthropological literature to see if this is a correct use of the term layqa, particularly when compared to “paq’os” (described below). I view the academic literature with ambivalence. On the one hand it seems more reliable to me than second-hand information coming through Westerners, particularly as that information is often translated from Quechua to Spanish and then to English. On the other hand, academicians can be completely ensconced in the Western worldview and utterly and stubbornly oblivious to how the Andean Cosmovision may differ from the Western worldview. The bottom line of my research is that it seems layqa is more connected with power, power over nature and power over people, while paq’o has a different, more beneficent, connotation. We will consider paq’os next.

3) Paq’os and the Path of Heart. “Paq’o” is a quechua term that is usually translated into English as either “mystic” or “shaman”. Both terms apply a little and neither exactly fits (see the post Paq’os:  Shamans or Mystics). “Paq’os” and a “path of heart” go together and the latter defines the former, and so I will hold off on a definition of paq’o and develop instead the essential nature of the path of heart.

There are undoubtedly many paths of heart on the planet. I want to focus on the path of heart as I have experienced it during my twenty plus years of working with don Americo Yabar, don Gayle Yabar, and the paq’os of Peru. To what degree my experiences on this path correspond to other paths of heart I know not, but I suspect there are many similarities.

The Andean path of heart is the path of the munay. The munay is one of our three centers of being. It is located in the area of our heart and is the center of love. The love associated with the munay, however, is not an emotion. It has nothing to do with romance or sex or sentimentality or jealousy. It is, instead, the feeling that arises from experiencing our interconnectedness with the rest of the Cosmos, and this feeling is labelled with the closest word in English, which is “love”.

The path of heart is a path of interconnectedness, not as an ideal or a concept but as a process. As for how exactly to proceed along this path, well, I have written this blog and a whole book about it, and that is only part of what I could have said. I would, however, like to give a brief overview here, and perhaps that will be of interest even to those who have read my blog or book or both.

The main image or metaphor that comes to my mind for describing the path of heart is that it involves a certain way of dancing with the Cosmos. Dancing is an active process, something we do, and we are doing it in response to the Cosmos, which in turn is responding to our dance. The dance is, in other words, an active relationship with the Cosmos where we influence each other.

This dance with the Cosmos is made possible through a non-Western map of reality, the Andean Cosmovision. Within this way of experiencing reality the whole Cosmos is conscious. This includes, specifically and especially, the Pachamama (the great Being who is the planet Earth), Mama Tuta (the void, the night, who holds the stars in her embrace), the stars themselves, Tai Tai Inti (the sun), Mama Killa (the moon), the Apus (the Beings who are the majestic mountain peaks), the rivers that cascade down the mountains, Mama Cocha (the ocean), the trees, the stones, everything, including the Cosmos itself. They are all conscious, we can interact with them, we can dance with them, and if we make our dance with the Cosmos a work of art then our life begins to unfold in beauty.

Our steps in the dance are the “meditations” I have shared in this blog and in my book. They are not like the meditations of the path of the mystics, and I only call them meditations because I have no better term. These meditations provide a means for experientially exploring new and profound aspects of ourselves and of the Cosmos. While the meditations have value in themselves there are also beautiful effects that slowly emerge as we continue down this path. These effects arise naturally from the way the meditations allow us to connect to the consciousness of Nature and the Cosmos. This is beautifully stated in a quote from Eckhart Tolle (while not from an Andean perspective it fits nicely).

“There is a higher order, a higher purpose, a universal intelligence. We can never understand this higher order through thinking about it because whatever we think about is content while the higher order emanates from the formless realm of consciousness. But we can glimpse it, and more than that, align ourselves with it, which means be conscious participants in the unfolding of that higher purpose. In a forest, not a man-made garden, let go of thought, become still and alert, and don’t try to understand or explain. Only then can you be aware of the sacredness of the forest. And soon as you sense that hidden harmony, that sacredness, you realize you are not separate from it, and when you realize that, you become a conscious participant in it. In this way, nature can help you become realigned with the wholeness of life.” Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth, pp 194-195.

The Andean meditations change our relationship with Nature and the Cosmos. When a relationship changes the relata (the entities in relationship) change as well. My experience is that as I have learned to dance with the Cosmos in this new way that subtle and beautiful changes have arisen within me unplanned and unexpected. Don Americo calls these “kamaskas”, small initiations into a new way of being that arise when we align ourselves with the Cosmos. This unfolding of a new way of experiencing reality takes us closer to the other side of reality which begins to inform our experience of who we are.

The theme of the paq’os relationship with the Cosmos is service and the operating principle is ayni. To be a paq’o is to be of service, service to the community, service to the Pachamama, service to the Apus, service to the Cosmos. Ayni (the Andean principle of reciprocity…see the post Ayni) insures that the service is service and is neither servitude nor mastery. We neither dissolve and surrender ourselves to the Cosmos (the path of the mystic), nor do we attempt to coerce and manipulate the Cosmos (the path of power). We dance with the Cosmos and as we do we become realigned with the wholeness of life, and we find our salka.


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