Salka Wind Blog

Posts on the Andean Cosmovision

Author: Oakley Gordon (page 1 of 27)

Leaving the Village

I would like to share an email I just sent out to my psychology department.  While I have, in previous posts, said what I have said below, I wanted to share with you how I approach academia about the Andean Cosmovision.   Oakley


Hi, I am retiring from the department at the end of this academic year. It is, for me, the end of an era. My father was a dean at the University of Utah and a member of our psychology department. I earned my Ph.D. here in Experimental Psychology. After graduating I moved to a teaching university and eventually became a full professor with tenure. I then resigned and moved back to Salt Lake and became an adjunct professor for our department. My wife resumed her career and I took on the role of being the at-home parent for our sons. This arrangement has worked out really well for me and I would like to thank you all for your support which made this possible.

What drew me into psychology in the first place was my interest in humanistic psychology and the psychology of consciousness. I have had the freedom, time, and resources after returning here to continue my research into these interests, which eventually led me into studying the worldview of the indigenous people of the high Andes of Peru. I have traveled to Peru, if my reckoning is correct, seventeen times, and I have subsequently shared the results of my work in a blog, in a book, in papers at academic conferences, in presentations to the university community, and in several hundred experiential workshops and classes.

As I contemplate ending my participation in our department I find that there are a couple of things I would like to share with you. I am not engaged in any of your lines of research, so I do not have any information that I can impart that would be relevant to that. What I would like to share is more along the lines of wisdom. Being an elder in a community, at least in some societies, has the perk of being listened to when wisdom is offered, but only if the elder doesn’t over do it. I will be brief.

I want to talk about worldviews. I have, over the years, immersed myself into the traditional worldview of the indigenous people who live in isolated villages in the high Andes of Peru. What I have found has been richly rewarding in my pursuit of exploring the full potential of being human (humanistic psychology) and in my interest in the nature of consciousness. I may be unique in this department in having those interests. What I would like to share, however, concerns a much wider context that includes all of us who participate in the valuable endeavor of science.

I use the term worldview to refer to how the individuals in a culture experience and interact with reality. The Western definition of worldview refers to a culture’s set of concepts and beliefs about the nature of reality. Defining worldviews in terms of underlying concepts and beliefs, however, is a very Western way of looking at things, it applies to the Western worldview but not necessarily to others. The Andean worldview, for example, cannot be described in terms of concepts and beliefs. This brings me to the first piece of wisdom I would like to share, which is that other worldviews cannot be understood from the perspective of our Western worldview, for they are qualitatively different than our own. When we interpret other worldviews through our own worldview than rather than looking through a window at another way of experiencing reality we are, instead, looking into a mirror, and nothing new shines through.

A relevant question is why would we care about other worldviews? This is my answer. Every worldview is based upon a set of assumptions about the basic nature of reality. These assumptions, which are rarely brought to awareness to be examined (because they are assumed to be true), make it easy for a society to excel at some things at the price of making it difficult for the society to excel at other things. This is an inevitable tradeoff.

The Western worldview makes it easy for us to excel at inventing new technology and at gathering information about the world. We are incredibly good at this, look at our technology, look at the expansion of our information about the nature of reality. This same worldview makes it difficult, however, for us to actually experience, and deeply care about, our interconnectedness with life on this planet. Destroying the planet seems like the default trajectory of our society, and it is taking a huge effort to try to change that. Western society, as a result, is in a car speeding toward the cliff, while we sit in the back seat playing with and arguing over our test tubes and toys. When we sail off the edge of the cliff it will be too late to do anything about it, and we will take much of what is beautiful about our planet with us.

The Andean worldview is based upon a very different set of assumptions about reality. These assumptions provide a fundamentally different way of experiencing and interacting with reality. The Andean worldview is particularly good at giving people the experience of being part of nature, living in harmony with nature, and caring about its wellbeing. This worldview, however, has its inevitable limitations. I doubt, for example, that if the Inca empire had not been destroyed by the Spanish that they would have yet gotten around to inventing the internal combustion engine.

If the only worldview we know is our Western worldview then we automatically view other cultures through that perspective. In the Western way of viewing things the Andean culture is seen as a primitive, lesser, version of our own. Look at how how few technological advancements they have made. Look at how little they know about atoms, blackholes, cells, transistors; that vast ocean of knowledge that we scientists are doubling every few years. The Andean worldview, however, is not a primitive version of our own worldview, it is instead a qualitatively different worldview. It is a worldview that in addition to being mindbogglingly interesting offers a way to steer the car away from the cliff. This will not require that we abandon our Western worldview, we can still be scientists, but scientists in a world that is worth living in.

This is what I have been working on. I don’t want our society to destroy the beauty of this planet (particularly not with my help). I also don’t want to give up all of the great things we have accomplished in Western society, and I don’t want to stop the process of science. This seems, however, to be our choice if we are to select one worldview over the other. There is another alternative, an integration of the two, and this is what I have been pursuing these past many years.

On first blush, the idea of integrating two worldview seems logically impossible, for each worldview is built upon a different set of assumptions about the basic nature of reality. The solution I am pursuing can be understood in terms of Lord Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russel’s theory of logical types (Principia Mathematica, 1910-1913). This can be summarized as follows. If we have two different views of reality, two different worldviews, then their integration does not have to involve mashing the two together. It should be possible, instead, to arrive at a meta-worldview that contains those two worldviews while maintaining their distinctions. In the perspective of logical types this meta-worldview exists at a higher logical level than the worldviews it encompasses, and the contradictory assumptions of the worldviews are no longer a problem. This meta-worldview provides a stance where we can maintain our love of science while steering the car way from the edge of the cliff. I have personally found it to be a perspective where the reasons of my heart come into harmony with the reasons of my reason.

This, then, is the second and final piece of wisdom I would like to share. If we want to head toward a future of greater beauty and health for this planet we need not abandon our Western worldview (we will need it) but instead we may need to move up a logical level to a perspective that encompasses both the Western worldview and other worldviews.

It is easy to frame the value of this endeavor in terms of the compelling image of our society speeding toward the cliff.   What brought me into this in the first place, and that continues to be a fundamental part of it, however, is the way it nourishes me personally. Immersing myself in the Andean worldview, and then working on integrating it with the Western worldview, had to happen within myself first. Experiencing reality, and my identity within that reality, from another worldview has been about as an enriching an experience for someone interested in the full potential of being human, and in the psychology of consciousness, as I could possibly have imagined, or planned. I do love to talk about all of this, and if you would like to chat over a cup of coffee or in some other context, before or after I retire, please let me know.

As for my retirement. It is not the end of my exploration, I simply will be spending less time and energy teaching statistics. My intent, to paraphrase the mythologist Martin Shaw, is to leave the village to explore the forest.

Best wishes,
Oakley

 

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Blossoming to the Cosmos

Here is my favorite new meditation, from Américo and Gayle Yábar’s workshop here in Salt Lake earlier this month.

  • Stand comfortably.  I prefer to do this outdoors but it can also be done indoors.
  • With your intent (sincere pretending) connect to the energy of the Pachamama through your feet.
  • Gently touch your llankay with the index finger of your preferred hand.  With your intent connect to the energy of your llankay through your finger.
  • With gentle grace raise that hand up to the Cosmos, bringing the energy of your llankay with it (I like to then spread my fingers as if my hand is blossoming).
  • Connect to the energy of the Cosmos through your hand, let that energy flow down your hand into your llankay, transforming the energy of your llankay into Cosmic energy.
  • Repeat this with your munay and your yachay.

These Andean meditations are so simple and yet they can have such a profound and beautiful effect.  I recommend that you do this every morning for a couple of weeks (it only takes a minute), so that you begin the day with this energy, and see what effect it has on you.  Remember that the only meaning of these meditations is the effect they have on you.  If you like the effect you can add this meditation to your daily dance with the Cosmos.

Below is the group photo from the workshop, it was a very special time together, wonderful waikis!  Click on the photo if you’d like to enlarge it.

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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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