Salka Wind Blog

Posts on the Andean Cosmovision

Category: Andean Cosmovision (page 1 of 8)

Interview

Hi, I was recently interviewed over the phone by people who run the website FuturePrimitive.com.   I’m always a little nervous about such things but I thought it went very well.  Joanne was a great interviewer.  The interview is available at: http://www.futureprimitive.org/…/the-magic-of-the-pachamama/

 

 

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The Creature and its Creations

Don Américo Yábar

The first part of this post was inspired by Alan Watts (1915-1973) and his book Nature, Man, and Woman. Watts was a wonderful writer and philosopher best known for bringing Eastern philosophy into Western culture. His titles include The Way of Zen, Tao: The Watercourse Way, This is It, Psychotherapy East and West, The New Alchemy, The Joyous Cosmology, and The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are.

I would like to begin by asking the question, “Are we more like clocks or are we more like flowers?”

Let us begin by considering clocks. Clocks are created to fulfill a purpose, which is to indicate the time. After the purpose of the clock has been determined we can apply our rational mind to how to construct such an object. From this design various parts are manufactured and assembled into a working clock. The creation of a clock, then, has these elements: 1) it is created by a creator who stands outside of the clock itself; 2) the clock consists of pieces that were made first and then assembled into a whole; and 3) the clock was created to meet some purpose.

Now let us move on to flowers. First, we note that flowers don’t have pieces. They have petals, and stems, and roots but these are all part of a whole. We can break off the petals and call them pieces, but they weren’t created first and then glued on to the stem, they emerged from the stem, and once we turn them into pieces by breaking them off we can’t snap them back into place. Second we note that flowers are not constructed from the outside. Flowers grow from within. The growth of the flowers is informed by the seed (using the the old-fashioned meaning of “informed” which is “to give shape from within”). And third, the flower has no purpose, at least not the sort of rational purpose that goes into making a clock. Flowers weren’t created with a purpose and then inserted into the web of life. They co-evolved with other life, with pollinating insects in particular. Flowers do play an important role in the interrelations of life on the planet. This role was not rationally decided upon from outside the dance of co-evolving life but emerged from within that dance, a dance that earlier proto-flowers had a part in.

In Western society we are very familiar with the process of making things like clocks and computers and houses…and dinner. When we turn to consider who or what made us, and made the Cosmos, it is natural to conceive of a Creator in our own image. Such a Creator would exist outside of the Cosmos that he/she/it created, the Cosmos would consist of individual pieces, and the creation and its pieces (e.g. we humans) would be created for some purpose.

What if a growing flower, however, is the better metaphor for existence and creation, that the Cosmos grew from within, that everything is interconnected, that the creator is not an external God but an internal blossoming, that the Cosmos created itself from within and continues to do so? Well, if this is the better metaphor then we are left with no “purpose” for our existence. Poor us and poor flower!

Alan Watts says about this, “Such a line of thought may be … disturbing, since it suggests a universe of life which has no motive at all…and surely an absolutely purposeless world would be the most depressing of all possibilities.” He then goes on to say, “But the idea of a purposeless world is horrifying because it is incomplete. Purpose is a preeminently human attribute.”

In the dictionary purpose is defined as the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exits. To say that we, and the Cosmos, have no purpose is simply to say that our existence is not the product of rational thought, and that is far from saying what we are the product of, which would be nature and the Cosmos.

Again, turning to Watts.“To say that the world has no purpose is to say that it is not human, or, as the Tao Te Ching puts it: ‘Heaven and Earth are not human-hearted (the Chinese character “jen”)’. But it continues: ‘The sage is not human-hearted‘ (Tao Te Ching, Chapter V).”

What I propose Heaven and Earth (and sages) are is Cosmic-hearted. This flow of thought brings us to the “path of the heart” (see the previous post Paths to the Other Side of Reality). The path of heart does not lead to the human heart and its emotions, it leads through the human heart (actually the munay) to the heart of the Cosmos. This is what underlies the Andean meditations and also underlies salka. The Cosmic heart occasionally shines through the cracks of our reality while we are meditating, and when it does we experience the meaning of our existence.

Returning to earth, I would like to now consider the work of Gregory Bateson (1904-1980). Bateson was an anthropologist, social scientist, and linguist who helped create the discipline of cybernetics (also known as “systems theory”).  He was a pioneer in using cybernetics to explain social, psychological, biological, and ecological systems. Bateson proposed an elegant definition of “mind”  that resolved the “mind/body” problem (the situation where the mind seems to be both transcendent to the physical realm yet also seems to be just a byproduct of the physical realm). It would take too long and be largely irrelevant to describe his solution here but a consequence of it is that both humans and larger ecological systems fit his definition of having a mind.  From within this perspective we can see that human creativity and biological evolution share the same processes, and one is a special case of the other.

Bateson took the cybernetic explanation as far as it could go, eventually tackling the nature of the sacred in his aptly titled book “Angels Fear: Toward an Epistemology of the Sacred”. Some of Bateson’s ideas have appeared earlier in this blog, and in my book, under the titles “Why a Swan?” and “Lesson of the Mask .

The following is from the chapter The Creature and its Creations in his book A Sacred Unity: Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind. In his very logical and erudite way Bateson begins by making the case that creations give us insights into the creatures that created them.  He then turns to the narrative poem Peter Bell by William Wordsworth, and says:

“Wordsworth mocks that to Peter Bell,

‘A primrose by a river’s brim

A yellow primrose was to him,

And it was nothing more.'”

Bateson proposes that, “To the poet, the primrose can be something more. I suggest that this something more is, in fact, a self-reflexive recognition. The primrose resembles a poem and both poem and primrose resemble the poet. He learns about himself as a creator when he looks at the primrose. His pride is enhanced to see himself as a contributor to the vast processes which the primrose exemplifies. And his humility is exercised and made valid by recognizing himself as a tiny product of those processes.”

Yes, he writes that way.

My original intent in creating this post was to share the related thoughts by Alan Watts and Gregory Bateson about the underlying processes of the Cosmos, thoughts that have helped me integrate my experiences in the Andean Cosmovision with my intellectual Western worldview.  As I have been writing, however, another thought has arisen that I would like to include.

Many years ago don Américo recommended to me that ‘we make our lives a work of art”.  I have always loved that advice.  In thinking about it now I see it as a way of having my life be more in accord with the processes of the Cosmos itself.  I think about the world a lot, and when I do I often get to a decision that seems to have no rational best choice;  “On the one hand I could…” and “but on the other hand I could…”  This is very familiar territory for me.  When I remember Americo’s advice I turn back to the options and ask myself which would be the more artistic path to take.  When I do the choice is usually obvious.

 

 

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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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Ccochamocco

Warning:  my story of Ccochamocco has come unstuck in time (apologies to Kurt Vonnegut).  Note that I have also added a glossary to the blog, it is available through the menu on the right side of the page.

In the year 2000,  Américo and Gayle Yábar took a few friends and me to the Q’ero village of Ccochamocco (also spelled Qochamoqo) in the high Andes of Peru.  It was such a remote place.  First, of course, we had to get to Cusco, which itself seems pretty remote, located at 11,000 feet and 4,500 miles from my home.  From Cusco we drove on a dirt road for several hours, winding higher up into the Andes to get as close to the village as we could by road.  We set up camp by the road, and then the next morning we mounted horses and rode for two days, over two 17,000 foot passes, to reach Ccochamocco, itself located at 15,000 feet.  In Ccochamocco we met the villagers, engaged in sacred ceremony with the paq’os, and connected with the energy of Apu Wamanlipa.  It was one of the great adventures of my life.

I have recently been informed that Ccochamocco can now be reached by road.   It feels to me like the end of an era.  There are some stories and photos I would like very much to share.


I would like to begin 16 years ago.

Bob Pasternak (left) and me (right) at the camp along the road.

 

The next morning we began our two-day ride to the village.

 

This was taken from the first summit at 17,000 feet, looking back at Apu Ausangate.

We set up camp in a valley between the two summits.  As we sat around relaxing after a long day of riding horses, Américo casually mentioned that he had not notified the people of Ccochamocco that we were coming, and that he could not guarantee our reception.  He added, however, that this should not be a problem as he had been visiting the village for over 20 years, and they knew that he would only bring visitors who had open hearts.

choochoo

This photo was taken shortly after don Américo pointed out to us that the Q’ero always sit huddled together to share body warmth. We introduced them to the ‘Choo Choo’ formation.

 

Don Bonito and don Pascual

Don Bonito (left) and don Pascual (center). Don Pascual was probably in his 70’s at this point, still walking to and from Q’ero. He was a cherished part of my trips to Peru. Don Américo described him as “The Merlin of the Andes”. Don Pascual died a few years ago.

 

Don Americo Yabar

Don Américo Yábar

 

The photo above was taken just past the second summit. Don Domingo (now deceased) is in the foreground, Apu Wamanlipa (the primary Apu of Ccochamocco) is in the background.

 

arriving

Coming down from the summit to the village (Bob Pasternak in foreground). In addition to our own food and equipment we brought supplies as a gift for the village.

 

The village of Ccochamocco, at 15,000 feet.

We arrived in Ccochamocco in the afternoon of the second day. We set up camp in an alpaca corral on the other side of a small hill from the village. I walked up the hill to take the photo.

 

Don Favion (center) and don Pascual (to his left…our right).

A delegation of village elders came out to meet us, including don Favion.  We were very lucky (if indeed it was luck) that don Favion was visiting Ccochamocco.  He was a very renowned paq’o and he agreed to lead our ceremony.  Don Favion died a month after we were there.

This meeting was not a social event.  A very important part of the Andean Cosmovision is the process of people harmonizing their different energies.  It is a test of the compatibility of people’s energies.  With the Q’ero, as far as I can tell, this involves my willingness to open my munay (my heart energy).  I love being with people where their acceptance of me is based upon my willingness to open my heart.  It is what makes coming back to the United States, and academia, so difficult for me at times.  My society seems so cold and distant by comparison.

Four years earlier, in my first trip to Peru, my first formal meeting with the paq’os from Q’ero took place in a forested mountainside outside of Cusco, at dusk.  We were sitting in a circle in a small clearing.  We each were given an opportunity to say something.  I didn’t know what to say so I just described my experience at the moment.  I said that I could feel the energy of my heart expanding in their presence.  They responded, “yes, we are watching that”.

They were all sitting with their mesas spread out in front of them.  After much internal debate I took out my red cowboy bandana and spread it out on the ground in front of me and put a quya on it that had been given to me by don Américo.  I wanted to honor them by joining them in this, but I didn’t know if it would be taken as such or if they would be insulted, and I really cared about how they would feel about it.  I finally sucked up my courage and did it. I asked don Americo about it afterwards.  He said that for 500 years (ever since the Spanish conquest) the Q’ero had remained purposely isolated from a Western society that belittled everything the Q’ero cared about. They knew that I had traveled a far, far distance to be with them, and I had a mesa.  He looked at me with kind eyes and smiled.  It was evening by the time our meeting was over, and we made our way in silence down the mountainside, through the darkness, under the trees, a Q’ero holding each us each by the hand to guide us down safely.

Back to Ccochamocco. After the delegation left it was getting late and Américo told us that our meeting with the rest of the villagers would take place the next day.

The following morning I awoke early and sat on a rock in the morning sun writing in my journal and drinking coffee.  Then occurred one of the most meaningful moments of my life.  I can’t really describe why it was so meaningful, I can only describe what happened, perhaps you will understand.

Trip 3: Amiga 1

I looked up from my journal and was surprised to see a young girl standing there, just a few feet away, looking at me.  She had walked over from the village to check us out.  At that moment my friend Sally leaned out of her tent and took this picture.

The little girl was pure salka. I didn’t speak quechua and she didn’t speak English. I am a father, however, and I know how to communicate my heart to children. I remarked on her pretty necklace and her beads, I told her how happy I was to see her.

Trip 3: Amiga 2

She cuddled up next to me, and together, in salka, we watched the morning unfold.

Much later I gave a report on the trip to my department at the university. When I told this story one faculty member said, “Sounds like a special moment for you Oakley, but did anything important happen during the trip?” Two worlds. I live in them both. I endeavor to be a bridge.

Don Américo wasn’t around that morning.  When he returned he explained that he had been with don Favion.  Even though, I believe, they knew each other quite well,  as part of the process don Favion had to demonstrate to Américo that he had the power to initiate us, and don Américo had to formally take responsibility for us being ready for the ceremony (there would be energetic consequences to him if we weren’t).  He did not elaborate on what these processes and consequences entailed.

Before we could have a sacred ceremony with the villagers we needed to meet with them.  It was necessary for all concerned to see if we could mesh our munay (heart) energy in a harmonious way, for only then could we travel on together.

Gathering with the villagers.

Trip 3: Villagers 2

The meeting was beautiful.

Gayle’s friend ‘Rojo’ (back left) and don Américo (back right).

Later that day we walked part way up Apu Wamanlipa to a natural stone circle at its base, to have our ceremony. We were welcome to take pictures but I wanted to be fully immersed in the experience rather than documenting it, so I only have photos of us going up Apu Wamanlipa to the ceremony and coming back.

walkingup

Heading up Apu Wamanlipa. Clouds born far, far below in the jungle are working their way up the valley.

 

Walking back from the ceremony through the clouds.

The next day we began our two day trek back to the road.

breakfast

Breakfast on the second morning of our journey back. The ambiance is great but it is hard to get reservations.


When I first met don Américo in the 1990’s the Q’ero would walk for five days through the mountains from their villages to Cusco to sell their goods and to purchase what the villages could not make themselves (sugar, candles, matches, etc.). Which reminds me of a story told to me by Tom Best.

Tom was with Américo when he made a phone call from the U.S. to his daughter Arilu in Cusco.  Américo asked after the Q’ero who were in Cusco at that time and then exclaimed “Don _____, I though he left for Q’ero four days ago!”. After the phone call was over Américo explained that don ______ had walked two days back towards Q’ero when he realized that he had left his wristwatch at don Américo’s house. So he turned around and walked back to get it.  Américo then laughed and said that the watch doesn’t even work.  I have to admire a life where that decision makes as much sense as any other.

I asked Américo about that story later. He added another piece to it. Américo and Gayle caught a ride in the back of a pickup truck up to an isolated pass in the Andes where they were to meet the Q’ero at a specified time. They hopped off the truck and looked around, no Q’ero. They waited for quite a while and finally decided they had better start walking back. After an hour or two of walking down the road they passed a stone hut, and went in for shelter. There were the Q’ero.  Américo spoke to don ______ saying “where were you, you were suppose to meet us at the pass hours ago?” Don ______ looked at his (broken) watch and replied, “No, we are right on time!”


The indigenous people, like the Q’ero, who live in remote villages, who still live a life informed by the Andean Cosmovision, and are identifiable by their traditional clothing, reside in the lowest level of the strict Peruvian social structure.  In Cusco, teenagers jump out of pickup trucks and beat them up.  They are often denied entry to hotels and restaurants.  If they are allowed into a restaurant they may receive very poor service and noticeably inferior food.  It is one of the few times I have heard of Américo getting seriously angry, when he stormed into a kitchen after the Q’ero were served soup with no meat or vegetables.  When we are in the outback of Peru, Gayle and Américo will usually take over the task of being the waiters to the Q’ero, making sure they are treated with respect and get the same quality food as the rest of us

When I first met Américo his friends from Q’ero would stay at his house when they visited Cusco.  When that finally got to be too big of a burden for his wife, Américo arranged for a safe house in Cusco where the Q’ero could stay for free, and a restaurant where they could eat.  If the Q’ero left a thumbprint on the receipt Américo would pay it.


There are many paths into the Andean Cosmovision, some are paths of power and some are paths of heart.  As a personal predilection I have been drawn to the path exemplified by don Américo and don Gayle, which is a path of heart.  On this path power is not the goal; instead, wisdom, beauty, and power arise as a byproduct of being in right relationship with Nature and the Cosmos. These relationships are guided by munay and fueled by ayni.

In 2014, I sponsored a workshop by Américo here in Utah. When Américo arrived he told me that before he left Peru he met with a group of Andean women.  When he told them that he was going to the United States, and that he would be seeing me, they all removed their necklaces and gave them to him to give to me. I was stunned and moved to tears when he told me this. Later that morning we were all sitting together in the workshop and a thought arose from deep inside (where I believe we are connected to the Cosmos) and I did one of those rare perfect things at the perfect time.  I told the participants the story about the necklaces, and then gave one to each person there. I said that this path was not about us, it is about Us; you, and me, and Pachamama, and the trees, and the rivers, and the stars, and the people of Peru.  At that moment, as I passed on the necklaces, I was a station on the circle of ayni.  The path is about munay and ayni and circles of relationships, relationships with organic beings and inorganic beings. This is a dance that is way beyond the realm of the intellect and its ego.


I know of two organizations that are helping the Q’ero achieve the higher quality of life they desire from their increased interactions with the West, while validating  the beauty and importance of their worldview and nourishing its continuance, I recommend them both to you; they are  Kenosis Spirit Keepers (of which I am the vice president) and the Heart Walk Foundation.  They approach this mission from somewhat different directions, if you are interested please check them both out.  From my munay.  Oakley

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Hampi Taki: A Salka Project

From a traditional song sung by the women of Peru.

I walk without shoes in the mountains.
My bare feet touch the mountainside.
The mountain takes pleasure in knowing my body.

Before I describe the hampi taki project I would like to touch again briefly two concepts I have covered in earlier posts, salka and ayni.

Salka is quechua (the language of the Andes) for undomesticated energy.  The wolf is salka while the dog is domesticated, the condor is salka while the chicken is domesticated, the deer is salka while the sheep is domesticated.  Salka is essential life energy, so it may not be quite accurate to say that some beings are more salka than others. It might be better to say that some beings are more domesticated than others.  In domesticated beings our domestication is like a veneer through which the light of salka must shine. The Andean meditations that I have shared in this blog and in my book help us get in touch with our salka, which in turn, brings into our awareness the mystery and beauty of our existence as living beings.  The Peruvian mystics Américo Yábar and Gayle Yábar are founders of the Poetic Salka Movement on the Planet, and they have been my mentors in my exploration of the Andean Cosmovision.  For more information on salka please visit this post.

Ayni is a quechua term for reciprocity. Ayni is the guiding principle of relationships within the traditional Andean culture. When you give you receive, and when you receive you give. Completing the circle of ayni elevates both parties, it is like a spiral, where every time the circle is completed the relationship moves to a higher level. The traditional Andean people live in ayni with each other, with their domesticated animals, with their land, and with the Cosmos.  Ayni is not a social obligation, it is a dance that enlivens both party’s sacred energy.  For more information on ayni please visit this post.

When I earn money from teaching the Andean Cosmovision–e.g. in my workshops or my classes or my book–I like to give half of the money to the people of Peru as ayni. This completes the circle of ayni between the Andean people (who have so open heartedly shared their Cosmovision with the West), and the people who have taken my classes or have purchased my book or have donated on my Salka Wind web page.  I don’t mean to come across as saintly in mentioning this.  Other people are doing things like this as well, and I am ridiculously pleased to be part of it.  In my mind’s eye I see great circles of ayni being formed across the continents, connecting the munays of many beings (organic and inorganic) on the planet.  From these circles of ayni the future may blossom in greater beauty.

I use some of this money to help fund the  “hampi taki project”.  Hampi taki is quechua for singing medicine. Over the years the beautiful, traditional, songs that have linked the Andean women to the Cosmos (e.g. the barefoot in the mountain song at the beginning of this post) have been slowly replaced by laments about how hard life is in the post Spanish conquest society. In the hampi taki project Américo has revived the traditional songs, and  teaches the women how to create a flow of healing energy as they sing.   He pays the women for learning this way of signing.  After they master it, he then pays them to teach other women.  In this way the singing medicine is spreading from village to village, and now has a strong presence as far away as the jungle and Bolivia.

To me this is such a beautiful way to use money to nourish salka. Western society is sweeping through the high Andes like a tsunami. The associated material benefits are available for those who have money, which usually involves them having to step away from their traditional culture.  In the hampi taki project the women have a way to earn money by stepping more deeply into their traditions.  They are also receiving a clear but implicit message that their traditional culture has things worth holding on to…plus there is healing involved…and salka.

I have included below some photographs (compiled from various visits) of women who have sung to me and my friends as ayni for our support of the project.  I particularly love seeing the children there, knowing that they are watching their mothers being valued for the beauty of what they are offering to the West.

Photos by Karen Cottingham and Barbara Mahan © 2013 by the photographers, all rights reserved.

Text and all other photos in this post © at time of posting, Oakley Gordon , licensed under a Creative Commons License — some rights reserved.

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