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In my stories about my travels to Peru to study the Andean Cosmovision (Trip 1, Trip 2, Trip 3), I talk about the evolution that was going on in my understanding of the Cosmovision and how I was attempting to work this all into my career as a university professor. In the story I am currently writing (covering the fourth trip), I have arrived at the point in my career where I began to write articles and present papers at academic conferences. In the story I talk briefly (just a few sentences) about the papers and articles, just enough to illustrate how my thoughts about all of this began to evolve and blossom. It has occurred to me, however, that I would like to make the full articles available for you. This first paper (presented in 1997) is rather long and is more scientifically oriented than my later writings but you might find it interesting and I would like to share it with you.
Therapeutic Metaphors in Andean Mysticism
Gordon, O. E. (1997, April). Therapeutic Metaphors in Andean Mysticism. A paper presented to The Utah Academy of Science, Arts & Letters.
From the Editor (me 25 years later): This was my first attempt to step beyond the context of my university and share the Andean Cosmovision with a wider academic audience. In this paper, much more so than in my later writings, I stand within the Western scientific worldview, using thoughts about the nature of science to explain and validate my efforts to study the Cosmovision.
As I mention in my “Editor’s Notes” at the end of the paper, when I finished this paper and delivered it to the Academy I was dissatisfied with my approach, feeling that I had sacrificed the beauty and value of the Andean Cosmovision in order to stay within the realm of science. Still, it was an important early step for me in my endeavor to understand and present the Cosmovision, and it gave me the opportunity to cite some of my favorite articles and topics within psychology (e.g. cybernetics and metaphorical thinking).
This paper presents the preliminary results from a project to model shamanistic approaches to healing. The tradition examined was that of the Peruvian Andes, as represented by the practices of several Andean paq’os (the indigenous term for spiritual leader / healer / shaman). Observations were made during 27 days of workshops in the United States by an Andean paq’o, followed by 32 days in Peru working with paq’os of the Q’ero and Mollamarca people. While far short of an exposure necessary to create a general model of Andean mysticism, specific pieces of the general pattern became evident. One such piece, the use of therapeutic metaphors, holds promise for promoting psychological health across cultures. The project illuminates the problems of, and a solution to, integrating scientific and indigenous world-views.
Always the more beautiful answer who asks the more difficult question. — e. e. cummings
In 1994, I became involved in a project to create a psychological model of a shamanistic approach to healing. The goal was to determine what aspects of the relationship between a shaman and a patient predict a successful outcome. The project was part of a larger endeavor to seek beneficial psychological patterns in indigenous cultures for the purpose of importing those patterns into our own culture. Of particular interest were societies that developed outside of Western philosophical influence, specifically outside of those aspects of Western thought attributed to the philosophy of René Descartes.
The term epistemology refers to a society’s doctrine concerning the nature of knowledge, what it means to know something, and how such knowledge is acquired and validated. Thus, epistemology lies in the very foundation of a society’s view of reality. The anthropologist Gregory Bateson proposed that many of our society’s more intractable problems arise from Western society’s epistemology which has its roots in Descartes’ dualistic model of reality. Bateson argued that the problems inherent in Descartes’ epistemology are evident in the two opposing camps that have arisen from Descartes’ dualism; scientific materialism and new-age spiritualism (Bateson, 1972, 1991; Bateson & Bateson, 1987). In looking for significant, new, therapeutic patterns for Western culture, therefore, it may be particularly useful to turn attention to indigenous cultures that developed completely outside of Cartesian influence. One such culture is that of the indigenous people of the Andes, the focus of this project.
The potential of tapping into the Andean world-view was recognized by the ethno-astronomer William Sullivan (1996).
[I realized] the possibility that the Andean civilization had been fundamentally influenced by a teaching of staggering antiquity. And if such a teaching was alive and thriving in the New World at the time of the Conquest, this meant that Andean civilization had preserved, right up to the very threshold of the modern era, a portion of the human legacy thought only to exist in fragmentary form among various shards of the record of Old World antiquity…I held my mind open to the possibility that I might well be looking at a stratum of human thought that lay at bedrock… (pp. 51-52)
The overall framework of the project was to model therapeutic psychological processes in the healing ceremonies of the Andes. I also envisioned the project as building a bridge between two world-views, that of the Andes and that of Western science. I knew that entering the project as a scientist-looking-to-test-a-theory would blind me from the novel patterns I was hoping to discover in a non-Cartesian culture. On the other hand, to simply experience the Andean perspective without bringing something back to science would take away much of the value of the project. My plan, therefore, was to create a model that would evolve over time, moving back and forth from experience to model building, and that would eventually lead to an integration of the two world-views. I greatly underestimated the scope of that task…as well as its beauty and significance.
The methodology and outcomes of this study do not fit within the normal mold of psychological inquiry. Thus, it may be useful to make explicit some of the considerations underlying the approach. This should enhance an understanding of the later details as well as provide a conceptual framework for explaining the evolution of the project itself.
While I sought to make observations that were relatively theory-free, it is impossible for observations to be epistemologically-free. To claim that observations can be free of any epistemology is to have a bad epistemology. But, as Keeney (1983) points out, “The claim to have no epistemology is ‘bad’ only if the individual uses such a claim to avoid responsibility for his ideas, perceptions, and decisions. Having no conscious awareness of one’s epistemology is not necessarily bad, although such unawareness may be risky. I would prefer to say that the claim to have no epistemology reveals an epistemology that does not include a conscious awareness of itself.” (p. 13). In the case of this project, which involves looking outside of my society’s epistemology for therapeutic patterns, I did not assume that I could proceed with no epistemology in place, but instead that I should proceed with an epistemology that might allow me to step out of the Western, Cartesian-based, worldview.
The epistemology adopted for the project was that provided by Gregory Bateson in his work on cybernetics. This epistemology seemed appropriate in several ways. First, Bateson presented cybernetic epistemology as a replacement to that of Descartes, which is relevant given that the goal of this project was to step out of a Cartesian-based view of reality. Second, Bateson’s epistemology resolves dilemmas that occur when our Western materialistic science attempts to address the topic of spirituality (which resides in the opposing camp of Cartesian dualism). Spirituality is part of many indigenous therapeutic processes, including that of the Andes, and a non-Cartesian epistemology was necessary to resolve the problems that arose in modeling this aspect of the process. And third, as a systems-based epistemology, cybernetics places a greater emphasis on relationships than it does on relata. I anticipated that the significant contributions from indigenous cultures would be found in the way they integrate the various facets of their internal experience (i.e. in the relationship between those facets) as well as in the way they relate to each other and to the Cosmos.
The Modeling Process
The goal of the project was to create a model of Andean therapeutic processes. Given that the model was to bridge epistemologies, rather than remaining purely within the Western epistemology, an expansive view of the term model is called for. The conceptualization of the term used in this project came from one of the founders of the field of cybernetics, the mathematician W.R. Ashby in his chapter Analysis of the system to be modeled in the book The Process of Model-Building in the Behavioral Sciences (1970).
One of the assumptions underlying the Western worldview is that intellectual constructs of reality, including scientifically constructed, mathematical models, reflect the deepest level of reality, that the models reflect the laws that govern reality, and thus are meta to reality. Ashby disagreed, stating, “I would like then to start from the basic fact that every model of a real system is in one sense second-rate. Nothing can exceed, or even equal, the truth and accuracy of the real system itself. Every model is inferior, a distortion, a lie.” (p. 94). No model can equal, let alone surpass, the aspect of reality being modelled,”…the truth is the whole system, not any extract of it” (p. 95).
If models are ‘second-rate’, ‘distortions’, ‘lies’ then what is the point of creating them? Ashby proposes that models are important for purely pragmatical reasons, they make something that is very complicated easier to understand, and it is upon that criterion that models should be evaluated; “I shall take as a basis the thesis that the first virtue of a model is to be useful” (p. 96). In accordance, this project’s goal of modeling the Andean therapeutic processes focused on pragmatics, arriving at a therapeutically useful bridging of Western and Andean approaches, rather than focusing on theory.
Moving on to the consideration of what form will such a model take. The basic nature of a model is to present a similar structure, or set of processes, as the system being modeled. This can take a variety of forms. As an example, Ashby describes four possible models of a cat’s brain, each justifiable in its own context (p. 97):
- An exact anatomical model in wax.
- A suitably shaped jelly that vibrates, when concussed, with just the same waves as occur in the real brain.
- A biochemical soup that reacts biochemically just as does the cat’s brain when drugs are added.
- A programmed computer that gives just the same responses to auditory stimuli as does the living brain.
Ashby states that no one form of a model is inherently better than another, and that the selection of an appropriate form for the model should be driven by the questions that generate the need to make the model. The questions driving this project were those of exploration (i.e., “What therapeutic patterns exist in the Andean world?”); expression (i.e., “How can those patterns be expressed in a manner that can be understood and evaluated by western psychology?”); and integration (i.e., “How can processes from a mystical approach be translated into scientific terms without losing their essence?”). As the model was to evolve as a product of an ongoing integration of the Andean and scientific world views, no ‘a priori’ limitations were set concerning the final form of the model, other than the criteria that it should address those questions.
Co-evolution of Methodology and Results
During the early stages of the project the definition, direction, methodology and results went through a series of reciprocal changes. As the process of searching for an appropriate foundation upon which to proceed provided much of the value of the project, a description of this process is given below.
The project began at a workshop in Utah, in 1994, entitled “Modeling a Healer”. The workshop was sponsored by several Western psychotherapeutic organizations and individuals. The healer they brought in to be modelled was don Américo Yábar from the Andes of Peru. Don Américo had reached a level of mastery in several Peruvian mystical traditions, and had also obtained a western education, which provided us with a unique resource to bridge the two cultures, a goal which he shared. Our goal was to arrive at a model of his verbal and nonverbal patterns in establishing a therapeutic relationship with his patients.
We began with the assumption that don Américo represented a shamanistic approach to healing. One of the first shifts in the project was away from defining the task as one of modeling a shaman to defining the task as one of modeling a paq’o (the Andean term for mystic/healer), for don Américo is a paq’o. The term “shaman” has its origins in the Tungus people of Siberia and originally was used to refer to the spiritual healers of that tradition. The use of the term within psychology has grown, however, to the point where it is now commonly used to refer to virtually all healers/mystics/seers/spiritual-leaders from all indigenous cultures from the past 100,000 years. As the scope of the term has enlarged to encompass so many traditions, it has lost much of its descriptive value. Various psychologists have proposed more specific definitions of the term (see Peters, 1989; Walsh, 1989, 1994), but their descriptions fail to accurately portray much of what was being offered by don Américo paq’o. Consequently, to avoid inaccurate generalizations the more specific term of “paq’o” will be used in the remainder of this paper.
The structure of the workshop was to invite the paq’o to demonstrate the Andean approach to healing within a context where those processes could be modeled. Information was gathered from individuals who participated within the ceremonies as well as those that stood back to observe the interaction between those involved. Audio and video recordings were made of most of the workshop, and the audio recordings were transcribed. Those variables that a cybernetic epistemology would predict might be relevant were examined; including the environmental, behavioral, cognitive, communicational, and relational aspects of the healing interaction.
The five-day workshop proved to be too short to develop a sufficient model of the approach being offered. There was enough time, however, to evoke personally significant therapeutic effects in virtually all of the participants, which in turn led to sufficient interest to support additional workshops.2 Many of the participants continued their participation in later workshops to pursue personal outcomes, or to gather therapeutic patterns for their professional practice. Of the original modeling team, I was the only one to pursue the goal of developing a model for the purpose of contributing to the academic, psychological literature. I subsequently participated in an additional 22 days of workshops by the paq’o in the United States, and then spent 32 days in Peru (May 1996 and March 1997) working with paq’os of the Q’ero and Mollamarca people. During the time I spent with the Andean people, the scope of the model, the form of the model, and the modeling process itself continued to evolve. The scope of the model grew as I realized the healing process went beyond the relationship between the paq’o and the patient, to include their relationships with the rest of the Cosmos as well. Thus, an understanding of the tradition being modeled required an understanding of their Cosmology, and I enlarged the scope of the model to include the larger perspective of the Andean Cosmovision (the most accurate descriptive name for the Andean worldview).
The form of the model also shifted as more information became available. The Andean people draw several distinctions within their perspective that are an inherent part of their tradition. An understanding of these distinctions is necessary to understand both the form of the model and the model itself.
Paña and Lloq’e
One distinction made in the Andean Cosmology is between the paña and the lloq’e. The paña is represented by the right side of the body, and involves our ordinary, everyday, culturally-driven experience of reality. Verbal expression is of the paña, as is our experience of the world as existing of independent objects. Both science and religious dogma rely on symbolic (mathematical or verbal) representation and reside within the paña. The lloq’e is represented by the left side of the body, and involves a mysterious, enigmatic, non-ordinary experience of reality. While the lloq’e is, by definition, ineffable, a verbal description that points in the correct direction is to say that the lloq’e experiences objects of the world as interconnected bundles of energetic filaments rather than as independent objects. In the reality of the lloq’e, there is less distinction between animate and inanimate objects, as everything is seen as consisting of a vital, interconnected, energy.
Remembering that the goal of the project was to create a model that was informed3 by the approach being modeled, the Andean distinction between paña and lloq’e should influence the form of the model. The question is, can a part of the system to be modeled that asserts it is beyond all symbolic representation be included in the model? There is historical precedence for such an apparently paradoxical model. It can be found in the ancient Taoist writing by Lao Tzu, The Tao Te Ching, (trans. 1972) when it addresses the nature of its central principle “The Tao”. The first line of the book is “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao”.
There is also some utility in communicating that some aspect of a model is ineffable. The Greek Cratylus (circa 500 B. C.), apparently dissatisfied with the unbroachable gulf between reality and symbolic representations of reality, refused to use speech and went around pointing at things. Unfortunately, he never told anyone why he was doing that and consequently his communication was ineffective. In a model that addresses the ineffable, it may still be useful to use words to indicate that part of the model is beyond words.
Yachay, Munay, and Llankay
Another aspect of Andean mysticism is a distinction between three energy centers, or aspects of existence, that can be found within the human being. The yachay is the center of intellect, located in our head. The munay is the center of our emotions, located in our heart. The llankay is the center of our physical manifestation, our ability to act in the world, and is located in the balance point of our body. The Andean Cosmovision, and the processes I experienced during this research, are directed at all three levels. In my experiential exploration of this system I have experienced–in addition to my intellectual insights–tremendous shifts in my emotional reactions to the world. I have also experienced alterations in my diet, physical activity, and lifestyle; changes that have occurred not through proscription by the paq’os but by listening to the changing needs of my body. Traditional, academic models are intellectual but the intellect is only part of the system to be modeled. This provides yet another challenge to creating a model of Andean Cosmology.
It became obvious to me that to experience the Andean worldview I needed to get out of a purely intellectual perspective and fully experience what was being offered. I abandoned the approach of trying to gather information as an outside observer measuring various variables. I adopted, instead, the method of fully experiencing the processes without academic filters. Later, I would go back over my experiences, and with the help of transcripts and notes, apply my intellect to the creation of a communicable model.
My participation in the ceremonies and processes of the paq’os led to a dramatic series of changes in my thinking, my emotions, and in my body; as well as corresponding alterations in my relationships between the various aspects of myself, between myself and other people, and between myself and the natural world. I did not know if it would be possible to build a bridge between those experiences and the type of discourse required by science.
I could not. Many of my experiences in the project are not accessible to intellectual discourse, and I found my heart rebelling against attempts to force the beauty of my experiences through the filters of science. The project of creating a model did not fail, however, due to two developments. One development was that I found that part of what I learned could be understood and expressed in a way that could contribute to psychology. The second development was that in my effort to present my experiences in a way that would not destroy their true nature, I was driven to seek a way to integrate the Andean Cosmovision with the Western worldview. The successful completion of this integration, presented in the last section of the paper, was a necessary prerequisite to writing the following model.
One part of the overall pattern of my training with the paq’os stands out as being (a) explicable, (b) something that can be pulled out of the larger pattern without doing it serious injustice, and (c) of potential therapeutic use in technological cultures. It also provides a useful context for describing the process of bridging the Andean and scientific world-views without doing injustice to either one.
The pattern of interest involves a set of processes that have in common the formation of a connection between the individual and some aspect of nature (e.g. wind, river, earth, sun, tree). The creation of such a relationship allows the individual to tap a vast reservoir of therapeutic resources. I’ll begin the description of the pattern at the mystical level at which I first encountered it, and then move into creating a bridge between the processes and science. In doing so, the value of the modeling process becomes evident; as the freedom to experience the processes as offered is seen to lead to revelations regarding the nature of science, while the insistence of bringing science into the description is seen to lead to a greater applicability of the process.
The following is an Andean meditative process for connecting with the spirit of a river, as presented by don Américo. The goal of the meditation is to cleanse oneself of negative feelings, and to learn how to flow through life. I will first present the process and then take a look at how to approach it from a scientific/academic perspective. I have edited this and the following transcripts to enhance the clarity of the instructions and their underlying concepts.
All the previous work that we have done has been performed with the purpose of peeling the onion inside of us. So, as we are peeling the onion–taking the layers off–all the mental obsessions, the internal dialogs, the defense mechanisms are dissipating little by little. This will allow the way to a new perception, so that we can modify the perception of the body, and then work with another state of consciousness. What we are primarily doing is moving down from the mind to the heart. Everything is trapped here, in the mind, where we understand or don’t understand…
Each of us picks which side of the house we want [paña or lloq’e]. If you are interested in the other side, then you have to pass to the other side. To know the other side … you have to know the hallway, you have to go through that hallway, with your own experience.
So now we are going to work with the river. This work is a therapy that is beautiful and pure. It is the work with the spirit of the river…. We are going to be connected with the spirit of the river, so that we are going to clean ourselves, and purify ourselves, with the fluidness and the vibrations of the river…. The indigenous Andeans, in the canyons of the high altitudes, when they feel sad, or they are tired, then they go and lay down on top of a rock by the river, like a lizard. And then they close their eyes, and they let the vibrations of the water and the wind flow through their body.
With intent, you can let any accumulation of energy flow with the vibrations of the river. With intense communication with the spirit of the water you will obtain not only a fluidness of vibrations, but also a natural therapy. It is very simple, and rare.
So, each one of us, we are going to look along the river, and we are going to do our work with the meditation. We are going to fuse ourselves with the spirit of the river… I’m going to suggest to each one of you to find the place along the riverside that is the most beautiful aesthetically for your body, and also the most comfortable for your body…. Look for the place that you really want for your body, and the position you want for your body. What I am suggesting is not to be rigid at all, because you are working with the spirit of the fluidness.
Don’t forget. You will be letting the river clear away any accumulation of energy you may have. An accumulation of energy–in your mind, in your feelings, in your body–will create a state of worry. And that worry will be translated into an illness. So, let it flow, all the vibrations from your body, in the currents of the river. Be quiet, completely in tune with nature. So, each one of you has to look for a place, and if you have any questions please ask them now.
Q: What do we do?
Find a spot, get comfortable, do nothing, and meditate, flow. In the right side [paña] don’t do, the answer is ‘not to do’. The ‘intention’ goes with doing. The ‘intent’ is just to connect yourself to the spirit of the river, and to let the energy flow, just very quietly, in the state of awareness, of consciousness, that it brings. It favors a lot the cleaning of the filaments. But you are not going to do it, the river is going to do it for you. Good luck…
The primary challenge in creating a scientific, psychological, model of the process described above is that the process presupposes an animistic universe (e.g. we are to blend our spirit with the spirit of the river). The term animism, in this context, fits the definition offered by Reber (1985), “The belief that all things animate or inanimate, living or not living, possess a soul or other form of spiritual essence that transcends the physical form.” (p. 36).
That there is a problem with integrating an animistic perspective with a scientific perspective can be seen towards the end of Reber’s definition. After giving various other uses of the term, Reber concludes with the following, “A number of gentle euphemisms have been coined to denote these ideas since the above meanings have tarnished the term so that there is a distinct reluctance to use it to represent anything that one would want others to take seriously.” (p. 37) And that, indeed, is the problem. How can science take an animistic viewpoint seriously?
I will begin by stating that animism (as defined here) and science are incompatible belief systems. At least I could not, in my attempt to integrate the two world views, bridge that gap. I could, perhaps, have taken a stand that they are mutually exclusive and yet both correct, but that would have been an abandonment of my goal to bring the two together in a unified perspective. I also found that my own skepticism of an animistic viewpoint was detracting from my participation in the processes being studied. I could not seriously adopt a perspective where my desk, my trash can, and my stapler had spirits residing within them. If I was having that problem then I could anticipate that others from my culture would experience similar problems. Thus, my goal of importing therapeutic processes from the Andean culture to my own culture was in jeopardy.
The resolution to this problem began with a startling comment by the paq’o. Someone had asked him about the use of crystals in healing. While he does not use crystals, he knows healers that do. He began to explain their use, that various colors of crystals can be used to cure various problems. For example, pink crystals are good for working on problems of the heart. And then, he looked at us and said, “You know it is not the crystal that is important, it is the color of the crystal.” He paused, and added “And, it is not really the color of the crystal, it is what the color means to us.” With that statement, all of the information I had gathered to that point suddenly shifted into a new organization.
An implication of his statement is that rivers can cleanse us and teach us how to flow through life because that is what rivers mean to us. The same can be said of the processes for connecting to other aspects of nature, that their ability to evoke therapeutic change is based upon our understanding of them. In other words, the processes and stories he had taught us could be viewed as metaphors, whose purpose was to connect our experiences of the natural world to corresponding physical, intellectual, and emotional processes within ourselves.
When I reframed my understanding of the processes being offered by the paq’o as being metaphors designed to access our own internal processes, I was free to fully experience them without my (valuable, but in this case, ill-timed) scientific skepticism interfering with the process. It also pointed to an established area of psychology where my research on Andean processes could be offered as a contribution, the area of ‘therapeutic metaphors’. I had my first glimpse of how to create a bridge from the mysticism of the Andes to the science of psychology.
The concept of ‘metaphor’ came to serve as a keystone for both threads of the project; the discovery and communication of therapeutic patterns in indigenous cultures, and the formation of a perspective that could encompass both a mystical and a scientific world-view. It is thus worth an elaboration on the nature of metaphorical thought.
The role of metaphors in human cognition and behavior was explored in the influential work of Lakoff and Johnson (1980). They proposed that the essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another. The various forms of metaphor (including myths, stories, and poems) connect two similar aspects of the world, allowing our knowledge of one to inform our knowledge of the other. For a metaphor to be useful, the two aspects of the world must have similar relationships and processes, though the objects within those aspects may differ. For example, the relevance to our lives of the play Hamlet lies not in the actual characters or the specific setting, but in the relationships between and within the characters. The play moves us, and may also inform us, to the degree to which we can see similar struggles within our own lives. Thus the ‘understanding’ available through metaphors arises when one aspect of the world shares similar processes with some other aspect of the world.
Far from being simply a linguistic device, metaphors play a crucial role as a foundation for much of our thinking. As Lakoff and Johnson (1980) state:
Metaphor is for most people a device of the poetic imagination…Metaphor is typically viewed as characteristic of language alone…. We have found, on the contrary, that metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature…. If we are right in suggesting that our conceptual system is largely metaphorical, then the way we think, what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor. (p. 3)
It is also important to note that metaphorical thinking is of a different nature than that of scientific thinking, in that metaphors are never ‘true’ in a literal sense. The essence of metaphor is to understand one kind of thing in terms of another; for example, to treat an argument as war, to equate time and money, or to view education as the delivery of information. Metaphors do not, however, provide a complete understanding, if they did then the two concepts would be the same, not merely understood in terms of each other. Time really is not money, you can’t take an extra five minutes and put it into a bank to earn compound interest. Unlike the theories of a scientific model, metaphors are not expected to be an exact representation of reality.
To focus on the literal truth of a metaphor is to miss the point. The effect that the play Hamlet has upon us is unrelated to the question of whether or not Hamlet was an actual historical figure, what is important is whether the relationships within the play touch upon similar themes within our own lives. In a similar fashion, in connecting our spirit to the spirit of the river it is unimportant whether or not rivers (or ourselves) have a spirit, what is important is whether the flow of a river may correspond metaphorically to our experience of life
With metaphors playing a vital role in human experience, it is not surprising that they have been considered an important aspect of psychotherapy. Keeney (1983) states that, In therapy, what emerges are stories and stories about stories. Stories reveal how people punctuate their world and therefore provide a clue for discovering their epistemological premises. In general, therapy is a process of weaving stories between therapist and client systems (p. 195). In addition to providing a perspective for understanding the therapeutic process, there is also a long tradition in psychology of using metaphors specifically as a means of evoking psychotherapeutic outcomes (for reviews see Cirillo and Crider, 1995; and Groth-Marnat, 1992). Reframing the mystical processes of the Andes as therapeutic metaphors effectively resolved the problems I was experiencing in adopting the Andean animistic perspective of the world.
The General Structure of the Mode
With the perspective of the Andean meditative processes serving as therapeutic metaphors I was able to look back over the transcripts and find a common structure to the various processes for connecting with nature. The structure has four elements. For the sake of clarity, the elements will be described in terms of how they relate to the process already described, that of becoming one with the spirit of a river.
1) The first step is to find an appropriate location for performing the process. Simply finding a spot next to the river is not enough. It is important to find a specific, appropriate spot. It is not an intellectual decision. Instead, it involves a determination made by some part of us other than the rational mind (i.e. a feeling or intuition).
Modeling notes: The metaphorical connection with the river is much more powerful in the presence of a river. Once the metaphor has been experienced a number of times, a mental representation of the river is sufficient to evoke the effects. The process of selecting an appropriate spot requires that we attend both to the world around us and to our own internal experience to find a spot that seems right. The spot will not be chosen analytically, but intuitively through being in a relationship with our environment, which puts us in the correct mode for benefiting from a metaphor. It also slips us out of our normal habitual way of doing things, creating a context within which change can occur. We move out of the paña into the lloq’e, and out of our intellect into our heart and body.
2) The commitment to engage in the process involves more than just an intellectual intention, it involves a congruent commitment of the whole person. The paq’o refers to the former as intention and the latter as intent.
Modeling notes: The intellect is not the mode of thought that appreciates, benefits, or even understands the reality of metaphors. Participation in this process has to happen at the other-than-intellectual level in order to be effective. The intellect must also be willing to step aside and not interfere in the process.
3) The processes are performed with love, which is to inform the relationship between nature and the individual.
Modeling notes: To set out to purposively love anyone or anything (e.g. a river) is to give a paradoxical injunction to yourself (see Watzlavick, Beavin, & Jackson, 1967). An exploration of this paradox has been fruitful, but is beyond the scope of this article. In my experience, the effect of experiencing a loving relationship with nature is significant.
4) Once an appropriate relationship has been established, with congruent intent, the final step is to connect (e.g. to let your spirit become one with the spirit of the river).
Modeling notes: A reminder that in the Andean perspective the lloq’e experiences the world as interconnected fields of energy. Thus, another way of saying ‘let your spirit become one with the spirit of the river’ is to say ‘access the connection you have between your filaments and the filaments of the river’.
The general structure given above can be used to connect with any particular aspect of nature; the wind, a river, a tree, the earth, the sun. Each aspect has certain attributes, or processes, that are inherent in our understanding and experience of nature. By metaphorically connecting to nature, we can access similar attributes or processes within ourselves. Some examples are provided below, in the form of paraphrases of the Paq’os instructions.
Perceived properties: The wind cleans the earth and lifts the bird on its wing.
If you have an emotion, perhaps sadness, that you want to be rid of, you can give it to the wind. Let the wind blow through you and take away all the broken filaments that need to be removed. In this way you will be more clean and in more connection with the spirit of the wind. Your spirit can fly like a bird.
Perceived property: A tree has its roots buried securely in the ground and yet it reaches towards the heavens. In this way the tree combines horizontal energy and vertical energy.
Select an appropriate tree with which to work. As we did with the river, allow your spirit to blend with the spirit of the tree. The only difference is that the tree doesn’t work with the fluidness. The tree is more like the Buddha, who reached enlightenment while sitting under the Bodhi tree. Try to get the most that you can from the vibrations of the tree, and establish a communication.
Perceived property: All that lives falls to the ground when it dies, to be eaten by the Pachamama (the spirit of the planet Earth). She is not harmed by this, she can handle it.
When you have a negative energy to get rid of, give it to the Pachamama. Reach into the sky, gather cosmic energy with the intent to cleanse yourself, pass your hands down the length of your body, picking up your negative energy, and end by placing your palms on the Earth. Give the energy to the Pachamama.
Perceived property: In the morning the rising sun gives us energy and heat, it awakens the day, its rising corresponds to our own rising consciousness as we awake from sleep. At sunset the sun’s energy is more diffuse, it is marking the approach of the mysterious depths of the evening, a going inside to our own mysteries during sleep.
In the morning the wave of energy is one of opening and expanding. This is a time of creation, or imagination, and of the power of physical work. Rise with the sun, meditate with the sun. Figure out how to do this on your own, as little plants on the Pachamama open up to the rays of the sun. Without thinking! Just receive the energy of the sun. You don’t need to go into positions like the Hindus or Buddhists. Find out for yourself, like a puma, the best space for your body. You have noticed when a dog or a puma gets to a place, the first thing he does is get knowledge, get in contact with the place. He doesn’t sit just any place, he finds exactly the right place for his body. Find the best place of energy for your body, and just allow the sun to come on you.
A summary of the proposed model then is that by connecting with various aspects of nature we can access similar processes within ourselves. It should be possible to generate an unlimited supply of additional therapeutic metaphors by substituting different aspects of nature (e.g. rain storms, the ocean, clouds, an eagle) within the same structure. This use of nature to provide therapeutic metaphors appears to be unique in the literature. Groth-Marnet (1992), in a review of the use of therapeutic metaphors in past traditions, mentions shamans’ use of myths to define the culture’s relationship with the supernatural, but doesn’t mention this particular application. Cirillo and Crider (1995) survey the various uses of metaphors in therapy and identify four functionally distinct kinds of therapeutic metaphors. The model being offered in this paper does not seem to fall in any of their proposed categories. Thus, this aspect of Andean mysticism may offer a novel means of generating a large number of metaphors that can serve as powerful resources for enhancing our lives.
By reframing the animistic processes of the Andes as therapeutic metaphors, I have found a way to bring their value into a scientific psychology. Understanding the structure of the metaphors has opened the door to creating many more metaphors to suit our needs. This was indeed to be the main goal of the paper as I originally envisioned it, to give my culture something of potential utility. And yet in doing so, I have failed in my more important goal, to integrate the two world views. I have instead, simply translated my experiences (intellectual, emotional, and physical) of the Andean perspective to a purely Western description that fits within a scientific perspective. In doing so I have ‘explained away’ the true beauty and significance of the Andean Cosmovision. The final step (to date) in the evolution of the model involved an integration of the two perspectives, the Andean and the scientific.
The framework I needed for truly integrating the two perspectives was provided by the later works of Gregory Bateson (Bateson, 1991; Bateson & Bateson, 1987). Before he died Bateson was working on how the epistemology of cybernetics could be used to provide a scientific way of thinking about the sacred. His solution involves an understanding of the differences between two modes of thought.
Bateson (1991) refers back to the 1500’s in Europe, when many Catholics and Protestants were arguing about the nature of the bread and wine used in Mass. According to Bateson, the Roman Catholic’s position at the time was that the bread is the body of Christ and the wine is the blood of Christ. The Protestant position, however, was that the bread stands for the body of Christ and the wine stands for the blood of Christ in a metaphorical way. Bateson proposed that the whole argument is of fundamental importance to the nature of the sacred, and to human nature as well.
The Protestant viewpoint represents the mode of thinking associated with the left hemisphere of the brain, what Bateson refers to as ‘prose consciousness’. It is the consciousness of everyday, waking thought; the consciousness of objective facts; the consciousness that can readily understand that symbols are symbols, that the stop sign does not actually stop automobiles but instead is a symbol that tells people to stop the automobile.
The Catholic viewpoint represents the mode of thinking associated with the right hemisphere, with poetic or dream consciousness. Dreams come to us with no signal that they are symbols or metaphors. Those labels, ‘symbol’ and ‘metaphor’, have no meaning to this part of the mind. Bateson (1991) concludes,
To the left hemisphere of the brain it is perfectly sensible to say that the bread ‘stands for’ the body, or is a symbol of the body. To the right hemisphere, the side that dreams, this means nothing at all. To the right hemisphere, the bread is the body or its irrelevant. In the right side of the brain, there are no ‘as ifs’, metaphors are not labeled ‘metaphors’….
Now it is my suspicion that the richest use of the word ‘sacred’ is that use which will say that what matters is the combination of the two, getting the two together. And that any fracturing of the two is, shall we say, anti-sacred. In which case the Roman Catholics and the Protestants of the [1500’s] were equally anti-sacred in their battles. The bread both is and stands for the body. (pp. 266-267)
And now, finally, I had my integration. I had begun the model with a conflict between two world-views, objective science and Andean animism, that are incompatible when both are taken as being literally true. I then resolved the conflict by realizing that the Andean view is not literally true, it is just a metaphor. This Protestant-like view, however, was unsatisfactory. I experience the Andean perspective as being highly significant, beautifully moving, and of the nature of being true in some other sense. Bateson eloquently provided the solution. When I sit on the Earth and love her as my mother, my logical-rational-scientific-prose mind knows that it is only a metaphor; that the earth is really a collection of minerals; and that the therapeutic effects of loving the earth work through the power metaphors have to shape our experience. And yet to my intuitive-metaphorical-artistic-poetic mind the label of ‘metaphor’ is meaningless, the Pachamama is my mother, I experience her love at a level that is very profound, and she informs my life towards beauty. And having said that, I can end this paper with a clear heart.
- This was my first attempt to share the Andean Cosmovision with a Western academic audience. After I was finished, despite the last sentence of the paper, my heart was not clear. I felt that in framing the Andean meditations as therapeutic metaphors that I had explained them away, draining from them all of their power and beauty. I turned to other paths for presenting them to the West.
- The paper ends with me having two different ways of experiencing reality, the Western way (left brain) and the Andean way (right brain). I could view reality one way or the other, but I had no sense that I had integrated these two perspectives within myself. That is what I tackled next.
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April 9, 2022 at 10:51 pm
I have to say I love these essays, Oakley: The trips, and this early attempt to make coherent sense of your experiences with the Andean pa’qos. Thanks for laying out the steps of your own process so clearly and sincerely. It’s very helpful, opening out these domains and worldviews for those of us who grew up embedded in the Western way.
I spent one summer long ago in the Altiplano, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, so there is that memory of the land, the music, the smells, the color; but I came nowhere near understanding what I was experiencing of the Indigenous people, the Aymara, where I was staying.
Muchas gracias, John Robert
April 10, 2022 at 10:43 am
Thank you John. That my writings are of service (and how they are of service) to you is rewarding for me to hear. And, it is nice to meet others on the path.
April 10, 2022 at 3:36 am
What a wonderful , interesting review of your process! And such a rich, precious gift your article is. Thank you.
When I met Don Americo and the Q’Eros for the first time, in 1994, I had already a long “education” in Process oriented Psychology, Drs. Mindell and others. Their view on all aspects of life, from Psychology to Physics, Science etc. was shaped by Quantum Theory ( Arnold Mindel came from science to the Dreambody concept). When I was then confronted by the Andean Cosmology I was not surprised, but deeply satisfied: as a biologist AND shamanic practicioner I am always deeply satisfied, happy and content when both worldviews meet.
And slowly now the linear worldview of our mainstream world is opening up to the non linear thinking, including all the aspects you are writing about. I LOVE the part about the metaphors!!!
That holistic, experience oriented worldview would- from my perspective – literally solve all world problems/ challenges.
So- thank you for you useful post, it came just at the right moment for me to remind me, and please excuse my “ poor” English, my mother tongue is German.
Ah, and by the way: me and my friend Anna Maria, who teaches elements of the Salka way in Germany, are thinking about returning to Peru and meeting Americo (and a Q’Ero Paq’o, or Jorge, Juan and others) next year… I would love that for personal reasons, after the last years full of traumatic experiences I would love to meet Americo again and go for some more personal healing… and I don’t think he is coming to Germany in the next future…
Have a great day
Eva Maria Forst
April 10, 2022 at 10:46 am
Hi Eva Maria, I’m so glad to hear from you and to hear that you loved the metaphor part. Your message encourages me to keep going and also kindles my heart.