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Category: Andean Cosmovision (page 3 of 9)

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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My wife Betsy and I have recently returned from a trip to Peru.  I would like to use some of our photos to share more information about the Andean Cosmovision and the work of the waikis in Peru.

I’ll begin with Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo is an ancient village and ceremonial site situated in the Sacred Valley of Peru, about a two hour drive from Cusco.  The village dates from pre-Inca times while most of the surviving ruins in the sanctuary date from the rule of Inca Pachacútec , who also built Machu Picchu.  Ollantaytambo is perhaps most famous for the role it played in Manco Inca’s battle against the Spanish Conquistadors, but for me that is small potatoes compared to its beautiful representation of the relationship between the Andean people and nature.

Slide Show…

[soliloquy id="1280"]

More on Tunupa.   Tunupa is also known as Wirachochan, “Wiracocha’s messenger”. Wiracocha is often described as the Andean “creator god” but I believe this attempt to pound the round peg of the Andean Cosmovision into the square hole of the Western worldview distorts more than it illuminates.

In Western religion God is said to have created the Cosmos.  God exists independently of the Cosmos that He created.  He is to be found in an aspect of reality that is transcendent to (above and beyond) the material world of matter and energy.  The soul, including our consciousness, also exists in the transcendent realm.  Our soul resides in our body but it is not of our body, it exists independently of the material world of matter and energy.

Our Western culture also provides a second view of the transcendent realm.  In this view, often associated with science, it is thought that the transcendent realm does not really exist, that only the realm of matter and energy exists.  There is no God who created the Cosmos, there is no soul that inhabits the human body.  In this view consciousness is either an illusion or it is a byproduct of a sophisticated nervous system (like ours).

The Andean Cosmovision offers a third alternative.  The sacred exists, but it is not in an aspect of reality that is transcendent to the material world.  The elements of the material world itself (the mountains, the sun, the sky, the earth) are sacred.  Consciousness, rather then being part of a transcendent soul or a byproduct of a nervous system, is an attribute of the basic stuff of reality.  It is immanent (an inherent part of) in, not transcendent to, the material world.  This means that everything is conscious, and that consciousness appears at all levels of Cosmos. The Cosmos itself is conscious, the Pachamama (the great Being who is our planet earth) is conscious, the Apus (the great Beings who are the majestic mountain peaks) are conscious, as are the stars, and the dark of night (Mama Tuta), and the trees, and the oceans, and the rivers that cascade down the mountain sides. There is thus a subtle but very significant difference between the West and the Andes. In the Andes the Pachamama is not a transcendent spirit who resides in the big rock known as the planet Earth, she is instead the great Being who is the conscious planet earth.

In the Cosmovision the Cosmos is not only conscious, it also has a creative impulse. The Cosmos created itself (including you and me and the trees waving in the breeze outside of my study) and the Cosmos continues to evolve.  Wirachocha is the name for this dynamic, creative impulse of the Cosmos.  Tunupa, a.k.a. Wiracochan, is the messenger who brings information from Wiracocha to humankind.

That is my understanding of the view of the sacred, and of consciousness, in the Andean Cosmovision.  I pieced it together from many years of working with Andean people who were much more interested in shaping my experience of reality than they were in explaining the concepts behind it, and it is inevitably flavored by my being a child of the West. My understanding of these concepts has also been shaped by the chapter Three Times, Three Spaces in Cosmos Quechua, by Salvador Palomino, an indigenous, Peruvian, anthropologist and researcher.  His chapter can be found in the book Story Earth:  Native Voices on the Environment, edited by Pablo Piacentini (1993).  Palomino states that “In the Quechua language, the words ‘religion’ and ‘god’ do not exist, but we use them in Spanish to indicate our relationship with the divine beings that are the holy forces of nature,”  which is congruent with my own experiences in Peru. For more information about this aspect of the Andean Cosmovision please see the post: Andean Cosmovision: The Basics.

More on Yanantin.  Yanantin is the fundamental Andean concept of the complementarity of opposites.  For more information on yanantin I would like to recommend the earlier posts: Warmi-Qhari (Woman-Man) and Tinku-Confirming the Rules of Life. The twin peaks in the photo, male and female,  are standing back to back, engaged in yanachakuy (see the Back-to-Back Meditation).

The information in this post concerning the connection between Ollantaytambo and the winter and summer solstices comes from the book Cusco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas, by Fernando and Edgar Salazar.

© Oakley Gordon at date of posting. Contents licensed under a Creative Commons License — some rights reserved.

You might be interested in my book:  The Andean Cosmovision.

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Thread A: The Guardian at the Threshold

I recommend that you read (or reread) the earlier post (Thread A: The Other Side of Reality) before reading this post.

This post was revised on May 1, 2016.

In our normal state of consciousness we do not experience reality directly, we experience instead a representation, an interpretation, of reality created by our nervous system. There is an irreducible and inevitable difference between reality and our experience of it, similar to the difference between a description of an object and the object itself, the difference between a photo of your loved one and the actual person, the difference between a map and the territory it represents. The essential “suchness” of reality, the “other side of reality”, is beyond all words, all concepts, and all beliefs.

Over millennia, and across the many cultures on the planet, various paths for exploring the other side of reality have emerged. They all involve suspending, usually through meditation or psychoactive drugs, our normal process of giving meaning to our experiences, leading to a more direct experience of reality. When we take these paths, however, an obstacle arises, what Joseph Campbell would refer to in mythological terms as “the guardian at the threshold to the other side of reality”.  The guardian is a fearsome beast, and in myth often takes on the form of a monster.  This “monster” arises from within ourselves, it is our ego.

The ego is a very powerful and important part of our normal, constructed, view of reality. It consists of all of the thoughts, concepts, and beliefs we have about our own existence, our identity, and our self-worth. Just like we mistake our interpretation of reality as being reality itself, we often mistake our thoughts about ourselves as being who we really are. Our being, however, has its roots in the other side of reality. We are more than all of the thoughts and beliefs we have about ourselves. We are the Being who has those thoughts. As reality itself is beyond all of our descriptions, thoughts, and belief, so are we. We are much more mysterious, magical, and unknowable (intellectually) than our culture has led us to believe. Our personality, which is a product of our ego, may be beautiful or ugly, loving or vengeful, smart or stupid, kind or cruel.  In my experience, our Being, however, the essence of who we are in the other side of reality, is beautiful. To walk the Andean path is to become more informed by the essence of who we each uniquely are, and when that happens we blossom.

Taking a path to the other side of reality requires that we suspend our constructed view of reality and this necessarily involves also suspending our constructed view of ourselves. In other words it involves temporarily turning off our ego. Like the computer HAL in the movie 2001, however, the ego usually doesn’t take kindly to the prospect of being turned off.  To the ego the prospect of being turned off seems like impending death.  In Asian traditions the suspension of the ego is called “the little death” (as compared to “the big death” when we die at the end of our lives).  A powerful weapon the ego has to protect itself when it feels threatened is fear. And even when we know that the suspension of the ego is only temporary (we must return from the other side of reality to live our lives)  there can still be the fear of change.  When the ego returns after the experience of touching the essence of reality, and the essence of who you really are, what will you be like?  Are you willing to initiate a process (walk a path) that may change your sense of identity? Here we face our trust, or lack of trust, in our path. I can only share my own experiences with this, they may or may not be relevant to you or your path.

First, I have a basic faith that any changes I go through in my own set of beliefs about myself are voluntary, they are under my control. I can always choose not to change those beliefs, I can choose to remain the same. The great danger of brainwashing is that it involves first ripping apart the ego and then dictating how it is reconstructed (to suit the purposes of the brainwasher). I personally would never trust any individual to make that decision for me. I do, however, trust the Cosmos.

And second, the path I am traveling into the Andean Cosmovision is a path of heart. Deep in my heart and soul, way beyond my thoughts, this path evokes a beautiful melody. It is giving my life more meaning, and my life is becoming more like a work of art. This path is nourishing what I most deeply desire to have nourished in my life. No path works for everyone, however, or even for most people. I recommend that whatever path you explore that  you rely upon yourself to determine whether the path fits your deepest values.

For all of my adult life I have striven to be the James T. Kirk of my exploration into the other side of reality.  I have boldly gone where I have never been before, I have put myself in a situation where I might discover new things about the Cosmos and about my own existence.  And even though I have often gone through a great deal of time, effort, and energy to get to that exact situation, fear sometime still arises as I stand on the threshold.   Then I proceed anyway.  This is a warrior’s path.

While I have framed the ego as being the monster that guards the threshold to the other side of reality, our ego is actually a valuable and cherished part of who we are. We can’t get by in the world without ideas and beliefs about who we are. It does take a special quality of ego to be shaken to its core and then return in a healthy state. There is so much that can be said about this, but there is one point on which I would like to focus. I have found this to be massively useful on my own path, and it ties so beautifully into other aspects of walking the Andean Cosmovision. It is very simple, and it came into my life through the writings of Carlos Castaneda.

Don Juan Matus, a Yaqui spiritual teacher, was talking to Carlos about the type of ego that can survive a walk to the other side of reality. Don Juan recommended that the ego adopt the “humbleness of a warrior”, which he describe as:

“Bow your head to no one, and let no one bow their head to you.”

Simple, but powerful, the ego of a warrior of the heart.  It fits the many paq’os with whom I have worked in the Andes.


© Oakley Gordon at date of posting. Contents licensed under a Creative Commons License — some rights reserved.

You might be interested in my book:  The Andean Cosmovision.

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Book: The Andean Cosmovision

Front CoverAbout the Book

My book “The Andean Cosmovision: A Path for Exploring Profound Aspects of Ourselves, Nature, and the Cosmos”  is a how-to guide for exploring the Andean Cosmovision. The Andean Cosmovision is a way of perceiving and interacting with reality that is found in the indigenous culture of the high Andes. It is fundamentally different than the Western worldview. This Cosmovision is not a set of concepts or beliefs. It cannot be described or encompassed by words. It can, however, be experienced and it can be explored. This exploration is carried out through meditations which serve as portals for exploring new facets of ourselves and the Cosmos. These meditations also nourish a more loving and mutually-supportive relationship between ourselves and nature. Within this relationship we begin to blossom into the essence of who we each uniquely are.

The book presents both the Andean (salka) meditations and the concepts that help us to integrate this path with our life here in the West.  It is the loving product of my 22 years of studying the Andean Cosmovision under the tutelage of my mentor and friend don Américo Yábar of Peru, and Gayle Yábar, and the many other paq’os (Andean mystics/shamans) and healers with whom don Américo has arranged for me to work.

Where to Purchase

Printed copies of the book may be ordered from:

eBook copies may be purchased from:

Reviews and Award

Award: Shaman Portal Book of the Month

A Very Nice Email:

Hi Dr. Gordon,

I just wanted to thank you for writing your book.  I´ve read so many books on Peruvian mysticism/shamanism etc. and I think yours is really perfect. I appreciate you taking the time to write it and always recommend it to others when I am guiding them in Peru. Peru is such a sacred place…I feel like my most magical and also my darkest moments have been experience en la sagrada tierra Peruana….you can probably relate.  🙂

Reviews on Amazon:

Wonderful, open source information on Q’ero mysticism. I love this author’s simple, easy to follow approach and his open-hearted gift of this information to other serious students of Earth based wisdom. He’s not trying to sell you a spiritual retreat or a $2400.00 training program. He’s just sharing his passion for this way of life. Bravo!

– – – – –

With an arm around our shoulders, Oakley leads us up and into the high Andes, introducing us to her majesty, her divinity, her heart, her people, and her mysteries that touch the Infinite. Exquisitely written as a narrative of self-discovery, The Andean Cosmovision is a must read for anyone interested in, or already deeply in love with, Andean mysticism.

– – – – –

Oakley has spent years opening to the understanding of the wild culture that still lives in the high Peruvian mountains. These beautiful people have retained an innocence and a power that is truly sacred. The very real movement insights that are given here are precious and integral to our connection to nature and our heart. This may be the key to the preservation of the important elements of humankind.

– – – – –

Oakley Gordon, a long-time student of the wisdom of the High Andes, does an excellent job in delivering the message to us, city dwellers of the western world. Very clear and practical examples of connecting to natural energies and of balancing ourselves in a respectful way. His autobiographical tone combined with the understanding that all of us experiences the World around us differently makes it even more useful and credible: “Here is the path, here are my experiences, it is working for me – maybe it will for you too. Find your home in Nature, experience and grow!”

The book also documents in a very readable way the wisdom of the people living in the High Andes. It is the icing on the cake. Thank you!

– – – – –

Anyone interested in understanding Peruvian philosophy and wisdom, a precursor to curanderismo, should read this book. don Americo Yabar came to lead a workshop on Salka at my school and he was very kind and full of life. This is a great book with lots of information with short and easy to read chapters explaining how the people of the Andes see reality, much different than some of the major religions today and Western society.

– – – – –

Good! Gave me an idea about andean spirituality before my trip to Peru. I just wanted to have my opinion about it. I follow eastern philosophy and practice some advanced pranayama techniques, found a lot of similarities to my surprise

– – – – –

(The title of the following review was “I keep this book strapped to my body.”)

I love this book. It is so well written and is a great guide to the simple everyday practices of loving nature and loving each other.

– – – – –

This is a beautiful little book, based on Mr. Oakley’s blog entries, about the Andean Cosmovision. He beautifully captures the essence of many of the teachings and practices that one can learn while studying with a Peruvian paqo. Many of the meditations are those also given to me by my own teachers in Peru, and they are described with ease and economy; anyone can follow them.

It is sometimes difficult to write about this subject, but Mr. Oakley does so simply and cleanly, and in a way that cuts through confusion. Don’t be fooled: this is a slim volume, but it contains much. If one were to read and follow this little volume, it would keep you busy for a few years! Highly recommended.

(Note that this is a common mistake, my last name is Gordon, first name Oakley)

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Thread A: The Other Side of Reality

I began to weave this thread of thought in the post  New Threads.

We don’t consciously experience reality directly, we experience the firing of neurons in our nervous system. Our retinas detect patterns of light and color and movement and angles. This information is then sent to our brain to be processed. Our nervous system figures out the boundaries of the various objects in our visual field, how big they are, how far away they are, and most importantly, what they are…for the objects are then given meaning (e.g. that object is a chair, that one is uncle Ralph). Our conscious mind then experiences the end result of all of that processing. We look around and see chairs, and friends, and computers, and so on. We think that we are perceiving reality but we are actually experiencing a representation or interpretation of reality that has been constructed by our brain.

The distinction between reality and our experience of it would be unimportant if our brain was actually creating an exact replica of reality in our head for us to experience. This, however, is far from the case. Our neuronal representation of reality is as different from reality as a road map is from the actual world, as a description of a strawberry is from an actual strawberry, as a photo of your loved one is from your actual loved one.

Let’s consider the road map analogy. Road maps do correspond to the territory they represent (otherwise they would be useless), but consider the immense differences between the map you have in your glove box (or on your phone) and the actual world in which you live. Before continuing with this post, I invite you to spend a minute thinking of all the aspects of reality that are missing from road maps.

The processes that go into making a map, transforming the world into paper and ink, are the same processes our brains use when transforming reality into the firing of neurons (I will  be describing these processes in Thread B). These processes involve both the hard-wiring found in our sensory organs as well as our concepts and beliefs, for what we pay attention to (of the myriad of things we could pay attention to at any one moment), and how we then interpret what we attend to, are dependent on our values and beliefs and the concepts we have about reality. The resulting interpretation of reality is what we actual experience, and we naturally mistake it as being reality itself, much like a person who walks around their whole life with a road map in front of their face would think that the map is reality. Reality itself, however, is inconceivably greater than our brain’s representation (map) of it.

Our maps generally work so well that we think that our concepts about reality simply reflect concepts that somehow exist out there in reality. Our concepts, however, are purely mental, they are part of the map-making process, they don’t exist in the reality from which our maps emerge. Even really basic concepts, such as the existence of time, and the idea that the world consists of separate objects, are just (massively) useful concepts our brain uses to help us navigate through our lives. Time and objects are concepts, they don’t exist in the reality that lies beyond all of our concepts of it. So what is out there? What is reality like beyond all of our concepts about it?

We will never know, if by “know” we mean know conceptually. There are many things we do know (e.g. the earth is round) and there are many things we don’t know yet but will eventually know (e.g. whether there is life on other planets) and there are things we can never know (e.g. the true nature of reality beyond all of our thoughts and perceptions).

But there is a really big but here. There are ways to dampen, or even turn off, our mind’s map-making process. When that happens we experience reality directly, outside of any concepts. We pull the map down from in front of our face and experience…the ineffable mysteries that are the Cosmos and our existence within it

Beyond all concepts…there is a field. I will meet you there.
Sufi mystic Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273)

This field beyond all concepts has been known by many names in many places across time. I list a few of the names below.

  • I often refer to the field as “the other side of reality”. I first heard this term from don Americo. I don’t know if this is exactly what he means by the term but it is exactly what I mean by the term.

  • In Buddhism the essential “suchness” of reality, which exists beyond our thoughts, is called “tathata”. I rather like calling it the “suchness of reality”. I first encountered the term in the book Nature, Man, and Woman by Alan Watts, which I highly recommend, particularly pages 1 – 69.

  • A reference to the essential nature of reality appears occasionally in poetry and literature, as “things as they are”. The phrase does not always have that meaning, but at times it does. The anthropologist Gregory Bateson refers to this usage and explains its significance in the essay “The Creature and Its Creations” in his book A Sacred Unity: Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind. This is an amazing essay and I plan to draw from it again in a later post (please see the subsequent post The Creatures and Its Creations).

  • According to the comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell, the “yonder realm” or “the far away land” visited by the hero in many of the world’s mythological stories refer to the other side of reality. The hero returns from that land with a boon for her or his society, after an adventure that is arduous with many perils. The essential nature of this journey was laid out in Campbell’s landmark book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The book was written in 1949 and is a little too Freudian for my tastes, but he returns to the basic theme in many of his later (and more palatable) books, including The Power of Myth.

  • And then there is “the land of Faërie”. Fairy-tales have been around as long as mind and language. The tales have changed dramatically in our culture with the advent of the industrial revolution, being delegated to children and rewritten in the (often mistaken) adult perception of what appeals to children’s tastes. In his remarkable essay On Fairy-Stories, J.R.R. Tolkien, an Oxford professor of philology and of ancient European literature, describes the land of Faërie in the following way. “I will not attempt to define [the land of Faërie], nor to describe it directly. It cannot be done. Faërie cannot be caught in a net of words; for it is one of its qualities to be indescribable, though not imperceptible.” I was stunned when I read that in Tolkien’s essay, for I had been describing the Andean Cosmovision as something that could not be encompassed with words, something that was indescribable, though not imperceptive, for many years.  Before I noticed the connection I thought that the only thing that Tolkien’s work and the Andean Cosmovision had in common was me (my love of them both).  In the essay Tolkien describes the old fairy-tales as being stories of humans who enter that territory or journey along its borders. I plan to return to this idea in a later post as well.

The idea that there is a layer of reality that exists beyond all of our concepts goes back millenia, and perhaps much further. At some point we evolved the ability to think rationally, to analyze the world (i.e. break it into separate parts), and conceive of ourselves as being separate from the rest of Nature. Are the ancient myths about the Fall of humankind, when we ate of the tree of knowledge and were ejected from the garden, an echo of an ancient, ancient, memory of what things were like before our rational mind arose? I find this fascinating to ponder, but as there is no answer, I ponder only for a little while. In any event, I don’t want to take this metaphor of The Fall too far, for I consider our ability to think about the world a wondrous thing, and certainly not the original sin.

By whatever name we refer to that-which-is-beyond-names, there exist well-established paths that head towards that field (although the paths are long and not without peril). But the endeavor is not really about reaching a destination, it is about walking the path, and that I have done to a sufficient degree to share the following. Just walking the path opens me up to having my experience of the world, my map, shaped and informed by the other side of reality. Information flows in that does not fit my existing concepts and beliefs, and I change. Into my map flows more joy and love and a sense of meaning and belonging in the Cosmos. As near as I can tell this is the underlying nature of reality.

Walking a path into the other side of reality, however, is not an easy task. It is an adventure, and an endeavor, and at times a trial. Looming before for us to block our path as we begin, and appearing over and over again as we proceed, is The Guardian at the Threshold (next post).

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