Salka Wind Blog

Posts on the Andean Cosmovision

Tag: cosmovision (page 3 of 5)

Yay, yay, yay! My book (The Andean Cosmovision) is coming out this month (July)

My  book “The Andean Cosmovision”  is finally finished, I can hardly believe it.  Americo has been encouraging me to write this book for years.  It was such a big project I couldn’t get going on it until a friend of mine suggested that I write it in individual pieces as posts on a blog, which led to this Salka Wind Blog. I thought the process of turning those posts into a book would be relatively trivial but it has taken more than a year.  I rewrote the material, added some new information, and put it in an order that allows the later concepts and meditations to build upon the earlier ones.  I love it.

The book will be available both as a paperback and as an ebook.  The exact date of the release has yet to be determined but it should be sometime during the last half of July.  I will announce here when you can obtain a copy.

Front Cover

Back Cover


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The ‘Biggish’ Picture

Here is something I wrote for some friends of mine who wanted to know my thoughts about the challenge of westerners interacting with an indigenous culture they value when that culture may be changed or destroyed by that interaction.  I just let my thoughts flow out onto the page.  In rereading it I think I might sound pretentious, and awkward at times, but I really just want to share it as it came out.

Western society is in a car speeding towards a cliff. We are sitting in the back seat playing and fighting over our toys. When the car goes off the edge no amount of saying we are sorry, or trying to fix the situation, will make any difference. And we will take much of what is beautiful and precious about the world with us.

We in the west have all the technology and information we need to head toward a beautiful future for this planet, not just for us but for the rest of life as well. We lack the heart to do so. The indigenous people of Peru, and probably many other indigenous cultures, have the heart.

Every culture is build upon a set of assumptions about the nature of reality, these assumptions make it possible for the culture to excel at some things and make it hard for the culture to excel at other things. The assumptions of western culture make it easy for us to excel at technology and these same assumptions make it difficult for us directly experience our connection with the rest of nature and the Cosmos. The assumptions of the Andean culture, the ‘Andean Cosmovision’, deeply nourish their sense of connection with nature and the Cosmos. The nature of these assumptions, however, make it unlikely that they would have ever invented the internal combustion engine. What we need as a species to head toward a future of greater beauty, rather than toward one of greater environmental destruction and misery, is to integrate these two world views.  It is likely that this could not have been done earlier in our history, for it is only recently that the two cultures have interacted in a way that could have made this integration possible.

Western culture is like a tsunami, sweeping up the slopes of the Andes.  On the positive side it is putting westerners into contact with the keepers of the Andean Cosmovision, westerners who value what the Andeans have and who have the technology to spread it across the globe. The tsunami, however, is also destructive, and is today–like it always has–destroying the culture it is sweeping over. Mining interests and evangelical Christians are flowing into previously isolated villages in the high Andes. The mining interests are promising the people that strip mining won’t hurt their environment, and then getting them drunk and then getting them to sign away the mineral rights to their land. The evangelical Christians are telling the people that their ancient ways are evil, and the Christians surround the Andeans as they perform their sacred rites, playing loud music to disrupt the ancient ceremonies. But it is not just these two forces that are destroying the old ways, the destruction would occur without them. The lure of the material western culture is very strong.

I have walked with Andean people to extremely remote areas in the mountains to participate in their sacred rituals. As we walk the young men have asked me about my shoes and how much they cost, they ask me about my watch and how much it costs. They sigh deeply when I tell them.

We, the whole planet, desperately need what these people have. My first reaction was a desire to build a wall around their culture to keep the west out, and that is so unfair. It is saying to them ‘what you have is so precious, we need it so badly and you will miss it desperately if you lose it, so please keep living without all of the material benefits of western society, I’ll go back to my house with its central heating and refrigerator and medicine and internet, and then I’ll come visit you’.

A village in the Andes that I know did not until fairly recently have electricity. Now it does, and now for the first time, the villagers need money like they never have before to pay the electric bill. It is changing their lives and their society at a fundamental level.

Here is what I think we need:

1) A program to help the Andean people gain the benefits of moving into a more materialistic-rich lifestyle without leaving their Cosmovision behind. I don’t think this will happen on its own. It is going to have to be created, invented. At the least it will have to have at its core the assumption that their Cosmovision is absolutely precious and fundamental, and the assumption that they have every right to the material benefits of the west. By this I don’t mean just giving them money in exchange for keeping their Cosmovision, I mean helping them be participants in the western world while maintaining their unique way. I sincerely dabbled in this for a while and then withdrew as it was beyond the scope of what I had the time and energy and wisdom to accomplish.

2) A movement to incorporate the Andean Cosmovision into western culture. This is where I, and many other people, step in. I have spent 20 years learning the Andean Cosmovision, endeavoring to incorporate it into my life, and sharing it with other people in my culture. This too is a creative act. The Andean people can teach us the Cosmovision but they can’t help us figure out how to integrate it into western culture, that is up to us. It is a great challenge but one that is worthy of the gift of being alive.

I don’t know if these two endeavors, one from Peru heading towards the west and one from the west heading towards Peru, will meet in the middle. Perhaps instead we will end up with the Peruvian people being a third of the way toward the west and us being a third of the way toward Peru. As I understand it from the anthropologist Gregory Bateson the most generative evolution happens when you have separate colonies each undergoing their own evolution, that then occasionally interact to share their genes. So the best approach might be to have two separate processes going on that share information with each other without dissolving the differences between them.

Just like the glaciers are disappearing from the Andes, the culture I first met 20 years ago is changing rapidly as well. I really don’t know if we can ‘save’ them, and by saving I mean option 1 above where we help them move into western culture without losing their Cosmovision. When I first started on this path I was told that for the first time in history the paqos (mystics/shamans) of the Andes were opening up their Cosmovision to share it with the west. I believe this is because for the first time westerners were approaching them to learn from them rather than to belittle them. I was told that the paqos were willing to do this because they knew our species is entering a pachacuti, a time of great transformation and time of great peril where if we don’t get our act together we will face dire consequences, and that the paqos were opening up to the west because the Andean Cosmovision had an important piece of the solution. Not the whole solution, just a piece. I was also told that the paqos knew that by opening up to us that they may be dooming their own culture. It is just a story, there are many stories, some made up from whole cloth by westerners and some come directly from the heart of the Andean people.

The words of my friend Oscar arise in my thoughts. ‘Perhaps it is too late, perhaps we won’t be able to help the Andean people keep their Cosmovision. If that happens then our task will be to pick up their torch and carry it forward.’  Either way, the path ahead is clear for those who wish to walk it.

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Energy Shield

In the meditation Inside/Outside I shared a way of disengaging from what is going on around us to retreat into a sanctuary within ourselves. This sanctuary is a place where we can rest from our dance with the world. In that post I said that this is not like putting up a siege barrier, it is more like entering a haven where you can recuperate. The meditative-like process I would like to cover in this post is like putting up a siege barrier, it can be used to protect yourself from unwelcome energy being directed at you from others. This process is meant to be completed before you actually need it.

Begin by picking up a stick or pebble, hold it in your right hand, and put that hand out straight in front of you as if holding a shield. Now, hold the intent that this stick or pebble radiates a barrier that other energy cannot cross. While holding that intent rotate your body in the following manner…keep your left foot where it is as if it is in the center of a circle, using your right foot turn you body all the way around in a counter-clockwise direction, your right foot will be defining the circumference of the circle. As you rotate 360 degrees keep your hand out with the impeccable intent of this stick or pebble serving as a shield to protect you from outside energy. Go all the way around seven times. This charges the stick or pebble with that intent, you then take it with you where you will need it and when the time comes activate the intent again and hold it out as a shield.

The first time I used this process was after I returned home from my second trip to Peru. Particularly for the first few trips to Peru, when I returned home I wanted to hide in the basement for a few days. One of the beautiful things about Peru is that my acceptance by the people there has been based upon my willingness to open my heart to them, they respond to that deeply, and I love that. When I come back to the U.S. everyone seems so cold, and particularly because I am a man, being openhearted is not really tolerated or all that safe. When I came home from Peru after my second trip I knew that the next day I had to attend what was going to be a very hostile faculty meeting. The faculty would be considering a topic that many felt very strongly about, I would be representing one side of the issue, and so some of the hostility would be directed at me. It was like a worse case scenario for an open-hearted person who has let down all of his barriers.

Before the meeting I went outside and found a pebble and did this process. I put the pebble into my pocket and went to the meeting. As it started I pulled the pebble out and held it in my fist resting on the table in front of me, and using my intent I turned it on. It was beautiful. I sat there with what was probably an annoyingly pleasant smile on my face while all the hostility just bounced off or flowed around me. I was able to give my contribution to the discussion without feeling hurt or threatened.

Upon reflection, you might ask, ‘when would you want to use a stick?’ For that I would like to relate the story that don Americo told when he taught us this process. When Americo was a young man his teacher sent him to spend the night in a cave in the Andes. It turns out that the cave was the home to a puma, and when it returned to find Americo there it wasn’t very happy about it. Americo grabbed a stick and went through this process and putting all of his intent into it was able to turn the puma away. When the puma left Americo tossed the stick aside in relief. A while later, however, the puma returned to have another say in the matter, and Americo found himself scrambling around in the cave before he found the same stick. It is hard to forget a story like that.

My right side is tapping me on the shoulder asking me to add that this was performed by a professional paqo and should not be attempted in a lion cave near your home.

This process is quite different from the others I have shared in that its purpose is to put a barrier between ourselves and some part of the Cosmos. This can be useful but when possible I prefer to step around rather then step into situations where I may need it. I have really only had to use it a few times in the almost twenty years since I learned it. The Andean Cosmovision is a way to develop a loving and mutually supportive relationship with ourselves and the rest of the Cosmos. It is not a path of power or domination, its underlying metaphor is not war. It is a path of heart, its underlying metaphors are to explore and to blossom. For all of that it is not a path for the timid it is a path for the brave, it is risky and scarey to open your heart to the world, for along with the uttermost joy we may find great pain. It calls for the courage and impeccability of a warrior, but we are warriors of the heart. The true confrontation is to stand naked in front of the incredible power and mystery of the Cosmos, and ask it if it would like to dance.

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Alto mesayoq

In the Andean tradition an alto mesayoq is a very high level paqo. They are usually described as paqos with incredible abilities. While we were in Peru last summer my friend Karen asked Gayle Yabar (don Americo’s son and a great paqo himself) to tell us about the alto mesayoqs. He replied by saying that they were paqos who spent their whole lives in service to an Apu. Then we had lunch…and Gayle served us our food. Service is not servitude, it is a gift born of love.

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Filling in the Conceptual Corners

In the Andean Cosmovision the Cosmos does not play by the rules of Aristotelean logic where everything must be either A or not A. An example of this can be found in the various ways in which the Andeans conceive the difference between the energies found on the right and left side.

In the previous post (Right Side / Left Side) I described how in the Andes the right side is our ability to operate in everyday life while the left side connects us to the ineffable mystery of the Cosmos. This distinction, and the meditation I provided that goes with it, come from what I learned from don Americo Yabar. Don Americo, however, also draws a different distinction between the right and left side, that of the mystical and the magical.

Our right side is our mystical side, it involves our ability to connect with and learn from the larger Cosmos of which we are but a part. This is the path of knowledge, to follow it we must leave our ego behind and seek the at-one-ment with the Cosmos as a whole. Our left side, on the other hand, is our magical side, it involves our ability to work with the energy of the Cosmos to accomplish our goals, goals that may be wise or not, benevolent or not, loving or not. These goals may be driven by our ego.

Another view of the right/left side distinction in the Andes is provided by the anthropologist Douglas Sharon in his description of the relative roles of the right and left side of the paqo’s mesa (Shamanism, Mesas, and Cosmologies in the Central Andes, 2006).  A mesa (from the Spanish word for table) is a woven cloth that serves as a portable altar. A paq’o spreads the mesa on the ground or on a flat rock and arranges upon it sacred objects. The objects are placed upon either the right side or the left side of the mesa depending upon their attributes. On the left are placed objects associated with ‘hot’ energy, with the past, with the undoing of energies related to sickness and misfortune. On the right are placed objects associated with ‘cold’ energy, with the future, with the energy of good fortune. The paq’o then works from the center of the mesa, transcending both energies.

Besides being interesting on their own merits, the point I want to make is that these various distinctions between the energies of the right and left side don’t necessarily boil down to being different ways of saying the same thing. The right and left side are like this…and they are also like that…and they can be like this other thing entirely. This may not be logical, but who says the Cosmos is logical? Logic is but a part of our ability to think, and our ability to think is but part of our experience, and our experience is but part of the Cosmos, and a part of the whole (e.g. logic) cannot subsume the whole (i.e. the Cosmos). Another way to say this is to point out that our ability to think in a logical way arose out of the evolutionary processes of the Cosmos. That logic works as well as it does in understanding the Cosmos is due to it being a product of the same Cosmos it is trying to understand. Logic cannot, however, be expected to be able to understand the processes from which logic itself emerged. For a really nice exposition of this I recommend Alan Watts’ book Man, Woman, and Nature.

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