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Therapeutic Metaphors in Andean Mysticism

[Note:  this blog has grown to include a large number of posts.  To see what is available you can view the Table of Contents (which organizes most of the posts by topic) or the Archive of All Posts (which organizes all of the posts by date written).  You can click on those  links, or on any page you can go to the menu on the right side and scroll down to select the Table of Contents or Archive.]

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).

 

Abstract

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.

Introduction

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.

 

Method

Meta-methodological Considerations

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.

Epistemology

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):

  1. An exact anatomical model in wax.
  2. A suitably shaped jelly that vibrates, when concussed, with just the same waves as occur in the real brain.
  3. A biochemical soup that reacts biochemically just as does the cat’s brain when drugs are added.
  4. 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.

 

Results

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.

The 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.

The River

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.

Metaphors

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.

The Wind

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.

Trees

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.

The Earth

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.

The Sun

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.

Model Summary.

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.

 

Discussion

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.

 

Editor’s notes.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

 

 References

Ashby, W. R. (1970). Analysis of the system to be modeled. In R. M. Stogdill (Ed.), The Process of Model-Building in the Behavioral Sciences (pp. 94-114). New York: W. W. Norton.

Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an ecology of mind. New York: Ballantine.

Bateson, G. (1979). Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. New York: Bantam.

Bateson, G., & Bateson, M. C. (1987). Angels Fear: Toward an epistemology of the sacred. New York: Macmillan.

Bateson, G. (1991). A Sacred Unity: Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Donaldson, R. E. (Ed.). New York: HarperCollins.

Cirillo, K, & Crider, C. (1995). Distinctive therapeutic uses of metaphor. Psychotherapy, 32, 511-519.

Groth-Marnat (1992). Past traditions of therapeutic metaphor. Psychology, A Journal of Human Behavior, 29(3/4), 40-47.

Keeney, Bradford P. (1983). Aesthetics of Change. New York: Guilford Press.

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Lao Tsu. (1972). Tao Te Ching. (Gia-Fu Feng & J. English, Trans.). New York: Vintage. (Original work published n.d.).

Peters, L. (1989). Shamanism: Phenomenology of a spiritual discipline. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 21

Reber, A. (1985). Dictionary of Psychology. New York: Viking.

Sullivan, W. (1996). The Secret of the Incas: Myth, Astronomy, and the War Against Time. New York: Crown.

Walsh, R. (1989). What is a shaman? Definition, origin and distribution. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 21, 1-11.

Walsh, R. (1994). The making of a shaman: Calling, training, and culmination. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 34, 7-30.

Watzlawick, P., Beavin, J. & Jackson, D. (1967). Pragmatics of Human Communication. New York: W. W. Norton.

 

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Thread A: Paths to the Other Side of Reality

This post is a continuation of Thread A and is pretty much what I have been working up to in that thread.  My goal is to shed further light on the Andean Cosmovision by viewing it within the larger context of various other paths that lead into the other side of reality.  I usually don’t step out of my path to compare it to others as I know them less well.  I would like to apologize ahead of time if I do not adequately or accurately portray the path you are on.  In any event I hope that you find this post interesting or useful or both.


In the post The Other Side of Reality I developed the idea that we do not consciously experience reality itself, we experience instead a neuronal representation of reality created by our mind, brain and sensory organs. This representation can be thought of as a map of reality, and like all maps it corresponds to the territory being mapped yet at the same time it is fundamentally different than, and much less than, the territory. The territory, reality itself, exists beyond all of our thoughts and concepts and perceptions. I refer to this essential “suchness” of reality as “the other side of reality”.

Our consciousness is the observer who experiences our representation of reality.  It is possible to turn off our mind/brain’s process of representing reality and when we do our consciousness becomes directly aware of reality itself. When we do this we turn our eyes away from the shadows cast by puppets on the wall (ala Plato’s Cave) and walk out into the ineffable, sacred, beauty of the Cosmos. Over the millenia many paths have been developed in many cultures for reaching that state.

In the post The Guardian of the Threshold I defined our “ego” as all of the thoughts, concepts, and beliefs we have about ourselves. Our ego is not who we are, it is our map or representation of who we are. We exist as Beings, however, beyond all of the thoughts and beliefs we have about ourselves. Just as the essential suchness of reality is ineffable, beyond all thought, and ultimately mysterious, the essential suchness of who we are is ineffable, beyond all thought, and ultimately mysterious.

A major challenge we face when we seek to experience the other side of reality is that when we endeavor to turn off our map of reality we are also turning off our ego. Our ego tends to respond to this as if it were facing death. In mystical approaches this is known as the little death, the (temporary) death of the ego, as compared to the big death (our actual physical death). Like the computer HAL in the movie 2001, the ego does not take the prospect of being turned off very well. The ego responds with everything it can think of to stop us. Its main weapon is fear. In this way the ego, in mythological terms, serves as the guardian at the threshold to the other side of reality.

In this post I would like to take these two ideas–the nature of the other side of reality and the nature of the ego–and use them to differentiate three paths that lead to the other side of reality; the Path of Knowledge, the Path of Power, and the Path of Heart. While the Andean Cosmovision cannot be encompassed with words or understood through thought, my intellect (yachay) likes to have some idea of where that-which-is-beyond-thoughts might fit into the scheme of things.  It is with that in mind that I would like to share the following reflections.

1) Mystics and the Path of Knowledge. The goal of the mystic is to turn off the brain/mind’s interpretation (map) of reality. When this happens our consciousness gets to know (in a purely experiential, not intellectual, way) the other side of reality. The other side of reality cannot be put into words. “The Tao that can be talked about is not the Tao” (Tao Te Ching). When mystics do attempt to describe the mystical experience their words point at that which is beyond words. The concepts of time, and of the universe being made up of separate objects, are concepts, part of our brain/mind’s map of reality, rather than being a part of the essential suchness of reality that exits beyond our thoughts. Thus when mystics attempt to describe the mystical experience they speak of entering Eternity (a state outside of time) and they speak of being One with the Cosmos (of no longer being a separate entity). They also speak of experiencing the Sacred (which exists beyond any belief system).

Many mystical paths use meditation to achieve this special way of knowing reality. When I first entered the field of psychology there was a great deal of interest in the psychology of consciousness, altered states of consciousness, and meditation. The following was proposed as a way of understanding meditation. I am not sure it quite does meditation justice, but I have found it to be interesting at least.

Meditations generally fall into one of two categories; those that call for us to “focus in” and those call for us to “open up”. Focussing-in meditations involve attending to an unchanging stimulus, such as a mantra, or our breathing, or a flower. Opening-up meditations involve paying attention to all of the every-changing stimuli reaching our senses in the moment. In order to work properly our mental processes that create our representation (map) of reality rely upon a certain rate of information flowing into our minds. Focussing-in meditations (attending to an unchanging stimulus) underwhelm our map-making processes causing them to collapse, rather like a wind sock with no wind. Opening-up meditations (paying attention to everything at once), on the other hand, bring in so much information that they overwhelm our map making processes, also causing them to shut down. With either type of meditation, and extensive practice, we can learn to stop our process of creating a representation of reality and when that happens we become conscious of what is left, the essential, unprocessed suchness of reality itself. This is what I believe is pointed at by such terms as enlightenment, satori, buddhahood, etc.

It may take many years of dedicated practice to collapse our representation of reality. But along the way benefits arise. Our maps of reality tend to be self-reinforcing. Our map largely determines what we pay attention to and what meaning we assign to what we perceive, which then tends to reinforce our map, which then determines our experience of reality, and so on. My relatively limited experience on the path of the mystic is that when I am meditating, cracks (metaphorically) appear in my map of reality, light from the essential nature of the Cosmos leaks through, and my map of reality begins to change in ways that open me up to new ways of Being.

To touch the other side of reality requires that we temporarily put aside our ego. It is a challenge to put aside our concepts of reality and our concepts of ourselves when moving through our social world. Everyone we meet reinforces our concept of the world and our concept of self.  For this reason mystics often seek isolation, by going to meditation retreats, or even by becoming hermits. It is much easier to shed our society’s view of reality and of ourselves when we are outside of our society. The archetype of the wise old person living in a cave in the mountains comes from this path.

2) Shamans and the Path of Power. The term “shaman” comes from the indigenous culture of Siberia where it refers to people who have special powers that fall outside of our normal map of reality. The term has since been adopted by our Western culture and applied to people with similar powers in cultures across the globe. I am simply using the term here to refer to individuals who walk the path of power. The power might be used to gain information on the origins of a person’s health problems, or to retrieve lost pieces of a person’s soul, or to alter the energy of a person or a situation, or for other purposes that lie outside of our culture’s view of reality.

An important characteristic of power is that it is not inherently good or bad. Technology, for example, is a path of power and technology can be used to heal someone (e.g. medicine) or to kill them (e.g. nuclear weapons). How power is wielded, for good or bad, depends not upon an inherent characteristic of power but upon the values of the person wielding it. Shamanism is a path of power. Some people become shamans in order to have the power to heal others, to do good, to serve humanity. Other people become shamans to boost their ego, to feed their own self-importance, and to manipulate the world to their own advantage. In observing people who follow this path I note that some are loving and humble, some are creepy and have huge egos, and others are somewhere in between. Power is power, it doesn’t care.

How is it possible for someone to enter into the other side of reality and at the same time maintain a big ego? How is it possible to have the mystical experience of immersion in the essential suchness of reality and still maintain a materialistic and selfish approach to reality? The answer is that it is not possible. The path of power is not a path into the essential nature of reality that lies beyond all maps of reality. It is, instead, the development of a different map of reality, one that includes aspects of reality that fall outside of the map provided by Western culture. It is still a map of reality, just a different map, one that opens up new abilities and power.

My understanding of this has been shaped by don Juan Matus (a Yaqui spiritual guide) in the writings of Carlos Castaneda. Don Juan used the term “sorcerer” to refer to people who are on the path of power. To gain power a sorcerer needs to experience a completely different way of perceiving, being in, and interacting with reality. This is no easy task, and to survive the challenges that arise a person needs to have the impeccability of a warrior. Much of the earlier work of don Juan with Carlos was to help Carlos develop a sorcerer’s map of reality.

In don Juan’s worldview there is also a step beyond becoming a sorcerer, and that is to become a “man of knowledge”. Having two completely different maps of reality (our every-day map and the sorcerer’s map) makes it possible, for a sorcerer who so wishes, to transcend all maps and know the ineffable suchness of reality itself. Thus the path of power can eventually become a path of knowledge. For this to happen the ego would need to be dropped to get past the guardian at the threshold of the other side of reality.  According to don Juan, relatively few sorcerers choose to move on to become people of knowledge.  Those who take the path of power to feed their ego and sense of self-importance, or to gain advantage in the material world, would be actively moving away from what it would take to reach the other side of reality.

I often see references to the Andean Cosmovision as a path of power. Peru is a land of many paths and some are paths of power. I have heard don Americo refer to shamans/sorcerers in Peru as “brujas” (witches) but without the negative connotation the word carries in English. On several occasions he has arranged for brujas he respects to work on my energy. I have noticed that he hangs around as they do, I assume that he is monitoring the work to make sure it is beneficial, and I have indeed benefited from their beautiful work. I have also heard many stories of shaman/sorcerers (in Peru and in the West) who do great harm, either on purpose or through ignorance. Power doesn’t care whether it is used for good or harm, only the people on the path of power care (and some do not).

Another term I have heard applied to people on the path of power in the Andes is “layqa”. I believe layqas are the people that don Americo refers to as brujas and brujos. I have searched the anthropological literature to see if this is a correct use of the term layqa, particularly when compared to “paq’os” (described below). I view the academic literature with ambivalence. On the one hand it seems more reliable to me than second-hand information coming through Westerners, particularly as that information is often translated from Quechua to Spanish and then to English. On the other hand, academicians can be completely ensconced in the Western worldview and utterly and stubbornly oblivious to how the Andean Cosmovision may differ from the Western worldview. The bottom line of my research is that it seems layqa is more connected with power, power over nature and power over people, while paq’o has a different, more beneficent, connotation. We will consider paq’os next.

3) Paq’os and the Path of Heart. “Paq’o” is a quechua term that is usually translated into English as either “mystic” or “shaman”. Both terms apply a little and neither exactly fits (see the post Paq’os:  Shamans or Mystics). “Paq’os” and a “path of heart” go together and the latter defines the former, and so I will hold off on a definition of paq’o and develop instead the essential nature of the path of heart.

There are undoubtedly many paths of heart on the planet. I want to focus on the path of heart as I have experienced it during my twenty plus years of working with don Americo Yabar, don Gayle Yabar, and the paq’os of Peru. To what degree my experiences on this path correspond to other paths of heart I know not, but I suspect there are many similarities.

The Andean path of heart is the path of the munay. The munay is one of our three centers of being. It is located in the area of our heart and is the center of love. The love associated with the munay, however, is not an emotion. It has nothing to do with romance or sex or sentimentality or jealousy. It is, instead, the feeling that arises from experiencing our interconnectedness with the rest of the Cosmos, and this feeling is labelled with the closest word in English, which is “love”.

The path of heart is a path of interconnectedness, not as an ideal or a concept but as a process. As for how exactly to proceed along this path, well, I have written this blog and a whole book about it, and that is only part of what I could have said. I would, however, like to give a brief overview here, and perhaps that will be of interest even to those who have read my blog or book or both.

The main image or metaphor that comes to my mind for describing the path of heart is that it involves a certain way of dancing with the Cosmos. Dancing is an active process, something we do, and we are doing it in response to the Cosmos, which in turn is responding to our dance. The dance is, in other words, an active relationship with the Cosmos where we influence each other.

This dance with the Cosmos is made possible through a non-Western map of reality, the Andean Cosmovision. Within this way of experiencing reality the whole Cosmos is conscious. This includes, specifically and especially, the Pachamama (the great Being who is the planet Earth), Mama Tuta (the void, the night, who holds the stars in her embrace), the stars themselves, Tai Tai Inti (the sun), Mama Killa (the moon), the Apus (the Beings who are the majestic mountain peaks), the rivers that cascade down the mountains, Mama Cocha (the ocean), the trees, the stones, everything, including the Cosmos itself. They are all conscious, we can interact with them, we can dance with them, and if we make our dance with the Cosmos a work of art then our life begins to unfold in beauty.

Our steps in the dance are the “meditations” I have shared in this blog and in my book. They are not like the meditations of the path of the mystics, and I only call them meditations because I have no better term. These meditations provide a means for experientially exploring new and profound aspects of ourselves and of the Cosmos. While the meditations have value in themselves there are also beautiful effects that slowly emerge as we continue down this path. These effects arise naturally from the way the meditations allow us to connect to the consciousness of Nature and the Cosmos. This is beautifully stated in a quote from Eckhart Tolle (while not from an Andean perspective it fits nicely).

“There is a higher order, a higher purpose, a universal intelligence. We can never understand this higher order through thinking about it because whatever we think about is content while the higher order emanates from the formless realm of consciousness. But we can glimpse it, and more than that, align ourselves with it, which means be conscious participants in the unfolding of that higher purpose. In a forest, not a man-made garden, let go of thought, become still and alert, and don’t try to understand or explain. Only then can you be aware of the sacredness of the forest. And soon as you sense that hidden harmony, that sacredness, you realize you are not separate from it, and when you realize that, you become a conscious participant in it. In this way, nature can help you become realigned with the wholeness of life.” Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth, pp 194-195.

The Andean meditations change our relationship with Nature and the Cosmos. When a relationship changes the relata (the entities in relationship) change as well. My experience is that as I have learned to dance with the Cosmos in this new way that subtle and beautiful changes have arisen within me unplanned and unexpected. Don Americo calls these “kamaskas”, small initiations into a new way of being that arise when we align ourselves with the Cosmos. This unfolding of a new way of experiencing reality takes us closer to the other side of reality which begins to inform our experience of who we are.

The theme of the paq’os relationship with the Cosmos is service and the operating principle is ayni. To be a paq’o is to be of service, service to the community, service to the Pachamama, service to the Apus, service to the Cosmos. Ayni (the Andean principle of reciprocity…see the post Ayni) insures that the service is service and is neither servitude nor mastery. We neither dissolve and surrender ourselves to the Cosmos (the path of the mystic), nor do we attempt to coerce and manipulate the Cosmos (the path of power). We dance with the Cosmos and as we do we become realigned with the wholeness of life, and we find our salka.

 

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Shedding Hucha

‘Hucha’ is heavy, discordant, chaotic energy. If you haven’t yet, I recommend that you read the earlier post dedicated to hucha. For me the prototypical example of hucha is how I feel when I come home from a bad day at the office. Unfortunately, not only does it sour my experience of reality, I can see the effect on my family when I arrive home full of hucha. There is a beautiful scene in one of the Commissario Brunetti books (by Donna Leon). Brunetti arrives home after a day when something terrible has happened at work (he is a police commissioner). He comes in the front door and his daughter greets him from the other end of the hallway with a happy ‘Hello pappa!’ He greets her back with the happiest voice he can manage, and turns to put his coat away so she can’t see the expression on his face. He hears her say “Mamma, something horrible has happened to pappa!”. The people I love pick up on my hucha even when I am trying to put it behind me when I arrive at home. My wife seems to notice it right away. My sons, when they were younger, would soon begin to bicker and fight.

This is a quick way to shed hucha before entering the house. Quick is not necessary a virtue, but it does make it easy to routinely do this after getting out of the car and before entering the house from the garage. As we will see in future posts, this is also a good way to get rid of your own hucha before working with other people’s energy.

While standing raise both your arms above your head with the palms of your hands facing the sky. With intent (sincere pretending) connect to the energy of the Cosmos with your right hand and let that energy flow into the right side of your body. When you feel that your right side has filled up with this energy, and still keeping your arms raised, bring your two palms together and with intent let the energy flow through your right hand into your left hand and down your left arm into the left side of your body and from there into your heart (munay), where you transform the energy into love.  This is simply accomplished with intent.

Now, bring your hands slowly down over your body, from your head down to your toes, with the intent of gathering up all of your hucha with your hands. When you finish at your feet put your palms down on the Pachamama (the great Being who is the planet Earth) and ask her to take all of the hucha from your hands. One of the great gifts of the Pachamama is to take our hucha and recycle it into refined energy.  This is basic paqo work.

Do this process just slowly enough to maintain the intent of what you are doing. If you do it too quickly it can become a mechanical process without intent and will lose its quality. Still, this is something that doesn’t take very much time and it can easily be tacked onto your arrival at home.

As always, remember, this is not just a way to get rid of hucha, it is a dance step in your relationship with the Pachamama, a relationship guided by ayni (reciprocity). In love she has taken your hucha, remember to at least express to her your gratitude, and next time you are having a drink perhaps pour a little first onto the Pachamama in thanks. A fundamental aspect of the Andean Cosmovision is the balance of giving and receiving. The full expression of the Andean approach is a life where that balance is maintained not out of a sense of obligation but out of love and mutual respect and gratitude. It is a relationship from which special and beautiful things can arise. The larger content of this meditation, then, is our relationship with the Cosmos. As I crank out future posts I will be sharing more ways for living a life of balance with the Cosmos, especially through ‘despachos’.

Source of this meditation: don Americo Yabar.

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Touching Pachamama

This is a very simple meditation (like the Bellybutton to the Pachamama meditation) but after years and years of seeking to know more and more I find that I have returned to the simple meditations as the foundation for integrating the Andean Cosmovision into my daily life. This meditation is very useful for coming into harmony and balance within ourselves. I don’t use this meditation to get rid of unwanted energy (e.g. anger, anxiety, stress)–there are other meditations for that–I use it when I have simply become too focussed on only part of who I am. For me this often means that I have gotten way too much into my head. There is a certain way I feel after a long spell of intellectual endeavor; from listening to papers being presented at an academic conference, writing computer programs, teaching (or taking) classes, or attending several meetings on the same day. It is a feeling of being disconnected from the full experience of being alive, which is what this meditation can resolve. This meditation is also beneficial for recovering from other ways we might be imbalanced, for example when we are too caught up in our emotions, or when we are feeling spacey and ungrounded from a mystical or spiritual experience. What this meditation can do is to balance our energy and get us in touch again with all of who we are, bringing the various aspects of ourself into harmony.

Here is the meditation in all of its simplicity. Sit on the ground. Begin by noticing the state of your energy, i.e. notice how it feels to be you right now, take a few seconds to do this. Now place your hands on the Pachamama (our mother Earth) and with intent connect the energy of your body through you hands with the energy of the Pachamama. Ask her to bring your energy into harmony with hers. Notice how your energy shifts as you do this, continue until you feel the shift is complete. Thank the Pachamama. Spend a few seconds being aware of your new state of energy, how you feel being you. That’s it.

Well, that’s it as far as the meditation goes, but there is more about this that I would like to share. I recommend that you do the meditation and then come back to this post to read the rest (if you are interested). It is the experiential aspect of the meditation that is important and I don’t want that to be overshadowed by my now going on to some of my thoughts about it.

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The Andean Cosmovision cannot be explored intellectually, it is explored by noticing the quality of some energy, doing some meditative-like process, and seeing how that affects the energy. If you experienced a shift in your energy when you did this meditation what does that prove? The answer is that it doesn’t prove anything. It doesn’t prove the Andean Cosmovision is true, it doesn’t prove (blah, blah, blah), it doesn’t prove nada. What it means is that you can notice how your energy is and that you have a way of changing it into something more pleasant, that is shaman work.

The Andean meditations all involve our relationship with Nature and the Cosmos (I see Nature as just the most local aspect of the Cosmos) and the foundation of that relationship is ayni. Ayni is the Andean principle of reciprocity, whenever something is received something is given back in return. This applies to the relationships people have with each other as well as to their relationship with the Cosmos. When done with love and respect this is not a matter of ‘breaking even’ it is an act that leaves both sides enriched and it opens the door to a deeper level of exchange. In this meditation the Pachamama does something wonderful for us, she brings our energy into harmony within ourselves by bringing our energy into harmony with her. To nurture this relationship we can insert into our lives smalls acts of ayni for the Pachamama, giving a little wine to her before we drink by pouring a few drops onto the earth, or laying a few flowers upon her breast (red flowers are traditionally offered to the Pachamama), or digging a small hole and putting the flowers and a few sugar cubes into the hole (the Q’ero women told me that the Pachamama has a sweet tooth…don Americo added with a smile that this might be a projection) then covering it with earth, all with the intent of expressing gratitude. There are also more formal expressions of gratitude that can be made (despachos and pagos) which I will cover in later posts but here I believe that intent is again the most important ingredient.

On the surface these offerings of gratitude seem almost to be a social act but more deeply they are energetic acts. We form a loving, respectful, mutually-supportive, energetic relationship with the Cosmos, this is the heart of the Andean approach, this is paqo work. The ayni takes our meditation–whose goal is to make our energy more harmonious and balanced–and elevates it to being a step in our dance with the Cosmos.

[Added later].  Please see the subsequent post on ayni.

Source of this meditation: don Americo Yabar.

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Paqos: Shamans or Mystics?

Paqo:  Shaman or Mystic?

My work in the Peru has been with the paqos who live in the high Andes. The term “paqo” (sometimes spelled “paq’o”) does not have an exact equivalent in our culture, some people translate it as “shaman” and others as “mystic”.  It is not a particularly great choice, it is like trying to describe a bear to someone who has never seen one and having to choose between saying that it is somewhat like a large cat, or that it is somewhat like a large dog.

Photo of a Siberian Shaman

A Siberian Shaman : Smithsonian

The word  “shaman” comes from an indigenous culture of Siberia where it refers to people who have special powers and a correspondingly special role in their society.  The term has since been adopted by our culture and applied to people with similar roles and powers in cultures across the globe.  While this has diluted the meaning of the term somewhat still there are basic elements to being a shaman.  Shamans typically enter into altered states of consciousness through the use of  psychoactive plants, drumming, or chanting.  While in these states they may journey into spirit realms not normally accessible in everyday life, and there they gather needed information or take actions to heal people whose afflictions have their root in these spirit realms.   The role of the shaman in society centers around their ability to perform these special actions.

Mystics, on the other hand, are those who seek to know, through direct experience, the essential nature of the Cosmos.  Thoughts, concepts, and to some degree perception, are interpretations of reality, not reality itself.  The experience, for example, that we are separate entities moving through time is a product of our mind, it is our experience of reality after the mind has translated it into something that makes sense, it is not the essential ‘suchness’ of reality itself.  When we experience reality before our mind has had chance to interpret it we find an eternal, seamless whole, we find the Sacred.  This place of deep knowing is the goal of the mystic.  The various outcomes we may ask a shaman to accomplish may no longer be of importance once we take a stance beyond our mind-based ego and its needs, thus a possible distinction between a shaman and a mystic is that of power versus wisdom.

Andean Paqos

Andean Paqos : Photo by Elaine Nichols

Paqos have some of the attributes of both shamans and mystics. The paqos are mystics in that they nourish an interactive and mutually supportive relationship with the rest of the Cosmos, it is a relationship that is only possible through the direct, mystical, experience of the interconnectedness of all things.  While it is this relationship that is paramount, the relationship does make it possible to ask favors from the Apus (the great spiritual beings who are the majestic mountain peaks) and from the Pachamama (the great spiritual being who is our mother earth) as well as others, and it allows for the manipulation of the energy that underlies all existence.

Paqos differ from traditional mystics, however, for mystics tend to be solitary figures who may have found it necessary to withdraw from society to pursue their path.  To be a paqo is to be of service, both to the great beings of Nature and the Cosmos and to the community.  This service is always performed within the context of ayni, the Andean principle of reciprocity, where giving is  balanced by receiving , and receiving is balance by giving.

Like shamans, the paqos have abilities that fall outside the ken of our culture’s conceptions of reality.  These abilities, however, are not ‘powers’, they involve neither controlling nature nor being controlled by nature (neither mastery nor servitude).  They stem instead from having an experiential understanding of the essential nature of reality and from nourishing a mutually supportive and loving relationship with the rest of the Cosmos.

Paqos are not exactly shamans or mystics, or they are both.  If forced to choose (to avoid long explanations) I usually go with ‘mystic’, and thus I label what I am studying as ‘Andean Mysticism’ rather than ‘Andean Shamanism’.  Few people would know what I meant if I called it ‘Andean Paqoism’ and I am reluctant to be held responsible for introducing a term like ‘paqoism’ into our vocabulary.

There is one thing I would like to add before bringing this to a close.  One of the more engaging and fulfilling aspects of studying a new culture comes from entering a world unlike the one with which I am familiar.  If I insist (consciously or unconsciously) on fitting what I experience into the categories I have learned from my culture (e.g. categorizing paqos as either mystics or shamans) then I miss seeing what is really fresh and new about the culture, and instead of looking into a fascinating new world I end up simply seeing  a reflection of my own.  This is something that has arisen over and over again for me, finding that I have interpreted something about the Andean culture in terms of my own culture’s view of the world and have subsequently missed something of great interest and  beauty.  In what I write in this site I will try to help you learn from my mistakes.

The photo of the Andean paqos by Elaine Nichols is included with her permission.  I scanned it in from the back of my copy of a 17 year old issue of the journal Shaman’s Drum.  Unfortunately it looks like it is from the cover of a 17 year old journal.  This is a metaphor of what it is like for me when I paraphrase in my writings one of the Andean paqos with whom I have worked (primarily Americo Yabar).  I want to share something beautiful they have said and I’m afraid that in doing so I’ll add some cracks and discolorations that may be mistakenly attributed to them rather than to me where it belongs.  Still, I think facing that risk is better than not sharing something beautiful at all.

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