First of a two-part series

If someone asks me why I travel, especially to sacred sites such as Machu Picchu in Peru, or the Andes Mountains of Chile, I would have to say that it is my experience that these places of incredible earth energies can change us. They alter our perspective, not only because of an experience of a different culture, but because we look at our life and our personality and recognize much of who we think we are is just societal conditioning and habit.

We are a “domesticated” species, often never knowing our selka nature–the word in the Quechua language of the Andes which means “undomesticated” or wild, or our essential nature. In traveling to another culture, our fears and obligations, our masks that we wear daily, fall away. Stepping away from what we call our everyday reality, we find that our daily distractions are what keep us from really knowing ourselves and our own spiritual truths, as we do not take the time to be human “beings” rather than human “doings.”

It takes courage, that leap of faith, sometimes called the leap of the Jaguar, the shamanic animal totem, or luminous being of Light, that models for us, how to create a new life, with riches of the Spirit not known to those who never attempt to fly. It takes courage to plan and execute a sacred journey, whether that journey is an interior one, such as a vision quest, or one to Machu Picchu, one of the 7 wonders of the world due to its mystical and other-worldly beauty.

Yet, the rewards of such journeys are the vantage points of the overall perspective of one’s life that give meaning and purpose to our earth walk. These journeys can bring incredible insights and gifts of the spirit that can lead to desired life changes and greater meaning and clarity of purpose. We return with a sense of greater joy and peace, in gratitude for our own life, or we make more easily, the changes we desire.

The Andean peoples of South America still follow the ways of their ancestors. Despite the fact that most small towns now have at least one computer, and satellite towers provide cell phone and TV coverage, people there live close to the land, and they practice cultural traditions, as well as dress in their native clothes, much as they have done for hundreds of years. Most people profess to be Catholic, yet ancient traditions are honored and celebrated–the Pachamama has become the Virgin, and ancestor worship is alive in the honoring of the saints; traditional seasonal festivals are now celebrated with a Catholic holiday, but celebrated in much the same fashion as their ancestors.

The people’s metaphors and philosophy of life all revolve around the concept of ainy–a spiritual code of ethics and living one’s life in reciprocity, with all of nature. For the Andean peoples, ainy means that as they honor the Pachamama, the cosmos, the Apus, or mountain spirits, the stars, waters, rocks, trees — and indeed, all of life, including people everywhere. It is a simple, yet profound, belief that simply means giving and receiving in equal measure. One does not take more than one needs. When giving honor and gifts to the Mother or Pachamama, She gives back to us, with even greater abundance.

One ceremony that is central to the people is the despachio, which is a ceremony of offering gratitude to the Earth Mother, Pachamama, in the form of foods from the earth and other treasures, such as sea shells and flower petal, fragrance and candies, all wrapped in gift paper and tied with a string, which is then burned in a small ceremonial fire.

When we visit and interact with this beautiful and ancient culture, we realize that these ancient beliefs and customs are a set of spiritually transformative tools that have great relevance for those of us living in a “modern,” yet often spiritually bereft, society. To awaken to our highest potential, it is important to utilize these tools such as the concept of ainy, to resolve conflicts, and give greater meaning to our lives today. In Andean tradition, there is no separation between the physical and spiritual worlds.

The Q’ero are the living descendants of this pre-Inkan wisdom and the keepers of these mystery teachings. The Q’ero Nation represents the last of the direct cultural and spiritual descendants of the Inkan Empire. In 1949, Oscar Nunez del Prado, who grandfather “discovered” the Amazon River, heard some men talking in Cuzco. He realized they were speaking a “high Quechua,” a language, that he, as a university professor, had thought was dead–vanished from the planet. By 1953, National Geographic gave the world the first pictures of the Q’ero people. And in 1955, the missionaries had found the last of the six Q’ero villages of these peoples who had hidden themselves for more than 500 years, since the Spanish Conquest. They came down from their villages at 14,000 feet to astound the world with their mystery teachings that they had preserved for future generations, not only for Peruvian peoples, but people everywhere.

The Q’ero believe we are in a time of great upheaval , a time of Pachacouti (pacha = time or mother, and couti = to turn over). They also believe that we, the rainbow race of North American, are to merge our technological world with the spiritual heart of the Andes–thus the prophesy of the Eagle and Condor uniting to save the world’s peoples.

Peru is said to be the portal through which the rays of the New Light, after 500 years of darkness, will begin to awaken humanity to a new consciousness.

Holly Gray Schuck
Holly Gray Schuck, M.S., LicSW, has over 30 years experience in psychotherapy, working with individuals, couples and families. She has a private practice using a blend of spiritual direction and traditional therapy. Holly has worked as a primary therapist for over 15 years at a Northern Wisconsin reservation clinic, serving children and families. She has studied with Alberto Villoldo, Americo Yabar, Juan Nunez Prado, Sun Bear, Serge King, Pat Burdy, Arna Lesha, Master Stephen Co with Advanced Pranic Healing, and studied with Luzclara, her teacher/mentor/friend, for 22 years. Holly is a former wilderness instructor and white water guide and leads expeditions to sacred sites internationally.

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