The reason for my first venture to Peru arose not from logic but from direct spiritual guidance. I was not informed of the purpose of my visit or that I would subsequently form a company to usher mystics into the sacred energy of the Andes.
During the first trek, I had a spontaneous, life-changing encounter with the consciousness of Apu Salkantay — Apu, in Quechua, the ancient language of the Inca, indicates a revered being and Apu Salkantay is a 20,500-foot massif northwest of Cusco. Standing near the base of the peak, my heart burst with a torrent of emotion as a force embraced me and cracked me open. It felt natural to fall to my knees, bow my head to touch the ground and commit to serve.
It’s logical to assume that the fiercest challenge of trekking in the Andes is the reduced level of oxygen. My first ascent into the fierce mystery of the high-altitude environment was an encounter with an intractable conflict that has no relation to the atmosphere but, rather, a legacy of tour companies that have customized treks into Western-style forays into the Peruvian landscape. I concluded that Peruvian trek companies had responded with a vacation product designed to serve their Western clientele whose goal is to rapidly conquer the mountains and add them to their list of accomplishments. I was dismayed to discover that the pathological modern addiction to speed and size has been exported to this ancient land.
Our desire for mystical experience was in opposition to the trek company’s agenda to cover as much distance as possible. The guide’s admonitions not to pause for contemplation and ritual chafed my intention for deep contact with the mountains and soul work. With grim determination, I committed to retool the entire experience so that future treks would allow a spaciousness to match the landscape and create a pilgrimage of contemplation and union with the divine forces in the sacred mountains.
During subsequent meetings with guides and travel agencies, I discovered that trekking in the Andes has become intransigent at many levels. It is big business. After numerous conversations, I succeeded in adding additional days, as well as two periods of sacred silence. Concluding that I had accomplished my objectives, I announced the trip. Nearing the end of the eight-month wait for our departure to Peru, I was advised that our guide had cancelled. Dismayed that our carefully constructed team had just lost a very important member, I asked the agency to locate an experienced guide. I left for Cusco in trepidation that the pilgrimage was being severely compromised. Upon my arrival, I telephoned the new guide to discuss our trek. His constant interruptions advised me that I would be working with a big ego.
As we descended from the first summit of 16,000 feet, our group was loosely scattered along the route — tiny dots of color nearly lost in the immense landscape of the mountains. The youngest in front, traveling quickly on strong legs, followed far behind by the eldest, laboring to breathe the thin air, stepped gingerly on the rocky trail. I placed myself in the middle, observing the body of our group snaking slowly towards the horizon. Our lungs burned and both legs became increasingly leaden as we entered the vast amphitheater where no evidence of human kind marred the treeless red hummocks that majestically swept up to meet the base of the brilliant white glaciers flowing down between the crags of Apu Ausangate. Our tiny human forms merged with the divine energetic that invigorates the formidable landscape, hearts full of an ancestral memory of a life spent in harmony with Mother Nature and the Divine.
My premonitions were accurate. Our guide was a member of the very trek model I was trying to subvert. When I explained my intention to him in detail, he responded as if I was speaking an alien language. I gazed to Apu Ausangate and petitioned the mountain for a method to make my case without anger and was given a detailed map for resolution. I called all the members of our group into the main tent: the trekkers, guides, horsemen, cooks and porters. I felt the mountain with me as I described our vision, and without blame, pointed out where choices were not supporting the trek. I placed the challenge in the center of our collective and invited each person to help forge a solution. The following day was markedly different.
Trekking at 15,000 feet can feel like methodical suffocation. A gentle acceptance of all physical distress is requisite — a patient witness to the body’s struggle that requires both attention and indifference. It is this very neutrality that prepares for a birth through the portal of discomfort into an expansive oneness, a dissolution that allows rebirth — the negredo of alchemy. Consciously choosing to surrender to difficulty is in opposition to our imagined Western privilege as master of our universe ruling from a throne of comfort at the top of the evolutionary pyramid. It subverts the paradigm of control that has created a devastating separation between Nature and man. Through daily prayer and ritual, we petitioned the Apus, Mother Earth, the Masters, God — Life itself — to draw us nearer to the heart of Creation where we might learn what is required for our healing and the healing of our Earth. The conflicts I felt with our guide required the same alert surrender to nurture the necessary adjustments.
Isolated in the Andes, we escape from the jarring cacophony of urban life that propels us faster and to constantly accumulate; we are liberated from the technological distractions that infiltrate our lives. In these timeless mountains, we cleave from the incessant pace of contemporary life and take an essential drink of the deep wisdom of Nature. The profound silence is a deep well of resource, creativity and spiritual renewal. Each footstep on the pilgrimage is an embrace of the immensity of our Earth Mother. She is capable of rescuing us from our nightmare of collective destruction and the way to a timeless reality where we are one with the glory of Creation and the Creator. Surrendering to the experiences on the trek becomes our resurrection and alignment to our rightful place within the torrent of the sacred, luminous, ferociously immanent presence of God manifest in physical form.