Suzi stirs next to me. Our quarters are cramped, so we take turns putting on our clothes before opening the tent. Others are also beginning to rise. Across the creek at the kitchen tent, hot water and matte de coca are being served. I make a beeline in that direction, and down several cups of the hot elixir along with vitamins and herbal supplements.
Back at camp, we join Alberto and others for a morning breathing practice. My breathing is slow and shallow, an effect of the altitude. More energized, we head to the dining tents for breakfast — hot cereal, eggs, rolls and more matte de coca.
Fortified, it is time to change into hiking clothes: a tank top, long-sleeved shirt, lightweight pants, wool socks and liners, hiking boots, and a wide brimmed hat. Suzi and I disassemble our tent after packing up our gear for the horsemen, and outfitting my daypack with protein bars, camera and extra memory, notebook, pen, sunscreen, mesa, polar fleece jacket, gloves and a wind jacket.
While we wait to be sure the horsemen collect our gear, I photograph nearby. Soon, it is time to set off on today's hike to what will be our base camp. Those in our group who opt instead to ride horseback follow as soon as the horses are packed and ready to go.
The first water obstacle occurs almost immediately. We must cross a wide, fast-moving stream that carries glacial runoff from the mountains. Francesco crosses first and reaches a hand out to help steady me. From this point the trail gradually gains in elevation. I remind myself, over and over, to drink plenty of water since dehydration is a big problem at this altitude, and one that can be easily avoided. After an hour or so of hiking several of us stop for a water and snack break. Jerry, Joy, John and I hike at a similar pace. It is also a handy time to begin shedding a layer of clothing. Overhead a hawk soars, riding thermals it points the way. A messenger from Spirit or Apu Ausangate? Though the hike is not strenuous, the decrease in oxygen at this elevation makes conversation difficult. Just as well. I much prefer to be as present as possible to the experience, and besides there is already a lot to process.
I sense Apu Ausangate pulling me closer and the Q’ero gently pushing me from behind. I marvel, to myself, at how good and strong I feel. It is hard to believe a couple of weeks ago a blood test revealed that I was considerably anemic. My thoughts dart to my husband Rick, and I send him a telepathic picture of this beautiful land. One day I hope to entice him here to see for himself.
Joining up with don Humberto and doña Bernadina, we stop for a water and snack break by some large boulders before starting up another rise. Handing don Humberto a protein bar to share with his wife, he hides it away in this mastana cloth that holds all of his things. Later, I discover that he is a pack rat — saving all that he is given to share with his family and community when he returns home. My love for him increases exponentially!
Soon others join up with us. After 15 minutes we are off, again. From the top of the rise I see our destination — almost there I tell myself. Looking back I see the pack horses in the far distance, the riders following close behind. Farther back still are the rest of the hikers. After a short descent, the terrain becomes relatively flat along the far side of Azulcocha, the Blue Lagoon.
The energy of the mountain coursing through me makes it difficult to sit and relax. I cannot soak up fast enough this powerful energy that literally pulled me up the mountain. Retracing my steps back around the lagoon, I stare mesmerized at the majesty of Ausangate. This is the same face of the mountain I photographed four years earlier. The tingling sensation of energy moving throughout my body is pronounced, as is the sound in my ears. My entire body feels alive — activated — in a way that I have never experienced before. It is a sensation that is impossible to describe.
When I return, “camp” has been set up. In an area that is so expansive, it is incongruous that the tents are lined up in three rows like an urban subdivision.
While the “kitchen” is being erected and lunch prepared, I go off to work more with the stone that called out to me yesterday.
I love rocks. I love to lie on them, feel their energy, and hear their stories. Many years ago, while backpacking for the first time in the Absorkee-Beartooth Wilderness in Montana, I lay back on a huge granite outcropping and spontaneously began journeying back in time. I know from that experience that our souls contain the evolutionary story of stone. So when, in this tradition, Andean shamans hold a medicine stone (kuya) to their ears to listen to the stories they hold, I know what they are listening to. I know this frequency of energy.
When I am in nature among rocks, I lose what little sense of time I possess. Like a canyon, this stream draws me along. Winding upwards, I am drawn to a massive boulder sitting in the water. Lying on my back with arms dangling towards the water, I open my heart center inviting Apu Ausangate to speak directly to me. Vibrations of energy run up and down my spine.
The growling in my stomach becomes persistent, and having brought no water or snacks with me, I head back to camp. After a late lunch, I ready myself for the afternoon’s adventure. My daypack is re-provisioned with plenty of water, a protein bar, nuts and chocolate, polar fleece and wind jackets, gloves, camera, notebook, mesa and the stone I have been working. At the appointed time, I join others to hike up the hillside behind camp. Rounding a bend I realize we are within throwing distance of where I explored before lunch. Had I continued a little farther, I would have “found” Otorongococha — the Male Jaguar Lagoon.Alberto, Francesco, don Mariano, don Humberto and doña Bernadina are seated downhill facing up towards the lagoon. The rest of us sit in a semi-circle with our back to the water. Otorongococha is absolutely clear with banks that drop straight down, reminding me of some of the geyser pools in Yellowstone National Park, without the thermal activity. The lagoon is said to be hundreds of feet deep.
The youngest member of our allyu (group) opens sacred space. He does so beautifully. His words are heartfelt and come alive through his sincerity, passion and reverence for this tradition and its lineage. Afterwards, we are told that Otorongococha is a sacred site where Q’ero medicine people come to cleanse their luminous bodies by releasing heavy energies of lifelessness (hucha) that become attached to us. That, in fact, is the context of the ceremonies for this afternoon.
Stilling myself, mesa in hand, I quietly and reverently create sacred space around me. Holding the stone that called out to me yesterday, which now holds many stories and beliefs that stalk me, I use my breath to imprint one more attachment. Partnering with Suzi, I take her stone and use it like a lint brush to pick up and thoroughly cleanse any residue energy of her downloaded stories that may still be attached to her luminous energy field. I pay particular attention to her three primary energy centers: yachay (crown/third eye), munay (heart) and llankay (belly). She, in turn, cleanses my luminous body using my stone. When done, we place our respective stones on a mestana cloth that lies between us and the Q’ero shamans. With our back to the lagoon, they catapult these stones that hold our lifelessness into the water, all the while praying to Pachamama (Mother Earth) to receive and purify them — freeing us to create affinities of more power.
Power is a hugely important concept in shamanic traditions. It is not the same as knowledge. Rather, it has to do with our ability to create bi-directional connections through relationships and engagements. Power is acquired through availability, the degree of openness and unconditionality we have in our lives; our relationship to more refined and essential affinities such as ayni (being in congruence and right-relationship); passion without attachment to outcome; unconditional love; wholeness; Oneness.
Power is not the same as knowledge. It has to do with our ability to create bi-directional relationships and engagements.
I am continually learning from my teachers and these Andean medicine people to track the stories that inform my beliefs, limit my sense of possibility, and availability to life to their source so that I may see through these illusions, and open my heart. My stories have led me to the deepest recesses of my unconsciousness, where they have manipulated me like a puppet master. Little by little, story by story, I am pulling back the veils of relative truth to create affinities that hold more power.
In the Andean medicine tradition, energy and affinities are expressed in three qualitative ways. Kayao is the most common and least refined expression, acquiring form within time and space. Because it has form, this quality of energy and affinity is conditional, dense and rigid. Payan expressions of energy and affinities are fluid and can be transformed at will. It is, however, still held within time and space though less conditional and more negotiable. The most refined quality of energy and affinities is referred to as kollana. This expression is unconditional and, therefore, not limited by the perception of time and space. It is perpetually in a state of pure potentiality.
To understand these three expressions of energy more fully, let us use the metaphor of a house. The fixed walls of a house are expressions of kayao energy. They are dense and rigid, visible in time and space. The moveable windows and doors are akin to payan energy. While rigid and dense, they have the ability to move fluidly within space and time. The open yard, which has no walls, windows or doors would be expressions of kollana energy. Not defined by form, the open yard exists outside of time and space in a state of pure potential.
Similarly, we can understand better the three expressions of affinities by using the metaphor of a dimmer switch. Imagine you are in a windowless room. When the dimmer light switch is turned off the room is in total blackness. However, if you move the dimmer switch in the opposite direction the full power of possible light is “turned on.” In the same way, kayao expressions of affinities are like the dimmer switch set to off — what is attracted into our field is dark, dense and heavy. At the opposite end of the spectrum, kollana expressions are like the dimmer switch fully open — lightness and brightness is shed in every direction, without shadows cast. In the mid-spectrum of the dimmer switch — between complete darkness and total light — is the expression of payan affinities. These attractions are less dense, have more visibility, but still can cast shadows.
The Andean medicine tradition involves refining affinities so the quality of our relationships and engagements is exchanged primarily through payan and kollana affinities. As we become more powerful, no longer stalked by lifelessness, the finest expression (kollana) of life-force — illyapa — becomes available to us.
As if a physical weight has been lifted, a sense of lightness and lightheadedness sweeps through me. But, there is more work to be done.
The sun sinks behind the mountains and the air becomes considerably cooler. One by one, we strip off clothes to expose our belly and heart areas. It is cold waiting to be cleansed. Straddling the out-take of the lagoon, Francesco cups some of the icy cold mountain spring water in this hand to cleanse my llankay energy center. To do this, he unwinds the energy center located at my belly counter-clockwise. A few steps to my right, don Mariano follows the same procedure as he cleanses my heart center. The water is unbelievably ice cold! Next don Humberto smears ice cold water onto the area of my third eye. Bending down, doña Bernadino drizzles some of the sacred water on the crown of my head, and then thumps and grinds her mesa into my scalp. She is very thorough, though not gentle!
Later, squatting by the side of the stream flowing out of the lagoon, I remove each of my mesa stones, and one by one imprint them with the pure crystalline expression of Pachamama. I also do this for the stones that have been imprinted with energy from Rick and two clients.
After redressing and adding a warm layer, we reunite on the opposite slope where a mastana filled with coca leaves has been spread out. We make k’intus — first, imprinting coca leaves with prayers for ourselves and ingesting them. Then we imprint the leaves with prayers and gift them to each other. Feelings of connectedness, love and well-being warm me, and a sense of expansion and fullness builds after consuming prayer after prayer after prayer. Doña Bernadino and I hug as we exchange k’intus, and before long everyone is smiling broadly and hugging each other. This is certainly a love feast!
Fully satiated with k’intus, we hike to the top of the ridge that overlooks Otorongowarmycocha. As the massive sun sets, it casts a beautiful rose glow on the far mountain — Maria Huamanlipa, the Falcon and unrequited lover of Apu Ausangate — which is reflected in the Red Lagoon below. Directly opposite, an almost full moon begins, simultaneously, to rise. In silent reverence, I drink deeply the beauty and perfection of this moment.
Picking my way carefully over the uneven and rocky terrain, I make my way back to camp for a steamy cup of matte de coca, potato chips and dinner. Energetically filled-up, I head to our tent and the warmth of my sleeping bag. It is 8 p.m. What a glorious day!
The Dream Continues
Foolish me to think the day is over. The veils of perception are thin on these holy mountains, and easily parted. Lucidly, I dream myself again walking towards Ausangate. Nearing, the cave-like opening reveals itself once again. I walk into the hollow belly of the mountain, and like before transform into a large bird. Am ‘I’ the Falcon — Ausangate’s unrequited lover? As this thought surfaces, like air bubbles underwater, I see myself — the bird — rising up and circling round and round counter-clockwise on invisible currents. Up and up I soar. Higher into the mountain. The higher I soar into the blackness of Ausangate’s belly, the smaller the circles. The only sound is the whoosh-sh-sh of the air.
Suddenly, the mountaintop opens. I see the bird drawn up and out into the darkness of the night. A cry of joy emanates from the bird — me — while millions of stars twinkle all around. My outstretched wings transform into arms of a baby. My torso and legs transform, too. I am reborn. I am the girl-child of Ausangate! Mesmerized, I watch as the direction of my flight changes, spiraling clockwise. My body continues to morph taking the shape of a man, and then a wo(man) — half male, half female. Letting out a peal of laughter, a rainbow of color — red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple — escapes my lips. Carried higher the streams of color braid themselves into one single strand of pure white. Floating. Free!