Slowly others in our allyu gather for breakfast. Some intend to spend the morning leisurely packing, reading or walking along the Urubamba River. Some, like Suzi, left early, to instead climb to the top of Huyana Picchu.
Finishing breakfast, I pack a snack and head off to the bus station, arriving only moments before the 9:30 bus is scheduled to leave for Machu Picchu.
After paying fees, the steps taken last night are retraced towards the Watchman’s Hut. Veering off to the left, we follow the trail to the Sun Gate (Intipunku). Though it is only 10:30 a.m., the air warms up quickly. Shedding layers, we make the gradual elevation climb.
At the base of the massive outcropping that is the Temple of the Priestess sits Suzi with her mesa spread open to absorb the energy of this sacred feminine spot. “Come on up!” she encourages. Finding a place relatively clear of strewn rocks, I cleanse the area with Florida Water, offer tobacco to Pachamama, and open sacred space. Next I spread open my mesa and arrange my kuyas (medicine stones) to absorb the energy of the sun (Inti) and this power site. Pressing my body against the Priestess Stone, I set intention for this strong, wild feminine energy to penetrate deeply into my luminous energy body to aid my return to ayni.
From up here there is an incredible view of the Urubamba River and the railroad tracks that parallel it. Amazingly, the sound of the river can be heard as if it were right beside me. This is due to the Temple’s naturally concave shape. Later, when the train whistle blows, it is almost deafening! Silently sitting in my mesa, the sounds of dragonflies, gnats and the river below lull me into a deeply meditative state of consciousness. The peace and fellowship of sharing this moment with my “sisters” fills my heart with joy.
“Have you ever hiked up to Intipunku, the Sun Gate?” Suzi asks. Answering “No,” she suggests that we pack up our things and head in that direction. By now he sun is high in the sky and the air is hot. Along the way we come upon a partial wall with niches, pillars, and an enormous flat-topped rock with three steps leading up to it. Ceremonial, we determine.
Though the elevation gain is gradual, the trail’s highest point — the Sun Gate — is actually higher than Huayna Picchu, which forms the dramatic backdrop behind Machu Picchu. Standing on the threshold of the Sun Gate, I feel energy coursing quickly up and down my spine, and simultaneously outwards into the Universe. It is hard not to step beyond as the pull of other holy mountains such as Salkantay is great.
Our last ritual is to bring closure to the experiences we've had on this journey. It takes place on the bank of the Urubamba River. Our task is to create a sand painting that depicts the entirety of our story — our personal journey through this lifetime. Afterwards, we will offer our sand painting to the Urubamba Riiver to “hold” so we no longer need to carry them. One of the main tributaries that makes up the headwaters of the Amazon River, my sand painting could conceivably make a 6,000 mile journey.
But first, we gather in a circle to hear a story of another journey. Medicine people of all cultures believe there is one organizing principle in the Universe — Spirit. “Some,” Alberto tells us, “call it by other names such as Wiracocha, chi, life-force, prana, Creator, God. Spirit has an agenda that the Q’ero call “the intent of condor” — the self-transforming principle of the universe. Westerners don’t recognize this principle because of our human agenda. As a result, we create lives with lots of internal chatter and move at very high speed. This disconnects us from Nature and the natural rhythm of the Universe."
He then tells us the first story ever told, which goes something like this:
In the Beginning, Spirit’s agenda was to express itself in the Uhupacha — the Lower World -- with the Stone People. Lots of experimentation took place — from hot molten to boulders to huacas — in the forming of Earth. The Stone People were the first people when Earth was created. The experiment of the Stone People lasted a very long, long time.
Next, Spirit expressed itself as the Plant People through a palette of colors and aromas. Sensuality and sexuality emerged. The experiment acquired a vocabulary in this domain, and continued evolving. Within the domain of the Plant People, the experiment perfected communion with light: photosynthesis. The experiment also created four musical notes: A-C-T-P, the basis for DNA, which has the potential to combine in a variety of forms. But, the limitations of this domain, too, became apparent.
As a result, an entirely new experiment began. Creatures evolved who could expand their range of activity and evolution. Yet, all of nature shared the same components — the notes of Creation. The Cosmic Serpent was created from the four notes, the sounds of which are held by the four directions. And the experiment continued. This time the vessel of Spirit contained a specialized component — a central nervous system. Senses could now extend into the world. Touch. Sight. Sound.
In the fetus, the neural tube began to form, which develops into the central nervous system. This happens through imagination. As a result of this process, a brain began to form. At first it was very rudimentary. Memory began to evolve. Fear, and then pain. The first brain to develop was the Reptilian Brain. It took care of feeding, regulating blood pressure, reproduction — sex. And, for millions of years this worked well for large reptiles with pea-sized brains. But these reptiles could not learn.
The Plant People decided that things needed to change. A council of elders was convened and they decided to change the scene completely. They produced a poisonous gas that decimated the ecosystem and about 99% of all life forms.
Next, mammals appeared. In addition to the reptilian brain, these creatures also had a mammalian brain. The Condor Principle was at work — nature moving to transform itself. The experiment with this new brain became highly developed: the concept of family and community emerged as well as collective consciousness, love, emotions and heartbreak. Meanwhile, the reptilian brain was still informing through signals and impulses.
Then, a new brain appeared — the Neo-Cortex — with its ability to think and even comprehend the four notes of Creation. For most of humanity, however, the features of this new brain remain dormant. And, because it functions so very differently than the Reptilian Brain, tension was created as well.
Each brain has its downfalls — the Reptilian Brain eats its own babies; the Mammalian Brain eats other’s babies; and the Neo-Cortex eats everything for power.
Next, the fourth brain appeared — the Frontal Lobes, which gives us the potential to dream. Again, Condor’s self-transforming principle at work: a structure that permits one to benefit from another’s experience. No longer is there an “I” that separates one from another. It is obliterated. Shamans work in this domain of 'No Separation'. They know that when they step beyond the “I,” pure experience informs them and allows them to tap into the organizing principle of the Universe: Spirit.
The Condor Principle operates at the level of the allyu — community — and individuals simultaneously. Condors fly alone, but they feed together and save the eyes and liver for the chief condor of their allyu. Our uniqueness is augmented and expanded when the “I” is slain.
According to lore, the return of the Inka activates the frontal lobe — the ability to dream and vision. Shamans say, “Have everything, but do not hoard,” because fear and scarcity are what stalks lifelessness. Greed is the huge enemy of shamans. A master shaman doesn’t own anything because that is what possesses you; makes you slip back into the “I” where Death stalks you.
The world we live in is being mulched right now. The societies we live in are dinosaurs — they are not encouraged to evolve. Our corporations, our governments, our organizations, our educational systems are all set up to maintain the status quo; not evolution.
Meanwhile, Alberto continues:
To activate the Condor Principle you must eat as close to the sun as possible, feed on light as much as possible. We have an opportunity to become a new species within the species of Homo-sapiens because our species is becoming extinct. The experiment has come to a place of extinction at the level of the critical mass.
The Inka Prophesy talks about a time of quantum leap — the becoming of a new species. That time is now. It is a possibility.
Rites of passage by indigenous peoples are both spiritual and biological. Within nature it has been discovered that new species of vines and lichen are being created. Shamans believe that evolution happens within generations, not between generations. Most religions are based upon a spiritual afterlife. For shamans, it’s in this lifetime, in this body, and on this earth. Shamans shatter the myth of illusion of a hereafter. Shamans embrace fully the experiment in the here and now: to remember the stories when there were only Stone People, Plant People, and other creatures; and, to know that there are counterparts in the luminous body.
We are at the vanguard of a revolution, but, first we need to dismantle our notion of separateness. One of the elements of the grand experiment is the essence of the allyu — EYE-YOU — the tapestry of life that extends before us and after us. Second, we need to become conscious of what we repeat over and over and over again in our journey.
This final task is perfect. For the past three years, I have relentlessly tracked and examined my life through the lens of a mythic journey. My purpose has been to discover and understand the metaphoric and mythological meaning of my relationships and experiences, including leukemia, so to heal at all levels. Where has my life been leading me? For what have I been searching? How have obstacles presented themselves along my path? Who or what has influenced and supported my search? What gifts have I acquired along the way?
Bags of beans, corn, sugar, grains, and coca leaves are pulled out of a satchel for us to use in the construction of our sand painting. After selecting ingredients to describe my personal mythic journey, I begin to assemble my “paintbox.” Together, Jerry and I open sacred space by calling in the archetypal forces of nature associated with the four directions. Silently, I pray to Pachamama and Wiracocha to help me see my journey clearly without the overlay of ego to cloud my perception. This moment takes on an ethereal quality of holiness. Even the air becomes completely still.
I begin by pouring rice through my hand to create a circle that represents the totality of my life. At about the three o’clock position, the retelling of my soul’s journey during this lifetime unfolds. Onto a bed of sugar, I place one seed — the bed of sweetness I entered this world upon. Close by, on another bed of sugar I place three kernels of corn — one for my mother, one for my father, and one in between for me. A barrier of red beans, depicting the first “hurdle” that crossed my path at 21 months old, is placed immediately to the right. Just beyond the barrier a single kernel of corn — the literal and symbolic loss and separation from my birth parents: soul loss.
Next, I visually describe the aloneness I felt in the world even though there were outside influences that nurtured my growth. This portion of my sand-painting is symbolized by a bed of quinoa cradling a single kernel of corn. At the edge of the quinoa are smaller and more numerous corn kernels depicting my need to leave “home” so I could individuate and explore the various aspects of my self. My journey then includes experimentation with creating a loving and nurturing relationship represented by two corn kernels on a bed of sugar and quinoa.
The next segment of my journey led me to explore relationships from the place of career. One large corn kernel, symbolizing my soul-self is placed along side three smaller ones. The latter denotes the professional roles I sequentially took on and refined over the years. All four kernels sit on a nurturing bed of rice and quinoa. This period is followed by a second “hurdle” along my path — a breakdown in health — leukemia — that redefined the priorities and nature of my journey. At this juncture, instead of separating myself from the divine, as I did at 21 months, I delved into the deepest, darkest, most unconscious aspects of my life (symbolized by a piece of llama fat) to come out the other side having discovered “the treasure that is hard to find” — depicted by a pure white hominy “pearl” on a bed of rice and sugar.
At the “hub” of my life’s journey each element that describes my life is present — hominy (my soul), corn (roles/personality/ego), bean (challenges and obstacles), rice and quinoa (opportunities for growth), and sugar (sweetness and positive nurturing). They sit on a bed of coca leaves that represents the transformative processes of life. No longer fighting to protect myself against the hungry ghosts that haunted me, I am becoming a spiritual warrior that wields love and forgiveness.
Looking even more deeply at my sand painting, I begin to understand more fully the mythic nature of my life’s journey. My search has always been to remember that I have never been separate — I am a child of Spirit (Wiracocha) and Pachamama; a child of heaven and earth; a mediator of the three Worlds. I understand, too, that it has been the large obstacles along my path — near death, separation from my parents, soul loss, and leukemia — that have propelled and kept me focused on my search for wholeness and a return to ayni.
I know, without doubt, that the direction my journey is leading me is to the broader conversation of transformation — creating new forms of relationship based on cooperation and collaboration, new forms of organization and ways of engagement that are horizontal rather than vertical and hierarchical. And create artworks the express the visions and beauty of my emerging consciousness. My body tingles. I feel a passion welling up inside me that has been missing, yet yearned for my entire life. I am ready to go home and make myself fully available to whatever ways I am called by Spirit to be in service to others. I have not a clue where my journey will lead, but it no longer matters. I know why I am here. I trust that my path will reveal itself. I trust that it will be perfect. With tears running down my cheeks, I give thanks to Wiracocha and Pachamama, Apu Ausangate, all of the animistic forces of nature, and these self-less medicine people who have held me so sweetly and shared so much.
Jerry knows much of my life’s journey from previous work done together, and immediately gets the story told in my sand-painting. I do not even try to share, at this point, the many possible implications of my revelations. Scooping all of the elements up into my hands, Jerry and I walk over to the edge of the boulder. With a prayer of thanks for all the lessons, challenges and opportunities, and support given me to evolve my soul, I cast them in the water to be purified and transformed as they make their 6,000 mile journey down the Urubamba River to the Amazon and out to sea.
I take a deep breath, my shoulders relax. I jump up and down in childish delight. After Jerry releases his sand-painting to the cleansing waters, we hug and high-five each other. With broad smiles on our faces we close sacred space before walking back to the hotel. Now, we're both ready to go home!
The train to Ollantaytambo is filled with noisy conversation about the work we just completed. Some members of our allyu begin to transition back to their lives in the United States — talking about their families, jobs, and how this experience has changed their perception about the lives they had been living. I feel so incredibly grateful that my life in the States is richly fulfilling and nurturing. It will be good to be home and share stories and pictures with Rick and close friends, and to be with my Boxer “boys.” But, that is later. The present moment is where my intention is rooted. Dusk comes early, and before we reach Ollantaytambo nighttime descends. It’s interesting how quiet it gets when darkness comes — as if there is an unspoken agreement that one whispers in the dark.
There is just time for a quick “pit-stop” at the train station before we board our bus that will take us back to Cuzco. Suzi and I are talked out. Eyes shut, I doze until we round the bend by Tambomachay and stay awake until the bus passes Sacsayhauman. I will always associate these Inka sites with the sacred time Jerry and I spent in preparation for this journey. There is some confusion when we reach the Royal Inka II hotel. It seems we have been moved to the Royal Inka I. Walking the block between hotels, the ever present street vendors are waiting for us. Surprising to me, Mercedes Benz, the vendor, has followed us back to Cuzco! Apparently she and the others knew exactly in which hotel we would be staying.
Suzi and I are assigned a room in the attic — it has a lovely beamed ceiling, two separate bathrooms, and lots of room to spread out all of our gear that must be repacked for our journey home. After a hot shower to revive me, I join Suzi and Jerry for a late dinner at “El Truco” where a folkloric group entertains with Andean music and dance. It is a lively show that makes us all want to get up and dance! I will miss the inexpensive prices in Peru — three dinners with drinks and entertainment for less than $45 US. Amazing!
Splitting up dinner bills in Peru, however, tends to be tricky and quite an ordeal. Each transaction takes place one at a time. First one credit card is collected, processed, brought back to the table for a signature, returned to the cashier, and a copy brought back to the table. Then the next credit card is taken and the process starts again. By the time our three bills are settled even the waiters have left for the night.
A few short steps and we are back at the hotel to finish packing and head to bed. Uncharacteristically, I am way too tired to read.