a community service project sponsored by World Nomads
After a night of tossing through below-freezing temperatures, the sun finally rises. And as I peer out of my tent to watch it chase away the shadows, melt the frost and fill our valley with fuzzy light and flushing warmth – I clearly understand, and immediately convert to, worship of the Incan sun god, Inti.
Watching the clouds traverse the sky, I come to the slow conclusion that I have no idea what day, date or time it is. I only know that the light is golden, the shadows heavy, and the sky clear; my first, second and third clock hands all pointing at the precise time of, “morning.”
When given the rare opportunity, Nature quickly reassumes her authority over my senses, replacing my watch with new, but natural alarm clocks like, “wake when the light opens your eyes” and “eat when your stomach sounds for it,” and “sleep when the sky shuts its lids.” After only a few days in the Andes, I can already feel my umbilical cord to the revered and worshiped, pachamama (mother earth) tugging me closer. Can I imagine the implications of being born here in the mountains: feet accustomed always to being bare upon the earth, life dependent on what yields the seasons fancy, years measured by the movement of my earth among the stars. No I can’t imagine. But I can intuitively understand. I understand that when the earth is your god, its elements and inhabitants are its messengers. And it makes sense to me that the people of Quelqanqa spend endless hours embedding the intricate outlines of suns, moons, pumas, condors, eagles, humming birds, serpents and jaguars into their shawls, scarves and skirts.
They say that even the language, Quechua, derives from the sounds of nature. And my ears attuned, finally, to the silence in which all mountains whisper, I too hear the voice of the river scouting the fastest route south, the wind blindly winding its way through the passes, the odd beeping talk of llamas and alpacas shouting warnings to each other, and the Andean condors silently swooping while the finches bounce their calls of mountain walls.
For me, it is this devotion to pachamama that distinguishes the people that populate this continent as special from the rest. While I highly respect that spirituality is so well researched, studied, explored, termed and given such specific method, form and expression in the East, I am equally awed by the simplicity of understanding your relationship to the world, not in terms of what you are not, but as a function of exactly your physical interdependence and relationship with all that IS. The Earth is clearly respected here as the provider, the nourisher, the sustainer – and also the destructive – but always equally fertile – Mother of all life. And to Her, all respects are paid.
In the Incan cosmic vision, kaypacha is the world we live in, hananpacha, the higher world of spiritual beings, and ukhupacha, the interior and bridge between worlds. Yes. I am a romantic, and while it’s perhaps unfair for me to romanticize others’ lives, I’m entitled to my personal, even if rosy, experience of my own. And here in this little lost valley in the Andes, this is what I experience: the height of the mountains humbling me, the brightness of the sun blinding me, the extremities of the weather sensitizing me, the constant physical connection to the earth grounding me, and the immensity of open space shrinking me. This pummeling, of my ego and senses, back into the Earth and my place of interdependence within her, is what I experience whenever I find myself surrounded by, and surrendered to, the Earth’s elements. And if I have ever come close, it’s only been under these conditions that I’ve found myself on the bank of the ukhupacha — the bridge between worlds.