Greetings from the Andes! I am spending six weeks in the Sacred Valley of Peru and my most recent blog posts are snippets of the lessons and experiences from my time here.
For much of my life, I have been a student, traveler and explorer of many cultures and spiritual traditions. As such, I deeply appreciate this quote by ethnographer, writer and filmmaker Wade Davis:
“Every culture is a unique answer to the fundamental question: what does is it means to be human and alive. When asked that question, the peoples of the world respond with 7000 sources of knowledge and wisdom, history and intuition which collectively comprise humanity’s repertoire for dealing with all the challenges that we’ll face as a species in the coming centuries. Every culture deserves a place at the council of the human experience.”
I have spent a good portion of my adult life as a student and explorer of the traditions of Latin America, particularly the Andes, and the spiritual traditions of India, particularly yoga and Ayurveda. I appreciate the diversity of the human experience and expression, and I love it when I find intersections and common ground between different cultures. Over the past seven years that our family has been spending time in Peru, I have been interested in exploring the intersections between yoga philosophy and the Andean cosmo-vision. I am fascinated with the notion of sacred landscape and ritual offerings in both cultures. As I write this blog post from my home in the Peruvian Andes with a majestic view of the mountains of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, I ask:
What does it mean for a culture to believe that the earth is alive, and how does one act when one has a sacred relationship to the land?
In both the Andes and in India, there is a very dynamic relationship between human beings and their landscape. In both traditions, there is the strong belief that consciousness pervades everything, and that the landscape itself is pulsating with consciousness, and one can and should have a real and vibrant relationship with the landscape. In many cultures, including these, the earth is sacred and is considered to be a feminine energy or goddess in that she gives and provides shelter and nourishment to all living things. In the yoga tradition, in the Rig Veda, she is called Prithvi and in is divine partnership with Dyaus, Father Sky. Together, they are known as the first parents and the first progenitors of the next generation of gods. In the Andes, she is called Pachamama, the mother earth or world mother, goddess of earth and time. She presides over planting and harvest, embodies the mountains and causes earthquakes. Humans live in relationship to her as well as in relationship to her male counterpart Inti, Father Sun.
In both cultures, mountains are revered as powerful and often mysterious places in which one can connect to the sacred. In India, the most sacred mountains are considered images of the world axis, the very center of the universe and as such, an organizing principle for both material and spiritual life. Many mountains in India are associated with particular deities, saints and sages. In the Andes, the mountain peaks are known as apus, living mountain deities that influence one’s life and destiny. In the Andes, one lives in relationship to Pachamama, the earth, to the sky, and to the apus, the mountain spirits, in one’s vicinity.
In the yoga tradition and in the Andes, for those who practice the traditional ways, the dynamic relationship with the earth and the land and its surrounding deities includes the regular making of ritual ceremonies of thanksgiving and intention offerings. These ceremonies, known as pujas in India, are made to one’s chosen deity or ishtadevata, and may be made in temples, homes or sacred natural places associated with the deity. Performing a puja may include the recitation of mantras, as well as ritual offerings of rice, fruit, incense, and ghee. In the Andes, ritual ceremonies are known as despachos and are made to Pachamama and also the apus of one’s region to ask for the blessing of good crops, healthy animals, health in one’s family, prosperity and good relations. A despacho usually includes an offering of coca leaves, the most sacred plant of the Andes, and can include flowers, shells, sweets, natural objects and symbolic items. The understanding in performing a puja or despacho is that one offers one’s love and energy and receives energy in the form of protection or guidance from the spirit or deity.
The most important aspect of both a puja and a despacho is connection and intentionality. When I am in the Peruvian Andes, I live in a house smack between two beautiful and powerful mountain peaks, Apu Nusta and Apu Linli. Nusta is considered to be a feminine spirit and Linli, a masculine force. Legend says they are lovers, and our home literally sits in their embrace. My felt experience of being in relationship with the earth, with the Pachamama, and with these mountain spirits, is the single most important element in my offering. When I commune with them, I may offer a kintu or bundle of three coca leaves with my breath or I may simply offer my prayers and thanksgiving. In either case, I feel connected to my surrounding and I feel blessed.
In Olympia, WA, I live in the forest, and my connection is with the evergreen trees that surround my home, part of Pachamama, as well as to Mount Rainier, the most important apu in my vicinity. In my Olympia home, I have a table altar with my chosen deity from the yoga tradition and other objects of significance to me, and there I perform a Hindu style puja to strengthen my connection to my own inner teacher, to offer thanks for the earth and this world in which I live, and for the many teachers who support my journey.
What does it mean for me to believe that the earth is alive, and how do I act toward the earth?
I believe that cultivating a sacred relationship to the land enriches my life and promotes protection and longevity for the earth and all living things. My life is enriched by the traditions that I honor from India and from the Andes. My years of studying and practicing yoga and my experiences of living in the Andes and immersing myself in the Andean world view have strengthened my belief that the universe is animate and benevolent, and that the earth indeed pulsates with consciousness. Feeling this way, I must take responsibility for my part in the web of life. I must think globally and act locally, meaning I must be aware of my consumption and my actions. I must practice being a good steward of the earth, no matter what continent I am on, and teach my kids to treat the earth with love and respect as well. I must take responsibility for the energy I put out into the world and or the energy I receive.
(Quechua) – Heartfelt thanks (literally “my heart flutters like a dove”)
(Sanskrit) – From the light in my heart, I bow to the light in your heart
Annie Barrett. Educator, certified health coach yoga instructor.