Message from the Elders: Make More Offerings

In October 2016, I had the beautiful opportunity to journey to the high Andean IMG_3820community of the Q’ero people with my dear friend Louisa, our Q’ero elders Don Augustin and Dona Benita, and their son Santos.  Having made many journeys to Peru across more than a decade, I have had quite a bit of direct contact with Andean elders, both Q’ero and others, and the path of my own life has been significantly shaped by the teachings and rituals I have experienced there.  Having dreamed of one day going to the Motherland of such rich traditions, I was truly touched to have such an opportunity.

2016 was the year that the first road to the Q’ero communities was built.  I had heard others share about journeys to the highlands previously, an arduous journey combining an initial travel by car or van on rugged dirt roads, and a second phase of journeying on horse and foot through harsh and stunning landscapes in freezing cold rain and snow.  Though the adventurer in me somewhat envied the challenges of that way of journeying, I was grateful for the relative ease of our journey by van – we carried all our gear, plus a camp stove and fuel, lots of food for us and for sharing, water, a toilet tent, and extra blankets that we would use and then gift to our host community, Qochomoqo.

As a western woman, borIMG_3963n and raised in the US, I have spent most of my life surrounded by a culture that is rooted in self-interest, materialism and a constant, almost uncontrollable sense of want.  We’re conditioned to want the next flashy, cool thing from the time we’re small children ~ and as the holiday season is upon us, this is always a shadow theme that is hard to ignore, as the traditions of gift giving to children, especially, train them to think more of “what I want” and “what I am getting” than “what can I give to others?”  And so, the desire for more things, and better things, is a disease in our culture.  We want what we want, we want it now, we want it for as little money as possible, we don’t care what the conditions were for the ones making the things, and on and on it goes.  The culture of “me first” has entered new lows with our current government leadership in the movement of “America first,” and now, the worst of our selfish, greedy natures is being amplified and encouraged on a national scale in an overt way.

In the Andes, the traditional way of life is rooted in the practice of ayni ~ reciprocity.  The sacred exchange of giving and receiving.  It’s not a concept, it’s the very law of existence.  Rooted in the very real understanding of balance, and a deeply embodied practice of IMG_3288gratitude and trust, ayni tells us that we must both give and receive in order for life to flourish.  We breathe out, and inhale the oxygen the trees have given us.  The trees receive our carbon dioxide, and are grateful for our gift of sustenance for them.  The sun shines, the rain falls, the crops grow, we tend them, we enjoy them, and we give back to the soil so that the balance of life can continue.  The Andeans are inherently gentle people, centered in practices of deep respect for Pachamama (Mother Earth), the Apus (the divine Mountain spirits), and the other Divine forces of the universe, of which we are simply one small part.  Theirs is a culture with a deep sense of respect and dignity that still thrives today, even with the influx of foreign tourists every day, a true testament to who they are as people.

And so, when we arrived in Qochomoqo, clouds swirled all around, feeling like a damp mist.  Though in the Valley there are so many days of direct hot sun, up in the highlands, strong direct sun is rare.  Silence is deep, as these communities are free from the noisy ways oIMG_4007f modern city living ~ with no electricity beyond the solar charged lanterns a few people carried, no running water besides the stream at the edge of the village, and no distractions of technology, internet, television, and the like.  Simple life.  Tending the home, tending the animals, tending the crops, and tending the Spirit.  Though I was only there for three days, those days were so deliciously slow and rich in connection, I felt like those days were more than a week.

The idea for visiting Qochomoqo and the Q’ero communities first came in 2015, during our Heart of the Mother Retreat in the Sacred Valley.  We were blessed to have Don Augustin and Dona Benita join us for a day, sharing about their traditions and doing a beautiful Despacho Ceremony for our group.  At one point in our time together, Don Augustin invited me to come to visit their community, and invited me to continue learning these traditions with them.  Having first experienced the Despacho Ceremony ten years prior, and having been gifted permission to practice and share that tradition when I first experienced it, I took Don Augustin’s words to heart.  I knew that upon my return in 2016, visiting the Q’ero communities would be necessary.  SimplyIMG_3837 standing upon their ancestral land was a gift beyond my heart’s imaginings ~ the land was vibrant and alive, as the land can only be when the direct relationship between humans and Pachamama is well-tended.

On our second day in Qochomoqo, we would visit the high school, create a Despacho, have coca leaf divinations, join a hair cutting ceremony for a baby (and through this I became the child’s Godmother), and engage in rich dialogue in a series of video interviews that, in the future, will be shared freely here.  Together with Don Augustin and Dona Benita, we were joined by Walter, and they created one of the most beautiful Despachos I have ever seen ~ calling forth our prayers for the wellness of my faIMG_4048mily (both my father and mother were hospitalized at the time), and for the wellness of our world.  As the sun went down later that day, Don Augustin and Dona Benita prepared to climb up to Waman Lipa, the holy Apu towering over the community, to offer our bundle into the sacred fire on the mountain.  During the afternoon, I asked permission to ask some questions on behalf of my community, my people, my culture, and was granted permission to video these conversations.  With undying gratitude to my dear brother Santos, it was possible to have a direct translation from Quechua to English, and keep as much integrity of their messages as possible.

fullsizeoutput_2e69Over the course of our conversation, I eventually presented a question that had been alive in my heart for some time.  Given that we had not yet gone through the 2016 election in the US, the question was still quite potent, and now, having lived with the madness of my country’s dark night of the soul, the question seems more relevant than ever:  With all the mental sickness, misunderstanding, suffering, and chaos in our world, what can we do to help? 

The answer?

Make more offerings.  Despacho Ceremony.

As a modern western woman, even though my entire life is now rooted in ritual, IMG_3457ceremony, prayer, creativity, and being of service to the sacred, my logical, rational, skeptical doer mind struggles to believe that something as simple and beautiful as Despacho Ceremony could actually *do* something meaningful to halt the flood of insanity and injustice and pain that is running rampant in our world right now.  But what is sufficient to face these things?  Fighting and arguing don’t seem to be effective, protest is limited in scope, and spending my days calling senators and representatives may help, but is all of this enough either?

In Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects, there are three basic ways to make change in the world.  First, holding actions:  this is the protesting, calling representatives, creating roadblocks ~ all the things that seek to slow down the forces of insanity and destruction in order for new ways to be discovered and enacted.  Second, choosing new ways:  developing solutions to the problems that we face ~ solar energy, community building, permaculture farming, time banks, etc.  These things provide us with new options in theIMG_5865 ways that we live our lives, and expand our understanding of what is possible.  Third, awakening of consciousness:  we begin to change our inner operating system, seeing that our previous ways of living aren’t working, and changing and healing ourselves so that we don’t seek the same old ways.  This is represented in the personal growth and awakening movements, and the expansion of spirituality that is free of religion.  Where does Despacho ceremony fit into this picture?  It is ultimately a part of the awakening of consciousness, understanding that we must connect inside ourselves, embody our values and principles, stand in dignity and respect within ourselves, practice deep listening, engage in gratitude for all the blessings we receive every single day, and cultivate an inner sense of guidance that will help us to navigate the ways we move through the world.

When we know who we are, and are in connection with ourselves and our own inner navigation system, when we heal our wounds and are able to see clearly what is in front of us, when we return to the understanding that we are but one small, interdependent part of the web of life, and that our actions contribute to the quality of the whole, we wake up.  When we remember that we are not entitled to any single thing, and that we are not the most important part of life here, that we are not the star of the Earth stage, when we return to the understanding that we are responsible for being excellent citizens of a world alive in so many beautiful ways, we are able to let go of our childish, selfish, ignorant ways, and return to being stewards of Life, wise and full of care for what happens, and knowing that our needs will be met as we consider the needs of all.

And so, in a deep commitment to these principles, and in bringing others together to co-IMG_5985create this reality in a beautiful, awake way, we create Despachos every single month.  Sometimes it’s just us at home, by ourselves.  Sometimes we are surrounded by beloved brothers and sisters in community, co-creating our vision.  And sometimes we visit other communities, sharing this beautiful tradition as a part of festivals, weddings, celebrations, and community events.  As one dear Peruvian sister shared with our group this year, Despacho is offered before any important event in life:  before the birth of a child, before a marriage, before the start of a new business, before building a home, before starting any new project.  Despacho first is a way of saying “thank you” to Pachamama and to Life, acknowledging all the blessings and gifts that have already been received, and sharing a gift of gratitude for that, while also praying for the forces of Life to continue bringing support in new ways.

We hope that you’ll be with us at some point for a Despacho Ceremony!  You can find our calendar HERE, and we’re also happy to travel on occasion to share this ceremony.  Of course, the most wonderful way to experience Despacho is with the elders in Peru!  We’ll be taking another group in 2019, and if you’re curious to find out more about that, please visit our Heart of the Mother Retreats website!

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To My Cherokee Great Grandmother ~

Beloved Great Grandmother, I come to you today with an offering, and it’s the only offering I can give you with my fullness and truth:  my broken heart.  I know that you will receive it with tenderness and care, and I pray that you can guide me in finding the american-2029937_1280way forward in a world that would be utterly foreign to you that you wouldn’t recognize it at all.  And because I feel you whispering to me in my heart and in my bones, I come to you with tear-stained cheeks, and with an ache in my belly that is present more and more these days.

In the years that have passed on this Earth between your days and mine, so many things have changed.  Perhaps you already know this, and perhaps in your deep connectedness to All-That-Is, you have already seen what we are now living through.  But as your granddaughter, I feel moved to share with you what I witness with my own eyes on this Earth.

Great grandmother, the humans living on the land that once supported your people have heart-742712_1920forgotten what it means to live in balance and respect ~ with the forest, with the waters, with the sky, with the animals, and with each other.  Stretches of wide open land ~ once understood as the homeland to thousands of species of animals and plants ~ are now seen as a waste of economic opportunity.  In our human greed, we have erroneously come to believe that we are the dominant species on this planet, and all things are available for the taking.  There is little remembering, and even less care, that we are but one part of a whole interdependent living system, and in that forgetting, we have become the bull in the china shop, damaging and destroying all that surrounds us.  We have poisoned the waters, the air, the land.  We have been responsible, through our ignorant and self-absorbed ways, for the death of many species of animals and plants, and even though there is more and more scientific understanding of the interdependence of all life, and the common agreement that we have, in our stupidity and arrogance caused irreparable harm to the very life systems that support us, there is no wisdom driving our culture at this time.  We are a species in deep, deep denial, and though we see the effects of our ignorance more and more, the selfishness and foolishness of the leaders of our culture is so strong, there is no willingness to recognize and correct our erroneous ways.  And the devastation continues.

Great grandmother, I understand that humans have always found conflict and challenges among themselves, and that there has yet to be a culture that was evolved enough to deal with those conflicts in mature and evolved ways 100% of the time.  I also understand that in the history of your people – my people – there have been wise elders, guides, teachers, and healers who have been at the center of community life, and who have helped to call people into wise choice, and have been a strong presence of living that so that the communities have someone to learn from, and emulate until their own lost-places-1549096_1920wise truth guides the way fully.  Now, we have lost community.  Families are spread far and wide, and there are deep divisions and conflict in many families.  We live in houses that you would consider mansions, with every comfort and luxury you could begin to imagine, and many you can’t even begin to imagine too.  But we live without community, and we often don’t know our neighbors.  A deep sense of selfishness and vanity has become a sickness that has overtaken our culture, and while there is still a strong sense of religion – yes, Christianity is the dominant one at this point – there is hardly a deep sense of ethics.  Our culture is split in many directions in understanding what ethics and morals are at this time, as well.  Some speak the word “freedom” and want to ensure that all ways of life are honored and protected ~ and of this you’d be so pleased!  After all, there are so many of us that see how the First Nations people have been treated in these past few hundred years, and are devastated by that and determined to make sure that no others must ever experience that horror.  But some speak the word “freedom” and only want to guarantee their own personal freedoms, angry-1294679_1280ideas, and moral code.  These people, citing religious doctrines and traditional values, seek to strip away any semblance of living that doesn’t match their own preferences, and are carrying forward the very essence of the devastation you faced during your lifetime.  They want to be surrounded by others who are just like them – the same pale skin, the same religious beliefs, the same ideas of what family and community must be, the same belief that they are somehow righteously better-than, and the same desire to destroy all that does not mirror back to them who they are, believing on some level, I think, that they are the chosen ones who are rightfully taking their place in the world.

When you willingly withheld some of the ways of your people as you raised your daughter among settlers, part of me believes you knew that this was coming.  That you saw the destruction of your culture already, and hoped that by marrying her with a white English man you were saving her from greater suffering and abuse.  I see your love for her, and also your surrender into the ever building tide of colonial dominance.  While that surrender brings great sadness into my heart, I also see your courage, and the deep core of strength that you carry.  After all, your whole external world was being rearranged in unimaginable ways.  Your ancestors were treated like animals and slaves, pushed from their ancestral lands, punished and abused for their lifeways, and forced to abandon their way of dress, their language, their practices, all under the demand of the colonial ways, as each settler assured you your ways were heathen, animal, backward, and dirty.  And your ancestors, in their natural way of respect and dignity, still embraced photo-1023416_1920these white invaders, sharing their knowledge and kindness without hesitation.  Did they know that in repayment for their kindness they would be gifted with genocide?

And so, I stand with you here, late in the year 2017.  I have found my way into connection with the interdependence of all life, and have made many changes in the way I live my life.  I have felt you calling me since before I could even name it.  I feel your knowing in my bones – the way of balance, harmony, and respect.  The way of community, mutuality, shared responsibility.  The way of wisdom and understanding.  I feel the call to completely revolutionize my culture, and I am surrounded by many people who feel the same call.  While we all are finding our courage and our strength, as well as greater clarity in what we must create in these dark times, the forces of power and darkness are so very strong.  Those with the most money and power treat this whole life as a mere game of chess, and we are their pawns, unimportant and expendable.  Many of us watch as the darkness infects the humans who already suffer so much, and wonder how these people can be so readily coerced into marching into their own destruction willingly.  And we watch as the leaders of our nation are infected in more money-shark-1612269_1920and more poisonous ways ~ and how they are growing in courage to speak it outright, and to stir the people to support things so heinous, they previously only existed in my worst nightmares.  Power has always had a way of falling into the wrong hands, and without the wisdom to use power with great heart and understanding, it is merely a weapon used to build separation, injustice, and suffering.  And this is the state of our world right now, beyond anything I could have imagined happening during my lifetime.

And so, Great Grandmother, I offer you my broken heart.  It has broken for women who have been abused and raped and treated as second-class human beings, and even though we have used the words of women’s rights and liberation for around a hundred years, the deeply entrenched ways of patriarchal dominance and control are still going strong.  My heart has broken for the magnificence of this world, as it has been reduced to a commodity, a place to take what we want and dump what we don’t want ~ and even the announcement of something as tragic as the extinction of species, climate change, and even the dying of the Great Barrier Reef, stirs little concern.  My heart has broken for our collective human obsession with nonsensical things ~ we care more about possessions and status than about the balance of life ~ and we have fallen into meaningless relationship with our electronic devices while no longer caring about getting to know texting-1490691_1920each other.  My heart has broken for the endless non-white people in this land, and around the world, who have been devastated by colonization, war, and natural disasters, and there are masses of people in this nation who truly don’t even care at all ~ the deep roots of white dominance that were born here as the settlers pushed your ancestors off their lands have festered in unbelievable ways, and while we have made strides in trying to keep this from happening, it has been, to a large degree, lip service when compared to the lived experience of those who are not white.  My heart has broken because I wonder how long it will take until true wisdom, justice, and balance return to this land, and it keeps on breaking as I see our culture moving further and further away from that reality.

I stand here before you, Great Grandmother, offering you my broken heart.  I have spent my life working to open my heart more and more.  I have spent my life unravelling the  ways of not-caring that made me numb and detached.  I have spent my life shedding the layers of cultural conditioning that have told me what should be important to me, and have found my own authentic answers there.  I have spent my life longing to be a little wiser every day, waking up from the trance of my culture’s materialistic, destructive ways, and finding my own gifts to bring forth to be of service during this time of immense chaos and darkness.  I have spent my life longing to heal the wounds and pain exercise-2027999_1280of my people through healing myself, and have come to greater understanding than I imagined.  I have spent my life seeking to be the best person I can be, hoping to cause as little harm as possible as I am living in the midst of an awesomely destructive way of life.  I have sought to find my own truth, to know my own soul, and to help others to find that too, for the brighter we shine, the less we can be tricked and bought and enslaved.

Great Grandmother, I honor you.  And I come to you today to ask for your blessings, to ask for your guidance, and to ask for your courage.  There are no clear answers to the questions within my broken heart.  But I know that what you know, and what your Great Grandmother knew, and what her Great Grandmother before her knew too, is also deep within me, within my blood, my bones, my cells.  I pray that you will help me as I navigate this minefield of living in America in the early 21st century.  Sometimes I lose hope, and it seems like humanity is a sinking ship, and there are no life rafts.  And sometimes I feel like we deserve to go down with that sinking ship, as we have been the very ones that caused the damage in the first place.  But my hopeful heart, naive though it may be, believes that good, meaningful, positive change can still happen, if only we come together, look within, and do the work necessary to heal the ancient pain we each carry.  I am here, Great Grandmother, and I am listening.

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