In America, we have no Machu Picchu. Where do you go to return to the sacred?
I’m in Austin for New Year’s. I’ve had meetings with colleagues, shared time with students, tended patients, and enjoyed the company of friends. Now, this last day of the year, it’s time to reflect, to go inward.
The weather has helped. It’s been chilly, but Texans are open, warm, and friendly people. There are lots of contrasts. Despite a healthy economy, the surrounding ecosystems are a wreck. Freeways sprawl, traffic jams, feral trees compete for space along riverbanks, and frenzied coyotes dart across roads and trails. In my teaching this week, I asked my students to hold to a return to balance and remember the sacred.
What Do We Value in America?
In America we hold very little sacred. There are few shrines. No temples. No sacred objects or ancient places of worship. There is no Mecca, no Vatican, no Varanasi, no Lhasa, no Pyramids, or no Machu Picchu.
We have many national parks and forests, held not for their sacredness, but for recreational use and resource value. Our indigenous wisdom keepers, who teach ways to honor the ancient tree and sacred mountain, are not held with respect.
Instead, we value profit, power, fame, and fortune. Wall Street billionaires are the epitome of success. A presidential term is a ticket to a lifetime of wealth and unimaginable power, and a river of book offers, gifts, and favors. While the polarized congress fight tooth and nail like a pack of rabid dogs for the last bone, the common man worries about keeping his job and earning enough to feed his family. It can be disheartening. But it’s a New Year, and I consul looking forward.
Finding Your Sacred Place
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a sacred place to visit? A place not just for social gathering or the group worship of a distant, long-since-dead God, but somewhere we could come closer to a living, self-renewing, ancient and yet ageless sacredness.
I suggest a New Year’s resolution to make this year a time for the sacred in nature. One way to do this is to reunite with the collective wisdom of traditional indigenous people. I have lived among and worked with indigenous people from the Arctic to the Amazon and Andes. Since 1996, I have been with the Q’ero people of the Peruvian Andes. They have taught me a lot about sustainable living.
The Q’ero teach that every thing is interrelated. Humans and animals, plants and rivers, stars and moon, are all part of one seamless cosmic mantel of intelligence, love, and transformation. Because of the interdependence of all things, life itself is sacred. The guiding principle that serves life and always points true is called Ayni in Quechua – the language of the Incas.
Ayni is the touchstone of the Q’ero worldview. They hold it as a sacred ethical code, the matrix of all being. Like the Chinese concept of Tao, Ayni is an imprint discoverable in nature. It is most often though of as reciprocity, but at a deeper level, it implies reverence for life and universal responsibility. As a guiding principle, when practiced daily, Ayni fosters balance.
My Invitation for This New Year’s Resolution
Most people make New Year’s resolutions that focus on themselves. Instead of resolutions that we don’t live up to, don’t like doing, and feel guilty about when we can’t muster the discipline to make them happen, why not allow for a new concept? Embrace the idea of the interconnectivity of all things, and that a connecting element holds it together. Consider for a moment, that reciprocity and responsibility are necessary to achieving and maintaining balance in your life. Allow for a new word in your vocabulary. Give Ayni a place in your life.
I wish you peace, health, and happiness in the New Year.
Austin, December 31, 2012