I escaped to a small, private lake earlier this month.
It was the first weekend that we -finally- had warm weather.
I glamped in a 1970s camper surrounded by trees.
I had a couple of campfires. I forgot to bring marshmallows.
I admired the deep blue sky at night as the full moon rose.
I stared at the scenery. I took a couple of naps and finished a book.
I walked along the trails.
A statue of Buddha contemplates the tall grass. In another area, a collection of similar statues presides over a simple labyrinth.
A couple of boats were available, if I was so inclined. I am not.
But staring at that serene lake?
Or gently resting in the arms of a swing seat hung from a tall tree?
Definitely for me.
You can stay in this beautiful spot, too. It’s affordable – even for one person – and convenient to Grand Rapids if you’re interested in city lights.
But for me, a quiet escape to the lake was perfect.
The peak spiritual experience of my trip to the Sacred Valley of Peru was a journey to a waterfall. A simple, everyday walk up a mountain unlocked memories and renewed my sense of self. How is that even possible?
I’ll attempt to explain, but please remember: putting words to experience pales in comparison to the actual experience. Though poets and writers have tried for lifetimes, anything written cannot capture the true essence of what it means to love. Same is true here; it’s nearly impossible to accurately explain everything that happened in any way that will make logical sense.
That’s because it’s not logical. It’s experience. It’s in the moment. And in that brief moment, lifetimes unfurled. For real.
First, the magnificent setting:
Along the spiritual path, it’s not uncommon for people to participate in past life regressions. I did one back in the 1990s, and it helped me make sense of my general fear and distrust of team of horses hitched to a wagon. A memory of the aftermath of an earthquake, and of being trampled by a team of runaway horses definitely put a damper on me enjoying my family’s love of horses. Of course, that memory isn’t the only reason I didn’t like horses: I was stubborn, moody, and unhappy teenager who preferred books and clothes and music.
The story revealed in the regression made sense to me. It was more than a story, though, the memory fit like a favorite pair of jeans. I knew the story, remembered details of the entire life, and could snap pieces into a puzzle I didn’t know I needed to complete. So why is it that we left-brain, logical-centered humans don’t accept such memories as real?
That’s a big question that you’ll have to answer for yourself. Go meditate on it.
These memories are real to me, as real as an impressionistic painting, as real as a blue sky, as real as the cat sitting on my lap and purring as I type. The spiritual path is one you walk alone. Yes, there are traveling companions, but you re-create your own puzzle of memories.
In Peru I trudged along the narrow, rocky mountain path with friends. I silently sang Om Mani Padme Hum because the rhythm kept my feet moving when every muscle wanted to stop. The mantra also kept me focused and alert, making the journey both a physical and a spiritual walk. By the time we reached the side of the waterfall, I was keenly focused and prepared. I also had a hard time staying balanced. As in, hope-I-don’t-fall balanced.
I wear glasses. While they help me see better, they also inhibit peripheral vision. So unless I kept my eyes mostly on the ground, on the path ahead, I was likely to stumble. And did I say it was a narrow, rocky mountain path? Yep, and I’m not fond of heights either.
I stripped down to a bathing suit and carefully stepped onto a narrow ledge of slippery stones. I slithered across then sat on the low wall that gathered the cold water and channeled that water to the retreat center. The frigid waterfall mist covered me. Curandanda Wilma Penado placed chumpi stones in my hands and I held on as tight as I could. Wilma doused me repeatedly with the glacial water and quietly chanted words of blessing and cleansing.
Memories and admonitions flooded into my consciousness. In a few brief moments, I knew that I’d been to this area of the world before. I understood why I felt so comfortable in the Sacred Valley: it was home. Not that I’d been there this lifetime, not that I’ll relocate there, but rather the feeling of arriving home after a long trip. It was good to know that the Andes were home.
In seconds, I knew I’d bathed in this waterfall before, and knew that I had to visit more waterfalls. I knew waterfalls were important to me in ways that I still don’t understand. There are more than 200 waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and I’m going to have to visit a whole bunch of them to unravel more of my life’s mysteries.
On that mountain side in Peru, pieces of my personal puzzle snapped into place. I felt whole and stepped into my power. And all that in only a short hour long walk on a mountain.
A spiritual journey to Peru is not complete without interaction with the Q’ero and participating with a despacho or munay ki rites.
The Q’ero are an ethnic group of Peru that live in remote villages high in the Andes mountains and, until recent times, did not visit populated areas. All of that is changing with advent of new roads and modern technology. The traditional culture is undergoing a seismic shift; children leave the family home to escape hardship and experience life in the big city.
As a result, traditions have the potential to die away unless preserved. A deeply spiritual people, they are sharing their beliefs with anyone who is interested to learn in the hopes that the knowledge will be retained. One method of sharing that knowledge is through despacho and (sometimes) munay ki ceremonies.
The Munay Ki rites were developed by anthropologist Alberto Villaldo and, as Wikipedia explains are a series of nine empowerment rites based on the initiatory practices of the Q’ero shamans.” In Peru I received two of these rites (descriptions from the Munay-Ki website.)
- Rite Three: Harmony Rite: A transmission of the 7 Archetypes into the Chakras. First you receive the archetypes of serpent, jaguar, hummingbird, and eagle; next you receive three archangels: the Keeper of the Lower World (our unconscious,) the Keeper of the Middle World (our waking world,) and the Protector of the Upper World (our super-conscious.)
- Rite Eight: Starkeeper’s Rite: This rite helps your physical body evolve into Homo Luminous: the aging process is slowed down, your DNA is re-informed, and you become more resistant to disease. You accept the seat around a holy fire at the center of the Sun, a place that has been held for you since the beginning of time.
To receive the rites, you stand and the shaman moves their collection of sacred objects bound in a cloth (called a medicine bundle) around your energy field and says prayers. The rite is individually transmitted, so repeated for each person in your group.
Frankly, it doesn’t look like much happens. But energetically, invisibly, you are altered. The Harmony rite received at Tipon shuddered through my body. A fellow traveler was brought to tears.
The Starkeeper Rite was received at Pumamarka, and was a far subtler transmission. Not only did I experience deja vu at Pumamarka, the transmission of the Starkeeper rite helped me feel even more at home in the Sacred Valley.
These rites were performed by shaman Don Basilio. Click below to watch a video of Don Basilio calling in spirit at Pisac.
Another aspect of Q’ero spiritual life is the despacho ceremony. What is a despacho? This four minute video from the Center for Shamanic Education and Exchange is an excellent introduction.
The Q’ero tradition is also inclusive of women, and (given that this was a female led retreat focused on awakening the divine feminine,) we were privileged to work with Wilma Penado. She performed that ceremony during the journey to the sacred waterfall.
Another day, we journeyed to a lakeside temple site and Wilma performed a despacho specifically for women.
Clouds gathered as Wilma told the story of how the lake was formed. We got into our rain gear and proceeded with the despacho.
This despacho was not started on white paper. Instead, it was laid out on a large circular bread loaf. After the ceremony, it was placed in a spot sacred to women.
We’re accustomed to hearing sad stories about our world: terrorist attacked, accidental deaths, car crashes, explosions, and more permeate our lives through the media.
And perhaps because of the profusion of ‘bad’ news, we forget that the world is magical, mysterious, and often humorous. I was reminded of this on a simple Sunday evening.
Tibetan Singing Bowl Concert
I’d wanted to see Mark Handler performing with singing bowls and Tibetan overtone chanting for years, but the dates and times had never quite lined up correctly, so I was excited when Red Bloom Yoga Community Center announced his appearance.
Sortly before the appointed concert start time, I changed my clothes and walked to the yoga center.
Though they’d sold advance tickets, I hadn’t bothered to purchase one, and was hoping I’d get in the door. I was greeted as I came into the entrance hall, and was in luck. I nabbed one of the last available spots.
One of the owners gave me a quick tour, and invited me to remove my shoes before entering the performance space. I slipped my Dansko sandals off just at the door to that space, walked to an awaiting yoga mat, sat down, and entered meditation.
Mark Handler was already in the room, seated in the center of a collection of singing bowls. He chatted, rearranged, drank water, chatted, and rearranged.
The room filled and the performance commenced. The participants laid down on yoga mats, some covered with the wool blankets, and relaxed. The sound of the singing bowls permeated everything.
The music ended and slowly the audience returned to sitting positions. Some shared stories of their experience during the music.
In fact, the tones of singing bowls create an energy conducive to sleep, deep meditation, and out of body experiences. As a result, after these experiences you’re often not quite all there.
Based on my experiences, it’s not the same ‘out of control’ that you have when drunk, it’s more spacey or even “airy fairy.” Fortunately, with more exposure to the various states produced by meditation, you learn how to bring yourself into the present moment and location.
Anyway, the discussions continued, and a few people left. No doubt they needed to get home and prepare for the new work week.
I lingered as the energy in the room subsided and felt grounded and complete. Eventually though, I walked out to the entry hall and looked for my sandals.
The Missing Sandals
They were gone.
My favorite Dansko sandals were gone. Kaput. Missing in action. Disappeared.
I looked around the small entry hall a few times. Nope.
Maybe in the cubbies in the performance space? Nope.
At that point, one of the yoga center owners approached me and together, we hunted for my sandals. We didn’t find them.
Through this hunting for my missing sandals not once did I give in to the desire to rant and rave.
It would have been easy to get mad, to raise my voice, to complain, to insist that the center refund my concert entrance price or drive me home.
Instead, I laughed.
Finding Humor In Difficult Times
I knew that, in the place of clarity and compassion and love and trust engendered by the experience of the singing bowls, my sandals would return to me. I knew they would do everything they could to ensure that this was put right, and they didn’t disappoint.
They shared stories of how others had had shoes or coats taken by mistake, and how it always worked out fine. I kept laughing, as I was confident this mystery would be solved in the most gracious and mysterious way.
They quickly reached out to the people who had left the singing bowl concert before me and – sure enough – someone had walked out wearing my sandals. Unfortunately she lived an hour away from the center, so couldn’t return immediately. She agreed that we would simply exchange sandals for the time being, and return each other’s to the yoga center.
Her NAOT brand sandals fit my feet perfectly, and I wore them home. I’d always wondered how they would feel, and I did like them.
I missed my Dansko’s and their arch support, but made it home with no problem. The next day, I returned her sandals to the yoga center.
A couple of days later, they called me to say that mine had returned. So once again, I walked to the yoga center.
“Are you here for a class or for the other event?” asked the receptionist.
“I’m here for shoes,” I replied. She laughed, and knew exactly what I was talking about. I slipped my shoes into a bag, and headed home.
A Little Magic In The World
This is how the world is supposed to work: a little mischievousness, a little sadness, a little magic. Yes, I was sad (and sure, a little mad) that my sandals had disappeared. But I hold a strong belief that -most of the time- the world is friendly and that your things come back to you.
For example, in my last year of college, I went to see a band play at a party on a bitter cold winter’s night. I dropped my coat on a pile of other coats and danced the winter’s night away.
When it was time to go home, the coat was gone. I dashed home, shivering all the way. The next day, I learned that someone had taken all of the coats at the party. My coat, and all of the other coats, were recovered in a nearby town.
Of course, life doesn’t always work out that way. No matter how much you trust in the universe, bad things happen.
How you respond at these times, and when the ‘simple bad’ things like missing sandals happen, say a lot about your sense of the world.
I believe in magic.
I trust in the power of love to transform fear.
I know the universe is kind, generous, and has a wicked sense of humor.
And I believe I’ll return to Red Bloom Yoga Center in the future.
And if I ever happen to meet the person who purloined my sandals, I believe I’ll have found a new friend.