by Ali Valdez
May was an exciting month as we hosted sixteen guests to mystical Peru. It absolutely lived up to the hype, but in ways that I had not anticipated which leads me into this month’s topic: letting go of expectations.
Building up for over a year to go to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley leaves one’s imagination to dance in the realm of the Samyamas, to be gently kissed by angels of inspiration, to come back with the next big thing. I knew my trip was going to be all about Internal practices, coming from the lineage of the maha siddhis, and being on this potent piece of Earth, how could they not?
When I got there, it was a shocking thud: my insights were clear.
It’s all about getting back to basics.
I thought this by trying to maintain my agenda for the retreat but it just wasn’t jibbing with everything else that was happening. This was a retreat not about flying off but about getting grounded, really authentically connecting with this material plane of existence. Like you spread your toes in tree pose, the analogy often is like roots grounding and securing you into the Earth. From there, then you can draw energy up through the body. But first, I needed to let go of my expectations for the trip, for the practitioners and for my own experience while I was there. From there, I could blossom and I am still feeling the effects of this powerful connection.
The Centre where we stayed is nestled between the bosom of the female mountain and its symbolic, albeit, man-made, waterfall (cantata) and the grandfather mountain. The theme of the week was the balancing of the masculine and feminine and the natural environs gave way to supporting this. We started a few days with the calling in of the four directions.
I am a Taurus, a full on bull through and through and thought I was grounded. Oh, novice me: now these people really know how to connect with the land.
Pachamama is a Quechuan for Mother Earth or more literally, Mother World. This is the sacred female energy, a goddess highly revered by the local Andean people. So close to Fathers’ Day, it seems a bit outdated to be so Mother centric, but please bear with me. This trip hooked me into the mother and goddess energy. For anyone who knows me, this is kind of a big deal. Here’s how it went down.
We learned more about Pachamama ritualistically through participation in the Q’ero Despacho ceremony at the Centre. Our beloved shaman Fabian, his wife, brother Lorenzo came down from the staggering rocky peaks, mountains protruding up like angry teeth out of a silvery mist of morning clouds like an abandoned film set for Peter Jackson’s King Kong. The ritual was almost all day, completely and unapologetically unhurried. We even stopped mid stride to do some mercantile shopping as they brought handicrafts down from the village.
The native people live, and thrive on the natural organic fuel of coca leaves. You drink it as a tea to bolster your internal engine’s ability to conquer altitude sickness. You celebrate it enthusiastically in ritual and you offer it like a naturalist’s version of the fleur de lys, kintus, as they are called, and with three blows and a prayer, set them graciously on the ground. You can offer kintus to others as thanks and prayer. During ritual, I was gifted lovingly with many kisses and kintus.
In no time, I had chipmunk cheeks chewing on the coca leaves. I guess the leaves act as a mild narcotic but I felt nothing, barely any tingling. Then there was the jungle tobacco called mapachos and chicha, a fermented corn beer.
All of this is casually enjoyed, then in another moment, powerfully part of the ceremony, then back to idle chatter, easy laughter and more kintus. This is completely family style experience: sacrosanct in life’s simpliest forms.
I was nothing if not gobsmacked at my ability to easily translate and speak Spanish the entire time I was there; even brazenly correcting people who were trying to be productive in the markets and communicating with the staff.
The only problem was these people don’t speak Spanish, they speak Quechuan. Oops!
So the ritual begins. At first it began with a degree of pomp and ceremony, tassled hats, lots of bags of stuff, sacramental offerings of rainbow string and carnations: one for the masculine and one for the feminine. Fabian would make dramatic, prolonged soliloquys about all things Pachamama and the ritual itself, making Iago’s monologues in Othello seem like speed dating, then hand it over to me for translation. It’s only when Ale, or Alejandro, walks in on standard Peruvian time which means never ON TIME, do I realize Fabian wasn’t asking for me at lunch when we were talking, but waiting for his translator and friend. The godfather to Fabian’s children and translator is also the Centre’s gardener and very politically active in anti GMO food initiatives in Latin America. Ale’s depth of knowledge in growing food, plant medicinals, and qualities of plant life is encyclopedic in this slim frame of this curly haired Argentinian wonder.
Walking in appropriately dusty, wearing a pair of mustard colored khakis and a modest maroon and crème striped Peruvian pancho, he is deeply wrinkled in the face, a byproduct of tending to massive gardens, high altitude living and I suspect a lot of laughter and good times.
“Ale,” Fabian calls out and then I can finally relax and enjoy the ceremony stress free and actually learn something.
I appreciated everyone’s reverence for the experience that the shamans had to offer. I am not a smoker and not a drinker, yet fully engaged in this sacred ritual, my dear friend Frances snapped a photo of me toking a mapacho in hand and laughed, “Sattva Yoga!”
Like the famous politician, I crocodile smiled back, “I didn’t inhale.”
Then off to the fire pit for another ceremony. These people can praise Mother Earth all day long and all night, too; they are in no hurry to practice their simple gratitude. This encompasses the entire construct of their being, and serves as the nexus of their family, the bridge within their communities. What spiritual practice in your life is all encompassing? I know mine!
During the ceremony, they blessed everyone with feminine hand woven bracelets on the right arm, followed by the thinner, beaded masculine bracelet on the left. As a proper hostess, I was in no hurry to dive in and have my turn, but in the midst of it all when it came to be my turn, Fabian graciously put the feminine bracelet on right wrist and kissed my hand, saying, “hermanita” or little sister. I then looked up and extended my left wrist. He responds in his language,
“You don’t need more masculine,” then sent me on my way. Ouch!
May is my birth month and also Mothers’ Day. A lot of introspection goes into this time of year for me as I get tremendously honest about my shortcomings, aspire to new goals, and of course, assess how I can improve as a mother. This svadhyaya is not an annual phenomenon, but this tends to be the time when it all gets put out on the table for me. At the same time, if I spend the majority of my time annexed into ‘evaluation’ of my performance as a human being, my time is being wasted. While in Peru, the work was not in vain. I had to make it work off hours, in the early AMs and nights, even skipping a few amazing side trips to just be seated, silent and breathe. Fabian was right, I have been operating in a more masculine way. This is not a wrong way, but I am not a man and the theme of the trip was about finding the proper balance. That said, I was disbalanced.
This trip revealed a lot of patterns that were so deeply rooted in my way of operating they had blinded me to higher spiritual insights.
I needed to do the Earth time and get some things right inside my heart, to let go of some things that were more entanglements of principle than facilitators of my growth as a human being.
This involved grieving, and asking for forgiveness from others, to forgive myself, to ask forgiveness from God. I shook, I cried, I took time to be alone and wrestle the churning of the milky white ocean within my soul.
My relationship with my daughter and my mother upon my return took on a new light, like a stage hand adjusting the cans from the theatre of life’s ceiling. No expectations, and wow, you can really enjoy people a lot more. No expectations, you cannot be annoyed or disappointed as easily. The entire trip and now three weeks since, I have never slept more soundly and peacefully. For those of you that regularly frequent my blog, you know insomnia has been a huge issue for me for over ten years. I cannot even remember what is was like not to have a fantastic night’s rest.
I learned that my expectations of myself and others gets in the way of the big work happening. As a yoga teacher, I sincerely only want the best for my students. I want them on fire for a spiritual path of their preference. I want them working hard and taking in all the benefits of the yoga landscape and community around them. What that looks like is an individual perspective. I can create and hold the space, but it’s never my job to put expectations on it. Like the hundreds of different plants growing up and around the Centre’s tiered beds, no two trails or growth patterns are the same.
It is with tremendous gratitude that this retreat happened as it did, when it did. I cannot wait to go back next year and then again as a formal retreat in 2015. It was a humble reminder that our days on this precise Earth are sacred, as are the relationships and bonds we form with those we are committed to love and serve. Thank you to everyone that made the trip with me (and feel free to post any comments here on the blog or share a special memory!). Thank you, God for your faithful patience in me, a sputtering human. And also thank you, Pachamama.