About Greg

Greg is a minister serving Unitarian Universalism congregations in transition. He is an activist for the distribution of fairness for all people and for the spiritual and emotional evolution of personal and collective consciousness. He is a lover of stories and history, travel, exercise and family.

Holy Fools Day!



“Holy Fools Day”

Rev. Greg Ward preaching

Dorothy Steinicke  worship associate

Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica

April 1, 2018


CALL TO WORSHIP   Dorothy Steinicke, Worship Associate

In her essay The Village Watchman, author Terry Tempest Williams writes of her Uncle Alan, a man labeled mentally disabled but who, she said, truly met the definition of being special.

Only ten years older than she was, Alan was an example to Williams and her siblings that someone could simply be who they were without attempting to conform to people’s expectations.

Williams writes, “Alan was ten years my senior. In my mind, growing up, he was mythic. Everything I was taught not to do, Alan did.  We were taught to be polite, to not express displeasure or anger in public.  Alan was sheer, physical expression.  Whatever was on his mind was vocalized and usually punctuated with colorful speech.  We would go bowling on Sundays.  Each of us would take our turn, hold the black ball to our chest, take a few steps, swing our arm back, forward, glide and release—the ball would roll down the alley and hit a few pins, we would wait for the ball to return, and then take our second run.  Little emotion was shown.  When it was Alan’s turn, it was an event.  Nothing subtle.  His style was Herculean.  Big man. Big ball.  Big roll.  Big bang. Whether it was a strike or a gutter, he clapped his hands, spun around on the floor, slapped his thighs and cried, “Goddamn!  Did you see that one?  Send me another ball, sweet Jesus!”  And the ball always returned.”

As Alan reached adulthood, now a large, strong, impulsive man, his family found that they could not cope with him at home and he was sent to live in a state institution.

Williams and her siblings learned that they could go to Alan for absolutely honest answers although those answers often did not simplify the issue they had asked about.  They came to judge the character of new people in their lives by how they responded to Alan.

Alan died in his twenties a few days after Williams asked him to tell her how it felt to be inside his body and he replied, “I can’t tell you what it’s like except to say I feel pain for not being seen as the person I am”.

May we remember that the differences of each of us do confer unique awareness on them and on us and consider these differences as gifts rather than liabilities.



Once in the beautiful plains next to the ocean was a temple that had once been known throughout the world for its wisdom and heart and beautiful music.  The members were all enthusiastic. The hymns coming from the temple deeply touched the hearts of people who came there for solace and inspiration.

But, over the years, things changed. Fewer and fewer people travelled to the temple. Those who remained became disheartened and sad.

Deeply worried, the leader of the temple went off in search of an answer. Why had his temple fallen on such hard times?

The leader came upon a wise master and asked her, “Is it because of some failure of ours that the temple is no longer full of energy and excitement?”

“Yes,” replied the master, “your lack of curiosity has failed you.”

“Lack of curiosity?” questioned the leader. “Of what should we be curious?”

The master looked at the leader for a long, long time, and then she said, “One of you is the messiah in disguise. But, because you have lost your curiosity, you have failed to look deeply enough in one another to discover who it is.” Then, the master closed her eyes, and she was silent.

“The messiah?” thought the abbot. “The messiah is one of us? Who could it be? Could it be Brother Karl?

Could it be Sister Carmine?

Could it be Master Alvarado?

Could it be Brother Yumin?

“Which one? Which one? Every one of us has faults, failings. Such obvious defects. Isn’t the messiah perfect?  But, then, perhaps these faults and failings are part of the disguise.  Who could it be?

When the leader returned to the temple, he gathered the people together and told them what the master had said.

“One of us? The messiah? Impossible!”

But, the leader testified to the wisdom and sincerity of the master.

“One of us? The messiah? Incredible! But, which one? Which one? Is it him?  Is it her?  Is it me?”

Whichever one of them was the messiah seemed a mystery. Surely it was an amazing disguise!

Not knowing who amongst them was the messiah, all the monks began treating each other – and even themselves – with new respect. “You never know,” they thought, “any encounter I have could be with the messiah! I’d better be kind.”

It was not long before the temple was filled with new joy. And soon, such joy permeated beyond the walls and attracted new people who came wondering what all the excitement was about.  And all the people who came from afar noticed the inspired words, the singing and the regard shown to one another.

And once again, the temple was filled with the spirit of love.


READING                 “Sweet Darkness”                                David Whyte

When your eyes are tired

the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone,

no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark

where the night has eyes

to recognize its own.

There you can be sure

you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your home



The night will give you a horizon

further than you can see.


You must learn one thing.

The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds

except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet

confinement of your aloneness

to learn

anything or anyone

that does not bring you fully alive

is too small for you.



Let us pray and rejoice for all the empty tombs across the land that offer evidence of something saved

But let us also rejoice for all those who make such salvation possible

Those who walk with us, eat with us, listen and love us.

Those who do not leave our side when the suffering begins

Those who stay with us till the end

Those who anoint us and prepare us for transformation

Those who keep vigil

Those who roll away the stones blocking our becoming

Those who rejoice – instead of lecture us – about how we changed.

Spirit of life and love,

Make of all of us

Messiahs to heal the hurt in this world

Until we all stand together

Joining voices in one long





SERMON                  “Holy Fools Day”                                         Rev. Greg

Let me start this morning with a confession: I am a foolish man…

…I had hoped in that somewhat deliberate pause, the room would erupt in an uproar of rebuttals and a deafening cacophony of testimonials offered in my defense…

…Hearing none… allow me to (reluctantly) persist, for it seems to be my fate to charge forth into territory where none but fools fear to tread.  But I hope, as I do, that we can discover how – and why – fools play such an important role in religion.  And why – if we have faith – they can play an important role here, too.   Let me explain.

This is my 19th year in the ministry.  Which means it is my 19th Easter Sermon.  And since I’ve only served Unitarian Universalist Churches, it means it’s my 19thtime I’ve stepped into a pulpit and faced a room filled with people who’ve never agreed about anything – except maybe – to agree to disagree.  And, on no count does that principle apply with greater accuracy than agreeing to disagree with whatever is known about Easter.

That’s not exactly true… Because I have it good evidence that Unitarians agree that, on Easter, it’s very amusing to watch the minister squirm for twenty minutes to say something they won’t have to deny in the reception line.

I am, indeed, a foolish man.


I say that while making a distinction between myself and Alan – Terry Tempest Williams’ uncle – the man Dorothy described in her call to worship.  Alan was a fool.  At least, according to the people who had him committed.  Alan kept trying to live a life larger than what was allotted him. He made people uncomfortable.  And the serial discomfort which surrounded him rose up to silence him.

Alan knew this.  It was likely the constant backdrop to a life lived boldly – ceaseless conditioning to dial it down.  Constantly conforming to something he was not.  Being stuffed into a world too small for all that was inside him. Taking what is precious and making it less than it is.  Denying truth.  Failing to recognize the ‘all-ness’ of his is-ness.’

How many of us have been asked at times to accept a world too small for us?

How much of the world is asked to live in such a place?

  • Women
  • People of color
  • Immigrants
  • The poor

The world has scarcely known a time where some dominant culture has not taken advantage of its momentary place atop the social strata to define the rules and punish the people below them for being unruly.

Because who will stop them?   Who, among the oppressed, will rise up, go in to the den of oppression?  Face the oppressors?  Question their authority?

Only a fool.


Today is the day a good portion of the western world celebrates a tiny, barely significant moment when a single man and a few stragglers pulled one over on one of the largest armies of the most dominant empire the world has ever known.  Indeed, so subtle was the moment they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, no one even noticed it at all for nearly two days.  And then only by a few people.

It wasn’t until months and years later that word got out about what had transpired.  The great victory won.  And it wasn’t until years and decades after that, that anyone bothered to tally up the score and predict a victory for the underdogs.  But it was definitely this small band of fools who had the last laugh.


It is important for me to stop here and remember how many different beliefs are in the room this morning. And knowing that I am in a room of believers – because everyonehere believes something– even if it’s not the samething– I want to be careful not to offend anyone.

So, please  know, if you are a believer, I am not calling you a fool. And know that if you are a Christian, I am not calling you a fool.  And if you are a non-believer who is sympathetic to Christians and Jesus’ message and the power of spirituality to transform lives and transform the world, I am not calling you a fool.

Being a fool is not something anyone else can just pronounce upon you.  It’s something you have to earn yourself.


It has come to pass, especially in these days of blog posts and Trump tweets, that we’ve gotten pretty careless with our words.  People are called fools on a regular basis, without much thought, as though anyone could be a fool.

But today, you should know, is a high holy day among fools.  And the bar for such a feat is actually quite high among the fool hearted.  If you want to be anything more than an ordinary fool, you have to prove you’ve got what it takes.

Having knelt before some of the patron saints of April Foolery, I will share some of the classics that gotten some fools the attention they are looking for.

Like the old cut-out bug in the lamp trick


Or the caramel onion









Or the air horn under the chair


Or, if you have more time, the unbroken line of shopping carts around the car trick


And, of course, there is the old favorite of painting the soap with clear nail polish…


But one of my favorites: adding a few new faces on the wall where they hang the Minister’s portraits


But, I’m afraid none of those will cut it today.  For today is a high holy day in the pantheon of fools.  And the bar for foolishness has been raised.  Especially, for anyone who hopes to be a holy fool.


The last time April Fools’ and Easter fell on the same day was 1956.  Due to the quirks of Easter requiring the synchronicity of lunar cycles and the Gregorian calendar, the two coincide only intermittently. The next time it happens will be 2029, and then again in 2040—but after that, not again in this century.  Which is rare enough that we need to talk about how the fool has a venerated – even a ‘holy’ status.


picture-tarot-foolThe Fool is one of the 78 cards in a Tarot deck.  It belongs in a group of 22 ‘major arcana’ (power) cards.  It is sometimes numbered 0 (the first) or XXII (the last).  However, it is unnumbered in many decks, because it is different from the other 21 trump cards and plays a unique role in the game.

The Fool is titled Le Mat(in French), and Il Matto(in Italian) tarot decks. These roughly translate as “the madman” or “the beggar”, and may be related to the word for ‘checkmate’ in the original use of tarot games.

In the earliest Tarot decks, the Fool wore ragged clothes and stockings without shoes, and carries a stick on his back. He has feathers in his hair and an unruly beard like a wild man.  He is often chased away by an animal, either a dog or a cat who has torn his pants.

In the Rider-Waite Tarot deck (picture shown), the Fool walks with a far-away look along the side of a cliff. He carries a white rose (a common symbol of purity or freedom from baser desires)

In the original Tarot games, playing the Fool card excuses the player from either following suit or playing trump. And at the end of the trick, the player then takes back the Fool and adds it to their own trick pile along with the most valuable card from the winner’s pile.


A hundred years after the fool appeared in Tarot, Shakespeare began incorporating this character’s special powers to offer commentary to his plays.

Nearly every one of Shakespeare’s plays had such a character

  • Dogbery in “Much Ado About Nothing”
  • Falstaff in “Henry IV”
  • Feste in Twelfth Night
  • Puck and Nick Bottom in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
  • The Gravediggers in “Hamlet”
  • The Fool in “King Lear”

These characters were usually clever peasants or commoners who use their wits to outdo people of higher social standing. They were the fools – amazingly popular among the “groundlings” (theatre-goers who were too poor to pay for seats and thus stood on the ‘ground’ in the front by the stage).  But they were also favored by the nobility.  Most notably, Queen Elizabeth I was a great admirer of the popular actors Richard Tarlton and Robert Armin who portrayed the majority of Shakespeare’s fools.

Shakespeare took the tarot fool – which had evolved into the jester

typical-shakespearean-fool-2and he re-tooled it for an elevated purpose.  Shakespeare went beyond the purposes of amusement to introduce a sage in disguise.

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationSomeone who could see through things and reveal the moral complexity unfolding.  He used them to introduce omens of moral failure, unheeded justice, the moments we are blind to love.

His fools didn’t follow any ideology. They rejected all appearances of aristocracy, law, justice, moral order. They pointed out brute force, cruelty, lust and foreshadowed ignorance and tragedy without pretense.

His treatment led Isaac Asimov, in his Guide to Shakespeareto say, “the great secret of the successful fool is, of course, that he is no fool at all.”


This is the kind of Fool Jesus was. Which is to say sentient. Knowing.  Able to see through things and name them for what they were. Willing to expose the foibles and moral failings of the powerful and suggest that humility – rather than audacity and arrogance – might be the proper moral prescription.

It takes a nearly god-like courage to be so bold… to take such risks of bravely calling out those who could – without much effort or thought – simply strike us down.  And to walk deep into their lair and say this standing before legions of soldiers with nothing but the truth in your heart to protect you… it is what you and I would consider foolish and most of us would refuse to consider lest we relish trembling in our own mortality.


But Jesus had this remarkable Trump card up his sleeve which he used often and to great effect.  Jesus spoke in parables, using idioms of the day in such a brilliantly paradoxical way they forced your brain to slam on the breaks and come to a screeching halt.  Whereupon Jesus would seize the moment of distraction to plant the tiniest of mustard seeds.


Have you ever had one of these moments?


Where some abstract truth came whistling into your brain?


Just a second before…


you had it all figured out…


You were in control…


In fact, you were sure…


Your brain was filled to the brim with all your sure-ness…


only to encounter an April Fool’s moment…

confused-dog-r4that paralyzed every synapse in your brain?

confused-dog-r3Just long enough that some of your certainty poured out… leaving just enough room for some new idea to jump inside.

That was all part of the holy foolery that was Jesus’ ministry.

It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which grows into a large tree allowing the birds of the sky to nest in its branches”

The goats and the sheep.

Workers and the vineyard

The prodigal son

The good Samaritan

And a hundred others…

Each of these parables has a key that unlocks a moral truth.  But it forces you to stop and look through your pockets to see if you’ve got that key. And unless you do, you end up getting locked out and looking foolish yourself.

A couple of examples:

From Luke, the parable of being sued for your cloak.

“If someone sues you and demands your cloak, give him your tunic as well.”

Most often this is thought of us as a call for generosity – giving more than what was asked.  Such was ordinary foolishness.  The holy fool knew that if you were paying with your cloak, it meant you had nothing else but the clothes on your back to pay your debts.  To give your cloak AND your tunic would be to stand naked in public.  And when someone outside the courthouse asked why you were naked, got to tell them they ‘sued the pants off you.’ Jesus was calling people to expose the ruling class for their greed and turning public opinion against them.

Another from Matthew and Luke… the parable of turning the other cheek:

“If an enemy strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other as well.”

This is often interpreted as a call for temperance and passive non-violence.  But as a holy fool, Jesus knew the moral code of the day gave Roman soldiers the right to backhand a Jew in public.  It was a demonstration of the social strata – who was on top.  The person striking was powerful.  The person struck, not even human.  But the rule was the soldier had to use his right hand and could only back hand the subordinate.  To swing with an open hand was dishonorable and put you on the same level as the Jew – made you equals.  So Jesus urged them to turn the other cheek – the left cheek.  This tempted the soldier – to either flail – OR – use his open hand. Either way, making the Jew his equal.


This is what Jesus wanted. Equality.  For people to live at the same level. To reveal that under all the exploitation and oppression, the subjects enduring the contempt and aggression were human beings – with hearts and hopes and dreams and children.  To call forth courageous foolery, pull back the curtain hiding the actors and scripts and props that keep everything in place. And, for once, speak creatively… playfully… plainly… boldly the lines written into the margins.  Speak the moral paradox.  Those are the fool’s lines.

The most talented fools are socially and culturally fluid.  They can build a wide berth for the vulnerable.  Keep the powerful at bay.  Exercise Aikido-like maneuvers that turn an oppressor’s aggression against them.  Turn violence into humility, suffering into courage and hope.

But even Jesus could not subdue the entirety of an empire’s malevolence, ego, greed and habitual contempt.  He had them off balance for some time.  But when they regained their footing they struck. Swiftly.  And without mercy.


Longevity is not the aim of the fool. Nor is it notoriety.  And certainly not convenience and comfort. If these are what you find yourself craving, the pantheon of holy fools is not where you want to drop off your application for employment.  Which is too bad.

Because that’s what the world needs. And, ironically, it’s exactly what we need.

Whether we are part of the dominant culture, or we live in the margins, whether we’re mad as hell or cavalier and complacent…

  • When children are shot in the schools and the public reacts by buying more guns…
  • When people of color are gunned down in their own backyard
  • When women are assaulted and their perpetrators are protected – and elected to office…

… then the paradigm we live in doesn’t leave enough room for any of us to be fully human.

That’s what Jesus knew.  That’s what Alan knew.  That’s what we all know.

We don’t need to take down the empire all by ourselves.  We just need enough foolery – enough courage, creativity, compassion, conscience to ask the right questions… so that the whole thing stops… just long enough to plant a few mustard seeds.


The Romans crushed Jesus.  And in that moment, he looked like a fool.  But in less than 12 generations, Christianity rose up and became 90% of the Roman Empire.  If you wonder how, than understand it did so by building orphanages, establishing monasteries for women, feeding the poor…  honoring the outcast.  Where did such ideas come from?  A whole lot of mustard seeds.

Since that time a good deal of Christianity – of all religion – has been overrun.  Co-opted and corrupted by dominant culture again.  The need for a band of holy fools has always been with us. And never been greater.

So understand this: Jesus didn’t come here promising we’d be saved if we believed in him.  He came promising we’d be saved if we believed like him.

Use your curiosity, creativity, and compassion in subversive and revolutionary ways.  Do not be afraid.  For the Messiah is one of you.

And he made you to build a world that was meant to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet

confinement of your aloneness

to learn

anything or anyone

that does not bring you fully alive

is too small for you.


Happy Easter.



The tool kit of a Holy Fool:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Empathy and an ability to read people
  3. Courage
  4. Knowing what the Moral Imperative would ask for
  5. Playfulness and a great sense of humor
  6. An ego that has been loved enough to drop its defensiveness
  7. Enormous compassion

What oppression have you noticed that forces people to live smaller than they are?

What great injustice makes you want to speak truth to power and compel you to start building such a tool kit?

What brings you full alive and for what are you willing to die?

Operation Salvation III

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness… That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses… evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.  The… present… is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all… in direct… establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”

I love this passage, probably as much as any great, historical piece of writing.  Up there with MLK and Lincoln.  It is sermonic.  Revelational.  Truth blazoned across life with a clarity often lost in its most difficult moments.

Of course, it was written for very specific circumstances.  And we tend to think, in particular, of their appeal with respect to a national or corporate interest.  Re-evaluating and dissolving the bonds which kept a group of people beholden to agreements that no longer worked well for them – no longer led to healthy or prosperous outcomes.

But it’s certainly also possible to consider how this might be an expression an individual might well consider in re-imagining a new, healthier relationship with life.  After repeatedly bumping up against unsatisfying outcomes to basic needs, it is imperative to seek independence before re-establishing a fundamentally more effective system of interdependence.  Sometimes the integration of new truths requires greater complexity.  Sometimes, separating from a plan, once good, in order to make a new, better, one.

This is hard.  For the last two years, I had a chance to work with some brilliant people at the Friedman Center for Family Process.

It is based on the work of Murray Bowen - sometimes called, Family Systems Theory.  It is a theory of how we get stuck in habits and patterns even long after we see they are not serving us well.  Though we tell ourselves we want love and connection and happiness, there is often an overriding desire for stability – and, particularly, the comfort that comes with stability.

There is a great formula that I use a lot in my work as a consultant in times of transition.  It is a formula of change and, at least on the face of the equation, it is very simple:

(D x V) + F > R

D = Disatisfaction

V = Vision

F = First steps

R = Resistance

One of the key aspects of this equation is the first part.  D and V are coupled into a product.  We know from math that when multiplying any two numbers, if one of them is zero, than the product is zero.  Therefore, in order for change to occur, it is imperative that there is measurable and significant dissatisfaction with the status quo and a vision of how it could be be better.  If either one of these factors is zero, the chance for change is zero.  We need to be dissatisfied with the way things have been and have some degree of clarity with how they could be – simultaneously.  AND, we need to have some first step to initiate the process.  And ALL THAT must be greater than the resistance we routinely face.

I have thought a great deal of that formula in the last few years.  AND in the last few weeks.  At the heart of the Inca culture is a spiritual premise of ascension… an evolution of awareness – especially with regard to being in harmonious relationship with essential elements of life.  Being in right relationship with ourselves and other life.  Being in sync and in sense of mutuality and reciprocity with genders… being aware and connected to what energies move through our lives.  It requires a steadfast attention and presence to be aware of how we are in sync (or not) with ourselves and others.  Having ‘integrity’ is not just a saying, but it is understanding the interrelatedness of of all things and knowing when that relatedness is undermined or ignored.  And when it is, repeatedly and habitually, to fashion the courage to call for the kind of change that can return a sense of harmony (or as the Buddhists call it, ‘equinimity.’).

To make such a change requires a willingness to risk not only the status quo, but to risk upsetting others around us who depend upon and are attached to the status quo.  Without such risk takers and change agents, corruption settles in and makes a home.  It is from such change agents that the world is changed.  And saved.  And it is by such people that relief, liberation, redemption and hope are carried.

After being able to observe how the cast of characters selling the immunization cards was related to the various layers of bureaucracy requiring them and how the system as a whole seemed to operate with very little resiliency or generoristy of spirit and how a certain desperation becomes embedded into attitudes so that everyone tries to extract whatever advantage might be possible… and after observing how far removed all of that is from true intentionality of the Inca spirituality… and how that interest in the evolution of individual and collective consciousness seemed to be crushed by the Spanish Conquistadors who drove the Inca culture to veritable extinction and depicted it in history as cunning, aggressive and treacherous… I think I understand the true nature of evolution.  What we sew is what we reap.

I did end up going with the taxi driver to the Avianca Office 20 miles away.

And I did end up talking with several agents for nearly an hour – eventually culminating in an agent’s kindness when she finally understood that the Avianca agent knowingly sold me tickets without fulfilling her obligation to disclose immunization requirements for those entering Peru.  She offered me the choice of either a free ticket on to Costa Rica and reinstating my return flight from San Jose to San Francisco (although I would have to wait in Lima for 2 days for the next available seat on a plane) – OR – a free ticket back to San Francisco.  I took the way home.

There will come a day to go to Costa Rica.

 And probably a day when I will return to South America.  And I hope, when I do, that I will return – not with trepidation or a dubious or skeptical eye – but an open heart and a creative and playful outlook.  To just be dissatisfied with how things are and not equipped with a vision of a new, more loving and resilient spirit, is not going to effect much change.  And without change a true liberation from tyranny is rarely possible.

‘Operation Salvation’ – Immigration, Corruption, Opportunity and Enlightenment II

I wasn’t with the brigade that landed at Normandy… nor was I on the front line of civil rights marchers who faced the dogs and fire hoses in Birmingham… nor have I stood with any of the thousand-plus immigrants swept up daily around the country and brought into ICE detainment centers, who are cut off from family and friends and face deportation and the loss of multiple lifetimes spent stockpiling shared dreams.  I don’t have any first hand experience in those situations.  And I can understand how comparing my minor mishap within an otherwise amazing tour gaining exposure to Peruvian / Inca culture and spirituality could be confusing (at best) and insulting (at worst).

But my experience at the Lima airport was an experience that helped me understand the kinds of situations that bring a lump to the back of the throat and the the special brand of tingling paralysis that comes when you realize your name has just been called in a winner-take-all cage-match showdown.  When it first becomes clear your name has been penciled in for drama, it registers somewhere between ‘sobering’ and ‘sickening.’  A quick analysis reveals that ‘playing to win’ is not an option.  To believe you have a real shot at 47th place would be encouraging.  It’s a game you’ve never played with players you’ve never met, using strategies you’ve never seen and explained in a language you don’t speak.  There is no one else on your team and as you stagger down the runway, with the crowd chanting, it becomes clear the stakes being played for are all things you thought were part of your entitlement.  Much of what you’ve come to love and hold dear is suddenly at stake.  And you’re ‘opponent’ does not have anything at risk.

Explained to me, in broken English, by the fourth, fifth and sixth customer service agent at Avianca Airlines, that’s how it came across.  And as I attempted to employ every angle to establish even a shaky foothold of leverage, I listened anxiously as every plea and appeal was calmly refuted and denied.

As I zeroed in on my status here is what became very clear:

- It was June 27th.  I was in Lima, Peru.  At the airport.

Lima Airport

- My boarding pass for the next leg of my trip said, ‘San Jose, Costa Rica’ (in accordance with the itinerary I had purchased several months earlier – an extra leg on my Peruvian adventure that seemed worth the extra $300 to visit the rain forest).  But that boarding pass had been taken away by the Avianca agent in Cuzco, explaining that she could not return it to me because I had no proof of my Yellow Fever Immunization shot.

- The Avianca agents at the counter would not change my intinerary.  She explained that her computer and her phones were not programmed to make changes to existing flights.  All she could do was purchase a brand new ticket for a new destination.

- She would not give me a new ticket to Costa Rica without the Yellow Fever Immunization Card.

- When I explained that if I wasn’t permitted to continue on to Costa Rica, I needed to return to the US, she explained that my return flight to San Francisco was out of San Jose, Costa Rica – and my reservation on that flight had been released when the agent in Cuzco cancelled my seat on the flight to San Jose.  Then she, matter-of-factly mentioned that the ‘new’ (walk up) price for a ticket back to San Francisco would be $2100.00… and there was no room on any such flight for three days (June 30).

- Any negotiation regarding ‘changing’ my itinerary (as opposed to purchasing a new itinerary) would have to be done through the ‘call center’ or ‘in-person’ at the Avianca office (which was 20 miles away – a 50 Solis taxi ride).

- The Avianca counter would not allow me to use one of their phones to contact the Avianca call center – but, instead, insisted that I use the public phone (of which there was only one in the Lima airport).

- The public phone was 10 ft. beyond the area roped-off and separated from the Avianca counter monitored by an armed female guard.  She made me ‘walk around’ (ie. go out of the airport, walk 150 meters to the other entrance and then walk back to the phone) rather than pass through the arbitrarily placed demarcation.

THIS was how ‘Operation Salvation’ began for me – with the feeling that seemingly pointless tasks were placed before me like hurdles to ‘prove’ my worthiness of rising above a demonstrable leverage of power.  And, whether or not an organized conspiracy was every officially established, every detail which followed felt like it had intentionally been coated with three extra layers of difficulty.

Thinking I wouldn’t need it anymore in Costa Rica, all my Peruvian money had been packed in the bottom of my backpack, which meant using the space next to the armed guards in the middle of the airport as a public showcase for my vintage collection of dirty laundry while I looked or one solis coins required for the payphone.

And it was not until this particular moment on the trip that I had come to fully appreciate the true value of speaking Spanish.  When I finally got through to the Avianca call center I heard a long list of prerecorded options being explained in a language I didn’t understand.  I could recognize that they were saying ‘press or say [number]…’ before each option.  When they got up to ‘cinco’, I knew I was beyond the realm where I could simply guess.  With a spontaneous mix of frustration and desperation, I inadvertently mimicked the behavioral expressions of at least five different characters from the movie, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, which turned out to be a good strategy for gaining the attention of various airport personnel.  Lucky for me, one of said personnel happened to be one of the fourteen thousand taxi-drivers littering the airport and trained to spot the lost and helpless tourist.  You can always spot the taxi drivers.  Any eye contact or unintended indication of distress will result in their issuing the airport taxi-driver mating call: “Need a ride, my friend?”


It was a relief to find, after just a short exchange, that this taxi driver was familiar enough with the comparative inefficiency of the South American aviation system to be able to offer a little empathy.  And he had room for some extra pity for a one of the non-Spanish-Speaking pawns caught in the maze.  Pulling out his cell phone, he looked at the Avianca card I was squeezing too-tightly between my fingers, dialed the number for the call center. navigated the recorded instructions to choose the ‘for english, press 27…’ option, and handed me the phone.

The Avianca Call Center agents – although quite a few strata above the category of ‘dehumanizing’ (which was what I estimated was the objective level of customer service targeted for Avianca agents assigned to work behind the counter) – had not quite hit the high-water mark of ‘understanding’ but had some training in appearing ‘interested.’  Still, after twenty minutes of explanation, the best I could do for a return flight to San Francisco was $600 on the 29th (and THAT was cashing in all my American Airlines – a Star-Alliance partner – frequent flier miles).

Again, more disbelief and exasperation eminated from my little corner of the airport which acted like something of a signal to attract the attention of not one, not two, but three different helpful ‘travel assistants’ who ‘worked in the airport.’  By far, they were the most interested and friendly of all the people I’d encountered to this point.  And after listening to descriptions of my escapades to that point, there was unified, bobble-headed nodding with copious exclamations of empathy.

“They” do this all the time, was how it was explained to me simultaneously by all three of them in turn (sort of like the three stooges.  They were clearly in cahoots).  ”Do you need a Yellow Fever Immunization Card?  We can get you one…”  And, after just a few questions, one of them was on the phone.  A few minutes after that, the second one walked stridently toward the exit where I witnessed the briefest rendezvous and exchange I had ever seen with another gentleman.  In the next moment I was looking at a filled out Yellow Fever Immunization card with my name, passport number and birthday, signed by a doctor and stamped with a date of July 13th (three days earlier than when I had entered the country, if anyone bothered to check).  Suddenly, I could feel a pervasive slimy-ness surrounding and saturating my moral senses.  It seemed clear that it was emanating not from any single entity within the environment but, indeed, it was an essential ingredient in the atmosphere that each piece of the system was drawing from and dependent upon.

My own desperation to escape the tractor-beam pull of the slimy event-horizon prompted me to take the immunization card back to the Avianca ticket counter and explain – with as much earnestness and sincerity as I could muster – that I had only ‘temporarily lost’ my immunization card – not, in fact, failed to obtain one – and that I would like to buy a ticket to Costa Rica.

But, deep-seeded corruption is not so easily satisfied.  I found out that not only would it cost me over $1200 to get to Costa Rica, my flight from there to San Francisco had already been cancelled and would have to be repurchased – another $1400.

The wake-up call, however, was in suddenly being able to recognize how easy it is to be pulled into the undertow of corrupt operations and how each minor moral compromise drags you further away from any semblance of moral integrity.

The irony seemed clear: after ten days of studying ancient spiritual practices of ‘ascension’ and ‘evolution of consciousness’ and feeling very drawn to new and higher ways of relating to the world, we can discover ways to substantially ‘grow our soul.’  We can expand our awareness to include vital, inclusive relationships with everything around us.  We can operate from a deeper understanding of being part of the interdependent web.

We can also encounter situations where we encounter fear and doubt and suspicion – which are all common and even natural and appropriate responses to circumstance and the behaviors of people around us.  What becomes ‘telling’ is when such fear becomes so consuming/compelling that in our reaction to it we adaptive and even adopting of it.  We integrate fear and protectiveness as a coping strategy become willing – even conspiratorial – in realigning our moral compass to something other than a true north.

Travel, Immigration, Corruption, Opportunity and Enlightenment

On what would have been the day spent preparing to return to San Jose, Costa Rica, and saying goodbye to the lush tropical paradise that is the Monte Verde canopy of Central America….

On what would have been the day spent mourning the valiant – but losing – effort of Costa Rica’s soccer squad in their World Cup performance against the Netherlands washing down the heuvos with horchata (cinnamon flavored cornmeal alcohol) or guaro (a potent rum drink used to numb certain parts of the body deemed no longer operationally necessary) or cuba libre (rum and coke)…

On what would have been the day spent culling together photos of monkeys, tucans or larger than normal insect bites from my collage of rain forest experiences….

I was, instead, viewing the backside of Aunt Sam

  Presumably, Uncle Sam’s slightly less dour and more personable half; known for parading down Main Streets across the country on the occasion of provincial 4th of the July celebrations.  And, although I was looking forward to escaping the perfunctory nod to nationalism and patriotic pyrotechnics, I find more than a little appreciation for the freedoms, rights and expectations that come with owning a US passport.

To understand, I have only to think back eight days ago as I prepared to leave the mysterium, tremendum et fascinans of the Cuzco region’s Sacred Valley where I was studying Inka culture and customs.

The day of the 27th started out as expected… the taxi arrived at the hostel where our group stayed.  Ella Fales and I were both on the early flight from Cuzco to Lima where she was to catch her connection to DC and I headed on to San Jose, Costa Rica.  I had printed my boarding passes from the hotel the night before and wasn’t checking any bags so I wasn’t planning to check in.  But I stood in line with Ella since we were going to be on the same flight.  When the young lady from Avianca airlines looked up at me and asked if I was checking bags, I said, ‘no.’  I handed her my boarding pass just to confirm everything was ‘good to go.’  She glanced at it quickly and, without blinking or looking up at me asked, “Do you have your immunization forms?”


There is a physiological phenomenon that occurs when your body undergoes panic protocol where your eyes dilate, skin pores open up into spontaneous impulse to sweat; throat constricts, a small bucket of blood suddenly drops into you heart and your brain immediately sift through a collage of associations with the word ‘immunization’ going back to second grade making the experience feel like a pre-adolescent  pop quiz on 6-dimensional differential equations.

“This is the first I’m hearing about any kind of immunization,” I say trying hard to disguise my panic.

“If you are entering Costa Rica from another South American Country, you need to supply a Yellow Fever Immunization Certificate.”

“Nothing on any of my travel sites mentioned the need for a Yellow Fever Immunization Card…”

“It’s your responsibility to make sure you have all the required paperwork for immigration.”

“I checked the requirements when I booked the flight and Avianca never mentioned the need for anything other than my passport.

“I’m sorry, sir.  It’s not Avianca’s responsibility to make sure you have all the required paperwork for immigration.”

“So, what do I have to do?”

“You will have to get an immunization shot and wait 10 days to enter Costa Rica.”

“10 days?”

“Yes, sir.”

“In Peru?”  I realize, somewhat too late, that when this question came out, it contained the unmuted disbelief of a patient first hearing the diagnosis of a terminal disease.  It did not engratiate me to the prideful, romantic mystique of the Latin American people in general, and certainly not to this particular Avianca agent.

“Yes, sir.”

“That’s not going to happen.”  (Note: this camouflaged reenactment of dialogue is for the sake of my sensitive blogging community… My actual response was somewhat more colorful)

“So, you don’t have the Yellow Fever Immunization Certificate?”


She doesn’t look at me as she hands me back one of the two boarding passes I’d presented to her a moment earlier.

“You won’t be able to enter Costa Rica.”

Noticing what was happening, “So, you’re just going to TAKE my boarding pass?”

“If you don’t have an immunization certificate you will not be able to enter the country and I can’t let you board the plane.

“So, what do I do?”

Her blank stare suddenly became the primary indicator that we barely shared a common language and certainly didn’t share a common intent.  It would be misleading to suggest that her tone or manner indicated any malevolence.  More accurately, her response could be charaterized as surging disinterest.

“Can I at least reroute my flight?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, since you won’t let me go to Costa Rica, can I rebook my trip to go back to the US?”

“I’m sorry.  I can’t do that.”  (It was fairly notable how her response contained narry a scent of sorrow).  ”You will have to go through our call center.”

“Call center?”

“Yes, sir.”  She handed me a generic Avianca card and pointed to the local and toll free number at the bottom of the card.  I quickly got the impression this exchange was part of a well rehearsed protocol.

“But, I don’t have a phone!” I pleaded as I began to realize I had already been measured and fitted for the ‘victim’s’ wardrobe.

“When you land in Lima, you can use the public phone.”

I don’t mean to shortchange the compelling nature of our dialogue by eliminating the majority of my contribution – which really amounted to long, whiny soliloquies of someone accustomed to far more influence, power and privilege – but it’s worth emphasizing the teflon nature of people operating a system when they recognize the tractor beam of power and influence built into the unilateral and comprehensive inefficiency that deflects and dissuades resistance.   Especially when that inefficiency is accompanied by the artful blank stare and a half dozen heavily armed federales.

This painfully long, overly dramatized story would be pointless if it didn’t somehow connect to the cultural arch narrative of assumed power and role reversal.  The disheartening disbelief of one person is not enough to turn the tides of injustice, indifference and contempt – especially when enacted with impudent and snarky overtones.  Indeed, immigration and slavery have operated in much more obvious fashion for millennia on scales of magnitude dwarfing my personal travel woes.  And at the time, it was not possible for me to rise up out my indignity and spot this small spark of irony against a dark sea of misfortune.  So, I fumed and fretted as I stood in line to board the flight to Lima.

Shirley – a native Peruvian who was on the Inca tour with me – passed through security just before I boarded.  While in line, she explained that she had a friend who worked for Avianca in Lima and promised to try and reach her.  THAT – a very faint glimmer of hope – was the only indication that anything like a soft landing awaited me in Lima as my plane took off and carried me over the white-capped Andes.


Children and the Core of the Spiritual Purpose of the Inca

There is one more arena I want to address before I get into the more personal comments of my experience on this trip.  Most of our exposure, beyond the basic information about the history and philosophy of the Inca, has come through participating in ritual.  Partly, I am waiting until I can download some of the photos to be able to describe what I’ve learned from a personal perspective.

But one part remains dear to my heart and resonates deeply on a personal, spiritual and evolutionary consciousness level.  And it has to do with children.

As the 12 pointed rock provided reference to, the purpose of the Inca approach is for the cultural, contextual, emotional, mental and spiritual evolution of each person.  The great goal of the Incas was to help create the environment that would optimize each person’s progress toward understanding their place in life, in the community and in the evolution of the world.

Toward this end, each child is given a few years where they are cared for and given opportunities to observe the actions, behaviors, choices of caretakers, elders and the community as a whole.  They are exposed to and offered observational insights about the 7 spiritual tasks or levels of consciousness.

A child will learn a great deal by observing – but, of course, their primary lens will always be how the world responds to them and their primary needs for survival (food, attention, having their responses appropriately mirrored back to them, the degree to which they are allowed to feel connected to the people and, the culture and the life around them.

In youth, a more active engagement and intervention is employed by caregivers and ‘the tribe’ to be able to work with the specific and unique impressions each child is given.  Also, in Inca culture, it was understood that it is not simply a nature and nuture environment.  Instead each child has a connection to ‘spirit’ where their own imagination, internalized understanding of things and symbols become interpretted, integrated and, eventually, solidified into an early, maleable personality.

In youth, caregivers push a little more to challenge interpretations that might not be as helpful and encourage latent energy towards behaviors that are important.  Youth in Inca culture were taken through many rituals to try to encounter fear and encourage deeper sense of trust and connection with the spirit – at least the spirit of connection to all things and to all people.

By the time one becomes an adult – whether in Inca times or today, the personality is fairly established and a little harder to and slower to change.  This is where some very important and courageous spritual work is necessary.

An example which I have found great truth is throught he work of Dr. Daniel Seigle – a child psychiatrist at UCLA who studied healthy adjustment and specifically attachment.

Dr. Siegel noticed that children could be characterized through observing them in key test situations their capacity for ‘healthy attachment.’  That is, how well they are able to feel secure and connected with others throughout their life.  Many correlations have come from his studies that are incredibly accurate including how successful people will enter into partnerships and marriages and, even, how successful they will be in careers and endeavors – especially that require cooperation and social skills.

Dr. Siegel noticed that the capacity for health attachment in a child was determined by the age of approximately 18 – 30 months.  And the number one determination of a child’s degree of healthy attachment was the parents capacity to be fully present with the child during interactions in a way that did not confuse the child’s narrative with the parents narrative.  In other words, the clearer the parent could identify their own narrative – including their own fears and insecurities (and ‘own’ them without projecting them on to the child), the greater were the chances that the child would be able to form appropriate and strong attachments with other children and, later in life, other adults and even communities.

This  is probably not hard to understand.  What makes it interesting is his next correlation.  He wrote a book called, ‘Mindsight’ which talked about a parent’s ‘mindful’ approach to intentional parenting and providing ‘presence’ for a child (ie. appropriately mirroring for the child responses that would offer good feedback about how well a child was being seen and understood).  He started to work with parents who were interested in being more ‘mindful’ and ‘present’ with their children and called this practice ‘mindfulness.’

It was shortly after these courses came out that people began to comment that ‘mindfulness’ was a training as ancient as religion itself and, in fact, many people had written extensively on ‘mindfulness’ as a part of a meditation practice.  At first Siegel considered these two different things.  But after research came out in brain study showing direct correlation in brain activity patterns between ‘healthy attachment’ children and youth and those who practiced mindfulness meditation, he began to see that our opportunity to be ‘mindful’ or (well adjusted, clear, present, approachable and connected with ourselves and others)  was not something that was determined once and for all by 30 months.  Siegel began to work more with meditation practitioners to test his understanding and amazing correlations began to emerge – both in parenting and mediation.

It is something that even those who had confusing experiences early in life could work to address and overcome some of the habitual difficulties in connection.

What I posit is that this is the spiritual work we are all called to do.  None of us can control what happened for us early in life and some of us didn’t have the benefit of having really attentive, mindful environments in our formative years.  But we can all, through spiritual practices, learn to recode – or rewire – some of our dispositions or mental / emotional / spiritual assumptions.

This is what I consider to be at the heart of spiritual living – an intentionality in optimizing our ability to connect strongly, deeply, empathically, spriitually with ourselves, the people around us, the communities in which we live and the world we are part of.  AND, I believe the Incas had a pretty powerful sense that this is what belonged at the core of every life and was the responsibility of the tribe as it evolved.

The rituals that are at the heart of the Inca spirituality are ALL about how to become more accurate in our approach to healthy relationships – with self, other, community and all things in our world.  In the next few posts, I will explore some of the rituals we have done as a group in the last 10 days and try to give you the benefit of my experiences.

Background and History of the Inka Culture

From a geographical point of view, Tawantinsuyö or the Inka Culture was the most extensive of any native culture in the Americas. It extended from the Ankasmayö (blue river) in the south of Colombia all the way toMaulimayö (Mauli river) south of Santiago de Chile, and included many different climates (coast, mountains, jungle). In present-day terms, it corresponded to the territories of six South American countries, including Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and parts of Colombia, Chile and Argentina.

It is unclear when the Inka culture originated or how far it spread or how developed it was since the invasion of the Spanish in 1532 is really the first access to any kind of chronical. Before the Spanish invasion of 1532, the Inka Culture achieved an unprecedented level of development that continues to amaze modern-day historians, anthropologists and other experts.

The Inkas excelled in many different areas of human knowledge, such as architecture (an example being the Saqsaywaman fortress in Cuzco),

(These are HUGE boulders which are perfectly fit together – a feat that modern technology would have a very difficult time equaling)

engineering, astronomy, medicine, agronomy, animal husbandry and livestock,, geology, textile production, ceramics, metal works, language arts and many more. They also developed their own holistic cosmological view of life, the natural world and the universe.

It is believed that since the Inkan approach was so much more advanced than many neighboring cultures, that many other cultures joined them in order to take advantage of their advantages – especially their advanced irrigation, agricultural productivity, high quality of life in Inka communities, etc.  Pre-Inkan cultures that inhabited the coasts, mountains and jungle were enriched by the collective Andean knowledge. The Inkas, as a basic approach, did not forcefully impose themselves on other cultures, as it was commonly projected and proposed by the Spanish chronicles of the time.   Many Spanish accounts make the Inkas out to be fierce warriors prone to violent activity without provocation.  According to Evaristo, the Inkans were not very advanced in the technology of war – they simply had a number of adherents who fiercely believed in the benefits of the Inka ways.  They would defend themselves, and sometimes when neighboring village leaders were too prideful to join together for mutual benefit and become part of Tawantinsuyö; warlike conflicts did occur – only when all diplomatic efforts were exhausted). Rather than destroy other towns and cultures, the Inkas wanted to expand the consciousness of all, guiding the development and evolutuion of all people and bringing peoples together to achieve great synergies across societies and with nature.

The Inkas had a deep understanding of and vast experience in the planes of material world, emotions and the intangible, and Spirit or highest consciousness.  Their mission was to model for all cultures and peoples, with utmost compassion and love, the highest level of behavior—behavior that was recognized, emulated and later remembered by all peoples in every corner ofTawantinsuyö.  Even the Spanish chroniclers, in spite of their conviction in the supposed Spanish superiority and their orders by the Holy Inquisition to actively discredit the Inkas, realized this.

The Inkas had a complete View of the Universe (Visión Cósmica) that incorporated all planes—the interior world of the soul that included mental processes and emotions, the physical plane and the world of universal Spirit. This is not news to any monolingual Quechua speaker living in the Ayllus, or communities, of the high lands ofTawantinsuyö . But many people who have lived in the towns of the valleys ever since their ancestors were violently subjugated by the Spanish, now have passively adopted an imported, materialistic, individualistic culture. They remember very little of what their ancestors taught them, or in some cases, they have completely forgotten or rejected the teachings due to the cultural exclusion that they so often face, especially those who were born in the cities.

The Andean Spirituality that the Inkas developed and lived every day aligned them with everyone inTawantinsuyö. It was unique, and it enabled them to achieve a society, culture and economy that was (and compared to modern cultures still is) unparalleled in the world. However, when the higher order and ethical values and laws of Tawantinsuyö were threatened by the arrival of Spaniards, the descendants of the Inkasbegan to jealously guard information about the SACRED SYMBOLS (Willka Unanchakuna) as if it were top-secret.Thus, the Knowledge was shared verbally in selected families, passed down from parents to children and from generation to generation, even though the symbols were plainly visible to all (…they are written on the walls, even in the Catholic churches, in every town).

It is for this reason that not even the best Peruvian or foreign historians could get access to the true, complete information about the sacred symbols, their meaning, their importance, or their role in guiding society. The language barrier (Quechua – Spanish), the decendants’ dignity and loyalty to the culture, as well as their respect for the ancient repositories, and geographical barriers all contribute to keeping the Andean Spirituality a secret. For 473 years, people have had to be satisfied with having just bits and pieces of information, and so they have seen only a very limited version of the whole vision, even with the support of photographs, videos, field studies and modern-day technology. The information that has been compiled to date doesn’t go beyond the folkloric context and popular customs ; it is far from understanding and communicating the true knowledge and meaning of ancestral Andean Spirituality.

It is important to note that each secret and Sacred Word or concept is mentioned only once a year in one or two ceremonies. Also, the explanation of a Symbol is given to a chosen person only once in his/her lifetime for that person to work on; everything else is carried in one’s heart and mind, and is only visible in the way that person lives his or her life. The Andean repositories have yet to speak about the knowledge and other aspects of theTawantinsuyö Culture, and so little has been heard or written about them to date.

Many people have studied and analyzed the Inca Native Culture some have extracted many arqueological artifacts and natural products; and some have even patented some of those products as their own in other countries (such as agricultural products, among others), products that are the cultural work of Inca ancestors. But it is very difficult to follow the Andean Spirituality when one acts in such a manner, because the more that is said, the more removed one becomes from it.

To understand the true Andean Spirituality, you need to understand the following:

1. Lliupacha Yuyaychay or Andean Spirituality cannot be translated from Runasimi (the language of theInkas, literally ‘human language’) into another language exactly since a degree of integrity is lost in the translation from Runasimi,. mistakenly known as “Quechua” today.

2. Hinantinpacha o Andean World: Refers to the entire Tawantinsuyö territory, where the symbology was openly shared and practiced until right before 1532, when it was preserved under the protection of the Andean repositories.

3. Existence of abundant information about Andean Spirituality: However, this information is incomplete and unorganized, distorting its true meaning and allowing misinformation to continue flowing about Andean Spirituality, frustrating every descendant that guards it. It is essential that we seek to communicate in its entirety, seeking to restore its full value and to apply it to modern times. We offer this Andean knowledge with the purest of intentions to all human beings, as a model of authentic and balanced living that leads all humanity toward true Evolution or Wiñay.

The Seven Levels of Consciousness, the Unancha and Chakras

I’ve already spent a good bit of time talking of the Andean / Incan understanding of levels of consciousness.  Now, let me share some connections that have been pointed out between Incan understanding of consciousness, the Andean culture and the body’s channelling of spiritual energy.

To make that connection, let’s go back to where the trip started: Cusco City, Peru.  It remains one of the primary areas where Andean philosophy is still widely practiced and where tens of thousands of trekkers walk the Inca Trail that takes them high into the Andes before ending up at the ruins of Machu Picchu.  When they come into Cusco, to see some of the most prominent and well presevered and maintained Incan archeological sites, they can see a particular flag from most of every building and public squares. 

It is a rainbow flag.  It is also the official flag of the Cusco region.

This does not signify that Cusco is officially gay. According to historians, the Incas regarded the rainbow as a gift from the sun-god.  Some argue that the rainbow was in fact the banner of the Inca empire which, at its height in the 16th century, spanned from southern Colombia to southern Chile.

Indeed, the famous Coricancha Temple in Cuzco has a room honouring the god of the rainbows.  The department of Cuzco officially adopted the multicoloured banner in 1978, but it had previously been used as the flag of the Tawantinsuyo – the name used by the Incas for their native land.

There is a connection between the meaning of these colors (called the Unancha) to the Andean people, the flag they chose and the reason you will see so many native Andeans wearing the bright colorful clothing that the culture of the area is known for.  And according to Evaristo, there is a connnection between the rainbow colors, the Incan emphasis on ascension through seven levels and the seven colors that are produced when the light of the Sun God is refracted through water.

There is also, according to Evaristo, a connection to the seven chakras.

Throughout our body we have main energy centers, which are connected to major organs or glands that govern other body parts. Each of these main energy centers are referred to as chakras. ‘Chakra’ is a Sanskrit word which means wheel.   It refers to a wheel-like vortex that channels energy at a particular vibratory level.

Our chakras take-in the health of our environment, including the people we are in contact with (which is why other people’s moods have an affect on us!). As well our chakras also radiate an energy of vibration.

It is also believed that we have seven main chakra centers and that each main center is connected to specific organs which help regulate our body.  Our chakras are also sensitive to physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy.

The seven main chakra centers are aligned along the spinal column.

The names of the seven main chakras and the master organ that each one governs is as follows:

Light consists of the seven color energies: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. We can see these seven colors in a rainbow, drop of rain or dew and even in a snowflake.

Color IS light.  Each color has a different wavelength and vibrational frequency, which affects us differently. Red has the longest wavelength and the slowest vibrational frequency, which we innately recognize as warm and stimulating. Whereas, violet has the shortest wavelength and the fastest frequency that we recognize as a cool and calming energy. We receive light and color information through our eyes, which then stimulates the retina and its cells, rods and cones. These impulses, which travel through the optic nerve to the visual cortex of the brain via the pituitary, trigger other glands and their hormone secretion to various parts of the body. Many body functions are stimulated or retarded by light and the different colors of light and thus affect our chakra system.

Since light and its colors physically affect glands and hormones, they will also have a marked influence on our moods and feelings. Science has proven that certain colors can calm the mind while others stimulate mental activity. We need light energy for nourishing our brain, our emotions and our physical body as well as our light bodies and especially our chakras.
In reality little is known and understood about the human psyche and its intricate systems. However, medical science has proven that toxins and other impurities, which include negative thoughts, chemical enhancements in our food and other poor environmental factors, influence our body. Constant forms of “pollution” can cause chakra imbalances to manifest, which may eventually affect us on a physical level. Since traditional health care systems at this time are unable to naturally or totally alleviate symptoms or cure our problems, this means it is up to each individual to improve their health conditions. We also have to consider that we may be our own best doctor. So understanding the chakra system is more about how you can help improve your own state of health and all levels of your being.

The benefit of learning about the chakra system is to understand on a whole (whole = body, mind and spirit in harmony) that when all parts of you (all of your seven chakra centers) are communicating equally and working in alliance with each other, the energy from your body will be reinforcing and you will feel at your optimum level.

Nowadays, we live in a fast world and often forget about our “whole.” We put too much emphasis on independence and very little on interdependence. Our chakras are trying to emphasize the interdependent way that the different areas that process energy relate to one another.

Andean Spirituality would suggest that there is a connection between our chakras, light, energy and consciousness.  And they would be joined by a number of other Eastern traditions as well (although, most of them don’t have a rainblow flag).

Incan Understanding of Ascension and the 7 Levels of Consciousness

I’ll get back a little later to the Incan understanding of human development – especially with respect to consciousness / and the primary understanding of the culture of the goal of “ascension”.  But first it will help to explain some of the basics of Andean Spirituality.

Above all else, Andean Spirituality is UNITY and connectedness among all things. No one is excluded; everyone—and everything—has a specific function and is in a state of continuous evolution.

Every human being has a relationship with everything surrounding him or her: living beings, animals, plants, elements of nature, even inanimate objects, as well as non-physical things such as achievements, concepts, knowledge, thoughts and emotions, among others.

How we form and maintain relationships to all these things determines our path as we evolve toward the universal ALL THAT IS.

In this context, Andean knowledge itself does not and will not change, what changes is the people. We may be marginalized or not, thanks to a lack of basic information and few appropriate role models, but all of us, inherited at birth a unique set of circumstances with which we’ve had to live, acquiring habits and social customs as we grow up; , but Andean Spirituality remains the same; it has been preserved absolutely intact.

There are three planes in Andean Spirituality that each living thing engages with. These include the:

Hanaqpacha (Higher world) – symbolized by the Condor

Kaypacha (Physical world) – symbololized by the Puma

Ujupacha (Inner World) – symbolized by the Snake

The Inkas had a complete View of the Universe (Visión Cósmica) that incorporated all planes — the interior world of the soul that included mental processes and emotions, the physical plane and the world of universal Spirit. This is not news to any monolingual Quechua speaker living in the Ayllus, or communities, of the high lands ofTawantinsuyö . But many people who have lived in the towns of the valleys ever since their ancestors were violently subjugated by the Spanish, now have passively adopted an imported, materialistic, individualistic culture. They remember very little of what their ancestors taught them, or in some cases, they have completely forgotten or rejected the teachings due to the cultural exclusion that they so often face, especially those who were born in the cities.

Toward Unity and Connectedness of all living things, the primary goal of each being is evolution.  And within that evolution there are seven levels of development.

Level 1: YUYAHU (Decision making).

There is a primary level of consciousness that deals with fully developing one’s capacity to understand the need to make decisions and the relationship that emerges between one’s personal decisions and consequences.  There is much growth that is required here.  It is first essential to understand that each person can and does make decisions (even being passive is a decision). Adults are not – on any regularly repeatable and dependable patter - victims of other people’s decisions and being asked to live at the mercy of other people’s choices.  When this is true, we are usually not talking about someone who has accepted the basic responsibilities of adulthood – one basic one being a degree of autonomy that recognizes personal power.  Once we are able to make decisions, it is necessary to really understand and accept the immediate and ripple effects of that decision not only for ourselves but for those around us and the relationships and agreements that connect us.

LEVEL 2: YAGHAY KAMARAY (learning and practicing a skill)

To a certain extent, I’ve interpretted this as general – we all have a variety of basic skills we need to do exist as a fully functioning member of society. But, on a deeper level, we are all part of a larger communal or cosmic calling to do something that contributes to the overall functioning and well being of the web of life – whether we consider that on an immediate communal framework or on a larger cosmological one.  Each of us encounters growth when we uncover that skill – and our particular, unique approach to it – that makes a difference.  Again, on one level making a difference can mean that we are simply noticed. On another level, we can begin to recognize the ways in which we become capable of changing the energy around us in a positive way.  To come to terms with our ability – and even our obligation to pursue this – is to develop our consciousness.

LEVEL 3: UYNI (unity with our environment)

There is a fundamental illusion at work today, that we are separate and unconnected / unrelated to all other life and matter.  This level of consciousness deals with understanding the interdependent relationship that exists between all things.  Even beyond that, that our relationship to each other being has ramifications beyond our own personal outcomes, but for the being considered and for all things impacted by our relationship to it.  Some of the obvious outcomes of this consciousness is that we never kill unnecessarily and that we don’t pollute the world with toxins – including our own body.

LEVEL 4: ISA (service).

We need to be of service to others.  This is not only true to help them survive but to help us develop the kind of consciousness which has the capacity to grow further.  Existing purely in self-service does not allow for the possibility of developing higher communication, relationship, or connection on any kind of spiritual dimension.   We give ourselves in service of children, elders, those in need…  But in higher applications of service consciousness, we give of ourselves to the spirit of nature or the spirit of wisdom or energy flow.  And it is vital that part of that consciousness goes beyond service where we have any kind of personal investment or benefit.  Service benefits primarily from allowing someone else to grow.

LEVEL 5: KIKI (identity)
It is key in the development of consciousness that we know truly and fully who we are. That means to understand and accept deeply the truth about ourselves even when it is not positive – and accept it with true grace and with an aim to understand the impact our own ignorance, unconsciousness or denial has on others.  It is especially true in the realm of energy.  To know the energy we manufacture and discharge in certain situations is critical. We often do great harm by refusing to be aware of our ‘reactivity’ and the particular attachments that drive it.  This means that we need to authentic without imitating others. We need to be aware and accepting of ourselves – without ego interference prompting us to be better or worse than others.  We don’t aim to compare or compete with others – we simply aim to compliment them in their goals and growth.

LEVEL 6 – SUMA (dignity)
This certainly speaks to each conscious soul needing dignity in order to have and maintain consciousness.  But it also means that we need to develop a radar to understand other people’s needs to develop and maintain their own dignity.  Must never shame or blame, purposefully embarrass or degrade others.  And, especially, we must never directly or indirectly enslave or objectify others – especially for our own benefit.

Level 7 – TINKO (union)

Understanding and accepting ourselves with a deep sense of humility is key at highest levels of consiciousness. This does not mean thinking or acting in a way so as to compromise our dignity.  It simply means that because we don’t have critical attachment to things (such as status or wealth or privilege or other people’s opinions or attention) we are able to operate without having to protect these things all the time.  The saying goes,”Angels can fly because they’ve learned to take themselves lightly” is very true in this level.  We overcome our anger, greed, pride as we learn to overcome our ego – whose main job is protect and defend our ‘honor’ or ‘pride’.  Mastering this level allows us to merge and meld those wonderful parts of our child-self (creativity, wonder, playfulness, laughter, sponteneity, etc.) into our adult life without having to also bring our child-like fears, naivite or lack of appreciation for the world’s great complexity.  Operating at this developed level of consciousness is to be very energetic and powerful.  All of our chakras (conduits of energy that are aligned in our body) are now wide open and allow us to connect with all dimensions.  Connections between things appear instantly obvious and easy to develop further.  At this level of consciousness, we dont say we are part of ‘this religion’ or ‘that religion,’ – we are beyond that.

These are the seven levels of consciousness according to Inca thinking.  Because these levels of consciousness exist within all three planes (1.Physical/material plane; 2. Inner World of thoughts and psychic energy; and 3. Higher plane of divine wisdom), it is like having 21 stages of development.


Levels of Consciousness, Spiritual Ascension and the Twelve Pointed Rock

First, it is important to say a word about how we approach these understandings which is with reverence and curiosity understanding that these ideas are built from many peoples experiences. Many of the elders of this wisdom tradition came to these truths in a very different method that employed by western (think “enlightenment through empiricism”) society. Much of the wisdom within Inca and Andean thinking was distilled through more than what western culture understands as “thinking”. The ideas and the framework created from them was distilled through the study of symbols. Each symbol does not translate as a “fact” as it does in empirical thinking. Rather, it translates as story. So, it is a matter of figuring out from an overlay of symbols left behind at different times and places how to integrate these various stories into a meta narrative.

Friends and colleagues, Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow have a way of describing this process. Their focus has largely sought to create a more reverent and vital relationship between science and religion. Trying to marry ‘evolution’ and ‘creationism’ has, in many hands, been a fools errand. But Dowd speaks about the kind of interpretation needed to read or translate the language. He would say to those who question any who offer credibility to writings that describe snakes and angels talking or bushes burning without being consumed as ‘night language,’ which is to say metaphoric, poetic, symbolic. The language of rational and emperic science – ‘day language’ – is more ‘factual,’ measurable, more readily comparable.

The work before Evaristo and the spiritual ascenders that follow is to find the light by searching in the dark. This process of excavating wisdom from these ancient traditions is not a competition between two cultures or two sides of the brain, but an art of discovering the complimentary nature reaching out from each and connecting both together.

Through this disclaimer, I’m partly trying to explain that our exploration in this place at this time is not one that possesses the exclusive rights to truth or attaining higher levels of consciousness. In fact, it is already clear from what I’ve seen in four days that there is much that Inca wisdom has in common with Buddhist wisdom, Hindu wisdom, Native American Spirituality and even some Abrahamic mysticism.

It is also important to convey that our particular ‘tour’ or ‘exploration’ is ritual based. That is, it is very experiential – where we are going through some ancient practices as a way to engage with the symbols rather than just rational discourse and study. The body plays a powerful role in discerning and distilling information which is radically different since, in Western practices, religion is often conveyed only from the neck up and the body’s incredible capacity to receive and transmit energy and information has atrophied from being long ignored and dormant.

So, as I describe these ‘experiences,’ understand that they are offered, experienced, translated (very imperfectly by me) and offered without critical diagnosis or judgment. To employ such filters would infect the transmission and severely limit my own understanding. In the end, I may or may not be able to integrate some or all of these lessons and stories. But unless I invite them into my awareness in as close to the pure form as they are presented to me, I will simply be intellectually toying with profund ideas that are designed to engage human beings on a more comprehensive sensory, intuitive and spiritual level.

Evaristo explains that it is important to keep the ideas of community and reciprocity as pillars upon which this foundation of wisdom is built. I-me, I-you and I-all relationships are mutually primary and are in indispensably interdependent conversation. It is also crucial to understand that this wisdom comes from a long history of people for whom the mountains, animals, elements (earth, air, water and fire) and spiritual conversation/connection are not just concepts. They are strong, dynamic and ever present sources of energy and wisdom as reliable as anyone who is next to you in the room. These present sources of energy shape the lives and history of these people and it is important to be reverent.  We are here to learn from one another.


So, with that said, let´s go back to the 12 pointed rock.

This is a rock that is at the heart of the Inca system of wisdom and it was the first thing that we saw on our tour.

It exists approximately a half mile away from the traditional square in Cuzco along a narrow alleyway.

One would never notice it if it weren´t for the flurry of tour groups and guides that come by and let people know what it is.  Most people know that it is a crucial piece of the Inca wisdom tradition.  Not many tour guides know why.

The rock is symbolic because of the way it is able to describe developmental processes.  Divide the rock (by the corners) into five vertical sections and call that time.  Divide it into four horizontal sections and call that growth or maturity.  This describes the developmental process for human beings.

Starting from the right side, you see a thin slice of time which describes the life of a child.  That section along the x-axis is considered about four years.  But if you look how much growth happens (along the y-axis) and it is enormous.

A second section – describing the period of youth – is significant in years.  And there is significant growth that´s usually seen (although if you compare to the growth achieved in childhood it is not as much.  Adulthood corresponds to a great deal of time, but the growth is usually very small.  And the time spent as an elder is both short with more emphasis spent on teaching than learning.  Finally, there is a period of time spent dying.

This was how the Inca viewed growth over a lifespan.  They broke down growth into three planes: Physical, mental and spiritual represented by three animal symbols

Physical – Puma

Mental/Psychic – Snake or serpant

Divine – Condor

Human development rests on a foundation of the four elements : Earth, Air, Fire, Water.

More tomorrow on the 7 levels of consciousness.


Spiritual Ascenders and the Twelve Pointed Rock

Decisions about engaging our true purpose are rarely acts of circumstance. Spirituality is about our intentional becoming more of what we instinctively and intuitively feel called to be. It is a distinctly different response than the more impulsive reactivity to fear. Indeed, it is just the opposite – where we are encountering fear and exploring our unconscious into consciousness. When a person does this they ascend into greater awareness. Increasing awareness is what allows us to expand understanding and increase complexity by integrating multiplr perspectives? When groups of people do this, they ascend into more mature agreements and systems of mutual and interdependent well being. When entire cultures do this, they promote the social and spiritual evolution of the coexistence of life.

All of this is pedicated upon individual spiritual impulse being encouraged and adopted by groups, accepted into cultural practices and integrated into evolutionary social change. Societies seek to promote vitality and progress, cultures seek to address conflicts and promote harmony, communities seek leadership to teach wisdom, individuals seek truth to integrate wisdom and promote freedom (which is to say, live above fear and align with personal and communal purpose).


There are various ways of thinking about this.  The following three charts are only samples of hundreds of ways to catagorize consciousness.

The idea in each of them, however, is the same: to ascend or evlolve in our awareness, to use our awareness to serve some sense of harmony and interdependence in life.

Everyone on this trip signed up for more than adventure… More than personal appreciation of the beautiful or exotic. Without even knowing exactly how, each person seeks the chance to be part of change – both personal and, through integrating wisdom and modeling leadership, cultural change.

I’m thinking of Ricardo who has been organizing thes trips since 2005. He has seen these encounters with the Andean wisdom change people’s lives – including his own. He’s seen it change relationships with nature and self and with people.

Like Carlita Elizabeth – from Tiajuana, Mexico. 33 yrs old. Went to Chitzanitza and came away fascinated with the ways a culture could weave together architecture, social customs, spirituality and a reverence for nature. From then on she vowed to continue her exploration with a trip to Machu Picchu.

And Shirley – Ricardo’s sister – born with an innate sense of connection and communication – one of three – triplets. Born in the area around Lima, always wanting to come to Machu Picchu but felt like there was too much to learn. Now, living in Virginia with her daughter and teaching Zumba, she is beginning to imagine the world and life her daughter will inherit and that is a powerful spiritual motivator.

Ella is 54 on July 26. She is my roommate for this trip and she has been a wonderful connection. Career military who experienced a series of life-changing accidents, her track toward recovery led her into studying the healing arts as a response to what felt like the limitations and arrogance of Western medicine. From Ohio and living in Maryland, she came because of someone who came on a previous tour and for the synchronicity of what she’s been exploring in her and what the group is exploring.

Phillip is 47. Having married a woman from Peru (as did his brother) he began exploring Indian cosmology and learning Inkan ways. He met Ricardo while doing research and attended his monthly Native American Spirituality group. His wife is currently in Lima with her parents acclimating their daughter enough to be staying with her grandparents. His wife will leave their daughter in Lima to join us on the remainder of the tour.

Vanessa – 34 – is one of our guides. She is a native of Cuzco and leads all kinds of tours all year round – at Machu Picchu, the Incan trail, and many of the Andean archeological sites. She and Ricardo have worked together from the beginning. “Every time is nice,” she says. “When I finish these tours I feel light as a feather and with nice energy. It’s because we’ve exchanged ideas and connections. Practiced the Inkan religion. There is no more beautiful place than Mach Picchu. I Love my city. For me being in a strong connection with a place is essential.”

Evaristo – is our Shaman. Well versed in native Inca roots… His Grand fathers on both his mother and fathers side are full blooded Chechyan speakers. They have lived the Andean ways and taught them to Evaristo. He just came from Argentina where his mother was and she told them that “now that you’ve done this for 7 years you have to do this for a living.” Mother told him he’d been brought to Cusco when he was only a month old. Grandfather taught him the symbols and what they mean. The symbols are there but its hard to find the meaning. When tahe Spanish came in and conquered the Inca culture, they intentionally killed all the spiritual leaders and tried to destroy the Inca symbols. They recognized that the symbols had power and felt the Inca elders could secretly communicate in ways that were not understood. Evaristo has uncovered the meanings of symbols on manyndiffernt levels – Physical, spiritual, mental… “Symbols used to confuse me – I was trained as nutritionist by science and it felt sometimes that they were saying different things. That conflict ended when there was an earthquake when I was working in a hospital. It became clear it was time for a new path. Another thing that brought more meaning is studying electronics and also a hiking guide.” And his Andean knowledge. He started teaching Chechyan and the Andean ways. There are many books and perspectives but they don’t honor the native perspective. When he was little and his grandfather showed him a picture of the rock (with 12 points),

his grandfather told him he would know more about that rock than anyone. After some study, he came In 1978 to Cuzco in a higher consciousness. He went to the square and cried. After that experience in the plaza went with a group to Machu Picchu. Even though it was his first time he found he knew all about the place. He took guides to places He had never been but he knew they where there and what they meant. There was some wisdom and knowledge inside him but he didn’t know how. The culture is trying to study Chechyan now… He goes and does presentations on the Andean ways. He presented about the grammar and phonetics of the language.

In that conference, he had reservations and feared he would be rejected because natives where often oppressed – but it was the opposite. He was embraced. It was one of the moments where he felt sure he was being called to be a teacher. There was no way back once He started. Before he went to conference he stopped by his community of elders and they stopped him and told him it was time for him to take on the role of teacher. It is one of the reasons why he feels he is supposed to do this. He is also tai chi and Kung fu master and knows defense moves from the Inkan perspective.

I said that I would begin to explore the insight and meaning that is woven into the symbol of the twelve pointed rock… But the twelve pointed rock is all about spiritual ascension and to really make sense of how it applies to our lives, it was better for me introduce our group of Spiritual Ascenders.