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.