In October 2016, I had the beautiful opportunity to journey to the high Andean community of the Q’ero people with my dear friend Louisa, our Q’ero elders Don Augustin and Dona Benita, and their son Santos. Having made many journeys to Peru across more than a decade, I have had quite a bit of direct contact with Andean elders, both Q’ero and others, and the path of my own life has been significantly shaped by the teachings and rituals I have experienced there. Having dreamed of one day going to the Motherland of such rich traditions, I was truly touched to have such an opportunity.
2016 was the year that the first road to the Q’ero communities was built. I had heard others share about journeys to the highlands previously, an arduous journey combining an initial travel by car or van on rugged dirt roads, and a second phase of journeying on horse and foot through harsh and stunning landscapes in freezing cold rain and snow. Though the adventurer in me somewhat envied the challenges of that way of journeying, I was grateful for the relative ease of our journey by van – we carried all our gear, plus a camp stove and fuel, lots of food for us and for sharing, water, a toilet tent, and extra blankets that we would use and then gift to our host community, Qochomoqo.
As a western woman, born and raised in the US, I have spent most of my life surrounded by a culture that is rooted in self-interest, materialism and a constant, almost uncontrollable sense of want. We’re conditioned to want the next flashy, cool thing from the time we’re small children ~ and as the holiday season is upon us, this is always a shadow theme that is hard to ignore, as the traditions of gift giving to children, especially, train them to think more of “what I want” and “what I am getting” than “what can I give to others?” And so, the desire for more things, and better things, is a disease in our culture. We want what we want, we want it now, we want it for as little money as possible, we don’t care what the conditions were for the ones making the things, and on and on it goes. The culture of “me first” has entered new lows with our current government leadership in the movement of “America first,” and now, the worst of our selfish, greedy natures is being amplified and encouraged on a national scale in an overt way.
In the Andes, the traditional way of life is rooted in the practice of ayni ~ reciprocity. The sacred exchange of giving and receiving. It’s not a concept, it’s the very law of existence. Rooted in the very real understanding of balance, and a deeply embodied practice of gratitude and trust, ayni tells us that we must both give and receive in order for life to flourish. We breathe out, and inhale the oxygen the trees have given us. The trees receive our carbon dioxide, and are grateful for our gift of sustenance for them. The sun shines, the rain falls, the crops grow, we tend them, we enjoy them, and we give back to the soil so that the balance of life can continue. The Andeans are inherently gentle people, centered in practices of deep respect for Pachamama (Mother Earth), the Apus (the divine Mountain spirits), and the other Divine forces of the universe, of which we are simply one small part. Theirs is a culture with a deep sense of respect and dignity that still thrives today, even with the influx of foreign tourists every day, a true testament to who they are as people.
And so, when we arrived in Qochomoqo, clouds swirled all around, feeling like a damp mist. Though in the Valley there are so many days of direct hot sun, up in the highlands, strong direct sun is rare. Silence is deep, as these communities are free from the noisy ways of modern city living ~ with no electricity beyond the solar charged lanterns a few people carried, no running water besides the stream at the edge of the village, and no distractions of technology, internet, television, and the like. Simple life. Tending the home, tending the animals, tending the crops, and tending the Spirit. Though I was only there for three days, those days were so deliciously slow and rich in connection, I felt like those days were more than a week.
The idea for visiting Qochomoqo and the Q’ero communities first came in 2015, during our Heart of the Mother Retreat in the Sacred Valley. We were blessed to have Don Augustin and Dona Benita join us for a day, sharing about their traditions and doing a beautiful Despacho Ceremony for our group. At one point in our time together, Don Augustin invited me to come to visit their community, and invited me to continue learning these traditions with them. Having first experienced the Despacho Ceremony ten years prior, and having been gifted permission to practice and share that tradition when I first experienced it, I took Don Augustin’s words to heart. I knew that upon my return in 2016, visiting the Q’ero communities would be necessary. Simply standing upon their ancestral land was a gift beyond my heart’s imaginings ~ the land was vibrant and alive, as the land can only be when the direct relationship between humans and Pachamama is well-tended.
On our second day in Qochomoqo, we would visit the high school, create a Despacho, have coca leaf divinations, join a hair cutting ceremony for a baby (and through this I became the child’s Godmother), and engage in rich dialogue in a series of video interviews that, in the future, will be shared freely here. Together with Don Augustin and Dona Benita, we were joined by Walter, and they created one of the most beautiful Despachos I have ever seen ~ calling forth our prayers for the wellness of my family (both my father and mother were hospitalized at the time), and for the wellness of our world. As the sun went down later that day, Don Augustin and Dona Benita prepared to climb up to Waman Lipa, the holy Apu towering over the community, to offer our bundle into the sacred fire on the mountain. During the afternoon, I asked permission to ask some questions on behalf of my community, my people, my culture, and was granted permission to video these conversations. With undying gratitude to my dear brother Santos, it was possible to have a direct translation from Quechua to English, and keep as much integrity of their messages as possible.
Over the course of our conversation, I eventually presented a question that had been alive in my heart for some time. Given that we had not yet gone through the 2016 election in the US, the question was still quite potent, and now, having lived with the madness of my country’s dark night of the soul, the question seems more relevant than ever: With all the mental sickness, misunderstanding, suffering, and chaos in our world, what can we do to help?
Make more offerings. Despacho Ceremony.
As a modern western woman, even though my entire life is now rooted in ritual, ceremony, prayer, creativity, and being of service to the sacred, my logical, rational, skeptical doer mind struggles to believe that something as simple and beautiful as Despacho Ceremony could actually *do* something meaningful to halt the flood of insanity and injustice and pain that is running rampant in our world right now. But what is sufficient to face these things? Fighting and arguing don’t seem to be effective, protest is limited in scope, and spending my days calling senators and representatives may help, but is all of this enough either?
In Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects, there are three basic ways to make change in the world. First, holding actions: this is the protesting, calling representatives, creating roadblocks ~ all the things that seek to slow down the forces of insanity and destruction in order for new ways to be discovered and enacted. Second, choosing new ways: developing solutions to the problems that we face ~ solar energy, community building, permaculture farming, time banks, etc. These things provide us with new options in the ways that we live our lives, and expand our understanding of what is possible. Third, awakening of consciousness: we begin to change our inner operating system, seeing that our previous ways of living aren’t working, and changing and healing ourselves so that we don’t seek the same old ways. This is represented in the personal growth and awakening movements, and the expansion of spirituality that is free of religion. Where does Despacho ceremony fit into this picture? It is ultimately a part of the awakening of consciousness, understanding that we must connect inside ourselves, embody our values and principles, stand in dignity and respect within ourselves, practice deep listening, engage in gratitude for all the blessings we receive every single day, and cultivate an inner sense of guidance that will help us to navigate the ways we move through the world.
When we know who we are, and are in connection with ourselves and our own inner navigation system, when we heal our wounds and are able to see clearly what is in front of us, when we return to the understanding that we are but one small, interdependent part of the web of life, and that our actions contribute to the quality of the whole, we wake up. When we remember that we are not entitled to any single thing, and that we are not the most important part of life here, that we are not the star of the Earth stage, when we return to the understanding that we are responsible for being excellent citizens of a world alive in so many beautiful ways, we are able to let go of our childish, selfish, ignorant ways, and return to being stewards of Life, wise and full of care for what happens, and knowing that our needs will be met as we consider the needs of all.
And so, in a deep commitment to these principles, and in bringing others together to co-create this reality in a beautiful, awake way, we create Despachos every single month. Sometimes it’s just us at home, by ourselves. Sometimes we are surrounded by beloved brothers and sisters in community, co-creating our vision. And sometimes we visit other communities, sharing this beautiful tradition as a part of festivals, weddings, celebrations, and community events. As one dear Peruvian sister shared with our group this year, Despacho is offered before any important event in life: before the birth of a child, before a marriage, before the start of a new business, before building a home, before starting any new project. Despacho first is a way of saying “thank you” to Pachamama and to Life, acknowledging all the blessings and gifts that have already been received, and sharing a gift of gratitude for that, while also praying for the forces of Life to continue bringing support in new ways.
We hope that you’ll be with us at some point for a Despacho Ceremony! You can find our calendar HERE, and we’re also happy to travel on occasion to share this ceremony. Of course, the most wonderful way to experience Despacho is with the elders in Peru! We’ll be taking another group in 2019, and if you’re curious to find out more about that, please visit our Heart of the Mother Retreats website!