Tiny Peruvian Pilgrimage, part two: art of impermanence.
(location: Island Amantani, Lake Titicaca, Peru)
Our first adventure site in Peru (see previous post if you are wondering why I’m in Peru) was a lake excursion to the unique islands on Lake Titicaca, which is the highest navigable lake in the world. It is breathtaking. (You can learn about Lake Titicaca here).
What’s marvelous about Lake Titicaca is not only its size, but that it is where worlds collide. The urban bustle of Puno (if you’ve ever been to a developing world city, you know that ‘bustle’ is a nice way of saying ‘chaos’) contrasts starkly with the absolute stillness of ancient agrarian farmsteads on the islands in the lake. The lake is the birthplace of the Incan civilization according to Andean mythology the first God of the Incans was born from these waters nestled at an altitude of 12,500+ feet. Viracocha emerged from the lake to create the sun, the stars and the first people. Quecha-speaking descendants of these first Incan people still live on the secluded islands today and maintain the traditional ceremonies of honoring the sun at special times of the year from the top of their highest island peaks.
Our Lake Titicaca tour included three stops so we could learn about the cultures of three different island communities and stay in a local home on Lake Amantani. After stepping of the rocking boat in the shimmering sunlight of mid-afternoon, we stood awkwardly on the banks of the lake while we were assigned host families with whom we would spend the night. Our host mother was the tiniest person you’ve ever seen in your life. Her mantle-adorned head barely reached my shoulder… and I’m not tall to begin with. She led us, wordlessly, grinning, to her home on the side of terraced fields.
Having no common language, we communicated brilliantly with smiles, shrugs and nervous laughter before settling into our guest room. My Ironman had to duck to get in the doorway. Classic. Air BnB in Willy Wonka’s Shrinker-machine.
A quick lunch of quinoa soup (score) and then it was up the mountain, walking the path that would deposit us at the peak of the island: the place where the Spirit of “Pachatata,” or Father Earth, resides. On the other side of the valley rises “Pachamama,” or Mother Earth. Modern inhabitants of the island venerate ancient Incan ruins and traditions on these barren, wind-swept peaks. They, clearly, are used to walking up-hill at altitude: I was repeatedly lapped by grandmas carrying bundles of corn on their backs, babies in their arms, and who knows what else in the folds of their giant skirts. I’m pretty sure you could fit a lamb in each pocket. But the ‘45 minute leisurely walk’ up to the highest point of Amantani Island was worth it. It was uncomfortable, but it was worth it. Until you’ve seen a sunset at the top of the world, you haven’t seen a sunset.
As the sun disappeared behind the Andes-framed expanse of water in front of us (cordially stealing all prospects of warmth and the feeling in my fingers), my Ironman and I mimicked the sacred tradition of circling the Quecha priests’ ceremonial site four times. As I walked, unsteadily (thanks, Altitude Sickness), head bowed against the harsh wind, fingers tucked in my armpits for warmth, I noticed the worn path beneath my hiking boots and thought: all manner of feet have walked this path. Bare feet, hooved feet, truck-tire-bottom-sandaled feet, touristy-Solomon-shoed feet, hiking-boot-clad feet. Literally, since the beginning of (Incan) time, feet have been circumnavigating the highest point on this island, praying for blessings.
This revelation was humbling because it reminded me of the impermanence of life. I like to tell my Vinyasa yoga students that the only thing CONSTANT in life is CHANGE. Circling the weathered stone walls of this tiny temple was an act of showing up to celebrate the impermanence of life: of the inevitable setting of the sun, of the slow rising of the moon, of the constant movement of the waves, of the gently persistent wind. And it was an act of reverence to the fleeting nature of my own life, which is a short blip, but an important blip, in the grand scheme of the universe. It was an act of yoga.
“Yoga, like art and like music, is understanding the art of impermanence.
It is a way of learning the spiritual discipline of showing up for a sacramental event even if you don’t know what your experience will be, how your performance will be received, how your spirit will be expressed, or what you will learn.”
Here’s my lesson: Although life is sacred, it is fleeting. Although our troubles are arduous, they are fleeting. Although our blessings are unlimited, they are fleeting. There is an art to embracing the sacredness of creation and the sacredness of impermanence without futility overshadowing this lived experience.
And there is an art to showing up. Even when it’s freezing and your fingers are numb.
Even when your head is about to explode.
Even when you don’t speak the same language, and you don’t know how to count the local currency, and you don’t share many of the same customs: there is an art to showing up: ready for anything. You never know what you will learn.
So, here’s my question to you: When did you ‘show up’ to an experience, feeling totally underprepared, but ready to live life to the fullest? What unexpected blessings or unexpected stumbling blocks arose? What did you learn? (If you don’t have one of these moments… book a plane ticket, quickly! There are so many places to explore in this world! Better yet, just walk outside your workplace and strike up a conversation with the first person you meet… you never know what your experience will be and what you will learn!)
Can’t wait to hear back from you,