We had only just introduced ourselves to our tour guide at the Chavin ruins when he gestured emphatically at our chests and then threw his finger up towards the clouds, asking the question:
‘So, when did religion take God out of your hearts and fling it up into the sky?!’
The Chavin ruins located in the high valleys of the province of Huari, department of Ancash, are some of the most widely known ruins of a pre-Incan ceremonial center. During my tour I learned that the word Chavin actually comes from the Quechua word Chowpin, meaning the Center of the Center. Chowpin was a place of pilgrimage and ceremony for Andean cultures between the 15th and the 5th century BC. Its location is oriented in accordance with the surrounding rivers and mountains, and holds precise angles with the path of the sun. It’s energetic power, as it is situated in its surroundings, is palpable.
My tour guide brought this initial question of our own holiness to the forefront of his presentation to demonstrate possibilities other than outward-focused, seeking, and striving religious practices. If we are taught that God is outside of us, does that make us more susceptible to manipulation from higher authorities that tell us they know the way to access God? And does that make us treat our bodies with any less respect/adoration/awe than they deserve?
Is it somehow safer to look for God in the sky rather than in our own hearts?
What are we scared of?
Ritual ceremonies still take place in the tunnels and underground chambers of the intact Chavin ruins. My tour guide is one of the people that still use these spaces in the same ways that they were used for centuries. It is a living sacredness. His practices promote an ongoing understanding of how we can continue to honor the powerful energies of the space in its past, present, and future.
It startled me to learn this, but then I questioned my initial surprise – when did we decide that in order for something to be sacred, it had to be roped off, quarantined, and museumized?
When did we put up fences around the temples, and declare national monuments to be preserved, made timeless, static, frozen?
When we did we forget how to work with our surroundings as truly sacred and sentient?
The Wilderness Act of 1964succinctly defined wilderness to be those areas of the United States ‘untrammeled by man’, and divided up the land and put fences around parts of nature. Wilderness, in the Western world, was made static and sacred, and separate from the human. Governmental forces expelled from these ‘wild’ lands the native people who had been co-creating their environments through actions such as ritual plantings and burnings to sustain biologically diverse ecosystems for centuries.
The linear, resource-based view of the natural world, founded on principles of Classical Science has led us, in the Western world, to be very adept at destroying what is around us. So yes, I would be scared too, that someone might think it a good idea to mine and log and frack all of the national parks in the United States if there weren’t fences around them, if we didn’t have rules and regulations protecting the land, and instead if we were allowed to engage with the sacred.
But what are we missing through this solution? Are we removing ourselves from the equation and taking away our agency to co-create?
When did we forgo our own sacredness? And at what cost?
Over the last three months in the Peruvian High Amazon I have been learning combinations of ecology, indigenous farming practices, and even quantum physics to explore bioculturally regenerative alternatives to the countless environmental crises we are facing today.
And i’m convinced that there’s something to reconfiguring our Western fences around what is sacred, in our wildernesses and in our hearts.
Patience along the way.