I love to read. Instead of watching television or surfing the Internet in my free time, I prefer to dive into a good book. At this time when many of us are self-isolating because of the coronavirus, when some of us may have lost jobs and are reeling with worry, picking up an inspiring and thought-provoking book—one that can help us step up the qanchispatañan (the stairway of seven steps of conscious evolution)—is the perfect antidote to a potentially hucha-inducing situation. So in this post I offer a recommendation for three books that can both inspire and educate. Each of these books shows us some of the precepts of Andean mysticism in action, although no one but a paqo would notice.
What Does a Fourth-Level Life Look Like?
For me, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, by David Brooks, is a template about four aspects of the journey from the third level to the fourth level of consciousness. That’s not an easy or direct path to follow, and Brooks’s book makes that clear. Part philosophy and part memoir, this book toggles between the messy, hard and sometimes transcendent reality of individual human life (including Brooks’s) to the equally messy, hard but ultimately transformative nature of a committed and communal life. In our mystical tradition we say you have to take responsibility for yourself first. Once you are attending to your own healing and growth, then you find your place in the ayllu (community) and make your contribution there. This journey is at the heart of the primary metaphor of Brooks’s book: of moving from the first mountain of “me” to scaling the second mountain of “we.” He talks about how to scale the second mountain in four primary areas of life: family and intimate relationship, vocation, faith, and community. If you do nothing else but absorb the ideas, never mind put into practice the strategies, proposed by Brooks (and the many other researchers, philosophers, and writers he refers to), you will go a long way to furthering your progress up the qanchispatañan.
If you read the reviews of Brooks’s book, you will find yourself in the midst of extremes of like and dislike, or praise and criticism. I am not going to go into that granular level of the book. All I am going to say is that if you decide to read this book, overlooking its flaws, you will see a primer on what it means to live a fourth-level life, to improve your personal power and deepen your ayni with your fellow human beings and the kawsay pacha. What does a fourth-level profession look like? Read the section on vocation with the concept of khuyay (passionate engagement) and kanay (self-knowing) in mind. What does a fourth-level marriage look like? Read the relationship section with the concepts of yanantin-masintin (differences and similarities), rimay (integrity among thought, word, and action), and munay (the choice for love) in mind. What does a fourth-level faith look like? Read the section on faith through the lens of the fourth level, which sees beneath outer form (such as labels and dogmas) and so can find the succor and grace of God/Spirit through the lens of many faith systems. What does a fourth-level community look like? Read the relevant section with the concepts of ayni (reciprocity) and atiy (the personal power to take meaningful action) in mind.
Throughout this book, if you read it with the precepts and concepts of the Andean mystical tradition in mind, you will find our cosmovision reverberating throughout, from the distinction between emotions and feelings (especially the difference between happiness versus joy) to the insistence that growth moves you deeper into the human world and human community instead of away from it. This is a book about engaging life with maturity and meaning. It provides a glimpse of how we create a bridge that connects respecting the independence of the self with our interdependence as a member of local communities and our responsibilities as part of a national and even global family. As you read, examine your ethical and moral beliefs, and you will find, if this book moves you and provokes you as it moved and provoked me, that the ethical system of the third-level is unsustainable. And that while the ethical system of the fourth-level night not be easy to live day to day, we all have to make the effort.
What Do Khuyay and Atiy Look Like?
Khuyay means “to love,” and is our mystical work is refers to passionate engagement. It is the one-pointedness of lovers and children and anyone in “the flow” of the moment of whatever or whoever it is that engages them. As a noun, atiy means “to do,” “to be able to”; as a verb it means “victory,” as in winning a battle or triumphing in a challenge. In David Eggers The Monk of Mokha, you will find both khuyay and atiy displayed in incredibly intense and inspiring ways. You will also see a stunning example of how khuyay (passion) fuels atiy (as the marshaling of personal power to achieve something no matter how difficult the challenge).
A Yemeni-American, Eggers was a twenty-four-year-old doorman at a San Francisco hotel with few prospects of bettering himself when he learns something new about his heritage: that Yemen was instrumental in the development of coffee and that it produced some of the finest coffee beans in the world. Big deal, you might say. Well, it was a big deal for Eggers. In a fit of yachay (intellect), Eggers begins to research the connection between coffee and Yemen, and his yachay quickly turns into khuyay—a passion to revive the faltering and nearly moribund coffee production in Yemen and bring the finest coffee to the United States. That passion launches Eggers on a journey that is both harrowing and redemptive. Harrowing because of the lack of support from others, the growing dangers of the looming war in Yemen, and the enormous, and indeed the seemingly insurmountable, obstacles of breathing new life into a nearly dead industry. But nothing stops Eggers. His khuyay and atiy are forces of ayni that cannot be stopped.
This memoir has two story lines. It’s a primer on the cultivation, production, distribution, and appreciation of coffee (all of which I found fascinating, and perhaps you will too). And it is an adventure story that reverberates with just about every aspect of the American rags-to-riches, anything-is-possible, the little-guy-achieves-the-impossible narrative. A third, less prominent story line is that of synchronicity, of the proverbial stars aligning in confounding ways. In the Andean cosmovision we would call this ayni: your intent moves energy and influences the kawsay pacha, and the kawsay pacha responds. But the real takeaway for your work as a paqo is what Eggers achieves through the personal power of his khuyay and atiy. You, too, can cultivate these powers, and you, too, can achieve your dreams.
What Does It Look Like When You Add Kanay to Khuyay and Atiy?
Chris Wilson’s The Master Plan: My Journey from a Life in Prison to a Life of Purpose is another true story that chronicles one man’s bold, and even audacious, display of personal power, especially as funneled through khuyay and atiy.
This book is at once inspiring and infuriating, emotionally uplifting and devastating. Chris’s perseverance in the face of familial, economic, and social challenges, and ultimately vicious judicial injustice, is nothing short of astonishing. His redemptive journey, against all odds, was toward kanay—knowing who you really are and having the personal power to live it. That so few people who find themselves incarcerated in the United States successfully achieve this kind of selfhood is a testament to Chris’s tenacity. If you are looking for an example of qaway (seeing reality as it really is, stripped of self-delusions, illusions, excuses, and so on) and kanay, of khuyay and atiy, this is among the most impactful stories you could choose.
In prison for murder, Chris devises a “master plan” of self-education. He is relentless in his commitment to that plan, which keeps him engaged in both his inner and outer life, and motivates him to move untiringly toward a sense of self other than that imposed upon him by cultural, social, and penal influences, among others. He has to untangle the complex strands of belief woven into his sense of self by family, economic station, zip code, race, and on and on. The most tenacious battle is against a penal system whose predominate mission is to grind the humanity out of inmates. This book is a crushing expose of the racism that explicitly and implicitly informs the American ethos. Likewise, it is an indictment of our penal system, and our wider judicial system, which focuses on punishment rather than rehabilitation.
While this book rips away the facade of the American myth as it applies to race and justice, if you read it as a paqo it provides another grand example of kuyay and atiy. But, even more important, it illustrates a journey toward kanay—coming to know your “real” self and accumulating the personal power to live as who you really are rather than as how others think you are. Chris’s progress exemplifies the progress we can make by harmonizing our three human powers: of yachay—knowing and understanding, of facing hard truths; llank’ay—taking action in a manner that enhances sami and lessens hucha; and munay—choosing to work for the greater good of the self and others, being part of the solution rather than the problem, working to transform and lift the self and society rather than ignoring your hucha and maintaining the status quo or lashing out in revenge.
Whether you’re home in self-isolation or going about your normal activities, picking up a book is always a good idea. And not just “spiritual” or “shamanic” or “energy” books. I invite you to widen your horizons to find inspiration and lessons in books that may not normally be on your reading list. The three I recommend above are not only good reads, but provide real and wise examples of how what we identify as concepts particular to the Andean mystical tradition are at heart core human powers.