Working with Khuyas: Part One

During the three-part training in Andean mysticism, we learn to make a misha (mesa in Spanish) and fill it with khuyas, objects that are personally meaningful or even sacred to us. We collect the khyuas into a group that we carry within a cloth bundle. The bundle is our misha. Among the common questions training participants ask is how to choose khuyas and then how to work with them. So, in this blog post and the next one (to be posted in November) I will address some of the questions for those of you who might be wondering.

Let’s start with a general discussion of the misha and khuyas in this post. The full name for a khuya is khuya rumi. Rumi means stone, although today in our more modern practice we may designate other things as a khuya, such as a little metal figurine. Khuya means affection—specifically a robust or strong affection, and even love. So, a khuya rumi is a stone or other object that we infuse with our affection because it represents something deeply meaningful and even sacred to us.

The misha most of us carry is more formally called the a paña misha qhepi, the misha of the paña work (right-mishas compressed IMG_4625side of the path), which is focused on developing our yachay (experience, knowledge, and perception). Qhepi means “bundle.” So, our pana misha qhepi is literally the bundle of signs that we are practicing paqos and also a collection of the symbols of ourselves, as I will explain below. We might also have a lloq’e misha qhepi, or a misha holding the khuyas we associate with the llank’ay aspect of the path, which is more oriented toward action.  Traditionally, the left-side misha contains the five mullu khuyas, or the five stones we use to give the karpay for weaving the belts (chunpis) and opening the mystical eyes (ñawis). Occasionally a paqo might have a left-side misha dedicated to healing, so it would contain khuyas he or she uses specifically for healing.

As we consider what a khuya and the misha are, and how we choose khuyas, I would like to offer the view, based on the teachings of don Juan Nuñez del Prado, that there are two ways of looking at our practice in general and of the making of a misha specifically. There are what we call a third-level approach and a fourth-level approach to the tradition. As I describe these two approaches, it is important to understand that one approach is not better than the other, just different. The distinctions between these two ways of practicing are meaningful because each means we select, impart meaning to, and even use our khuyas in decidedly different ways. Most of this post will deal with these distinctions, and next month’s post will discussmy misha cropped actually working with our khuyas.

To briefly, and perhaps overly simplistically, define these two terms, the third level, which we all go through and so cannot skip, is the level of learning the basic meanings of a practice and the structure of the tradition’s rituals. When teaching us about the misha, our teacher shares this information pretty much the same way he or she was taught by his or her teacher. This approach maintains a chain of stability in the teaching, so the knowledge does not change much over time. In this third-level approach, everyone learns the same basic meaning for the khuyas, a similar way of collecting them, and a more or less fixed way of creating a misha. We might be told we need a certain number of khuyas. And we might be instructed to acquire khuyas of certain types, because there are particular meanings for each kind of khuya. We might be shown how to arrange those khuyas in a particular way when we open our misha. Consequently, in this third-level approach, we receive a technical, perhaps even a formulaic, kind of instruction.

At the fourth level, we see our practice through a more individual and thus personal lens. So, we collect and work with our khuyas and misha in more flexible, subjective, and even intimate ways. There are few, or no, prescribed ways of doing things. We come to understand that since we are all individuals with unique life experiences and beliefs, our ayni is inherently personal. We know we each must relate to the living universe as we are—which is unlike how anyone is—and so our misha and the khuyas of which it is comprised will be just as personal and one-of-a-kind. Consequently, our misha will contain the number and kinds of khuyas that represent us and our personal journey exclusively. At the fourth level, with a few minor exceptions, we leave technical and formulaic ways of doing things behind and become artists of our own energy relationship with the living universe, including in how we select and use khuyas.

At both the third and fourth levels, a khuya is an object, from a stone to a figurine to a feather or puma claw, that represents (and is infused with our affection for) something we have done, somewhere we have been, a teacher we have worked with, or a spirit being to whom we feel especially connected. We might have a khuya from a particular apu we worked at or from a particular sacred sanctuary at which we participated in ritual. We may have little figurines of the nature spirits that are important to us, such as Mother Earth, a puma, or a hummingbird. A khuya also Juan khuyasmight be a stone or some other small item we were given during a karpay from our teacher. Or, one or more of our khuyas might be representative of more abstract concepts such as the four cardinal directions, the three worlds, or the three primary human powers of munay, yachay, and llank’ay. The difference between a third-level and a fourth-level approach appears in why we have selected the khuyas and in how we think about them. If we are following a schematic teaching, with everyone doing things in similar ways for similar reasons, then these khuyas can become like little fetishes, and so there are at least two potential “traps” of this third-level way of creating a misha. The first trap is when we lose the sense of our own personal relationship with the living universe. Our misha contains khuyas of the same kinds and with the same meaning as everyone else’s. Our misha becomes a “set piece” that never changes because we have ticked off the khuya list given to us by a teacher. Second, we can end up collecting khuyas like souvenirs or trophies: “This is my Apu Ausangate stone.” “This is my Machu Picchu khuya.” “Here are my four-directions khuyas.” If we fall into these potential traps, our khuyas may become devoid of our feelings and affection and become fodder for our ego. Our misha might lose its inherently personal meaning; instead of representing our personal journey, it might simply be modeled on a fixed template.

From the fourth-level perspective, we understand that misha means “sign” or “symbol”: it is a bundle containing the khuyas that represent the important aspects of our personal life journey—of our unique experience and development as a human being. This is our kanay—our understanding of who we are as individuals, of our own constellation of personal power, which is unlike anyone else’s. Therefore, from the fourth-level perspective, only we can decide what kind of khuyas to include in our misha and how to arrange or work with them. (Except for perhaps the traditional view that every misha has a “center” orcenter stone misha cropped “centering” stone, as shown at right from my misha.) At the level of becoming a fourth-level energy and ayni artist, we know that through each khuya we include in our misha we are acknowledging and honoring who we are and how we have come to be as we are. The khuyas (and the bundle of them that is the misha) represent our journey as a human being, from the traumas we have overcome to the triumphs we have experienced, from family members and other people who have significantly influenced us so far in our life to paqo teachers who have mentored us and helped us develop on the path. A khuya might even represent our unfinished work and unrealized potential: the work we acknowledge we still have to do to heal ourselves or express more of our Inka Seed.

The word khuya is related to the word khuyay, or passion. This is the human capacity associated with the energy dynamics of our qosqo ñawi (mystical eye of the belly area), of our attachments to others and our interactions in the world as human beings. In the words of don Juan, “Khuyas represent power through your passions—not with your passion but through it.” Khuyay as passion is not about an emotion, such as romantic passion, but about how we connect to the world and how motivated we are to continue engaging with the world and others no matter what has happened to us. Don Juan goes on to say, “You connect through your khuyas to your experiences, the sum of your experiences and powers. It’s through your personal connection—the khuyas of your favorite places, your masters, your own personal experiences and growth, your own capacities. Your Inka Seed is unique, and the misha is connected to what you need for your own development, for the development of your own Inka Seed. Your misha is like an energetic copy of your karpay.” As a reminder, our karpay is the sum total of the capacities we have available to use— that we can access from within ourselves—at the current time. It is our current level of personal power. And so our khuyas represent all the experiences, places, and people that have fueled our growth and development to date.

Therefore, at the fourth-level, while we might have a khuya from an apu we are especially connected with and one or two from karpays with our teachers, or we may have a set of mullu khuyas (picture below left) to give the Chunpi Away karpay, most of our khuyas will be infused with our deepest feelings as expressed at various important points in our life experiences. We might have a khuya that is something passed to us Joan's mullu chunpisfrom our father, and that khuya might hold the power of our realization of how much love has passed between us or, conversely, it might represent his utter failure as a parent and how we overcame this wound or are still working to overcome it. This object becomes sacred to us either way because it holds our power to know who we are: where we came from and how we got to where we are today. A khuya might mark an especially important occasion related to a particular person, one that is deeply meaningful to us. For example, one of my most precious khuyas is a small wooden cross that was in my mother’s hand for the last week of her life. It is infused with a whole host of meanings for me, all deeply personal and highly significant to my development as a woman because of who my mother was and of our relationship—and it also represents the loss I feel of her physical presence in my life. The take-away is that from the fourth-level approach no one can advise you about what kind of khuyas should or will make up your misha. Your misha is the symbol of your life.

I explain this contextual approach to khuyas and the misha as a prelude to discussing in my November post various ways to work with our khuyas. From the fourth-level, only you can know why you have included each particular khuya in your misha, and only you can choose the one to work with in a particular situation or for a specific reason.  Choosing a particular khuya to work with is based on the sami you have charged it with because of what it represents to you about your journey in life and your own current state of being. So, perhaps between now and November, when I post Part Two of this discussion, you might sit with your khuyas and reconfigure your misha from a fourth-level approach. Or not. Your misha is the bundle of signs and symbols of your kanay, so you are the final arbiter.

[All photos are copyrighted and are not to be used without permission. The first is by Lisa McClendon Sims, who holds the copyright. The rest are from Joan’s misha, she holds the copyright, and so these photos are not to be used, posted, shared, or reproduced without her permission.]
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