“There are two great days in a person’s life—the day we are born and the day we discover why.” —William Barclay
Sometimes people ask me about choosing a spiritual path, as if there are multiple choices. But for each of us there is only one path—our life. The modifier “spiritual” is not necessary, and, really, it is redundant. The core root of the word “spirit” means to breathe, to be alive—to be filled with the life force that animates physical matter. According to the Andean mystical view, we are allpa camasca: animated earth. I believe it is wise for us to honor that core truth: every life is a spiritual life by the fact that it is a life. So, from this perspective, we don’t choose a spiritual path, we become consciously aware of the nature of the one we are living.
That said, I understand that when people are asking about a spiritual path, they are really asking about a methodology or a philosophical framework by which to deepen their conscious connection to their lives. They are using the word “spiritual” in a gnostic sense: to deeply and truly experience the essence of their lives. They are seeking to revitalize their lives, to resacralize them. Let’s face it, from the factual biological perspective, we did not have a choice for life. If we are here, it is not because we did anything to be here. Our “spiritual” belief about the nature of existence is another thing entirely. To imbue physical life with a sense of the sacred is a choice, even an act of will. Since we are here, we are free to seek meaning, to understand the possible “why” of it all. The irresistible magnetism of meaning-making is what elevates us above our purely biological life and informs our humanness. Every life matters, but we alone, among all creatures, decide to consciously choose how to ascribe meaning to our lives. Doing so presupposes that we have chosen a framework to explain that “why.”
In my own exploration of the “why” of life, and as a means to sacralize my life and choose to consciously develop myself, my choice for a “spiritual” approach is the Andean tradition. That choice comes after decades of exploring, testing, and practicing in other traditions. The same might be true for you. From the fourth-level perspective, following the Andean “sacred arts,” as don Juan Nuñez del Prado likes to call the tradition, is an exploration of our inner world, but without that inner focus being either an over-absorption with the self or a rejection of the outer world. So much of what matters in the outer world is shaped by and even dependent upon the state of our inner world.
In the Andean cosmovision, we are seeking to know ourselves, called kanay: to know who we really are and, more importantly, to have the personal power to live as who we truly are. Our approach is not outwardly directed either through formulaic practices or channeling power through sacred objects. Ritual, ceremony, and supernatural connections are wonderful, and there are good reasons for them, but they also can become a distraction or even a trap. What matters is our connection to ourselves, because the quality of all that we can share with the outer world is proportional to the quality of our inner state of being. As the Vedic tradition teaches, we are not in the world, the world is in us.
Via the Andean tradition, how we engage the world is dependent of the quality of our consciousness and of the sami energy we can share through our ayni. One of the most insightful teachings I have received from don Juan Nuñez del Prado is that there can be more power in offering a single k’intu than in making and offering an elaborate despacho. Our most important work is invisible: it is inner directed and yet utterly relational to the outer world and other people. We work on the inside so that we connect more authentically with what is outside, as free as possible of our heaviness (especially the heaviness created through our projections, illusions, personal judgments, and the like).
This inward exploration is focused both on the “who” and the “why” of ourselves. In the Andean tradition, the Inka Seed is the repository of that information and knowledge. The Inka Seed is said to be the connection to our origin, which is with God, The Unknowable, The All, Wiraqocha—or whatever name you give to the non-physical force that is the bestower of the originating breath (spirit) that gives life to inanimate matter. In one respect, our Inka Seeds are exactly alike: they contain every capacity that a human being is capable of expressing. In another respect, no two Inka Seeds are alike, for each of our Inka Seeds constellates these capacities differently, so that we each truly are unique in the expression of our humanness.
For me, when it comes to the “why” of our beingness, there is a “Big Why” and a “Small Why.” The Big Why of our lives is why any of us are here at all, in human form with our astonishing human capacities. The Small Why, which to my mind is the more important one, is utterly personal: it is “why” of our individual lives, of our distinct expression of this humanness. It is this Small Why that Barclay is speaking about in the opening quotation, and it is this Small Why that can set us on the search for a “spiritual path.” We share the same common and singular path: life. But we have an amazing variety of frameworks that can help us access the personal power to singularly express ourselves and create a life that reflects our kanay.
There is an almost infinite distance between the belief that there is no meaning to life and the belief that each of our lives is imbued with sacred significance. Don Juan, and his son, don Ivan, very poetically express this latter view by saying each one us has a distinctive place in creation that no one else can fill. If we are not aware of why we are here, if we don’t know ourselves and our singular kanay—and therefore are not living our individual expression of whatever God is—then it is like there is a hole in the fabric of creation. They are not the first to express this idea (others from Eileen Caddy to Dr. Suess have said as much), but it is an idea worth being reminded of repeatedly: there is one, and only one, spiritual path—your life. There is only one of each us. Forever and forever and forever there will only ever be one you. Whether you believe that to be true or not, what a tragedy not to live as if it were true!
All of this can sound cliché. You’re unique. You’re special. You should take how special you are to heart and start acting like it. We’ve heard it a hundred times, right?
Well, knowing and doing are two entirely different things. Which is why the “doing” of actually living your life as you is so rare. We are used to being who others think we should be, or who we think they think we should be. When we are mindless or dismissive about how we shape ourselves not to our own inner “truth of being me” but to what others’ value or prefer we be, we disconnect from ourselves (our Inka Seed) and, thus, from our lives. As Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” This is a quotation that tends to pop up (tiresomely) when someone wants to remind us that we are all pretty much alike, just making it up as we go along, and living our fictions, or even our delusions, of ourselves. And there is some truth to that. But, keeping with the theatre quotations, we also can live upon the stage of life as creative artists of the self. As playwright Lee Small said, “The point of theatre is transformation: to make an extraordinary event out of ordinary material right in front of an audience’s eyes.” That is the point of life as a spiritual path: to reveal the extraordinary within our very ordinariness—and then not be afraid to show our extraordinary selves to the world.
We are not being solipsistic or cultivating a false grandiosity. And our approach certainly is not to take ourselves too seriously. It is hard to be creative when we are overly serious, and life as a spiritual path is about nothing if not serial acts of creative expression. From the Andean perspective, paqos are beings who cultivate their inner joy. So, to resacrilize our lives we would benefit from cultivating two core sensibilities: that of pukllay, a sense of playfulness; and of tusuy, of performance. Life is our ritual. Life is our ceremony. Rather than find or choose a “spiritual path,” we treat our lives as the one and only path, where every ordinary moment can become imbued with a sense of the sacred. The very word “individual” comes from the root meanings of indivisible, inseparable, one, unified. For each of us, every insight into our individual kanay—into what makes you you and me me—becomes a way of more lovingly gathering the disparate or disowned aspects of ourselves into a realized whole.
However, when it comes to actually living life as a spiritual path. . . well, that is easier said than done. I will leave you with a quotation I just came across that is the perfect conclusion to this post and reminder that ayni is not just about intention, but action.
From T.E. Lawrence’s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom:
“All men dream; but not equally.
Those who dream by night in the dusty
recesses of their minds wake in the day
to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers
of the day are dangerous men, for they may
act their dreams with open eyes, to make it