The film opens with compelling footage, largely black and white, in first person perspective. We move swiftly, low to the ground, through sagebrush. Suddenly, the perspective alters and we observe a white wolf loping through tangled wilderness and scrubby, twisted trees. It’s then we realize we’d been seeing through wolf eyes. This shift occurs repeatedly, from first to third point of view, as the wolf tears through high grassland, bent on reaching a lone tree in the middle of a field. As she gets closer, strains of haunting music emanate from its luscious leaves.
Beneath the branches, slight movement, a hint of color, and we can almost make out a figure, obscured by shadow. Emerging now, it proves to be a slight, dark-haired girl, braids cascading to the waist. She scans the grasses seeming to know something or someone is out there. But the wolf is hunkered down hidden in tall grass, watching. A breeze finds its path. The sound of wood chimes, the fluttering of ephemera hung in the branches, hardly visible, set as they are against stillness, brings a moment of suspense.
Then the girl returns to her place under the tree. Facing its trunk, she takes up her violin and resumes the lament previously interrupted.
Soon we learn a strand of hair, handwritten petitions rolled into scrolls tied with ribbon, and other treasured things extend from the tree’s branches.
The entire tree is an altar and the violin music is a sacrament.
To give any more detail would intervene in the viewer’s experience. Just know it’s a multi-layered, touching film about loss, intergenerational trauma, hope, friendship—how one young First Nations girl finds her way through with the help of guides.
This German movie was filmed in British Colombia on Scw’exmx Nation land with members of the People of the Creek playing the characters, all first-time actors. Director Nino Jacusso is Swiss, and the film was drawn from the novel by Italian writer Federica de Cesco.
There is an English version available for viewing on Amazon Prime Video.
I had been listening to this young man for the past hour recounting significant aspects of his life’s story — a pilgrimage really — moving over the past decade. We were sitting in the upper level of Xapiri, his gallery a couple of blocks off Cusco’s main square, with Amazonian art all around us. He was winding down.
I’d been enthralled. “That’s incredible, you know.”
He offered a sardonic smile and said in decidedly Oxford English, “Yeah, that’s the brief story. There was a lot of randomness in-between.” Jack had a delightful way of laughing at himself that was attractive. But there were elements beyond his charm that spoke to greater substance and make-up.
Earlier that morning I was having breakfast in the tiny café of the family hotel El Balcón where I had long lodged my spiritual travel groups to Peru. A young North American woman, interning in hospitality services there, sat down across from me. We’d talked several times about what we were both doing in Cusco. This time she said, “I think you should meet Jack Wheeler. He’s got quite a story.” She gave me just enough to pique my interest and directions on where to find Xapiri. I took a chance that Jack would be there during my free time, and he’d be open to telling a complete stranger his personal history on a moment’s notice.
For a limited few, the trajectory of their life is laid out with certainty — and they’re quite satisfied with that. Satisfaction is key in this distinction, being bred in the bone to the extent they wouldn’t have it any other way. For the rest of us, conscious of it or not, we must seek our grounding. We know we’re not there when there’s an underlying feeling of discomfort, the rumblings of angst, a sense of just passing time, filling a slot, or waiting for something to happen. The tragedy of settling for the uneventful life is not discovering who you are. That’s not much of a legacy to pass down.
Jack had led into his tale, “When I left college, I wanted to follow one of the normal careers. I started working in a bank in my home city of Birmingham. It’s called the second city, London being the first. I’d worked there for two years. Although I was successful with promotions and really good money for my age, I definitely wasn’t happy. So, I started to travel. I took three months off and went to Peru, the first place I visited. I was twenty years old. At that point, I had no idea what I wanted. I was lost. I was traveling just because I wasn’t happy in England.
“But still I went back there. After a few years in the bank, I started a business with my older brother Tom. We worked hard, and it took off within six months. For many people it would appear to be a dream come true, creating something and being your own boss. But again, even though I was making money, I had no fulfillment — like it was at the bank. It wasn’t feeding my soul. So again, I decided to travel,” Jack punctuated his story with chuckles.
“That was about 6 years ago. I had a big, big trip where I traveled for a year…from New York all the way across the Americas…Central and South America, all the way to Patagonia. Big, big travel. Amazing travel. But looking back now, it was ticking boxes. I was going from place to place, spending a week in each place. It was enjoyable but not getting deep. It was more a standard backpacking trip.”
I pointed out to him a lot of people stuff their discontent instead of doing something about it. So much depends on outside influences and belief in what’s possible. There’s also the question of risk, stepping outside what’s familiar. Typically, if someone is going to answer what Joseph Campbell spoke of as a Calling, it’s after they’ve got more years on them, and the sacrifices have mounted up. I was speaking from experience.
“I think I was lucky to realize it at a young age. I put it all down to the traveling. At the beginning, the traveling wasn’t so deep. I wasn’t yet involved with Indigenous cultures. It still opened my eyes! When I came to Cusco the first time, I stayed in an orphanage volunteering for three months. I saw humanity, and it woke me up a little bit. The idea for Xapiri didn’t come at that point. I didn’t yet understand what I needed for fulfillment. It was a slow process. But I realized I couldn’t handle all the money and success back home.
“After the three months? I went back to England. Yeah, the story’s crazy!” With this last admission he produced a subdued bark, a commentary perhaps at the expense of his not-so-much younger self.
It’s seldom understood in the moment. But wandering is rarely aimless if we’re engaged, alert and open to possibility. A sorting process occurs beneath the surface, a recognition of what fits and what doesn’t. It takes putting ourselves into new, sometimes off the charts, experiences. In this way, we get hits over time, self-correcting so that when the full unveiling comes, it’s like we knew our passion all along. It’s no stranger to us. What at first may seem accidental, becomes the realization of personal destiny.
“My brother had relocated to Sweden. I went and spent the summer. I got back involved with the business in a different role with the idea I’d get more connected. But again…I didn’t. Yeah, I traveled again.
“This was a common theme. I was always traveling as an escape looking for something, I guess. It was on this travel when things began to click. I was in Venezuela and then Brazil where I had contact with the first Indigenous communities. I suddenly realized this is the work I wanted to do — to be involved with Indigenous people.
“At this point there were still no projects, no idea to work with the arts. Only later, I stumbled into this art gallery called CANOA in the town of Paraty. It was founded by Nina Taterka who was doing amazing work with over fifty ethnic groups in Brazil. A few months later I met her son Tui Anandi who became an important part of Xapiri from the beginning. He had all his experience having grown up surrounded by his mum’s work. Now Tui is a great friend, Xapiri partner and photographer for when we visit the communities.
“The moment I walked into Nina’s gallery, I knew I needed to be involved,” He nodded emphatically. “Somehow I persuaded her to listen to me. We had some meetings. The initial idea when meeting her was to show this Indigenous art to a European market. We made the shipments, sending the art work from Brazil to England…and that’s how Xapiri was born six years ago now.”
There’s an interesting thing that happens once the seeker finds life purpose. The traveler comes to rest in the comfort of self-knowledge. Seeking goes to the wayside, and they find solid ground, even if it’s invisible in the moment. Having sought outside the box, all manner of potentials will become apparent that heretofore were hidden. The more clarity existing within your intent, the more those elements will naturally come to fulfill it. Synchronicity becomes a common occurrence. It’s not that blocks don’t appear, but we recognize alternatives to skirt them, an important part of the learning process. In this initiation, a foundation is built.
I was curious how Jack gained entry into the Indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon. I knew he had some help initially from Nina when he was in Brazil. Beyond that, he would definitely enter foreign territory where some remote ethnic communities would have had little to no contact with Westerners. It could be sketchy to just show up — without invitation. Even with an invite, it was a fearless move. Jack had to harbor such strong intent that he was on the right track. At any rate, a lot of people want to do things but don’t have the how-to, especially given the unusual path he had chosen.
“I can give a few examples. The way these relationships start are always different with each community. You’re right. In the beginning, I had this connection with Nina in Brazil. She was the first person to introduce me to some communities. The first expedition we went on was to visit the Asurini people of the Xingu river six years ago with Nina and her photographer friend, Alice Kohler. It was because of their relationships we had the invitation to go in.
“Since then it’s been Xapiri — the team and me — creating the connections in many different ways. The Matsés are the most remote community we work with, as an example. For sure, they had very little contact with outsiders coming into their territory. A number attempt to get into their land but don’t succeed. Once they get to the military outpost on the border of their lands, they get no farther. You really need to have connections and invitations. How it happened with the Matsés was through a nonprofit called Acaté Amazon Conservation. They’ve been working with the Matsés for about ten years and have created many amazing projects with them.
“Acaté is a nonprofit that does super work. Their cofounder Christopher Herndon sent me an email at the beginning of Xapiri five years ago saying we’ve had some meetings with the Matsés women, and they want help selling their arts. Chris and I connected on our first conversation, and we agreed to begin with sending a few bracelets created by the Matsés women to Xapiri. That’s how the relationship started — very slowly. I think we had ten bracelets in the beginning. They started to sell. We asked for fifty bracelets, a hundred bracelets and so on. I would say over the first year that we were building this trust, with both Acaté and the Matsés, from repeat orders. Soon, it developed by asking Matsés men to make many lances and arrows, to keep it fair with the women.”
“We started to hear stories. There were still some elder women making ceramics in the remote villages. Slowly, more of their arts appeared, their baskets, bags and so on. On that trip we also made direct contact ourselves. It became this beautiful project where we were selling through Acaté. After a year when this trust had been established, we had the invitation to go visit the Matsés. It was from the Matsés leaders and the nonprofit. The first time we went in was three years ago. We started having a direct relationship with the Matsés creating media documenting how they live, telling the stories of their lands. With the Matsés, it happened slowly with the help of the nonprofit. Now I’d say we’re really close with the Matsés. We were there again in 2019. Every time we go, we present our work to different villages and communicate what we’re doing.
“With other communities, we’ve made contact through recommendations from friends. Tui and I have done long expeditions into the jungle. We’ve gone exploring. Three years ago, we went from Manaus in Brazil to Peru to the Colombian border to Pucallpa. This was a three-month trip where we stopped off and visited different communities and made contact with different nonprofits. We were working out which nonprofits we could partner with on the ground to help us. That’s how we made contact with the Shipibo in Pucallpa through the nonprofit Alianza Arkana. On that trip we made contacts ourselves with the Ticuna on the border with Colombia. Along with that, a lot is happening in communities near Cusco through direct contact and through friends we meet in the gallery.
“Puerto Maldonado, the capital of the Madre de Dios region, is considered the entrance into the southern Amazon jungle. In this region, you have the Yine. By visiting that city, we’ve had contact with some of the leaders and had invitations to some of the villages. It’s lots of trial and error. Lots of the connections we make never materialize. The communications are very difficult. Lots of times there are no phone signals. It’s really face-to-face relationships and building trust in person before anything develops. We try to make many relationships and a few stick. So now we’re working with ten different ethnics. That’s how it is.”
When lifework comes together bit by bit over time, especially when focused on the everyday process, there can be a tendency to take the journey for granted. I asked, “Do you ever look back and wonder how in the world you got here?“
“Of course. There are often these moments in Matsés land, and you’re spending the whole day in the canoe. These are the times you reflect. I look at Tui. It’s five years ago we were just dreaming. We were just following our passion, and now we’re doing this really important work. We have to pinch ourselves! It’s emotional these moments. It really is — all this hard work coming together. Spending time with the communities, this is what it’s all about. Back from these expeditions you feel like different people. We’re ready to put all this energy into the work back in Cusco and what we do day-to-day. Waiting for the next expedition and time with the Indigenous… It’s the cycle. It’s beautiful.”
I wondered about the effect Xapiri has had on the Indigenous peoples within their focal point.
“The sheer number of people we’re supporting now is well over one hundred artists. These artists are normally the only people bringing money into their families. I can’t tell you how many phone calls Xapiri gets from Indigenous people asking us for support. For instance, someone is asking for two hundred Peruvian soles for medication because a family member is sick. We send this money and know within a month they’ll send art as a return. There are these examples where we’re supporting these individuals who have no other option when they get sick or want to send their grandson to university. Without Xapiri’s platform, it really wouldn’t be possible. They call on Xapiri as the trusted people they know who will help. On a very simple level, we’re supporting many people now.
“What’s so important now is engaging the Indigenous youth with our work. It’s the grandmother making her art and selling. Then it’s the granddaughter seeing this, and she wants to know how to make the basket or the bracelet. She gets connected again to her culture and this can bring a sense of restored pride. If we can keep doing this — getting the young people engaged in the culture — that’s the biggest thing Xapiri can do is connect with the youth.
“It’s proving to be one of the hardest things. But when it’s working, this is one of the most important things. These traditions will continue…the art, language, medicinal plant knowledge. It’s all connected. If the Indigenous are strong and connected to their culture, they will continue these aspects. That’s presently one of Xapiri’s biggest missions. It’s for these pieces of wisdom to continue. If we can help support that…that’s our mission.”
One of the important aspects of finding our place in the world has to do with recognizing resources and undertaking subsequent strategies as a result. Frequently, people overlook the most preeminent resource of all. Acknowledging their own capabilities, whether innate or learned, creates a stronger foundation. It’s something to count on. Self-acknowledgment builds baseline confidence to move ahead — even in the dark days.
I wanted to explore this with Jack. “I love your story. Also, I recognize there’s something within you. You possess capacities that allow you to put things in place and be so successful. Starting out, even when you were back in England, everything worked like clockwork for you. I think that’s an important point because some people will stay in a job because it’s lucrative, and they’re able to do it. For you, that wasn’t enough. You’re adept at creating relationships as well.”
Jack considered the past. “I agree. One of my greatest strengths is in relationship-building and the small steps we’ve taken to get to this point. Those first years in England where Xapiri was born, that was the foundation. I read book after book on history and different Indigenous matters. You’ve got to make connections with different activists, nonprofits and anthropologists. That was the base, doing my research. Without that time, Xapiri never would have taken off in Cusco. Throughout these past years, there have been these careful steps. Very slowly, but building it in a careful and really deep way. Every relationship we make is sincere. It’s aimed to be super long-term and sustainable. It’s not something we’re doing for a few years. I know it’s long-term because it’s such a passion. That’s why I’m happy to move slowly and do it right. I know that if I keep taking these steps for ten, twenty, thirty years…we can do some amazing things.”
In such a way spiritual identity is developed. It’s more than a public face. Like Indigenous peoples who maintain their traditions, connections to their communities and ancestral lands, roots run deep. Everyday life is lived through deeply held beliefs. There’s no compartmentalization. Any task or direction is reinforced through sacred threads they hold as generative. One thing is woven into the other, creating wholeness.
That morning I introduced myself to Jack, there was a specific prompting I received in my early morning conversation with the young woman who suggested I meet him. Not knowing his story exactly, I was quite familiar on a personal level of the elements it might contain. I was curious as to what compelled Jack specifically to undertake this venture. It could even be considered a holy one. Such rites of passage always involve risk, unfamiliar territory, uncertainties and potential failure.
All who submit to the journey will have their own details within the elements just as Jack did. One thing is certain. If the intrepid explorer follows their intent all the way through to its true and logical destination, they will experience a quickening. It will allow them to find — not merely footing — but grounding within their own finely tuned home in the world.
An Intimate Pilgrimage from the Highlands to the Lowlands
In December, I was honored with a formal invitation from the traditional Matsigenka village of Shipetiara, located in the shoulder area of the Manu Biosphere of Peru, to bring a group for an immersion experience. I have opened a spiritual travel program in September 2021 and am now taking registrations.
It is a privilege to sponsor this special program focusing on sacred traditions linking the peoples of the Andes and the rainforest. A portion of tuition is tax-deductible supporting the Xapiri Matsigenka Storytelling Project, and sponsoring a small group of Q’ero paq’os traveling with us.
This should be considered a pilgrimage of respect for sharing traditions and experiencing nature. Intrepid travelers understanding this honor and willing to take the COVID-19 vaccination to protect these Indigenous people, who have little to no contact with outsiders, are welcome.
This program is co-sponsored by Kenosis and Kenosis Spirit Keepers, the nonprofit arm of Kenosis. I founded both, the former in 1999 and latter in 2007, and have been sponsoring spiritual travel programs for more than 20 years.
Another star has appeared in the night sky. Xavier Quijas Yxayotl — composer, master musician, spiritual guide, healer, artist, visionary, resurrector of the ancient ways, life-giver, steward of Mother Earth, friend, lover of life and all beings — has passed. And we have experienced an incredible loss at his departure.
We can be thankful that he leaves a substantial legacy in the way of ancient Mesoamerican music and instruments. He rescued this rich heritage from annihilation, the colonizers having sought to destroy it. Xavier led the way and others then stood on his shoulders. He’s globally acclaimed. Beyond this enormous accomplishment, there is the man. I’m not sure I’ve ever known a man more gentle, kind, generous and — despite his renown — humble.
I first met Xavier in September 2013 when we, Kenosis Spirit Keepers, invited him to Phoenix to share his music, Huichol/Azteca traditions and ceremony. I was so taken by how, through his music, he led us into other worlds and realms entirely. I grew excited when he mentioned a bit of his life’s history to the point that, a couple of months later, he agreed to relay it to me in detail, allowing me to document it. In 2014, Still Point Arts Quarterly, a literary arts journal, accepted Beyond the Dark as a feature in their Fall 2015 issue.
Over the ensuing years, Xavier lent support of his music and presence to other of our Spirit Keepers Series weekends, and in January 2018 he was our invited guest on the Maya spiritual travel program in the highlands and lowlands of Chiapas, Mexico. It was my honor and privilege to know this compassionate spirit…who grew through a difficult childhood, separated from his ancestral traditions…who heard the calling of his ancestors…maintained his sensitivities throughout…to give his gifts to the world. He remains a role model for all time.
To read Xavier’s soulful life story, Beyond the Dark, in its entirety, go here. You’ll discover how he returned to the Huichol roots denied him as a child, and went on to resurrect ancient instruments lost to time through visitations from his ancestors.
I’m going to provide some background before launching into my update for anyone reading of this undertaking for the first time. Kenosis Spirit Keepers, the nonprofit I founded in 2007, began to fundraise back in early April to provide emergency COVID-19 relief for the Hatun Q’ero village of Ccochamocco, where my close relationships have developed since the mid-90s. I love these people. The village is quite isolated at 14,500’ high in the Peruvian Andes, and Indigenous lands in the Cusco Region had been closed by the Peruvian government.
Who thought the pandemic would last for so long and intensify? The timeline kept slipping again and again as to when quarantines would end in the Cusco Region and Indigenous lands would reopen. We’d been ready since June to make the food delivery. But it was not to be. All I could think of was how their food supplies must be dwindling away.
Some have been cavalier about the Q’eros’ predicament saying they’ve survived for a thousand-plus years that way. Sorry. I can’t accept the image that kept playing in my mind of my godson, his and other families, children and elders being hungry, only having potatoes to eat and then those diminishing. That’s exactly what happened. By October when lands finally opened and it became possible to travel into the high mountain villages, potatoes had been their sole dietary choice for quite a while. I’m thankful they at least had that.
See the full report of our effort for Ccochamocco, plus the Hopi villages of Moenkopi and Shungopavi in northern Arizona. Scroll down to the portion on Q’eros after Hopi.
Now on to happy news…
First, I want to express great gratitude for all the donors over these months. Because of you, we had $7000 to pay for food and expenses to get the goods up to the waiting villagers. This kind of money goes a very long way in Peru, as you’ll discover in a moment.
Second, I really want to recognize my Q’ero liaison Santos Machacca Apaza. A lot of times, those people who quietly operate in the background but who do all the legwork to get things done—make things actually happen—are taken for granted. I don’t. As soon as lands reopened, Santos made the long trip from Cusco to Ccochamocco to consult with the community on what they needed, then went to a number of merchants in Cusco to secure supplies and got the best price. Very time consuming, along with hiring a large truck, helpers and everything else, including keeping me apprised. Clearly, if he wasn’t so willing and trustworthy, we couldn’t have gotten this done.
It was a 3-day operation from first load to delivery into the hands of the families—not counting all the prep beforehand. Santos documented it all with photos and videos. Here are some.
This first video is the only one with English. The rest are in the Q’ero dialect with a few words of Spanish sprinkled in periodically. Santos narrates, expressing the gratitude of our Q’ero friends, telling us 54 families will be fed now for months as a result of what they’ve received, visible in this wide circle before each family and more to the far side of the video pan. He thanks all donors and, if you listen closely, at the last pass through the circle you can hear some of them calling out in thanks to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and Apu Wamanlipa, the sacred mountain that watches over Ccochamocco.
This next video is a little wonky but I wanted to share it. This is Juan Machacca Paucar, the current president of Ccochamocco, a responsibility that rotates every year or so. He wants to show us all the food each family received: rice, flour, sugar, cooking oil, quinoa, tuna, soups, pasta, lentils, oatmeal, condensed milk, salt, soap and a few other things I can’t identify.
Just as when we come together for despacho ceremony, Q’ero friends place importance on standing, speaking sincere words of welcome and letting us know how they hold us in their hearts. First, you see Modesto Machacca Apaza, father to Miguel Angel, my godson. Next is Carmina Zamata Machacca, Miguel Angel’s maternal grandmother, who you can glimpse hovering behind the stacked food. (So big now at 14!)
Finally, you see some Q’ero friends holding a banner. When Santos asked me to send a photo file of the Kenosis Spirit Keepers business card, I had no idea he had this purpose in mind. Plus, it appears he located an old image of me, probably lifted from Facebook. Frankly, I was a bit embarrassed when I saw this. I tend to operate beneath the radar. But I know how much receiving these goods means to them, and this is their way of making a visual representation of their appreciation.
If anything, I wish we’d been able to show a gallery of donors who made all of this possible, for both Q’ero and Hopi. It would be crammed full front and back. Kenosis Spirit Keepers is merely the vehicle through which love flows from like-hearted people who assist us in fulfilling our mission to help sustain these Indigenous peoples who hold intent to keep their traditions alive.
I’ve come late to Linda Hogan’s writing. I’ve now read two of her books – Solar Storms and People of the Whale – and in the middle of a third – Mean Spirit. I can’t help but know what is apparent. The message they hold is for all time, but especially now when we’re called upon to pay attention and determine how we shall live. We are called upon to be distinctly cognizant that what we do matters.
The common theme has to do with the clash of cultures. One honors the Earth, all ways of life, and practices a sacred sense of reciprocity. The other is intensely focused on accumulation that can’t be satiated and complete disregard of all life…for the benefit of a few. One is life-giving. One is depleting. There’s no subtlety and here no overlap. It’s the Great Divide for purpose: Pay attention. Heal.
The books involve Indigenous characters who experienced separation from traditional ways of living to varying degrees, and those who remain in touch. Through outside western influences, they’ve had their birthright nearly or completely destroyed. Through manipulations, they’ve borne murder, blurring of identity and loss of homeland. Hogan points so well to the insidiousness of these shenanigans that caused people to fall away from their True North over time, almost without noticing.
What I so appreciate about Hogan’s writings is her willingness to dive deeply and excavate struggle, confusion and collapse at the individual and communal level. But equally she leads the search for a way out that also involves struggle and confusion. But the shift involves direction aimed toward – and does produce – a return.
In People of the Whale, certain sentences popped out to me over the course of the novel that, just in these, told the whole story.
…They do not feel the spirits that once lived in the fogs and clouds around them. The alive world is unfelt. They feel abandoned...
…For every inch of skin, there is memory...
…He was waiting for something to open, but it wasn’t the door...
…they are answers to questions not yet even asked...
…he hears the sound of birds and it is as if behind the human world something else is taking place...
…There is just a breeze of something living, like the breath of the universe...
…Then he sings an old whale song he has never learned...
…Tradition had been waiting their return.
It’s of Mythic stature and, of course, this is what we now engage.
Nearly twenty years ago, I began writing my second book Standing Stark: The Willingness to Engage. It was a time of exhilarating change and deep insights for me, rampant with significant leaps of faith, without any visible safety net, that brought me to where I am today. I was presented with another fork in the road as there had been others along the way. Who knows where I’d be if I’d remained on the beaten path? While those personal choices dismantled much of my old foundation, they were proactive in constituting another, likely waiting for the right time to emerge.
Here we are now, as a Collective, with something so major thrust upon us, something so new that little can be predicted, safety net unknown or when it may settle down. It’s torn apart our systemic status quo and exposed what was kept under wraps. Upheaval. The measure of response at both an individual and macro level will necessarily bring revolution and evolution, or (my belief) we wouldn’t have been presented with it. Its time was past due.
I’ve had plenty of time to muse about things over these months in ways I wouldn’t have had before, being so much on the move. Being still has always worked its magic on me.
With that, I began to consider the words that came through me all those years ago. They flowed out of me to become the prologue, setting the stage for Standing Stark. Presently, we are in the time of monsoons, the same period I wrote then, with barely a drop of relief, hoping for the rains to come. Yet they’ll come in their own time or not at all. We have no control over the movements of nature. But, as with any time, we do have control over our own responses and sensibilities.
We have heavy rains in Arizona. They normally start in July and go through August. We call the rains monsoons, which may be hard to imagine for those who have not yet experienced the rhythms of the high desert. Sometimes, though, we have a drought year and the rains start later. The tall pines become over-thirsty, beyond being parched. In those times, all of us develop expectancy — trees, plants, animals and humans alike. We are all in it together after all.
But invariably the monsoons come, often with violent storms. Jagged lightning dazzles the sky and thunder cracks so loudly it can bring us up sharply if we’re not attuned. In a primal way, we are all more susceptible during periods of scarcity.
Wandering in the forest later, we can see the aftermath. In a sea of towering ponderosas, or their kin, there are those who stand apart. Not frequently, but infrequently, there will be those who are now shed of their needles, their skins laid open by the snaking of a lightning strike. Standing stark, they appear to be dead. They aren’t. When I go and put my forehead against their trunks, I feel the elemental filaments that have startled another kind of consciousness within them. Still dwelling in their habitat, they are even more alive than before. They draw our attention — our fascination.
The fire that discharged their coverings often may move to some of the surrounding brush and trees, those in close proximity. Sometimes it may travel from a tree to ignite nearly the entire forest. But before that could happen it was first necessary for that tree to be burned of its own covering before the fire that began with that One could affect its brethren…
The lightning strike oftentimes comes suddenly, a bolt unexpected. But there may well be a stirring before the charge and those who have grown the tallest stand most ready to receive…
In order to be ready, we do for ourselves what we know to do as best we can. Yet, there must be no striving. The striving of the material world has no place in this transmission. We need only send our willingness up as a prayer and merely stand waiting. This is for those souls who hold themselves available — to be struck.
— In the time of monsoons
For a few years, prior to a huge personal fork in the road in 1992, I worked as an internal consultant for the US government. (Those who know me find my long stint in civil service hard to believe. Now, so do I.) I was one of several in my small office trained to seed organizational development by focusing on leadership strategies, team building, conflict resolution and the like. The approach most meaningful to me was a holistic one. With intact work teams, we used the Meyer-Briggs Type Indicator or experiential activities that pointed to similar outcomes: the varied styles and capabilities of each individual made a stronger, more creative team. Everyone brings something to the table to contribute. Most of the time, I felt like I was banging my head against a stone wall. It was a challenge to get most of those managers to think beyond protecting their own turf and short-term thinking.
When that happened, we had another trick to pull out of our back pockets: WIIFM (pronounced whiff-um). When wanting them to consider a more holistic, visionary style, we’d guide them to consider, what’s in it for me? Back then I was fresh-faced and hopeful. Now, I see asking that question likely served to entrench rigid individualism rather than open a pathway toward higher values on Maslow’s pyramid and farseeing. It wasn’t long before all came to a head for me. I simply couldn’t do it anymore and cut those ties.
A friend recently said, we’ll all find something to justify our beliefs and actions. Of course, we do. That’s true no matter where you fall in the current deluge that assaults our moral compass or however else you make decisions.
Shortly after leaving disillusionment behind, I was first introduced to traditional Indigenous ways: seventh generation decision-making, sacred reciprocity and actions intent on the well-being of the planet and all beings. This is the world where I choose to dwell, one whose time is long overdue and endangered. In practicing stillness, these are some of the memories and metaphors that have guided my considerations over the last months.
Over the last five years, I’ve been periodically working with Don Alberto Manquierapa — Huachipaeri-Matsigenka spiritual leader, master of plant medicines—bringing groups to learn from his teachings of the jungle. I’ve consistently said Don Alberto carries the rainforest in his soul. In November 2019, we were with him again in the high jungle of the Manu Biosphere in Peru. For the first time, he spoke at length of the wise men of the Matsigenka (also spelled Machiguenga) and how they were marriedto Nature but never elaborated directly what that meant.
A few months later I was having a conversation with Jack Wheeler of Xapiri, whose relationships extend to the Matsigenka and ten other Indigenous peoples of the Amazon. He suggested I read The Storyteller by Mario Vargas Llosa to see what I could glean.
I was rewarded in the first chapter when a character called Mascarita, in talking to the narrator, spoke of a wise man then saying, “I’m calling him a witch doctor so you know what I’m talking about.” He also used medicine man and shaman as a stand-in. Additionally, I learned that, while the Matsigenka may practice polygamy, it appears that a wise man sets himself apart from the villages, living in the jungle, or on a riverbank, even more simply than others, distinctly in solitude, communing with Nature.
Much of the book is interspersed with creation stories, tales of survival and beliefs. We know when a story ends because it’s punctuated with, “That, anyway, is what I’ve learned.” That said always before launching into the next monologue. Clearly the discourse is relayed to an audience but not clearly who or even the identity of the one relaying…until much later. Many peoples only know of themselves, their origins and how they are to exist and survive through the keeping of oral histories taken on by a living depository. That person has a special role and designation: Storyteller.
The Matsigenka are peaceful people who hold their world together by walking, being nomadic…nonviolent men who walk. But what happens when Viracochas* begin to intrude and impact the lands always known to them…introduce money and other foreign ways…when missionaries move into their villages? When…”The most important thing to them was serenity…Any sort of emotional upheaval had to be controlled, for there is a fatal correspondence between the spirit of man and the spirits of Nature, and any violent disturbance in the former causes some catastrophe in the latter.”
In such a case, maybe there’s finally a time when only a Storyteller can tell the Matsigenka who they are and where they’ve been.
This may be a familiar tragic tale containing elements we’ve heard all too many times before, but it’s also a mystery. The Peruvian narrator, whose name is never uttered, goes into a small gallery, while in Florence on vacation, and is electrified by what he sees in a particular photograph in the exhibition. And what of Mascarita who appears to have a significant role in the book but then simply disappears without a trace…never to be heard from again?
The Storyteller is a complex novel. For me, it was equally disturbing as it was compelling. I believe Llosa meant it to be so. I’ve promised myself that, in the not-too-distant future, I will reread it, thus allowing its even deeper structure to become apparent.
This book was first published in 1989 and still widely available. I bought my own copy. It’s well underlined.
*I found it curious that the name Viracocha, commonly known as the Inka and pre-Inka creator deity, is used with a capital “V” in The Storyteller to identify outsiders, particularly foreigners having marked consequences on the Matsigenka way of life.
This is a 7th and final update (now as of August 20) to our original announcement on April 4 sent through our newsletter and on Facebook. It contains our progress from April until the formal close of this drive. Updates are in blue below within our original announcement.
We have so much gratitude for all the support we’ve experienced in the way of funders, mask-makers, helpers, connectors and emotional bolstering in our great desire to serve these Indigenous peoples. Clearly, we could not fulfill our mission without you. You are life-givers. View our tribute.
Extension of Emergency Relief Drive through August 8 specifically to address food insecurities. Note: We will continue to forward funds for food purchase and delivery to Second Mesa when the donation notation designates this emergency program.
We have all been touched by the pandemic in one way or another. The Indigenous peoples we work with are also undergoing a state of emergency. In some ways, they are even more at risk due to their isolated locations with little access to food or protective equipment, and little to no medical care should they need it.
We are opening an emergency relief fundraising campaign now formally completed August 8 to do everything we can to help support them in this difficult time that is very real globally. We are specifically focusing on the Hopi and Q’ero people we work with due to our direct relationship. Hence, we have the most control over the needed funds and supplies reaching them.
Please see the information below given to us personally after being contacted for help.
To donate by PayPal or credit card, please go here. To donate by check or money order: Please make the check or money order out to Kenosis Spirit Keepers. Mail to Kenosis Spirit Keepers, PO Box 10441, Prescott, AZ 86304. In making your donation, indicate Hopi and/or Q’ero. If both are indicated, we will split equally unless you designate otherwise.
The full amount of your donation we receive goes directly to those in need.
Help for the Sacred Guardians of the World
Hopi Village of Shungopavi: Shungopavi is located on Second Mesa in northern Arizona. Mike Weddle, who is on the board of KSK, and I have had discussions with leadership members as to the situation and needs. The village has been closed. Non-residents are not allowed to enter. However, State Route 264 runs through the middle of the village. Hopi residents must stay at home in order to be safe. There are three small stores. Any goods delivered have been immediately emptied again. Leadership has requested help to buy non-perishable food supplies, water and PPE (disinfectants, gloves, and masks) so they can allocate them to their people. They have confirmed they have a way to have these things delivered.
What we, Kenosis Spirit Keepers, have been able to do so far: On April 2, a check for $1000 was mailed to the Community Service Administrator (CSA) on Shungopavi to begin purchase of needed items. We sent a check for $2500 on April 13. From additional donations through this fundraiser, we mailed a 4th donation of $1170 on May 13. Your donations will be sent directly to the CSA to administer so they may fulfill their needs and manage allocation.
The CSA has advised they are first seeking PPE to protect their people, 265 homes. They’ve been unable to find a source within the US and had to resort to ordering from an overseas source. They are due to receive this shipment costing $12,000 on April 20. Once they meet this need, they will focus on food supplies.
Food insecurities currently exist within Shungopavi and surrounding areas. First, it has come to our attention that a number of families and elders received inadequate food distributions. Second, residents have little to no income to purchase food due to loss of tourism during this pandemic. The village will remain in lockdown until the end of July. We are now partnering with Filmer Kewanyama and Wen McBrain Vansandt, both from Shungopavi, to ensure food boxes are delivered directly into the hands of those residents who need it most. We were able to purchase food and deliver to a total of 20 food boxes to elders and families on June 12 and July 11 . We will continue this effort through August 8 entirely dependent on donor generosity.
Additionally, masks from Ohio mask-making teams – Pamela Seel Borgerding, liaison – have been mailed to our Shungopavi liaison for direct distribution. Between June 17 and July 17, 236 adult’s and children’s masks have made it into the hands of Shungopavi residents this way.
Between July 17 and August 15, we shipped 300 masks to Second Mesa donated by private mask-makers, Democratic Women of Prescott and Prescott Indivisible. We were also able to forward funds to Wen, our Hopi liaison, to purchase perishable goods and deliver to 8 households with elders and single parent families.
Original funding goal for Shungopavi: $6000
Added total funding to include support for food insecuties: $9000
Total funding support to Shungopavi as of August 20: $8407
Total in-kind donations of masks: Priceless
Hopi Village of Lower Moencopi: Lower Moencopi is the traditional village located down the hill from Upper Moencopi. Both villages are across the street from the Navajo town of Tuba City. Across the Navajo Nation, they have been hard hit. The lower village is the home to many elders, shut-ins and some families. A board member well known to me reached out for emergency relief. They are doing their best to keep their people home and safe. Food boxes provided to the lower village from another relief organization fell vastly short. Only 7 of 40 elders received food.
What we, Kenosis Spirit Keepers, have been able to do thus far: On April 10 a check for $1000 was mailed to the Board of Lower Moencopi to fulfill the immediate need to cover food for these elders, accomplished through Shamrock Foods. These funds came directly from the donation portion of tuitions from our delayed Spiritual Travel Program to Hopi from March, and an additional private donation.
We asked the Lower Moencopi board to identify any other near-term or immediate needs for their 87 homes, which includes an outlying area. Based on their updated need for additional food, disinfectant and protective equipment, they’ve requested an additional $1000. On April 20 a purchase of 300 masks was made from donations received and sent overnight delivery. These masks have been distributed to the village. On April 28, we were also able to purchase 24 8-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer with hand delivery to Moencopi for May 1.
Volunteers in my home area of Prescott, AZ and others in CA, OH and OR have truly stepped up support. To date, they have provided or sewn over 600 adult’s and children’s masks, 15 face shields and purchased hand sanitizer. An additional 500 masks were purchased and provided. Note: These are being distributed to Upper and Lower Moencopi. Once those needs are met for masks, any other masks sent will be shared with underserved Hopi villages.
The following is a primer on Lower Moencopi provided by Carrie Joseph of their Board of Directors.
Only 5% of homes have direct access (in-house) to plumbing and electricity in the Village of Moencopi. The majority rely on the spring source and three water facets located in the village for water. There is a central “bathouse” that includes six bathroom stalls and shower units that is shared among approximately seven families. One of the six is a handicap stall. For electricity, families rely on generators and propane fuel to light gas lamps. This type of living has always been a part of who we are; however, this virus is making us question what considerations will need to be made for the health of the community in the future. We continue to pray that our village community will continue to remain unharmed; however, with the daily increase in cases in our neighboring Navajo community we are taking necessary precautionary measures to protect our people. This includes closing our village to non-residents and hiring 24-hour security to patrol the village area to regulate village traffic and unnecessary visitation from non-village residents.
Funding goal for Lower Moencopi: $2000
Total funding support to Lower Moencopi as of May 14: $2300
Total in-kind donations of masks and other PPE: Priceless
Help for the Keepers of the Ancient Knowledge…the Children of Inkari
Hatun Q’ero of Peru: The remote village of Ccochamocco is located at 14,500 feet in the
high Andes. They live in stone huts with dirt floors. No electricity or running water.
I have been in contact with Santos Machacca, my Q’ero liaison who lives in Cusco. I have also consulted with Jack Wheeler of Xapiri located in Cusco. This is the situation…There is a strict quarantine nationwide until Apr 12, but expected to be extended. People in Cusco are allowed out until 6 PM to buy food. Military and police in the streets are controlling movement. There is no shortage of food in Cusco city at the moment. But there are collections of money to help feed the poorest. Indigenous lands are closed throughout Peru at least until the end of June. The Peruvian government did this quickly. There are info graphics going around the Indigenous communities explaining the situation. No Q’ero are known to have the corona virus at this writing.
While there is currently no shortage of food or supplies in Cusco, our Q’ero friends living in Cusco largely exist through tourism. There is none. The Q’eros of Ccochamocco are subsistence farmers living at survival level. Their crop is mostly potatoes. What limited monies they normally have comes through selling of their weavings, the same as those Q’eros living in Cusco.Again, there is no current tourism. There are 43 homes in the village.
This is what we, Kenosis Spirit Keepers, have been able to do so far: On April 1, a Western Union transfer of $500 was sent to Santos to divide equally among the Hatun Q’ero weavers 11 cooperative members living in Cusco to be spent on food. This, of course, is not nearly enough.
Immediately upon the opening of Indigenous lands again in Peru, now projected for end of August, we will organize purchase and transport of food and protective supplies up to Ccochamocco with the help of Santos and community leaders in the village. This is a measure we’ve accomplished successfully in the past in 2013 and 2015 under emergency conditions.
There is an average of 7 people living in each of the 43 tiny rock huts in Ccochamocco. Our hope is to raise enough funds to cover the 7-hour truck transport and a minimum of $100 per household worth of food.
I have confirmed there is no aid from the Peruvian government going to Ccochamocco. Nor are any of the isolated Indigenous peoples receiving any help by their government whatsoever. We ask your help to fulfill a much needed requirement for Ccochamocco: food.
As of the end of May we received word that food availability in Cusco has decreased and increased exponentially in price. We sent an additional $500 to help feed the Hatun Q’ero weavers living between Cusco and their villages. They are unable to get to their crops at their village fields due to the close of Indigenous lands, and have very limited income to buy food in Cusco. An additional $500 was sent on August 10 to the Q’ero weavers living in Cusco due to food insecurities.
We are currently awaiting word from the Q’ero village of Ccochamocco that they are ready to receive transfer of food supplies.
Total additional donations raised as of May 20: $7500
Kenosis Spirit Keepers is a grassroots, volunteer-run 501(c)3 nonprofit. We receive no grants but depend on your private donations and funds coming through the spiritual travel programs we co-sponsor with Kenosis, our mother organization, to fulfill our mission. Your gracious donation is recognized as a charitable contribution by the State of Arizona, and by the US Internal Revenue Service under Section 501(c)(3). The Kenosis Spirit Keepers, Inc. Federal Identification Number is 71-1038685.
Thanking you in advance for your generosity, compassion and support toward keeping Indigenous traditions alive. Please share this invitation and emergency appeal widely with friends and family. Please get in touch: 928-778-1058 or email@example.com with questions.
Imagine a people whose origins were once lost to time but who are now thought to have come from northwest India…who—in their own region—endured plunder, massacre and enslavement over 500 years and beyond at the hands of foreign rulers. The result finally creating a diaspora, spread over the world, in search of home…over 1500 years to present day.
When doors were shut to them, the road and their culture endured. It was a way of life. They were so close knit—for mere survival—that, for many of their present-day groups, it’s still a taboo to associate with outsiders except for livelihood…when they themselves are considered so. They’re communal, strict about their traditions and syncretic religion. They’re known for passionate song, music and dance, having influenced jazz, flamenco, and even classical music. They are mostly entertainers, artisans, laborers and trades people. Along with the Jewish people, they were the first target for annihilation by the Nazis, and their women underwent forced sterilization. Despite this, their culture maintains the heady expression of freedom, along with protection of their own.
For the rest of the world, they largely retain an air of mystique and are reviled or barely tolerated. Objects of fear. After all, they live outside the mainstream. They’re different. How can “other” be good?
Their names for themselves vary depending on country—Romanichal (England), Romansæl (Norway and Denmark), Sinti (Germanic countries), Manush (France), Kalo (Spain, Wales and Finland)—or clans—the Kalderash, Machvaya, Boyash, Lovari and others.
The Romani or Roma people are known to non-Roma by a number of names depending where they are: gitans, ciganos, zingari,gíftoi and others, along with the derogatory term gypsy.
Dispersed as the Roma are, in late May, from great distances, they stream into a diminutive French town in the Camargue on the Mediterranean Sea. In a massive gathering, they come to venerate, celebrate and reunite through the passions of devotion, music and processional.
For it is here the three Marys, Sarah—and some say—Lazarus and Maximin landed safely on the shores of Gaul in their tiny boat, site of the present-day Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. To the Roma she is known as Sara-la-Kali, Sara the Black, their patron saint, an adolescent Egyptian maid who accompanied the Marys. To others, Saint Sarah is the daughter of The Magdalene and Jesus.
And we will be there…women on pilgrimage of spiritual travel…sourcing the ways of love and light. We will be there for the music, dance, making our own prayers as we witness Sara-la-Kali…Saint Sarah in her glorious vestments carried from the church on the shoulders of the Roma, accompanied by the famous Camargue white horses, into the sea.
In Latcho Drom—meaning Safe Journey—you can catch a glimpse of this passion toward the end. Latcho Drom is a 1993 documentary about the Roma by filmmaker Tony Gatlif, himself Roma. This film is a cinematographic masterpiece telling the story of a people through song, dance, music and community. It subliminally tracks their geographic diaspora until you finally realize the whole by the end of the film.
This version of the documentary includes sporadic English subtitles of lyrics, just enough to emphasize the beauty and—later—the poignancy of the scenes.
In one with exuberant music and celebration that continues late into the night until the fire has burned out, a man sings and gestures first to a woman in their circle and then to the moon…
…I have placed my bed in a delicious spot. How can I sleep without you?
…In the grounds of my coffee cup, I see your image…It drives me mad…
And much later in scenes toward the end…
…We are cursed to wander all our lives…Deliver us from our trials…We fled from hate…No one will ever change our way of life…Me? I am a black bird who has taken flight…
Latcho Drom may be viewed in its entirety streaming online for free. This is a haunting, inspirational depiction of a beleaguered people with a rich heritage not widely known. Highly recommend. 1 hour, 38 minutes.
The Lifepath Dialogues offer an invitation toward embodiment of all that is life-affirming and the deeper meaning of sustainability. Themes are drawn from books "Calling Our Spirits Home" and "Standing Stark" and 20+ years as a conscious living mentor leading spiritual travel journeys with Indigenous Wisdom Keepers serving their communities, group and individual programs. Carla specializes in working with people who seek to live through their deeply held values. For more info see the “About” tab. The author may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow this blog by becoming a fan on the Kenosis Facebook page.
The Lifepath Dialogues Gatherings
Topics here are meant to open conversations and self-reflection. For more information, go to the "About" page.