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I just returned from two weeks in Peru, where my friend Dennis and I trekked up to 16,000 feet in the Andes and stayed in a small village with the people of the Q’eros as part of my research for an upcoming book Sacred Medicine. What I gleaned from the trip was not what I expected. I didn’t come home with a “10 Things I Learned From the Shamans of Peru” list, though perhaps that will come in time. What I gained was something far more profound and much more difficult to translate into words.

I found it almost laughably ironic that I am about to teach a free teleclass with my friend and mentor Martha Beck called “An Invitation To Peace.” (Register here to receive a copy of the recording.) This idea was born of a conversation between Martha and I, when we were sensing into the busyness and frenetic energy of modern life, noting the social isolation, reading the collective feelings of disconnection, anxiety, and depression that plague our culture, and dreaming into being a mass awakening of consciousness and infusion of healing peace. Martha and I could sense that, on some other plane, in some cosmic dimension, this collective peace had already been achieved, and we wanted to help people remember what already belongs to us, the peace we can experience when we return to the true home of our spiritual essence. This was our intention, and when Martha and I felt into the meditative peace we wanted to create on this teleclass, we both dropped in to a sort of trance that felt very deep and connected and effortless and yummy.

And then I went to visit Q’eros, and I recognized instantly that the sense of peace Martha and I were dreaming into being is already RIGHT THERE in this village in the Andes. I could feel it the minute I stepped off the horse that deposited me into the center of the quiet village. What was it I was sensing? Where did this vibration of pure peace originate from, and why did it feel simultaneously so familiar and so foreign? What could we learn from them, and how could we implement it in a way that might bring this kind of peace to the people of our culture? I just kept thinking of the movie When Harry Met Sally, when filmmaker Rob Reiner’s mother looks at Sally having a fake orgasm in the restaurant and says, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Whatever these people of the Q’eros were having, I wanted more . . .

What Robs Us of Peace?

I found myself musing about what takes us away from our natural state of peace. Surely, peace is how we’re meant to live. It’s not supposed to be something we only access during our daily twenty minutes of meditation. It’s meant to be a steady state of stillness, ease, intimacy with others, alignment with our Inner Pilot Light, and spiritual connection with Nature and the Divine. And yet, why is inner (and outer) peace so rare in our culture? What robs us of this peace?

Is it our busyness? Is it our constant quest for more and more stimulation, more realization of our many burning desires, more possessions/fame/power/money/sex/love/adventure/fun/ambition? Is it our attachment to getting what we want and avoiding what we don’t want? If so, how might we change our worldview so that our constant striving for what we desire and resistance to what we fear doesn’t rob us of our natural peace?

Maybe it’s not our striving and resistance that separates us from peace. Maybe it’s a mental health issue. When I asked the Q’eros people if anyone in their village struggled with depression or anxiety, they didn’t quite understand what I was asking. So I gave them an example.

How Loss Can Separate Us From Peace

While I was there, a woman went into labor. I’m trained as an OB/GYN, so I asked if I could help her, but they told me Q’eros women don’t even get assistance from a midwife. They deliver their own babies, by themselves, in their huts. I said I understood.

The next morning, I heard the sad news that the baby was stillborn. So I asked them—what about this woman? She just tragically lost her baby. Might she get depressed? They still looked confused. No, they said. The community will hold a ceremony for her. She will have the opportunity to cry and grieve. She will be held by those who love her. She will not have to bear her loss alone. Stillbirths happen. They just accept such things. Loss is inevitable. It’s part of life.

I told them that in the US, when someone loses a child, they often get so depressed that they become suicidal. They didn’t understand such a word. What was suicide? So I explained. They said nobody in Q’eros had every killed themselves. But they knew of another woman—a Q’eros woman who left the village and moved into the slums of Cusco. In the ghetto, she had no village. She had no money. Her children had nothing to eat. She lost her sense of purpose. She became very sad and lonely, and one day, they found her dead, surrounded by her children. She had killed herself.

What Causes Depression & Anxiety?

It got me thinking. Have we created a culture that feeds mental illness? Medical school teaches us that depression is a chemical imbalance, a deficiency of serotonin, something to be treated with drugs. But if this is the case, why don’t the people of Q’eros experience it at the same high rate Americans do? Is our culture at least partially responsible for the prevalence of depression and anxiety in our people?

Perhaps we get seduced by the material comforts of modern society. Surely, we have much the Q’eros don’t—electricity, hot water, flushing toilets, iPhones, computers, mattresses, big houses, a vast variety of foods we don’t have to grow ourselves, access to modern medicine that might have saved that stillborn baby.

And yet, while they lack much of what we have, these high vibrational light beings radiate a joy I can’t explain. They have much less yet they seem much happier than we are. The children spent one whole ebulliently joyful day just flying kites they made out of plastic bags and pieces of found wood. Joy is right at their fingertips all the time, even in the face of the kind of loss and uncertainty that might leave us reeling. They seem to lean on each other when tragedies occur, heal their hearts, call upon Pachamama (Mother Earth) and the apus (the mountains) and return to a state of joy much more quickly than we do.

A Return to Peace

I’m not trying to romanticize a culture that is filled with harsh reality. I’m not suggesting we all move up to 16,000 feet in the Andes and live in tiny stone huts heated by fires with no ventilation. I’m not implying that we should ditch modern medicine in lieu of shamanic kinds of spiritual healing or plant medicines. And I’m certainly not dismissing the pain that comes with losing a baby or dealing with depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts.

But the Q’eros shamans tell me that it’s possible to dream into being a new way of living in the world, where peace is our steady state and we can inhabit it anytime, even if our worlds are falling apart. As I wrote about here, I’m in the middle of a divorce right now, so it’s tempting to allow myself to get hooked into my own resistance to what is. Yet peace doesn’t live in resistance; it inhabits a state of acceptance of what is, even if what’s happening isn’t what you want. I keep having to remind myself that peace is right there, mine to experience every minute of every day. The only thing that keeps me from peace is my own resistance to the present moment. When I live right here, right now, as the Q’eros do, peace is always there with me—and it’s there with you too.

What I experienced in my time with the Q’eros was a break from modern culture, where we tend to seek comfort at all costs, avoid discomfort at any price, and resist what is if it’s not what we desire. What I found in the space between this worldview was an experience of peace far greater than I could have imagined. In modern culture, I sense that we have lost something precious—that sense of connection to something Greater Than Ourselves, a feeling of belonging, a shared purpose that moves beyond survival and into the sheer celebration of life. I believe we can reclaim this. It’s not too late . . .

If you want to join those of us committed to bringing peace back to modern culture, please bring your intention and your presence to the free teleclass Martha and I are teaching—An Invitation To Peace. (Register here and please invite anyone who shares this intention with the rest of us.)

Together, we can dream this into being. I know it’s possible . . .

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8 Comments

  1. disqus_s2OC4w6Yxv

    It’s not about what you have, it’s about who you are. I think the reason why many of those in the modern world suffer from depression, anxiety, etc is because of the premise of modern society. It’s “everything is outside of me”. This can, of course, make you feel powerless, make you belittle your own emotions because you don’t see the importance of tending to your inner world too. This can make you look for happiness, love and peace outside of yourself, depending on other people and things for it, when it’s truly within you. I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting money, or fun, or whatever. These things tend to get a bad rep, but it’s what you ‘bring’ to them that makes all the difference. If someone wants money, fame, sex, etc to fill some void (in this case they’re ‘bringing’ a feeling of emptiness to these things), then those are often the people who end up unhappy despite ‘having everything’. But if you just want a new experience, and you know yourself, and you’re already whole and happy, then it’ll just be an awesome experience for you. So I think it’d just help to change the entire premise: to stop telling people that they aren’t powerful, that they aren’t good enough, that they need other people and things to ‘complete’ them. That’s just my two cents. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Bradley

    Oops, I think my comment just got marked as spam! Could you check? Thank you, Lissa!

    Reply
  3. Bradley

    Hi Lissa,

    I just finished your book (especially loved the audio version!) and I’m your newest fan.

    I’m currently on the train from LA to SF because … the airplane is too fast. I’m slowing down my life and you’re helping me get there. Thank you.

    I can all too well related to your note about the ” … busyness and frenetic energy of modern life” so I’m trying to soak up every slow moment of love I can in my day. Just now on the train I wrote inspired by your post this Invitation to Peace this morning. It’s called, “What’s for lunch today? Love.”

    I hope it brings a smile to your face as your book has brought many smiles to mine.

    — Bradley

    Reply
  4. Steve159

    It is common to idealise ‘over there’ — that village life is wonderful, peaceful etc.

    However, we ought to ask ourselves, why don’t we all live like that? It’s a simple matter to divest our material possessions, and go join a village or commune or the like.

    But most don’t. Why? Why did the woman with children leave the village if it was so idyllic?

    The answer, I believe, is one of ‘creative tension’, of personal growth — we want to engage complexity, as it challenges and sharpens our focus, and requires us to stretch, learn and grow.

    William Butler Yeats, believed that “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth, We are happy when we are growing.”

    The challenge, in modern societies is finding the balance, of peace and performance, of creative individuality and community, etc. No point throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Imo, it is better to balance, and enrich both “halves” (individuality and community).

    Reply
  5. MrToy

    Excuse me, but if the teleclass is free, why is it asking me for $297?

    Reply
  6. gilda gardner

    Hello, the free teleclass you mentioned in this post doesn’t show up as free …. when you click on register it shows $297.00 … is there a free teleclass???? thank you.

    Reply
  7. Dora

    I have been thinking a lot about the inner peace and how agricultural communities seem to have it more than societies in the west and this is what I believe is happening.
    All the people in the agricultural communities have stress and face really stressful situations, but they don’t acknowledge them as stressful. It is really difficult to live and support a family, while depending on the weather; it must be extremely stressful not to know whether your child will survive a disease; it must be extremely stressful to have to live separately from your spouse, because this is the only way you can make a living.
    Why don’t they think all this is stressful? Why don’t they even have a word for stress? I think it’s because their idea of life is different to ours. They start on the premise that life is difficult, hard, a struggle. We have been sold the lie that life gets better, improves, becomes easier. And of course, it doesn’t in some aspects.
    Some bits of our life in the west, though, are better. Why can’t these material goods make us happy? Because they can’t make us happy, I don’t think. They make our life easier, but happiness is something you feel when you pause and have a drink, or you tell a joke with your friends, or you have a walk with someone you love.
    We think we have to keep going 24/7, but the real 24/7 is living from the land, having livestock depending on you, worrying about how you’re going to cook in an open fire, etc. How do they do it? Without paid vacation? Without money to travel the world?
    They know the value of pausing to enjoy life, I think. They will stop, at various times of the day, in order to speak to a neighbour, a child, an elderly friend. During celebrations, they will start dancing and singing immediately and will not wait for the alcohol to make them lose inhibitions. They will crack jokes all the time, during work, during hard times, during easy times. That’s why they laugh and smile all the time. Because they are funny. We take ourselves too seriously.
    And when disaster strikes, they’re ready. Of course, they are. Because they know what they have to do. They have to accept the tragedy and the difficulty. What else can they do?
    We, in the West, think we should have done this, that, the other. We think we should be all-powerful, infallible, hardworking and of course happy… But this is madness, because of course you’ll be happy, but also sad, angry, tired, and everything else in between. But we don’t accept negative feelings and bad times and tiredness. We keep accusing ourselves of everything and especially of not taking it easy.
    And all our possessions, our material gains, our beautiful homes, clothes, cars cannot make us relax. And meditation doesn’t always work. Why? Because we have forgotten to press the pause button. And we have forgotten to say: this is my life, it’s difficult, it’s hard, and I will keep on struggling, and tell you what: next time I see a friend, I will pause and enjoy this moment with them, because guess what: it won’t last, but it will make me feel so much better…

    Reply
  8. The Path of the Sun

    The Q’ero understand the importance of ritual and ceremony in everyday life. To the Q’ero all things are sacred. We are born sacred. Everything is sacred. How could it be otherwise. For those that still live in Q’eros (times are now changing and they are integrating with Cusco society) it is not a question of being in a material world, but of experiencing life in the present and finding their place in the universe. We in the west see the world in black and white, right and wrong, man and women. The Q’ero do not, they see the world within the context of a complimentary duality. Man is not the opposite of woman, he and she are two sides of the same coin. It is more of a yin yang belief. They also practice a way of life based on “ayni” that is a reciprocal karmic relationship based on giving first. In the end everyone is taken care of and everyone lives in balance with their families, communities, nature and the cosmos. It is a nature based belief system, where everything is composed of vital living energy, even rocks and the rivers. It is all alive, sacred and respected, everything. So it is no wonder that there is little of the western ills such as depression and anxiety and mental illness. The Q’ero are people and they do have their issues, but their way of looking at things is very different. We have a lot to learn form them. But in essence it is a similar message of all nature based spiritual traditions that were demonized over the last 500-2000 years. What we have to learn, is really just remembering where we came from. The Q’ero have a prophecy that has manifested if we choose to experience it and that is of seeing ourselves again. Thank you for the article and your sharing your experience with the Q’ero.

    Reply

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