High in the wind-buffeted mountains of Peru live a native people called the Q'ero. Rumored to be descendants of the ancient Inca who, centuries ago, sought refuge from the violence of the conquistadors, they've lived in relative isolation until recently. Anthropologist Oscar Nunez del Prado led an expedition to study them in 1955, and the Q'ero have been in contact with the modern world ever since, generously sharing their lives and the spiritual principles and practices that weave through them.
One of those principles is ayni (pronounced EYE-nee), a tiny word that goes straight to the heart of how the Q'ero, like most indigenous cultures, are able to live in harmony with one another and with their surroundings. In her book Masters of the Living Energy, Joan Parisi Wilcox, a student of the Q'ero, defines ayni as, “The impulse toward sacred interchange and the spirit of reciprocity, which are fundamental operating principles in the social and mystical systems of Peru.”
Ayni arises out of an awareness of our interconnectedness at the most basic level. As we know, every action we take reverberates, as we affect and are affected by the actions of others and the particulars of our environment. But the Q'ero move deeper to assert a reciprocity at an energetic level. They teach, according to Wilcox, that “we are fundamentally energy beings...in a world of living energy.” They tell us that this vital force is an “implicit, creative principle” that flows through everything, a vitality in lively motion, in constant exchange. All things, they say, relate in a continuous and reciprocating flow of energy.
In human interactions, we respond to one another. Some of our exchanges are clearly life enhancing, while others may feel leaden or coarse. The Q'ero teach that these various tones arise from the energetic qualities within each exchange. They offer specific techniques for releasing what's called “heavy energy,” as well as for accessing that which is lighter and more refined. Heavy energy, incidentally, is not considered bad, just not conducive to optimal functioning.
And in the spirit of ayni, the Q'ero share these energetic methods freely, for the good of all. Using such techniques allows us, as Wilcox puts it, to consciously contribute to a “spiritual transformation by living in ayni ourselves and by mediating the heavy and light energies of our own world.”
Ayni, a sacred interchange. I'm always delighted when I find a new teaching, one more finger pointing toward the moon, as the Buddha put it. Spiritual systems across time have offered us ways to move into harmony, to step forward in grace, and to regain our balance when we slip. There are truly a plethora of ways.
Our task is to choose those that best fit our disposition and personal beliefs, and to employ them to bring ourselves and our actions into fuller accord with that creative force that most call God. And then to do it again and again. In joy.
Blessings, my fellow energy beings!
Here's a link to Masters of the Living Energy. While the interviews with some of the Q'ero might be a stretch for those of us raised in a culture of scientific materialism, the exercises that introduce us to the ways of working with energy are much more accessible and thoroughly delightful.