Back to
Photo by Celia Mitchell (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Entry), Indonesia Semester.

kawsay pacha

Photo by Ella Williams, Andes & Amazon Semester.

Long walks occupy that strange in-between space in the mind; you can think in a way that is not thinking or dreaming or analyzing. It is just another part of the slow pattern of walking. You step forward, your mind moves somewhere soft, you step forward, and your mind moves too. Not forward, not back, but it moves without trying, circling the world around you and moving in and out of the unknown corners and universes that are the territory inside your mind.

In Toro Toro, the colors seemed particularly conducive to this slow not-thinking type of thinking. The sky was navy in a daytime way because it was always about to rain and the rocks were dripping red and the grass was that kind of green that is muted and too vibrant all at once. It didn’t feel real and so you can let your mind slip past sensible habits as you walk, step forward, step forward, again and again for long hours.

In Andean Cosmology, there is this idea of kawsay pacha, a living web of energy that connects everything in the natural world. All things animate or inanimate are buzzing with living energy, this same, all reaching energy. Up in the small mountain towns of Toro Toro, it wasn’t so hard to understand. Because I was and am separated from everything I know, sometimes it’s hard in this new place to tell where things end and begin. The almost inevitable lightening, corn fields, the moving river of brown and grey goats that ran past us when we were cooking dinner, even the red rocks and my own body; it all felt, if not connected, than part of some universal push and shove where everything acted off everything else.

These are the soft thoughts that I occupied as I moved; If everything is connected, nothing is insignificant. What would it feel like to always live in a world so liquid, with energy pumping like blood between my ears and the pine trees and my dog and the clouds? What would it feel like if everyone could feel this?

Sometimes it feels as though that the ideologies of the cultures that reach way back into the past are archaic. It’s right there in the title we give them: ancient cultures . But, over the past 2 weeks, we have talked at length about environmental issues, about global citizenship, about relationships. These are not issues contained in our group of fifteen; they are there in the mouths in the class rooms, in the government houses, in the dinner tables of the world. This concept of kawsay pacha informs them all; if everything is connected, nothing is insignificant. If everything is connected, then over fishing isn’t just chipping away at biodiversity, it is chipping away at bits of ourselves. If everything is connected, then learning about other cultures not only expands world view, it is a way to learn more about ourselves. If everything is connected, then everyone is important, an equal, breathing piece of the living puzzle.

Maybe this, my narrow view of this sacred idea, is selfish. Maybe I am twisting what I have read into the solution to what I see as the world problems, but walking high up in the curved red mountains of Toro Toro, letting my mind go to the strange places in my mind where unanswerable questions have answers, it felt alright. In the “Andean Kodex,” it says that “the purpose of human life is to achieve and maintain balance between the human sphere and nature.” I know that my mind will continue to circle around this in the soft moments, before I fall asleep and on the walk to class in the morning, even after I have left Toro Toro and Cochabamba and all of this world behind.