Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Cusco Paradox

Cusco is a paradox.

On the one hand, the energy here is powerful and cleansing--high up in the Andes, you feel the mountain spirits as they are, grandfathers and grandmothers. And the town itself is magical: light hitting the huge cut stones of the Incan ruins, steep cobblestoned streets, the Plaza de Armas alive with festivals of people in traditional clothes, the Incan traditons still alive in the thoughts, hearts and conversations of the people. All of this is seductive and captivating.

On the other hand, Cusco is so thick with bullshit you could cut it with a knife. A lot of this is due to the mystical reputation of the place, which attracts spiritual seekers from all over the world, and has made a commercial business of ¨shamanism¨and mysticism. I'm putting ¨shamanism¨in quotes because this word is not indigenous to any of the peoples I've met here. Though now that there's money to be made from it, it seems everyone's a shaman. And I can´t blame the Peruvians for hustling the tourists--the economic imbalance has created a kind of apartheid situaation within the town of Cusco, with the old town of San Blas converted to a high-priced tourist playground, and everyone else scrambling for the dollar or Euro.

Yes, there are genuine healers here, some of them local and some of them imports. Ironically, though a lot of Europeans and North Americans come here and spend big bucks to work with indigenous "shamans", some of the Peruvians I´ve met prefer to work with the imports, Europeans and North Americans who have taken up residence here. Not being rooted in the local traditions, they are less likely to engage in the "shaman wars" which local people sometimes get bogged down in. And, as they say, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, whether it is a physical fence or a cultural one. It seems a human response to want to enrich your own perspective with the gifts of others, despite all the advice I've always heard about sticking to the spiritual traditions of your own community.

Peru in some ways strikes me as the archetypal wounded healer. Here is Cusco, attracting thousands of people a year who want to work with healers, paqos, curanderos, and plant and medicine "shamans", often returning to their countries with powerfully moving healing experiences from ayahusca and other medicines, yet the country of Peru, and particularly the Cusco region, stumbles along unrecuperated from the ancestral wounds of its 500 year old conquest. I suppose that is the paradox of the wounded healer, who doesn't always receive the gifts that he or she gives to others.

I have been enchanted and seduced by the magic of the Cusco region, both the landscape and the people. I have tried maintain a detached amusement about the bullshit, which includes "shamans" who put together wowie zowie mystical tourism packages, mixing all kinds of spiritual traditons in a single night or weekend, and my favorite..the "kissing shaman"...a young man who wanders the streets in Andean garb offering to do "rituals" for gringas he encounters, which always seem to end up with his lips on some part of her body.

The bullshit you can always walk away from. The real magic will be there when you need it.

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