I went to an art therapy group this weekend for women during this tumultuous political time. A week before the meeting the leader sent out information on the despacho ceremony we would be participating in. A despacho ceremony is a traditional Andean shamanic ritual that aligns personal intent with gratitude offerings to the earth. We were instructed to gather several offerings from our kitchen or yard to contribute. I selected a few things from my kitchen – sprouted pumpkin seeds symbolizing growth, honey to symbolize the glue that holds us all together and four mandarin oranges for health.
I had never participated in anything like this and, honestly, at first it felt a little “out there.” But as I drizzled sparkling honey over the beautiful mound of offerings a group of six passionate women had assembled I felt a surge of hope.
The honey glistened on the feathers of guinea hens, on the pinecones of Durham’s towering pines, on the flowers from my friend’s backyard, on the rocks plucked from the shallows of the Eno River, on the quinoa symbolizing our ancient ancestors, and more. It struck me just how fucking amazing it was that we were all there, in that place, at that time, creating an offering to our earth and praying for peace and guidance.
Think about it. Had one speck of dust landed differently on my drive over I might not have made it there. Had one person’s child caught the ball that another kid with norovirus had tossed, her family might have been struck with illness so she could not be there. So many things had to align perfectly so we could be together, creating amazing art that would later be burned in a fire and offered up to the earth and everyone on it.
That evening I returned to the instructional email and finally found time to read on the history of the despacho, which has its roots in the Andes, primarily in Peru and Ecuador.
“A despacho is created during a celebratory ceremony. In the cosmology of the Andes, all life is perceived as one grand, infinite ceremony. Because physical survival is so hard in the high mountains, life is experienced as a true gift to be lived, not a problem to be solved. ”
That last line made me stop dead in my tracks. I have been watching a lot of documentaries about the evolution of man recently, fascinated by how we as a species have come so far. In one documentary, they note that as life became safer, we began to have time to start reflecting and creating. For me, we became truly human then, no longer existing solely to find our next meal and reproduce. Suddenly we had a little safety, a little time to start expressing ourselves. We started to create and think deeply.
Today many Americans are, for the first time in their lives, feeling the sharp edge of uncertain survival. Climate change is here, politics are a swirling storm, new and previously eradicated diseases are on the rise, and more. We are watching the physical survival of our species and our planet become increasingly difficult.
With this in mind, perhaps we should take every challenging and frightening moment to reflect on what a gift it is that we get to feel discomfort. Because the alternative is to not feel, and not feeling may not be what is human.
So today, when my child tantrums, when my New York Times app buzzes with another alarming update, when the weather swings wildly once more, I will breathe deeply and remember that this life of uncertainty is one to be lived, not a problem to be solved. I will relish the fact that this uncertainty is letting me feel a moment of discomfort to my fullest human ability.