I write this in-flight, returning from a magical trip to the Kogi of Colombia. I write this having seen and heard the airport TV reports of the trauma that continues to dominate US politics, as well as those in many other countries.
Last year my Ecuadorian partner, Daniel Koupermann, and I took a group to the amazing lands of the Kogi – people who have a message for us all. They came down from their mountain hideaways to meet us and to spread their message of the need for change. They were so impressed by the deep spirituality and commitment of that 2015 group that they invited us to bring another similar group – and this time to be the first ever to live among them, to sleep in their community, and to sit in their sacred ceremonial lodges. For the 19 of us it was a life-changing trip.
We were surrounded by breathtaking scenes: the emerald Caribbean and palm-fringed beaches, the Sierra Nevada mountains that rise 18,000 feet up from the ocean to glacier-covered peaks, the rain forests, and the sparkling rivers that cascade from the glaciers into the Caribbean.
But most of all it was the Kogi who impressed us! I have to admit that I was shocked – ecstatically – by the extent to which the Kogi invited us to share their lives and ceremonies. These up-til-now illusive people totally opened the doors to their homes and hearts to us. They invited us to come and learn from their Mamos (wise elders/teachers/shamans/
They have shared their history with others. What was unique this time was their enthusiasm for embracing this group on very personal levels. I write this while flying home and it is all too close to me to be able to express in detail at this moment (a book to come, I think!) but I will say that the bonding we all felt is symbolized by a ceremony when a Mamo and his wife in whose community we had spent the night invited us to witness their 5-year-old son training to become a Mamo. We traveled many miles down from their community and stood with them on the bank of a glacial river where it meets the Caribbean while the young man gently offered the river the commitments we had all made and blown into tiny pieces of cotton from a local plant.
The Kogi message, although similar to the one I received more than 40 years ago when I was a Peace Corps volunteer living with the Shuar in the Amazon and then again 20 years later from the Achuar, is more urgent now than ever. It is the message that birthed nonprofits, including Dream Change and the Pachamama Alliance. It is the message of the North American indigenous people and all those who join them at Standing Rock. It is a message that now has issued forth from indigenous cultures and organizations around the world. It is a message of hope, one that says we can transformer ourselves from societies that adhere to systems that threaten to destroy us to ones that will sustain us and future generations.
I’ve written many times about the necessity to move from a Death Economy, based on warfare and ravaging the very resources upon which it depends, to a Life Economy, based on cleaning up pollution, regenerating destroyed environments, and developing new technologies that recycle and life-styles that give back more than they take from our Living Earth. Now, flying back from the Kogi, I feel rejuvenated and recommitted to spreading the message that is the underlying principle behind that economic shapeshift that needs to happen.
We know we are facing severe crises. We know the climate is changing and that we humans are devastating the air, water, and land that support all life on this planet. We know that our government is incapable or unwilling to turn things around. It is easy to be discouraged. EXCEPT we also now know what our Elder Siblings understood long ago, that We the People must transform ourselves and our institutions.
That is the message of the Kogi. It is the message of the Shuar, the Achuar, the people at Standing Rock and all our brothers and sisters around the globe. It is the message of the rising oceans, flooding rivers, melting glaciers, the hurricanes, the political traumas, and all the other crises. We are blessed to be hearing this message, to be inhabitants of this incredible organism that is our Living Earth and to be able to understand that the crises are themselves the message that it is time for us to come out of our isolation and create the change we want and know in our hearts, minds, and souls is necessary.