Prayer for Pachamama

Last week on March 11th the Earth shook so violently that the ocean responded with a massively destructive wave of energy that together, has shifted the Earth slightly off its axis and shaved a piece of time from our day. As it was my birthday, and I was gifted a day free from work, I had some moments to reflect on, what I interpreted as, a plea from Mother Earth.

I found there to be an immense amount of symbolism between what was happening on Earth in relation to the position of Earth in Pisces right now. Pisces is the 12th house of the Zodiac which is where Earth is placed most of the month of March. It is a water sign. The Pisces symbol is that of two fish, positioned as opposites in a yin-yang. This symbol, the taijitu, from Taoism, is used to describe how polar or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn. Yin and yang transform each other: like an undertow in the ocean, every advance is complemented by a retreat, and every rise transforms into a fall. Thus, a seed will sprout from the earth and grow upwards towards the sky – this is an intrinsically yang movement. Then, when it reaches its full potential height, it will fall. The earthquake and tsunami could be looked at together as a set of both yin and yang, or, we could also view the two events together as just one part of the taijitu, perhaps the yin, which is associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity and nighttime, and also considered slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cold, wet, and passive. The opposing force: humans, our negligence, and our destructive impact on nature, could perhaps be the yang, characterized as fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, and aggressive; and is associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime. Now it sounds odd to compare the earthquake and tsunami to the passive, soft, yielding nature of yin. Yet looking at it from the perspective of a natural response to our aggressive relationship with nature, you could view the quake and tsunami as in fact a cooling force, an attempt to wipe clean and clear the negative energy being projected and propelled into the universe by humans. The consequences of these natural events are of course unfathomably destructive and horrific to quantify, but the occurrence itself doesn’t have to be viewed solely in the context of destruction, or particular to, Japan. Japan is the land mass that happened to be in the wake of this great shake; it could have been any country. I am not abating the level of ensuing tragedy by trying to pull the Japanese out of the equation, but instead trying to dissect the forces at work to show a farther-reaching example of what Mother Earth is trying to tell us.

In the initial moments of trying to digest this intense event, one of the first words that came to mind last Friday upon hearing this news was Pachamama. Pachamama became part of my vocabulary in three short weeks during a visit to Peru and Bolivia. Pachamama is the roaring Urubamba river that snakes its white rapids around the basin of mountains that hold the majestic Machu Picchu in esteem; Pachamama is the ragged mountains who elevate the world’s highest capital city, La Paz, at almost 12,000 feet. Pachamama is who you feel in the air when your foreign lungs struggle to find enough oxygen to fuel them through the endless street markets selling local folk amulets and potions around the city. Pachamama is the landscape of steeped agricultural plains yielding potatoes, corn, quinoa, and coffee. She is the llamas whose fur keeps her people warm. It is in these lands that this concept for Mother Earth became part of my vocabulary. Culture shapes language, and people of the Andes* showed me how Mother Earth is woven into their daily lives, where her name is part of the conversation, where she is both revered and feared for her great power. She is nurtured just as carefully as the seeds are nurtured so that they will bear fruit. The Andean cultures seem to understand a lesson we in this West have opted to ignore, and now Pachamama is speaking much louder with her roaring waves and shaking earth.

Witches Market, La Paz (photo: Andrew Jones)

Last week I had a brief but lovely moment to speak with an enlightened world traveler and writer, one whose talent lies perhaps in that ever-so-challenging position of being in this world while simultaneously not being of it. His name is Pico Iyer, and he gifted the library a stupendous conversation last week with another traveler extraordinaire, Colin Thubron. You can hear their conversation here. But back to the point- he mentioned that one of his favorite spots in South America was Bolivia, and I in turn shared my thoughts of Pachamama and, being that Pico lives in rural Japan, asked him about the Japanese people and their relationship to this idea of Mother Earth. He responded, “I don’t think Japan has the same concept, really, but its people certainly do have a deeply traditional sense of gods and spirits and fate, which, oddly, might help them a lot in the midst of a tragedy such as the one they’ve just been through.”

His words left me with a bit of hope, which is possibly the best thing we can be sending the Japanese at this time. Hope. And Pachamama, she could use some extra care, perhaps a more direct prayer, from us. And the yin-yang will ebb and flow and we will learn how to see things not so distinctly as good and bad, but simply as opposing forces, interconnected and part of this ever-so-delicate yet essential balance.

*Journeying back through some of my Bolivian moments, I remember gliding along the freezing waters of Lake Titicaca among the Aymara people who live on the islands scattered throughout the lake. Not until finding this article now did I realize they have a very distinct relationship to time than we do. Their perception of the past is a past that they’d indicate as being in front of them, whereas the future lies at their back. This article explains it much better, and the Wikipedia section on “unique features”  gives a bit more explanation. I can’t say I can even wrap my head around the concept, but I love swimming in the idea that there is a radically different understanding of something that seems so universal we don’t even bother to question it. Enjoy this little dive through the labyrinth of time!


~ by maureenmoore on March 23, 2011.

2 Responses to “Prayer for Pachamama”

  1. Nice article Maureen!

  2. Interesting reading the way you have woven everything together. Your travels, meeting literati, and your sparked curiousity of the world has aided your thoughts. Yes, mother earth does expose herself in all forms and various moods and we can all benefit from taking care of her riches. Prayers directed towards the mother of us all, our Lord’s mother, Mary, should never be forgotten.

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