Text published in the magazine Pathways from Washington DC, EE.UU. Summer 2014.
I live in a place where it is possible to see the snow capped mountains while floating in the sea. I live in a place that has the greatest biodiversity of birds in the world. I live in a place where my neighbors are toucans, monkeys and iguanas. I live in a place where four different indigenous groups protect what they call the “Heart of the World”. I live in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, Colombia, South America.
The spiritual and social guardians of the Sierra are known as mamos (indigenous community leaders). The mamos are beings of destiny: they are conceived by their parents in an act of profound love, when their spiritual ancestors decide and when the mountain and the moon give their permission. The communities wait for their birth as a blessing. At the age of six months, the parents give the child to the elder mamos where he starts a preparation that lasts until he reaches the age of eight or ten years old. During this period, the elder mamos observe the signs that may indicate if the child is ready to continue a further training to become a mamo. If the little one passes the tests, he initiates a formation that can last for up to twenty years and includes: the learning of an exclusive language; the individual, social and religious dimensions of the community; the protection of the supernatural forces; the mysteries of time and earth, and the governing of the spiritual realms.
When the mamo finishes his training, one of his fundamental functions is the realization of the pagamentos (offerings to establish the equilibrium). The indigenous communities have as a part of their spiritual vision that whatever benefit one receives from nature generates a disequilibrium that has to be repaid. In this line of thinking, in their lives they are constantly looking to establish an equilibrium between themselves and nature. A new construction, a harvest, a meeting of the elders, the phases of the moon or a new cycle should be preceded by a pagamento. The people who want to start a new project must give personal belongings (seeds, stones, jewels and other objects) to the mamo, so that he can take these objects to special sacred sites where he makes an offering of repayment. In this ceremony, the mamo pays tribute and creates a spiritual exchange between his heart and the heart of the world; he establishes a profound relationship between the spiritual and material planes. This offering conserves a harmony, gives respect to the natural laws and activates the protection of the spiritual forces.
In my walks through this magical land, on occasions I came into contact with these mamos. When I was speaking with them, I felt their humility, their purity represented in their white clothing, their authenticity, their sweetness and the unity in their spirit. It amazes me to see the same traits in their faces that I saw with the Tibetan yogis in Dharmsala (India), where I started my path twenty years ago; in the Hindu devotees worshipping in the river Ganges; in the Native Americans of the United States, who I admired during the time that I was living there. It is as if the wise people from all over the world, independent of doctrine and creed, have transmuted little by little their nature so as to appear as a manifestation of the face of the creator.
Each place on the planet has authentic spiritual paths to communicate with the sacred and to elevate the human beings to other levels of consciousness. In the Sierra Nevada, the mamo brings his daily life close to the cosmic reality with the pagamento. Each important action of his community is preceded with an offering that connects the day-to-day reality with the transcendental world.
In the contemporary world we have a paradox: we have lost the contact with the meaning and the forms of the sacred that belonged to the ancestral communities. Although, today more than ever before it is possible to find various forms of spirituality and create a transcendental connection that permits us to cultivate our inner self. It is true that there is a great distance between the indigenous communities and the mind of modern man and woman, but it is also true that it is possible to integrate some of these spiritual secrets for our spiritual path.
From this perspective, the practice of the pagamento is a profound and sweet gift. For our path of inner growth, the pagamento represents, in the first place, an opportunity to establish a loving connection with the act of offering, and in second place, it is an invitation to include harmony as a foundation of our relationship with others and the earth.
The importance of the rational mind in our world has placed in an inferior position on the heart, the symbol, the offering and the ritual. From the intellect, the rituals can be judged as superstition or primitivism. However, the development of the emotional being, devotion and the heart on the path to self-knowledge is a fundamental way to experience the delight, the harmony and the beauty that sustains our reality.
On the spiritual path, we should be able to use three aspects. The first is the will, where we use our force to perfect our nature and turn it into an instrument of the transcendence. The second is the knowledge, where discernment permits us to understand the present moment, the vision, the world and the transcendence in a luminous form. Although, these two great faculties are incomplete without the cultivation of love, that permits us to realize the delight of our existence and the harmony behind all that exists.
When the mamo offers the pagamento, he creates an act of devotion and love. He starts the ceremony and proceeds with the rules and steps that he has learned from his masters. We can call this first part of the offering the act. At the same time, the mamo expresses his vision, his intention of the action and the meaning behind it. Here is where the act becomes a symbol. Finally, in an intimate part of the ceremony, the mamo unites the act and symbol with the devotion from his heart. With this movement he creates an alliance, an exchange, a magic, a poetry with the heart of creation. As it has happened for over thousands of years with the act of the offering, the devotee and the object of his devotion creates a communion that produces a spiritual experience. For those who elevate their sincere prayer with an offering will receive an answer from the sacred forces. One of the most profound books, the Bhagavad Gita says: “He who gives to me with a heart of adoration a leaf, a flower, a fruit or a cup of water, I take and enjoy that offering of his devotion”. The infinite pauses and responds to this finite call: the answer is Love.
The offering generates a spark of unity in the heart of man. This inner union reveals at the same time his intimate relationship with the world. The indigenous communities of the Sierra have a holistic vision of the earth: the sacred mountains, the rivers, the burial grounds, the moon, the cycles… all play a part in the cosmic dance where the human being is also included. The pagamento is a recognition from the mamo of the sacred world and the harmony. On our spiritual path, the concept of harmony is the second gift that we receive from the pagamento. When we make an offering from our hearts it is possible to experience a unity and a secret harmony with all that exists. The being, the world and the sacred reality create an identity in us that takes us to the discovery of the essential equilibrium existing in everything.
The awakening of the heart, the meaning of the offering and an opening to the harmony are the messages that arrive to us from this heart of the world. In the beginning, with a few minutes every day, we can surrender and offer a symbol of the sacred, giving our thanks and elevating our hearts to the transcendental, which in turn helps us to express some beautiful feelings. Like this little by little our emotional being can be directed to the origin, the mystery of existence, until life itself becomes a constant offering. It is through this communication of the heart that we can know harmony, the thread of love, delight and beauty that unites us with others, the world and the transcendental reality.
I stayed at the side of a spiritual master for fifteen years, a being that understood that life itself is an offering. At the beginning of my path, I was surprise to see each morning that he took a flower from the garden, a leaf, a stone or a poem and he made an offering on a small alter. Coming from a culture that doesn´t understand rituals, one day I questioned his action and I asked him why did he do it. His answer was “This little offering is a pact that I make every morning with my heart, with the most luminous part of myself. This small gift takes me to my child conscious self where I experience pure love, imagination and goodness. This is my appointment with the divine”.