Lessons in gratitude from my life in the Andes

It’s not about a specific day: Being thankful shouldn’t be reserved for a specific date or occasion. It should be an almost subconscious way of living that can be woven into the tapestry of each day. Yes, there are certain days of the year that are designated to remind us more strongly of where we should direct our gratitude, but what really makes a difference in our lives are the small acts of reverence. Here in Peru, for example, it’s quite common to share a bit of whatever you’re drinking. This might be chicha (a traditional fermented corn beverage) or pachamama (mother Earth). The sharing is a way of acknowledging Her presence. Similarly, while working in the field, you might hold three or four coca leaves (called a k’intu) to your mouth and offer a breath of gratitude and prayer before chewing them. Whatever the action and however small, what’s most important is the intention behind it. It’s these little moments that add up to a lifetime spent living in gratitude.

It’s about community and family: Gratitude is lived in relationship to many things, including the natural world, the cosmos and each other. Everyone is a part of something larger, whether that’s a family, a community or a culture. To be a part of something greater requires participation and reciprocity, a concept known as “ayni.” In our modern world we often live under the illusion that we can be completely independent and don’t need anything from anyone. Money has created a disconnection between people. Services can be paid for and you don’t owe anything more to the person who helped you. In rural Andean communities, however, there is still an ancient link between families and individuals that is fostered by helping each other and offering support when someone is building their house or planting their fields. No money is exchanged, only food, drink and the knowledge that when the time comes that you need help, the favour will be returned. Everyone and everything is connected.

Here’s what I think; it not about what you have, and the most fortunate people are the ones who understand that it’s not about what you receive, but what you give—that your actions are worth more than any piece of paper with a dollar sign on it and that nonmaterial things are what you should really be grateful for. A genuinely rich person is the one who has a support system of friends and family who will show up when needed, and who has the skills to grow their own food and share that nourishment with their family. Being able to share what you have with others is something to be truly thankful for.

It’s about the things that give us life: The Earth that holds us, the sun that warms our skin, the moon that marks the passing of the months, the water in the rivers and the apus (the mountain spirits) that protect us are not things that should be taken for granted. What would we do if it never rained, or if the air we breathe were to be polluted? It’s what gives us life and should be honoured and respected and treated with reverence. Tiny seeds will eventually become the food that nourishes our bodies. Our animal brothers and sisters give us their meat, their wool and their strength. Each and every one of us has so much to be grateful for if we can take the time to pause and notice the gifts that we are receiving every day.

Postcards from Peru: Cusco

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