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The Nature of True Community

Carla Woody

Ayni can be loosely translated from the Quechua as "sacred reciprocity." In my estimation, it bears exploring over and over again, as we can dip more deeply into the meanings that rest beneath the surface. Ayni is not merely a concept, something nice to talk about, to the people of the Andes. It is an actual day-to-day practice so embedded that they don't even question it.

In our culture we think more in terms of giving and receiving. I give you something. You owe me something in return. In the Andean tradition there's a much different flavor to giving and receiving. It has to do with the support of the entire community, not just one person.

Sharing Sunset, Mollamarka

Sharing Sunset, Mollamarka
Photo credit: Darlene Dunning

If one person has knowledge the other person doesn't, the one who has the skill automatically shares the teaching. The reciprocity comes to the first person in two ways. First, the teacher is validated for having the knowledge base and may also learn more through the teaching. Maybe even more importantly, the entire community benefits because there are now two people with added value instead of just one.

Some time ago I heard a program on global cultural change called Worlds of Difference on National Public Radio that lent a further distinction to ayni and its influence. The interview took place in one of the mountain villages in Peru and had to do with the potato crop, there being a few hundred varieties. The challenge had to do with the farmers growing more and getting them to market. To do so would give the opportunity to increase their livelihood. As a part of this undertaking, they were being advised by outside sources with Western influences.

But the farmers rejected most of the sources' advice. In the interview one of the elders said, "We will do nothing that would put one of us in competition with the other." He went on to explain that introducing competitiveness would negatively impact the overall health of the community. What he said gave me pause and a great deal of consideration by contrasting it with our culture.

In Western culture, competition is considered healthy, naturally a part of our capitalistic society. Sports teams compete. Sportsmanship behavior is encouraged. But there are other twists, which get in the way and preclude the practice of true ayni as yet.

Our society’s programming says that success means we have to "be somebody." That translates to doctor, lawyer, engineer and so on. If we define our worth and identity through career choice, or lack of thereof, it introduces a huge convolution to the psyche. Then a natural follow-on is one of competition, individual gratification, the need to "win" in order to be validated. The behaviors that come of this particular mindset produce not community, but a fractured society that generates discordant energy that never aligns.

Competition introduced into locales such as those in the Andes would create confusion, disrupting their underlying spiritual tradition. People there are known not so much by what they “do,” but by who they are. Many of the traditional healers and mystics that I’ve engaged with in Peru or elsewhere can determine who we are just by seeing our energy field. That tells everything. Lightness of the energy field and the intent to evolve are what garners respect, not the livelihood.

Witnessing our own thoughts and actions is a slippery slope at best. The ego has all kinds of rationale to convince us that what we do is for our own good and that of those around us. Coming from the culture we do, unconsciously ingesting what we have, we perform a service to ourselves, and ultimately our communities, by being alert and wiser than the ego mind. The Core Self insists on it.

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Last updated 13 December 2010   |  © 2010 Carla Woody