“Today for me – tomorrow for you.”
What a beautiful sentiment, yes? And so simple, right? After all, it’s not rocket science or some new and fantastic medical breakthrough. Some might say that it’s really just a catch-phrase used to distinguish one group’s collective “Golden Rule” from another’s. Some might even say that “ayni” is just a word that represents a sweet notion that life should be fair, equitable, and just. Do unto others…etc., etc… Yes, yes, we get it. There is nothing unique here.
Or is there? Though a simple idea, there can be no doubt that living by, for, and through this “simple” principle is something else entirely. Making the jump from thinking to doing is no small feat. As a classically schooled psychotherapist who long practiced a cognitive approach to helping clients challenge the way they thought in order to produce new behaviors, and as one who has challenged himself to do the same, I know all too well the struggle of surrendering oneself to the process of expanding perspectives and restructuring thoughts. But, there is a voice within me that ardently argues that this is not what we’re talking about here. It practically screams: “Ayni is something more!” My response to this bellowing player has been to differentiate between “thinking” and “being.” For me, it stops reflecting thoughts and starts reflecting living. It’s not about adopting a new way of “thinking” at all, but rather of “being.” The concept is easily enough understood. It’s living out the concept from a place of inhabited presence that proves formidable. It is an utterly formative inner state that marks its initiates as co-creators of reality.
As mesa carriers and soul-sourced medicine envoys to world, we hold as a central tenant the notion of scared reciprocity as a principle means of right action. We embrace a cosmology that not only acknowledges the interdependent nature of life, but also extends an understanding of life itself to all manifestations of energy in the seen and unseen worlds. The question, at least for me, has always been: how do I do this? How does this overarching vision of reality make its way into my bones, such that I become a full participant in the cosmic dance of life?
If we, by way of intention and ritual, endeavor to delve more deeply, humbly, and viscerally into the core of sacred reciprocity, the more radical and transformational it becomes. Here’s a degree of intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual surrender that this deep dive entails. In a sense, the more we lose the more we gain. Once begun, however, it doesn’t take long for the power of a life lived as embodied-ayni to begin to work within us. It’s a force that holds in perfect tension the promise of grace, gratitude, and generosity, and the certainty of sacrifice, pain, and even death. A give-and-take that is both life-sustaining and life-ending. It is an inner work that is hope-giving and anxiety provoking, a paradox at the heart of a comprehensive re-membering from the inside out.
In this regard, I’ve taken an approach that is a more expansive view of ayni, rightly or wrongly, than one of simple exchange – don’t take unless you give. It’s unquestionably true that gestures are important as an expression of deeply held representations of truth. Whether in the giving of tobacco in response to the provision of a stone or feather, or in a myriad of other ways, our outward expressions of reciprocity have meaning and power. Again, we are called to right actions, real, tangible actions.
Nevertheless, when we sit with the possibility of truly and committedly bending, or surrendering as the case may actually be, our life force toward the founding flame of interdependent reciprocity, we can envision our lives as re-cast in ways that redefine our existence on the personal, communal, and planetary levels. In short, what I’m really suggesting here is that we embrace a radical capacity to live in “right relationship,” even now in a wounded world that seems consumed by divisiveness and greed.
Living this way, in right relationship, has been a driving force in my life for many years, and one that has more often than not confounded me, like a hunger than cannot be sated. I have known this yearning always, and it has both comforted and tortured. Speaking as one who is slowly awakening to the unseen world, I have evolved an appreciation of a deeper sense of ayni, one predicated on the deep and inescapable interdependence of all things, including experience.
Like so many that I know as family, friends, or clients, I’ve been initiated into the way of suffering, the proverbial lightning strikes of life. It’s only “natural” for traumas and tragedies, struggles and challenges, to shape the way we see and experience reality, and influence the way we make meaning for ourselves. If we take don Oscar Miro-Quesada’s perspective that “consciousness begets reality, ” and we need to recognize that our consciousness is reflective of our experience. I believe this is particularly true of suffering. For me specifically, my initiation began at the age of eighteen months when I was burned by boiling water over much of my upper body. I carry the physical scars still today. So how is it possible that I hold this experience as an expression of ayni?
Through much healing work, I now hold some semblance of gratitude, yes gratitude, for this experience. While on the surface that may sound twisted, even sadistic, I am grateful for the gifts that have manifested in my life as a result. I am grateful that there is within me an inner fire that has wrought a hungry and earnest soul. I am also grateful to have come to know the spirit of the bear as a caregiver, companion, and protector. And now as Burning Bear, I find an inner spark of “being” that empowers the possibility of right relationship with my whole self, my community, and the natural world.
I share this to express how I have experienced ayni as a lived and transformational reality, how I have gained through difficulty. I have received as I have given. The gratitude is held in balance with the pain, the paradox lives manifest within. I don’t know who I would have been or how my life would have unfolded had I not been burned, and even though I still seek the healing work of recovering those lost aspects of myself, the sum of my experiences on planet have oriented my deepest self toward an appreciation for the interdependence of all things, good and bad.
About the Author
An awestruck husband to an amazing woman, and grateful father to two phenomenal teenagers, David is a soccer player and coach, wilderness guide, counselor, teacher, and non-profit administrator. He has devoted himself to the walk and talk of living a scared path. He completed the PMT 5-part apprenticeship under the guidance of Cynthia Greer, and more recently completed don Oscar Miro-Quesada’s Magic, Medicine, and Mysticism course. David holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from Emory University where he specialized in medieval spirituality, and a Master of Arts degree in Counseling Psychology from Prescott College. While at Prescott, he developed an original integrative therapeutic model called “Gaian Soul Therapy” that synthesizes ecology, theology, and psychology as a means of healing self, community, and the natural world through right relationship. He is a licensed professional counselor with certifications in clinical supervision and trauma. David works full-time as the director of a community mental health center near Atlanta and part-time as the owner and operator of the newly formed Burning Bear Healing Arts, LLC, offering psychotherapy, supervision, spiritual direction, and shamanic ceremonial healing. He lives and works in Decatur, Georgia, not far from his hometown of Stone Mountain.