Old Ways, New Prayers: A preview of Dr. Alberto Villoldo’s upcoming book

Alberto is such an amazing storyteller and teacher. I am looking forward to this latest book! Here’s a preview he sent in his newsletter. 


Old Ways, New Prayers
A preview of Dr. Alberto Villoldo’s upcoming book,
The Heart of the Shaman: Stories and Practices of the Luminous Warrior

To this day, Shamans practice the traditional Andean giveaway, or despacho, by preparing ornate offerings of seeds and grains from their fields, decorated with flowers, candy, and colored strings. These beautiful mandalas are to thank the Earth for her bounty.

Villagers will pray for hours, and softly blow their prayers into a kintu of three coca leaves, calling on the spirits of the mountains and the ancestors, then place their offerings on a large piece of paper, which is then folded into a bundle, resembling a gift. All of the elements of daily life are placed into the despacho bundle. Objects and symbols are placed in exactly their right order─as if the world were being set right once again, and order prevails over chaos. Later, the bundle is placed into the fire and legends say that as the offering burns, the spirit of the mountains and of the Earth come to feed on the villagers’ prayers.

As the fire consumes the despacho, the dream is revealed. I saw it happen many times, as all of us gathered with our backs turned to the fire as the mountain spirits and Pachamama were summoned. A sense would come over everyone present that the world had turned out exactly as it needed to, and that everything was all right. Our hands were joining the hand of the divine to create perfect beauty in our lives.

To make a despacho you can prepare a beautiful mandala of seeds and flowers, or make an arrangement with ordinary stones on the ground. You plead for nothing, ask for nothing, and offer gratitude. You give your heart and your love in the giveaway.

Practicing the giveaway reconnects you to the Primordial Light and its boundless generosity, allowing you to write a new story for your life with authenticity and originality. You are no longer like a cork bobbing in the waves, drawn by the current of your culture, your gender, your skin color or your genetics to a destination you would not have selected.

You do not have to use a traditional form like the despacho that is used in the Andes, or the mandala of the Himalayas. It is important that you find a form that is yours, and that you can practice. Without a form, it is only a mental exercise.

Try this simple exercise: Go to your kitchen and find a large container of salt. Empty the contents onto a plate, and tap it until the pile becomes even and flat. You are about to make your own despacho. Take a toothpick and draw a circle along the outermost edge of the salt. Place a few flower petals in the salt bed, and draw images with the toothpick, whatever inspires you. Accompany each with a prayer of gratitude for all of the blessings in your life. Give thanks for the challenges and tests that you may be going through. Ask that their lessons and gifts be revealed to you. When you are finished you can place the salt and the flowers in your bathtub and enjoy a nice warm bath as you soak in your own prayers!

Or try it in nature, drawing a circle on the ground and decorating your despacho with leaves and stones, and then erasing it at the end of your meditation.

Whatever you do, make it yours─your new way to pray.

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To become a butterfly, you must be willing to give up being a caterpillar.