Last summer, I had my very first sabbatical. It was the first time in three decades of human rights advocacy that I had the opportunity to step away from the work that I have been doing in order to reflect, travel, and replenish my body and my soul.
On a beautiful June day, while I was hiking in the Sacred Valley in Peru towards the Salinas de Maras (the salt flats), I found myself crying. I wept for four hours as I walked through beautiful terrain surrounded by a ring of snow capped mountains. It was as if a dam had burst and I was releasing years and years of pain, anger, trauma, rage, fear and shame. My own experiences of violence and abuse intermingled with the thousands of stories of other women and men that I had interacted with over the years and were like a torrent gushing out of my body.
As I put one step in front of the other, almost blinded by my tears, I felt a hand come and support my back. Chino, one of the Quero shamans, who was accompanying us on the hike had seen my distress and had come to comfort and support me. And with him came the whispers and caresses of the mountain apus, the mountain spirits. “Let it all out.” “There’s no need to hold this in your body.” “Give us the pain, we will transform it.” “Use our presence to regenerate.” “We are here to heal you.”
Chino whispered the names of the mountains as we walked through the valley: Wakay Willca, Veronica, Mount Chicon, Sawasiray, Pitusiray, Puma Wanca, Salcantay, Humantay. Each apu had its own medicine. I received courage, compassion, trust, vulnerability, strength, power, stillness, grace even as I cried.
By the time we reached the salt flats, the grief had receded and a kind of quiet stillness had come over me. My heart was tender and open – almost like a long festering sore had been lanced and the poison released.
One of the biggest lessons and gifts that I received from the Sacred Valley was the realization that it is imperative for all of us to heal the pain and trauma that we carry in order for us to truly imagine new worlds and new ways of being. The culture of fear and scarcity is the sea within which we swim. And therefore, for us to be effective dreamers, visionaries and warriors for change, self-care is essential. After all, if we do not heal ourselves, how can we imagine and dream a new world into being?