by Alan Davidson
HAUYNA PICCHU, Peru, August 1986 — Wheezing, with burning legs, I stopped to catch my breath. The climb was harder than I thought. The steps rising before us, tread by the ancient Indians at least five hundred years ago, were well worn, steep and often tall. Ropes were stretched along this part of the incline to keep tourists from plummeting—almost straight down—to the thin strip of tropical rainforest below. Three young men hiking their way down from the peak turned the sharp bend ahead of us. I was still huffing and puffing as they passed us by. One of the boys muttered something in Spanish as they passed us, the others laughed. I made out gringo, foreigner, but missed their slur. My friend Dr. Wayne, in his kindness, spared me the translation.
We resumed our hike up the peak. The valley below and the other mountains that surrounded it were lost in dense clouds. It was winter and the rainy season in South America, a happy retreat from Houston’s scorching heat. The mist tickled my lungs while we climbed up and up the spiraling 800-foot incline. The clouds began to rise as the morning sun hit the valley. Eerily picking up speed, wispy clouds streamed past us, as they rose and vaporized into the heat and humidity of the Amazon jungle. Suddenly they opened below us.
Lime green vegetation shined across the distance on the opposite mountain. Saddled between two peaks, rising a thousand plus feet above the roiling Urumbamba River valley below laid the jewel of South America: the ancient city of Machu Picchu. The stone temples and terraces created by the Incas were vivid in the distance, as mysterious as they were extraordinary. There was no rope to guard the drop-off on this stretch of the climb. Wayne and I both stood stock still, mesmerized by the view below, me holding the rocky wall of Hauyna Picchu Mountain. Pulling ourselves from the spectacular view, we returned to our climb. We reached the top with me breathing like I had just finished running a marathon, as much to do with the altitude as the extra pounds I carried.
Panting like a bellows, I dropped to a boulder. I longed for a cup of coca tea that I’d tasted back in Cuzco, the local remedy for the altitude. The clouds had completely evaporated by now. The sun was shining strong and the air was still cool from the early morning. The tranquility of the mountaintop was awesome; so was the view. Machu Picchu’s spectacular location was revealed. From the crown of Hauyna Picchu I had a circular view of the surrounding mountains: Granite crests with green and snow-peaked summits, along with the bends of the river, joined to enclose the site of the old city. Birds soared through the valley. Bromeliads grew sporadically on the sheer cliffs of the opposing mountain walls.
A rag-tag group of trekkers, young Austrians, Germans, Australians and Americans held a reverent silence as they sunned on the high boulders. The trekkers had camped the night at Aquas Calientas after days hiking along the Inca Trail. Dr Wayne and I chose the three-and-a-half-hour train ride. Aquas Calientas, named for the natural hot springs in the valley below, is the village where visitors to Machu Picchu, trekkers and train tourists alike, begin the 1,500-foot climb to the ancient ruins.
These trekkers hiked up the eight-kilometer road, hair pinned with thirteen zigzag switchbacks, while most tourists from the trains, Dr. Wayne and I included, opted for a precarious shuttle ride up the mountain. We spent the night in the delightful Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge adjacent to the ruins. The best advantage to staying so close to the ruins was the near privacy of the mornings. The first train full of tourists arrived from Cuzco about 10:30 AM. Until then the handful of overnight visitors had the entire complex and the narrow trail up Hauyna Picchu to themselves.
I was breathing normally by now and I moved to meditate. Lying on my back with my head tilting off a cliff I visualized. Using one of Shakti Gawain’s meditations, I saw my life perfect and happy, bathed in pink light. The work of the climb, the pure air and the awesome quiet gifted me a perfect peace. My breathing deepened as my mind calmed. Or was it the other way around; my mind calmed as my breathing deepened? Either way I felt great.
Unbeknownst to me, Dr. Wayne snapped a picture of me, thinking I looked like an offering to the ancient gods (by this late stage I was hardly a virgin sacrifice). At the end of my meditation I offered my vision wrapped in pink light to the Andes, which they received with quiet austerity. Climbing Hauyna Picchu was a rich moment; the first time I experienced the power of physical effort, deep-breathing, meditation and transcendent calm—and gratitude.
Gratitude is what I sensed on that mountain peak—my body buzzing with ecstatic rhythms. I was grateful for my body, my health, my peace of mind, my freedoms: my freedom to explore my spiritual curiosity, my financial freedom to travel across the world, my personal freedoms as an American. (There’s nothing like walking the streets with machine gun-clad soldiers enforcing the coming curfew to appreciate America’s political freedoms.)
What I still remember now are the sensations of that immense gratitude—mountain rock under my body, skin warmed by the sun, hair lifting in the breeze, chest rising and falling, sweat tickling neck, gratitude pouring through heart and mind. It was one pure moment.
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Yes, being grateful is a state of mind. It is also a bodily experience. Sensation is the foundation of Physical Intelligence; it’s the language of our bodies. But each of the Five Intelligences has a sensational quality to it.
Our feelings, the language of Emotional Intelligence, have a sensory quality. Think how your body changes with the heat of anger, fear in the pit of your stomach, or tingling of desire.
Our thinking, the language of our Mental Intelligence, is the subtlest of sensations. If we are still enough, and quiet enough, we can sense the thoughts floating across our conscious mind—and sense the subtle responses of our bodies to those thoughts. The more attached we are to a thought or belief, the stronger the body’s response to it.
Choice is the language of Moral Intelligence: how we choose to act based on our deepest values, passions, strengths, and vision. The true measure of our Moral Intelligence is simply how well we treat ourselves and each other. Each of these choices is an action; every action, of course, creates sensation in the body that moves, speaks, listens, lives.
Energy flow through our consciousness, body included, is the language of Spiritual Intelligence. The Chinese call it chi, the Hindus call it prana. Vibrant health, the sense of being whole and holy—they come from the same source—is the measure of this intelligence. Doctor’s of Acupuncture and Ayurveda (the ancient medicine of India) have refined ways of sensing the flow of energy through us. This flow also creates sensations—sometimes subtle, sometimes quite intense.
Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Joy—various states of Spiritual Intelligence have quite distinct sensations to announce their presence. By remembering, by calling to mind those sensations we can tap into those sometimes ever-elusive states of being.
Here’s a little trick I use to plug back into my “Attitude of Thanks.” Then I’ll show you how to focus your attention with these sensations to sustain your state of mind. With practice, over time, you can learn to sustain the sensations of gratitude, or love, or joy whenever you choose (a plug for Moral Intelligence here)—even when your life, family, your boss or co-workers would rather drive you crazy. It’s actually their job to try to distract you (that’s another Oprah). You get to flex your muscles of gratitude till your being love/joy/gratitude is unshakable.
Beginners Gratitude Exercise—
Sit quietly and close your eyes. Take a few breaths and relax your body. Take your time, as much as you can, with this exercise.
Remember a time when you felt great gratitude—perhaps a birth of a child, a graduation, a promotion, a kind word or gesture. It can be any memory that is powerful for you.
In your mind’s eye, see yourself as completely as you can in that moment. See it like a movie. Where are you? Who are you with? Allow the movie to be as vivid as you can. What are you wearing? What are the sights, sounds, smells, tastes of the memory? Be there as fully as you can.
Fill yourself with the gratitude you felt. Now notice the sensations of your body in the movie—the sensations you experienced at that time. Sense them as completely as you can. What are they? Speak them softly out loud if you can.
Sense those very same sensations in your body now. Let the sensations of gratitude in your movie be the sensations you feel in your body right now. Let it spread through you; let being grateful now open your heart and uplift your spirit. Sense these through your body.
Medium Gratitude Exercise—
While sensing this delightful state of gratitude, imagine a bubble of energy surrounding you, a sphere of energy fueled by your expanding sense of gratefulness. Sense how strong this energy bubble is. It is impenetrable by anyone or anything. Yet you can move, breathe, and enjoy your freedom. You are completely safe in this sphere.
Now imagine a person who upsets you, aggravates you, or disturbs you. See yourself separated from them by your bubble of gratitude. Your energy level does not waver, whatever they may do. You are safe and strong.
Wonder at the shift you feel in your being. Here’s a person who normally aggravates you and yet gratitude pours through undisturbed. You are serene and joyful. Your usual judgments about them do not affect your flow of love and peace. They have no control over you or your choice to be in gratitude. You are free.
Advance Gratitude Exercise—
Do this in real life. Repeat as necessary till you sustain your Attitude of Gratitude all the time.
Welcome to your Spiritual Intelligence mastery.