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AYNI require of us an attitude of respect and responsibility to all life. principle key to understanding the indigenous reciprocal mindset. Ayni is embedded in nature’s design. It acts as a golden ethical compass that always points true. Neither a religion nor a philosophy, Ayni is the guiding principle for a way of life that embodies ethical behavior and spiritual practice that promotes reverence for the Earth and heavens, family and culture. It fosters social harmony and engenders a common sensibility for all life — the sustainability principle, the original instructions.

Considered living ancestors of the Incas and the keepers of traditional Incan wisdom, the Q’ero are a group of Quechua speaking indigenous people who live in a remote region of the Peruvian Andes. They taught me that Ayni is the touchstone of a worldview that holds it as the code of life. It is a blueprint discoverable in nature and ever present in the universe as the most useful and profoundly noble lesson that we will learn in life. It is the flow of energy co-created by the interchange of loving kindness, learning, knowledge, and the results of one’s actions. By practicing Ayni, one acknowledges that every thing is sacred and all things are related. Because it sustains and supports all life, Ayni requires conscious acknowledgement and willing participation to maintain the connection between the human and natural world.

Ayni requires of us remembrance for our place in the universe. It fosters humility, instills reverence, cultivates resilience. Like a kind of spiritual gravity, Ayni keeps things in their rightful place and assures that our children will have the same, if not better, opportunities than we have. During hard times, Ayni keeps things together. It reminds us of the responsibility we have, personal and planetary, to all dimensions of our lives, familial and universal. It promotes sustainability and healthy interdependence. In its purest form, Ayni is a state of mind. When the mind is attuned to the principle of reciprocity, it promotes happiness for oneself and others—the mind is at peace and the heart calm.

The Q’ero teach that Ayni is innate in the universe—a living principle that is intrinsic to life and springs from within us. In all my interactions and experiences with the Q’ero and other indigenous peoples, I found this to be the common theme. A golden compass, Ayni can guide our evolution. Can we learn to also use Ayni to better navigate our way to a sustainable, cooperative society?

More than reciprocity, Ayni also implies reverence and universal responsibility. Fundamentally, reciprocity requires healthy interactions. You give to me and I receive from you; later I give you something that you need. This is direct reciprocity. Indirect reciprocity is I give to you and to someone else, then someone else gives to you, and eventually someone gives to me. While the first type of reciprocity involves just you and me and is a common intercommunal practice among tribal people, the second type supports the evolution of cooperation within larger groups.

The Q’ero teach that Ayni resides within the human heart, an embodiment of an empathetic connection with nature and all creatures. Ayni occurs directly and indirectly between people and within groups, but also between humans and nature. We might do better if we were to introduce an entire new generation to the idea of an encompassing reciprocity that embraces universal responsibility and respect for all things, including every animal and the natural environment as well as the whole Earth.

Appreciating all living creatures as their relations, Native Americans believe that nature supports and sustains life. Shamans and medicine men maintain a two-way link between nature and humans through ritual acts of reciprocity; they have a unique affinity for communicating with the natural world. By ceremonial offerings of reciprocity, they assure balance between humans and nature. For example, the great mother that the Q’ero call Pachamama helps keep their alpaca healthy and herds large, makes birthing easier, brings rain at the right season, and promotes a healthy soil for abundant crops.


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