Ecuador. Equator. The middle of the earth. A place of balance between two poles.
Quito, the capitol we flew into, is perched in the Andes mountains at over 9000 feet. Its location is stunningly beautiful, with snow-capped volcanoes and a front row seat to gorgeous shifting cloudscapes. Ancient indigenous peoples, and later the Incans, considered this place sacred long before it was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s easy to see why. Ecuador’s most picturesque mountain, Cotopaxl, is an active volcano whose grand scale, symmetry and snowy summit evoke Mount Olympus. In fact, ancient mythology placed the seat of the gods at Cotopaxi’s peak.
My travel companions and I were called to Ecuador for a deep dive on the Rights of Nature movement. What is “the rights of nature”, you ask? I’ll tell you all about it, but not by recounting the experience of sitting in a university auditorium for three days of indoor presentations and intellectual discussions at the International Rights of Nature Symposium. That’s a story of the mind.
Instead, I’ll tell a story of lungs and hearts.
Arriving at our Quito Airbnb, I became very aware of the altitude. One flight of stairs, and I was winded. It was hard to concentrate. The expression that slowly came to my oxygen-deprived mind was: “head in the clouds”. My whole travel crew lives at sea level back in the US, so even the heartiest among us was vertically challenged. That was reassuring, at least. I felt my heart and lungs laboring, as if they were separate organisms—like three sled dogs straining to pull the rest of my body through deep, heavy snow. My time in Quito was mostly spent in the conference, listening to presentations about how to legally protect and enforce nature’s right to exist and flourish. Much of my free time consisted of lying down to rest my cardiovasculars while daydreaming about the second part of the trip—a four-day Amazon rainforest immersion.
This was total immersion, in an incomprehensibly complex ecosystem that is no less than a massive collective intelligence. A massive distributed brain.
We were tapping into the Innernet. Communications between my friends and I grew more intuitive, less verbal. Extra aware of each other, of our Achuar hosts, the jungle’s spirit; and the energy of the Pastaza River, the Amazon River tributary where our village perched.
Each of us came to the rainforest with our pressing life questions, relationship issues, internal struggles. In short, we traveled with the usual human baggage. Each day, our group vibe became more relaxed, compassionate and flowing. It was as if the forest was re-teaching us how to simply be.
The forest provides, with endless generosity and abundance. The forest gives and gives, without questions or expectations.