Finding Machu Picchu

Let’s be clear, I have never been to Machu Picchu other than in my dreams, other than in one actual dream, a year or two ago. Before then I had been only vaguely aware of this place. Even “somewhere in Peru” would have been a guess.

In my dream, the church has sent me to Machu Picchu for a year to “live among the people.” I am just arriving, evidently, and have not yet seen any people, only mountains half-covered with clouds, which are pink, as at dawn or dusk. That’s it, end of dream.

Its name means “Old Mountain.” It once belonged to the estate of an Incan king, a sacred site since the fifteenth century. The poet Pablo Neruda wrote of it this way:

[Going to] Machu Picchu is a trip to the serenity of the soul…
a resting place for butterflies in the epicenter of the great circle
of life.

In a National Geographic photograph I see green covered stone terraces, the old mountain and yes, pink clouds. A llama waits for the photographer on a distant hillock. I imagine myself approaching this ancient lonely place, only to see a glint of silver in the green grass. I look down to find a crumpled gum wrapper at my feet. Just see how my mind wanders. It is a fact, though, that twenty-five hundred tourists a day come to Machu Picchu.

There is a piece of music that takes me there just as well. It begins in a sweeping darkness which breaks into sunlight through the clouds in some high place at the top of the world. “Go to your happy place,” people like to say, imitating a psychiatrist advising the patient on the couch. We could do worse. However, it may be even better at the end of the day to ask, what did I see today? What did my heart say about it?

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