Nature as a spiritual teacher
When Carol Cumes first laid eyes on the 1000-year-old lucuma tree standing boldly on neglected Peruvian soil in 1994, she didn’t know it would become her Andean spiritual teacher. She also didn’t know what the lucuma tree would guide her to do with the rocky, barren land that she was drawn to from her comfortable home in Santa Barbara, California. Within their first encounters, the pre-Incan lucuma tree inspired Carol to create a healing and restorative garden sanctuary in Peru’s Sacred Valley. The area surrounding the lucuma became the first sacred garden at Willka T’ika, also known as the Crown Chakra Garden.
Willka T’ika has blossomed into an eco-friendly luxury retreat center and garden guesthouse located in the heart of the Sacred Valley near Machu Picchu. Carol and her Quechua staff have spent more than two decades building flower-filled organic gardens today known as the Seven Chakra Gardens. They organically and decoratively surround sun-lit yoga studios, ceremonial temples, a library, and a guesthouse with a present capacity of 70 guests.
In the early days, Carol relied on a variety of intuitive tools to make decisions about how to shape the land. She would ask for guidance about where and how she should create a garden. Over time, she relied more on the land itself; she learned to walk the gardens’ paths in silent meditation and ask nature to navigate.
“I asked the lucuma, Pachamama (Mother Earth), and all the guardian spirits of that area for help in bringing me what I needed. Within a short time, the right person or object would appear in my life,” said Carol. “There was no doubt that Pachamama had a special plan for me. All I had to do was be present and open, and trust that the plan would unfold.”
Carol’s planting priority was flowers and medicinal herbs, which her Quechua gardeners regarded as impractical. So, wherever there was empty space, the Quechua gardeners would fill it with vegetables. As Carol watched the flowers and vegetables coexist peacefully, she was convinced that this was the way Pachamama had intended the gardens to grow.
“There always is space for beautiful flowers to grow close to edible plants. For me, this makes the gardens even more interesting. Whenever I go walking through the gardens, I find tomatoes, peas, tender beans, baby lettuce, sweet beets, and parsley growing in the oddest places. My arms become a salad bowl filled with delicious veggies,” Carol stated in her book, Chakra Gardens: Opening the Senses of the Soul.
The garden with the most eclectic assortment of plants is the Spiral Garden, or Third Eye Chakra Garden. At the time of building it, she was reading a spiritual garden workbook written by an American woman. The book gave instructions for placing plants so they would grow together harmoniously. Carol wondered if she should apply this approach to her flowers.
Standing in the same area where she received the message to build a spiral, she heard, “Enjoy yourself. Leave the books. Allow yourself to have fun. There are no such rules in nature. Pachamama knows what to do, and we know what to do as well. Do what brings you joy.” Carol was happy to be reminded that just as she had not needed architects, building plans, contractors, engineers, or landscapers to get her that far in building the guesthouse or gardens, she could forget about the rules of gardening. She believed the gardens would flourish as long as she remained open to the divine plan of nature, her spiritual teacher.
Since then, every project in the Seven Chakra Gardens resumed to one simple mission: To bring more joy and healing to her guests.
Besides Carol’s special connection to the lucuma tree, which she said seemed to feed her with energy and creative ideas, many guests at Willka T’ika have found similar spiritual teachers in the chakra gardens.
One healing success story was Carol’s daughter-in-law, who had recently had a stroke. She and Carol’s son visited Willka T’ika to relax and recover. Carol encouraged her daughter-in-law to use the Chakra Gardens Journal to read, write, and remember the gardens’ healing plants and Andean symbols. Carol suggested she walk the Spiral Garden every day. Slowly and mindfully, she walked the six-foot Spiral Garden each day, identifying and naming all the plants that she had learned.
The Spiral Garden is revered among the Willka T’ika staff as “the hospital,” where the gardeners re-plant dying flowers, herbs, and vegetables so they can recuperate back to life. The energy of the spiral shape has a profound healing effect, and the gardeners quickly learned that anything planted there grows much faster than anywhere else. Carol had witnessed guests using the Spiral Garden for a similar effect – to recuperate and expand consciousness, intuition, and reflection.
“As my daughter-in-law regularly walked the Spiral Garden, she seemed to steadily improve in her memory of the plant names, and her energy levels seemed higher after she was done walking the spiral.”
The spiral shape rejuvenates the mind and spirit, and by effect, the body as well. As one walks the spiral, they are “unwinding” their past as they walk inward, and “winding up” their future as they walk outward. Carol describes it as “bringing forth your desires for your future based on your fulfilled past.” As one walks out of the spiral, they continue to release the energies they wish to leave behind.
Many confuse the Willka T’ika spiral for the labyrinth. The labyrinth comes from Greek history. The four main ancient labyrinths come from two cities in Greece, Egypt, and Italy. A labyrinth was considered as a trap for mean spirits, or a path for ritual dances. In medieval times it represented the difficult path to God, like a pilgrimage.
The spiral figure appeared in Peru around 200 BC in the plains of the Nazca Desert in southern Peru. The pre-Incan civilization Nazca culture created a series of geoglyphs depicting animals, plants, abstract symbols, and geometric shapes, spanning about 450 km2 across the desert and the low Andean foothills. Carol used to bring tourist groups there in the early 1980s, when visitors were permitted to walk around the lines. Now that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, visitors can only enjoy the Nazca Lines from a distance – in a helicopter or from the top of a metal staircase, where you can see just two of the figures.
Over thirty years ago, Carol’s groups walked the spirals of the Nazca Lines at night. The tranquility of stepping alongside the ancient spirals in the dark brought powerful energies to her group members, which Carol said might have influenced her to consider the spiral shape for one of her gardens.
From the lone lucuma tree on abandoned land to the mystical geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert, Carol’s inspiration to create came from listening to the Earth. Carol’s successful (joyful) 20-year history of building and expanding the Willka T’ika Chakra Gardens demonstrates: If we seek a catalyst for healing, personal development, or even garden advice, the ground we stand on may have more answers than any other resource. We only need to quiet ourselves and listen.
by Michaela Brown