Interview-Alternate Perceptions Magazine, January 2015
An Interview with Lisa McClendon Sims:
One American’s journey and new life in Peru
by: Brent Raynes
Lisa McClendon Sims walked away from the so-called American dream to fulfill yet a much greater and far more fulfilling dream among the mountains and people of Peru.
Brent Raynes: Lisa, a couple months ago a dear mutual friend named Shirley Martin brought us into contact on Facebook. An American living in the Cusco area of Peru, you are living a dream and you conduct tours. Please tell us a little about yourself, how Peru became a dream, a dream that became a reality, and how this experience has changed your life?
Lisa McClendon Sims: In 2005, I made my first trip to Peru. It was a pretty typical 11 day tour of Cusco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas with side trips to Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. I was in the throes of changing my life. I had just come out of a 20 year marriage which had become very unhealthy and just about did me in. I had fallen into the trap of “living the American Dream” with massive responsibilities - mortgages, insurance, car payments, and all the ups and downs that come with having two teenagers and an alcoholic husband. In 2002, my Spirit had had enough of this lifestyle and pretty much told me that if I didn’t change my life I probably wasn’t going to be on this planet much longer.
I had been trying so hard to live up to the commitment that I made in getting married and having children, and I was denying my own Spirit. Well, as you can imagine, that kind of got my attention and I started meditating regularly and listening to my spiritual guidance. This led me to a metaphysical spiritual center, which in turn led me to people and practices that gave me the support and encouragement I needed to change my life.
It was through the spiritual center that I met a woman who had organized a trip to Peru. She came up to me one day and handed me a flyer for this tour and because I was listening, I got an immediate “hit” to go on this tour.
It completely changed my life. Peru had never really been on my radar. I had traveled extensively before my marriage and children, and one of my true loves is cultural anthropology. Other cultures have always fascinated me, and though I had no formal education in this aside from one course in college, I considered myself to be an amateur cultural anthropologist. People and cultures fascinate me. And Peru is so rich in this area, I was hooked.
I came back, after that 11 day trip and I decided to change my life. My meditations had been telling me, “Lisa, simplify your life.” So I decided to try to sell my house to reduce my mortgage which would in turn reduce my financial responsibilities, and also to change the line of work I was in, which I was no longer enjoying.
It was pretty strange because it was a fairly good real estate market, and I had excellent letters of recommendation from my past employers - but I couldn’t seem to get a job interview for the life of me, and I was getting no bites at all on my house.
I was missing Peru terribly. It was as if there were invisible threads that had come and wrapped themselves around my heart and were pulling me back to Peru. I was longing for it, but it just didn’t seem like a possibility at that time.
I had learned that these things happen for a reason, so in my meditation one morning I asked, “Why isn’t anything working for me?” The answer was very clear. It said, “Lisa, you are doing all the right things, but you are doing them for the wrong reasons. What is in your heart?”
What is in my heart?!? Well, that is obvious. Peru is in my heart.
The next message was, “Go back to Peru, Lisa.”
“Well that just isn’t bloody convenient! I have two kids, a whacking great mortgage, and now a home equity loan which I took out to pay for the last Peru trip, and I’m unemployed.”
“Just try it,” was the last message I got.
OH ALL RIGHT!!!, I’ll try it…. I said with great exasperation.
So I put my house up for rent on Craigslist. I got exactly one response. A couple from England sent me a check for $6000 to rent my house for three months. Much to my total amazement, one friend said, “I’ll take one kid” and someone else said “I’ll take the other kid.” And I thought, “Good heavens! It looks like I’m going back to Peru!”
Five months after my initial trip, I was back in Peru. My goal was to see if I could move there permanently with my kids and do some personal healing work. Ultimately, I decided that moving there was not feasible at that point in my life, but I did start a personal healing journey while there that I desperately needed.
A number of other incredibly synchronistic things happened, and I kept ending up back in Peru. It was crazy. Eventually, I got my kids launched, and I just surrendered to this. Apparently, Peru is where I’m supposed to be.
Brent Raynes: What sort of insights, adventures, and knowledge has living in Peru brought into your life?
Lisa McClendon Sims: Wow! I’m not even sure how to begin to answer that question. I did 180° turn around. My friends tell me that I look 10 years younger since I left the life that I was no longer finding fulfilling. It wasn’t easy leaving everything behind and starting a new life. I daresay, a few people were fairly annoyed with me for walking away from what society would consider to be the next appropriate stage of my life - i.e., waiting for my children to have their own children so that I could become a grandmother. My Spirit just wasn’t ready to settle down to that kind of life.
Probably the clearest insight that I’ve gotten is this: follow your inner guidance. I used to think that it was my job to know everything and to figure everything out and to try to manipulate the world to fulfill my wishes. And that thinking just about put me in the grave, literally. When I started listening to my inner guidance and following it, even when it didn’t make any sense at all, I found that my life panned out in ways that I could have never imagined and certainly never would have come up with on my own. That has been so liberating!
My life is absolutely magical now. I could have never imagined being this happy from where I was 15 years ago. Peru seems to present me with one adventure after another. All I have to do is say, “Yes!”
I have found myself on the Andean Spiritual Path. I had been looking for years for a spiritual path which resonated well with me and I have finally found it. It is so heart-based, so clear, and so fulfilling for me. And it totally works. It is a very practical, Earth-based path that sees everything as alive and full of Spirit. These people are so connected to the earth - they’ve never lost their connection, as I feel that most of us in the Western world have done. They call Mother Earth “Pachamama”, the sun “Inti Tata”, and because we live in the Andes Mountains - and these are some incredibly powerful mountains - the Spirit of a mountain is called an “Apu”.
Basically, the initiates on this path are transmuters of energy. They believe that there are two types of energy, where neither is good nor bad, but one helps us more than the other. The refined or lighter energy, they call “Sami”. This is a free-flowing, creative energy which is abundant and unlimited in the universe. Other traditions call it Prana or Chi, but in the Andean tradition they call it “Kawsay”.
There is another energy which is created by human beings not allowing the free flow of energy through their bodies and this is called, “Hucha”. Human beings create this by hanging on to energies such as anger, fear, guilt and pain. The initiates on the Andean spiritual path are called “Paqos”, and their main job is to help transmute these heavy energies or “Hucha” into refined energies, or “Sami”.
It is so straightforward and so incredibly effective that it is amazing. So many of the spiritual traditions are so convoluted and require an understanding of and adherence to extremely complex sets of rules and knowledge. One of the things that I have learned on my spiritual path is that the more complex a spiritual path is, the more likely it is that man has gotten his hands on it. For reasons I do not understand it seems to me that man, and I perceive this as specifically the ego, likes to make things as complicated as possible.
The Andean spiritual path seems to have somehow bypassed this tendency.
Brent Raynes: How can you help others to realize their own Peruvian dreams?
Lisa McClendon Sims: I live in Cusco, Peru, at an elevation of 11,000 feet above sea level. This is considered a very high elevation, and first and foremost you need to be relatively healthy to be here. So it’s not for everyone. Peru is a Third World country and the standards are much lower than most vacation spots. But if you want an adventure, this is an incredible place to come to. The best advice I can give is to spend as long as you can when you come. It takes a couple of days to acclimatize to the high-altitude. There is so much to see here! I have been here for almost 4 years now, and coming back and forth for 10 years, and I still haven’t seen it all.
I do bring groups to Peru. I have two grouped planned for this year, one in May and one in September. The group in May will be focused on the beauty of Cusco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The one in September will be more of an “Initiation Path” group for people who are interested in learning more about the Andean spiritual path. I work with the Q’ero, who are the direct bloodline descendants of the Inca and are considered to be some of the most powerful shamans in Peru. I’m just putting together a website which is www.SpiritualJourneysPeru.com where you will be able to find more information about these in January.
Of course, I have individual parties or small groups that I work with as well. These tend to be a little bit more expensive as the costs are not split amongst other people. And the group dynamic is always very interesting. The fact that someone has joined a group like this automatically means that you are meeting people when you join one of these groups, who have a lot in common with you. Many lifelong friendships are forged and it is beautiful!
Brent Raynes: From your Facebook pictures and postings, it looks like you meet a lot of interesting people from all over and have a lot of fun? Ever any dull or boring moments? LOL!
Lisa McClendon Sims: Cusco seems to be a magnet for the most fascinating people. It is not a well-known tourist destination but it seems that somehow all the right people find it. There is a constant flow of interesting people on amazing adventures. I find so much joy in sharing my knowledge with these new friends as they come. If there’s one frustration in this, it is that the majority of these new friends have to go back home eventually. There are really quite a few ex-pats in Cusco, and we have a group of core friends who have been living here for years. And now I have hundreds of friends that live all over the world!
It’s never a dull moment. Living in another culture, which is so dramatically different from the one I grew up in, certainly has its frustrations. So, yes, it can be frustrating at times. Learning another language and how to function inside another culture that has different values and priorities than one is accustomed to can be challenging at times, but I don’t think dull is a word I would use to describe life in Peru.
Brent Raynes: The scenery, the beauty of the landscape, all of that must be breathtaking. Since you're there, immersed in it daily, do you ever get where you take it a bit for granted?
Lisa McClendon Sims: In truth, Peru is a country of many contrasts. There is so much beauty here and there is also a lot of poverty. You have to choose what to focus your gaze upon. For example, as I walk from my apartment to the market I have to pass through areas with a lot of trash. Peruvians are not very responsible in their disposal of trash. So I have to focus my gaze on the beauty.
When I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is go to my bedroom window and open the curtains. I have a view of Apu Ausangate from my window, which is 21,000 feet above sea level. Just looking at that mountain fills me full of so much joy! But I can’t see that mountain every day as it is frequently hidden in the clouds. If I get to see it - great! If it is hidden in the clouds and I shift my gaze to my view of the city of Cusco, then that makes me happy too. .
Brent Raynes: The people, the ancient sites and the culture and the history appears to be in your face every day. It must be quite inspiring and empowering to live in such an enchanting country.
Lisa McClendon Sims: It really is!! I’m so happy here! When most people think of Peru, they think of the Inca Empire which was at its heyday about 500 years ago. But there are literally hundreds of pre-Inca cultures that go back thousands of years. It is a fascinating place!
Brent Raynes: How much longer do you hope to continue residing in Peru?
Lisa McClendon Sims: I wonder all the time how much longer I’m going to be in Peru, and the truth is I don’t know. I am completely surrendered to my higher guidance, and when Spirit tells me to leave Peru, then I will leave Peru.
Brent Raynes: What future goals or achievements do you wish to move onto from here?
Lisa McClendon Sims: One of my biggest goals for the past few years was to go to Q’eros again to visit the most sacred Apu there, Wamanlipa. I did that last month and when I came back to Cusco I started writing a book. This book has been swimming around in my head for the past 10 years, and when I returned from Q’eros it had organized itself in my head. I am now writing that book. It is flowing out of me in a way I could have never imagined. It will be called “Doves Fly from My Heart - My Love Affair with Peru”. The way that the Q’ero say thank you is “Urpichay Sonqochay”, which translates to “doves fly from my heart”. Hopefully, this will be published next year.