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Machu Picchu

Getting lost, and finding good health

In 1911, the American historian Hirman Bingham organised an expedition to Peru to search for lost Inca cities. One day, he got talking to a local man from a mountain village in the Andes and was told of forgotten ruins of an ancient city, hidden away from the world on a nearby peak.

Only the few peasants in the valley knew of this place, on a plateau about 2,400 metres up. Intrigued by what he heard, Bingham set out to reach it. His daring ascent followed narrow paths and climbs up steep walls of rock. In the end, he found the ruins, gently embedded in vegetation. This was nothing less than Machu Picchu, an Inca city and imperial citadel, built around 1450.

After the Spanish conquest of Peru in the 1530s, the Incas abandoned the city, and since then Machu Picchu remained unknown for almost 400 years. Today, it is regarded as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World and UNESCO has put it the list of World Heritage Sites.

How come Machu Picchu remained lost and forgotten for so many centuries?

Of course, its rediscovery had been hampered by the difficult terrain and the height of the mountains. But much of the forgetting was due to people’s unwillingness to stray from the familiar route, to people’s inbuilt resistance against striking out into the unknown. This was as true, even for the Spanish conquistadores, as it is for us. The result is that we often miss important treasures.

The Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer writes:

Deep in the forest there’s an unexpected clearing that can be reached only by someone who has lost his way."


When the way forward through life seems overgrown and hard to negotiate, when we feel more lost and insecure than usual, walking on untrodden paths, we often find that we make our greatest discoveries. Dealing with health and ill-health is often to stumble into “unexpected clearings”. You have probably felt more than once that your questions lead you nowhere, that you are getting lost and no one is able to give you meaningful answers.

But it is just by daring to sit with your questions, rather than to move to quick and easy answers, that leads to important insights. Perhaps the outcome will not have the tremendousness of Machu Picchu. Perhaps it will be more like a modest clearing in the wood – a personal way of handling your concerns about lifestyle, a new insight into yourself or, startlingly, a concealed grain of gold hidden in your homely, everyday life. And these are discoveries as valuable as any!

How can your questions take you to unexpected clearings?


Truth Barriers. Tomas Tranströmer (Albert Bonniers Förlag) Translated by Robert Bly. Sierra Club Books 1981

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