Doves Fly in My Heart is one woman's courageous journey of emerging from a life that no longer felt worth living to reclaim her spirit and create a new life of joy and meaning. A combination of personal memoir, insider's cultural guide and spiritual passage, we're taken inside the culture of an Andean world usually not seen by casual tourists on the way to Machu Picchu. Lisa McClendon Sims shares her personal experiences and insights in a truly elegant, sensual style that immediately pulls readers into a deep, literacy embrace. 


We stood quietly in the darkened cave, waiting to see what would happen. The walls of the cave were damp, and we could hear dripping every now and then. There were mysterious ancient stone carvings in the walls—mostly altars. Deep into the cave at the back was a larger altar with three stone steps leading up to it. In the center of the altar was a shaft of light that was streaming in from an opening in the rocks high above.

It was November 2005, and there were nine of us, all women, who had come from the U.S. on a mystical journey to Peru. We had driven up the steep, unpaved, muddy roads just outside of Cusco, until we came to what appeared to be a very large mound in the countryside. There were unusual carvings on some parts of the outside of the mound which looked like they were intended to be doorways or portals of some kind—except that at the back it was solid stone and you could not pass through. They were only about 12 or 18 inches deep. There was a wide carved stairway up one side of the mound. Above Cusco, we were at nearly 12,000 feet above sea level, and the air was thin, so we walked slowly and had to stop occasionally to catch our breath.

Our guide, Jorge, walked over to a nearby walled compound and knocked on the door. The shaman opened the door and came over to join us. He did not speak English so Jorge translated for him. His name was Miguel, and he looked to be probably in his 60s.

We were told that this mound was a womb of Mother Earth. In the Andean spiritual tradition, Mother Earth is called Pachamama and she is a living, sentient being. We were told that this was a rebirthing chamber, and that if you were ready and chose to do so, you could be reborn in the chamber inside of this mound. We were led up the carved stone steps to a slitted opening in the mound which was meant to represent a vulva. At the opening on the right-hand side were two long snakes in the stone. We were told that the black one, which was headed into the cave, was an actual petrified snake. This snake is the symbol for the Ukhupacha, or lower world/subconscious in the Andean tradition, and it was black because it was carrying heavy energies which it wanted to release inside the cave. Next to it was another snake which had been carved in the stone, and this one was white. It was heading out of the cave and was representative of us as we left the cave, reborn.

On the left-hand side of the opening was a partial carving of a puma. Part of it had been destroyed. The puma was representative of the middle world, the world in which we live, that the Andeans call Kaypacha. We were told the ancient name of this place was Amaru Machay, or Serpent Cave, though today many people called it The Temple of the Moon because when there is a full moon a bright shaft of moonlight pours in through an opening at the top of the cave, and it is frequently used for ceremonies.

“This site is not Inka. It is a pre-Inka site, and people have been using this place in a ceremonial manner for thousands of years. It is very ancient and very powerful,” Jorge told us. We then quietly climbed down the stone stairs leading into the inner chamber of the mound, going very slowly and taking care not to slip on the slick stones that thousands of years of use had polished and smoothed.

Jorge stood up on the altar in the stream of light and called us up one by one. I felt a shiver go down my spine, and my skin prickled with goose bumps. My heart was pounding. He counted backwards from our age to zero, and we were instructed to go, in our minds, to that age as he counted and release any painful or negative memories from that age that we were still carrying. He said that illness was created by us holding on to heavy energies from the past and that if we release them on a regular basis as we were doing now, we would be much lighter beings. He said that these heavy energies have a place where they belong and that place is the Ukhupacha which we could access through caves and lakes and other places that were within the earth. He said that Pachamama/Mother Earth takes these energies from us as a sacred gift and transmutes them into refined energies which can be used to create something new, just as she takes the waste products from the animals and turns them into fertilizer which helps grow new life.

My husband and I had been separated for over two years. I had been unable to remove my wedding band—I just couldn’t do it. To me, it was such a pure symbol—this simple gold band—and it was the last vestige of our marriage. I thought about how gold is considered divine in many cultures, pure gold being incorruptible and noncorrosive. The Inka did not use a monetary system; they used gold, which was considered to be the sweat of the sun, and silver, which was considered to be the tears of the moon, to represent the divine feminine and divine masculine. 

There was really no hope of my husband and me ever getting back together, and I knew that. There was a great sadness in me and this gold band was just me clinging to the last shreds of what might have been. I never even consciously thought about wearing it; I would just look down and see it and think, “Yep, it’s still there.”

The moment I walked in to that cave I felt compelled to remove my wedding band. It didn’t come off easily as I had gained a bit of weight since the first time I put it on, 20 years and two babies ago. But there was no doubt about it, it was coming off now. I held it in the palm of my hand, and the tears started to flow. When it was my turn, I went up the steps to the altar and stood in the shaft of light. Jorge had me hold my arms out to my sides. He then showed me one of the most powerful mantras I’ve ever used. I took my right hand and put it over my heart and said “Con amor” (with love), then I put my left hand over my solar plexus and said, “Sin miedo” (without fear). So simple and yet so powerful!

Jorge then started my countdown. I realized and felt most grateful that, in truth, I hadn’t had a lot of fear in my life up until I got married and had children. At that time, something clicked in me and I eventually found that the responsibilities of life and marriage and motherhood were more than I could handle. I had developed a terrible case of anxiety which I had been treating with medication for years. Since I’d left my marriage things were definitely improving for me, and now, here I was standing, ringless, on an altar inside the womb of Pachamama, and I was ready to release it all. It was as if the walls of that cave sucked those heavy energies out of me. When I came down from the altar, I leaned back against the cool, damp wall and released the pain, the sadness, and the disappointment.

Con amor, sin miedo . . .

It was dizzying! I felt lightheaded, as if I might float away. With tears streaming down my face I took the three coca leaves that Jorge handed me and fanned them as he showed us to do. I put my intentions and desires onto the coca leaves with my breath. I connected the energy from my heart through my breath and gave my prayers to the little messenger leaves. We held the coca leaves in the palms of our hands and blew the leaves and our prayers with them out into the world. We were then told to sink deep roots from our bodies into the earth and to breathe up new clean, refined energy from Pachamama.

I felt so humbled and so incredibly relieved as we quietly left Amaru Machay. Several of us had tears on our cheeks and for me it was hours before they stopped.

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