What If We Treated Life As Sacred?
On the Awe, Reverence, and Love for Life
What if we treated Life as sacred?
This question echoes in my mind, like a mantra.
What if we treated Life as sacred?
The world is becoming ever more fractured. People are increasingly disconnetced from their bodies, from each other, and from nature.
So often, when people experience a momentary reconnection with the sacred, they immediately retreat into abstraction. They assume it must mean something else - a symbol, a lesson, a story.
But what if the spiritual feeling of connection just is what it is?
What if this embodied experience of sacredness is the thing?
When having an encounter with the ineffable, the common response (at least for the Western mind) seems to be to put it in a conceptual box. We are so terrified by the overwhelming complexity of Being, that we think that by collapsing it into a few simple binaries we can tame it and own it and control it. And for a time, it can almost feel like we can. Almost…
All the while, emergence keeps emerging beyond the edges of our blinders. Nature always bats last. But we are nature, too. The more conceptual walls we build to separate ourselves from the Eternal Tao (not possible, by the way), the harder we fall when our models no longer work to explain reality.
Human cognition is the result of billions of years of evolution, iteration after iteration after iteration. Our cognition is not separate from all other beings that we co-exist with and have co-existed with for eons - human and non-human - animals and fish, birds and insects, trees and myceleum, rivers and mountains and sunlight. All the natural processes we are embedded in are part of us, too - and we are part of them. We have co-evolved and continue to be co-evolving with everything that is.
We are descendants of fungi and fish. We are still fungi and fish. And we may end up being the ancestors to fungi and fish.
We are in a continuous reciprocal dance with everything that is living and breathing, shifting and evolving, dying and being born.
The words of Bayo Akomolafe, the Nigerian Yoruba poet, resonate with me:
This is what it means to be entangled:
It is to see that we are not complete, removed, or boundaried.
We are not independent.
To speak from a place of manicured morality, to attempt to stand outside the mess of it all, to try to be sincere, is to be blind to our rapturous entanglement with the multiple.
A ‘flower’ doesn’t ‘begin’ at its roots and terminate abruptly at its petals; it is the ongoing intra-activity (notice I do not say ‘inter-activity’, for this would suggest that ‘things’ pre-exist relationships) of clouds, rain, sunlight, swirling dust, the keen attention of the gardener, and a cocktail of colourful critters and ecosystems of organisms.
One might say that there are no ‘things’ at all.
To come to the edge is thus to come to the curdling middle, where wild meets wild, where we meet the universe halfway in acknowledgement of our intra-dependence and co-emergence with ‘movements’ we cannot control or assuage.
Perhaps in situating his home at the edge of the village, the indigenous healer reminds himself and everyone else that we are not the central concern of an unspeakable universe.
We are reminded of the ineffable, that words are not little epistemological mirrors that can reflect the state of things.
We are part of the world’s ongoing complexity, yes, but not its prime movers, sole actors or longed-for apotheoses.
As such, all the qualities we think of as unique to humans – thought, agency, will, intentionality, creativity, subjectivity – are performative qualities of a larger field in constant flux.
Thus in order to really account for ourselves, in order to tell the stories of what is happening, we must come to the ends of ourselves, we must gravitate towards the edges in the middle… towards the incomprehensible, where wholly new ways of thinking are gestating in puddles of the forgotten.
In Slavic cultures, the forces of nature were represented by the character of Baba Yaga - an unpredictable old witch who lives in the woods, and may either eat you or grant you your wishes.
If you don’t honour nature for what it is, your skull may end up adorning one of the fence posts around her hut.
This kind of symbolism was useful to our ancestors - it was obvious to them that the sacred is to be treated with respect, and bad things may befall you if you don’t abide.
This meaning seems to have gotten lost in time: in modern versions of fariy tales, Baba Yaga has been sometimes reduced to a charicature used to scare children into obeying their parents.
Perhaps this is an example of what I am talking about: symbols tend to get corrupted and forgotten over time, like footprints being washed away by the ocean of time.
Symbols can sometimes point us in the right direction, like waysigns. Good waysigns are valuable, if you know how to read them. They can point to something deeper, to something ineffable - but they are ultimately not the thing in themselves. The map is not the territory. And if your map gets corrupted, you are sure to be lost.
I realize the irony in this, as I attempto to use symbols on a screen to convey meaning.
What we need is more than just symbols.
Can we come into right relationship with Life itself?
What would it mean for us to honour Life, to relate to it with tender loving care?
What if we treated Life as sacred? Not just living things, but the process of Life itself. That which is alive in you and me, right now. That which is alive in the space between us. That which continues to be alive, everywhere, even after we’ve long turned into dust.
What if we allowed our awe to lead us deeper into ourselves, deeper into connection, instead of escaping into abstractions?
The reality of the situation is that we are not only in awe with the sacred - we are terrified of it. The words “awesome” and “awful”, although often used in the opposite sense, share the same underlying meaning: something that invokes awe.
Awe is the feeling of respect or reverence mixed with dread and wonder, often inspired by something majestic or powerful.
The feeling of awe can produce the desire to honour, to love, to serve, to surrender into devotion. This kind of relationship to Life inspires a commitment to be in service, to be in communion with something much greater and older than ourselves, something that we are nonetheless a part of.
This continued awe and reverence for Life can produce a feeling of deep Faith - the faith in nature’s ability to continually restore itself into wholeness. The faith in our ability to restore ourselves and each other into wholeness. It’s a very humbling experience.
What would it mean for this to become a psychotechnology that we are fluent in, like we’re fluent in our birth language?
Again, the words of Bayo Akomolafe echo in my mind:
The opposite of faith is not doubt. Faith works with doubt - just like ants, crustaceans in general, and some mammals, gently survey their objects of interest with probing antennae, flagellar feelers - appendages of sensorial and sensuous inquiry touch-touching the world.
Faith is how bodies 'use' other bodies and come into porous and reiterable relations of fidelity with ecosystems around them. To make those connections, faith sends out doubt to feel the way, to ask questions, to make traces of the possible.
No, the 'opposite' of faith is dissociation, the falling-away from connection, the break in transmission, the severance of the partnership between the plover bird and the crocodile, between the wasp and the orchid.
So this is what it is to be in intimacy with Life. The feeling of being so connected that the boundaries between self and other, between self and world become so blurred that it feels that you are not the one doing things, that you are not the mover. Instead, it feels like it is the force of life itself is moving you, moving through you, in you, with you, always.
And in that depth of surrender to the Life that wants to express itself through you - not from you, but through you - you forget about the singular you, even just for a brief moment.
You remember that you are but a cell in a much greated organism that has its own intelligence and wisdom, vastly older and deeper than your tiny little human self.
This is what it feels like to be in Mother Nature’s lap.
This is Love, with a capital L.
Thanks for reading Earth Mother! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.