I woke earlier than normal last Saturday morning to a text from a dear colleague. We’re collaborating on a proposal for a big potential client, and they’d just emailed her several complex questions they wanted written responses to by Monday. My colleague texted me because she knows I don’t work or check my work email on weekends, and when I read her message, I felt a wave of anger towards the client. What flashed through my mind was:
“Is nothing sacred!?”
Making breakfast, I ranted inside my head: It’s not fair that I actually have to tell people that I don’t work or check email on weekends! How fucked up is it that I feel like the a-hole when I communicate this! How wrong is it that I’m seen as difficult, or a non-team player just for having a life! Why don’t more people insist on sane boundaries in work and life!? How inconsiderate of that client! When did we decide as a culture that expecting people to be available 24–7 and work on weekends was not only OK, but a sign of merit, dedication and worth!?
As I often do when I’m pissed about the ways I think the world is insane or broken, I started to romanticize the past. My internal rant shifted and became reactionary: We need to go back to a time when folks stopped work when they left the office! When there was respect for home and family life! When people had a sense of the sacred! When they kept their word, followed the rules and generally respected each other! When they lived in harmony with the non-human world and blessed the animals they hunted, the crops they planted, and the unions they made with each other!
I paused, amused by the rosy, dishonest picture my ranting internal committee had painted of the past. In truth, there have always been a-holes who didn’t keep their word, follow the rules or respect others. There are myriad examples of entire groups of people being a-holes to other groups of people. In fact, much of what is now the United States/Western civilization/empire/humanity was built on a foundation of profound a-holery. My social justice self and feminist anti-racist selves piped up to remind me that people, history and societies are complex and nuanced, and that my binary thinking of “then, sacred…now, profane” was limited, incomplete and downright insulting to many people I call family.
Thirty minutes later I joined a virtual meeting about Sufism that was the reason for me waking up early on a Saturday in the first place. The beautiful man leading the workshop facilitated a discussion about the origins of our names, then offered an invocation in Arabic. Tears welled up in my eyes as my heart blossomed in response to words my mind didn’t comprehend. I felt their energy and meaning deep in my soul. Suddenly, I was crying — in awe of my reaction to something I sensed but didn’t cognitively understand. What flashed through my mind was:
“This is sacred. And I am so, so hungry for it.” The tears fell again.
What is sacred to one person or group of people is that which is sacrosanct. This means it is of utmost importance and value. It is to be respected and revered — not tainted or violated. There is something pure about the sacred. It speaks truth and inspires awe.
And the truth is that all people and groups do have a sense of the sacred. Perhaps there is no human, and no society, that completely lacks the sacred. However, what is considered sacred varies greatly.
What I hold as sacred is truth. Beauty. Art — especially dance, music, poetry and film. The non-human natural world — especially animals, trees and rocks. My word, my living space and my body. I know these are sacred to me because I feel my heart open and lighten when I think about or interact with them. I feel joy, connection, softening, expansiveness, grounding, gratitude and awe when they are present and protected. I do behaviors that express my reverence for these and the high priority I assign them (although not 100% every day, I confess). I’m unhappy and unfulfilled when I don’t have these sacred elements thriving in my life. And I feel anger, or even rage, when they are disrespected, diminished or destroyed.
It’s not that I, and likely you, dear reader, are living in a world where nothing is sacred. It’s that we live in a world that (a) worships that which we do not hold as sacred, and (b) violates that which we do hold sacred. It holds as sacred monetary wealth, power-over domination, unlimited growth, material possessions, accumulation, human beings, the self, the machines, the cerebral-cognitive, and the linear.
So what to do, in a world that’s at odds with what is sacred to us? How do we live in a world that doesn’t truly value relational wealth, power-with collaboration, limited-to-no growth, spiritual orientation, enoughness, all beings, the “we”, organic life, the somatic/physical and the spherical?
There are many possible answers. And these shift by the day or hour as an historic election looms here in the United States. Today, I have two answers. The first is to be strong — not strong in the ways of what the world holds as sacred, but in the ways we do. My gifted sister once described strength as “what enables something to remain intact despite powerful, opposing forces.” This is a feminine definition of power, matched in every way with the might of the masculine. The shield is as necessary as the sword — sometimes even more so. The shield is not cowardice, it is protection that prevents annihilation by another’s sword. It enables us to live, and to catch a breath before fleeing to safety — or drawing our own sword.
My second answer is to embody what I hold as sacred by “being the change.” This simple phrase is actually more profound and powerful than its colloquial overuse implies. By acting in alignment with my truth, I bring that truth more visibly into the world. By behaving in integrity with my sacred, I normalize and magnify that sacredness. By choosing to not work weekends, not have children, not dye my greying hair, not conform to dating norms around age, and not conduct business that’s out of integrity with my values (opting to close my company instead) — I help make it OK for others to make similarly unorthodox choices. My choices are not a statement about others’ choices, nor a campaign to convince others to hold my sacred as theirs. But living my truth, whatever it is, makes it safer for others to live theirs. The personal is thus deeply political, and a vehicle for broader change.
To all my fellow truthtellers, lightkeepers, torchbearers, embertenders and hearthwarmers — stand fast. Sit in power. Savor, revel in and fully inhabit that which is sacred to you. Keep the faith and wait. Hold your shield ready, and raised. Know that you are not crazy, and you are not alone.
Winter always seems long but remember — everything changes. It always has and always will. While our bodies may not survive to bask in its blooming warmth, spring is coming.