Meaning and the sacred
LLEWELLYN VAUGHAN-LEE & HILARY HART celebrate the sacredness and beauty of all life, challenging us to reconnect with that source of meaning and appreciation.
You’ve traveled up ten thousand steps in search of the Dharma.
So many long days in the archives, copying, copying.
The gravity of the Tang and the profundity of the Sung make heavy baggage.
Here! I’ve picked you a bunch of wildflowers.
Their meaning is the same but they’re much easier to carry.
—Hsu Yun (Empty Cloud)
Waking early, hearing an owl call from the trees, I feel part of something stretching out all around me, a deep vein of life’s meaning running through all that exists. How could I live without this heartbeat, this feeling of connection? Life speaks to me in so many ways: from a simple human exchange at the post office counter or at the bakery – a smile, a hello – to the evening clouds forming and reforming, pink against the setting sun. This is real meaning woven into my days – life’s story telling itself anew every day. It is the sacred alive in every moment.
We are surrounded by the sacred; it is in the core of our being and in the Earth’s. It is the essential nature of everything that is. The “sacred” is not something primarily religious, or even spiritual. It is not a quality we need to learn or to develop. It belongs to the primary nature of all that is. When our ancestors knew that everything they could see was sacred, this was not something taught but instinctively known. It was as natural as sunlight, as necessary as breathing, a fundamental recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the world. From this sense of the sacred real meaning is born, the meaning that makes our hearts sing with the deepest purpose of being alive.
Tragically, our present culture appears to have lost sight of this vital quality. Instead we live on the surface, separated from the real substance that has always given everyday life a depth of meaning. We are told to find meaning in our individual life, but all around us life itself tells us a different story – that we are part of the Earth, that we belong to the community of all of life in its myriad forms. Only through recognizing and living this sacred unity can we find and experience the real meaning that life is offering to us. And so we have to find ways to remember, to reconnect, to feel again what is all around us.
Meaning is what calls from the depths of the soul. It is the song that sings us into life. Whether we have a meaningful life depends upon whether we can hear this song, this primal music of the sacred. Sadly, today so much of life is covered in distractions, in the addictions of consumerism. Just as the infinite majesty of the stars has become hidden by the lights from our cities, the soul’s music is being drowned out amidst life’s constant clamor. Wonder and mystery have become less and less accessible. As a culture we seem to have lost the thread that connects the inner world, from which meaning is born, to the outer world, where we spend our days. The stories of the soul are no longer told. Instead, our dreams have become the desires of materialism. Even spirituality is often sold in the marketplace, another drug that promises to placate us, to cover the growing anxiety that something essential is missing.
To find meaning we have to reclaim our sense of the sacred, something our culture appears to have overlooked or forgotten. The sacred is an essential quality of life. It connects us to our own soul and the Divine that is the source of all that exists.
The sacred can be found in any form:
a small stone or a mountain,
the first cry of a newborn child
and the last gasp of a dying person.
It can be present in a loaf of bread,
on a table, waiting for a meal,
and in the words that bless the meal.
The remembrance of the sacred
is like a central note within life.
Without this remembrance
something fundamental to our existence is missing.
Our daily life lacks a basic nourishment,
a depth of meaning.
The sacred can be found in any form: a small stone or a mountain, the first cry of a newborn child and the last gasp of a dying person. It can be present in a loaf of bread, on a table, waiting for a meal, and in the words that bless the meal. The remembrance of the sacred is like a central note within life. Without this remembrance something fundamental to our existence is missing. Our daily life lacks a basic nourishment, a depth of meaning.
When we feel this music, when we sense this song, we are living our natural connection with the Earth and all of life. Meaning is not something that belongs to us. Rather, our life becomes “meaningful” when we live this connection, when we feel it under our feet as we walk down the street, in the scent of a flower, in rain falling. I am very fortunate in that I live in nature. Early each morning as I walk, sensing the day awakening, I feel this simple connection: how the Earth breathes together with me, how It speaks the language of the soul and of life’s mystery. Here meaning is as simple as apple blossoms breaking open; as a young hawk, its feathers still downy; as the fog lifting across the water.
The chapters and practices in this small book are simple ways to reconnect so that we can once again feel the music, the song of our living connection with the Earth. They encourage us to slow down, to listen, to sense, to feel, and to be attentive. They draw our awareness from fantasies and desires to what is, where meaning waits. There are of course many other ways we can reawaken to the sacred in everyday life, feel the meaning that is present in everything, like blood flowing through us and through the Earth. As Rumi says, “there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” It is this sacred ground that is calling to us, that needs our living presence, our attentiveness
We are all part of one living being we call the Earth, who is magical beyond our understanding. She gives us life and Her wonder nourishes us. In Her being the worlds come together. Her seeds give us both bread and stories. For centuries the stories of seeds were central to humanity, myths told again and again – stories of rebirth, life re-creating itself in the darkness. Now we have almost forgotten these stories. Stranded in our separate, isolated selves, we do not even know how hungry we have become. We have to find a way to reconnect with what is essential – to learn once again how to walk in a sacred manner, how to breathe with awareness, cook with love and prayers, how to give attention to simple things.
We need to learn to welcome life in all its colors and fragrances, to say “yes” again and again. Then life will give us back the connection to our own soul, and once more we will hear its song. Then meaning will return as a gift and a promise. And something within our own heart will open and we will know that we have come Home.
Reprinted with permission from Spiritual Ecology: 10 Practices to Reawaken the Sacred in Everyday Life. www.spiritualecology.org © 2017 The Golden Sufi Center, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee & Hilary Hart.
Article by LLEWELLYN VAUGHAN-LEE & HILARY HART
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