Bridging the gap between secular and sacred

Sacred Geometry Workshop Advert

When I see stuff like this flyer, depending on my frame of mind, I either want to sign up immediately, pay my £35 and hope I make it before they run out of spaces, or I want to make fun of it mercilessly:

“Grounded research” that likely has been so synthesized it has lost its sense of self and is now, understandably, having an identity crisis. The tapestry of my “inner alchemy” is too “mystical” to be explored, thank you very much. You can take your Masters in Holistic Science and… yeah… and then I start to feel disgusted with myself because it’s all gluttonous self-indulgence. And disappointment. Scratch a cynic and find a disappointed idealist.

The thing is, really, we’re all trying so hard to make heads or tails of this weird existence called life, and there are so many strange and curious truths buried both in plain sight and deep within inexecrable bullshit. We still need to bridge the gap between secular and sacred and it’s going to take time and patience. And a good sense of humour.

So instead of being irritated or cynical, embarrassed or excited by the above, I’m going to look at it as baby steps toward a different way of thinking about the world.

It makes me wonder if, in several hundred years, we’ll look back on this sort of thing the way today’s more-informed readers look at Hildegard of Bingen’s description of how gemstones were made. The medieval world had a very incomplete and… unique… understanding of certain natural processes. So in 12th-century Germany, when she describes how gemstones were made, we now can look back on it with our 20/20 hindsight and say, well, she didn’t know, and it seemed correct enough at the time, and she WAS brilliant after all — have you heard her musical compositions?, etc. We find it easier to be more compassionate with her treatise and with other similarly naïve perspectives than we can be with our own modern-day fumblings.

What follows is an excerpt from her writings on Stones in her work, Physica:

Every stone contains fire and moisture. The devil abhors, detests, and disdains precious stones. This is because he remembers that their beauty was manifest on him before he fell from the glory God had given him, and because some precious stones are engendered from fire, in which he receives his punishment. By the will of God, the devil was vanquished by the fire into which he fell, just as he is vanquished by the fire of the Holy Spirit when humans are snatched from his jaws by the first breath of the Holy Spirit.

Precious stones and gems arise in the Orient, in areas where the sun’s heat is very great. From the hot sun, mountains there have heat as powerful as fire. The rivers in those areas always boil from the sun’s great heat. Whence at times an inundation of those rivers bursts forth and ascends those scorching mountains. The mountains, burning with the sun’s heat, are touched by those rivers. Froth, similar to that produced by hot iron or a hot stone when water is poured over it, exudes from the places where the water touches the fire. This froth adheres to that place and, in three or four days, hardens into stone.

Once the inundation has ceased and the waters have returned to the river bed, the pieces of froth dry up. They dry from the sun’s heat and take their colors and powers in accordance with the time of day and the temperature. Drying and hardening, they become precious stones and fall onto the sand, just like flaking fish scales. When they flood again the rivers lift up many of the stones, carrying them to other countries where they are later discovered by human beings. The mountains, where so many and such large stones have sprung up in this way, shine like the light of day.

And so, precious stones are born from fire and water; whence they have fire and moisture in them. They contain many powers and are effective for many needs. Many things can be done with them – but only good, honest actions, which are beneficial to human beings; not activities of seduction, fornication, adultery, enmity, homicide, and the like, which tend toward vice and which are injurious to people. The nature of these precious stones seeks honest and useful effects and rejects people’s depraved and evil uses, in the same way virtues cast off vices and vices are unable to engage with virtues.

Some stones do not originate from these mountains and are not of the same nature, but arise from other, useless things. Through them, with God’s permission, it is possible for good and bad things to happen.

Hildegard von Bingen’s Physica: The Complete English Translation of Her Classic Work on Health and Healing Translated from the Latin by Priscilla Throop Rochester: Healing Arts Press 1998, pp. 137-138.

 

If someone today proposed this as a valid and viable explanation of the geologic processes that form gemstones, they would be considered delusional. Even people in the New Age community would say as much.

Across the centuries, we’ve divorced ourselves from talk of the devil and of God and have taken up discourse with reason and science. Neither has been wholly satisfying for an undeniable portion of the population, which is why we keep searching. And now we’re trying to marry those two streams of sacred and secular perspectives on the world. Our disappointed but “grounded” cynics meet this marriage with derision, tension, or covert interest and curiosity.

These reactions mirror of our own lack of inner peace, and without inner peace we will never achieve the outer peace — the world peace — that we all hope for. Our inner alchemical tapestry is filled with infinite crucibles as we search for something brighter and more harmoniously congruent with our own individual sense of what is true about the world. When we are able to bridge the gap between these two worldviews and unite them into a seamless philosophy, we are at the same time, uniting important, valid, and worthy parts of ourselves.

It takes, among other things, time and compassion and a good sense of humour. We’re getting there.

 

Image credit: Tom Cox

Are Hard Things Bad? A Call for Realism Amidst Overly-Simplistic New-Age BS

New Age Bullshit

 

I love how she just makes it seem so easy. Just get rid of all the bad stuff in your life because Gosh, it’s Hard. And Wow, wouldn’t it be better if everything were Easier? Wait. You know what? Everything should be easier. We weren’t designed to suffer! Yeah! That’s how life SHOULD Be! So just, y’know, make it better by pretending that it’s so easy and then just, like, ostrich the fuck out of life and live in denial of the complexities that exist therein.

Like, y’know, your job sucking the life out of you. Just quit! This works so well for all the stay-at-home parents who hate the job of parenting their kids, for which they’re not receiving any financial recompense. They should just quit. Wait, did you know that being a stay-at-home parent doesn’t look like June Cleaver? And that some people, even those who thought they would LOVE it, actually discover that they hate it, but they can’t quit because childcare is too expensive and the reality of their getting a job that pays well enough to afford proper childcare doesn’t look promising. And even though they hate it and it sucks the life out of them more often than not, they would still rather be at home with their kids than stuck in a job that doesn’t pay them what they need, while they worry that their kids aren’t getting enough quality time with people who love them.

Can we talk about all the privilege in this? Because, on the one hand, it’s a privilege to stay at home with your kids, even if it’s not the easiest thing in the world and even if it’s really not all that satisfying and you know it’s taking more from you than it’s giving (at least on the surface view of things). But on the other hand, the privilege of Just Quit, regardless of the job in question, is a MASSIVE privilege denied to many. To most people, actually. Because this economy is shite and has been for quite some time and Just Quit doesn’t pay the bills. And Just Quit doesn’t really work at all for some jobs, like parenting.

Or what if you’ve been at your job for 20+ years and it’s been fucking AMAZING even with a whole lotta bullshit to put up with and it is currently sucking the life out of you but you know it’s temporary-ish (you hope) and you also know that there is nothing out there that will ever provide you with the same level of soul-satisfaction that you have received at your job and you just really don’t want to give up that type of gut-level happiness even if it’s an utter and complete slog right now. Not to mention that paycheque.

 

“If it’s a person, cut them out.”

Because omg, your long-time close friend is going through a really rough patch right now and wow has she ever become a Negative Nancy. She just complains about all the hard things and you’re TYRING to stay POSITIVE but she just sucks the life out of you when you’re around her. So, y’know, fuck that 10-year investment of friendship and tell her to take a hike. By just not returning her phone calls, emails, or texts because you don’t want to have an icky sort of conversation that really just brings both of you down.

Or you’re caring for a parent who is dying and it’s draining you emotionally, physically, psychically, and possibly financially. But you’re TRYING to do the right thing. What IS the right thing in this situation? I mean, you have to care for yourself, right? Where does your duty lay?

 

Life is complex and full of hardship. How many of us have felt resentment at how easy the lives of the rich are? Because they have money, they don’t have to worry about anything and more money would just make everything better. At the same time, you get angry with them for being so superficial and unidimensional because everything comes so easily for them — they don’t have to struggle. You’ve had both of these conversations.

 

Raffaele Monti's Veiled Vestal Virgin

It’s funny how we can look at beautiful works of art — Michelangelo’s David or the Venus de Milo, or the exquisite Raffaele Monti’s Veiled Vestal Virgin shown here (because Sweet Jesus, he turned stone into diaphanous silk, ffs) — really any marble sculpture or other deconstructionist work of art, for that matter — and we can praise it, love it, appreciate the artistry that goes into it.

But imagine being a block of raw marble, being hacked away at, having pieces of you chipped away, whittled down, sanded, polished. Aye, there’s the rub. The pull at wanting to appreciate the end product but not wanting to experience the process of getting there. Like it or not, you are a block of marble and every single bump, bruise, cut and wound, every loving touch and feeling of being nurtured, every disappointment and ache of loneliness, every strain and drain, every single thing you experience creates the beautiful artistry of who you are.

There is VALUE in the hard experiences you have. They can teach you to endure; they can teach you how strong you actually are and show you the stamina you thought you lacked; they can teach you what you want and can teach you what you don’t want. The bottom line, though, with hard experiences, is that they teach you to evolve. Running from them at the drop of a hat, as this quote ostensibly suggests, does little to strengthen your sense of inner resilience.

I’m not suggesting that we all become masochists, but maybe you need to stick out that friendship that feels like it’s turned sour and learn to gently confront your own discomfort with the situation in a way that works to preserve your connection with your friend and honour the compassion that you have for her. Maybe you need to learn how to begin to release old hurts when you are called on to care for an ailing parent with whom you’ve had a difficult relationship your whole life. Or maybe you need to learn how to take charge of your life, in a way that honours where you’re at with the situations in which you find yourself, while not being a flake and leaving people in the lurch.

Running from your problems doesn’t help you, but learning to face them does, whether sticking it out and seeing it through or understanding when you’ve reached a breaking point and can finally say enough is enough. We spend a LOT of our lives feeling helplessly knocked about by Life’s circumstances, feeling, effectively, victimized by Life. Does that perspective serve you? Who is in charge of your life?

So there is Truth in what the author writes above: you’re the one in the driver’s seat, but what is written above MUST be balanced with the complexities of the Reality of your life, juxtaposed against and reconciled with the acknowledgment that hard is not necessarily bad and easy is not necessarily good. As it is written here in this red box, this quote from Sue Fitzmorris is pat and tidy and excruciatingly simplistic. It is utterly ungrounded in the realities of our lived experience.

Stress puts you to the test. Distressing situations then magnify the raw, tender, hurt, angry spots in our character. These amplifications are there to help you understand where you need work, where you need to focus your attention. What you do with that information, however, how you approach it, and the attitude you take with respect to it will show you a lot about yourself, too. Being mindful about your responses and your reactions to any given situation means you look at yourself with compassion, not with judgment. And you alone decide what’s worth the effort.