A post from Emma!
For those of you who were in my classes last week, you will remember that I was talking about a book called “Sacred Economics” and talking about what makes something sacred. A short piece that I wrote last week on this topic was published on the online newspaper Elephant Journal. It was called “Precious and Inseparable: Connecting to the Sacred via Facebook“. You can click on the title to go to the article on the Elephant Journal site, or read the full post below.
Two things have been deeply affecting me this week.
The first was a picture that I saw on Facebook. A photograph of the Kayapo tribe of Brazil being forcibly evacuated from their home in the Amazon rainforest. The photograph shows a bare chested tribe member being choked with the long stem of a gun and pulled backwards by a member of the hard-faced Brazilian military. The caption of the photograph reads “This picture is to go around the world. The evacuation of the Kayapó tribe – an Indian people of the Amazon region in Brazil’s Mato Grosso has started. The construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam is released, despite numerous protests and more than 600,000 signatures collected.”
The second was a paragraph from the book “Sacred Economics” by Charles Eisenstein. I was sitting in a coffee shop reading this passage, blinking my eyes to keep the quickly gathering tears from blurring my vision.
“I dedicate all of my work to the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible. I say our “hearts,” because our minds sometimes tell us it is not possible. Our minds doubt that things will ever be much different from what experience has taught us. You may have felt a wave of cynicism, contempt, or despair as you read my description of a sacred economy. You might have felt an urge to dismiss my words as hopelessly idealistic. Indeed, I myself was tempted to tone down my description, to make it more plausible, more responsible, more in line with our low expectations for what life and the world can be. But such an attenuation would not have been the truth. I will, using the tools of the mind, speak what is in my heart. In my heart I know that an economy and society this beautiful are possible for us to create-and indeed that anything less than that is unworthy of us. Are we so broken that we would aspire to anything less than a sacred world?”
These two pieces swim in front of my eyes. This image of the world as it is, and this description of the world as it could be. These two pieces seem impossibly far apart. It feels like I am falling into the great chasm between them, as if the earth has split beneath my feet and I am tumbling down into a void. Where do I place my feet solidly to aspire to a more sacred world? How do I catch hold of these disparate pieces and draw them willingly together?
First, I need to cry for the Kayapo people.
It’s messy, and it’s loud, my crying. I sit awkwardly at my computer, trying to write, but my hands tremble. My chin quivers in that uncontrollable way that precedes shaking shoulders and ragged sobs. I can’t stop it. I feel both authentic and absurd. My grief for them is real, but my culture has taught me that it is strange and even inappropriate to care so deeply for people I don’t “know”. So I wrestle with myself, blowing my nose conclusively as if to corral my feelings, put them back in their proper place.
I recall a description of the sacred that Charles Eisenstein offers in his book. The sacred has “ two aspects: uniqueness and relatedness. A sacred object or being is one that is special, unique, one of a kind. It is therefore infinitely precious; it is irreplaceable. It has no equivalent, and thus no finite “value,” for value can only be determined by comparison…Unique though it is, the sacred is nonetheless inseparable from all that went into making it, from its history, and from the place it occupies in the matrix of all being. “
I lay this description of the sacred over the photograph of the Kayapo tribe in my mind, like a transparent film marked with a beautiful pattern that changes and enhances the image underneath. I see the preciousness of these people; of their culture, their knowledge, their language, their worldview, their relationship with the land. I see their inseparability from their ecosystem – that the uniqueness of who they are is tied into their being a part of the rainforest. And I see their unequivocal connection to the rest of the world – their relatedness to me, a young Canadian woman seeing their image on a social network thousands of miles away. I see that their preciousness being destroyed impacts me, weakens the matrix of the world that we are a part of. Indeed, that there is an interdependence among all things on the planet, and (as Eisenstein describes) that the “extinction of any species diminishes our own wholeness, our own health, our own selves; something of our very being is lost.”
I feel my feet on the floor. They want to run towards a more beautiful world. They want to leave the ugliness behind, the violence and blindness of what is happening to these people. But the running makes the gap bigger. The running takes me out of the world as it is and blurs the landscape around me. I need to stand firmly here and hold a steady view. I need to see what is happening and will myself not to run away. I need to hold this description of the sacred, this recognition of the uniqueness and relatedness of all things clearly in front of my eyes. I need to experience the world as sacred in order to look around me and begin to build more of the beauty that I want to see. I can’t run away from the world. I must stand firmly in it and allow this sacred vision to lead the way.
In your beautiful unique way you have described an experience that I relate to intimately.
I hadn’t thought about how my culture has taught me to think it absurd to cry for people I don’t know.
Martin Keogh who was just staying here, read this at his book event:
Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation.
Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.
Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more propitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper the hope is.
Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
From Disturbing the Peace (Alfred A. Knopf, 1990, Translated by Paul Wilson)