|star blast formation (detail) from|
BLAST telescope (Creative Commons)
One of the problems in a philosophically materialist (as opposed to acquisitively materialist) culture is that it's hard to find space for the sacred – by definition, since this view of materialism takes into account the existence only of that which can be tangibly perceived and empirically measured – and, perhaps crucially, is often seen as relatively inert in comparison with, say, the human.
With this belief, the universe seems to consist of unrelated objects that, basically, we push around (that's a paraphrase of something Jungian James Hillman said). This is an inevitability in the prevailing view of our culture, which is that matter is here for us to exploit, to view as a 'resource' for humans – but that's way beyond the scope of this post (and I've work to do!).
I guess that any kind of metaphysical take on the world involves the understanding and acceptance of more subtle levels of being as well as and also inhabiting the world of concrete matter. Maybe that metaphysic doesn't have to involve only the high-flown models of cosmology; maybe it is more an awareness of a connecting principle that links everything we can know into a greater whole. The notion of Gaia, for instance, is an example of this: that the earthly world (in this case) is more than the sum of its parts, and adds up to a greater 'force'.
I'm laying this out because we seem to have lost sight of a basic perception that everything and every being we meet is sacred. This view has persisted for rather a long time, but was exacerbated during the so-called Enlightenment, which put paid to 'unscientific' and 'irrational' 'superstition' – and increased our tendency towards dualistic perception.
The sacred here is what Martin Büber meant by the concept of 'Thou', as I understand it: that everyone (and I include other species in this) is worthy of our utmost respect and consideration simply by virtue of their existing; and existing as an integral part of the whole web of being.
If we really believed this, we couldn't trash Other because we would deeply understand that, because of the laws of interconnectedness, trashing Other affects not only ourselves, but the rest of the web too.
The Quakers speak of 'seeing that of God in everyone'.
Other really is also self, at a subtle level. What we do to another we do to ourselves – most spiritual traditions the world over hold this to be true. How would it be to live this truth?
I posted this on facebook yesterday. Someone initially said she didn't really believe it was true (she retracted, later, but it made me think about certain assumptions I make about the world):
'When you meet anyone, remember it is a sacred encounter. As you see her you will see yourself. As you treat him you will treat yourself. As you think of her you will think of yourself... In him you will find yourself or lose yourself.' (Helen Schucman, slightly adapted by me.)
When we meet Other, human or other-than-human, we could remember that they too partake of the universe, collaborate in the unfolding of the universe, are part of its fabric, its light; that everyone/thing is in correspondence with everyone/thing else; everyone is worthy of respect and reverence – as we all are, simply by virtue of the miracle of being; of being here at all.
What we see in another we can only see because it is also in ourselves, whether it's 'positive' or 'negative', their greatness or their weakness, whether we're conscious of it or not (projection, in other words).
When we harm another we harm ourselves (karma).
And I also believe that we can only really love another to the extent that we can love ourselves.
What we notice in Other says more about ourselves than other, often.
And then there is the whole question of appropriate boundaries, and when or whether we can loosen them to let in another because of love, rather than close them out because of fear.
To close on that note, here's a snippet from an old poem of mine, 'Three for Dharma', in Looking For Icarus (bluechrome 2005)
are these correspondences:
ocean mind, heart speaking to heart,
to be intimate with
beyond the names of things.
That we should be here at all
That we dare to cross these divides -
all that stands between us –
risk shipwreck, falling, drowning
over and over to save these separate selves
That we dare.
© Roselle Angwin