It’s all sacred, so give up control and enjoy the ride


“There are no non-sacred places. There are only sacred places and desecrated places.” ~ Wendell Berry

Towards the end of Maureen Murdock’s book, “The Heroine’s Journey,” she brings up Matthew Fox’s observation that the sin behind all sin is dualism, that force behind all separations: from the self, from other people, from nature, from the sacred. When blinded by dualism, we see everything and everyone outside of ourselves as “other,” as object, a thing we can control, manipulate, dominate, or own.

It seems to me that the way back from this separation is to see everything in terms of “both/and,” a grand dance of opposites, a constantly shifting, dynamic paradox that we navigate with humility and imagination. In a given situation, when I jump to a particular conclusion that causes or contributes to conflict, I would do well to take a breather and imagine the opposite being just as true.

I’m not advocating relativism here. I am saying that there is a mysterious way in which both conditions are literally true—a way that defies rational explanations and logic. Thich Nhat Hanh uses the term “Interbeing” to describe this unseen oneness. He gives a wonderful meditation on a piece of paper. Holding a piece of paper in your hand, imagine the sun and the clouds bringing light and rain to nourish the tree from which is was made. And imagine the wheat that was harvested and made into bread for the logger who cut the tree. And the logger’s mother and father. . . .

You see very quickly that everything is contained in the piece of paper, including you as you observe it. “Interbeing” is a state of awareness that washes clean the sin of dualism. It’s a particularly powerful way to heal our “othering” of the dark, unloved parts of ourselves, as Thich Nhat Hanh shows in his poem, “Please call me by my true names.”

Murdock turns to Martin Buber’s “I-Thou” to reinforce that this sacred oneness extends far beyond our fellow humans:

“Thou cannot be controlled or found by seeking; we meet Thou through grace, in mystery. Thou is an experience of the sacred. If I address you as ‘Thou’ instead of as ‘It,’ whether you are human, animal, rock, or ocean, and if I honor my own divinity, then I will honor the sacred within you and allow you to live your life in trust, without coercion or control by me.”

I love that phrase, “without coercion or control.” In Improv, the first thing we’re taught is to say “yes, and . . .” to whatever your scene partner says or does. This is an explicit way of affirming that anything he or she offers is good stuff, and just work with it. Improv is the willingness to participate in the dance—so if your scene partner has just indicated that you are a gay couple trimming a Christmas tree and mourning your recently deceased dog, you can respond with authenticity and compassion.

It’s something I’d like to play with more in my outdoor encounters with other-than-human beings. Remembering to say “yes, and,” when a grandmother tree invites me to marvel at her bark, or to walk in spirals around her to experience the community in which she lives, opens me to a world of possibility. Giving up control and saying yes is a deeply humbling, trusting stance that honors whatever is happening, including my own reactions to it.

These terms—Interbeing, I-Thou, yes-and, the dance of opposites—are all ways of imagining liberation from a dualism that insists on ranking and separating according to differences. None of them deny that difference exists. Rather, they invite the understanding that paradox is the signature of the divine, that we all “inter-be,” and that everything is sacred, within and without.

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