Reclaiming the sacred

Reclaiming the sacred is a topic that sings to me.  Sacred is usually considered to be associated with something holy or related to religion and not belong to the profane or secular world. But sacred is also defined as something worthy of reverence and awe, highly valued, important, and deserving of respect. It is a concept, an abstraction that human kind has been wrestling with for a very long time. Every society at various points of time in the history has come up with some understanding of what is sacred to them. It is a collective construction guided and shaped by the zeitgeist. These constitute a society’s mental models. 

For example, most indigenous groups and communities have traditionally associated the sacred in their sacred natural sites and their natural resource management practices.These spread across the world ranging from India and Tibet to Russia to Nigeria. Most indigenous societies were ecologically embedded tied to a location or a set of locations, if they were nomadic tribes. Their knowledge of the local sites, their flora and fauna were deep and intimate and passed through intergenerational transfer and stewardship. These set of beliefs about sacredness helped them protect their natural sites as well as local cultures. During and post industrialization, European societies including the British did not share the same definition of sacred spaces with regard to natural environment. In their collective understanding, natural environment was  a resource to be exploited for building personal wealth and property. Any concept, practice, or resource a society values and considers inviolable is sacred to them. In today’s fairly heterogenous world, there is a large diversity in what is considered as sacred and these are sometimes at odds with each other. Free speech conflicts with respect for a particular religion or group or population. Spreading democracy conflicts with self-determination. A woman’s right to her own body conflicts with the belief about right to life.

Sacredness is also a personal stake.  I have struggled to reconcile my critical, Marxist and atheistic stance and my draw toward the sacred. To do it, I had to reclaim the sense of sacred which has been co-opted by organized religions. Even the atheists have uses for the sacred. It is an ongoing journey to discover what is sacred to me, honor, protect, and nurture it. Currently I am on my sabbatical leave with no work-related responsibility which is an incredible gift afforded by a precious privileged few.  Like almost everyone, I need affirmation that my work is worthwhile. It has nothing to do with the particular ecology or place but more to do with deeper questions that I need to tend to. This need is not uncommon in people whose work requires self motivation and solitude. When you take away teaching and service from a professor’s job, all you have left is solitude. Which is delectable when scarce. I don’t want to sink into torpor but right now it feels like that. So to save myself, I am reclaiming my sacredness. Because I think the path to radical change lies in that reclamation. One way in which I am attempting to do is to write as I feel called and moved to write. I make sense of life through writing and I had misplaced that understanding somewhere en route to publishing for tenure.  Now I am coming back for it. Viyan is an inspiration, of course.

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