Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Mecca is where "the sacred there" is

In the context of pilgrimages, my reference yesterday to going on vacation could have been misleading. Going on a pilgrimage is not the same as going on vacation. And staying home to kick back in an easy chair is not the same as experiencing home as a destination worthy of pilgrimage—that is, as a "shrine or sacred place" (to quote The American Heritage Dictionary's definition of "pilgrim").

Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, that there was "no there there." But there's "there" and there's "there." The "there" that shrines have is a sacred presence. But I think it can be anywhere that we can bring the appropriate consciousness to.

I have for years often experienced the mundane as sacred, enjoyed routine tasks like making the bed or folding the clothes as sacramental. These mundane places and routines are ever present at home. The only journey we need undertake to reach them is spiritual, a road to mindfulness and awe. Awe-mindedness.

Home is for me the still point of which T.S. Eliot wrote:
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
        [from "Burnt Norton," the first of his Four Quartets]
Home is the sweet spot where the dance of life can be engaged everyday, the dance by which Zorba the Greek celebrated and expressed life's sacred awe.


  1. Salamaat,
    Beautiful thought; i really love that quote. "The whole earth is a prayer mat..." so said the sage. The challenge lies in maintaining that connection and being awake...

  2. Yes! And blessed are we if we are moved in some way (through study or an experience of grace) to attend to the challenge (rather than remain oblivious even to the possibility of a connection). We are doubly blessed if we can enjoy the connection enough to get hooked on it.

    Daily prayers and other religious practices can help, however much I may suspect their potential for seducing practitioners into a false sense of spiritual security. Nice saying, "the whole world a prayer mat." Do you understand the prayer mat to be a symbol for disciplinary practices, or for the very connection they're intended to facilitate?

  3. Salamaat,
    This is late, but I read a quote in the "Far Pavilions" my latest delicious read that took my breath away (and is totally relevant):

    "All earth is crammed with heaven, every common bush a fire with God. but only he who sees, takes his shoes off..."

    I meant both, but hte former (symbol for disciplinary practices) is supposed to lead to a heightened consciousness where we can begin to recognize that all earth's a heaven...

    Have a gorgeous weekend :)

  4. Or William Blake's:

    To see a world in a grain of sand
    And a heaven in a wild flower,
    Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
    And eternity in an hour.

    The title of the piece that contains that is Auguries of Innocence, and I do think that Far Pavilions's "but only he who sees, takes his shoes off" might be a way of characterizing that innocence...?

  5. Peace Moristotle,
    Is it characterizing innocence or a conscious return to innocence? I see innocence in the delight of babies but it is also tinged with heartbreaking ignorance or cluelessness about the world.

    Doesn't the characteristic of "seeing" and the act of "removing the shoes" require a measure of consciousness, knowledge and willfulness?

  6. Yes, I agree: innocence as a conscious act. I may not appreciate what Blake was doing in "Auguries of Innocence." Perhaps he was talking of the innocence of babies. But my comment assumed that he too meant innocence consciously chosen and entered into.

    By the way, I myself would not characterize the innocence of babies as "heartbreaking ignorance or cluelessness about the world," for their innocence is natural and blessed. The characterization better applies, I think, to the obliviousness of inattentive, unmindful adults. But I suspect that you actually meant that?

  7. Peace M,
    hmmm...I was reflecting more along the lines of how we prize innocence, and it's generally an awesome (natural and blessed) state; yet it is necessarily shortlived and marred by "ignorance" (I can't think of a better of word for it.)

    I love the delight and joy that my little one emanates, but I have to keep an eye that he doesn't hurt himself in the process of discovery and his oblivion to the dangers and pitfalls around him are worrying for me.

    In adults it's worse, for the blindness we assume is as willful as the conscious act of seeing and removing our shoes....

    all this decoding and encoding...i hope it made sense.

  8. Blessed Maliha,

    I may have felt similarly to the way you feel for your child while watching a movie the other night ("Heading South," directed by Laurent Cantet) portraying a white American woman walking through a dangerous part of a city in Haiti. She seemed so naive in her seemingly utter belief that she was impervious to anything bad befalling her. I reflected that I, a man in middle-class America, typically exercise continuous vigilance as to the dangers surrounding me. Scanning my surroundings as I get out my car keys, etc., etc. How far from "innocent" I am most of the time!

    I note that there seems to be some ambiguity in my understanding of "attentiveness" or "mindfulness" with respect to consciously willed innocence, for the vigilance just referred to is, as I admitted, the apparent opposite of innocence. The mindfulness that can shift a person into a state of willed innocence must be of a different order. I suppose that it must require that we shed our distrust of our surroundings and make ourselves vulnerable. Perhaps we need to be in a safe place to practice this....