Reflection 118: Sacred Ground

June 19, 2009

(Copyright © 2009)

Thinking about sacred ground, I had a vague inkling of having dealt with that topic in writing up a hike on Sargent Mountain in Acadia National Park in the spring of 1997. Looking up what I had written about that hike in my book, ACADIA: The Soul of a National Park, I found this:

Sargent Mountain brings me to my senses. Literally to my senses. To the skilled perceptions that inform me about the land where I live and on which my life depends. On Sargent my soul responds to the music of a mountain, the song of Acadia, my home on this Earth. If I do not respond to that song, my soul is out of touch with the source of its nurture. When that happens, life is at risk. That is why I go back again and again to the mountain that reawakens me to the music, not of the spheres, but of the Earth and its star, the song of the one sphere where I have risen briefly to awareness and whose native rhythms have shaped every aspect of my being and my soul. I am a minute reflection of the Earth soul, one spark reflecting the brilliance of the sun. (Page 224.)

No mention of sacred ground, but that’s clearly the idea I was trying to convey. And am still trying to convey in this blog. I don’t talk about soul now so much as about consciousness. What I’m after is seeing sacred ground as an aspect of consciousness—that music running through my head as I roam this land that I love. Not music exactly, but the lilting feeling deep inside me of doing the right thing in the right place at the right time. Of being fully who I am where I am, or thinking of you, who you are where you are when you find yourself right where you want to be.

What is that all about? That feeling of belonging exactly there. Of being drawn to a place and at the same time driven by something deep inside you. Like Ratty coming home in Wind in the Willows. There are two parts to the feeling, the outward carrot, the inward stick. Perceptions and feelings complementing each other, uniting in one self-fulfilling urge to happiness.

If the ground is sacred, you are sacred at the same time. The ground sanctifies you, you sanctify the ground. The engagement is mutual. When person and place honor each other, you feel music echoing inside you. You are moved by the landscape exactly as you make your way through it. Your song becomes a songline of the Earth.

It’s like being in love. There’s no separation between you and your beloved. I’m not talking physical union here so much as a kind of recognition of being made for each other, as thought and feeling are two aspects of the same mind. It’s more than form and content going together. It’s like form is content. They’re the same thing, or belong together as parts of something larger than themselves.

Dedicated or set apart for special use, sacred ground must be recognized and designated by persons aware of the special qualities warranting protection. That would be all those sensitive to such qualities as represented in consciousness. It takes one to know one. The whole of Acadia is sacred ground. I know that for myself because I have been there and recognized it for what it is—an extension of myself—as have the millions who seek it out year after year so they can celebrate themselves in that place.

But I do not intend to limit myself to my native haunts in this reflection. I am writing about love for the Earth by all Earthlings, those of every species who treasure their homeland and homewater, the territory that provides for and supports their particular livelihood in every detail. It is the living who treasure the ground and water they depend on. When we die, those who survive us will carry on with the same awe and respect. Since its territory is sacred, then Earth is sacred, as all life is sacred. I know because I feel that inside me. My consciousness keeps reminding me.

As a sacred planet, Earth is dedicated to the single task of supporting all life. As far as we know, it is the only body in the solar system—or any other system for that matter—where chemical ions and elements combine in such a way to reproduce in the presence of starlight and water. We, this living horde, sanctify these grounds and these waters. We carry representations of their wonders within us, and recognize them in our experience. As recognizers, we respect or venerate the sacred; as recognized within us, Earth too is sacred. We are made for one another.

Sacred ground stirs feelings in us of awe, deference, and devotion. Of reverence. Sounds like I’m talking religion here, and in a way I am. The word religion stems from the Latin root ligare, to tie or bind closely. Oblige and obligate stem from the same root in a similar sense, as “to be bound by ties of gratitude” (OED). Beyond matters of belief, religion requires dedication to a life of service. You have to give for what you get. Which is also true of the gift of life itself. We are obliged to pay for what we get, by dying, surely, but also by caring for that which supports us while we share in the blessing of life. That’s my religion, not a matter of serving God so much as thanking Earth for its many gifts.

Which is exactly what I am talking about in using the term sacred ground. Nobody says we have to serve, we just recognize that obligation within ourselves, as we have a duty to serve and protect those we love. How do we serve our particular place on Earth? By protecting it from harm so it will remain productive and whole. That service is not imposed upon us; it comes from inside. Just as mirror neurons reflect actions seen into actions performed (see Reflection 117: Monkey See, Monkey Do), the very awareness of treading on sacred ground stirs a profound feeling of wanting to care for that ground. Whether for a person, animal, or place, caring is a natural form of stewardship. We want to take care of those we love.

Our modern culture places many obstacles between us and those we care for. Essentially materialistic, it reduces obligations to care and serve to financial indebtedness. We are off the hook if we pay up. Buy diamond jewelry, high-calorie foods, big fancy cars, insurance, healthcare, mortgages, the best we can afford—and beyond. Be generous, as long as you consume what we sell, so says our culture. We are surrounded by middlemen eager to profit from our overwhelming obligation to love and to cherish. By serving those who intercede on our behalf, we come to believe money has the magical power to do what consciousness tells us to do for ourselves. As a result, the objects of our many affections become distanced by eager corporations interposing themselves between us now much as priests of the true church were once happy to intercede on behalf of the faithful they made anxious to pay for their sins.

Which not only drains our spirits and bank accounts, but separates our good intentions from our personal values and means for doing good in this life. We drift away from those we would dedicate ourselves to. We say we care, but when it comes down to serving, we cut ourselves off and, by default, serve primarily our material needs exactly as we have been taught. 

The remedy I find in myself is to serve Earth directly and those truly embodying its gifts. That is, by reclaiming my consciousness from those who would steal it from me, I reclaim the right to honor those I rely on and in whom I freely invest all that I am, including my feelings, hopes, desires, accomplishments, and even my genes. And above these, the Earth to which we are bound. It is my sacred obligation to care for these—and the ground on which we live. If I do not sing of these, what other song is mine to sing?




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