There’s a great oak next to the park road at the upper end, with seven huge branches reaching down to the grass on one side. It was as magnificent as ever when I stopped on the way into my meditation place. Months without rain however, have made the Central Valley dry, dusty and dirty.
The old oak anchors three miles of parkland that follow the creek through town. It must be very old, a mature tree perhaps when Native Americans lived here, before Europeans came and drove them out in the mid-19th century. They may even have gathered its acorns as their staple food.
It will be at least three more months before the rainy season begins. The foothills are bone dry. The truly dangerous fire season now begins.
But it’s green and well shaded beside the stream. Kids shout and play at ‘the beach,’ a narrow strip of sand and hip deep water 100 meters upstream from where I often take my meditations.
Across the stream, the bass from hell, exuding from some house, reverberates over the music of the rippling current. Just as the mind-as-thought yields to inclusive, undirected attention, it stops.
A strange indifference comes over one. When the ‘I’ and thought end, the world recedes into insignificance, psychological time ceases, and problems seem like petty things.
As one of America’s greatest religious philosophers, John Muir, said: “Presently you lose consciousness of your own separate existence: you blend with the landscape, and become part and parcel of nature.”
When thought and time end, one sees and feels the ever-present actuality of death, without a trace of morbidity or fear. Death is in every breath, in the expiration of the cells within the body. It’s an inextricable part of nature. In fact, death is the ground not only of nature’s continuous renewal, but the wellspring of the ongoing creation of the universe.
Thought, by its very nature, divides life from death, and fears it. But when thought spontaneously falls silent in undirected attention to its movement in the mirror of nature, a reverence for life and death arise within one. A benediction comes…sacredness completely beyond words, emotions and the intellect.
That’s the only thing worthy of veneration. Never adore another person, or put them on a pedestal, however illumined they may be. Reverence is reserved for life, death and the immeasurable beauty of nature and the universe, and the unknowable creative source within and behind the cosmos.
The human brain is the only brain on this planet with the capacity for conscious awareness, communion and participation in the sacredness that imbues the universe. So why is it so rare to “bring the benediction?”
Is it because few people have relationship with nature? Is it because we have no feeling for what is actually sacred?
Hebrew University religious philosopher Moshe Halbertal writes, “When you lose the realm of the sacred, that realm of the common good outside of politics, that is when societies collapse.”
If he had left it at, “When you lose the realm of the sacred, that is when societies collapse,” it would have given pregnant pause. But by adding, “that realm of the common good outside of politics,” he erroneously defines and delimits the sacred, and remains in the political dimension.
The sacred is beyond of the world, without being separate from it. And it has nothing to do with the “common good.”
If I had any doubt about what Halbertal means by the sacred, he dispels it when he asks, who are the leaders many of us still respect and yearn for — even when we disagree with them?
Halbertal answers his rhetorical question thus: “They are the leaders who believe that there is a realm of the sacred — of the common good — that is outside of politics and who make big decisions based on their best judgment of the common good — not their naked power interests.’’
“The common good” is not sacred. It is, rightly, at the core of the political dimension. And as recently as a few decades ago, the common good could be defined in national terms, without being nationalistic.
That is no longer possible however. The common good now refers to the global commons—the common good of humanity.
Even so, that is still in the realm of political philosophy, not religious philosophy. To my mind, awakening one’s inherent capacity to perceive and receive the sacred is why are alive on this beautiful planet, which man is destroying apace.
We cannot define what is sacred, for if we could, it wouldn’t be sacred; it would be another plaything of thought and the intellect.
The human brain has the capacity to be in communion with the sacred, but the mind-as-thought must fall completely, spontaneously silent for a deep reverence for life and death to be, and for the benediction to come. Martin LeFevre