BUILDING WITH THE
BREATH OF LIFE - Tom Bender - revised
draft text 8 Jan.1999
VARIETIES OF SACRED PLACES
There are many kinds of sacred places, and many reasons for holding places sacred:
Some are physically special places, with unusually powerful patterns of nature, which draw us apart from our everyday lives and into awareness of primal forces. Mountains, rivers, oceans and lakes rarely fail to make a powerful impact on us. Many are "edges" - places of meeting and joining of water and earth, earth and sky.
Some places are sacred purely because our actions don't dominate them, such as the Redwoods, Glacier, or Yosemite National Parks or wilderness areas. These places allow us to shed the self-centeredness and self-importance of our actions and dreams and become aware of the greater context within which we are embedded.
Special places enhanced by enlightened building can embody particularly powerful visions of our universe and our place in it. The chess pavilion perched among the clouds on the granite shoulder of Hua Shan in China conveys an unsurpassed sense of "life among the Gods. Zen gardens in Japan convey a depth of action and knowing. The Itsukushima Shrine in Japan, built on posts out into a bay on its island, or the Pyramids of Gizeh, reflecting the stars in Orion's Belt alongside the Milky Way river in the sky generate wonderful senses of connectedness.
The feng-shui of Chinese pagodas or Alpine village churches communicates balance and peace with nature. The Kailasa Temple at Ellura, carved out of living rock, conveys an unmatched intimacy with our planet, economy of means, and a confident power of sacred imagery. Together, these suggest the special power which can, on occasion, be evoked through our buildings, gardens, and our shaping of the landscape.
Other places, by merely placing a limit on our actions, remind us in unequivocal terms of the necessity to limit our dreams and use of power. The sacred cows of India and the Ise Shrine in Japan both represent this powerful kind of statement. By saying "no" to actions or by denying access, they convey by very different means the same significance of limits - of not letting us or anything else become all-powerful.
Quite differently, places of important history or context hold before us events, actions, lives, and places which have stood witness to values we hold high. Think of the Dome of the Rock, the Lincoln Memorial, the Agora of Athens, or the birth or death places of saints. Places long held sacred and oracular sites are particular examples of how our act of holding sacred creates sacredness itself.
Places with special electromagnetic or chi energy conditions have also long been held sacred. Hawaiian birth centers, favorable Chinese feng-shui locations, English cathedrals, "vision-quest" sites and Ohio's famous Serpent Mound all give documentary evidence of the proven ability of places with unusual energetic conditions to favorably influence human activities either materially or through our belief systems. [Serpent Mound]
These places suggest how varied and powerful sacred places can be, but also that their real significance may not lie in the places themselves.1
Our act of "holding sacred" is what is of primary importance, not what caused us to choose a particular place to carry out that act.
The true power of sacred places lies in their role of marshaling our inner resources and binding us to our beliefs. In holding a place sacred, we grant power to that place and acknowledge the power of the place. As an icon, or through its own inherent patterns, we acknowledge its ability to impact our awareness of certain relationships and their value to us.
The human uses to which sacred places are put are many. Jim Swan, in SACRED PLACES, lists traditional cultural uses as including graves, cemeteries and burial grounds, purification places, healing sites, sacred plant and animal sites, quarries for ritual objects, astronomical observatories, shrines, temples and effigies, oracular sites, historical sites, places of spiritual renewal, mythic and legendary sites, vision questing and dream places, rock art places, fertility sites, and sunrise ceremonial sites.2 Our interaction with such places and events augments both our own energies and those of the place.
Sacred places thus forge and strengthen bonds between us and the universe in which we believe. They empower us by affirming the wholeness of the universe we see revealed about us, and by reflecting our chosen place and role in that universe. The inviolability of sacred places is essential. Through the act of holding sacred, we affirm the primacy in our beliefs of the values which they embody.
Great achievements in creating sacred places, such as Barabudur in Java or Chartres Cathedral in France are wonderful. They give us a sense of the possible. Equally important, however, is to know that the same basic possibilities lie within the scope of our own actions. Few of us have the power of an absolute monarch, the real estate of Yosemite, or the honed skills of a Zen master. Yet what each of us has is more than enough. [Barabudur]
There is opportunity in every action to show what we love and hold sacred. Making sacred places requires only that we look for ways we can make our surroundings connect us more powerfully to each other and to the other life that surrounds us. That first step unfolds the next, and that, in turn, what follows.
We can make our places sacred by making them at home in the universe. As we perceive a certain harmony in our surroundings and reinforce that harmony in our building, we also strengthen our confidence in an overarching harmony and rightness in the universe and in our ability to positively influence the mysterious forces affecting our lives and marshal them to our needs. The sense of order with which we organize our places expresses our own sense of order and creation in our universe. Immutable Euclidean geometry, topological organization, or fractal growth rhythms all offer vastly different opportunities, and speak of different awareness of growth, life, and relationship.
We can touch the sacredness of our places by making them at home with their surroundings. Belonging is sorely absent in our society. Gardens and buildings that draw us into the unique presence of sunrise and sunset at a particular place keep us in touch with the rhythms of work and rest in nature - rhythms of giving and absorbing that are important to acknowledge for our own health. With window seats, doorsteps, verandahs, porches and outdoor rooms, we can create places to live and work that nestle between protection and contact with our surroundings. A healthy native environment around our buildings helps us learn the attributes and oddities of life long adapted to our particular place.
In learning to honor others as we make our surroundings, we touch the sacredness of both people and place. The English build a parlor to honor guests. The Japanese place an honored guest in front of their tokonoma so that others will associate the guest with the specialness of the flowers and art. By using the traditional design wisdom of a region, we honor the work, insights, and hard lessons of the past. By planting trees, we honor a will to have a future. Providing opportunity for birds to nest, wildflowers to grow, and squirrels to play, we honor the other lives with which we share our world. Whatever we honor - a TV, children, or a good cook - shows in how we design and use our buildings and their surroundings. It speaks forth clearly of where we place our values.
By putting sacredness into all of our relationships, and making all places sacred, we align ourselves and pull into our lives the incredible power that has generated all the wonder that we see revealed around us.
In the Middle Ages in Europe, the eminence of the church spire towering over a community was a measure of the role of the sacred in that society. In today's world, the constructive power of the economic world of greed competing for dominance of the sky cannot be matched by any sacred place, and would appear absurd if it did. Each age has to find appropriate vehicles for demonstrating the sacred in our lives in ways which cannot be matched by other beliefs.
Today, that expression must come out of dimensions of design that are able to move our hearts with little cost in resources or dollars; ones that are able to connect us to sources of energy unavailable from other beliefs; and ones that can bring us back into connection with the rest of Creation. Is that a garden rather than a cathedral? Is it a hidden place of prayer opening between the worlds, rather than a large church sanctuary? Is it the song of love and happiness in a community, or the glimmer of spider webs sharing space with our lives?
It might be useful here to shift gears a bit and
try to give a sense of what it is like to try and do something
outrageous, unprecedented, and totally outside of anything we've ever been
taught to do.....like create sacred space for our community.
Words and theories help little when we ourselves are faced with marshaling our own courage, coming up with a real idea of what to do in our own, very real community, getting a group of people committed to an idea, and actually showing up and doing it. So here's a story of what happened in the making of:
THE SHRINE OF THE MOUNTAIN
AND THE WATERS
It's a long way from the beach to the top of the mountain with a rounded two hundred pound boulder continually slipping out of your hands. I asked myself again and again why on earth we would be doing such a crazy thing. But inside, I knew. We all knew. We were making a shrine. [spiral rock]
A shrine-maker? I certainly never saw that before in my career plan. So it surprised me as much as everyone else when suddenly last year the urge overcame me and my family.
I couldn't even have told you very clearly what a shrine was. I had no idea how one makes a shrine, or what it should look like. I have always even flinched a bit inside every time I heard the term ''shrine". It somehow seemed to carry with it a connotation of some primitive religious thing with "the meager offerings of the natives to their gods", of spaced-out hippie rituals, or of people playing at something. This edge to the word didn't totally leave me until we had actually founded shrines and had experienced what the act of doing so with a pure heart could do for us.
The past seemed at first to have little help to
offer, for we can't wear the clothes of another era. They don't fit our
changed bodies and souls. Making a Gothic shrine or a Buddhist temple felt
about as apt as wearing a suit of armor or a monk's robes to the office.
To fit, and to have power, a shrine must come out of what we are and the
changes we are making in ourselves - today. But how were we to find what
that is? [blue shrine slide]
Shrines have existed in every culture, in every possible configuration, in every age. We can find them anywhere, once we start to look. Atop mountain passes, in the forest, on a city street, tucked between the piers of a church; over a doorway, within a home, in small and great buildings of their own.
They may be found by following the grasses bent in passing to a natural place of power whose image and name is held only in our memories. They may take the form of vast and beautiful buildings acknowledging and celebrating the value of a person, a place, or an idea to a community. They may be merely a pile of pebbles or a straw rope marking a place and our connection with it.
In a stone village in the Spanish Pyrenees, the Christian Virgin appears everywhere - a reflection of the people's prayers, hopes, beliefs, and values. In a town in the Austrian Alps, a statue of the Black Madonna stands in the town center, and small wooden shrines dot the surrounding mountain forests. On an island in Japan, straw ropes with shide paper prayers distinguish a particular rock, tree, or pool in the forest; bind together huge rocks at the ocean's edge, and adorn a black boulder at the curb of a busy urban intersection. [Matsumoto shrine] [S. Germain du Pres]
In India, in Mexico, in Africa, simple yet honored shrines line the sides of roads and paths. In traditional cultures the world around, shrines have festooned busses, trucks, and cars; homes and public places. In Cambodia, the sluice-gates of the Khmer irrigation canals became shrines because of their role in regulating the flow of the chi-filled water throughout the kingdom. In Washington DC, the Vietnam Memorial became a place of poignant emotion for visitors to the capital, serving an important need, while other memorials stand forgotten.
What shrines show us is what we hold sacred, what we value so greatly as to hold inviolate. They have made visible the depth of feeling and meaning that a place or person has. They have show us the empowerment of our connection with the rest of nature and the breath of life that infuses it.
To me, like most people in our culture, shrines
have seemed to be an anachronism from an age of superstition. Yet here I
was, preparing to make shrines. Where did such a curious urge begin? And
is it so curious once we have learned the power which lies within
such an act?
Most deeply, for me, the shrines grew out of a realization that to help cure the diseases of the spirit of our society it was necessary to affirm a giving and healing presence in our own surroundings. To have that presence, our surroundings must reflect and be shaped out of the creative force in our lives that gives them meaning and power.
Another root of our shrine-making was tied with the physical impacts of greed and growth encroaching on our mountain. Our community until recently was a forgotten backwater where the excesses of modern culture hadn't reached. It survived on care for each other and love of place. Then a few years ago that changed, as development pressures bent on the exploitation of people and place impinged on our community. The cutting of the forests, blasting of roads, development of subdivisions, and franchising of consumerism all brought with it the twisted anger, greed, and selfishness of modern civilization.
I realized that if our surroundings showed only the scars and ravages of greed, then greed would unquestionably become the heart value of our community. But if we ensured that in some way our surroundings showed and kept alive the reverence for all Creation in the midst of the onslaught, our community would at least have an alternate basis upon which to chart its future.
A final root was my growing knowledge of the role that chi, or life energy, plays in generating and sustaining the power of people and places. Important to that power of chi is the role of focal places, such as shrines, to concentrate that energy and increase our ability to connect with it.
When the spiritual core of a culture is clear and
strong, conventions exist for the making of a shrine. At times when we are
reforging the spiritual dimensions of our lives, we have also to fashion
anew the expression of that spiritual nature. This is particularly true
when we want a place to be accessible to all people without blockage by
religious symbolism which is adverse to them.
Where does one begin when we want to do something like this which has no precedent? In our case, our family began by talking together and discussing with our friends about where, or what, in our community could become an affirmation of sacredness. What could express our holding inviolate the health and well-being of people, place, and things? Two things came repeatedly to our minds - the mountain and the waters by which we live.
The mountain upon which we live has been a sacred one from time immemorial. Its spoken name itself - Neahkahnie - means 'place of the gods'. It has been honored and held sacred by hundreds of generations of those who have lived within its compass. It rises directly from the Pacific Ocean, and at its foot lies the bay of the Nehalem River, channeling the hundred inches of rain we receive every year back to the ocean. The Mountain and the Waters. The relationship we have lived with them led eventually to a plan for a double shrine - to honor both the mountain and the waters, and the complementary forces of nature which they represent.
What we decided to do was to take a rock from the beach, worn and rounded by the waves, and place it on top of the mountain. We then would take a rock from the mountain itself and place it by the waters of the bay. Like the yin/yang symbol, each rock connected to and was a seed of its opposite. These rocks would form the nucleus of the shrines, and link them together.
Why a rock? We wanted something lasting, something without monetary cost, and something natural. But more than that, rocks had come to have special meaning. Our bodies are made of rock that has been fragmented into soil, organized into plants, and become mobile as animals. The rocks that constitute the mantle of our planet are the ashes of long dead stars. The stars of today are in fact our cousins, and rocks under our feet are our geological grandparents. They are our genealogical link with the canopy of stars over our heads. So what better could we use in making a shrine than the rocks that stand as our historical connection with the rest of life?
The form a shrine takes comes in part from its specific chosen location. In this case, the knife-edge summit of the mountain was out as a location, as it was intensively used by hikers, and recently desecrated by the state park's installation of commercial, for-profit cellular phone apparatus. There was a grove of trees though, on the saddle of the mountain, which did have a special feel and power to it - on top, yet closed in by ancient sitka spruce, survivors of winds sometimes reaching 110-120 mph. It focused inward on the mountain, not out at the view. [Ridge/fog]
The site for the shrine of the waters came more slowly, out of more options. We finally found a place on the bay side of the sand spit between the river and the ocean that was accessible, yet rarely visited, and which held a special beauty and peacefulness. Between the high, tree covered dune and the bay itself was a wonderful area of giant driftwood logs, sculpted tree roots, birds, elk, water and sky. Nearby were the almost vanished remains of an old Indian village, whose spirit seemed to still protect the area. At the edge where the dune met the beach and the marsh grasses, there it was - a remarkable enclosure of driftwood, living branches, and wild roses. They said, "Here is the place!" [shrine slide]
Both the grove of trees on the mountain and the enclosure by the bay had power and beauty of their own. Both could accommodate individuals or small groups. Neither needed to be "gussied up". The shrine-making required only the seed rocks and some fine-tuning to create memorable and potent places.
We found the rocks - a boulder from the beach and a rock from a rockfall high on the mountain. And now we had homes for them. I felt the need to mark the rocks in some way - to have them clearly express our intention. It seemed they needed to be the product of human as well as other natural process, and to convey a measures of the meaning we felt and acknowledged in our world. What we decided to carve in the rocks was a spiral. Not just any spiral, but the specific fibonacci spiral of growth found in the development patterns of pine cones, cabbage, sunflowers, and tree branches. It is a geometry unique to the linkage through which life ties into and uses the energy fields in our surroundings.
But a spiral alone wasn't right - it didn't have the right balance. Suddenly a pair of spirals leapt to mind - coiling or uncoiling around each other in balance. Here again the dual nature of the shrine manifested itself - double spirals uncoiling to the left on one rock, and mirrored, uncoiling to the right on the other one. Duality again in that the spirals sometimes appear to be coiling inward - in the inner-focusing of mediation and centering, and sometimes uncoiling outward - in the ancient pattern of growth and becoming. Breathe in, breathe out. Duality and balance. It felt right in the head, in the heart, and in the stone.
And so they were carved.
Then another question arose. The carved rock felt somehow too intrusive, too visible, on the mountain. So I said to myself, half joking, "Well, let's bury it!". And suddenly that felt terribly right. It dealt well with the issue of intrusiveness. But it felt even more right for a totally different reason.
Visualizing the rock with its spiral in contact with the chi of the earth had much more rightness and power than as just a visible "sculpture" to be looked at. Knowing of its unseen presence rather than seeing its face, we could feel the difference between inner and outer qualities and the importance of those oft hidden inner ones.
We would open the rock to the air every year in a ceremony of renewal. Thus we could acknowledge its presence, honor it, bring it into touch with the world above the ground, and then return it again to its placement connected inward to the earth for another year. At the same time we could renew our connection with it and the meaning it held in our hearts. It is amazing the tortuous paths by which right-feeling decisions wend their way into existence!
The rightness of this revealed itself in the reaction of people who saw the rock before we placed it, or who were at the placing ceremony and didn't know our plans to face it into the earth. Everyone seemed to agree the rock was beautiful and powerful. But to a one their faces transformed as they learned we were placing it into the ground. Somehow it stopped being a crazy prank, and became something which was true, right, and powerful. It truly affirmed our belief in chi, and that this shrine was important enough to go to a lot of effort to make, and that it would influence our lives.
Even though an access road was temporarily open
at that time, we decided we were going to carry the rock to the top
of the mountain. This project wasn't about the world of machines. It was
about the changes in us and in our surroundings that come about through
the process of doing it. It wasn't a question of macho, it was a question
of community, of accomplishing something together we were unable to do alone.
So we improvised a sling to carry the rock, and invited our friends to join
us. On the evening of the full moon and the new moon we planned to move
the rocks into place.
Would anyone help? You could see it on some faces - "It's a wonderful idea, but I don't think I could get myself to the top of the mountain, to say nothing of dragging a two hundred pound rock with me." Or, "Yeah, it would be fun to get together and do something, but no way am I going out into public doing such a crazy thing."
Yes, that is what it was about - going public about loving and holding sacred our selves, our neighbors, our world. About doing, not talking about. About making it okay for others to do both. About making visible an alternative to letting fear and deceit come to rule our entire lives.
A few did come. Enough to get the rock two-thirds of the way to the top of the mountain the first evening. (Even with four people carrying at a time, it was heavy.) And to the top the next weekend, and to the other shrine the third. So it did happen, with drums and Oreos and kids and barking dogs, with the sacred and the mundane mingling as they do. And our individual doubts as to our ability to accomplish the job were replaced by a real knowing in every sinew of our bodies that together we could accomplish handily and with joy what we hardly dared dream of alone.
Once at the site, there was one final step to the process of founding the shrines. That was installing the rocks in their new homes, and with that the installation in our hearts of new meaning. This ritual was something we both looked forward to and dreaded. Was it going to work - physically and ritually? How do you do it? The library, strangely, didn't have any books on founding shrines to mountains and rivers.
Was it going to feel like playing at something - or would it have the depth and power of meaning we sensed lay in wait? Founding something new is always awkward, like a new colt struggling to its feet for the first time. Later, in our memories, it may become smooth and powerful. The things that didn't quite work are easily forgotten in the strength of the memories of those that did. But it's rarely that way at the time.
The dogs underfoot made sure we kept a balance of humor and seriousness, of laughing at ourselves at the same time we were doing something deep and profound. One tiny dog not only made it to the top of the mountain, but appointed herself to dig the hole for us to set the rock in! If we thought we were running the show, she straightened us out right away.
I started the ceremony by explaining why we had wanted to make the shrines. I said we had no idea what was the right way to do so. "Lacking experience," I said, "we are doing the only thing we can do - following our hearts." We welcomed anyone to contribute, and to participate as they wished. If they felt uncomfortable taking part, we were thankful just for their presence and witnessing. That seemed to make us all feel more at ease.
Then we spread out in a circle around the shrine, and stood gently absorbing the silence, aligning our own energy with its abundance. We smudged ourselves and the site, and placed Japanese folded paper prayers (shide) around the perimeter, leaving a circle of small temporary markers.
We were surprised and pleased that many people had brought something personal they wanted to leave as part of the shrine. That let us know that the idea of the shrine had found deep-rooted meaning and value to them - enough that they wanted to put a piece of their heart into it. They were there in the same spirit as we were, which brought a new level of power to the ceremony. Somehow, we had created a safe and sacred space where intimacy could happen with a group of people. They shared with us - sometimes with tears all around - the meaning of their gifts. As they did so, the significance of the shrine to all of us expanded and deepened.
We each talked about our dreams, our fears, our love, our thankfulness for what each had been given by the others. In silence we meditated on the trees, the water, the power of the places. We sang. Individually and together, we blessed the place and the rocks. We avowed our intention to have a place which showed the love we held for our community and our surroundings. We cleansed our minds and the energy of the rocks with fresh spring water from the mountain. Again the duality brought together - the rock and the water, the resistant and the yielding.
We focused and connected our chi together and to the rock and the place, and through it to the other shrine. At the end, I passed out small carved rocks and prayers, as a momento of the occasion. As we walked away, we looked back, and saw something that had never existed before, which we had created - and carried it with us in our memory.
It did work. It worked because we knew in
our hearts that it was right and that it would succeed. It worked because
our spirits were clear and focused on creating something that was true,
not on our own aggrandizement. It worked because we spoke from our deepest
feelings, and felt our way humbly toward what would work. It worked because
we were there open and vulnerable in our desire to take a vital step to
heal the wrongness in our way of living that was destroying the world on
both sides of our skin.
Looking back towards the sources, everything was borrowed. Native American customs, Shinto prayers, Chinese feng-shui, Christian song, Earth Goddesses, Buddhist meditation, "fake petroglyphs", Hindu kundalini , and a friend's dog - there was a little of everything. Yet together, those pieces had come together into two shrines, unprecedented and potent.
The only thing that really mattered in all that hodge-podge was, "Is it whole, does it fit, is what it creates right?" If it fit, we used it. If something else worked better, we used that. This is a time of cross-fertilization, of growing, borrowing, adapting, and intuiting of powerful new things that fit specific and unprecedented contexts. It is the final rightness that matters, not the source of the pieces.
It was done. Two shrines. One a vigorous mountain top grove, the other a serene enclosure nested at the edge of the waters of the bay. Both with their seed rocks establishing, affirming, and linking their purposes. We stood in the silence, awestruck at the power of the places and the changes that we had created within us.
The shrines were made, but had yet to unfold and
reveal themselves to us in their fullness. That has happened and continues,
as always, in unexpected and wonderful ways. The Shrine of the Mountain
immediately expanded from the rock itself to the tree, to the whole grove
which surrounded it. A double "guardian" tree to the north became
a part. Other trees ringing the rock's tree offered sitting places among
their roots which people have begun to use. The wildflower understory within
this ring became a part of the setting, as well as the wonderful silence
of the place. It has become a place for people to scatter the ashes of their
loved ones. The wind and fog streaming through seem to carry the energy
of the place outward to the other shrine and to our community below.
Attuned to the sacredness of place, our eyes began to see the entire mountain differently. We rediscovered a tree we had found on the mountain long ago, part way up the trail to the top. Ancient and massive, this tree stood with limbs spread wide and covered with moss, within a forest of lesser trees standing shoulder to shoulder straining skyward in competition for the sun. It was a survivor from the past - from days when the first local tribes burned the south face of the mountain to provide pasturage for the elk. It must have stood solitary then in this great and windblown mountain meadow, with limbs spread unencumbered reaching for sunlight. Now the mother tree which spawned the entire surrounding forest, it deserved to be honored in its own right. [Mothertree]
At the Shrine of the Waters, it took several adjustments of the location of the rock and the driftwood around it before things felt right. There the waters in the bay and marsh are strongly present. The waters come silently twice each day, in their rhythm tied to the sun and the moon, covering even the rock itself at flood stage. Then they recede again, allowing us, for short periods, presence in this special place. Sometimes, going to the shrine, we find that the huge driftwood logs surrounding it on the water side have been silently raised by the waters and rearranged in our absence.
The chi of the mountain shrine seems to be a vertical chi - a power plunging down through the heart of the mountain to the center of the earth, and up the trees to the stars above. It is the energy of becoming, of creating new material manifestations of the energy of life.
The Shrine of the Mountain feels connected with the emergence of the unforeseen and totally new. It seems to bond us again with the dynamism of the primal energy of life.
The chi of the water shrine feels, in appropriate contrast, to be a horizontal one. It spreads ever outward on the waters, encompassing and embracing all things on the interface between the earth, the waters, and the air. The mountain rock invites our touch and direct connection to its chi. The water rock draws us to the bay and the water-filled sand upon which the rock rests rather than to itself.
The Shrine of the Waters feels connected with life, fecundity, death, and rebirth. The dead trees hold nests, new tree sprouts, shelter for the birds and animals. Deer sleep in the shrine. Grouse - the birds of the spiral dance of rebirth - send their haunting, thrumming hoot from the woods around. The mud flats teem with growth and dying; and out of that death, the arising of new life.
We've gone to the shrines at sunrise, in full moon, in fog, rain and snow. From them, we've watched the moon rise over the bay in full eclipse, and seen a comet in the night sky. We've gone there alone, and together; for comfort and inspiration and thanksgiving; in grief and joy. With each visit, the gift that they have given us increases and deepens, and what they represent to us becomes more encompassing.
And one day, almost a year later, I was channeling chi through the rock on the mountain. With a jolt, I could suddenly see and feel a laser-like beam of golden energy shooting out from the rock directly to the rock at the other shrine on the bay below. They had broken through the bad chi in between, and were linked!
Two very different, yet accessible, places have
been created where people can go - for silence, to rest, to meditate or
pray, or merely to be in the presence of an act of holding sacred. Their
image, and the knowledge of their existence, surface in my mind with a deep
and warm feeling even when I am far away. People keep discovering them.
We're stopped on the street with tears and thanks by strangers who have
been deeply touched by the shrines' existence. They are becoming touchstones
- in our hearts and our community - of the sacred and of the power of the
breath of life.
What does the future hold for these shrines? I don't know. They may be forgotten, they may give impetus to all sorts of change. It really doesn't matter. They have changed us. Anything more is bonus.
The shrines have let us become conscious of ourselves as part of a wonderful process of creation. They have confirmed to us that loving and holding inviolate all of Creation is essential for healing us and our world. They have shown us that the act of holding sacred is a vehicle for restoring our connectedness with all of that Creation. We now carry this with us out into our lives and our future.
Done again, or in a different place, the shrines would emerge in a different form. This was a small community in a rural area, with its own unique conditions. Yet in the most crowded urban area there are niches and places within access of everyone which can become shrines with equal power.
It is the act of frankly affirming and acknowledging sacredness, and opening ourselves to the connectedness which that sacredness engenders, which becomes enshrined. It is that which empowers and transforms us and our communities.
The founding prayer of the shrines said it another way:
Our stars, our sun,
our rocks, our dreams
are all stardust -
the ashes of stars before.
The chi of life permeates, joins,
and sustains all.
Open our hearts.
Purify us, heal us, sustain us.
Honor and celebrate all creation.
We are one.
We are One!
Some people have asked how to tell what places
are sacred or which ones have strong energy. At this point I can only answer,
"Trust your tummy". If a place feels good to you, it is good for
you. If you don't feel anything at a place, it doesn't have anything for
you. I used to ask myself the same thing in Japan, seeing a straw rope marking
a totally unexceptional place in the forest. When asked, a local priest
said it was the abode of an earth spirit. How can we tell if such a spirit
is present? Denise Linn, in her wonderful SACRED SPACE book3, replied frankly when asked how
she could tell if fairies or other spirits are present in the woods or a
garden, "Well, I see them!" For those of us yet unblessed
with such vision, we have to trust our tummies, and deal only with what
we can feel.
So, where did the making of these shrines leave me, my community, and my friends? Looked at somewhat more than a year later, interesting things have happened. Carving the rocks got me into carving other rocks. One of those inspired a potter friend to do a whole series of "egg" sculptures, and others to use rock carving for markers of sacred places. I've learned a lot about ritual, celebration, and the energy flows that do get created in making and using sacred space.
And the community? The stories of the shrines has wended its way through the local grapevine. One friend gave a talk about it at a local ecology workshop. The local historian put a story about it into a time capsule being buried at the town's 50th anniversary. The paths to the shrines have become more visible as more people find them and use them. People have started asking for help making shrines at their homes and businesses. Someone wants to build a temple to the Earth Goddess. There's even some talk about other community celebrations. Another, really incredible, place was shown to us, but I'm not going to talk about that yet.
Places like this within our communities can act as touchstones to hold the patterns and relationships of our special ecological communities in a clear and powerful way that helps us keep and deepen our connection. In the rain country, a "Rain Garden" in the center of the city honoring and showing water in its myriad powerful patterns - or fountains and waterways throughout the community celebrating water. In the desert, a place of emptiness and silence in the middle of community. In the forest lands, a place where we can commune with the Standing People.
We can create places of incredible power honoring, celebrating, and bringing our hearts in touch with earth, rock, and the primal process of planetary tectonics. We can create a Shrine to the Waters of the World, to Fire, to Air, to Spirit. In moving our hearts deeply and learning to love more deeply these things, we bring ourselves piece by piece back into oneness with all of Creation.
We need sacred places in our lives and communities. We need them in our homes, to honor our beliefs and give us places to trigger the grounding and nurturing of our own energy. We need them in our neighborhoods, or within walking distance, as places to meditate, or to find a moment of peace, or to restore our energy in deeper and more powerful ways than we can do in our homes. We need special sacred places available to our entire communities. And we need to make our entire communities into places that honor the sacredness of all Creation.
38755 Reed Rd.
Nehalem OR 97131 USA
© 8 Jan. 1999
1 Martin Gray's PLACES OF PEACE AND POWER, 1997 from PO Box 4111, Sedona AZ 86340 provides a related catagorization, as does Swan, below .
2 James Swan, SACRED PLACES, Bear & Co., 1990.
3 Denise Linn, SACRED SPACE, Ballantine Books, 1995.