July, 17 2020 — I would like to state that we are living in sacred time. I acknowledge that this claim may feel out of synch with the compelling and urgent needs of the climate crisis, coronavirus, economic decline, and calls for social justice. Any one of these challenges of modern life on earth will require significant amounts of time, talent, and treasure. Taken as a constellation of tests they can fell overwhelming and paralyzing. I know because it is easier for me, these days, to slide into darker emotions and a sense of oppression then to act. I wonder how one person can embody enough agency to change the world in these times. Yet, we are living in a sacred time. A time of unusual opportunity to release the fullness of human flourishing. Sacred time provides a way of integrating the competing impulses of paralysis and action.
Sacred has religious connotations but according to Mariam-Webster it can mean anything or anyone “entitled to reverence and respect.” I think that our collected human experience is worthy of reverence and respect. The challenges are serious. They deserve intentionality and attentiveness not irreverence and disrespect. And the opportunities for meaningful, just, and inclusive changes in healthcare, education, economics, and policy as equally compelling. The possibilities are too rich to pass over, no matter how hard or frightening they may be. To be in sacred relationship, for me, means to act in new ways that build rather than break down connections with self and others. Social distancing does not require isolation from the needs of the earth, people, and institutions in this moment. They require reverence and respect.
I love teaching because it is my students who often show me ways of turning challenge into sacred action; darkness into light. Their words and deeds invite me to see the world with new eyes. To see agency when none seemed present before. For instance, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic I was talking to students about taking care of each other and how the university was approaching instructional changes. It was abundantly clear that something unusual was happening in our collected lives. Fear and anxiety were rising. One of my students made the observation: “All it takes is switching one letter to go from scared to sacred”. I was brought up short in my thinking and emotional response. Her comment offered a way to reframe my lived-experience. To be “scared” but also open to elements of the “sacred” as well. To give reverence and respect to the paradox of scared and sacred inhabiting the same space in my mind and heart.
I can follow my student’s advice and move from a state of scared isolation by looking for and engaging in experiences worthy of reverence and respect. Treating the lives of Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples as sacred. Empowering students to fully engage their heart, mind, and hands in the sacred process of learning. Calling for justice when the sacred qualities of humanness are threatened by systems of power and oppression.
The psychiatrist, Dr. Sue Varma, who studies the impact of trauma and loneliness on mental health offers a practical framework for finding the sacred, the things that bring me alive, in the midst of being scared. She calls her structured response to isolation and suffering the four-M’s. They include: mindfulness, mastery (not perfection) of anything creative, movement of any degree, and meaningful connection—particularly helping others. In this time of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter I can practice the four-M’s while following the guidelines of sheltering in place. Which M has the greatest appeal for you right now? Which M can help move your feelings of being scared to the possibility of seeing the sacred—worthy of reverence and respect—in your day? I’m particularly drawn to creative activities and movement. I’m sketching more images of nature and riding my bicycle to build resilience to the traumatic impacts of coronavirus. I’m questioning the ways my points of power and privilege are unconsciously supporting whiteness and the oppression of others, limiting their sacred potential.
What are the activities in your life that bring you alive right now? Maybe it is spending time with a child, watching them grow and change by the minute. Maybe it is the soft breathing of a pet resting by your chair or on your lap as you write. Maybe it is the opportunity to just rest, to slow down, to live into the fecund dormancy of social inaction. Maybe it is marching and calling for social justice. Perhaps what is worthy of your reverence and respect is the dismantling of power and privilege that favors the few over the diminishment of many. The poet David Whyte advises that: “sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet / confinement of your aloneness / to learn / anything or anyone / that does not bring you alive / is too small for you.” As an extrovert who relies heavily on action and social connection, I need “the sweet confinement of my aloneness” to know what is sacred, what is truly worthy of my reverence and respect. I trust that by living this moment, even in its darkness, as sacred time I will emerge into the light with a clearer sense of how education and the ways I structure learning can become sacred time to all my students.