Monday, August 04, 2008

Sacred Space

Reading "Filipino Martial Culture". In it, Mark Wiley quotes an anthropologist discussing the concept of "sacred space": this is where you go to become something more, where you go to learn things that have a price, things that change you. He talks about crossing the threshhold and it reminds me much of my training in martial arts: bowing on entering the dojo wasn't about religion or even respect. It was a signal to myself to leave the mundane world outside. Out in that world existed relationships and money problems and minor frustrations. Inside this space was pain and sweat and blood and knowledge. Far more important things, far more real things.

There is a sacred space in combat, and in climbing and in, potentially, everything. I don't think the sacred aspect is about risk or even learning. It is about living.

Most people don't pay attention most of the time. How does your foot feel in your shoe right now? What is the nearest human movement you can hear? Whose breath, other than your own, can you hear? What are you smelling?

What makes training sacred is that you cannot do it in the usual mundane haze of inattention. I've seen oblivious students but they rarely last long under a good instructor. When you are learning dangerous things being stupid or being unaware is painful. It hurts and, in my opinion, it should.

This attention is what makes the thing sacred. A moment lived in attention is lived. A year passed in mindless repetition or safe in the comfort zone has only passed. It is wasted.

So it's the goal to live. Simply to live at all times. Dangerous places make that easier, long time spent where attention is required helps to make attention a habit. This habit of attention, in turn, makes the whole world sacred space.


Kai Jones said...

And transition rituals make it easier for beginners to enter sacred space, like your bowing example. I don't think nearly enough attention is paid to transitions, and a lot of stress arises out of them.

Kami said...

Thinking aloud here:

There are transitional to sacred spaces in relationships as well. Not just the big, obvious ones like in a wedding, but the daily ones. Folks who don't sit down all together at meals with their kids miss a traditional one. You sit and eat, and then the talking begins in the sacred family space. There are other places/times (going fishing with the kids, camping--the campfire at the end of the day, etc.) and many families do employ them without conscious thought.

Husbands and wives have transitions that take them from daily public and family life to private time at the end of the day, but if their schedules don't match up they miss that and either adapt to have a new transition and private time. If they don't then they sometimes sense they're missing sacred space/time together but may misinterpret that as only a lack of sufficient intimate/sexual time.

Jennifer said...

Hi Roy,
I've tried to find your contact info but failed - I'd love it if you can contact me as I wanted to suggest a link swap.

Drew Rinella said...

There is a neurological disorder which leaves the patient in a constant state of awareness of their body's every sensation. I think those people usually go crazy and kill themselves. I gotta find the name of that disorder!

Formosa Neijia said...

What you're talking about in this post is one of the main things trained in arts like taichichuan. But since it's non-obvious, the art gets ridiculed by outsiders who don't know what's supposed to be going on inside.

Maintaining "sacred space" or intent is crucial in many arts but often over-looked.

Dana said...

Perhaps it is not a space where we go to be more but a space to be fully what we already have become.

Few are willing to face and even fewer willing to embrace their entire being.

Many practices have been developed by men and women to help them be who they are without reservation or concession--few are willing to engage in the difficult, daily discipline needed to be successful.

I count myself among those who try but have not yet succeeded.



Thank you again to taking the time to meet up in DC in June. I know you were very busy and tired but it was wonderful talking, training, and being together.

I hope your adventure is going well.


jfs said...

Thank you - that sums up something that's been knocking around in my head for 20 years.

When I used to practice aikido, I used to shower before going on the mat. That was a transition ritual just as much as bowing on entry to the dojo.