Why Bother with Sacred Space?
Why does a digital creative take time out of his day to carefully arrange some rocks and sticks on an ocean cliff side?
There is a Labyrinth at the top of a hill in Topanga Canyon, CA. There’s a beautiful view of the ocean and the coastal swing of Santa Monica into Malibu.
The Labyrinth has symbolized many things to many cultures throughout history, but in a place like Southern California, there is a palpable value to creating spaces that feel like they’re resonating with something deeper and more essential than we can articulate.
People feel the need to maintain the Labyrinth, and bring objects like shells, pinecones, and polished stones to place conspicuously in the center. There is no elaborate culture around this behavior, no consensus to find among the locals. There’s a sense that people simply feel moved to do it. They know it’s important, but the “Why” of it is rarely elaborated.
This is true for uncountable similar nooks and crannies that can be found in our supposedly postmodern jaded-ironic consumer-capitalist world, a culture which at first glance would seem to scoff at “sacred space” as another flavor of shallow New Age hippie fluff.
The fact that the compulsion to arrange simple objects in space with a careful and purposeful reverence has survived into our contemporary world is one that has fascinated me my whole life.
I walk to the center of the labyrinth, following its winding, curved path with curiosity and sensitivity. At the center, I find a collection in disarray. I know that at some point in the past, someone took time to make an arrangement that has since been eroded away. I know that there is no authority that demands any particular schedule or procedure for maintaining or refreshing this space. In this moment, it’s up to me.
I set to work and follow my intuition, squatting in the August heat to make the center of the labyrinth into something that “feels sacred”. What does it take to accomplish this? I’ve been investigating sacred space for more than a decade, and I still don’t have a complete answer.
The correct arrangement is found in the act of arranging, with a full embrace of intuition. I shift rocks around and collect pieces of wood. I use my compass to align everything to the cardinal directions, not because it is any kind of tradition, but because I am inspired in the moment.
To me, sacred space is something that exists just at the edge of the logical mind. It is informed by real, objective data (“Which way is North?” “What phase is the moon in?”) but enacted for a strange kind of subjective reason.
Some people say that the attention and intention put into any sacred space is a form of sustenance for that which keeps “breathing fire into the equations”, that force of forces that produces the continuous unfolding of nature’s grand poetry.
Some say that this is a kind of contract we made when we began the self-reflecting, technological, agricultural, civilized “domestication” of life. We pay for the cost of separation from nature by creating the human beauty that is only possible through that separation.
That which makes reality go does not prefer mud homes to skyscrapers, it does not consider the electric guitar or video chat or space stations to be unworthy perversions of some pure existence. It only asks that these things be made in the name of and in the honor of our true origin, which is from the animal-vegetable-mineral love that spills out of the Earth, the fierce fire love that shines down from the Sun, the quiet, bottomless love that glows down from the Moon.
It is important to return to first premises, to create a closed loop between the bone-club and the satellite. No matter how far outward we go into creative expansion, if that expansion is not traced back to its starting point through an unbroken chain of spoken and celebrated origins and begettings, a symmetrical lineage of the feeders and the fed, then we will get lost. We will sleepwalk our way into annihilation if we forget our common ancestors, if we lose track of the path back to the village and the garden.
I place the last pieces and only linger long enough to take a photo. I retrace the labyrinth back out the entrance, and make my way down the hillside.
I spend most of my days working at the computer, but I will always make time for these moments, these experiments in the most primordial of expressions. I still don’t feel like I know all the reasons why I continue to explore sacred space, but I know I’ll never stop asking the questions.