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Reawakening the Sacred in Everyday Living

November 2, 2017

The seismic challenges facing us throughout society and the environment are now patently clear to those with ears to hear and eyes to see.

There is global and local momentum building behind a range of social and environmental issues, from climate change to local food banks, from ocean plastics to food recycling.  This is good work.  Yet, what is often overlooked is that these plethora of challenges are symptoms of a deeper malaise, a malaise which is actually before our very noses, within in each breath we take.

To deal with symptoms without adequately addressing root causes is very much part of today’s flawed logic.  We know we cannot solve today’s challenges with the same consciousness that created them.  And yet to actually shift our consciousness requires a radical undertaking.   This radical undertaking is not easy, and one we may wish to turn away from, and yet it is a simple one.  It is nothing more, nor nothing less than us becoming more attentive, more aware of how we are being.

While this deepening – or raising – of our consciousness may be uncomfortable and unnerving, as it brings light to our habituations, constrictions and masks we hide behind. It is also a liberating and rejuvenating undertaking.  We may begin to allow our ordinary everyday activities to become doorways into a sense of the innate sacredness of life, and its enchanting wisdom.

For many years now I have followed the profound work of the Sufi teacher, mystic and writer Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee.  In his latest book, co-written with Hilary Hart, they put forward 10 simple practices that help us bring in a deeper way of attending into our everyday, so that we can reawaken the sacred, and deal with the root cause at the heart of our multiple crises.

Here, I offer a review and mini-synopsis of this powerful and profound book Spiritual Ecology: 10 Practices to Reawaken the Sacred in Everyday Life (2017, The Golden Sufi Publishing Centre), which can be easily found on Amazon and other channels.

First off, what is ‘Spiritual Ecology’?

It is a response to our present crises; a recognition that without including a spiritual/sacred dimension to our response to these crises we run the grave risk of re-constellating the same materialistic and desacralized logic that created our crises in the first place.

Consumerism, with its insatiable hunger gnawing at our inner and outer worlds, is but a bi-product, a symptom way downstream from a soulless materialistic worldview that undermines our deeper sense of place and purpose within the world.  Thus, we find ourselves caught up in economic activities and ego drives that are largely cut adrift from any deep meaning.  We are but lost, rudderless, tossed this way and that by our whims, cut adrift from our true nature and the true nature of life.

As Llewellyn notes,

‘Spiritual ecology is a recognition of the need to return to the source of our own sacred nature, and of the spiritual practices that affect both the individual and the whole, practices that can through our own individual awareness and action, also help restore the connection between the Earth and its own source.’

I love this explanation of spiritual ecology, not least because it resonates so strongly with my life-purpose, my dharma.

And this book of Llewellyn’s and Hilary’s, aims to help us regain a connection with the sacredness of each evolving moment during our day, and the rich milieu of inter-relationality each day offers us.

There are 10 simple yet profound practices in this book, to help us bring the sacred into our daily lives: walking, breathing, gardening, seeds and their stories, cooking with love, cleaning, simplicity, prayer, death, meaning and the sacred.

‘Only from the foundation of this lived relationship can we attempt to bring the world back into balance, heal and redeem what our present culture has destroyed and desecrated with its greed and soulless materialism.’   – Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

I will now touch on each of the 10 practices to provide an essence of the depth of this spiritual ecology lived in the everyday.  This synopsis is not aimed to be a substitute for the book which is a must-read for those of us interested in radically transforming our everyday worldview through small steps of love, grace and wisdom, while also attending to the downstream effects of our prevalent crises.  The book is elegant and easy to read…a beautiful book. As Joanna Macy says about this book, ‘Even in a dark time, its practices center me in a sense of the sacred, our birthright.’

Walking

‘Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.’  Thich Nhat Hanh

We can treat each step as a walking meditation, an opportunity to listen-in to our body sensations, to our stillness or impatience,  to our receptivity or reactivity.  By deepening our receptivity with each step, we return to the sacredness in life. Each foot touching the ground with conscious awareness and loving intent.  Whether we are walking along a city street or by a babbling brook, we can still feel our feet touching the ground, the rhythm as we walk, our arms swinging, our breathing in and out, the sky above, the Earth below, our relationship with what is around us and the sensations within us.

This sensing into our walking allows us to become more conscious, more alive with each step.  Simply walking without expectation, with attentiveness; an attitude of openness and gratitude as we let go into the ground, with each step a re-connection.

Breathing

Breathing is a primal rhythm. How we breath is a reflection of how we live.  Are we breathing deeply, consciously, with full awareness?  Are we breathing shallow, barely aware of our breath due to the busyness we are caught up in?  Each breath carried out consciously can be like an internal massage for our inner organs, rejuvenating and replenishing every cell and sinew in our bodies.  Breathing is a love affair between spirit and matter, a continual tantric dialogue, a dance of inner-and-outer.  Without due attention to our breathing we lose the conscious connection between our inner soul and the World Soul of Nature.  When we deepen the awareness of our breathing we allow the conscious flow of life-force through our bodies, and we enliven ourselves and our surroundings.

This simple practice of becoming more attentive to our breathing re-connects ourselves and, re-connects the Earth with Source.  We enliven our energy flow between inner-outer and between sky and Earth.

‘We are not breathing really; rather something is breathing through us. As we become more aware of this truth, we release our grip on life and give ourselves to the mystery of how life sustains and heals itself.’  – Hilary Hart

Gardening

Having just come in from a couple of hours of autumn gardening – trimming hedges, weeding pathways, potting frost-fearing plants for their winter indoors, raking up leaves, pruning shrubs, while the local birds keep me company – I can vouch for the richness of gardening as a simple practice of re-connection.   I have also attempted to be extra attentive to my breathing and walking while gardening, helping me presence more vividly with what I am immersed in.

Gardening reminds us of the inter-relational nature of life, the fungi and flowers, bees and berries, microbes and minerals.  As I clear away lichen from garden furniture I am reminded that lichen is a symbiotic inter-relation of fungi and bacteria living mutually together to break down minerals otherwise indigestible to vegetation and animals, and in the process providing food for others out of this process of breakdown and rebirth.  I see the flowering fungi mushroom heads and recall that they are the first colonisers coming into toxic land after major disruptions, breaking down the toxins and minerals into food substances for others. Fungi originate from the ocean, where again they breakdown matter into food for others, the great recyclers. A simple wisdom we often overlook: breakdown for breakthrough, death for rebirth, space for new thought and feeling, letting go for letting come.  As I prune the ivy, I realise the wasps are still feeding on the late bloom, and I decide to leave what I can, ensuring the berries ripen for winter bird feed.  As I pick the last remaining courgette, I see the slugs feeding on the plant and I decide to leave the plant in the ground for a couple more weeks before pulling it up for the winter bed, so the slugs, microbes, worms and birds can feed upon its withering limbs. Decay brings life; cycles of co-creativity and inter-relation.

Gardening is a co-creative relationship with all the elements. It helps us gain first-hand experience of the natural spirals of this great web of life – a rich tapestry we are but a woven thread within.

Gardening helps us become more conscious of life. Each and everyday experience can be an act of gardening, of cultivating the sacred within the inner-outer gardens of our lives.

Gardening is a conversation, a dialogue, where we may become receptive to what is going on at our finger-tips, and also of our own inner-dialogue, frustrations, constrictions, sensations and projections.

Seeds and their Stories

‘When I hold a seed in my hand, I am touched by the wonder of it, that something so small tells the story of the soil and spring, contains the flower, the fruit.  All of life seems present…the spark that contains a whole life waiting to be lived.’  – Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

By becoming more receptive, slowing down, listening-in, attuning to what is emerging within and all about us, we may sense the deeper mystery and sacredness of the seeds and stories unfolding in life.  Life contains mysteries.  Unfolding evolution contains myriad stories, each of us tells our own unfurling story. Life as the continual emergence and re-emergence of diverse stories interwoven with deeper meaning, a sense of the sacred.

The seed needs the soil to grown, patiently waiting for the right conditions to break open and become more of who it is destined to be.  Likewise our own human evolution needs the stories of creation lived through us, and the right inner-outer conditions nourished by our attentiveness to life.

As an example, the leadership and indigenous specialist Mac Macartney and I share together insights from our respective stories on this podcast ‘Navigating Uncertainty’.

‘An awareness of seeds can take us into the heart of life and into our own hearts. Life will give us opportunity after opportunity to live from our hearts instead of our fears and desires, and over time we can recognise these patterns and work up the courage – the power of the heart, cor – to respond from a place that is real within us, the place where life has dropped a seed of longing, a seed of truth, a seed of itself.  When we live from this inner truth, our lives start to bloom.  From here, we recognise the story of the wolf, tell the story of the rain, sing the song of the moon.’ – Hilary Hart

Cooking with Love

Cooking with awareness, cooking with attentiveness, cooking with the intention to nourish self and others, cooking with love, is a meditation that brings outer and inner purity.

We can be attentive as we prepare our food, chopping things up, feeling the vegetables, be greatful for the nourishment they provide us, and while stirring the pot, alchemising the flavours, adding in the herbs, breaking down the compositions into a simpler yet richer mix.  This is an enjoyable way to reconnect to life’s essence.

This cooking with attentiveness helps bring our heart into the activity, our being into our doing, head-heart-hands, and the food responds.

‘Love is alive. It is so much more than just the feeling we call love; it is the animating force of life…the very nature of love (is) to move and flow. The more it flows, the more it serves. It grows as it is given. Cooking with love is natural, because through cooking we give. Cooking and serving food is one of the most ancient and basic human gifts…through our loving attention we can create ways for love to flow.’ – Hilary Hart

In our time-bound neatly scheduled lives we may often seek efficiency and speed rather than loving attentiveness.  This may not be a conscious choice, just the reality of getting through the day with lots going on, people to meet, places to go, things to do. This busyness erodes our attentiveness. It is this erosion of our loving attentiveness that is at the heart of our present problems.  To sense the sacred, we need to re-member how to approach tasks with the right haste and grace, breathing in the scent of the sacred – whether it be herbs, spices, chopping, stirring or typing an email, listing in a meeting, speaking on a conference call or reading a report.

Through this loving attentiveness we can re-orientate our relation with each and every daily activity, from one of efficient mechanistic outer ‘doing’ to effective inner-outer being-and-doing.  We welcome in the sacred through our daily errands.

Cleaning

The art of cleaning has been demoted to a chore, something to be mechanised or outsourced away.  I recall when I was busy with a global corporate role, I hired a cleaning. I was busy on the outside and hired help for the inside.  Now my wife and I clear our own space, with loving attentiveness.  It deepens our relationship with our space, our surrounds, our life and home, our neighbourhood and Earth.   Star, my wife, enjoys hoovering, she embraces it as a meditation.  It has taken me some years to be able to appreciate and now enjoy ironing my clothes, so acculturated I had become to thinking of it as a chore.  We spent much of our time cleaning up after our two young daughters, yet we try and encourage our little ones to clear up after themselves, where possible. I was heartened at this weekend when our two daughters were playing in the kids area of a charity shop we frequent, and the shop assistant came over to start to clean and my daughters joined in by clearing up the stuff they were playing with. Hopefully they see it not as a chore, just another activity, that can be done with loving attention if we so choose.  It is funny how we judge and prioritise certain activities. For instance, someone may engage in a ten mile run in the cold wind and driving rain for charity, and feel exhilarated, and yet on another day get frustrated with the laundry. It’s all in the mind.

Cleaning is healthy.  When animals do it, it means they are content. When they don’t do it means they are unwell, mentally ill.

It is healthy to regularly clean both inside and out, to clean away the thought forms and psychic debris that have accumulated within our own psyche and also within our physical space.

As a family, we regularly have a ‘spring clean’ not just moving furniture around and dusting, and taking items we no longer need to the charity shop, but also clearing the space with loving intention, to welcome in the life-force and let psychic debris be released. We use singing bowls and rattles, as well as crystals, sacred symbols, yantras and mantras.

How we enter and participant in a space, and clear up after ourselves is all part of living more consciously. For instance, when I work with leaders, either at their place of work, their home, or private one-to-one coaching in my office, I always hold an intention to clear the space we are going to use, and bring a quality of attentiveness to help the space be adequately enlivened, cleared, and held safely for the deep work we do.

‘In the practice of spiritual ecology we are working not just with the outer physical world, but also with the  inner worlds, and we need to respect this. We need to relearn how to live lightly, to leave as little debris behind us as we can.’  – Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

‘In a clean space, the inner and outer worlds come together, and relate to each other more directly.  We are free to love and care for our surroundings, which hold that love and reflect it back to us.  We more easily step into the living whole that nourishes us in so many ways.’ – Hilary Hart

Simplicity

If we are honest with ourselves for a moment, we might see how cluttered our lives have become with possessions, desires, activities, agendas, demands, attachments, perspectives, view-points, personas, masks.  The result being, we undermine the connection with our inner source of being, and seek even more outer attachments to paste over this inner sense of loss.  A vicious cycle ensures more outer-doing to paste over our lack of inner-being: enter the contagion of consumerism, the epidemic of mental illness, the rise of eating disorders and attention deficit disorders, all arising from a lack of stillness, attentiveness and love.

To learn to discern our thoughts, feelings, reactions, attachments and activities is to sort through the inner and outer clutter.  As we create more space in our inner and outer lives, we can more easily discern the artifice from the true, the illusory from the beautiful, the corrupt from the good.  We learn to discern what deeply nourishes us and what drains and depletes us.

Every day and every moment offers us chances to create space in our inner and outer lives, it all depends on how we use our attention.

To honour the simple things is to bring more space for the grace of life – whether it be cleaning our teeth in the morning with loving attentiveness, or eating our breakfast with appreciation, or drinking our cuppa mindfully, or saying a heartfelt hello to someone in the street. In the moments of grace we create with our attentiveness, we let the light in, we welcome in the life-force of life, and we help the evolutionary potential of life to unfurl through us. Then, we may sense something deeper in life, we may become more intimate with the immanent and more transparent with the transcendent sacredness of life.

Prayer

Prayer is a communion of the inner and outer, of the source of life, and of the Earth’s rhythms and resonances.  Prayer is fundamental to our connection with and participation of life.  It does not have to be a formalised religious undertaking; it can be listening, watching, becoming receptive to life with our whole being: holistic awareness. In this way, we can attune with the sacred through walking, conversing, sitting in nature, meditating, cleaning, cooking, or working.

Our daily life can be an act of prayer, of learning to discern, of learning to become more receptive and responsive to the sacred rhythms and resonances of life.

We learn to maintain this sense of sacred attentiveness by regularly bringing ourselves back to our bodily sensations, feelings, thoughts, intuitions, breath – to the integrated whole of our selves. Bringing ourselves back to this holistic awareness, allows us to notice when we have become dis-eased, caught up, ensnared, separated from the sacred.

Then we may begin to see how every moment is charged with the grandeur of God. The sacredness of life is flowing here in this menstruating moment. We sense into this holiness with our own holy (holistic) attention.

Life becomes our learning, a rich educational experience bringing the essence of ourselves into our outer activities.  The illusory division of self-other-world dissipates; every moment enlightenment; wonder, awe and reverence come back into our worldview.  This is spiritual ecology.

Prayer, therefore, is a quality of heartfelt attention, a practice of turning inward and intentionally cleaning our inner space, letting go of grasping thoughts and tense feelings, if only for a few moments, so that a living graciousness can flow through.  We open the door to the infinite while easing our dis-ease.  As our cacophony quietens we commune with the creative source of life.

Death

‘One cannot fully say ‘yes’ to life unless one also says ‘yes’ to dying.’ – Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

In the nature-immersions I host for small groups of leaders, we explore how winter and its decay, breakdown and death is vital for the spring’s bursting forth, breakthrough and birth.  To make space for new innovation and growth, we need to allow things to die.

Imagine life without death: gridlock.

Life is the embracement of cycling rhythms of death and rebirth. Just as the seasons cycle all the time, ‘the soul too has its seasons.’

‘In order to return to an inner and outer relationship to the Earth, we need to embrace the mystery of death, told every year in the story of the seed…To return to the sacred is to return to death, and to awaken to the truth that death is a transition, a transformation.’ – Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

How free are we to change and transform ourselves?  How much do we cling to aspects, personas, habituations and relationships that no longer serve us?  If we knew we had only 6mths to live, how would we choose to spend these precious moments?

‘The river is moving fast.  Some of us are clinging to the shore or drowning in the back-eddies of meaningless and outdated personal and cultural patterns…Don’t be afraid of death and the mystery…feel the enormity of what is taking place in the world today – the joy, freedom, and pain – in order to access the power and grace that are guiding this collective death and our birth as well.’ – Hilary Hart

Meaning and the Sacred

Life is sacred.  This unfolding story is sacred.  We each play our sacred part in this story, whether consciously and attuned or sometimes unconscious or distracted.  To sense this sacredness is not a quality we need to learn, it is primary to who we are, we simply need to make space to sense this sacredness within us, to bring our awareness into our hearts, out of our busy heads.  Then, we move ourselves from the surface of things into the real substance, and sense the depth of meaning in our lives.

‘Meaning is what calls from the depths of the soul. It is the song that sings us into life. Whether we have a meaningful life depends upon whether we can hear this song, this primal music of the sacred.’ – Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Today, amid our busyness, we all too often drown out this song of the sacred without being conscious of what we are doing.  Our culture encourages this drowning of the soul. Hence, collectively we have become cut adrift from any deep sense of meaning. The economy survives by stimulating consumer spending and household debt. What is the purpose of today’s economy? To serve our evolutionary potential? At the moment the economy lacks any deep meaning, and it winds up undermining not just our humanity, but the very fabric of life on Earth.

Remembering the sacred is foundational to our present and future.  The meaning is in the moment, and our deeper truer dharma shines through in the synchronicities and subtly lit signs.

‘It is this sacred ground that is calling to us, that needs our living presence, our attentiveness.’ – Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

This reawakening of the sacred in everyday life is a reconnecting with our own soul, and with the World Soul of Nature. It is a primary act, the radical act, of revolutionising our worldview – sacred activism from the heart.

Thought leader, adviser and speaker Giles Hutchins is author of The Nature of Business, The Illusion of Separation, and Future Fit, he is also Chairman of The Future Fit Leadership Academy and blogs at www.thenatureofbusiness.org

‘Giles Hutchins’ book ‘The Illusion of Separation’ took me on a roller-coaster journey of ideas, distant memories, broken dreams, and new horizons. He has spread a map at our feet and dares us to look. We, the prodigal species, who with Prometheus’ help, stole fire from the gods and imagined ourselves superior. And where does he leave us? Giles is on a personal journey walking home and the path is wide with room for me and you, and all our friends. Home to our true place of belonging.’ Tim ‘Mac’ Macartney, Founder of Embercombe and author of Finding Earth, Finding Soul.

‘With clarity and insight Giles Hutchins analyses the roots of our present collective mind-set of separation, and yet shows how science and spirituality point to a deeper, inclusive consciousness. Here are signposts for a future that is vitally needed in the present moment, if we dare to cross the threshold and awaken to a direct experience of a world alive with love.’  Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Ph.D. Sufi teacher and author, Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. abudulmonem permalink
    November 8, 2017 3:48 am

    Thank you, it is very illuminating in the path of the One. To be present in his presence demands not only our attentiveness but our remembrance not only of the valuable ten covered but all with all his manifestations because he who forgets Him forgets him/herself. A remembrance immersed in a rhythmic dialogue in a kind of a mantra intoning as it is well known in the Chinese and Indian religions. The gravest omission In the spiritual history of the world is the negligence of the Koran as one of the basic source of spiritual growth and fruition. The Koran whose time has come to show humanity how to draw down the real knowledge of the divine to the human sphere through the alphabetical rhythmic formations that appears at the outsets of 29 chapters of the Koran , aleph laam meem that is the way of drawing down the knowledge of the book, doubt not, from the lord of the cosmos. Remembering the language of god in order not to get lost in the sea of many disconnected ideas and concepts and return to swim in his pure sea of meaning.

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