Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Ugly is sacred too

It is very easy to see the sacred in the beauty of the world.  When things are calm and peaceful and everything is going smoothly, we can slip right into this connection with the sacredness that we strive for.  But even though it can be a struggle, there is a lot of value in searching for the sacred in all moments, including the hard and ugly ones.  And not only that, it is in those rough times that we often need that connection the most.

There are so many sayings that speak to this mentality, about trying to find the good in all situations.  I love the quote by Mr. Roger's mother, to "look for the helpers," in times of tragedy.  When things are going wrong, it's easy to get caught up in all the misery, to stop seeing the good and to focus only on the bad, but when we stop and look for the helpers, we see those people who are trying to fix things, to help and to do what they can.  Looking for the helpers also gets us moving in that direction, because once we see them, we start moving in their direction.  When you see someone helping, you are motivated to help them.  You may have frozen, been unable to think of what you could do to help, but you see someone rushing in, and you find yourself doing what you can to make their work easier.

Another good turn of phrase is that there is always a lesson in every hardship.  This can often help us reframe what is happening, especially if it is painful or overwhelming.  If you have lost your job, it gives you the opportunity to look for one that might suit you better.  If you hurt yourself, you may be forced to take things slower as you heal, and you may find new ways to relax and have fun.  This is a great strategy for looking at your flaws as well.  You might be a procrastinator, but it has taught you how to really focus when under pressure (and you can still work on procrastinating less, and keep the things your flaws have taught you).

These methods both are still looking for the bright spots in the darkness, but sometimes you need to look at the horrid bits themselves and see the way that they are sacred.  There are lots of creepy crawly things that many people shy away from, that are necessary to life.  We may not like to be dirty, but dirt is the fuel for the plants that give us food and oxygen.

A lot of spiritual people work with correspondences and allies.  Animal allies are one that come up a lot.  And most people want to work with wolf, or eagle, or butterfly.  Some of the scary ones are popular too, like spider and shark.  But how many times have you heard someone pipe in with, "I want to work with slug," or mosquito, or warthog.  The uglier or slimier a critter, the less likely people are to want to work with them.  But some of the ugliest creatures have really amazing skills and features, often directly tied to the thing that makes them ugly!  If we put aside our initial squeamishness, we may find these beings to be utterly fascinating, and that they have powers that we would want to know more about or be able to call upon.

An interesting note about this is that once you start to be curious, once you start to see the unique nature of these ugly things, they don't seem quite as ugly, scary or fearsome as they once did.  You may never find them truly beautiful, but you develop an appreciation for them.  You recognize their sacred nature, the things that make them special in their own way.

I think this is particularly relevant for many Pagans because the deities we work with may have traits or areas of influence that are traditionally considered gruesome.  This is especially true for deities that are aligned with the dead.  Many of us honor the dead, and we work with deities that deal with the dead, and so we might be faced with aspects of death that other people shy away from. 

The more we work with things we are uncomfortable with, the more we become accustomed to them.  This is true whether you choose to work with them, or if they are thrust upon you.  Someone who suddenly finds themselves in a war zone will be faced with horrible sights and choices, but the longer they are there, the more they learn to deal with what is there, and the less things send them into a state of shock.  Parents go through a similar integration period, as they are suddenly up close and personal with every bodily fluid (and more!)

One thing I've found that helps, especially when dealing with things you may find personally gross, is to think about their purpose.  Very few things in life serve no purpose.  Some might be simple byproducts, waste products, but even those are typically rejected by the host so that they can carry away toxins or other undesirable things.  The beauty of our world is that those waste products, the things that one organism finds toxic, are needed by other organisms.  This is the basis of the cycle of life, and it truly weaves throughout every aspect of the world around us.

But we tend to skim over the bits that we don't like, and we don't think about what their place in the world is.  If there were no more waste products, the whole system breaks down.  We need those ugly bits to build the beautiful things that we desire.

There is a whole, big, complex world out there.  Each thing in this world effects dozens of others, in ways that are often surprising.  If we only look for the lovely and beautiful things, we cut ourselves off from a whole lot of miraculous things, simply because we can't see beyond the surface to the greater role they play in the dance of life.  When we start looking for how the pieces fit together, we find that there is so much more to everything, and that some of the most powerful and amazing processes are quite ugly on the surface.

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