The Material and the Sacred

Environmentalists should embrace materialism. Bet you didn’t expect me to make that claim, but I mean it. Materialism needs to be appreciated, just in a radically different way.

Materialism in the sense of the desire to accumulative material goods, leading to overconsumption, is seen as one of the evils of capitalism, with spirituality sometimes presented as the antidote. There is much wisdom in teachings on non-attachment and the like, however there is a thread to both religious and new age spirituality which is easy to confuse. In the rejection of the pursuit of ‘material wealth’ we can come to associate the material, matter, with the mundane, or more harshly, the profane.

I cringe when I hear the ‘up and away’ type language that can be associated with spirituality. Think of discussion about ‘transcending’ or ‘raising our vibration’ or the spirit realm (as if spirit were something separate to the realm of matter) or ‘higher’ states of consciousness or emphasising parts of the self that are perceived as not the body (mind, spirit, consciousness)… What are we trying to escape from here? Is high better than low? Is earth somehow less sacred than heaven?

The desacralising of the natural world is one driver behind our environmental destruction. If nature is filled with non-sentient, non-sacred creatures and substances, then why should we care to respect and protect it?

When I talk about these nature retreats that I do, it is not about transcending at all, it is about going deeper and deeper into the here and now, discovering capacities our culture has forgotten about and communing with the nature right in front of us as access to the unifying field underlying all things, not a god far away up in heaven.

The Slow Movement has faced criticism as a being a luxury for the rich. Which I guess when Slow Food gets construed as being just about gourmet food I can see the point, but quite often I think that critical sentiment is coming from the belief in the need to be productive as possible. And if you are not, then you are lazy and indulgent. I think Slow’s appreciation of quality, sensory pleasures is actually quite beautiful. It makes gratitude for the gifts of nature all the more possible.

One of the insights I had during my 28 day solo retreat was that things become sacred when you treat them as such. The sense was very similar to taking a conscious choice to change the tone of a relationship. I think one of the ways that nature can be such an incredible teacher is because nature makes it easy to see the sacred in the here. I wonder what would happen if we chose to see the sacred in the substance of everyday life.


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