Sacred stories are narratives from which peoples, cultures, and individuals derive hope, a sense of continuity, and of belonging. They tell our sacred truths with a power like myth: the truths we believe about ourselves, the ones that feel like freedom and lightness of heart. They are also the ones we miss when we have lost touch with them.
But sacred stories are not just about communities. We each have our own. For instance, consider this quote from Professor of Psychology, Dan P. McAdams:
Within each of us there is an abiding sense of self, a knowledge of who we are that grounds us like an internal magnetic North. To be in tune with it is peace; to live otherwise is suffering. Discovering our personal sacred stories can be a means of reorienting our lives to be in alignment with that inner knowledge.
It is hard to live apart from the person you know yourself to be. It can feel long and hard, but as soon as you remember, it is like finding you are suddenly free. Seeing yourself as you are, with child-like eyes, is gladness of heart…
But what can we do when we have lost touch?
First of all, it is important to surround yourself with people you trust. Trusted friends and family members can reflect our hearts back to us when we feel lost and vulnerable. Your trusted community will help you remember when you forget, but it can also help to have a practice of personal reconnection.
How does one go about creating such a practice? Consider the following:
Take some time for yourself with the intention of making space for your heart. Go to a place where you have felt most like the person you are glad to be, and ask yourself questions like the following:
- What has my heart been telling me I am missing?
- What have I been longing for, or going without?
- What has seemed impossible to me, or impractical?
- If nothing were out of reach, what would I joyfully ask for?
Resist the tendency to think of these questions as happy endings; rather, consider each one a gateway to an exciting beginning. Let them inspire you, and then listen to your dreams as you would to a child speaking in earnest. Be merciful to them as they try to express themselves.
Take your time, and write them down in a way that is easy to remember, powerful to repeat. Or if there are too many, try putting them into meaningful word pictures that can be invoked by a phrase, perhaps like a mantra, or maybe just a simple affirmation. For example, here are a few I wrote for myself:
When you reconnect with your dreams, your sacred truths will emerge. It can be a first step to living as the person you were meant to be. So what are your sacred truths? Who were you born to be? Are you ready to begin today?
The matter we are made of is as old as the universe, and yet because the life cycle of the longest lived cells in our bodies is seven years, we cannot be older than that. We are at the same time young and ancient, growing older while continually being renewed.
As such we are part of the dragon of change, our lives like waves in the waters of an ancient sea, rolling forward with a momentum not our own. Zen master Dongshan put it like this:
But leaving aside the matter of physical existence for the moment, what is “seeing it this way”? What eyes besides these have we to see it with?
At the very least we have sensory experience and its echo in our memories, or perhaps its resonance in our beings. But who is it that actually remembers? Zen masters Huineng and Nanyang once said:
So whatever it is within us that remembers, expresses, interacts with the world, it is free by nature, having “no binding attachments”.
Perhaps we can think of our lives as notes held in some great song, or melodies carried by the supporting harmonies of all the living, whether through rests (when we feel alone) or modulations of key (when all is in flux around us) as our dissonances (conflicts and growth) are worked out to find resolution.
If so, we are anything but alone. We are profoundly connected, or boundless (another way to translate “shunyata”, the Sanskrit word for emptiness). Two ancient Buddhist scriptures put it this way:
So we hear through our physical beings what “all-that-is” perpetually says of itself, but we still see it through our own eyes, our own narratives, the habitual thought patterns our minds create to deal with the sheer immensity of existence. Zen master Dongshan once said:
So narratives can be a hindrance, but they can also be eye opening; they may also be individual or societal. They might aptly be compared to Indra’s net: an infinitely large interweaving of reflective jewels that each imperfectly reflect all the others. If so, then where is our grounding in all that is seen?
Perhaps the only true seeing is seeing as part of the dragon of change, with our own eyes and through the eyes of others. Perhaps it is in the humility of listening to every perspective, no matter how small, while thinking in accord with the heart of “all-that-is” through a practice of compassion…
Grounding, sanity, compassion are only found in the seeing of oneness.
What about you? Have you really seen the world of which you are part?
- Transmission of Light, translated by Thomas Cleary
- The Heart Sutra, by Kazuaki Tanahashi, Roshi Joan Halifax