Thursday, July 7, 2011

Giving it up

The dictionary defines sacrifice as the act of offering plant, animal or human life to a deity as an homage, to surrender or give up, to permit injury or disadvantage for the sake of something else. The etymology of the word translates in english from its latin roots as "to do or to make holy".

It is impossible to consider the idea of sacrifice without dancing with the light and goodness of humanity as well as it's shadow. When I thought of writing this piece about sacrifice, I had really not considered the negative historical connotations of the word. The idea of sacrifice in my imagination was light, beautiful and positive. I easily could have adapted my writing and used the word "offering" or "gift" in order to stay closer to the original vision I had of this piece, one in which I would try to soften the idea of giving things up and to make it more appealing and digestible. I was interested, however, in my reaction to what I found when I looked up the more general meaning of the word: "Whoa, sacrificing sometimes means to injure, to kill... that's not good at all!"

I think that the definition that I found really merits some careful consideration. There can be negative and positive repercussions to making a sacrifice. Where is the line? How do I minimize the damage? Finally, how can the shift take place where sacrifice means no one gets hurt?
On the surface, sacrifice is something which directly goes against the unspoken rules within our culture which dictate the following (and I generalize): Permanent comfort and personal gain are symbols of status and success. These are to be obtained at all cost.

The general trend of the individualized culture in which we live would have us believe that to give something up, especially when we don't have to do so is a silly idea. Also, that success comes from holding tight all that we have and guarding our assets and lifestyles with vigour.

If we define sacrifice as the act of giving something up in order to benefit something else, however, even within these parameters, we are unconsciously making sacrifices all the time. We give up our time and lives to create security and material wealth for ourselves and our children. We give up our health in order to satisfy immediate needs for stimulation, entertainment and general comfort. We give up our planet's health for the advancement of industry, production, more stuff and the ability to instantly satisfy any needs we may have.

This becomes very complicated when we begin to try to place an ethical value on these sacrifices. Are we creating more damage than good? Are these sacrifices worth it? Are they conscious? Who is being hurt or exploited? Where do the ethics of such sacrifices come into play and who is being held accountable? What is an acceptable amount of wealth for one person or group of people to accumulate before we can safely say that we are making sacrifices that are not ours to make? These are some questions that roll around in my head all the time as I observe myself interacting in the world and as I strive to live in harmony with the people, plants and animals around me.

By asking important questions, we can begin to shift and brighten our awareness around these choices and perhaps begin to make different ones, yes? What happens next? Do we begin to live unpleasant and austere lives which are boring and don't involve any entertainment, stimulation or stuff? Does positive and conscious sacrifice have to be hard, painful and difficult? Perhaps not necessarily, but let's look carefully at what is going on when we make choices deliberately with the goal of reducing suffering.

So, I'm trying to help, to heal, to brighten, to make holy. Sounds simple, yet this brings up a whole new set of challenging questions to be pondered. What is the direct and indirect impact of my action? Am I acting in a certain way for recognition? Am I trying to help someone else, myself or both? What happens in the case where I have to chose between one or the other? Is it always going to feel great to give something up that I know will help? If it feels challenging, should I still do it? If it feels great, does that mean that it's wrong? What are some thing that I know create harm that I find particularly challenging to give up? Can I honestly look at that shadowy part of myself and find peace with it or is there a tendency within me to justify not making those sacrifices I really don't want to make?

In essence, by looking at these questions, I can see that there are times where sacrifice is appealing and digestible and there are times when it's not. I believe that the idea of giving stuff up has gotten a really bad rep in our current culture. I believe that sacrifice has the potential to bring us joy, peace and knowledge about ourselves when enacted with intent. But truly, it is important that when we make a sacrifice, we wholeheartedly embrace the reality around what we give up, what we guard and what we make space for. I believe that the act of making sacred can happen everywhere and with all things. I believe that sacrifice can humble us and helps us appreciate the abundance in our life more fully. Lets make our gifts, offerings and sacrifices conscious and ethical. Let's challenge ourselves, maybe only once in a while or maybe every day, in small and in big ways to give something up. Let's be open to the possibility that it won't be all bad, that it might teach us something or shift a perspective. Maybe through sacrifice, we will discover an exciting and new possibility. Let's do it invisibly sometimes too, so that we're clear about our intent and it isn't just about others thinking we're great. Lets make our choices intelligently, consciously and with passion. Let's see where we can create more sacredness, more balance and more beauty in the world through our actions. What could possibly be a greater gift than that?