Divorce. Bankruptcy. The death of a loved one. Financial Ruin. Debilitating Injury. Foreclosure. Disaster. No one is immune to the inevitable fall(s) that we all experience over the course of our lives. One moment, you may be at the apparent peak of your life – wealthy, successful, celebrated; the next you may be brought to your knees, humbled and humiliated. Just ask Oedipus Rex.
While the disasters that may befall one are often very real and painful, the meaning we attach to and take from them is what philosophers, artists and writers have focused upon down through the ages. The crises often involve tremendous loss, what Jung would term the metaphorical “death of the ego.” Greek tragedy, like Oedipus or Ixion, are replete with studies in the inevitable fall brought about by hubris and unchecked ego. Interestingly, Oedipus is saved only when he accepts his fate. Suffering is a part of life and, while we may not understand it, we are saved when we accept it and view it as a blessing.
There are points in our lives where we find ourselves in life-changing states, where the need arises for a “scared” space for us to carefully navigate the potentially rocky and treacherous path to a new level of consciousness. That’s the point where we need to transcend the world of the ordinary and enter into a sacred space.
A sacred space need not be a physical location at all – although it often is – and it certainly will not be the same for everyone. Entering a sacred space has often been achieved through the benefit of a ritual experience, but the role and power of rituals has faded within Western society over the last few centuries. Still, the role of ritual is to “turn the dial,” to shift one’s perception from the daily, ordinary world to one where the sacred, indeed magical nature of reality, can reveal itself. Quieting the mind, silencing the incessant chatter of the profane or ordinary, can help you find your own sacred space.
Gaining awareness of sacred space, and experiencing the difference between it and the ordinary, is really an awareness that there are multiple ways to experience the duality of time and space.
Sacred space is the reality behind the illusion, it is recognition of the transcendent that imbues all of reality with something divine, something miraculous. The great philosopher Mircea Eliade called it the “axis mundi,” or the “center of the world.” An experience of sacred space reconnects us with that authentic, transcendent reality that is behind and beyond the world of time and space, it reorients us with the axis mundi and puts us back in touch with our own authentic nature, our souls.
Dante Alighieri is widely considered one of the greatest poets in history, and his epic poem, La Divina Comedia, is one of our greatest works of literature. The Inferno, a description of the Christian representation of Hell, is the first of the three components of the Divine Comedy, the others being Purgatorio and Paradiso.
More than a religious work, Dante’s Inferno is a representation of the alienated individual. It is a beautiful allegory of that point in our life’s journey where, having achieved everything we are told we should want in life, we are left asking, “Is This It?”
Dante captures alienation and despair in mid life perfectly, and his harrowing description of his descent into the nine (9) Levels of Hell is a searing evocation of the pain and trials that accompany the point where we too lose our way in our journey.
To find our way back – back to our souls, as represented in Paradiso – we, like Dante, must go through Hell. We must experience the death of our “Ego” selves, of hubris, to reunite with the divine.