Sacred Use

 
 

Often, what is deemed “practical” goes against our aesthetic values.  When that happens, I believe we lose a sense of the spiritual.

And so, I contemplate this water bottle I hold in my hand, trying to find some beauty in its thin clear plastic surfaces.

I’ve considered everything that went into the creation of that plastic bottle.  The resources, the science, the engineering, the labor—all the energy.  But it’s no use…

Once we’ve emptied the contents of our plastic containers, they appear null, void, ugly.  No wonder we reject them so casually.  When they are empty, they are also empty of any type of value, practical or aesthetic.

It’s a serious problem.

In the north Pacific Ocean there exists a floating continent of plastic debris.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex.  Size estimates vary.  It may now be larger than the continental United States.

Beyond the environmental concerns, this growing colossus of tiny plastic particles disturbs my sense of the aesthetic.  When I think of this wound on the planet, my feelings exceed coherent expression and all I can do is ask myself, “Is this it?  Is this our choice, our final decision?—to maintain the status quo, to continue this way of life until we‘ve smothered ourselves under a garbage heap?”

The answer to our problem is literally right in our hands.  But I believe recycling these cheap water bottles isn’t enough.  The plastic remains with us.  We can’t expect to return to using earthenware jugs.  So, as silly as it sounds, I need to see this bottle as sacred, as sacred as anything else—even that ocean I wish to protect.

Shouldn’t I be able to find some beauty in it?  Isn’t everything of this earth sacred?

Moreover, any vessel of any material can be see as an archetypal form—a spiritual expression.  A vessel of clay and a vessel of plastic both express the same form.

But though I can think of the bottle as a thing of spiritual beauty, I‘ve yet to experience it as such.

Thought is not enough.  I need the experience.

Perhaps I can take a clue from this story found in Prayer: A History by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski…

…a story that shows how any object can be used to express our spirituality.

A friend of the Zaleski’s had just returned from a visit to his Tibetan homeland, in the tradition-oriented, rustic, high plateau region of Gelok, a place far from the tourist center of Lhasa.  As he was showing them his slides…

“One photograph in particular caught our fancy, for it seemed to capture best the spirit of these eastern Tibetans.  It depicted a wooden framework, looming above the tallest monk (and the Tibetans are a tall people), and consisting of two massive uprights of rough-hewn lumber supporting four long crossbars.

“Upon each crossbar stood nine or ten prayer wheels, each containing a bit of paper inscribed with the traditional Buddhist prayer om mani padme hum (Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus).  As the wind blows down the mountainside, each wheel spins madly, and the mantra is flung into the universe like a message in a bottle, drifting on celestial currents until it reaches its heavenly destination.

“Of what, we asked, were these glistening wheels made?  At a glance they seemed carved from crystal or jade, or were they globes of delicate brown glass?

“ ‘Oh no,’ Dechen explained, refocusing the slide projector for a better look: the wheels were nothing more than cast-off Pepsi-Cola bottles.”

© 2010, Michael R. Patton
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About Michael Patton

I am a poet, novelist, essayist, cartoonist, graphic artist, peace miller, new mythologist, and fledgling world citizen.... I grew up in Northwest Arkansas and have lived and worked all over the United States.... I'm self-taught, for the most part--which is like searching for the right door in the dark. It's an on-going process.... I don't want to write MY story, I want OUR story, so that's what I'm studying: the human story: past, present, future, in its many aspects--including the spiritual. I'm proceeding at a slow crawl.... I don't see the inner world and outer world as separate. By learning about myself, I learn about others, I learn about my world.... Conversely, as I struggle to understand what I see OUT THERE, I learn about myself.... But to be clear: I don't claim any special understanding. I'm still purblind, still only half-awake.... After frustrating experience with the publisher of my first novel, I've published on my own, beginning with e-books, with plans to move into print and audio. Even video.... Along with a second novel, I've now published eight books of poetry. Each poetry book focuses on a theme. For instance, the collection GLORIOUS TEDIOUS TRANSFORMATION is about the slow difficult wonderful process of change.... In that book, as with all my work, I try to be accessible to a general audience, while also striving to achieve a certain literary quality.
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