(In Part I we looked at the role of belief in shaping and limiting the healing process. In this part we will consider the pivotal role of sacrifice. This has been excerpted from my book, Journey to Enlightenment.)
Our ancestors viewed life as being either sacred or profane. Profanity was that which stood outside the God Space, it could not be brought into the temple. The ancients recognized that a disease or a mental difficulty in either a person or a group was brought about by profanity, i.e., the misalignment of the individual to The God Space. And anything we do not love, we profane.
Our ancestors believed that to cure a disease was to heal the spiritual body that had lost its connection to the God Space. Our concepts of being healthy and holy both come from the same Proto Germanic word, “khailaz,” which means, “to make whole.” To be more whole, was to become more holy (not necessarily religious, but holy).
Since the connection to the God Space is broken through fear and belief, they encouraged individuals to make fundamental changes in their profane thoughts and behaviors as an essential part of the healing process. Sacrifice was the means through which that which had been profaned was made sacred. Our word sacrifice is from the Latin word “sacer,” which means “to make sacred, to consecrate, to make holy.” The Greek word for “healing” originally meant, “sacrifice to the gods.”
The act of sacrifice was to literally place upon the altar of the gods, i.e., to surrender, the part of the self that had been acting profanely (without love). To sacrifice was to give up the short-term benefit of ego-based (non-loving) behavior, in favor of the longer-term, more positive, benefit of holding the God Space. In its true form then, the act of sacrifice was to eliminate the influence of ego (the toxicity of conflict and dissention), so that the individual could become healed, i.e., brought into greater harmony with the gods.
We usually think of sacrifice as an act of contrition, because we see the visible manifestation – the act of making amends or restitution, such as righting a wrong. But the key to the process is the intention that lies beneath the form. Making a sacrifice is not simply about giving something up. It is about healing the need that is driving our dysfunctional behavior. Sacrifice allows us to reconnect with our true self. When we question our beliefs and leave our ego-driven behavior behind, we make a sacrifice. We give up the immediate gratification of our anger or a second helping of dessert because we realize we no longer “need” these things.
In making each act, every moment sacred, life itself becomes sacred. The toxicity of human hubris (defiance of the gods) is drawn out from us as we heal the wounds created by our fear-driven egos. We are then naturally brought back to our essential, divine connection to The Universe. The origin of our word “gift” comes from a Germanic word meaning “that which is toxic to the profane.”
Consider this example: assume a person’s need to be loved (ego) has been driving her and she has been sexually promiscuous. The sacrifice this person would be asked to make would be to address the needy part of her that has driven her unhealthy behavior. She would be asked to forgo illicit (ego-driven) sexual pleasure for the deeper (long term) satisfaction of real intimacy. And this is where sacrifice can be difficult, because real sacrifice means giving up the “drug” that has propped up the wounded self. From the outside, this looks like returning either to monogamous sexuality or, if the dysfunction was more serious, to withdraw from sexual activity altogether, as she addresses her unmet emotional needs. The true nature of sacrifice is not just a change in behavior, nor is it punishment. It is part of a process that facilitates real change and healing.
You do not need a second piece of cake or all that ice cream. You do not need to be unkind, either. But in that moment, your inner child does! It is vital to her. She is frightened, feels abandoned and is desperate to be loved, and she will take whatever she can get as a substitute. Your separation from her prevents the healthy resolution of her needs, so her response must, of necessity, be profane.
And she has the power to sustain that behavior regardless of your desires. This is why affirmations and diets rarely work. While it does help to focus your intention, not addressing her need to be loved, pushes you to change your behavior without addressing the deeper need that drives it. It actually alienates you further from her.
You can deny her need and white-knuckle yourself through these situation until she learns she can survive, but this entails hog-tying her until she gives up. It can ultimately help you to feel better, but it is a very difficult way to heal. This is the Marine Corps approach to life. It is also how we “cure” drug addicts and alcoholics. We put them into a clinic, dry them out, give them some counseling, introduce them to AA and hope change occurs. This approach actually works for a few people, but it is doing life the hard way.
The idea of sacrifice lends itself readily to distortion and manipulation, and over time, the concept of individual sacrifice has been completely corrupted. People don’t like making changes. They do not like having to give up the things they get from their egos. And, priests and therapists don’t like having to hold people’s feet to the fire, either. So, over time, the unscrupulous have found ways to corrupt the process. Churches, always in need of money, began to accept monetary payment, “sacrificial offerings,” as substitutes for personal sacrifice. And when you allow the individual to avoid accepting responsibility for their actions and remain separated from the God Space, the value of sacrifice is lost.
Within the fundamentalist sects of some religions, sacrifice has come to mean doing without comfort and even inflicting pain. Mortification and penance were common medieval church practices, which approached pure masochism. And while there is value in discipline, personal abuse has nothing to do with spirituality.
Tribal societies use ritual and ceremony to help individuals or groups make commitments to live more closely in harmony to the gods. Ritual and ceremony are the vital cores of their culture. Our tribal ancestors took their ceremonial work very seriously, too. They knew that, conducted with integrity and with the support of the community, ceremony was the most powerful way to focus and commit an individual to live closer to the God Space.
We have little understanding of real ceremony and legitimate sacrifice today. These practices have been expunged from our cultural ethic and drained of their traditional vitality. The ceremonies we do practice, like marriage or baptism, are mostly empty shells with little real spiritual significance and only superficial community support. The idea of sacrifice also flies in the face of our “I want it now,” materialistic culture. Fortunately, sacrifice is largely a personal matter, and you have the freedom in every moment to choose to live from the God Space. If you do not do it today, The Universe (the events of your life) will ask it of you tomorrow.