#68: On Sacrifice

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about sacrifice. In premodern cultures it was performed ritually for fertility, to appease the gods, bring order to the realm. Sacrifice was a necessary part of life. Today our media messages seem to convey the opposite, that we need not sacrifice – time, attention, anything, except maybe the money it costs us to buy or use or do the thing. You might say that sacrifice in primitive cultures was inhumane, but maybe its disappearance also leaves some gap in our humanity. By not killing the goat, we diminish the notion of honoring and respecting tradeoffs and the natural order.

Sometimes I am inundated with things to do and want to do so many of them that I can’t decide on one, and eventually my decision is made for me. This is an alarmingly passive way to live, this waiting until you have no choice, like waiting until you get laid off to leave a job you hate. You let external forces eliminate your need to choose instead of making the choice yourself and taking responsibility for the consequences. It is a life lived by default.

Ritual sacrifice is a conscious act: I give this up for the growth and harmony it will bring in the future. This same active quality is the difference between a scarcity mindset and one of abundance; the way to cultivate plentifulness is not to have more things but to give them away even when you have few.

I was emailing with Ben about last week’s letter, and he showed me a list he’d made of books he wanted to read and crossed out were all but the two he most wanted to read. The other morning I looked at my to-do list and decided to leave one thing on it undone. A couple weeks ago I deactivated my Facebook account. And lately, when I meet someone new and they ask what I do for a living, I try to come up a new way of answering the question without repeating an answer I’ve given before, like how a stand-up comedian might throw out their old material, regardless of how well it worked before. I sacrifice these metaphorical goats to bring abundance and harmony to the realm.

Perhaps a corollary to Agent Cooper’s advice in Twin Peaks would be: Every day, once a day, make a little sacrifice. Just let it happen.