The Sacred and the Profane

“But what if we discuss it without the endgame of convincing and mobilizing and compelling others to action? Is there value in talking about this with the people in our lives simply to commiserate, communally, on this impending demise?”

— Sam Miller McDonald, Climate Despair

I think my involvement in 12 Characters can give an emphatic YES to these questions, although that’s qualitative and not quantitative. It has certainly given value to me – it’s helped remove a cynicism and apathy that had become calcified into my days; it has changed the lens through which I see and experience the people around me from one of uncaring, self-centered automatons to confused, frightened, lonely people who have never had any sense of what real life could mean;

and has helped me experience the enormous relief that comes over me when I meet someone with no inhibitions talking about the impending apocalypse with a sense of real grief; and it has shifted much of my focus away from whether or not other people ‘get it’ to the importance of having the next conversation.

I know there are others out there who could say similar things – maybe not many, but certainly those in the group who come with me to read Characters for the gatherings have a similar greatly increased sense of importance in having conversations – which means creating spaces in which conversations can happen – which is one of the primary functions of the 12 Characters gathering – a ritual space that we craft together in order to hold the dialog we will have within it. Those of us who have taken part in many such gatherings have a responsibility to the new participants to hold certain key aspects of the ritual space-building we undertake: we recognize it as a ritual space, we bring the ritual of Theater to aid us in the leavening of the space, and we guide and host the conversation to cultivate intimacy, curiosity, and a vulnerable revealing of a shared humanity in the room. Nights when I leave our gatherings and I know it has been a success fills with a renewed sense of the importance of making it to the next conversation.
I don’t think these conversations can happen at the cafes or the markets or in the parks because those spaces are profane – out of the temple – I’m beginning to recognize that there is a sacred element required for these conversations to become accessible.