There is a word in Portuguese - "saudade" - which has no exact equivalent in any other language. It is a combination of deep longing and nostalgia, but also more. Many Portuguese have tried to capture it in poetry and literature, but it's not easy to convey the meaning of such a deep-seated part of the culture. It is something beyond words. Fado music, sometimes called Portuguese blues, comes closer than anything to expressing this untranslatable word.
One English author described it almost a century ago: "In a word saudade is a yearning: yearning for something so indefinite as to be indefinable: an unrestrained indulgence in yearning. It is a blend of German Sehnsucht, French nostalgia, and something else besides. It couples the vague longing of the Celt for the unattainable with a Latin sense of reality which induces realization that it is indeed unattainable, and with the resultant discouragement and resignation."
It is perhaps rooted in the combination of three cultural inheritances that have come together in the Portuguese people, suggests Barry Hatton in The Portuguese: "the Celtic lyrical dreamer prone to poetic expression and religious sentiment; Faustian anxiety from the German bloodline (Visigoths and Suebi); and Arab fatalism." It is influenced by the Age of the Discoveries, the rise and fall of the Portuguese empire, and the winds of the Mediterranean and Atlantic that have carried the Portuguese to the far corners of the earth and brought intercontinental influences to their shores. Thus whatever saudade is, it most definitely is very Portuguese. A playwright of the Spanish Golden Age satirically wrote of the Portuguese:
A Portuguese who was weeping
was asked why
He replied because of his heart
and that he was in love.
To ease his pain
he was asked with whom he was in love.
He answered: Well, nobody,
I'm crying from pure love.
Whether acknowledged or not, this bittersweet sentiment exists deep within the soul of all human beings. Have we not at one time found ourselves gazing wistfully at a distant horizon, while at the same time turning our searching eyes within…seeking what? Perhaps better than any other people, the Portuguese have come to embrace and live with this constant experience of "saudade," and so they also understand that it is something to be meant to be felt, not talked about.
Embodying saudade in this way is portuguese artist Salvador Sobral. Through his jazz-inspired interpretations of poetry, and particularly in his recent award-winning performance of the song Amar Pelos Dois, Salvador Sobral has gifted us all with an immersion into the depth of emotion called Saudade.
Every once in a while, Mystical Portugal founder Laura Esculcas journeys beyond Portugal's borders, encountering the sacredness in everyday places. In June of 2015, she travelled to Paris. In this reprint of her 2015 blog post, she shares with us what she discovered.
The places we inhabit reflect the spaces that inhabit us. It is not important if we live our entire life in one town or if we are just passing through a place, when we connect with the spirit of a place, we are suddenly aware that in everything we encounter, we discover a part of ourselves.
I was eighteen years old the first time I set foot in Paris. It was my second favorite city on my post-high school graduation grand European tour (Portugal was not on the itinerary). In a few short days in Paris, there was the requisite rainy ride on the Seine, a visit to a perfumery, deciphering of paintings at the Picasso museum, and shopping at Printemps culminating in the purchase of a t-shirt printed with "I love you" in 15 different languages. I vacillated between admiration and terror at a modern ballet performance, was flashed on the Paris metro, learned that wine was cheaper than a Coca-cola, and repeatedly found myself apologizing for not ordering meals in French.
As I walked the city streets, my imagination roamed the Paris of Jean Valjean, Javert and Eponine. I felt put off by the long lines and the other loud American teenagers at the Eiffel Tower (it's always the "other" that is such a true reflection of what we despise in ourselves, isn't it?), and thus never ascended it's lofty heights. But upon my return home, I promptly adorned my bedroom with a black and white poster of the tower's magnificent view above Paris.
I am in Paris once again. On little île Saint-Louis, a small boat-of-an-island in the heart of the Seine. A tiny cobbled triangle called Place Louis Aragon rests on the "aft" of this little island-boat. I sit upon a quiet bench and listen to the hum of the city blend with the murmur of the river. I imagine an ancient Parisian squatting along the river's edge and dipping hands into the flowing waters that both give life and take it away. The sacred river, kissing sandbars, sings its perpetual hymn to the land. The city around me, with the undying devotion of a lover, responds in kind.
Paris has been called the city of lights and the city of lovers. It was Ernest Hemingway's "moveable feast." John Berger imagined it to be "a man in his twenties in love with an older woman," and Cole Porter loved "when Paris sizzles." On a recent visit to this city of artists and writers, I wondered, what is the spirit of this place?
Open a window in Paris and the sounds of the city rush in like a river. Everything in Paris resonates with the waters of the Seine. Thirsty throngs of tourists flow through gardens, swirl past monuments, and splash into sandbar cafes. Words pour out of hunched writers, spilling onto pages. Lovers kiss on bridges while waters embrace the land. Everywhere in Paris, the river washes over us. The Seine flows through Paris like blood through our veins.
Rivers purify us. Rivers mirror the flow of blood in our veins, the directionality of time, and the fluctuation of human emotions. Rivers are vital, creative life force, flowing from source to merge with sea. Rivers are liminal and stand as boundaries as well as offer passage to the other side. The great French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard writes in Water and Dreams, "One cannot bathe twice in the same river because already, in his inmost recesses, the human being shares the destiny of flowing water...a being dedicated to water is a being in flux. He dies every minute; something of his substance is constantly falling away." This is the bittersweet purifying power of rivers that both inspires and terrifies us. It is the power of renewal, of emptying and filling ourselves again and again. This is the spirit that inhabits all of us poets, artists, writers and beings who find ourselves in Paris.
Paris is not perched on the margins of the river like a tentative lover. City and river intertwine in a passionate, eternally renewing embrace. Paris is Berger's young man in love with the older woman. She, personified in myth, is the ancient river goddess Sequana. From the little boat-island they call to us:
Au cœur de la ville
Où tout est tranquille
(Do you know the island
At the heart of the city
Where all is quiet
This is the call urging us to break loose from the margins and risk being in the mad current of life where the lovers meet. In this call is the promise that when we have the courage to dive into the stream of our emotions, we will be carried over to the the quiet island within our hearts. In Paris, as in any place whose spirit touches us, is the potential to discover a part of ourselves. As I rest on a quiet bench, in a tiny cobbled courtyard, on the aft of an island-boat, in the heart of the city of lights, the Spirit of Place settles over me. Between exhale and inhale, all that I see is in me.
I put together this list a few years ago and to share with friends and friends of friends who are planning to visit my beloved Lisboa. I hope these few recommendations will get you started exploring this lovely city of good light!
I’d love to hear from you, so post here and tell me your favorite places in Lisboa or let me know if you found anything on this list particularly useful.
This is a powerful and transformative meditation to use at the beginning and end of your regular meditative practice, whether it is walking the labyrinth, SoulCollage®, prayer, qigong, mindfulness, yoga, or other practices. Do this visualization with the image of a portal, archway, or gate in front of you.* It is particularly effective way to prepare to enter a labyrinth. Or you may choose to use it to help you maintain discipline around a new habit you are trying to form, such as exercising regularly or adhering to a new diet. In fact, it is beneficial to use the Threshold Meditation to start and finish any activity in which you are committed to being more present.
Visualize a doorway, gateway or archway of Light in front of you: its opening as wide as your outstretched arms from fingertip to fingertip and as high as you can reach above your head with your feet still flat on the ground. Visualize a yellow-gold flame burning brightly and largely on the outside and inside edges of the entire archway, as if the entire structure and the opening within it are engulfed in yellow-gold flames. Once you have formed this image in your mind's eye, see yourself step into the archway and visualize that you are standing in the flames. Try to maintain this image and your presence in it for about ten minutes, then visualize yourself stepping through the doorway to the other side.
*Catherine Anderson sells a lovely book of copyright free images of doors which could be used to create threshold art or SoulCollage® to support you in this meditation.
Creating sacred space in your home or garden signals that self-care – deep soul care – is a priority for you.
A well-designed sacred space – whether it is a dedicated garden, room, or home altar on a windowsill – creates a physical connection to the land and is a tangible reminder of what gives meaning to your life journey. "Sacred space is as simple as making meaning,” write Michael Samuels and Mary Rockwood Lane in Creative Healing, “Sacredness comes from the meaning of your life story... make a space and a time that is full of meaning to you. The space you carve out of your life is the space where magic will happen, the place where you will be healed, grow and change.” When you enter your sacred space, you send a signal to your mind, body, heart and soul that you are ready to tune out the noise of ordinary life and tune into meaning. Your sacred space sets boundaries, grounds intentions, and supports you to generate meaningful action and cultivate genuine relationships every day.
Here are Five Tips for creating sacred space at home:
Tip #1: Where intention goes, energy flows.
Begin by setting your intention for your sacred space. Are you creating a private sanctuary or a shared space for community prayer and meditation? How do you want your sacred space to support you? Do you want it to be inspiring, motivating, energizing, calming, grounding, or something else? Before you begin, take time to write out your intention for the space and how you would like to use it.
Tip #2: Make it clear and simple.
Simplicity is key. Choose a place in your home or garden where you will not be tempted with distractions. Make sure your space is clean, clear and uncluttered. This is your place of peaceful self-care, so avoid high traffic areas and transition rooms in the house or garden. Remove mobile devices and electronics, and do not work or have a home office where you create your sacred space. Once you’ve physically cleared your space, consider ritually clearing it as well by ringing a bell or chime, drumming, singing, chanting, burning sage, or using any element you choose. Bring into the space only a few basic furniture elements: a chair, cushion, or mat to sit on, a soft light, and a blanket to stay cozy. Choose colors that support your intention and create a comfortable ambiance based on your personal preferences. White or pastel colors enhance light and clarity, and dark, earth tones support going inward.
Tip #3: Home is where the heart is.
Select for your sacred space items that support your intention and remind you of what you love. Personal items that are meaningful to you might include: a painting, collage, statue of protective symbols, favorite poem, sacred texts or words of wisdom, bells or musical instruments, ritual objects, images of your Spirit animal, a talisman symbolizing your intention for your space, photographs of loved ones, a candle, incense, personal divination tools such as runes or oracle cards, and a journal specifically designated for your sacred practice.
Tip #4: Make an Earth connection.
If your sacred space is in a garden, then you will naturally feed your connection with Earth. In Earth Calling, authors Carter and Gunther recommend having a dawn and sunset practice outside “in which you pay homage to your life, the air you breathe into your lungs, and the earth that sustains you.” In your home, bring in a connection with the earth by adding natural elements to your sacred space, such as plants, stones, shells, fresh flowers, and water. Include objects or images from places of pilgrimage and special places that you have known. Add a photograph of your favorite tree, mountain peak, lake, river, seashore, or any place where you have felt your connection with nature. Every home, garden, or room has a point that resonates with the sacred energies of the land. Calen Rayne has named it the Genesis Point. It is from this point, he explains in his Genesis Point Training, that information and energy stream in and increase the transformational potential of a space.
Tip #5: Make room to grow.
Use your intuition to gauge the energy of your sacred space, changing it with the seasons, special occasions, or to honor changes in your life. From time to time, review your intention for the space and update objects in it as life changes and you evolve. Make sure your sacred space is still supporting your intention, and if not, step back and look at what needs to be cleared or simplified in your space and in your spiritual practice. Asheville-based Feng Shui Consultant Jini Rayne suggests that you honor any changes you make in your space with ritual. Simply sounding a bell, lighting a candle, or saying a prayer will help you to reset your space and intention.
I recently stumbled across a scholarly article entitled The Poetics of Concealment, by Samir Akkach, which articulates an idea that has really struck a cord with me in my work. We attribute great significance to the architecture erected over sacred sites. The narrative about such sites is often centered on the building's historical origin and the original intent of its builders, or what we suppose it to be. The building is often the central focus of our attention when visiting great monuments, whether at an actively used temple such as a gothic cathedral in France, or the ruins of an ancient holy city such Machu Picchu in Peru. In part, our fascination can be attributed to the architectural mastery of the builders, and the fact that we humans naturally gravitate toward imposing structures and symbols of power.
Yet most of these monuments simultaneously reveal and conceal the sacred. The monument itself reveals the site to be significant while at the same time containing, concealing or covering that which is significant about it. The story we are often told at a temple is about how and why the men (usually men) envisioned and built the temple, implying that only when the temple was consecrated (made or declared sacred) does the rest follow suit.
But what if we turn this around and view the temple not as the focus of the narrative, but as one part of the full narrative of the sacred sacred site? In other words, the site is sacred in its origin, and the building is something acquired by that already sacred site. This removes architecture from the center of the narrative, and with it the importance of who built it and why. This frees our attention and shifts us out of the head, away from facts, and into our experience in the presence of the sacred. This is when we shift from traveler to pilgrim.
Akkach writes about one particular sacred site, the Dome of the Rock, but I believe this premise applies to many more sacred places. Akkach describes it: "At this point, it no longer matters what the original intent was, or who the author was, for the Rock seems to have its own ulterior motives that are independent of the consciousness of human agents. This inversion gives primacy to the sacred and its hierophantic acts and objects over human intentionality and architectural intervention."
When we travel to sacred places, it's easy to get caught up in the photos, the facts, and the materiality of the place as the central focus of our visit. This is natural, because we have physically journeyed to be physically present in this physical structure. At times I've heard people say, "I don't feel anything." At these moments, it helps to remember that the sacred is always veiled, and must be, as we would find it nearly impossible to behold in its unveiled manifestation. “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things,” said Henry Miller. And likewise Akkach so eloquently suggests that the challenge "seems to lie in one’s ability to see beyond the materiality of both the Rock and its beautiful architectural veil, to comprehend the enduring secrets that lie deep beneath the transience and ephemerality of both architecture and history."
To "see beyond the materiality" is part of being a pilgrim. This resonates with me and why I find it so meaningful to go beyond history and explore the myths and legends of the places I visit. Every myth contains a bit of truth, but the very nature of myth is to be a narrative that draws the imagination "deep beneath the transience and ephemerality of both architecture and history." By letting ourselves be drawn into the mythical realm, we may briefly get past the veils of materiality. For as Fernando Pessoa put it, "Myth is the nothing that is everything."
This very simple exercise is particularly effective if you have a drawing or photograph of a labyrinth, or if you're lucky enough to live close by a labyrinth. Do this visualization with the labyrinth design in front of you, or while in the center of the labyrinth. Any labyrinth design will do, as long as it is a unicursal path, not a maze. You are welcome to download and print the labyrinth patterns linked below.
Meditation: Visualize a labyrinth of Light with you at the center. Don't worry about getting the image exact; close is good enough. Visualize an indigo flame burning brightly and largely on the outside edge of the entire labyrinth, as if the circle containing the spiral path is engulfed in indigo flames. Try to maintain this image and your presence in it for about ten minutes or longer.
This simple exercise brings you into resonance with the labyrinth as a circle of Light, and the light going in all directions flowing into the places around you like water bubbling up from a spring.
Click here to download a pdf of printable labyrinths.
This mediation was written by Richard Leviton and is found in his book The Geomantic Year: A Calendar of Earth-Focused Festivals that Align the Planet with the Galaxy.
Exploring Portugal's secret past with special guest writer Ana Margarida Esteves, a scholar-activist, researcher, educator, and co-founder and member of the international spokescouncil of Interface journal.
Portugal - Light and Shadow