In Defense of Ruins

“…we have lost the enchantment that gives human life meaning and value: We are so intent upon building a well-oiled society – literally and figuratively – that ruins clearly get in the way. They are an obstacle and a nuisance. They represent a regressive movement rather than a forward one, the disabled past rather than the enabling future. Yet maybe our forward progress needs to be disabled, now and then, simply to allow the thoughts and feelings of the deep heart to emerge, providing a grounding of values and the essential element of mystery, without which our progress goes on unhindered and therefore dangerous.”

When author and psychotherapist Thomas Moore writes about ruins, he has in mind not only the remnants of old buildings, bridges, stone walls, and other structures, but also the sometimes broken down state of our personal, professional, and spiritual/religious lives. Failed relationships, aging and illness, a career in shambles, a crisis of faith, and other challenging experiences, can seem like detours at best from the plans we make for ourselves, “a regressive movement rather than a forward one.”

Where we are inclined to see only the negative aspects of decline, Moore senses meaning and importance, for he makes this truly confounding statement: “maybe our forward progress needs to be disabled, now and then.” Ruins don’t have to be “an obstacle and a nuisance.” Painful though they are, breakups and breakdowns, trials and tribulations, can be the bedrock upon which a new and better self is built, one that is more attentive to relationships, more tolerant of imperfection, and more inclined to enchantment.

When Moore says that without an element of mystery our progress as individuals and as a society is endangered, he is not talking about the unknown, but the sacred. It is often when life individually and collectively is in a state of ruins that we get in touch with the need to reach out, or reach within to find the source of courage and grace that enables us to confront what must be challenged, and to embrace the possibilities to which our dilemmas invite us.


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