The idea that the East River could be as sacred to me as, say, the Ganga is to Hindus, Mount Arafat is to Muslims, the Bodhi Tree is to Buddhists, Skull Mountain (Golgotha) is to Christians, is probably one of the most important possibilities to me. As a spiritual exile—one who was long ago unhinged from his cosmic roots to be secularized by the suburbs—I need to not only make sacred the locales of others, but also reestablish—because it is most definitely a happening again—my connection to the always already sacred environment that is New York City.
The question is, why have I not fully embodied such an act already? Last week’s New York Times article on Guyanese Hindus using Jamaica Bay to perform sacred rites (and how the parks dept. is planning on dealing with the subsequent sacred “garbage?” that washes up on the shores) depicts a culture, distant from their homeland, using the environment they are in in order to stay connected to all that’s worth staying connected to.
As far as I can tell, I was once, though very long ago, aware of my already connection to that which is worth staying connected to. There is no doubt a part of me that once walked pre-civilized Europe, gathering herbs for healing and singing songs to trees for long life. There must be some part of me that remembers what it was like to see my immediate locations as sacred.
But, something happened. Somewhere down the trail of DNA I was lead to believe that the United States held nothing of any mysticism. I was lead to believe, and later embodied the idea, that rivers were just rivers, hills simply hills, land only land. I was lead to believe that America was spiritually barren.
Every once in a while, however, I get glimpses of a possible resacrilizing of my environment. I’m reminded of it when I think of Harlem’s Five Percenters (AKA The Nation of Gods and Earths) referring to Harlem/Manhattan as “Mecca,” Brooklyn as “Medina,” Queens as “the Desert” or “the Oasis,” the Bronx as “Pelan,”and Staten Island as “Savior’s Island” or “Shaolin.”
I’m reminded of it when I read Michael Muhammad Knight’s always inspiring tome, Blue Eyed Devil, where the graves of indigenous American prophets, the corners of Harlem’s streets, and the libraries of after-hours colleges become places worth hajj-ing to. The back of the book says it better than I could:
“In his quest for indigenous ‘American Islam,’ Michael Muhammad Knight embarked on a series of interstate odysseys. Traveling 20,000 miles in sixty days, he squatted in run-down mosques, pursued Muslim romance, was detained at the US-Canadian border with a truckload of Shi’a literature, crashed Islamic Society of North America conventions, stink-palmed Cat Stevens, limped across Chicago to find the grave of Nobel Drew Ali, and hunted down the truth of the Nation of Islam mystery-man, W.D. Fard.”
—From the back cover of Blue Eyed Devil, by Michael Muhammad Knight
“I went with some friends of mine (including Charles Stein, David Levi Strauss & Raymond Foye) to a place in Accord, NY, where two rivers meet: the Rondout & Rochester Creek (formerly called the Mombaccus Kill). I’ve been fascinated by this spot for years. Although it possesses great geomantic atmosphere it remains unmarked & unknown to tourists.”
—PRESS RELEASE: “First Vanishing Art Work Takes Place at Mombaccus,” by Peter Lamborn Wilson
“I would look at the East River as a goddess; the goddess of prosperity. Not the water of the East River, but the spirit of the East River that we recognize by seeing the water. Then the next thing that I would look at, or think about, is all these huge phallic buildings that house banks…. Those banks are housed in these huge Siva lingams, and wherever there are Siva lingams that are hiding wealth, you know that the Mother Goddess is just below the surface, because the name of the Mother Goddess is prosperity….
“In this way New York City is probably one of the most sacred places on Earth! That doesn’t make it a good place, that doesn’t make it a nice place, that doesn’t mean that you go there and get rich. You can die of starvation on the street. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a very, very powerful place of abundance and prosperity, which is the nature of the Mother Goddess.”
—From “An Interview With Naga Baba Rampuri,” Namarupa, Spring 2007
Now, with inside sources hinting at a possible Kumbh Mela taking place in New York City in 2012, it’s high time I/we started learning about our local environment, and unpacking all that juicy juicy meaning. It’s time to excavate the bones of mysticism buried within our local environment. It’s time to learn from our travels abroad. It’s time to learn that what is sacred “over there” is sacred here. Be not yet another spiritual tourist!
The tree in your neighborhood is Yggdrasil, embodying the Universe and housing the Gods when they hold their court.
The East River is the Ganges, and when it meets the Atlantic Ocean it is tantra.
The landfill in “Shaolin,” Staten Island, is Golgotha, a mound of skulls, commodities born and abandoned.
New York City, in all its sometimes frustrating contradictions, is sacred.