During the early 1990s, I lived at the corner of Avenue A and 5th Street in New York, as urban as it gets. Amidst homeless guys slumped on the sidewalk near the fetid rotten trash and the constant blaring of car alarms, it’s hard to feel holy. Instead of the overcrowded, dirty city, I longed for sacred space: a holy grove of venerable, ancient oaks that pagans of old might have danced around; the hallowed ground of a secluded desert spot where wise elders could have conducted ceremonies; a windblown spot by the stormy ocean with rocks that might move a Shinto priest to enshrine them. How do you get to hallowed ground from the East Village when you haven’t got a dime?
On a sweltering, sweaty day in June of 1993, I strolled down St. Mark’s Avenue with my mind on a dream from the night before. I had some form of this dream regularly, still do, actually. It’s annoying. In the dream, I discovered I’d never actually finished my B.A. and had to go back to university and live in the dorms for one more semester. As I walked and remembered, I happened to look up and notice an unusual relief carving of a family crest or shield on the pointy peak of a roof. It stopped me stock still. Even though I passed that way almost daily, I’d never noticed it before. And then the idea, the kernel of thought that turned into a practice. It felt like sudden revelation, though in retrospect I see how many books, reflections, and other practices funneled into the moment. Who knows how new ideas form. But in that second I perceived something very important: The best way to live in a sacred place is to make the place where you live sacred. I began that process then and there by mentally superimposing my dream onto the architectural feature I’d just noticed.Read More