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#1669 - Tuesday, January 6, 2004 - Editor: Jerry
This issue is dedicated to the Mississippi River.
She remains the greatest Guru I have known. --Thomas
from Life on the Mississippi
In his 1909 memoir, Old Times on the Upper Mississippi, the
pilot George Merrick lamented the multitude of changes visited upon the
great river in the previous half century. "[L]ike the wild tribes which
peopled its banks 60 years ago," Merrick glumly concluded,
"civilization has been its undoing." In the years since Merrick put
those words to paper, the sentiment has been echoed a thousand times.
Given the sorry condition of the river--where sewage still washes in
with each heavy rainfall, where mercury and PCBs still foul its food
chain, where all manner of flotsam still litter the banks--a thousand
more repetitions are probably in order.
But for all the changes that have come to the Mississippi, one
has remained the same. People are drawn to the river because it offers
escape. Bums go to the river to escape cops. Ex-drunks go to escape the
lure of bars. Husbands go to escape wives. Teenagers to escape parents.
Average Joes to escape their workaday lives. It goes on.
Of course, escape is an illusion. The world has a funny way of
up with you--no matter how much time you spend chasing catfish or
drinking under a bridge. But for those who fall under the river's
spell, that doesn't matter much. All that matters is the balm of the
moment. For the better part of the past month, I tooled around the urban
reaches of the Mississippi looking for people who know the river best.
By this, I don't mean scientists or scholars or policy wonks. I mean
the people who spend an inordinate amount of time floating on its
surface and wandering its banks.
I found them.
In conversations, I discovered there were a lot of shared
Most river rats have encountered a dead body or two in their time on
the water (a severe defect in my own credentials, alas), and almost all
of them have witnessed people engaged in bawdy acts (I have that
covered). Most everyone agreed that the river is unacceptably dirty.
Opinions vary as to its worthiness for swimming. No one reported
adverse consequences resulting from contact with the
waters--surprising, given the chronically high fecal coliform counts.
But everyone I spoke with agreed about one thing: The Mississippi
deserves to be treated a lot better than it is.
Return to the nest.
I declare myself to be an act of art. My existence is my performance.
THE RETURN TO THE NEST: THE ARTIST KNOWN AS D. SINN'S FABULOUS FOLK ARCHITECTURE
David Erickson: Most people call me Badger, but I'm David
also known as the artist D. Sinn. I'm living art in America and I have
been since I quit my job with the city of St. Paul in 1992. The reason
the piece is called Return to the Nest? Two years ago, the night before
Easter, the waning of the full moon, I was down here with a small fire
and a friend and I was building a sculpture and I possessed beer and I
was arrested and jailed for possessing beer and for having a fire. The
next day, I got up with no pennies in my pocket because they took away
all my money and wrote me a check. So I came back down here for nine
weeks, almost nightly, while building the Nest of the Spirit Bird. I
informed the mayor and the City Council with written invitation for my
opening on May 12, 2002. I was going to have a show. They didn't show
up. But on June 7, eight men with chain saws and a chipper truck came
down. They destroyed it.
I came down here a couple of months later and started this,
Return to the Nest. I left magic markers here for people to write on
it. I built this in the dark so I wouldn't be arrested. I generally
started just before dark and stayed until dawn.
I don't live here. Right now I have a van to sleep in. But
there are a
lot of places I've lived like that. I built another one like this in
Gainesville, Florida. It was pretty famous. They call it Badgerville. I
spent five out of seven winters in that thing. It was covered with
shitty plastic, but was waterproof, and slept eight people, and had
paving and a fire pit and seating, and alligators and otters in the
stream and even armadillos. Crazy as hell. Beautiful place.
THE ARTIST KNOWN AS D. SINN
This is where Father Hennepin got out of his canoe so that he
travel above the falls. The rapids started here. For thousands of
years, people got out of their canoes here. They drank from the stream
because it was fresh and pure and then they portaged above St. Anthony
Falls. This is where they landed. It's a sacred place, a place of
memories. I didn't pick the place, the place picked me. I
swim here once in a while. It's polluted as shit. I've never
sick. But then again, I eat out of dumpsters and I've got pretty good
It's been 11 years since I decided I would no longer create a
income because I will not pay for prisons and bombs.
For six and a half of the last 11 years, I've walked around
country. I build places along the rivers and streams because this is
The only people who will knock it over are the police.
probably destroy this one, just like the last one. The excuse last time
was that a homeless person might sleep here. They probably spent $2,000
to destroy a sculpture because a homeless person might sleep there.
I declare myself to be an act of art. My existence is my performance.
Every pilgrim must go down to the river and pray,
for he must be shown the way, by a guidance he
prays into being. Without this fasting from words
and thought, he cannot learn the language of the
river, that contours the expression of this
transpiring world. He must become this stream that
forms his own mandala. A river that flows swiftly,
but bears its source, as a stillness beneath it,
like a fish that drinks its own water, yet never
moves of itself, but holds the river flowing
This strange way of traveling calls for a letting
go of all conceptions of the idea of destination,
for the journey becomes meaningless if the pilgrim
looks for a goal to set. Being both the fish and
the water, he must learn the art of swimming
without reckoning what it is to be saturated or
evaporated. This way he can move beyond land, sea
and sky, to be the wellspring of the river itself.
Mon, 16 Dec 1996
And again, even though I am not usually possessed by awareness
nonduality of the universe, I feel I am also acting from and through that
awareness more often than before. This awareness now surrounds and
underlies my everyday consciousness as it didn't a month ago, and gives
more meaning and hope to all I see and especially to what I do in working
to avert catastrophe. What I continue to find, as I apply this
understanding of nonduality to my embodied life in the here and now, is
that perceiving the perfection of current reality does *not* mean
passivity, or ceasing to care, or fatalism, but rather a profound
compassion for everything. Whitman is eloquent on this. And that compassion
pushes me to want to act on behalf of myself and other besieged creatures.
The heightened meaning and commitment to act come in tandem with the
realization that *as* *it* *is*, everything is already perfect.
And I say again how difficult it is to grasp this truth, even
while I am
experiencing it. It seems crazy to hold two opposite things at the same
time. How can they both be true? asks the linear, logical mind of Western
And it is equally hard to put *into* words. Yesterday evening,
walked beside the Mississippi River in pelting snow, feeling the
breathtaking erotic power and magnificent indifference of one of the great
beings of the Earth as it flowed on, through the city, under the bridges,
over the locks and dams, past me and the trees and the snow and the eagles
huddling in their great nests--in those moments I had it all straight--but
now...I still have the *sense,* a bodily sensation as well as an inner
feeling, even a visual image--but not words.
I am driven to use written language to understand and convey
ineffable experiences and knowledge. Perhaps there is also a time to cease
worrying about putting it into words, and simply let the knowledge be
there--as Claudia says, stop thinking and just resonate!
Kay is a native of Mississippi, complete with the ultimate
drawl, brought up as a thoroughgoing fundamentalist Southern Baptist
with all the trimmings.
Well, she gave up religion (completely!) at a relatively early age, and
went on to become a highly successful business woman., enjoying all the
perks that go with such a life.
Then, one evening in early 1984, while she was driving across the
Mississippi River, a voice inside her head asked, "Is this all there
A couple of weeks later an acquaintance inexplicably gave her a copy of
one of Joel Goldsmith's books, and while reading it she came across the
statement "'I' is God," whereupon everything simply exploded - it
happened to be February 14, and she subsequently called the event the
"Valentine's Day Explosion."
Anyway, it took her four years to sort it out - she went through much
the same ordeal as Suzanne Segal. But Suzanne had been exposed to TM;
Kay had absolutely NO preparation!
In 1989 she finally came into a full understanding of what had happened,
and since then, though she has written nothing, she has held satsangs
with small groups and given some weekend retreats from time to time, the
cost of which is room and board, if any - nothing more. She does have
available quite a collection of audio and video tapes, the catalogs of
which are available from Debra Tru who can be reached at [email protected]
Just the titles are interesting, even if you don't buy one!
But the video on which she tells her own
story is engrossing - it's called "Kay Speaks About February 14, 1984."
Having now read some of the scriptures, Kay's comment is the same as
Ramana's: "They confirm my experience." She lives alone on a lovely
spread about fifty miles north of Atlanta.
I wonder how many other such solitary sages are out there!
Thomas: The natural world in its particulars
has been for me a constant source of joy, and the universal
process of nature nothing less than the body of God. I consider
myself fortunate to have grown up in the northern wilds and to
have spent much of my youth on the banks of a young and fresh
Mississippi River. She remains the greatest Guru I have known.
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