Updated: Sep 25, 2019

Sacred ground.

Congo Square was once the only place in New Orleans where slaves were allowed to congregate. And it was here that they gathered for the musical exchanges that gave birth to jazz. African rhythms met European songs– and eventually became jazz, blues, and rock. The newly arrived brought their rhythms and dances from Africa, the second or third-generation slaves sang their own culturally adapted versions of European folk songs.

That was under French rule, when slaves could gather, trade, and raise money to purchase their freedom. But when harsher American slavery practices took over, they suppressed congregation and put an end to the gatherings at Congo Square.

During a later resurgence of "Creole brass band" music, city leaders renamed "Beauregard Square," after a Confederate general; but residents still called it Congo Square. It wasn't officially changed back until 2011, thanks in large part to the efforts of author and historian Freddi Williams Evans.

Bless this place— for its pain, for its defiant jubilance, and for its divine spark in music history.

Updated: May 7, 2019

airplane engine hum drum drowning

out the voices speaking soothing

self-assurance, way up where

apes are not evolved to dwell.

we’re all in this shit together:

this capsule of recycled air and

digestive gases.

speeding toward the sea,

we echo past the mountains

to the tallest trees, the unwashed

lands of life-giving rain.

roosevelt was right

to show us sacred places

where time is glacial. why

can I not lie and say that you can be so lucky?


There are two distinct headspaces one can be in— normal everyday reality, and a sort of “sacred space” where things become enchanted.*

Everyone enters into sacred space sometimes. Perhaps the most common example is when watching a movie. If it's a good movie, you enter into a trance that cinematographers call the "suspension of disbelief" where you let yourself believe temporarily that what you're watching is real, no matter how fantastical or absurd. Ordinary reality fades into the periphery. If you don't enter this trance, the movie isn't very enjoyable. If you're thinking the whole time, "this is all fake, these are actors in makeup, there are lights and cameras out of view" instead of getting lost in the story, it kills the experience.

I've learned to approach spirituality** the same way— to allow and encourage myself to enter a trancelike state of reverent belief in the divine. Meditation, prayer, rituals, music, lovemaking— these can all be (even more) profound and transformative when a sense of sacredness, divinity, God— whatever you want to call it— is intentionally cultivated.

The biggest roadblock to entering sacred space is taking myself too seriously, or being afraid of seeming silly or gullible. (It sometimes requires a reverent seriousness; while at other times silliness itself can be a sacred state of authentic self-expression.) A tragically high number of adults*** rarely allow themselves to enter sacred (or silly) space, despite its healing power and constant accessibility as part of human nature.

When I'm ready to leave the sacred space, I return to ordinary reality with my scientific skepticism intact, but my vitality, serenity, self-understanding, and compassion greatly enhanced.



*Mircea Eliade wrote a noted book about these two spaces called "The Sacred and the Profane: the Nature of Religion," where profane means something more like "ordinary," not necessarily "obscene."

**some non-religious people bristle at the term "spirituality" as if it's asserting the existence of ghosts. I defer to Sam Harris, widely known critic of religion, writing in his book "Waking Up": "The word 'spirit' comes from the Latin 'spiritus' [translated from] the Greek 'pneuma,' meaning 'breath.' ... there is no other term— apart from the even more problematic 'mystical' or the more restrictive 'contemplative'— with which to discuss the efforts people make, through meditation, psychedelics, [prayer, ritual, music], or other means, to bring their minds fully into the present or to induce non ordinary states of consciousness. And no other word links this spectrum of experience to our ethical lives."

***one of the greatest things about kids is that they are nearly constantly in a sort of sacred trance, where everything is enchanted and meaningful, and they have not yet learned that "silliness" is to be left behind in lieu of a shallow, repressive kind of "maturity."