Getting ordained at the Mississippi

by | Jan 17, 2022

The Great River wouldn’t let me go.

Harold Fisk’s Map of Meander Mississippi (1944), PD GOV, no any rights reserved, source: US Army Corps of Engineers

The Great Dharma River wouldn’t let me go.

We were so close, yet so distant. And we were so distant, yet so close – ever since I had left Winona, Minnesota in December 2019. The spot right by the Maiden Rock on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi witnessed our conversation that kept resonating long after it had actually taken place. No way I could have remained unaffected standing there; facing this vast, open valley, larger than any river valley I have ever encountered in my life, including spectacular vistas of Colorado and Kali Gandaki cutting the deepest canyons in the world. The feeling of having become inescapably and inevitably marked was not about encountering the spectacular. Ever since I set my feet on her shore, this one of its kind experience has always been about openness, vulnerability, and flow. About facing the river and letting myself flow into and with her (somehow talking about the Mississippi as “it” never feels right), forgetting for a brief moment any boundaries separating me from her vast openness. Granted, there are still all those undercurrents. Like my deeply ingrained fear of water, stemming from a childhood experience of having nearly drowned in a much smaller and much faster mountain river – an episode that has hindered my ability to swim ever since. I can swim and I occasionally do, including in the open waters, usually lakes. A big river and the sea are different stories though, not to even mention the ocean. Flowing, very much alive, unpredictable water will probably always be an uneasy and unsettling companion.

Yet, precisely because of this it will continue to fascinate, haunt and teach. Because we meet in the most intimate way possible, in my fear and love, in a space that makes me sense the immediate surroundings with my whole body/mind, whenever I have occasion to immerse in the sea. It teaches me a great deal about trust. That building trust requires persistent effort, attention and courage, while attending to many details. In this process, my cognition merges with movements of water, sounds of gravel in the riverbed under my feet, contours of her past flows still discernible on the shoreline, all of it changing from moment to moment but also maintaining certain degree of continuity over time, all in different rhythms, timescales and tempos. Always susceptible to change that seems sudden on the surface, but has already been brewing beyond the limited and limiting scope of my human mind.

And then there is this great affection and a sense of confluence. Walking the narrow path by the Great River, visibly well maintained by other walkers, with skill, care and love, almost on the same level with a water flow, breathing right by her side, moving at a breath distance. Immersing in all her voices and scents. Tunning in and being tuned in to her by honks and flapping wings of arctic swans and Canadian geese, and turning around when the molecules of sweetgrass smell are hitting the nostrils. Does it even grow here? Was it real or imagined? Did it indeed hit my nostrils or is it so deeply written into my olfactory memories, always ready to ignite complex chemical reactions inside my brain to leave me at the mercy of forces I can’t grasp with my rational mind? Does it even matter, this boundary between imagined and ‘real’, when lived experience is a pure magic?

Having entered the Great Dharma River, I just wish to continue to flow into and with her. Or, I have entered, because I have always wished to flow into and with her in the first place.

The ordination ceremony in December 2021 just got me meshed closer with entangled vines which for me are more like meandering riverbeds, flows and undercurrents; past, present, and future; across two continents; across time zones – conveniently enabling me to watch with care over your dreams when I’m on my side of the globe and let my dreams to be well taken care of when you’re walking your paths on your side of the planet. Our paths in all directions, at confluences of riverbeds, currents, and flows, always susceptible to changes, ceaselessly making the contours of our bodies fading into in the air, with every breath bringing it closer to complete dissolution. Which is the reason to continue getting ever more intimate with life, in all the love, terror, awe, and despair.

Anna Myosen Nacher

Rev. Anna Myosen Nacher, a novice Zen priestess, has been practicing with the Zen Garland Order since 2019. Associate professor at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków (Poland) specialising in digital culture, communication studies, and contemporary art. She taught one semester as a visiting professor at Winona State University. That was when her paths crossed with the Dharma River and she happily confluences with it ever since. She likes orchids and clouds. The Mississippi will not let her go.

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