Mysticism and Writing as Tools to Change Self and Society

Welcome to a weeklong virtual interfaith panel and community discussion

The topic: Mysticism and Writing as Tools to Change Self and Society.

Our diverse panelists don’t say the same old things. And they’re not the only ones who can bring a unique, in-depth perspective to the topic: Their remarks below kick off a week-long dialogue; You—yes you—can pontificate all you want, using the “Leave a Reply” box below. :-)

Introductions:

Kristilee Williams

Kristilee Williams is the mother of two amazing boys, whom she home educates. She serves as Chair of the Children and Youth Faith Development committee at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the North Hills in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she also helped to found and coordinate the Barnraisers’ Time Bank and Confluence Grove CUUPS groups. An amateur herbalist, digital literacy instructor, and sometimes activist, organizer, writer, and promoter, she attempts to live her life in alignment with the Unitarian Universalist principles and a focus on “deeds, not creeds.”  

Mike Dickman says, “Having grown up in a minefield of extremely conflicting but uncritically held beliefs, i was fortunate as a young adolescent to discover Grandfather Lao-tse. Later i read Tibetan Book of the Dead and decided that – whatever else – Tibetan Buddhism was certainly not my path. Over the years i have managed to acquaint myself more or less with several paths that are not Tibetan Buddhism, and to become skilled to a degree in all of them, but i kept getting bumped back into Tibetan Buddhism more and more. I am still – and with questionable success – trying to find a way out of it and into what actually underpins it and have had the blessing of studying with several awesome gentlemen and ladies, the dust of whose feet i am certainly not worthy to touch.”  

Shmuel Shalom

Shmuel Shalom learned the 3rd Road Faerie Tradition directly from Francesca De Grandis over 15 years ago. His work with Francesca led him to explore his Jewish roots which led to him spend the last 9 years in Israel studying Jewish sacred texts from a shamanic point of view and putting together experiential workshops to help Jews connect to their tradition. He now lives in Eugene, Oregon and is the founder of Conscious Torah, a school to experience Judaism as a path of awakening and personal growth. http://conscioustorah.com/  

Francesca De Grandis

Francesca De Grandis AKA Outlaw Bunny is your host, 4th panelist, and middle management for Chaos Gods. A one-woman interfaith community, Francesca practices Goddess Spirituality, is a long-time student of Taoism, visits Christ, and has been told she’s Buddhist. She’s secretly a druid. Francesca struggles spiritually because she’s a brat, but she does her best and tries to stay tight with God. The author of Share My Insanity: It Improves Everything, she created Another Step: a nature-spirituality curriculum without dogma. Her twitter handle is @outlawbunny 

You: Feel free to introduce yourself in a “Leave a Reply” box below. 

I am so grateful to panelists and you for being here.

Here are questions I asked panelists, and their answers:  

1) Trying to use mysticism and writing as tools to change self and society is an enormous undertaking. What is one thing you have found pivotal to this endeavor?

Mike Dickman: Paying particular attention to the stuff you think is preliminary – beginners’ crap that someone as advanced as you really doesn’t have to consider. 

Shmuel Shalom One must keep doing it and believing that people are reading even though you are getting no feedback. And this belief/faith is a deep mystical teaching unto itself that is hidden in all the writing. 

Kristilee Williams I believe that cultivating a certain amount of courage and willingness to discover and face honestly things about myself and my society that I might have been more comfortable keeping hidden from myself or not confronting is definitely a pivotal factor for me in this work. Initiating change and growth is not always an easy, comfortable, or enjoyable process. 

Francesca De Grandis Lyric. Mystically-driven transformation is so beyond words (at least for me) that I cannot define or facilitate it through charts and categories. But I can point toward it through poesy.  

2) What is one of the challenges, for you personally, that the modern world puts in the way of this undertaking?
 
Mike: Understanding. If knowledge is the beginning of all ignorance and conclusions really are just where people stop thinking about things, nothing is more dangerous. That, and then selling understanding rather than practice.  

Shmuel Shalom All sorts of entertainment.  People seem to want to be entertained and are not so interested in contemplating an idea or thought. 

Kristilee My biggest challenge is always time and being able to meet all of my responsibilities. Meeting the demands of parenting, working part time, home educating and remaining an active part of my church takes enormous effort on my part and setting aside time for myself to work on my own spiritual growth and practices often gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do list. 

Francesca Dang, everyone said what I wanted to say! So I’ll add this: modern dialog can be a barrage of unnecessary words that obstruct inner change. So I’ll host a moment of silence now, or my ego will add useless extra text, which will eradicate the informative silent spaciousness that follows great remarks—remarks like those of my fellow-panelists. 

3) What helped you overcome this challenge? 

Mike: Having my arse seriously kicked by my teachers, who do NOT go for that kind of shit a-tall! 

Shmuel Shalom If you are asking how I overcome the desire to be entertained, I find it an interesting struggle. It is easy just to make the decision to work on myself.  However, if I am not being careful, I can quickly find myself sucked into a TV show or surfing the web, etc.  In Judaism, this is referred to as the yetzer harah or the evil inclination.  

 If the question is how do I overcome this challenge of others preferring to be entertained instead of wanting to learn, I haven’t. And I am very much open to ideas and suggestions. 

Kristilee Not sure I have overcome it, although I have made progress! For me, what really helped was the realization that if I don’t make specific alone time to explore my authentic and spiritual self, I can begin to feel resentful about it until I am no good to anyone – in order for me to be able to care well for others, I need to be able to care for myself. 

 4) To be a mystic who deals with the written word is a blessing. Can you tell us one benefit you’ve received?  

Kristilee One gift I have been blessed with is a humbling and powerful sense of radical compassion that continues to grow and expand and compels me to act. 

Mike You’re forced to reflect. In the Buddhist tradition insight is honed in a triune manner – you study, reflect, and then try to put into practice. And if the practice turns out to be bullshit you start again… ad infinitum. 

Shmuel Shalom One benefit I have received is the occasional response of someone who has experienced what I have written.  This gives me joy and confirmation that I am on my path, that I am not alone, and that I am of service and helping people.  

Francesca Divinity is a trickster whose pranks reduce me to size. Writing stories about it is even more humbling—which I sorely need. Plus, sharing the jokes the universe plays on me is fun; fun and humor connect my soul to other people’s, and to the mischievous black hearted core of existence.   

5) How have the transformative powers of mysticism and writing been misused to disempower – – instead of empower – – people?

Shmuel Shalom The written word is very powerful.  People tend to believe it without asking for proof.  So, when they read a lot of negative or hateful or cynical pieces, be them blogs or news, or articles, or papers, people start to give up hope.

Mike: By selling them an easy solution. Dylan nailed the ‘problem’ of the Age of Aquarius – the age of the common man – when he sang “While one who sings with his tongue on fire / Gargles in the rat race choir / Bent out of shape from society’s pliers / Cares not to come up any higher / But rather get you down in the hole that he’s in / No-one is putting in the man hours.”

Francesca Folks might go to great lengths to avoid the fyr of the Divine, while honestly believing they’re doing the exact opposite. And any spiritual tool or premise can be misapplied. For example, we can hide our obstinacy in the name of “freedom to find our own sense of spirituality.” Writers who deny the need for teachers who consistently tell me when I’m on a spiritual wild goose chase would leave me without enough self-knowledge and immersion in Divinity to choose and fulfill my destiny. I will watch a merlin fly overhead and, instead of asking for a ride, I’ll shudder in its shadow. 

6) Is there anything else you’d like to add?
 
Mike: Grammar. Grammar and carefully considered vocabulary. And punctuation.

Shmuel Shalom A mystic is not always a writer. A writer is not always a mystic. A mystic who writes well is rare. And in this age where there are so many venues, it is a challenge to find and keep up with it all, along with a daily practice. Anyone out there long for the old days where the mystic sat under a tree all day watching his flocks and contemplating the glory of all, and shared her/his thoughts at night by firelight or during shabbat/sabbat and let someone else write down whatever important words were shared? 

Francesca I’m a careful writer. Share My Insanity took 8-9 years. But I’m equally devoted to oral transmission. Everything has a place. I’d be pulled from self and Divinity if I sought them only in print, even the heartfelt exchange of social media. Oral tradition takes me places books can’t. My students and I are immersed in our committed presence. 

Kristilee I’m grateful for the opportunity to participate in this panel and looking forward to the discussions! 

Yay!!! I love it! 

Add your thoughts or ask panelists questions. They’ll be available for a week—Oct 28 to Nov 4—to respond. Watch the “Leave a Reply” boxes below for their remarks.

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78 Responses to Mysticism and Writing as Tools to Change Self and Society

  1. Hi Everyone,

    Mike, your answer to question #1 is so basic. And it is the one I keep getting hit over the head with, so much so that I didn’t even think of it. Thank you so much for saying it.

  2. mike dickman says:

    Shmuel – Believe me! I come up against that idiot time and time again – virtually any time i look in a mirror.
    Racing toward what you imagine is ‘enlightenment’ is – in my experience – the number one way of getting both feet tangled and well down your throat. There’s a wondrous image on the cover of the original printing of Paulus Ricius’s “Portae Lucis” of a seated Rabbi pulling the Sephirothic Tree down towards the Earth. What we tend to do – an i don’t believe its a question of ‘the times we live in’ – i think it’s always been the case – is try to plant the thing in midair…
    It invariably falls over.

    • Racing towards enlightenment… my first thought is that is an oxymoron. My second thought that when enlightenment hits, it often hits fast, like a light turning on… and then immediately turns off. And then comes the task of doing the work to attain what I just have a powerful memory of a momentary experience.

      I never saw the rabbi as planting the tree. Thanks for pointing it out. I just looked at the picture again and I am now amazed at how strong that image is. Malchut, the bottom sphere, represents the world and is considered feminine. Yesod, the sphere above his hand, represents the genitals and is considered male. The word itself means foundation. Hence, the rabbi’s hand really is planting the trunk, or foundation of the tree into the womb of the earth. Thanks.

      One last comment about planting in midair. Before I went to Israel, I was very much into the whole kabbalah thing, but I had very little foundation in Judaism. What I discovered as I delved into Judaism, as I got into the “mundane” (read as boring, non-sexy, day-to-day) aspects of Judaism, I found them filled with spiritual meaning. And I found kabbalah to really be talking about the feminine, the mystical, and the spiritual that is is everyday life. And I became less interested in learning the “secret names and powers” of kabbalah. There is enough just working on the foundation. What do others think: does the foundation/mundane in your tradition contain enough spiritual sexiness? Or do you also feel a need to reach for the sexy mystical of your tradition?

      • francesca says:

        Well, you already know how I feel about down-to-earth spirituality. But I will say a bit about it here for everyone else.

        Learning to apply one’s spiritual insights to one’s daily life is an ongoing process, and a big chunk of the learning can only be accomplished by, tada, trying to apply one’s spiritual insights to one’s daily life, heh. Spirituality is not learned soley thru theory, we must learn experientially through, among other things, grounded application.

        As to how I feel about the lightening bolt moment, you summed up part of it well. So I’ll add: after I do a soul healing, a direct spiritual transmission, i tell the recipient that I can bring them to whatever place the particular transmission in question brought them, but I cannot keep them there. They have to do their daily spiritual practices (eg prayer, honest self-evaluation, serving others) to stay in – – or return to – – the place I brought them. 

        One value of my bringing them there, and of people’s other stunningly profound and soul-stirring breakthroughs, is that we experience what is possible. Also, having  been there, we can find it more easily again. Note the word  “experienced,” once again. And the word “been.” Not the word “thought.” I try so hard to make even my books – not just my oral classes – experiential. 

        Also, if I got too into theory, my ego wld take over in not-pretty ways! I am sure some people can wax eloquent endlessly without it making their brains swell. But not me. My ego-driven brain would get bigger and bigger, then finally explode all over the room, there wld be a mess. Ick! Brain bits everywhere! 

        • One of the big problems I see in this culture is the if we learn something intellectually, and can talk about it, we believe we know that something. Yes, we might know it in theory, however, we cannot know something until we have experienced it. For example, being in love. Go ahead and read up as much as you want to. Discuss it all you want. You might think you know it inside and out… until you fall in love for the first time. Then, and only then, can you understand how little you really knew about it. And this is the underlying secret to “not judge another until you have walked a mile in their shoes.” Wait, did I just give away another secret? ;)

          • francesca says:

            “One of the big problems I see in this culture is the if we learn something intellectually, and can talk about it, we believe we know that something.” 

            Oh, yes, indeed! Or that if we observe something,  we understand it. Your above remark is one of the main reasons it took so long to sell Share My Insanity to a publisher. And why the project was fought by corporate media for five years – – I finally went with a publisher the size of my couch. The book go against such a basic construct of Western consiousness. Your above line is a premise of the book, a premise I keep returning its reader to. 

            I mean, I could not even find a publisher 
            who had even get the faintest idea of what I was trying to pull off.  Picture this: publishers insist on an outline before they buy a nonfiction book. I finally said, in the book proposal, mid-outline, that you cannot outline a mystical journey, and that if I step by step outlined SOME of the benefits that readers wld receive along the journey, it wld just look like promotional hype to sell the book. Mind you, i gave them an outline, but it was not an explanation of what was going on, b/c there was no way to explain it. You cld only, as it says in the book, actually read the book and experience it, then you know what was going on. This proposal absurdity was only one of many ridiculous things I went thru. It was awful to be writing from the heart but being told over and over that no one understood what I was trying to do, that the project sucked, over and over. Disheartening. Then one day, the very same proposal that had been repeatedly met with “I don’t understand” was met by “this is so accessible, yet so deep.” But it took years of saddening rejections that had me thinking that maybe I had climbed  up into a ivory tower and cld no longer talk reality. 

            Thank god for that publisher and now for my readers, who are also telling me different.  

          • francesca says:

            “And this is the underlying secret to “not judge another until you have walked a mile in their shoes.” Wait, did I just give away another secret?”

            That is hysterically funny! Oh, don’t anyone   think we are rudely excluding you by making an in-joke, naw. I do not know the “secret” oral teaching he is referring to, or if there actually is one. I just think his remark is really witty.

            Speaking of which , I have been dying for an excuse to type the following line, and it is tangential to our conversation, but any excuse will do:

            People who proudly whisper, “There are secrets in my tradition” no longer have any secrets. 

          • mike dickman says:

            you aint kiddin’! – i was in the British Museum the other day, a place where you can spend days in a single section, and there kids running (literally) around, taking photos on their phones and rushing oof to the next exhibit… seen that, done that, gotta go.
            i often use the image of swimming and how if you’re not careful your tome on it will pull you down and drown you… theory is not much use except as an aide memoire to practice.

          • francesca says:

            Mike, oh, yeah, i so get that about the museum. I am excited by your post: Lemme share part of a blog I wrote but haven’t had a chance to post yet. Part of it is “I have continued to make a real practice of looking at bright things and letting them fill my eyes. One thing I have noticed is that I mustn’t mistake taking a photograph of those things for soaking them up visually. It is the same challenge I have as a poet: not mistaking the poem for the moment I’m trying to capture in the poem. Action is the living poem. Keeping a record of things can be the Death of the soul. 

          • ““And this is the underlying secret to “not judge another until you have walked a mile in their shoes.” Wait, did I just give away another secret?”

            That is hysterically funny! Oh, don’t anyone think we are rudely excluding you by making an in-joke, naw. I do not know the “secret” oral teaching he is referring to, or if there actually is one. I just think his remark is really witty.”

            and if you can’t figure it out, I ain’t telling.

          • there was supposed to be a smiley sticking out its tongue after that last post, btw. :)

      • mike dickman says:

        In the tradition i follow, although there seem to be an almost endless number of ancillary techniques (all of them very exciting and, ultimately… boring) to soften this or that particular type of attachment, the foundation – letting go your frozen and cramped little version of ‘reality’ and re-merging yourself with the endless fountaining of infinite possibility seems to be the path.
        If you can pull that one off for more than a few seconds – if you can actually stay aware and open instead of imagining you’ve reached some sort of ‘safe place’ where you can now relax and go back to sleep – then there’s no need for the other practices which are, in fact, very often nothing more than a distraction.
        What i’m saying here, though, is quite dangerous and very subtle indeed.

        • francesca says:

          Mike,  It is exciting to read folks saying things that  i have not seen elsewhere, except in my own mind. (I don’t even get to discuss some of this stuff with my students. Mind you, i get that they are peers, but you know me a bit, you know I feel there is not usually the time to get into theory, the actual work is all. I don’t do the sort of dialog that is on this page too often. And my books delve into theory only a bit more than what i teach orally. ) 

          It is also laff-out-loud FUNNY for me to read folks saying things that  i have not seen elsewhere, except in my own mind, because readers are telling me  that they thought they were the only one who thought such n such until they read it in Share My Insanity (my new book). 

          I keep wanting to answer posts by saying, “OMG, I discuss that in Share My Insanity!”
          I am not resisting the tempting this time, because the best way i can respond to one of your remarks is to tell you the title of an essay in the book b/c I think u will enjoy it:  “Inner Growth – Not a Commodity.” It talks about the consumer mentality notion that once you have a spiritual breakthrough eg calm, confidence, selflessness, you HAVE that. Yuh, you have it for a moment, but then you have to maintain it or it is lost, which  means ongoing spiritual work, no cheap easy fixes. Hmm, the book also has an essay called “Buddha Has Reincarnated As All the Black Cats in the World,” so nothing I say in any part of this blog-discussion may be enough to make me look credible or as “Oh-Great-Teacher,” oh, i am laughing right now!

          • F, you just aren’t looking then. In the bible, Jacob’s dream of angels going up and down the ladder is exactly this idea. Would love to talk about it and other “theoretical” ideas with you. But then you should already know that I enjoy theory as much, if not more than the next guy. :)

            Just and fyi, one of my teachers, Rabbi Fleer, explains that when you get to that place merging, you will not know it because for that moment, you will be merged and not exist. It is only when you return from it, that you will have a memory of it. This memory, this impression of the infinite, is a gift to share with the world. And this process we call: running and returning.

        • mike dickman says:

          I must admit I find almost *all* my learning takes place post-facto… First i’m in it (generally up to my ears), then, suddenly, i’m not and i’m looking back on it and a whole bunch of information suddenly arises, often directly concerning it.
          Anyone else experience this?

          • francesca says:

            mike, i have a different experience. I tend to get the information I need first, in the sense of seeing inner changes needed, or seeing what actions will bring me closer to God, then I see no change for such a long  time that it is utterly discouraging. Eg, I know I need to surrender to God more. So I pray for surrender, try to surrender, meditate on surrender, discuss surrender. But my behavior keeps returning to the equivalent of telling Divinity, “Thanks for the input. Now get out of my way.” Sigh. My lack of peace virtually constitutes the same message. (I don’t want to sound worse than I am, though. I manage to surrender a lot, a lot. I am talking about a degree of surrender that I know is needed and not being able to attain it. And i also experience a lot of peace and connectivity  to my Gods; again, it is a matter of needing more.) Is my experience  relevant to what you were asking? I might have misunderstood your question.

          • sometimes. It depends on the situation. Once, I had a homework assignment to ask the Creator while something bad was happening in my life. And I got an answer! Boy was I surprised. Other times, I don’t understand why until after the fact.

            If there is something I want to change in my behavior, I will catch myself after the fact, at first. Later, I will catch myself during the action. Then it will be just before the action.

            Sometimes, I will be given the tools to deal with a situation and then be put in the situation. It depends on the lesson and purpose of the experience, I guess.

          • mike dickman says:

            I often get ill before vast changes… in fact a sudden onset of ‘flu is normally a sign to me that there’s big energy ouput on the horizon and i’d better get some sleep, so i do.
            And, yes, sometimes the information is there before the change, but actually working with that information – seeing if it really is adequate – generally comes post-facto and very often with the next question. ‘Great doubt, great enlightenment’ say the Zen Masters. I’ve always believed this.

          • francesca says:

            Ah, I understand what you meant better now. And I like your Zen quote because part of me often feels like I don’t know what the heck is going on spiritually in regards to my life. And in saner moments, I feel like that is a good thing, so thanks for the confirmation!!

          • Mike, the fact that you get sick before the big event hits tells me that your body knows that something is coming and that it needs to rest and get ready for it. I don’t want to sound patronizing, and I hope what I am about to say does not come off that way, but I have found that when I pay better attention to the warning signs, I can often avoid getting sick by taking precautions. So try to spend a little more time every day checking in with your body and being more aware of what it is feeling, and perhaps it can warn you when the next big wave is coming and you can prepare for it. And it might also help you prepare to use whatever new info you have acquired. Just my 2 cents from my own experiences. :)

  3. mike dickman says:

    Ahem! (blush) – Concerning my rant about grammar above, and having just reread my response to Shmuel, might i also add ‘spelling’… a good example being my “… an i don’t believe its a question…” ci dessus. Only TWO mistakes in that one!

    .-_-.

  4. On the topic of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and language; I understand that something written needs to be understood, but I do feel that an error is a small item in the online community, we’re not perfect. Granted, a published book or article should involve an editor, but I’m reminded that anyone can be a teacher, if we choose to listen. Too often do people get their documents and comments ridiculed, purely because of a simple error (I mean, and this is to the trolls; come on, you know what they meant, or you need to be an ass and post something negative.. If you really don’t like it, say so, perhaps say why(!), or look elsewhere because you don’t *have* to read it).

    Shmuel said it quite nicely with “A mystic is not always a writer. A writer is not always a mystic”. Even the fool has something to teach the mystic. There are many inspirational items from many different talented people who have braved the intense feelings of keeping something private, and writing it down for others to read. As Kristilee said, it takes courage. But we must be careful that the humour (always good to have) doesn’t come up as a fear response. Hold your head up, and to those that have put themselves out there, well done, good job (regardless if I agree or disagree with it ;-)

    I understand also that not everything should be written down, I know the oral tradition and immersion into a faith/spiritual system is empowering, but sometimes the hermit needs to return from the mountain. Who are we to point at them and make fun.

    ~ Grey Whittney ~ Neo-pagan Druid of Snow Water Grove, ADF, PA. ~

    • francesca says:

      Wow, Grey, great to have you here. You brought up good points. I agree with you about people picking apart each other’s grammar or other use of words. 

      It’s important to listen from the heart, in a supportive manner, instead of from an adversarial position looking for something to deconstruct and thereby invalidate. It is a lesser use of a fine intellect to increase one’s false ego by invalidating a sincere seeker’s position. It is a divine use of a good mind to find and encourage a truth in what somebody is wholeheartedly expressing. 

      Here’s how I related to what Mike was saying: When I am given thoughts and experiences from the Divine, I find it challenging to share them through words. So I worked hard on honing my word-crafting. I assumed that Mike was suggesting that sort of effort is something some of us profit by. But maybe I’m wrong. Mike?

      Almost every  item in your post makes me want to say, “Omigoddess, I just said that (or said something related to that) in my new book.” Wow! We have only spoken a few times, but I always see so many things in common. 

      In fact, hmm, my paragraph about listening from the heart is similar to what I say in my book. Heck, so is what i am about to type. Oh, well. Last night, I was talking with friends about how a lot of people feel it’s okay to publicly trash a public figure. It’s as if they don’t feel like the public figure in question is human, with the same ability to be hurt by cruel remarks. Or is innately part of some privileged group that needs to be taken down. Phrases like “what sort of moron would make a movie like that?” or “that person is a jerk to have written that!” are mean!  

      Feeding one’s ego by deconstructing a piece of writing is unfair to the author of the piece, the piece itself, and oneself. If someone spends years writing a book, it’s a pretty cheap shot to deconstruct it in 20 min. It shows you in a poor light. Many books are written by blue collar people who struggled for years to get a book out, while raising a family and working at low wage jobs. When we dehumanize anyone, we dehumanize ourselves.

      Moving on: Speaking as a semi-recluse immersed in oral tradition, yup! 

      For what it is worth, some of my best stuff  will never be published (well, not under my own name. I have seen it plagiarized. In any case,) it was meant for oral tradition. A lot of it, there’s no record of. Except for what perhaps my students have written down. I do write a fair amount of it down, but I only share it orally. This brings me back to word crafting: one reason I chose to work on my skills as a poet was so that the material that I was “channeling” (for want of a better word) had a verbal vessel, whether I was channeling it for immediate speech or for a book. When inspiration hits, I  may not be able to express it unless my verbal skills are honed, because they need to be ready and waiting, before the inspiration passes. Mind you, I’m big on rewrites. I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. (I believe left-brain editing is as much an expression of Spirit as channelling is.  If I do my daily spiritual practices, both my left and right brain are more in alignment with the cosmos. ) But I don’t want to let the original inspiration pass by before I could catch it.

      I am not suggesting everyone needs to study the craft of writing. For some, it will impede self-expression. Especially if they have a writing teacher who teaches technique in a way that stifles the authentic voice, inspiration, and honesty. Egad!

      Then there is all that speech can not convey, eg shared presence, whether by phone or in person. These things are also part of oral tradition. 

      So that is all the stuff that came to mind after reading your post, though some of my response may have nothing to do with your remarks. :-) 

    • Hi Greg,

      Good comments. I do wish to add my 2 cents about being a grammar cop: You are write providing that the error enhances (meaning it was deliberate) or does not detract from the idea. And this is true whether it is online or in a book. I do find that grammar and spelling mistakes can make it difficult to understand the message and can be just plain distracting. So, before I publish anything, I like to reread and correct errors and make sure my ideas are understandable. And even then I do miss a lot. :) And I do appreciate (preferably by private email) being told of these things so I can correct them. I liken it to having a piece of lettuce stuck in your teeth. It is embarrassing and i want to be told, in a polite way, so I can remove it and not be further embarrassed.

      PS. as I reread this, I did find one typo and decided to leave it in because I liked the wordplay it created, and also the irony of it. A brownie point to the first person to find it. :)

  5. mike dickman says:

    i totally agree with both of you.
    you’ll note (i hope!!!) that the only person i actually dissed was myself.
    and – indeed – most teachings i’ve received, whether ‘formal’ or ‘in-‘ – have been oral, and often enough spoken in either Tibetan (which is a very elegant tongue) or in more or less broken (and often ‘Indian’) English…
    the fact that i’m a translator probably skews my view to a degree, but i was speaking as a generality and as regards ‘written mysticism’

    i apologise if i niggle.

  6. mike dickman says:

    “… I assumed that Mike was suggesting that sort of effort is something some of us profit by…”

    precisely.
    particularly where what one is trying to transmit is either complex or subtle to the point of intangibility.

    • francesca says:

      “Subtle to the point of intangibility.” I love it!!! And I want to crack a joke about it, but I can’t formulate it, dang! Heh, maybe because the joke itself is about something subtle to the point of intangibility. No. That is not it. :-)

      Jests aside, the utterly intangible is again where the poet comes in. It is also where oral tradition reigns, in some ways. Even on the phone, in a GROUP phone call (which is how i teach a lot of the time), there is a presence and process no printed word can replace. Also, oral tradition is so otherworldly (a lot of the time) that it works just fine by phone. Nor can any discussion group, therapy, or performance replace oral trad, though  these three things are often mistaken for oral tradition. While the three can be part of oral trad, they do not replace it.  And oral trad is not something i can explain here bc how cld an oral process be relayed in print? You have  to experience it to understand it. Mike, I can tell that you know this, am just adding it to the posts.

      Back to the intangible and poetry. (There is, as I said earlier, also immense power in the PRINTED word. Everything has its place and its power.) Share My Insanity is not as lyric a book as some of mine, except in places. When it comes to experiential mysticism, the poet can pull off some things, the clown yet others. Needless to say, it took years to find a publisher; no one cld understand what my chaotic tomfoolerie was doing. They wanted the book to be spelled out intellectually, which wld have squashed the whole experience: If you spell out, diagram, and delineate certain types of mystical journeys before the fact, the road vanishes. Again, Mike, stuff I suspect you know, but I wanted to add it to the general community dialog. 

  7. What is an oral tradition? What is a written tradition? Can an oral tradition be written? Congratulations, you have just entered into the world to Judaism. The only tradition that I know of where the oral tradition is written down… and can only be understood if you have a teacher who already knows it teaching it to you. A tradition that says you cannot teach mysticism to a student unless they already know it. Which is really just saying the same thing on a different level. There are no words for a mystical experience because words only convey ideas in this world. This is why it is so hard to be a mystic and a writer – even as a poet. If a person has had a mystical experience, then we can talk about it because we know the words are just metaphors for the experience. This is also true when writing down an oral tradition. If I know the oral tradition (from having a teacher transmit it to me orally), I can read the words and understand what they are trying to convey. However, if I don’t, then I might just as well open a book in a language I have never seen and start reading.

    • francesca says:

      “… Judaism. The only tradition that I know of where the oral tradition is written down…”

      Nope. You studied two traditions with me. The Third Road and Another Step. In both, I write down a good amount of the material. I only transmit it orally though. So maybe you meant something other than how I interpreted you?

      “and can only be understood if you have a teacher who already knows it teaching it to you.” 

      Again, that defines the oral branches of Third Road and Another Step. I tell teachers of  Third Road or Another Step that it would be pseudo-egalitarian to teach the material without being well versed in it. I am not saying it wld be pseudo-egalitarian in all traditions, I am just saying your premise is not exclusive to Judaism. Am i misunderstanding you? 

      “A tradition that says you cannot teach mysticism to a student unless they already know it.”

      Wow, am I consistently misunderstanding yr above post? But maybe you have not heard me repeatedly say “I cannot teach a student something unless they already know it.” (This premise is, BTW, only true sometimes.)

      “If I know the oral tradition (from having a teacher transmit it to me orally), I can read the words and understand what they are trying to convey. However, if I don’t, then I might just as well open a book in a language I have never seen and start reading.”

      Yup, beautifully said!! I absolutely concur. I tell folks who study with me orally that they will find SOME of my oral teachings in my books, but that someone who has never studied orally will not find them. Once the oral tradition is written down and read instead of being taught by a person orally, it dies!

      However, the poet,  the fool, and the painter can nevertheless convey wonderful spiritual material in print.

      • mike dickman says:

        As far as i know, all mystical systems are primarily oral. I recall bringing this up once with one of my teachers: i wanted to translate something he didn’t want me to translate at that time so i pointed to the fact that it was already there in the Tibetan volume. “Do you think my father was so stupid that he would leave his most intimate thought lying around on pieces of paper?” he demanded of me.
        The Tibetans have a written corpus that is greater than that of China i’m told, but generally they memorise it. No transmission is considered complete without some form of initiation – elaborate or extremely unelaborate – a full explanation of whatever text there is and then a so-called ‘reading transmission’ where the teacher reads the words to you to set their energy spinning in your own psyche and energy-field.

        • francesca says:

          OMG, Mike, thank you, i cannot tell you how much i relate to what you said and how desperately i needed to read it. Everything you said is what I do as a teacher!!! It is so affirming. And you conveyed it brilliantly and humbly.

          Backstory: Sigh, I always feel like a red flower in a field of blue flowers, in that your post delineated how I feel about what and how I teach, but apparently i am not “supposed” to feel  and think that way. More  back story: the majority of what  i teach comes directly through me, instead of being from a teacher. Even though I truly know this is right, it still feels weird. For one thing, I am in a vacuum of not being in an overt line of transmission. (The non-overt line is my ancestors.) Being in a vacuum is hard, for many reasons. For one thing,  i cannot  validate my work by pointing to someone “legitimate” who taught it to me. For another, the  pseudo-egalitarianism in alternative communities insists that a teacher being a special channel is verbotim (unless they are from an exotic climate, LOL). Many folks do not understand that  me being a special channel does not mean they aren’t just as special a channel of the sacred in their own way – maybe they do it as a math teacher whose special gift is  patience with students who have a hard time with math. Being equal is not being identical, or denying that someone has a unique gift.  Each of us have our gifts, our special abilities. Anyway, your posting is so validating, bc it says things I know, but feel weird about knowing, since others might say it is egotistical of me. OMG, I so love yr post, i even remember a student telling me I had put one of my oral secrets in print, and me answering “No, I didn’t.”  Wow, thank you for rescuing  me from  my sense of isolation, yay!! (When will I learn I am not alone!!)

          • I know how you feel, F. I feel that way sometimes too. Even though I have friends (not just you) who freely admit to learning from their spirit guides. Thanks for articulating and sharing the feeling. What I will say is that you come off with such confidence in what you teach, how many people question the source of your material? I say this because that was one of my fears, and one of my mentors in Israel told me not to worry; to trust and the teachings will be accepted.

          • francesca says:

            You’re welcome and thank YOU for the support.

      • Yes, F, I did mean something else. But you are close. The difference is that you don’t give out your notes for us to learn by, and for those after you to use to teach by. And your notes do not include the different ways you have said something, or added something. Hence each teacher of your oral traditions teach from the notes they wrote while listening to you teach. And they pass on their notes, orally, adding, modifying, taking out things, just as you did, in order to get the ideas across to their different students. Hence nothing is set in stone.

        In the Jewish tradition, in order to keep the oral tradition from being lost, and in spite of being commanded never to create a written version of the oral tradition, the leaders, at the time of the destruction of the second temple (about 2000 years ago), created a fixed version of their oral tradition. They did it by pulling together all the notes of all the teachers and students and culling them into a definitive version. And they did it in a cryptic way that required the student to know the jargon and a particular way of viewing the world, which required a teacher who already understood the jargon and way of viewing. Hence, an oral tradition that is written down and still oral.

        “and can only be understood if you have a teacher who already knows it teaching it to you.” What I meant by this was that Judaism is unique in that it’s written tradition (and written oral tradition) cannot be understood without a teacher who already knows it. This is different from other written traditions which are self contained. Your book, “Be a Goddess” is a good example of a typical written tradition in that you tried to explain everything so nobody was required to call you and have you explain it to them.

        F, the above quote, and the last quote you pulled out of my earlier post (about mystical teaching) were not intended to be pulled out of context, as you did. I agree with you as you look at each line by itself. However, they were intended to go help explain the idea that included the sentence just before it. In other words, the following were meant to go together and not be taken seperately:
        “Judaism. The only tradition that I know of where the oral tradition is written down… and can only be understood if you have a teacher who already knows it teaching it to you. A tradition that says you cannot teach mysticism to a student unless they already know it.”

        • francesca says:

          Oh, i understand better now. Not completely, but I wld have to get on the ph with you to get clearer. For one thing, I can tell that further writing back and forth wld make both of us confused as to what the other even meant. :-)

          So onward to your more recent post: please explain something. i do not understand a written “definitive version” of an oral tradition, because part of oral teaching (as i know it) is that each moment requires a different teaching. When I have notes to teach from, I cannot stick rigidly to them. Mind you, i am very exacting about sticking  to a lot of the material i have “channeled,” b/c Divinity told me that material needs that exactness. But even in a session when I am rigorously sticking to “script,” including voice inflection, cadence, etc.,  i end up with tremendous deviations. Eg, I cannot even use the same voice inflection in a given passage all the time, though I might do so usually, because either the moment is better reflected  by a different voice or I have a cold AKA the gods are seeing that I use a different voice because a particular student needs it. 

          Hmm, there is an additional precision needed that cannot be duplicated by script. An entirely different way I often teach. I do it constantly. I am not sure I can convey it, bc I have never tried, but here goes. (You’ve seen me do it innumerable times,  but I have never described it. And even if you would not need a description explaining it, I feel a description is needed to facilitate our discussion.) Ok, lessons that are entirely non-scripted: Being in the moment as a teacher, conveying that moment, is not a sloppy or undisciplined endeavor, it requires utmost and unpausing focus. My whole heart and soul is used, and it is exacting.  It is as if I am the fine tip on the edge of a flame. Not in the sense of the burn, but that the tip is sharp, but ephemeral, momentary. 

          I am not sure the following is relevant but:  the older I get, after teaching many years, I personally find myself teaching less classes and leading more transformative processes that are non-duplicatable. I cld not even lead them again myself, and tell students it wld be unsafe for them to try. 

          Hmm, so, talk to me. Heh, o, my, do u realize we are having the sort of dialog u’ve tried to get me into for about 15 years, and I kept saying “no, we have work to do?” O! Dear site visitors, I am not kidding when I say elsewhere on this page I rarely get into conversations like this. It is good for me once in a blue moon, then i have to go back to my usual experiential process-oriented mytho-poetic approach to spirituality. Hm, last week, I spent on someone else’s site having yet another sort of unusual-for-me chat. Hm. Time to recenter into usual ways soon.  

          • But this is nuts and bolts, experience oriented process. Ok, some of it. Yes, I understand the teaching style you describe; I do it myself, and watched as others have gone into trance in order to teach. Ironically, I will explain something, and then go to my notes and read them to make sure I haven’t left anything out, and discover I almost quoted myself verbatim… and yet I had no clue what was on the paper the moment before when I was “merely answering a question,” or “giving over the relevant info so the experience makes sense.”

            The key to understanding an oral tradition that is written down is in part what you have described, and in part the fact that the notes are a shorthand for a depth of information.

            How and why was it done? Well, an oral tradition needs people steeped in the tradition to pass it on so that while each teaching is different, it comes from the same source. This takes time and enough calm to create sacred space. When these two things don’t exist, the transmission of the tradition can’t properly happen and starts to get lost, and the tradition loses cohesion as new teachings become more disparate. So, rather than lose the tradition, all the notes from all the masters, past and present were collected and collated and fixed in a lyrical shorthand in order to keep it alive. The transmitters of the tradition proceed to riff off the written which becomes the root of the oral tradition. The tradition can diverge a bit, but it can’t disperse too far from its root. New teachings can happen, based on interpretation of the written, as well as via inflection and cadence and personality and all the other things F mentioned above.

            To put it another way, F, think of your notes as the written part of the oral tradition (which they are). However, instead of only having your notes, suppose you also included ideas found in the notes of all your students, and you taught (as you described) above. Now, suppose you gave these enhanced notes out to everyone who you felt could teach and told them to do the same. Then you would have what I am talking about. Does any of this make sense?

          • francesca says:

            Shmuel, i adore you!

            Yeah, some of it is process oriented, for sure. I was referring to the greater part, which  is not. At least not in terms of what I meant by process, which wld take so long to convey that i’d have no time to address the main issues you brought up.

            So, re the writing down of oral tradition: Thank you for going to great lengths to explain what you’re talking about, and the reasoning behind it. It is good to know exactly what you mean. I am very familiar with the model you are describing and the reasoning behind it. And you described it brilliantly!

            I spent forever writing a useless tome in  response to you. Once again, I see how some things just can’t be set in writing, sigh. The mere act of putting them on paper create lies. But I will say one thing: I truly understand that the process you’re describing works in some traditions, and i support you in it 100%. And it does not work with the oral material I teach. 

            And even that one little sentence – – the last sentence in the above paragraph – – is a lie, simply by being in print. It is incredibly misleading. For one thing, it might imply that my written teachings are second rate to my oral teachings, or are otherwise unworthy. I stand behind my written teachings 100%. I live in both written and oral traditions. They both have their specific values. One of my books took over a decade to write, and Share My Insanity took 8-9 years. 

            Another way the sentence is misleading is that my students have done the exact process you described: collating notes of what I’ve taught them, etc. And I support that they do it. 

            There are a million other ways my sentence is misleading, but it’s the best I can do in print. However, laugh out loud, you and I could probably talk for 5 minutes, and you would get what I’m saying. So call me if you want. It wld be interesting. 

            Speaking of telephone, my offer stands to anybody here: Call me if I can be of service. I really do live in both written and oral traditions. I’m also one of those weirdos who feels that spiritual “leaders” (for want of a better word, egad!) should be accessible for 2-way verbal exchanges. 814-337-2490

            Onto an earlier post of yours. I had to think about it a while before answering. You asked if people challenged my work, since it did not come from a tradition. “Challenged” isn’t the word. The word is “attacked.” A LOT. Both the oral and written stuff. It is not merely that i’m not in a tradition, it is a combination of things that, long story short, add up to my carrying unpopular messages in unpopular ways. 

            Thank the Gods for my fellow travelers, including my readers and oral trad students. I grateful for the validation I receive from them. It keeps me going despite all the hate that comes my way.  

            The thing I have to avoid is self-pity about the attacks. We are all fools, we each just play it out differently; I am as much of a jerk as the next person. So there is no point in  my feeling the poor pathetic victim. Mind you, I don’t go into denial when I am actually victimized by, eg, brutal slander. But we all are victims to something at some point, and I don’t want those awful moments to define me. I have to work hard on them not doing so. 

            A friend suggested one antidote to self-pity and to any self-doubt the attacks engender in me. Maybe you can use or adapt it: I save the positive feedback i get from readers. At least once a week, a stranger writes me, saying that my books have given them the exact spiritual support they need, or helped them recover from incest, or feel that they got their soul back, or some other amazing thing.  I feel so honored and humbled by it; I am not just writing about the letters here to promote myself, these letters are a big deal to me. That person is no longer a stranger to me! They are a fellow traveler, we are supporting each other along the path, even if  we never communicate again. 

            Wow, just sharing about those letters made me feel so blessed. And the attacks on me are almost a privilege, because they come from me getting to live my life, give my special gift, be myself. What more could I ask for? Everything has its downside, and I am such a negative person that obsessing about that downside would toss me down the spiritual toilet. So I have to be careful to focus on the good things. 

            Whew, enuf from me!

          • F, thanks for sharing the idea of going over the positive responses. I think that is a great antidote and an awesome tool. One I plan to use.

          • francesca says:

            Am so glad it is helpful! And, whew, I was afraid it sounded arrogant.

  8. b”H Hi. I am a close friend of Shmuel [hi Shmuel :)] living in the middle of Jerusalem. Raised in Long Island and Quad Cities (Iowa/Illinois), I am a practitioner of Network Spinal Analysis for twenty-three years (a light-touch spinal work evolved from Chiropractic which upgrades the ability of the mind/body to process information, eliciting healing, personal development and spontaneous mystical experiences–see http://www.associationfornetworkcare.com), a teacher of Breslov Chassidut for the past seven years and developer of SHeM1 (Soul/Heart/Mind) Integration Training which imbues people with lifetime tools to empower their self-healing. I’m excited about your forum and hope to contribute. I don’t have much time (we are in the first half of the traditional week-long celebration of marriage–my daughter was married on Thursday night) and so, I’m not sure how much I’ll contribute, but I did want to make an appearance.

    What I will say is that, we tend to relate to the experience of mysticism from the place of self and the type of awe and gratitude is attached to that experience of self. There is a certain type awe and gratitude for the creation of the mystical experience which comes only through a paradoxical relationship with the Creator–on the one hand there is a God and a me and I choose to work on myself and aspire to mystical experience and deepen my relationship with God. On the other hand, their is a Creator who created a Moshe who is merely the puppet of Divine Will. Just as Moshe is creation, so too are his thoughts and feelings of aspiration for expanded consciousness themselves ingenious creations. Furthermore, they come not because of my efforts, but are the unfolding of the infinite conversation which God is having with Himself/Herself.

    Hopefully more on this and its ramifications later.

    • francesca says:

      Welcome! And thank you for telling us about yourself and  your work. I am happy u are here. Your post about self and God elicited the following thoughts that may be tangential, but this discussion is a bit of a verbal free-for-all so … 

      My self can be so attached to a given spiritual breakthrough that I cannot achieve it. So one of the paradoxes of my own journey is finding the balance between – on the one hand – working on myself, learning about myself, making efforts, and – on the other hand – being free of self. 

      The prevalent belief is that you cannot proactively seek connection with god, you  can only do practices that open you to it. I disagree but was reading an essay by Thomas Merton that endorsed that prevalent belief.  I was horrified, because  i respect Merton, and the two systems I developed – Third Road and Another Step – both proactively create that connection. I thought, “Have I deluded myself and misled thousands of sincere seekers? (My work is used all over the world.) Then I got to the end of Merton’s essay, where he said there was an exception to his premise: that we desperately need people who create material like mine, whew. Huge relief: A piece of my life work has been to create material that proactively seeks God, I ardently believe in it, and that it was what Divinity asks of me, and had given me the special gift of being able to create. Whew, oh whew! I don’t have words for how relieved I was. 

      But but but oh but oh but those practices must be in dialectic with practices that nurture the above mentioned passivity, openness, call it what you will. Which is one reason for the names “The Third Road” and Another Step: they both embrace and teach both sides of that paradox. 

      Have a wonderful wedding week!

      • Moshe. Glad you can join us. Mazel tov to you and your daughter and her new husband, and give them both a blessing from me.

        If I can tie the two thoughts together, maybe something will happen. F, instead of thinking of self as trying to have a breakthrough, think of self as the god/dess as trying to learn about itself and as the god/dess can make a spiritual break through happen whenever it wants, and it is you, then there is no need to be worried or feel pressured to have the break through. yes? no?

  9. Ashen Venema says:

    I tried to leave a comment the other day and it didn’t work. It may be because I use an ancient PC, my laptop is in repair. In any case, I’m listening, interesting thoughts …

    • francesca says:

      Welcome, thank you for coming. Well, your post above made it through, yay!! I don’t know what happened to yr first attempt, I looked to see if it was pending anywhere, but nope. In any case, the first time you post on this site, it will not appear immediately, it has to be approved. After that, you can post at will. So do join in the dialog, i am so glad u are here, and so happy u like what u see!

  10. Ashen Venema says:

    Ah, thanks Francesca, and hello everyone.
    As a way of introducing myself I’ll share what chimes for me, a dynamic approach to spirituality that is about becoming, everyone to their station … an excerpt from a life-embracing poem written by Fazal Inayat-Khan. ‘Qalandar’ appears in a book I co-edited, The Heart of a Sufi http://www.heartofasufi.org.uk

    Adam/man, Minerva/woman – a human being in the making – functioning in the world on the stage of life – playing the script of destiny with the delight of indifference and the carelessness of full satisfaction. A being knowing all there is to be known by it, but ever learning; ready to feel all there is to be sensed by it, yet ever discovering new depth of emotions; capable of expressing its deepest and truest inspirations, yet ever expanding its consciousness; sensitive enough to give and receive love in all its forms and levels of becoming … A Qalandar is simple as a child, wise as an old woman, unfathomable as an old man. He belongs to the moment, she responds to every need. He speaks all languages, she performs all roles. They are one …

    • francesca says:

      Thank you for sharing something that is important to you. I am happy you posted more and that you felt this is a good place to  do so. Now that you have introduced yourself, I hope you feel free to add your opinions about some of the ideas that are on the table. Or introduce another topic yourself.

    • beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

      • Kristilee says:

        What a lovely and captivating idea…. a Qalander…..it is not something I am familiar with at all but my curiosity is piqued and I look forward to finding out more….thanks so much for sharing!

  11. francesca says:

    Oh, i gotta tell a story. It is so funny!

    I’ve dealt with a couple of attacks this week,  one of them today. (No, that is not the funny part!) After the one today, I prayed and did both spiritual and mundane stuff (a false dichotomy in many ways but …) to take care of it, then kinda forgot about it. But I have a weekly spiritual check-in with a friend, during which i mentioned the attack, so that she cld give feedback on whether I had dealt with it well. 

    It was then a lightbulb went off!  I realized why i suddenly was able to answer Shmuel’s post re invalidation about teaching without a tradition that validates me. Trickster played a joke on me, by giving me the ability to answer his post today. Because, having written all that stuff about not succumbing to self pity about attacks, now I have to walk my talk or be so embarrassed that I won’t be able to look in the mirror. LOL! I love Trickster. 

    • mike dickman says:

      Given the amount of time we spend with our feet in our mouths, we’re lucky someone invented those peppermint-flavoured shoe soles, are we not?

      .-_-.

      • francesca says:

        LOL. Thank God that, well, thank God! Because were my place in my Divine Parent’s lap based on merit, I wld be a spiritual orphan. On a more serious note, this relates to something I am learning at a deep level lately: all my meditation, striving to live according to Divine will, all  my spiritual efforts are not going to take me home to the Divine. I am arrogant when I think so, to assume I am big enough to do that. Instead, I have to work on accepting both my flawed self and the gift of Divinity bringing me home. 

        Mind you, I can contradict half the premises I just stated:
        1) I am God. My will is Divine  will. As such, half of what I said above cld be refuted, so don’t anyone get all “rhetoricy” with me. :-) There are moments when, at least for me, to identity as God is healthy, and moments it is not.  And moments when I can healthily do both. :-) 
        2) I have to work my butt off spiritually.
        3) I am home all the time, in a sense other than what I was talking about above. 
        4) My efforts result in great spiritual benefits, including being home a lot.
        5) Accepting my flawed self does not mean I have an excuse to not work at changing that self. 
        6) I am sure there are other premises I could debate with myself!! 

        And that, boys and girls, is part of why the 2 traditions I teach are called Another Step and Third Road. The  latter b/c I am so comfortable in and needing paradox, and the former because there is another step past the dualities we live in. Ahem, ahem, (clearing throat pompously) that is the end of my diatribe. 

        • I was just reading about the paradox between god when she is strict regarding cause and effect, and god when he is willing to ignore cause and effect and be merciful because that will lead to god’s plan getting fulfilled (what god has a plan???)

          Now the two traditions that I am most familiar with, both believe in aligning my desire with the desire of the Divine. If I can do this, then the effect of my actions (which comes from god the judge) will be the same as the mercy provide by god the forgiver because my actions will help fulfill the Divine’s plan. The result of this is that the paradox dissolves into itself. Pretty neat, no? :)

  12. Kristilee says:

    Hi everyone,
    Sorry to be jumping in a bit late on the conversation. Life has presented me with a bundle of serious challenges as of late, including a death, serious illness in several family members, and some other deep and personal puzzles for me to muddle through….it has not been easy but I am somehow muddling through. I choose to write the words challenges and puzzles instead of problems and issues….for even though in moments of despair and self-pity these things all feel like interminable problems and issues, I know as a mystic who uses words that the power of naming can have huge and real effects on how I approach, experience, and receive life lessons and growth.

    I have been enjoying reading these conversations of yours and have found a lot that resonates with me, especially Francesca’s statement that “Learning to apply one’s spiritual insights to one’s daily life is an ongoing process, and a big chunk of the learning can only be accomplished by, tada, trying to apply one’s spiritual insights to one’s daily life, heh.” Oh my goodness! That kind of deliberate integration is so critical and yet it is so easy for me to get carried away with the neverending mundane and feel that in order to experience true spirituality I would need to be secluded from all and doing something that is “real”…..when the very things that seem to be sweeping me away from the divine can be the strongest tools to help me connect….which seems to bring me back to naming/renaming experiences again…. =-)

    • Hi Kristilee. Glad you managed to join us with all that is going on for you. From what you just wrote, I am sorry you were not able to join in sooner. However, your timing I think is perfect, and your words on choosing how to name something, I really needed to hear. So thank you.

    • francesca says:

      Kristilee, I already said the following to you on the phone, but let me repeat it. I’m really sorry to hear about your loss and the other current dilemmas. You are in my heart. Anything I can do for you, you have my number.

      To everyone else here: Kristilee and I have been on the phone this week. I felt it wasn’t my place to say why one of our panel members was missing, until I she had decided whether she was in a position to participate at all and, if not, how she wanted that handled.

      Kristilee, your being here, despite everything that’s going on in your life, says something about your commitment to spiritual action.  As I said to you on the phone, I would support you 100% if you needed to take care of yourself by dropping off the panel, self-care is an important part of spirituality. I also said that being of service is sometimes part of how I take good care of myself during a personal crisis. Let me add that your choosing service is something everyone here will benefit from. Thank you so much.

      Moving on: “it is so easy for me to get carried away with the neverending mundane and feel that in order to experience true spirituality I would need to be secluded from all and doing something that is “real”….. when the very things that seem to be sweeping me away from the divine can be the strongest tools to help me connect…”

      Wow, yes. That is one of the hardest challenges that most mystics I meet face. And it is a hard thing to describe; you worded it beautifully. 

      Let me add to what you said: Many mystics, if they are like me, have to learn to avoid the following scenario: I do a lovely ritual/prayer/affirmation/meditation/…., or read inspirational material. So far, so good. But then I encounter a person or mundane situation that is wwwwaaaayyyyy less than what I hope for. In the past, i could easily  meet that person or situation with disdainful superiority, because the person or situation does not measure up to the wondrousness experienced in the meditation or the spiritual ideals that I strive for. 

      I had to learn to feel compassion and humility, instead. And to identify with the problematic person or event: for example, to tell myself that we are all –  -including oh-great-me – -struggling along, making big mistakes along the way. 

      Mind you, I am not saying that I expressed  my superiority. But it was there, inside me, and it took me down into a little emotional hell on earth. 

      Now I notice as soon as I feel that disdain, and do what i can to eradicate it. But it was something I allowed myself for a long time before I realized how bad it was for me. 

      Example: I would feel all sorry for myself,  judging some people via the idea, “Why don’t they do more service for the community? Dang them. They are selfish. I do sooooo much for people.”

      Then I saw how nasty-ass arrogant that was: I have to be of service, constantly; I am such a spiritual brat that without constantly serving I become utterly self-obsessed, which leads to being utterly miserable. So my service is motivated by selfishness! Also, perhaps these other people just aren’t as spiritually sick as me, so they don’t need as radical a cure as constant community service.

      Um, I feel like I am really baring my butt with this post. Someone, please chime in and help me not feel like I am the only one. 

      • Kristilee says:

        Thanks so much for your many kindnesses Francesca! I totally relate to your need to be of service to your community, I have the same twisted blessing, ha ha! For me it is something I am compelled to do – and I was interested to read your insight as to why you are called to community service because my own is something I haven’t examined very deeply yet. I generally feel my compulsion to act/help/serve comes from two places: 1. it is a way to keep me from focusing on my own problems (I suffer from recurring clinical depression); and 2. I think because I feel such overwhelming sadness sometimes it has caused me to feel really compassionate towards the struggles and needs of others. It boils down to “I feel, therefore I serve” or something like that! Of course I am not perfect in that and the most difficult time I have with compassion is being able to have it for myself. I can be really, really hard on myself and that is something I need to work on.

        • this is really a reply to both of you… and a request for guidance. You see, I started out very social. Then, somewhere around my junior year of high school, I became introverted. Jump ahead 30 years. I go to Israel and hole up so I can try to figure out my family tradition. I find that I enjoy the quiet life. However, I find myself being called to serve my community. I am not being compelled, and it is not what gets me through a crises. I am being told it is my choice. And it is also my path and purpose. (I was actually told this 15 years ago in a class w/F and accepted it kicking and screaming). Now I struggle with how to do this and also with balancing my need for taking care of myself while also being of service to my community. I am not even sure what I need in particular. Maybe just to share where I am at?

          I do have to tell you F, that for a long time I have seen how similar we are. And this week I am appreciating our differences and how we still find common ground and the joy in our sharing. So, thank you for this week; for putting on this event.

          And one last thought. This one regarding how to balance the mundane and the spiritual-that-can’t-be-part-of-the-mundane. Judaism addresses this with shabbat. For 6 days live in the mundane world. One the 7th, leave the mundane and going into sacredness and just be…be with yourself, your family, your friends, your food, the goddess, etc. and in sacredness. Then when you leave shabbat and come back to the mundane world, try to bring a little of that shabbat sacredness with you and infuse it into the week…

          • francesca says:

            I understand that you are not sure whether you have a question. I will just relate a personal experience in case it is relevant. 

            Som people say I am only in it for the money. LOL, there are always naysayers. If I was in it for the money, I wouldn’t be in it. There is no money! Not in what I actually do. For example, I don’t sell easy answers that are the spiritual equivalent of heroin. And I intentionally lead tiny groups usually, because my style of oral tradition demands that.

            I cannot afford health insurance. And since the economy shifted, my groceries usually go on my credit card. But here is the thing. I have an off-the-chart IQ, and skill sets that could have set me up financially for life. Instead, I do the work I do. This work is my home, I made a choice, but in a sense there was no choice. 

            After my best seller way back when, a marketing consultant told me that few national authors teach these tiny groups. Sigh, I do what I myself do.

            My choice of work is worth the awful financial situation. It is worth it even though, as you know, I have gone without a lot of the medical care i need. I have gotten to live my life, the particular special life that I was meant to live and to love, i have gotten to live it to a huge degree. Not to the degree i might if i had had medical care and other stuff that only money buys, but that is a moot point, because if i had chosen a job that allowed  health insurance etc, i’d probably died of sheer heartbreak. And despite the problems caused by finances, (I’ve only given a few examples, because anyone struggling financially knows what they are), I have lived really fully. 

            I am not suggesting that my choice is right for anyone but me. We are talking about big decisions with enormous consequences. And I might have made the same choices and had them pan out differently economically. I think part of why they panned out the way they did was because it taught me lessons that for some reason God knew I couldn’t learn  otherwise. Other people perhaps could learn them in another way, but not me. 

            If all this is not relevant to you, maybe it”ll help someone else here. And though the particulars may not be relevant, you might be able to extrapolate something.

          • Kristilee says:

            There are quiet ways to serve your community… for example, writing books/poems/liturgy/journals of your thoughts to share with others (like you are doing right now in this panel discussion!). You are reaching many people and you’re not out of your social comfort zone, right? =-) My suggestion if you feel called/compelled to service is to seek out more opportunities like this that are a good fit for you. Maybe one-on-one work, tutoring, doing some quiet volunteering with animals, or even just praying for your community or picking up litter on a solitary walk – to me these all qualify as being of service. I think if you try to put yourself into a service situation that involves being surrounded by people or that takes you outside of your comfort zone,that it will zap your energy instead of replenishing it. Be who you are, serve as you are, bloom where you’re planted, etc etc etc! =-)

        • francesca says:

          You r so welcome. You support me, too; it is reciprocal.

          Yeah, compassion for self is something I struggle with. One thing I do to help that: when I feel compassion for someone else, I try to also apply that feeling to myself. 

          As to not perfect compassion for others, i do mu best, but the two main ways I mess up are: 1) when I judge someone instead of remembering they are just another fellow-human struggling along, doing their best. 2) when I am so focused on my own problems, needs, or feelings that I forget the person I am with is also knee-deep in their own problems, needs, and feelings, and therefore deserves better attention than I am giving them in my own pain or goals. Luckily, I have come light years with both these lacks in me. 

          Moving on, the many reasons I or someone else might serve fascinate me. (The reason I gave in my earlier post for doing service is hardly my only motivation. There are so many motivations that make folks –  – including me – – serve, it would take forever to tell them all.) 

          One reason came up in a conversation I had years ago with a friend who is a firefighter. We were talking about service. He said that when most people are running out of a burning building, a few people are running in. I responded that some people run into the burning building for dysfunctional reasons, and some run in because it’s where they belong. It is a healthy place for them. He and I are the latter, we belong in the burning building for healthy reasons, it is where we are comfortable.

          A lot of my time as a shamanic counselor and teacher is in burning buildings, in the sense of helping folks with their challenges. Add the mega-amount of time counseling actual trauma survivors and people in major crisis, I live a lot of my day in houses on fire.

          When I say I am comfortable in the burning building, I don’t mean “Oh, lah, I’m so comfortable here, people’s suffering bounces off me like rain off a duck’s back.” In fact, human suffering is another thing that motivates me to do service. In addition, 
          my work is challenging, and sometimes painful. 

          And I’m not saying, “I’m so virtuous, I have to do something about suffering.” It’s just that my reaction to suffering is comparable to the biologic imperative many women and some men feel upon hearing a baby cry: they are biologically hardwired to pick up the baby. For some reason, I’m hardwired to serve when i see suffering.

          In the same vein, I’m not running into the burning building because I’m a good person. I just belong there, the way a fish belongs in water. (Heh, fish, ducks, the topic has come to service and aquatic animals. I love a good verbal ramble through the landscape of shared thoughts and experiences.  I discover so much useful stuff.)

          There are also innumerable benefits to being of service. 

          For example, one of the saddest oversights in alternative spiritual and self-help modalities is the part service plays in the self-healing process. When I act with an attitude of service – – it doesn’t matter if the activity is overtly “service,” or is developmentally editing someone’s manuscript, or whatever – – the Divine flows through me in a specific way that happens only when I serve. And this specific energy has healed broken parts of me that nothing else has, and maintains the healing in ways nothing else will. 

          But I see person after person spin their wheels, sincerely doing everything they know to overcome a devastating inner wound, but they can’t go the last nine yards of healing because they don’t know that service will bring them there. So much unnecessary suffering, it breaks my heart, frustrates me! 

  13. mike dickman says:

    A Tibetan take on word and, especially, the written word: “Letters are the manifest body of a magical treasure. They are also – since they can be understood – speech as sounds and words. Because one comprehends their meaning, they are mind. “

    • francesca says:

      Wow, food for thought, thanks! Oh, heh, I just realized my reply is an unintentional joke, hehe.

    • Kristilee says:

      Just think for a minute about how absolutely amazing it is to be able to capture thoughts on paper or screen, using words….and in doing so being able to transmit those thoughts into the minds of others…truly a magical act that I, for one, take for granted far too often. It seems to me that no matter what you are writing *about*, the very act of writing itself is a mystical practice. This theme keeps coming up for me….the sacredness and wonder of the (seemingly) mundane.

      • francesca says:

        “the sacredness and wonder of the (seemingly) mundane.” Heh, oh yeah! You touch on such an important point. If we cld only consistently tune into that, how different our lives wld be!!! You know I try to be “head in the clouds, feet on the ground.” I am blessed that you and the rest of the panel are there with me, some of my fellow travelers. 

    • letters are the body, vowels are the soul, and how you speak the word determines the type of person you are: sarcastic, sincere, cynical, joyful, hopeful…

  14. francesca says:

    Today is the last day of our verbal romp. This has been a great time for me. 

    Panelists and everyone else took time from work and/or personal lives to be here. That includes folks who took time to read, even if they did not post. Thank you all.

    To those who didn’t post but followed along,  i affirm that silence can be participation, silence can be power. If you want, I consider you tribe, community, even if we never meet.

    The dedication page to Share My Insanity reads “Dedicated to my community.” That includes everyone here; if you so desire, that book is dedicated to you, in all honesty.

    It has been great getting to share about our process regarding words, teaching, living, making mistakes (those last two are inseparable, LOL), making breakthroughs in being (as opposed to only in theory), and the other things we discussed. 

    It’s been a privilege to dialog with folks who aren’t being pretentious (“Oh, I am so holy, so better than all other people”), and instead  laughing at their own shortcomings in an honest – – but self-loving – – way.

    I do have to admit, i am physically wiped out from this and some other recent activities, in part because an event like this is such mega-computer time for me, what with my disabilities. The computer time I’ve spent the past few weeks constitutes a lot for me, bc of the disabilities. I do not regret it, but to make up for it, I’ll need to restrict computer time more than usual, for a while after this. 

    I blog here, usually once a week; I hope you return. If you want to connect with me within oral tradition, sign up for email notice of events here:  
    http://www.outlawbunny.com/newsletter/

    Time to pimp Share My Insanity: It’s a great book. :-) If you are an independent thinker who is commited to inner growth, rejects cheap answers, long to keep growing despite having made no headway ( or despite gaining tremendous, spectacular, amazing headway), I 100% believe I am an author who is worthy of you. End of pimping. Here is a link for more info: 
    http://www.outlawbunny.com/share-my-insanity-it-improves-everything/

    Anyone want to pimp something that is of service to community?

    Ok, I’ll be back later, to see if anyone responded to this post or continued the general conversation. Then, our fabulous weeklong visit ends, eek!

  15. francesca says:

    There is much wisdom in this conversation. Community as a whole is a source of God’s knowledge. Please contribute your wisdom to the Chaos Generator project on this site – – http://www.outlawbunny.com/chaos-generator/  – – to help build a great resource for whoever might land there. But read the guidelines there first! Thanks!!! 

  16. francesca says:

    Okay, beddy-by time for me. Again,  thank you so much, everyone who posted or read along!!!!!!! I have loved this week with you all. And now it ends. But the journey continues and, even if some of us never interact again, we are fellow travelers.  Night-night.

    • Kristilee says:

      Thanks so much for hosting this discussion, Francesca! It has provided me with some wonderful insights and has been a great learning experience as well….I really enjoyed reading everyone’s posts and I’m honored to have been a small part of it. xox

      • francesca says:

        You are sooooooo welcome. I am delighted you could be part of this. Though you could not post a lot, your contributions added a needed facet to our conversation.

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