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.
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 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 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
I am so grateful to panelists and you for being here.
Here are questions I asked panelists, and their answers:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.