The Stumbling Mystic Podcast – Food for the Spiritual Traveler

I’m a writer. So why am I publishing a podcast?

Because the road is long and the walking is slow. Because the aim of spiritual growth is to transform our way of being, and that kind of change doesn’t happen in the first few miles.

Because we sometimes forget and need reminding. Because we are often lost and need encouragement. Because on such a long walk, we need to be nourished along the way.

That’s why I write the Stumbling Mystic blog, to remind and encourage and nourish and nudge. My writing is a creative and communal practice – writing the blog feeds me, and I hope reading it feeds you as well.

So, to further this creative and communal endeavor, I interviewed ten of my friends and colleagues to gather their insights on the spiritual impulse. These are thoughtful, dynamic spiritual seekers who have been walking the road for years. They generously shared their time and wisdom for this podcast.

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Wise Words – We Are All Creators

As spiritual seekers, we are all creators.

“The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.”

Robert Henri


It’s funny, but I don’t think this quote is about art. It’s about the larger container that holds art but holds everything else as well.

When I sit down to write, I try to settle into a relaxed state that is connected to Spirit and open to guidance. If I don’t drop into this space, I am writing from a part of my brain that feels like the thin outer shell of who I am. The words might be organized, articulate, well-informed, they might even sound good, but the writing isn’t coming from the truth. At some level, it isn’t honest.

To drop into this state, I have to let go of my expectations about what my writing should be. I have to face and walk through the fear that my writing will expose me as idealistic, deluded, ego-inflated, or just plain silly. When I can do that, my consciousness shifts, and I enter the “wonderful state” Robert Henri is talking about. And then I can write.

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Walking the Path of a Modern Mystic

Walking the path of a modern mystic

I want to live fully engaged with the vibrancy of life. And that means something has to change.

I recognize there is a part of me that resides primarily in the physical world, which I call my ego self. It protects me, looks out for my interests, helps me achieve my goals, and serves me well in navigating the details of daily life. I honor and cherish this part of me, and I realize that life in this body would not be possible without my ego self. I like him (most of the time).

But I also recognize a larger dimension of my being that extends beyond the physical, my higher self, which guides my aspirations beyond surviving and succeeding in the world of form and connects me to the Source of all life. I want to live more fully from the depth of my higher self and less from the frantic, distracted worries of my ego self. I want to move freely in response to the spiritual impulse to connect with the Sacred.

That is what I want to change.

But how to move, in what direction, by what guidance? Living in modern society, I am given two mainstream approaches to these questions. Neither is spiritually satisfying to me.

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Wise Words – By Our Love, Not By Our Thinking

By our love not by our thinking

“By our love the Sacred may be touched and held; by our thinking, never.”

The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 6


Thinking is not wrong, it just gets too much air time in our hyper-productive, over-stimulated society.

When applied to problems it is good at, its answers seem complete:  How many grams are in a cup? When is the next solar eclipse? How much weight can this bridge design hold? These are questions with definite answers, and logic is ideally suited to deliver them. This leaves the false impression that thinking is a superior pathway to understanding. 

But we humans are multi-dimensional. For all its usefulness, logic cannot reach the parts of life we hold most dear:  the waves of love we feel holding our newborn child or grandchild; the subtle smile in the eyes of our spouse or partner; intuitive bursts of creativity; an inspired refrain of Bob Dylan or Beethoven; the upswept majesty of entering a cathedral. These are sacred experiences and no logical explanation of them is complete or fulfilling. They need to be embraced by another dimension of our being.

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Cultivate a Calm and Healing Presence

I know people who can walk into a room and bring a sense of calm. Others might be nervous or upset, but these people seem to bring a peaceful presence just by showing up. 

I want to be more like them.

If I’m agitated, other people pick can up on my emotions and become agitated too. We humans tend to do that because we are socially attuned to each other’s moods. Likewise, if I can center myself, others can sense that and become more grounded.

When I’m open enough to listen deeply to someone without agenda or needing to counterpoint or defend, I create a space where they can feel heard, and they are more able to release their need for agenda or counterpoint or defense. Creating a space of deep listening brings the healing quality of connection, but it is not easy to do in stressful conversations.

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Momentary Awakenings

I have momentary awakenings throughout the day. These are not dramatic bolts of enlightenment; they are small moments of expanded awareness when I lift my head from the daily details that absorb my attention and see the world from a broader perspective. I become a witness to my experience as well as the actor in my experience.

These awakenings happen in planned and unplanned ways. When I sit to meditate or pray, I am intentional about settling into my body and opening to my inner and outer surroundings. At other times, the expansion happens spontaneously, when my attention is pulled from the fog of ordinary consciousness by something I hear or notice or remember.

The shift to expanded consciousness brings me into a more intimate contact with the juice, texture, and vibrancy of life. Things feel more intensely real, an intensity that is dimmed when I operate in the fog of ordinary consciousness. This intimacy can be peaceful, a sensation of breathing and merging with direct experience in an exquisite beauty of stillness. But it can also be uncomfortable, bringing up the urge to flee.

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Wise Words – The World Is Full of Magic Things

“The world is full of magic things waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

William Butler Yeats


I can’t be sure this quote belongs to W.B. Yeats, but it certainly fits with how he saw the world, as a place of enchantment.

It places the source of wonder not in our powers of vision, but in the things around us. It is the world that is alive and we who are the dullards. If we can look up from the mental whirlwinds that absorb us and drop the preconceived packaging we use to keep the world safely in place, we can awaken our senses and see where magic is afoot.

For most of us, our perceptions are dimmed because we look at life through the same old, tired filters. These filters fog our perception like glasses made from Coke bottle bottoms. But we can revive our senses by dropping our filters, even briefly.

I will make you a promise. Try this experiment of attention and attitude for 30 seconds, and your senses will awaken to things you have been ignoring.

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My Mother Is in Hospice

On a normal morning, my regular practice made sense. Stretches and meditation were part of a comfortable routine. The world seemed stable, perhaps hinting that small corners of life were controllable.

But since mom fell, nothing has been normal.

For the past month, my days have turned upside down. My mother, 86, has not recovered well from her broken hip and pneumonia. Despite steroids, antibiotics, and respiratory treatments, the infections worsened, her lungs filled with fluid, and her breathing capacity eroded to a shallow spot at the top of her chest.

The fall and the hip surgery were traumatic; the struggle with pneumonia has been tortuous; and now the decision to enter hospice has been a gut-punch, hitting my father the hardest as he watches his sweetheart of 70 years slowly recede. This family emergency has me flailing to find a handhold.

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A Place Where I Could See

There are times in life when our eyes are opened, when we cross a threshold into a new way of seeing.

That happened to me when I was a boy, climbing the towering silver maple behind our garage. I had a moment when the big world seemed to coelese and became smaller, more understandable. These moments can happen at any time if we are open to them.

A Place Where I could see

I should have been afraid, but friendly holds 
made easy climbing, even for a small boy.  
I looped my leg at the highest limb,
hooked my foot against the trunk and watched my town
soften in the dusk.

Head above the canopy, I had a view like Cortez, or Galileo,
beyond the school, the railroad tracks beside the
church, the spider webs of roads and cars,
the banks of trees in folding light lost in waves 
across a Midwest ocean.

Next morning, walking into school, I looked ordinary, 
no one suspecting I knew the secret way things really look.  
High windows and heavy doors took on their true proportions.
I’d been to a place where I could see how light expands and 
where the world curves over. 

Photo by Jackson Simmer on Unsplash

Prayer for 2024

Although prayer is often thought of as the making of a request, it’s much more than that. A deeper practice enters prayer as a conversation, a way of being in relationship.

Prayer deepens our relationship with our inner world. It allows us to assemble our vague, unstated gratitudes and longings into a coherent expression, revealing hidden meaning about what is important or troubling to us.

Prayer deepens our relationship with our outer world. It brings focus to the state of our relations with people and events, showing where and how we are connected or disconnected.

And prayer deepens our relationship with the field of consciousness that houses our individual awareness. It reminds us we are more than separate beings trying to live and thrive among other separate beings; we are the tips of the waves of an ocean, small eddies of individuality swimming in a giant sea.

Each of our prayers is vitally important because it is a unique expression of universal themes. No other voice has our singular nature, quirks, insights, life history, or personal slant on the cosmos. Stating our prayers out loud collects our separate identities and joins them into a greater body.

And so here is mine, a prayer for 2024, in hopes that my voice will join with yours and a sea of others in the grand fellowship to which we all belong.


Prayer for 2024

Spirit, I invite you to me.
Let me open to you and feel the power of your presence. 

Ground me in my body, here and now,
In this space and time, fully available in this moment.
Fill me with your energy and potential.

Expand my senses, uplift my heart, reveal my higher self to me.
Let me sense the community of souls who share my longings,
Who strengthen me, who connect me to the whole.

I am grateful for the blessings in my life, for the material comforts
I enjoy in a world where so many go without, for the kindnesses
I receive, for the ability to feel joy, and for the boundless capacity
To give and receive love.

I acknowledge that the world can feel chaotic and dangerous.
I am troubled by the current of the times, with war, destruction,
Discord, fragmentation, and the senseless suffering of innocents. 
I am often left confused, searching for clarity and relief.

Strengthen me. Help me know that I am capable of meeting
Life as it unfolds. Be with me when I am fearful, when my desire for
Certainty makes me forget that the future is unknowable.

Show me where I have a part to play. Let me be moved to act in
Ways that nudge the coming changes to the good. Not action
Formed in anger, for there is already too much anger and poison
In the world, but action that is antidote.

Guide me to the stillpoint, the calm amidst the motion, the quiet
Peace where I can find my breath and see more clearly the
Trajectory of my decisions. Center me in silence where a
Softer and more generous wisdom will inform my better actions.

And give me hope.
Open me to trust that the roadway of this human project,
Though strewn with the devastating litter of our mistakes,
Is advancing toward something worthy of our efforts. 

In service to our common good,
In surrender to what comes,
By the grace of all that is,

Amen


What gratitudes and longings do you have? What prayer would you voice for the coming year? The roadway continues, a patchwork of stones laid out before you, ready to be walked upon. 

I invite you to offer your voice in the comments below. Our thoughts are more potent when declared and shared.

Photo by Jacob Bentzinger on Unsplash