Tiferet Journal is at the nexus of literature and spirituality. It publishes high-quality poetry, prose and art that further meaningful dialogue about what it is to be human and conscious in today’s often divisive world. The entire interview is in Tiferet Journal, Summer 2015 http://tiferetjournal.com/
MS: Relationships with self, others, and environment are of extreme importance in Redemption. Can you tell our readers more about the relevance of relationship to Redemption?
IP: The book is a lyrical and moving tale of struggle, love, loss, transformation and hope. It reads like an extended prose poem reflecting the primal forces of nature and human nature. Its starkly gorgeous and remote island setting creates and reinforces the central themes of struggle, family, community and wonder at the beauty of the world, and its rich cast of characters offers numerous gripping interludes that brim with complex interpersonal drama. Relationships with people, land and sea skilfully brings this drama out. The story centers on and is always connected to Callum Mor – the epic main character – but he is surrounded and influenced by a fantastic cast of family and fellow islanders. They provide a deep well of material; their conflicts and intrigues move the plot forward and offer a vast array of powerfully emotional moments. The story arcs of other characters in the novel offer particularly beautiful and interesting counterpoints to one another and to Callum Mor. Their hopes, desires and difficulties intermingle in a realistic tapestry of human existence.
The narrative’s tone is generally quiet and introspective, but it is frequently punctuated by storms both literal and metaphorical. Callum Mor and his people face many conflicts throughout the story, from poverty, mental illness, unwanted pregnancy, and battles with nature itself – to sexual assault and violent physical confrontation. All of this provides the tapestry for the deeper, more subtle messages of compassion and faith to carefully unfold.
MS: Anita Rizvi calls Redemption “a riveting novel chronicling one man’s journey through the stages of innocence, darkness, destruction and transformation.” She goes on to say, “What is so exquisite about this novel is the tenderness and honesty with which the author deals with the human condition . . . When Callum Mor’s journey moves him even closer to the abyss, the author refuses to ‘sanitize’ his experiences.” Why was it important to you to remain true in your telling of the grittier and more difficult aspects of the story?
IP: My preference is always to be authentic in my writing. I do not always achieve this but in Redemption I am happy to convey that the switch is Full On. The grit, hardship and suffering are essential counterpoints to the manner in which Callum Mor stepped out of his self-destruction into a glimmer of awakening. The severity of the darkness he allowed to envelop himself actually punctuates his steps out of it. In Buddhism there is a profound one liner – “No Mud, No Lotus.” There was lots of Mud in Callum Mor’s evolution to awakening.
MS: You’ve had an absolutely fascinating life. In what ways has your life prepared you to become the writer you are today?
IP: My life as a global traveler certainly stretched my attention beyond any limits I could have placed on it. From teenage volunteering in Borneo with Britain’s Peace Corps to being a yogi in India and a Zen teacher in Canada – expansion of mind was inescapable. My challenging journey navigates shamanic healing of childhood sexual abuse, guru training as well as a near death experience in an ashram in India. From this vast range of experience I found an ability to sculpt narrative in a novel way. I certainly stumbled through the first part of life, but then stood strong in my own sovereignty in the latter part. In India, Arizona, France and Canada’s wilderness, I went to great lengths to transform karma. Over a period of thirty years, four extraordinary medicine people enhanced my process of remembering. I learned how to reconfigure my understanding of time, place, consciousness and re-write some of Carl Jung’s psychology. I chose to listen to the feminine voice of Earth Wisdom rather than to the multitude of competing voices in my deep unconscious.
In Trailing Sky Six Feathers for instance, readers may be inspired as they watch my intention and strength of purpose to transcend patterns carried since childhood. Past life memories collide head on with the present, all thanks to the Muse who refused to give up. Karma is reversed; the internal battles are over as I begin to live life as a Meditation for Gaia. The relentless shadowing by this engaging Muse brings understanding not only to me, but to anyone engaged in overcoming the darkness of their past. These books cap my long-term fascination with consciousness. As a Professor of Anthropology and Religion I taught courses on Ecology, Symbols, Engaged Buddhism and Meditation Systems. I am a healer, mentor and educator, able to encourage people through example to find their true nature so that humanity and the world may be renewed.
MS: One of the things we’re interested in at Tiferet is how spirituality and art can inform each other and serve similar roles for the individual and humanity as a whole. What would you consider to be the core tenets of your own spiritual practice, and how does your spiritual practice relate to your writing practice? Are there things you have learned from one practice that apply to the other?
IP: I am a Zen teacher, also a recognized guru in India. My initial task is to refine my own consciousness, so that I can be an authentic vehicle to chart a path for spiritual friends. This is through the creation of a meditation center – Pine Gate Mindfulness Community – and an activist spiritual vehicle – Friends for Peace Canada. Both based in Ottawa. Slowly but inevitably these vehicles are helping to change the nature of our northern city – thanks to the many groups and organizations (over 50) that are part of a loose coalition for change. If I did not do this, then I could not write the way I do.
My 2014 books are screenplay-worthy epic tales that weave together seamlessly to create inspiration for a wide range of fellow spiritual seekers, environmentalists, generation X, feminists, students and academics alike. Global citizens are staring into the abyss –yet instead of being eaten up by it all, I say to them: “Awaken Spiritually,” for that transforms everything. We have made our world an unpredictable beast because we fail to work with it intelligently. Rumi’s wise words are cogent: “Sit down and be quiet. You are drunk and this is the edge of the roof.” We have to take back control of ourselves and this is a spiritual matter. Turning on the switch of awakening seems to be a good idea right now. We just need to touch the sacred in ordinary experiences of life to find the courage and determination to transform.
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Of her debut poetry collection, I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, Robert Pinsky writes, “This poet’s ardent, winning ebullience echoes that of God…” and Cate Marvin says her work “would have no doubt pleased Neruda’s taste for the alchemic impurity of poetry.” Melissa Studdard is an editor for American Microreviews and Interviews, hosts Tiferet Talk radio, and judges the monthly Goodreads ¡Poetry! Group contest. She is also the author of the novel, Six Weeks to Yehidah, and a collection of interviews, The Tiferet Talk Interviews. Her awards include the Forward National Literature Award and the International Book Award. Her poetry, fiction, essays, reviews and articles have appeared in a wide range of publications, including Pleiades, Poets & Writers, Tupelo Quarterly, Psychology Today, and Connecticut Review. Learn more at www.melissastuddard.com