To start off the new year, we visited Shea in the Catskills, a tarot practitioner, artist, facilitator, organizer + contemplative, for a (deeper than perhaps expected) conversation on community, tarot, inspiration ... and some insights for 2023!
Check out Shea's own podcasts! They're simply produced, clean, and inviting -- rumination and curation in a welcoming voice ...
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I have a very sort of dark, clear eyed view of where we are. And I wake up every day and I really do try to enjoy my life in a deep way and try to make the best meaning possible from everything that I do.
Brett Barry 0:23
To start off the new year, we visited Shea in the Catskills, an artist, Tarot practitioner, facilitator, organizer and contemplative for a deeper than perhaps expected conversation on community, Tarot inspirations and predictions. We hope you'll join us. And with this episode, we enter year four of Kaatscast with 80 episodes behind us and many more to come. You can hear everything at kaatscast.com where you can also connect suggest donate, and more. On our last episode, we opened a drawing for a signed copy of Sharkey, When Sea Lions Were Stars of Showbusiness. If you entered that drawing, we put your names in a hat literally, and pulled the winner. Stay tuned for that announcement later in the show. Thank you to our 2023 sponsors, which include the ongoing support of the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce, providing services to businesses, community organizations and local governments in the central Catskills region. Follow the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce on Facebook, and sign up for a weekly email of local events at Centralcatskills.org and The Mountain Eagle covering Delaware Greene and Schohaire counties, including brands for local regions like the Windham weekly Schoharie news and Catskills Chronicle. Stay informed about the place you call home. Call 518-763-6854 or email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
And now to my conversation with Shea in the Catskills in Phoenicia, New York.
Hi, thank you so much and happy new year. I'm Shea in the Catskills. I'm an artist and Tarot practitioner. I'm a library clerk and organizer, and a contemplative who's been living in the Catskills for over 16 years.
Brett Barry 2:22
So your website Sheainthecatskills.com has your kind of byline as art and Tarot. But it's a lot more. And you're a writer, you're a podcaster you seem to be a curator of good and meaningful things. So tell me a little bit about your life.
Well, I moved up to the Catskills in 2006, to do a period of residency at Zen mountain monastery. And I did do a short period of residency at that time and left and lived in Mount Tremper and Chichester and Phoenicia, and then moved back into the monastery in late 2010. And did 10 years of residency there I ordained as a Zen Buddhist monk, and then ended up leaving in late 2019, thinking that I was on the verge of re entering way life. And six months later, the pandemic started. So I've been living in Phoenicia since I left the monastery. And as I was leaving the monastery, I was wondering, how do I make a living after I've been in full time residential spiritual training for 10 years, and I had turned to tarot as I was leaving as a way of sort of coping with major life change. And that really became the focus of my spiritual life. And I think that ultimately, from this place, I can say that I left the monastery in order to step more fully into my identity as an artist. And I've been sort of just finding my way since then, the idea for my newsletter actually came from my therapist that I was seeing at the time, I was really fretting about money, I hadn't earned an income for 10 years. And she suggested that I raffle off one of my paintings to help pay for snow tires for my new car. And that was how my newsletter began. And I've been publishing it for three years, comes out on the first of the month, every month. And the theme of it is what's inspiring you now and I do curate everything that's been inspiring me in the previous month. And the newsletter is a way of being accountable for being able to live a contemplative life and follow my enthusiasms and interests. And it's a way of offering something back to my community. And that's really how I think of it. It was Martin Scorsese, who said that curation is an act of love, and I believe that's true. And so my newsletter feels like gathering things that have inspired me that have sparked something creative in me that have kept me optimistic about the world and sharing that with people.
Brett Barry 5:10
That contemplative life that you espouse and live, I would imagine is informed a great deal by your 10 years at the monastery? What inspired you to start that path? And did it come to a natural end? You know, how did that all work out? And and what did you take away from that experience?
Yeah, that's a great question. I was living in New York City, I had been working in the corporate world and advertising. And when September 11, happened, I had a bit of a spiritual crisis, I realized that I could be like sitting at my desk, drinking my morning coffee, and anything could happen was I ready for my life to be over. And it really threw me into a bit of a crisis. And I left the corporate world, I became a licensed massage therapist, and was really searching and searching and then ended up finding my way to the monastery, I met my ex partner at the monastery, he was also an ordained monk, and we, you know, lived there together for many years. And as our relationship came apart, my relationship with a monastery came apart, it was all very entangled. And I think, you know, the story continues to shift and change, I'm only three years out. And I think it's something I'm going to be processing for a really long time. It saved my life, it gave me my life. At a certain point, it wasn't what I needed. And because I had committed so fully, it was very difficult to make the decision to leave. I feel like I'm sifting sort of the gold out of that experience all the time. And one of the things that I definitely took from my training is a deep, deep familiarity with the workings of my mind, and really getting to know myself, I think that since I've left, I've been able to befriend myself at a much deeper level. I think some other things that were really pivotal for me that I learned there were about working with time, using time instead of being used by time. It also was counterculture to consumer culture, it really I remember working with that, in my monastic formation, I would go to Target and put things in the shopping cart, and then just like, leave it there, it was like I was learning how to kind of scratch the itch without completing the purchase. And that's something that's really stayed with me, I feel very outside of that normative consumer culture. And then I think, probably the most important thing was development of my art practice that was part of our formal training at the monastery. And I fell into that so deeply that it ended up being I think, what kind of brought me out, and also a deep appreciation for ritual and liturgy, just understanding how the arrangement of space and intentional words and thoughts and actions have tremendous power. And that's something that I continue to develop.
Brett Barry 8:18
So define liturgy.
I personally define liturgy as the intentional use of the meaning making faculty of our mind, right. So we are telling ourselves stories all day long, humans are meaning making machines. And so liturgy is taking up that meaning making faculty in an intentional way. So using our actions, our body, our words, our speech, and our thoughts in an intentional way to create good meaning to create the meaning that we want.
Brett Barry 8:52
How does that relate to your book club, which is called the liturgical Book Club, which is really fascinating because it's kind of a live audiobook participatory?
Oh, I love that take on it's so true. It is that so the name of the book club liturgical book club came from my friend Jules, I wanted it to be a different kind of book clubs. So instead of everyone reading the book beforehand, and then discussing it when we gather, my thought was to actually gather to read the book out loud together, which is something that another friend of mine has done with her friends before actually on the phone like reading a book aloud together and I just thought, Oh, that's so amazing. What an amazing an intimate experience to have with someone. And so when Tricia Hersey's book, rest is resistance was recently published. I received my copy and I started reading it and as someone who's lived a deeply spiritual life, I recognized immediately that this is an extremely profound book that what she is saying is so deep and subversive and countercultural. Her style of writing is so incantatory, that I thought this is meant to be read aloud. And I wondered what it would be like to experience that with other people to read something so powerful with others and have an experience together. And so we just had our first meeting in December, and it was amazing.
Brett Barry 10:20
And so each of the participants on the I guess, Zoom call, take a chapter or a few pages, and kind of pass the baton?
Yeah, it's even less structured than that some people who showed up didn't have the book yet. And so for one person, I took some screenshots of the paragraphs and sent them over a text so that they could participate. And people just read as much as they want, and then pause, and then the next person comes in, there's no particular order. I encourage people to be laying down and being comfortable as we read it. And some people opted not to read at all, but to just be read to and I really encourage people to give themselves what they need. And there were enough people to be able to do that. It was great.
Brett Barry 11:06
I want to get back to your website for a second, which has a pretty amazing, I don't know if you'd call it a mission statement. But it says, "My life is supported by an inconceivably complex web of giving and receiving. I longed for my life to be an ongoing expression of gratitude through divesting from systems of oppression that threatened life in all its miraculous forms. And through answering the call of my heart's desire and encouraging and inspiring others to do the same." Can you help me craft a mission statement like that?
It's really incredible actually, to hear it in someone else's voice. Thank you for reading that. I'm like, wow, who wrote that? Yeah, it really kind of has all the bits and pieces in there. And which has to do with really braiding together my spiritual life, my creative life and my political life, which I really see as one thing. And I think I've really been on a path of bringing those together as much as possible. And that that statement really tries to do that.
Brett Barry 12:09
If you want to take that page, so you can refer to it, can you just break it down a little bit for me and explain what that means to you?
Wow, what an incredible opportunity to really like look at this more closely. Thank you for this. So I mean, as far as my life being supported by an inconceivably complex web of giving and receiving, I mean, I turn on the tap in the morning and water comes out, I opened my refrigerator and there's food inside. I think that it can be easy to get, and I know personally, that I can get wrapped up in the sort of ups and downs of a typical day, but to really see how provided for I am in my life, and that is through the generosity of friends and family, clients, you know, people who support my work, through giving through my newsletter and my podcasts, I want to be able to offer things to people that don't cost any money that are just an act of giving. And that I longed for my life to be an ongoing expression of gratitude through divesting from systems of oppression that threaten life, in all its miraculous forms. You know, in the teaching that I do on the Tarot, I really start every class or workshop by naming the culture that we live in. Because I think that you know, living in it's just kind of like the air that we breathe, but we live in a settler colonial, white supremacist, cis-hetero, patriarchal, transphobic, fatphobic, capitalistic, ablest culture. And it is a death cult culture that locks people in cages that separates families that normalizes mass death from, you know, diseases that can be mitigated, that doesn't provide health insurance, that requires people to sell their labor for a wage to pay for their housing and their health care. That's not normal, you know, that. I feel like it's really important to remember that these are choices that people make at the highest levels, to structure our culture in this way, and that it could be another way. And so part of my life, the gratitude I have for the life that I live, is to remind people, this is the culture we live in. And that while that sounds very totalizing there are ways all day long to subvert that interrupt it, to disrupt it, to name it, to push back against it and to imagine something else. And so I really see that as part of my work. I think, years ago, I was much more sort of angry and negative about it. And now it just feels like I'm talking about facts and really inspiring people to imagine something else and to actually live into that imagined something else. And then through answering the call of my heart's desire and encouraging and inspiring others to do the same. The heart's desire framing comes from my involvement in the way of the rose community which is based, was founded by two people who live in Woodstock, actually, Clark Strand and Perdita Finn, we pray the Rosary for our heart's desire. We're not affiliated with the Catholic Church or any other religious institution, praying for one's Heart's Desire following one's heart's desire is one of the most radical things that we can do within this culture, which really depends on us not knowing what we want, so that we can be advertised to. And so that we can purchase things that we think are going to, you know, make our life better and make us feel better. But to deeply know, what we most desire is a deeply radical act. And it hasn't steered me wrong, yet. I encounter a lot of people who think that's a really selfish thing to do. And I always ask them, like, Who benefits from you thinking that? That was a question that I received from Adrian Marie Brown, who benefits from you thinking that what you most desire is selfish. And so I really just tried to live out my heart's desire, and show that that can be a very amazing and generous and wholesome way to live.
Brett Barry 16:36
The critiques that you have, or the anger that you feel toward the negative parts of our culture, is there anywhere in the world that you think is doing it? Right?
What a great question. Absolutely. I mean, my organizing community is showing up for racial justice or surge. There used to be an Ulster County Chapter, but there isn't anymore. And so I organized with the National chapter. And I began organizing with them during the uprisings of 2020. And worked on the electoral campaigns for the 2020 general election, the 2020, Senate runoff, we just did the midterms and the Senate runoff in Georgia again, and organizing with showing up for racial justice gives me the felt experience of what it would be like to live in a culture that is not white supremacy culture, where we support each other, where we really support each other to do difficult work together in a way that feels amazing. And so that, for me feels like an ongoing experiment in a different kind of culture. And I really try to embody and bring that into all of my relationships and all of my work. I think that there are people and places and organizations all over the country and all over the world that are doing things differently. Experiments happening all the time. I mean, incarcerated people are organizing for their rights under the most adverse circumstances imaginable. So I think that it's it's easy to forget that there are people doing incredible life affirming countercultural work all the time.
Brett Barry 18:25
And do you have, at the end of the day, a sense more of hope or despair for the way, our country, our world, our communities are going?
Wow, I didn't realize we were going to be in such heavy territory. It's fantastic. I so appreciate the question. You know, there's a prison abolitionist and organizer and activist named Miriam Kava. And she says, hope is a discipline. And I am hopeful. And hope is not a passive thing. It is something that I feel like I have to recreate every single day. It's a choice. As far as the country is concerned, like the United States of America and its current sort of form. I think we're seeing it kind of coming apart. You know, there was someone else who said that it's easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. And so I think that it is real practice for me to remain hopeful, and not despairing, through the actions that I take every day. I also don't watch the news ever. The news is really, I believe, designed to demobilize people and make them anxious. There's so many things happening in the world that are incredible and amazing people making art and organizing in their communities and taking care of each other and, you know, that's not going to be on the news. So it's a real practice for me to be vigilant about what kind of media I consume, sort of consuming with my mind. And my senses. And yeah, I mean, I have a very sort of dark, clear eyed view of where we are. And I wake up every day and I really do try to enjoy my life in a in a deep way and try to make the best meaning possible from everything that I do.
Brett Barry 20:25
In a moment Shea in the Catskills, the podcast, Tarot, and how Shea is preparing for 2023 thanks to the listeners of our last episode, who put their name in the drawing for a signed copy of Gary Bohan's book, Sharkey, and the winner is Bill Birns. Congratulations. And thanks to Gary for donating the book. And now back to the show.
The newsletter that you produce every month that's is that also called Shea in the Catskills?
I would say it is yeah, I don't really think of calling it anything. But if I did, I would call it Shea in the Catskills.
Brett Barry 21:08
And that newsletter spun into a podcast. And is that podcast, essentially an audio version of the newsletter?
Yeah, so my best friend was like, you know, when I started publishing the newsletter, she said, when I think of you, I think of your voice and it would be great if you could record it. And so I started doing that. And because there are people who prefer to listen than read, and so it is an audio version of the newsletter. I do a lot more editorializing in the podcast version though. Hello, friends. Welcome to the December 2022. Offering it's so good to have you here I am recording on Monday, November 28. At 9:10am. Eastern Time, the Catskills palette has simplified and reminds me of this snippet from a verse by hyung g, in plainness, there's flavor.
Brett Barry 22:10
I think the podcast is great, and your voice is amazing. And it's just really comforting, warm and supportive. You start the podcast by calling it a monthly offering. What does that mean to you?
What a great question. I mean, it really does feel like something that I make for the people who read and listen to it. And so it's an offering it's, well, it's not a product, it's not a widget. It's an offering of my heart and mind to my community. I guess that's how I think of it.
Brett Barry 22:49
And from a technical aspect, I was scanning through your episodes. And I would say sometime between April and May of 2022, your audio quality just took a giant leap forward. So what happened there? And when did you decide that you wanted to invest a little more into the quality of the podcast, which I think is well I know, is really important for engaging with people.
I love this question. So earlier in 2022, I took a six week class called Cymatics for social justice and the instructor. Their name is Melina Martinez. I did part of my assignment on the phone with them a homework assignment for the workshop. And when we were finishing up the phone call, they said you have such an amazing voice. You should do a podcast. And it was something that I kind of I was already doing my Shea the Catskills podcast at that point. And I had always kind of wanted to do a podcast more for real. And there was something about when they said that to me that I thought you know what, I should just buy a decent microphone. So I spent $50 on a decent microphone, and it was a night and day difference for sure.
Brett Barry 24:02
$50 well spent.
Brett Barry 24:05
And then I guess that led to another podcast called The ritualists.
You're listening to the ritualist podcast where an ex Buddhist monk and a former Catholic explore the power, pleasure and mystery of spiritual practice outside of institutional religion. I'm Shea in the Catskills an artist living at the intersection of social justice and spirituality, who spent a decade living in a Zen Buddhist monastery before re entering lay life in 2019.
Unknown Speaker 24:35
And I'm Peg Conway, a writer, energy healer and motherless daughter, I anchored myself in the liturgical rhythms of the Catholic Church for my entire adult life until I just couldn't anymore.
Brett Barry 24:45
So tell me about how that came about and how you met your co host for that show and how that show is produced and the types of things that you cover differently from Shea in the Catskills.
The ritualist podcast started when me and my friend Peg Conway. We met through the way of the rose community. So we We met in zoom rooms, praying the rosary together. And I don't know exactly how we came to start having our own conversations together. But in the course of that, there was so much there in our experience of her leaving the Catholic Church and me leaving the monastery that was common to us. And that included a deep love of ritual and liturgy. And we thought to ourselves, you know, we should just start recording these conversations because other people might be interested. And so she bought the same $50 microphone. And it is produced, you know, she sits in her condo in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I sit here in my room in Phoenicia New York. And we show up in a Zoom Room together and ask each other, what are we going to talk about today, we knew that we were going to start by sort of a how it started and how it ended episodes of how we started with her in the Catholic Church me at the monastery, and then how we both left our respective institutional religious contexts. We recorded a few episodes just to have them in the hopper. And we began publishing them on the summer solstice, and then we're able to put out episodes every two weeks, finishing right before the winter solstice. So our first season was 13 episodes. And essentially, we get together and talk about whatever we want to talk about, when we find out that people are actually listening to it that just feels like a bonus. But it's been a really amazing opportunity for us to process our experiences with each other through the podcast. And so because we don't do a lot of planning, and it's not over engineered, the conversations are very spontaneous. And that has been very helpful. I don't want to speak for her but she says it in the episodes that it's been very helpful to process kind of what's happened by talking about it through the podcast.
Brett Barry 27:06
Okay, so now, let's get to one of the really interesting mysterious parts of your life Shea, which is Tarot. How do you think most people envision tarot and how would you say that Tarot differs from those ideas?
What a great question. I mean, I think the typical sort of depiction of a tarot reader is like, a Roma woman wearing a headscarf and a skirt in some, you know, burgundy velvet lined couch and so on and so forth. I mean, I think I actually saw a tarot reader, kind of like that when I was a teenager with my friends. I mean, I think that that may be how some tarot is, I think what's interesting about Tarot is how incredibly diverse it is. I came from a religious tradition at the monastery that is so very structured, very patriarchal, really. And what's great about the Tarot is like, there is no Tarot institution, nobody's in charge. It's a free for all. It's a game, it's a card game is kind of how it began. It was sort of made up from the very beginning. The images were made up, the meanings were made up, and it's still being made up. And I think it's a really powerful and potent technology for getting under the surface of things. And being surprised, actually.
Brett Barry 28:39
Is there a relationship to astrology horoscopes? Is it considered the occult? Is it religion? What is it and how does it work?
There are astrological and other kinds of correspondences that and frameworks that people have laid on top of tarot, but it's essentially a form of divination, or it's an Oracle, the Tarot is an Oracle. I mean, the world is an Oracle. Everything is speaking all the time. And so by paying attention in a particular way, you can read anything as an Oracle and people read tea leaves and animal entrails and the flight of birds. The route of one of my Buddhist names that I got when I ordained actually came from the route that means divining things by the flight of birds. So I think in some ways, my my Zen teacher set me on this path without knowing it. But the Tarot I think of the Tarot as an Oracle. So whoever or whatever you believe, is speaking through the images on the cards. It kind of doesn't really matter. I mean, I tell people, they can think of it as their higher power their own inner self, someone among their beloved dead, the universe. I think that the culture is deeply invested and people not being connected to their own intuition and to mystery. And so people that I encounter, and you know, it's been true with myself, doubt themselves a lot doubt their own intuition. think something must be wrong with them if they believe things outside of scientific materialism. And I just really encourage people to play with the Tarot and to let it be something that they associate with pleasure, something that is supportive and helps them in their life. I don't see Tarot as predictive or telling the future. Some people do read it that way. But I don't, I think of a Tarot reading as a deep snapshot of the current moment, which we are always influencing by our thoughts, words and actions. So it can support people and making choices or moving through periods of change, or just getting in touch with different aspects of themselves. That sort of being on the go, working, raising kids, you know, moving at a particular clip can make it hard to tune in to that deeper aspect of life. And I think Tarot can help people do that.
Brett Barry 31:17
Do you use it for yourself? Do you read for other people? Can anyone do it? How helpful is it been to your life?
I started practicing the Tarot as I was leaving the monastery. Everything that I thought my life was going to be was coming apart and I didn't have a plan B. Someone had given me a tarot deck on my ordination Day, which I had forgotten about. And I fished it out, and I started pulling a card every day. And on a particularly, really made me the lowest point of that departure period, I went up to my cabin, and I pulled three cards, and it was the seven of swords, the 10 of swords, and the Hanged Man. I was alone in my cabin, and despairing and when I saw those cards, I felt deeply seen by something that wasn't there, or that I didn't know was there, but I felt deeply seen in what I was going through. And that was a real turning moment for me and I really dove very deeply into my own study. That being said, anyone can use the Tarot can access Tarot. I do practice Tarot myself for myself, and I do read for other people. But my favorite thing to do is to facilitate study groups with other people that to me, has been the most generative, interesting way to learn Tarot. Like even for myself as someone who has a deep study and practice. studying and practicing with a group of people is really unsurpassed. As far as I am concerned. I love to teach Tarot 101, I'm actually offering a Tarot 101 for teens at the Olive free library in late January. And that is free. For teens, I would love to see some teenagers there playing with Tarot. Anyone can do it. And my instruction for people who are just getting started is to find a deck that you love. Go online, look at some images or even better go to a shop and look through some decks and find a card, a deck that really feels like it's communicating with you. Because Tarot is a relationship. And then just don't worry about the guidebook. Just put it away. Don't even look at it just work with the images. And one of my favorite practices to give people to do is to just ask themselves the question either, how am I feeling right now? Or what do I want right now and go through the deck face up, which is something I think that people don't necessarily think to do people usually shuffle and pull a card at random. And to actually go through the deck face up and choose the card that most closely resonates with the question that you're asking can be a very empowering way to begin with the Tarot that feels a little less scary than, you know, pulling a card at random and it's something that feels scary, you know, I know what that's like. So it is immediately accessible to anyone just on that basis. And I really think that getting together with people and learning how other people see the same card is one of the most fascinating things that I do in my work.
Brett Barry 34:34
Considering your connections to the community, to religion, to mystical practices, and just a thirst for knowledge and to learn and to share. Do you have any intuition about the year ahead? And what forces are at play and how can we work symbiotically with them?
What a question. I have no intuitions about it. Yeah, I'm not really like a very future predictive person. And I know that 2023 in the tarot, it's a chariot year, because two plus two plus three is seven, and Major Arcana seven is the chariot. The chariot Arcana has to do with our willpower, it has to do with what drives us forward, or what makes us spin our wheels or get stuck in a rut. Sometimes we think we want something really badly. But there's another part of ourselves that we're not as aware of that's working against us. So these are sort of some themes that just come off the top of my head about what a chariot year might look like. I think that, you know, this is has nothing to do with intuition, but just the climate, I think is going to continue to be a factor. And you know, where we live, that takes very particular forms, in terms of flooding, and also in late summer this year with drought and possible fires. So I think that developing skills for learning how to relate well to each other, in community is going to be increasingly important. So really learning how to functionally work together to take care of each other. It's something that I remember after Hurricane Irene the way that people just came together to get things done. I think that that's going to be just an increasing state of things. I think we're lucky to live where we live. The Catskills is a very community minded place. But as far as what 2023 has in store, I've been wrong and wrong and wrong in my own life and in general, so I wouldn't even dare to predict.
Brett Barry 36:49
What are your personal hopes for the year?
I am working on a book called Tarot As Questions and I channeled the writings for the 78 Arcana between July and September of 2022. And so I need to write an introduction and some other pieces of the book and I'm hoping to self publish that sometime around the summer solstice. I'd also love to develop a couple of new cohorts for my Tarot study groups. And I had some really excellent collaborations in 2022. The ritualist podcast was one of them. And so I'm, I'm really looking forward to doing more collaborations. It's really fun to do things with other people and to have fun doing it.
Brett Barry 37:35
Thank you very much.
Thank you so much, Brett.
Brett Barry 37:41
Kaatscast is a free bi-weekly production of Silver Hollow Audio, discover more at kaatscast.com. I'm your host, Brett Barry, wishing you a happy healthy new year, and lots of great listening. Don't forget to subscribe, and we'll catch up with you again in two weeks.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai / AA