This week, Mystic Mag‘s Marko Velimirovic had the opportunity to interview Susan Shannon, Certified Chaplain. We talked about her career and how it developed, and learned more about Prison and Animal Chaplaincy.
When did you first know that mysticism and writing was your calling and how did it come about?
I will answer this as if it were two questions. First, about mysticism:
For my whole life I have resonated to a different vibration than most people. Even as a very young child I felt more at peace in nature and with animals than I have ever felt with people.
I think I first recognized myself as a mystic the first time I heard the word. I don’t really know when that was, probably around the age of eight or nine. I was not a good student in Catholic catechism, but an old nun steered me towards a shelf of books about Christian mystics. I’m forever grateful to her because I saw myself in those mystics.
Their stories let me feel normal. From there, I began to read about mysticism in other cultures. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest I was surrounded with lore from our Native Tribes. I learned as much as I could about the local shamans. From there I studied the eastern mystics and shamans, from all cultures, but especially Tibet. I’ve had countless experiences all my life that one would categorize as mystical.
As for writing, I think it was my eighth-grade teacher who touted my writing as something that stood out. I began entering writing contests and won several. During my late teens and early 20’s I wrote, read, and published a fair amount of poetry. My writing became mostly journaling throughout my 30’s, though I did still write and publish here and there, then have written quite a lot from my 40’s on up to now. It’s been a bit of a love/hate relationship because finding time for personal writing has been challenging. Much of the writing I did in my 40s and 50’s was for school or work. I’m just now, at the ripe age of 65, finding a relationship with writing that is easy, fun, engaging, and consistent.
What services do you offer?
I have a few different ‘hats.’ One is Spiritual Mentorship. I offer a multi-faith, multi-faceted approach to locating yourself on your Spiritual Journey, especially when the path gets blurry.
All of life informs us-the answers are usually right at your feet, as you are at the Center of your own Mandala. My work is deeply inspired by over 45 years of Buddhist practice and study in the Tibetan tradition, enhanced with an Interfaith education and ordination, working with hundreds of inmates through the course of their spiritual transformation, as well as my years training and supervising chaplaincy students in CPE.
My passion is working with people who are committed to their spiritual journey but would like support in discerning the direction of their path. I will offer rich and inspired practices as ‘homework’ which will magnify the myriad ways and means spirit works to guide us in our daily lives.
I also teach Buddhism. My specialty is introducing Buddhism to people in an accessible, simple, warm way that draws from the classical texts but also from our current times. I angle the tools and skills of Buddhism towards the cultivation of a warm heart.
Finally, I am a Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor. This is a specific kind of training for ministers and chaplains that takes place over a 12-week period. I offer 2 sessions a year.
What is Prison and Animal Chaplaincy?
Prison Chaplaincy/ministry is anything that supports the spiritual care of the incarcerated. Though I was a chaplain on site for 9 years at San Quentin State Prison, my ministry now is through the Buddhist Prison Ministry. I offer an educational coursebook free of charge to any inmate who requests it. My program is in prisons across the USA.
Animal Chaplaincy/ministry is the work of promoting the spiritual significance of animals in our human transformation. In my practice of it includes everything from simply listening to the animals I live with, to teaching others the spiritual importance of animals, to pet grief and loss groups, euthanasia support, acupressure treatments, and more.
What can a person expect from your sessions?
They can expect a deep listening presence, attunement of spirit, intuition, and gentle inquiry leading to specific practices that will allow people to find their own next step in their spiritual journey.
What is the most important detail in maintaining a relationship of mutual trust with clients?
Staying focused on growth and change versus doing spiritual bypass. Being comfortable with not knowing. Adherence to responsibility and accountability, and the practice of self-compassion.
What do you love most about your profession?
Witnessing the spiritual transformation possible in our human existence.