*Olio Seminar* Break On Through: Creativity and the Mystic Experience

Michael Prettyman at St John's Episcopal Church

Mon, Feb 12 at 7 p.m.   |   90 minutes

In this Olio seminar we will investigate consciousness through: myth, psychology, religion, and art.

"Ah, not to be cut off,
not through the slightest partition
shut out from the law of the stars.
The inner- what is it?
if not the intensified sky,
hurled through with birds and deep
with the winds of homecoming."
- Rainer Maria Rilke


Break On Through: The Dynamics of Mysticism

4-Part Seminar meeting on Mondays: Feb 12th, 26th, March 5th & 12th


Mysticism. Mystery. Myth. All these words share a common etymological root, the ancient Greek myein, “to close, to shut, to hide.” Unfortunately, the veiled nature of the mystic leads us to exoticise an entire field of human endeavor, and in so doing cut ourselves off from one of the most generative and life giving sources available to us- the mystical experience. Many contemporary scholars of theology and mythology assert that the institutions of religion are rapidly losing relevance in the post-modern world because they are now addressing social problems and ethics rather than the mystical experience.

But what is it that is being hidden? In this Olio, we will look at mysticism not as a thing that is blocked from our knowing, but rather a dynamic that can be understood. We will seek to unveil the processes and traditions of mysticism in a way that connects to direct subjective experience. We will investigate consciousness through four lenses: mythological, psychological, religious, and artistic. This is only to serve as a ground; while theoretical models are useful and illuminating, ultimately the mind must be studied through rigorous observation of individual experience. Towards that end, readings and discussions will be supplemented with short, optional meditation exercises.


Session One: The Hero’s Path: Myth and Experience

In our first meeting, we will examine mythology as a method of understanding experience. Mythology springs from the human experience of being alive, and as such contains a richness and diversity equal to that of the world itself. Simply put, mythology asserts that there is a deeper world than that which meets the eye- an invisible plane that permeates and supports the world of the everyday.

Session Two: The Longing: Mysticism in World Religions

Our second meeting will continue the exploration of mystical traditions from Christianity, Hinduism and the Lakota Sioux tribe. Building on our new understanding of mythology, we will seek to expand our connection between written accounts on the part of individual mystics and direct subjective experience.

Session Three: Shadow Deities

Meeting three will go deep. We will confront the uncomfortable truth that mysticism involves fear and pain, often intense and very personal. Buddhism offers a viewpoint of these dark forces that may allow us space to understand them in a new way. By drawing on mystical traditions outlined in the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the meditation practices of Tara Brach, we will expand our discussion into direct subjective experience via a short guided meditation in the Sanctuary of St. Johns church where we will seek to find and understand some of the subconscious dark forces that keep us pinned down. We are digging in the dirt , which is not for everyone. Therefor the meditation section is optional.

Session 4: Creativity: A Treasure Wrapped in Rags and You Can Too

For our final meeting, we will seek to gain a new and resonant model of creativity. Any artist, musician, writer or poet will tell you that the feeling of creating, when it is good, is the experience of being a vessel for ideas and inspirations that feel like signals coming from another place. This connection to the human imagination is not limited to artists, rather it is a birthright for all of us, and is directly connected to the dynamics of mysticism. Using some of my paintings and projects, and discussing some of the problems in the studio, I will seek to show you how the lessons of mythology, meditative practice and painting come together to allow a greater access to the fountain within all of us.

Teacher: Michael Prettyman

Michael Prettyman is an artist and scholar of Eastern Religions. He holds a Masters Degree in Theology from the Harvard Divinity School and teaches on the subject of religion and the arts, Asian Religion and philosophy at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. He has been a visual artist for twenty years, with gallery shows in New York City, Hong Kong and Barcelona.


Venue: St John's Episcopal Church

What is Think Olio?


Think Olio is here to put the liberation back into the liberal arts.

Classically, the liberal arts, were the education considered essential for a free person to take an active part in civic life. To counter a humanities that has been institutionalized and dehumanized we infuse critical thinking, openness, playfulness, and compassion into our learning experience.

Read more about our mission, our story, and how we are doing this.

Scenius Membership

If Friday night lectures, museum field trips, and living room salons sound like your kind of thing, then you've found your people. We can't wait to welcome you to the Think Olio Scenius. More info


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Liaisons Host an Olio

Olio: A miscellaneous collection of art and literature.