Interview with Jessica Rzeszewski

Nimue Brown

I’ve never followed a Shamanic path, but I’ve been reading books about Shamanism for most of my adult life. For me, it comes from a fascination with the folk traditions, teaching stories and magical understandings of the peoples of this world. I am constantly amazed by the sheer diversity out there. For me this interview with Jessica Rzeszewski, author of Carry The Rock – An Apprentice Journey, was a great opportunity to find out more about a form of Shamanism I knew nothing about.

Nimue: Your book is called ‘Carry the Rock’ – what’s the story or the significance behind that title?

Jessica Rzeszewski

Jessica: The title comes from a saying that drives the development throughout the narrative: “Carry the rock, not the weight of the rock.”  The woman I studied with introduced the saying to the group of apprentices studying with her.  Throughout the story of my apprenticeship with her I was learning about how many assumptions and presuppositions I placed in a teacher and student relationship and how the weight of those beliefs either improve or impede that relationship.

Nimue: I gather you apprenticed to a Toltec shaman. What drew you to that particular tradition?

Jessica: The Nagual (Shaman from a Toltec perspective) would not have defined herself as a pure “Toltec shaman”, meaning that she drew upon several disciplines to inspire her own teachings even though at the time I studied with her she had written several books with “Toltec” in the title.  When I studied with her I had come from a rather heavy background dose of reading and studying Carlos Castaneda and his teachings were the foundation for my own practice.  Those were the years of the “Toltec” philosophy being spread outwards from his lineage alone and exploding with new names upon the shaman landscape.  The Nagual herself had been an apprentice of Don Miguel Ruiz.

For me, this was part of the learning experience: delving into belief systems that had different language and syntax and determining for myself what was a good fit for me.  Unless an initiate or apprentice absorbs one belief system without question, (which is neither good nor bad, per se) a foundational task for the apprentice is to determine the depth of his acceptance and surrender to the belief system being taught.  This would seem to be an easy thing (either believe or not) but it can readily thrust the apprentice into a quandary: accept the teachings hook, line, and sinker or question and adopt what works for the individual.  My experience was the latter and I hadn’t seen it coming because I believed that we, the Nagual and myself, were on the same page.  I didn’t realize the strength of my own devotion to a former belief system and the struggle in letting go and adopting another one. I was the apprentice that asked too many “whys”!

Nimue: How important is that surrender, in spiritual terms? Can a person be spiritual without wholly surrendering? Is there room for a less absolute relationship with belief, do you think?

Jessica: For me, the surrender to a chosen system, to it’s words and beliefs, to it’s concepts and experiences, is everything.  You cannot expect to engage fully with any system unless you wholeheartedly surrender to it.  At least, that’s been my experience.  Absolute?  Absolutely.  Can a person reap some benefit from partial surrender?  Sure.  I maintain ‘relative’ health by eating a vegetarian diet.  Is my health compromised when I eat fresh fish and a boiled egg once in a while?  ‘Relative’ then enters my experience.  For me to gain optimally from any system calls for a total surrender to the beliefs of that system while also recognizing that holding a rigid, black and white stance serves neither me nor the system in the end.  Nothing like a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answer, right?

Nimue: Are there any easily expressed features that make Toltec philosophy stand out from other systems of thought?

Jessica: There is an irony for me in answering this question: “Are there any easily expressed features that make Toltec philosophy stand out from other systems of thought?” My experience has been that any system of thought has its own linguistic structure that requires the apprentice to be familiar with the dictates of that structure.  The expectation is that the apprentice will follow the structure in order to successfully follow that discipline.  That’s easy to grasp: know the ‘rules’ and follow them for best results.  But an easily expressed feature within Toltec philosophy that drew me to the system from the beginning was the belief and practice of perceptual freedom.  The practice of opening perception frees one from the dictates of following that same system!

The Toltec experience of perceptual freedom can also be expressed in the form of a Bible verse: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”  You grasp the system only for as long as it takes to let it go!  Perceptual freedom gives fluidity in thought and form in order to move beyond that same thought and form.  Other systems of thought teach and practice this same perceptual freedom but it was the Toltec system with its emphasis on accessing different realities within dreaming states that caught my attention early on.

You can find out more about Jessica D. Rzeszewski via her website and blog Seeing through the Guru – and there’s more about Carry The Rock at Moon Books.

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