Interview with Drew Jacob, the Rogue Priest

Drew Jacob is traveling 8,000 miles by bicycle and foot for spiritual practice, seeking out challenges, and chasing his bliss. He started at the source of the Mississippi and bicycled 1,900 miles to New Orleans, where he's briefly practing the Hatian Vodou religion. From here, he plans to continue on to South America.

Originally raised Catholic until converting to polytheism at age 14, Jacob is a polytheistic priest and blogger about Celtic gods. I took notice of him when I was surfing the web on the topic of Joseph Campbell, and found a lengthy and well thought-out blog post about why he doesn't like Joseph Campbell. Drew's a busy guy, but he was good enough to squeeze in an email correspondence.

Do you feel there's intrinsic value in suffering?

No! Many people find meaning and lessons in their suffering, but we find meaning in many places. I think that challenging ourselves, and entering struggles willingly, is a great way to learn about yourself without going through terrible suffering. But sometimes the world brings us suffering we never asked for, never even imagined, and it's horrible. We should all work to hold each other up and make life as good for each other as possible. Life is not about suffering, and neither is spirituality.

How can we appreciate words like "heroic" and "adventure" as essential
things to aspire to without falling into connotative thinking?

Question ourselves. I think many people find the heroic tropes meaningful - a hero with a sword, a knight rescuing a princess. But why? What about an accountant who refuses to falsify a document? Or the first female firefighter? Heroism is about taking a risk to help others. Adventure is about challenging your limits. Most of us will never do either of these things the way they look in the stories. But we have chances to do them in our own ways every single day.

What room is there for sexuality in the life of an evolved modern human seeking transcendence?

It's a personal choice. I think I understand why you're asking this question - some spiritual paths demand sexual abstinence. And a lot of people from my generation would belittle that, but it has value. Sex, love, lust, and romance are powerful drives that take a lot of attention and time. For priests or monks who give them up, it can allow a lot of mental space to focus on spiritual practice and the needs of others - if they do it for the right reasons.

But that's not me. I'm a priest and I fuck. I'd rather engage my sexuality as part of my search to understand myself. Hopefully I conduct myself in a way that leaves both my partner, and me, happier and more fulfilled in life than we were before.

Humans live on a continuum. On one side is thinking, individualism, and planning ahead. On the other side is feeling, group mentality, and living in the moment. Presume for a moment that this is not a false dichotomy. Where on this continuum, for the sake of argument, should we aspire to be?

Trick question, and you know it.

[note: after a few emails back and forth on this point, Drew directed me to The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science, which ultimately led me to a fairly important document, Descartes' Error and the Future of Human Life by Antonio R. Damasio from Scientific American, Oct. 1994.]

Another continuum is comfort vs adventure. You've obviously chosen adventure over comfort. Can you see yourself ever going back? What moments of relative passivity do you "enjoy" these days. And do you actually enjoy them?

Now this is a real choice. You're very right. Adventure always, always means discomfort. It means there will be a time when you are challenged so far beyond your abilities that you are absolutely sure you can't make it. All you'll want is to run, to quit. And you're signing up for this voluntarily the moment to you decide to embark on an adventure of any kind. Because adventure is challenge.

But that doesn't mean you'll never have comfort.

As an example, my journey has left me camping in thunderstorms, swaying in the wind, shivering in the cold, stumbling with heatstroke, alone with fever, bicycling beside semi's, broken down on the side of the road, penniless, hungry, exhausted, with sore knees and insect bites ans thorns. But those were rare experiences in a mix of joy and hardship. I also napped in the sun, drank rum with new friends, made love to wonderful women, learned from people twice my age, relaxed in walled gardens and saw firsthand the tremendous kindness of human beings. Every day was an honor.

And I think that is what adventure truly brings us. Not just suffering, and not just joy, but a true appreciation of how strong we are in our own right, and how beautiful the world is, regardless of suffering and joy. Life is sufficient in itself. To love the world with all its faults, that is the adventurer's enlightenment.

For myself, the moments I enjoy are simple things. The way the sun hits the bricks in evening, the color of the sky, the taste of good coffee on a cold morning. The road taught me to cherish little moments of pleasure. And yes, I do enjoy them!

Does "pop culture" play any role beyond "bread and circuses"? Is there
an essential difference between art and entertainment? What
experiences of "art" have you taken in on the road? Have you enjoyed
any "entertainment?"

I don't look down on pop culture. From a capitalist perspective, yes it's mass-produced to rope us in. But from a humanist perspective, people find joy in these viral videos and pop beats and magazine images. And it's a good moment in history to soak in pop culture, because we have the tools to sample, remix, and repurpose culture almost without limit. Very few people passively consume anymoe. Part of consuming is creating now, and media is two-way. Multi-way. Not everyone takes advantage of this, but we are all our own anthropologists.

Does travel "change the mind?"Absolutely. To be clear: I've mediated for 12 years, and I've traveled for 1 year, and travel is the most powerful tool for changing the mind that I've yet to encounter.

On your blog, you said, "This adventure is the beta test. Does travel change the mind? Does adventure expand personal limits? Does living for high ideals, following your purpose, and doing amazing things lead to a life of bravery and joy—and inspiring others?" So far... Do they?

Living this way has brought me bravery, but also sometimes fear. It's a unique kind of fear. The fear or awe you have of your own path when you realize just how much more you can do than you ever thought possible.

Inspiring others, hmmm. I never feel very inspiring. Which means I'm even more shocked when people tell me how I inspire them. It's very humbling. I haven't done anything special or exceptional, I've just refused to let go of my dreams. And it does inspire other people. The more of us who do this, the more moments of bravery and confidence our friends will have, and they too will set out to make changes in their lives.

Joy. No one can guarantee joy. But you can find it even in the struggle. In that regard, yes. The freedom and the rawness of the road will fill you with a buzzing joy that wells up inside you when you least expect it. You will fall in love with life herself.

1 comment:

Rua Lupa said...

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant:
if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.
- Anne Bradstreet