This week we welcome Peter Bolland to the “Living in Creative Spirit” interviews. Peter is the department chair and professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Southwestern College; a columnist for Unity Magazine and the San Diego Troubadour; and an award-winning singer-songwriter.
Welcome Peter! Can you start off by sharing your inspirational story with us?
I can no longer tell where the line is between work and play, and I couldn’t be more thrilled about it. I’m very fortunate. I’m one of the lucky people who loves what I do, or rather, all the different things I do. I’m a philosophy professor and a department chair at a community college, and when I’m not doing that I write a column for Unity Magazine called “A to Zen,” and another column for the San Diego Troubadour called “Stages: Philosophy, Art, Culture, and Music.” Another long-term creative outlet for me has been music – I’m a singer-songwriter in the folk/Americana lane. I’ve recorded four albums of original songs with my band The Coyote Problem and as a solo artist, and played on many more as a studio musician. A quick trip to my website, www.peterbolland.com will put all of that into sharper focus.
I’m the youngest of three boys born to Dutch immigrants. I was born in West Paterson, New Jersey, but at the age of four my family moved out west. I grew up in Ventura, California, a quiet beach town an hour north of L.A.
In college I fell in love with philosophy and religious studies – it felt like I’d found my tribe. After I got my B.A. in religious studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara I bummed around for a while before I decided to get serious. I got married and my wife and I moved to San Diego so I could pursue a graduate degree in philosophy. The goal? I wanted to be a community college philosophy professor, a place where I could focus on a wide range of introductory courses in philosophy, humanities, and religious studies. I’ve been doing that for 26 years.
About ten years ago I got restless and started looking for ways to teach these ideas I’d come to love so much to a wider audience. Reverend Wendy Craig-Purcell at the Unity Center in San Diego gave me a chance to do just that, and I began teaching various courses there in world religions and practical spirituality. It went over well. Soon I expanded to other venues like the Osher Institute in the College of Extended Studies at San Diego State University and San Diego Oasis. In the meantime, Reverend Wendy and other New Thought ministers throughout San Diego began to call and offer me Sunday morning slots when they needed time away. Who knew crazy old me would one day be giving Sunday morning sermons. But I loved it.
One opportunity led to another. Like Emerson said, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” The idea was hatched to pair up Wendy Craig-Purcell and Deepak Chopra for a three-hour television series to be taped in the chapel at the Unity Center called “Jesus and the Awakening to God Consciousness, based on Chopra’s then-new book, The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore. Wendy brought me in as a writer for the series, and I worked closely with her, Reverend Will Newson, and Deepak Chopra to turn the book into six thirty-minute television segments. That’s when I got the television bug.
At the Osher Institute I worked with Kathi Diamant, a long-time San Diego television host with decades in the business. She did a lot of work at our local PBS affiliate, KPBS, housed right next door to the Osher Institute on the campus of SDSU. One day I said to her, “I want to be on television.” She looked at me and without skipping a beat said, “Come down to the studio tonight – I’m taping a segment for an upcoming pledge break. I’ll introduce you to the producer.” After an on-camera test I got the job. Soon I was hosting live pledge breaks alongside Kathi, reading off a teleprompter and making it sound like I wasn’t reading. I got pretty good at it. It was fun!
The latest addition to my creative work has been the bi-monthly Satsangs I lead on the first and third Thursday of every month. These are hour-long guided meditation sessions, including a segment of spiritual inquiry and dialogue. At first it was a stretch. Hanging your shingle as a “spiritual teacher” took an extra dab of courage. But when your long-time students begin to refer to you as that, and well, like they say, if the shoe fits… Now, two years later, we’ve built up a beautiful community of regulars, as well as a steady flow of newcomers, and the benefits of meditation are now moving out in ever-widening circles.
I meditate every morning, and this has been an essential part of my spiritual and creative life. It is through my meditation experience and my decades of spiritual study that I’ve come to realize a simply and ancient truth – that all work is service. If I simply prepare, show up in the consciousness of service, and let go of the outcome, great things almost always happen. If you’re not working hard, your off-base. But if you’re struggling, you’re also off base. Hard work and struggling are not the same thing. There must always be renunciation at the heart of your work, not egoic control. As my dear friend and Healing Touch master Anne Day says, “Allow it to be easy.” And like Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.” When it starts getting heavy and chewing you up, you know you’re moving away from the truth, not toward it.
In the end, I see all my various projects as part of one integrated whole. Whether I’m writing a poem, a song, a script, an essay, a lecture, a sermon, or a book chapter I’m always doing the basic same thing. Whether I’m on stage to sing and play guitar, give a sermon, teach a class, or lead a satsang, I start with three questions: What do they need? Where are they suffering? How can I make their load lighter? And then I get to work.
I always take the work seriously, but I never take myself too seriously. That way I remain free and easy. Once you start believing your own publicity, you’re screwed. Laugh, always laugh at yourself. Shake off your fears. Fears are just your ego trying to control the future, or the events around you. As Marcus Aurelius and the other Stoics remind us, you’re in control of almost nothing but your own thoughts. Make your work an offering on the altar of life. Let your work be a sacred sacrifice. And what good is an offering if you don’t let go of it? Release it. Let it go where it’s going to go. And get onto the next thing, playfully, lovingly, and reverently.
What is your “next thing,” that you are currently working on?
I’m currently in the final phases of finishing my book, ten years in the making, called The Seven Stone Path: An Everyday Journey to Wisdom. It’s a book about wisdom – what is it, and why do we need it? The manuscript is done. I’m self-publishing through Balboa Press, and am working with my rep there on formatting, design, and other late-stage touches. I hope to have it out by the end of the year. In the meantime, you can visit my blog “Thinking Through” where I gather all of my essays, at www.peterbolland.blogspot.com
What tip would you give readers to help them nurture their Creative Spirit?
A creator is an alchemist who turns their suffering into gold. Feel your feelings fully, but don’t stay stuck in them. Constantly offer your work in the consciousness of service, no matter what kind of work you do. When you work this way you open channels through which pours the primal, sacred energy from which we and all things come. And keep reading. Read everything. Dumb novels, great novels, poetry, ancient myths, lots and lots of non-fiction – whatever you can lay your hands on. When you read widely and well you open portals to the best humanity has to offer. The One Story keeps presenting itself to you over and over again, and then suddenly you see your own story as the One Story – you awaken to what Joseph Campbell taught many, many years ago, that “Each of us is the hero of our own lives.” Then, once you really, truly begin following your bliss, nothing can stop you. And all the lines between your work and your play dissolve.
Where can readers learn more about you and your work?
My website: www.peterbolland.com
Thank you Peter! Let us end our conversation with a few fun questions.
What is one of your favorite quotes?
“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
What is one book that has inspired you?
The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
Do you have a favorite flavor of ice-cream?
Slightly melted vanilla with homemade strawberry compote all over it.
If you were a super hero what would your name and super power be?
I don’t do spandex. My heroes are real people.
Join us next week on “Living In Creative Spirit” for an inspiring look into the creative life of artist Jenny Hahn. Jenny Hahn, BFA, is a professional artist and workshop facilitator who loves to help others tap their creativity using painting as a tool for mindfulness and self-discovery. She teaches workshops through Unity Arts Ministry; is cofounder of Creative Nectar Studio–A safe haven for creative self-discovery–and a supporting member of the Unity Artist Coalition at Unity Village.
“Living In Creative Spirit,” is an online interview series featuring creative individuals who blend spirituality and creativity in their lives and work. Summer session interviews are published weekly on Monday at 12:00 CT. This series is presented by Unity Arts Ministry, a non-profit 501 (c)(3) organization dedicated to inspiring personal growth, healing and transformation through spiritual enrichment and creative expression.
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