My name is Rachel Anne Williams. Welcome to my blog! I am an author, writer, blogger, philosopher, and eclectic weirdo interested in the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda spiritual lineage, Advaita Vedanta, mysticism, contemplative Christianity, Buddhism, the Tarot, and spirituality of all varieties. I also have a strong interest in the Western philosophical tradition, Indian philosophy, consciousness studies, philosophy of mind, cognitive science, history, meditation, integrative medicine, yoga, metaphysics, Western Esotericism, the Perennial Philosophy, Jungian psychology, Nature worship, improvisational piano, phenomenology, the New Age (with appropriate skepticism), and ten million other things.
I am inspired by many different systems, worldviews, traditions, and methodologies. I tend to be a bit of a jack-of-all-trades in terms of my philosophical and spiritual influences.
Previous writings on this site broadly operated within the tradition of Western Civilization and the Western Esoteric Tradition with a focus on the Tarot (hence the domain name). Lately, however, I have found a deep sense of conviction in the Hindu philosophy of Advaita Vedanta rooted in the tradition of the Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.
My entrance into the tradition of the Ramakrishna Order has been through the teachings of Swami Sarvapriyananda at the Vedanta Society of NY, who I hold in the utmost esteem as an Advaita master of the highest order, someone of unparalleled erudition, analytical rigor, great humility, humor, wisdom, and deep spiritual realization.
It is through Swami Sarvapriyananda and his Youtube lectures that I was been fortunate to discover a true love for Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa and his divine teachings. I feel like I have been led to a well of unimaginable spiritual depth. I have just started this journey and I am lucky to live in St. Louis where there is the Vedanta Society of St. Louis and its esteemed Swamis.
It is a strange feeling for a white, Western, and, until recently, deeply agnostic eclectic seeker to develop these feelings of spiritual conviction for a Hindu spiritual tradition, but lately, I seem to have found within myself genuine faith in and devotion for Sri Ramakrishna as a true incarnation of the Divine, and it is breathing new life into my spiritual worldview and practice.
In my Christian upbringing, we were taught to expect the second coming of Christ. But perhaps we need not wait for such an incarnation to happen. Perhaps it has already happened in the spiritual life of Sri Ramakrishna, who taught above all the importance of love for God.
I was raised in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist church but abandoned my parent’s religion in favor of hardcore agnostic atheism and physicalism for many years in my twenties.
I was deeply impacted by Eastern philosophy in my early twenties, when I was at that time a strong atheist exploring psychedelics, the nature of consciousness, and yearning for a sense of meaning within the materialist worldview, stretching its limits to my fullest capacity while drowning in the darkest hours of my mental health.
I was especially impacted by the traditions of Taoism and Zen Buddhism. It is thanks to my study of Zen that I was able to spend a year in daily zazen meditation after a particularly bad mental health episode. That experience of meditative healing laid a psychological foundation that has ever since been a continual source of strength. In recent times, I have returned full circle to my studies of Eastern philosophy, this time expanding my focus to include not just Taoism and Zen, but other traditions of Buddhism as well as Hinduism, yoga (in its many varieties), and especially Advaita Vedanta in the tradition of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda.
Nevertheless, being a Westerner, I have spent most of my adult life studying the Western traditions of knowledge, which has led me to a deep fascination with the philosophical, religious, and mystical traditions of the West, including and especially the contemplative and mystical arm of Christian thought.
In my early thirties, I was drinking a beer at a local bar called the Fortune Teller that hosted Tarot readers. I didn’t believe in any of it, but as a student of psychology, I was interested in experiencing a Tarot reading to try to analyze how someone might rely on “cold reading” and other tricks to fool gullible people.
To my great surprise, however, the reading was quite meaningful to me, and I suddenly realized that the meaning and profundity of the Tarot comes, not from any sort of psychological trickery, but from containing a deep web of archetypal symbolism and imagery drawn from the fundamental constituents of the Western narrative.
I immediately went and bought a Tarot deck: the Rider-Waite-Smith. I was captivated. And the more regularly I used the Tarot, I began to experience a kind of strangeness in the sorts of coincidences becoming manifest in my random shuffling of the Tarot cards.
One day I experienced a synchronicity with the Tarot that was so sharp in its archetypal profundity that I immediately felt a sudden crack in the hard shell of my materialist/physicalist worldview.
To this day, that shell has remained cracked, and into it streams a subtle, ineffable Light that I can but gesture at but never pin down conclusively to my restless, seeking mind. But still, I occasionally catch glimpses of the Light and this sensation of unknowable mystery has sustained my interest in the esoteric and mystical traditions of history ever since.
Eventually, however, my exploration of occultism led me to esoteric Christianity, which, in turn, led me to the tradition of contemplative and mystical Christianity, especially contemplative prayer practices like the Jesus Prayer or Centering Prayer. This discovery of the mystical tradition of Christianity radically reoriented my spiritual orientation to the faith of my upbringing, which I had stridently rejected, such that I am now comfortable exploring mystical Christianity albeit I would not call myself a “Christian” per se.
I now take a more Vedantin approach insofar as I deeply respect Christianity, particularly contemplative Christianity, and see Christ as a true incarnation and enlightened master, but this is subsumed into a larger philosophical superstructure of Vedanta that makes the possibility of spirituality rationally possible and breathes life into it as a living, experiential reality.
Thus, although Christianity will always be my religious “homeland” due to my Western upbringing, I find myself far more comfortable approaching Christianity from the lens of Vedanta than vice versa. That is to say, rather than seeing Vedanta as an instance of Christian mystical universalism, I instead see Christianity as an instance of the larger and more spiritually significant universalism of Vedanta, particularly that of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda lineage, which resonates with me on a very deep level and has ignited a spiritual fire I never knew possible.
When I was in grad school for philosophy my academic specialty was consciousness studies, phenomenology, and the philosophy of cognitive science and that informs my approach to religion and spirituality.
Although my approach is inevitably biased as a modern, scientifically literate Westerner, I still try to ground my approach in methods and knowledge unique to comparative religion, which looks at cross-cultural differences and similarities of religious experience to understand the totality of human experience better.
My undergraduate degree is in Interdisciplinary Studies and that’s essentially how I still see myself: an interdisciplinary, independent scholar who aims to synthesize diverse areas of thought and experience and render them into plain English, with both an educational as well as a soteriological aim. I don’t just want to treat philosophy and religion as dry intellectual exercises. My ultimate goals are liberation from suffering, both for myself and everyone, with the humble acknowledgment that if but one person is positively impacted by my writings then my entire efforts are worth it.
One might say it’s impossible to make all these different systems I find interesting cohere into a single, logical system. And that’s true. But here I can only quote Walt Whitman’s poem, Song of Myself:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Other facts about me:
- I currently work in the healthcare tech industry as a product manager to pay my bills
- I live in St. Louis City, USA
- I am a published author of an essay collection on transgender feminism (Transgressive)
- I am transfeminine nonbinary and my pronouns are she/her
- I am an INTJ (and yes, I’m aware that MBTI is not “valid” as a personality metric; I still like it and find INTJ to be fairly accurate)
- I am an Aquarius Sun, Gemini Rising, and Leo Moon (I fit the “Aquarius” stereotype to a T)
- Some of my hobbies include music (I play freestyle improvisational solo piano), chess, reading, permaculture, and photography
- I am a bibliophile
- I am queer, poly and have a wonderful wife and another lovely partner.
- I have a Bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Central Florida with a focus in philosophy and psychology, and a minor in cognitive science. I have a Master’s Degree in Philosophy from Louisiana State University and achieved all-but-dissertation status at Washington University in St Louis in the Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology PhD program but ultimately dropped out in my sixth year due to disillusionment with the prospects of an academic career.
rachelannewilliams13 [at] gmail [dot] com
My Mastodon page: https://hachyderm.io/@rachelwilliams