Interview with Layla Saad
by Sarah Gottesdiener·
I was overjoyed when Layla Saad, an incredible writer, a powerful leader, and business owner of Wild Mystic Women, agreed to write for the very last edition of the Many Moons Workbook. Layla is one of those figures where it is hard to even begin to find language for what she does. She centers BIPOC women in her work unapologetically. She clearly and patiently explains the violence that pervades much of spiritual white women's behaviors—read this piece now, for a start, and then read all of her work.
She is a writer, a courageous leader, a teacher, a mother, and an example for what the current face of feminist spirituality must look like. Her words are beautiful and clear, just like her heart. Layla answered some questions about self-care, value systems, decolonizing our spiritual practice, and of course, the Moon.
Hi Layla! You are a writer, a business owner, a coach, a teacher, and a leader. What are the baseline spiritual tenants, ethos, or belief systems that keep you focused and grounded as you do your work?
There are a number of baseline spiritual tenants that have always focused and grounded me no matter what work I was doing. These tenants are rooted in both my religious beliefs as a Muslim, and my spiritual beliefs as a mystic.
However the major spiritual tenant that guides me is TRUTH. Throughout the years I’ve described this tenant in other ways such as ‘integrity’, ‘honesty’, ‘authenticity’ or ‘being in alignment’. Truthfulness is a core characteristic in Islam that Muslims are encouraged to strive towards. To be open, transparent and honest in your words and actions is of the utmost importance. I also think that as a Sagittarius, this is something that comes very naturally to me. I practice truthfulness in my work by asking myself questions like: Am I being in integrity when I write like this? Does this work feel like an honest expression of my truth? Does this business decision feel in alignment for me? Do these words feel like my truthiest truth?
I practice truthfulness in my personal life by prioritizing internal truth-telling. That is, I make as much space as I can for internal reflection, meditation and contemplation. In the tarot, I resonate deeply with the High Priestess and Hermit cards. I am always looking to get to the core of myself and to deeper universal truths. I want to understand why I do the things I do - what drives my behaviour? And how can I go beyond my own inner masks, wounds and fears to get to the core of my being? I am very much an internal voyager - seeking out inner truths and then sharing them with the world (through my writing) as a way of offering up something of value that we might all learn from.
TRUTH is such a core part of who I am that I cannot imagine living or working without this spiritual tenant.
You do work for BIPOC that is consciously dismantling white supremacy and the patriarchy. In your own work, you offer many, many tools for people to take on their own conditioning, their own racism, or internalized racism. What is one simple way that we can begin to start decolonizing our spiritual practices?
One simple way to start decolonizing our spiritual practices is to begin to apply critical thinking to our spiritual practices. Something that I have found really lacking in the spiritual community is a practice of critical thinking. It feels like with the reclamation of mysticism, magic and mystery there is now a real aversion to logic, questioning and critique. So many of us in the spiritual community have become so enamoured with trying out new and ‘exotic’ spiritual practices from other cultures that we do not take the time out to really consider what this means in the context of colonisation and white supremacy. We do not take the time to study the historical, social and political facets of what it means to appropriate spiritual practices from other cultures - especially in the context of white people culturally appropriating spiritual traditions from black and brown cultures. I have had conversations with many white people who believe they should be able to practice (or teach) spiritual practices from black and brown cultures simply because… they want to. That is spiritual colonization in a nutshell. Spiritual colonization may not be about taking physical land, but it is about taking the essence of a people - its’ spiritual traditions - simply because you want to, while discarding the people themselves.
“You can't see us in this [spiritual] industry in terms of actual representation and inclusivity. But you can see the evidence of us: spiritual white teachers with Hindu names; photo shoots with white sage, dreamcatchers and sacred feathers; rituals and practices from non-white cultures being primarily lead by white people; claims of being black and brown healers in their past lives, etc. They want our practices, traditions, teachings and wisdom. But they do not want us.”
To begin to decolonize your spiritual practice, ask yourself questions critical thinking questions like:
• What is the socio-political context of the relationship between my culture and the culture whose spiritual practices I am practicing? Is there a difference between myself and them when it comes to race privilege and power dynamics? Has there been a history of colonization, genocide, racism or discrimination? Have I fully studied these histories and do I understand the impact of them today?
• Do the teachers who taught me these spiritual practices come from the culture whose practices they are teaching? If not, did they study from someone who belongs to that culture? Do my teachers uplift, elevate, promote and pay reverence to the brown or black teachers they learned from? If not, why not? And what does this say about privilege and power dynamics?
• Do I have real relationships with people who belong to the culture whose spiritual traditions I am practicing? Do I understand the lived experiences of those people and how systemic oppression may be affecting them? Do I advocate for them when it comes to racism, discrimination or oppression?
• Why do I prefer appropriating the spiritual traditions of a brown or black culture, than searching out my own spiritual traditions? What spiritual traditions does my own lineage and culture have for me?
These questions are a place to begin. The important thing I want to encourage all people to do is get to the core, to the truth, of what their cultural traditions hold for them, and why many people would rather look outside of what they already have than honour what is already theirs. Lastly, decolonizing spirituality means accepting and understanding one’s privilege, and committing oneself to the work of anti-racism. Spiritual practice without a dedicated practice to anti-racism is modern colonization (and therefore oppression) waiting to happen.
For your piece in Many Moons, you wrote about the importance of rest and self-care. You speak as the Moon, and tell the reader the importance of listening to and honoring yourself, in an attempt towards wholeness. Where in your own life, recently, or a long time ago, did you have to integrate honoring yourself more, in order to gather your wholeness, in a more focused way? What did that process look like?
I am actually currently in a period of drawing inwards to in order to integrate and recalibrate. This is ironic considering my work is growing at a faster rate than it ever has before, my book proposal is currently being reviewed by various publishing houses and I have never been more visible than I am now. However, it is exactly because of this that I am drawing inwards. Anytime I see myself about to transition into a new level, I do the counterintuitive thing - I draw inwards. I do this to make sure that when I do move into the next level I am grounded, focused, clear, in alignment and in my truth. I also take this time to do deeper healing work because I know that the further out into the world we go, the deeper inwards we have to go. New levels of leadership, impact and visibility bring up new levels of fears, wounds and hidden spots. I take a pre-emptive and pro-active approach to my journey by doing the inner work first, so that I can do the outer work from a more grounded place. It is easy when our work is growing quickly to get swept off our feet by the rollercoaster ride. The thing to remember however is that while we may not always be able to control the outer circumstances around us, we can control how we are going to approach them. That is what drawing inwards allows us to do.
My rest and self-care process is organic and intuitively led, however it often involves a few key facets: resting as often as I need to (including making space for dreamwork), working with a mentor or spiritual healer, lots of thinking time, lots of reading, taking a break from social media, canceling or postponing as many appointments and commitments as possible, etc.
What is your current favorite Moon phase?
Waning moon to dark moon phase is my favourite. As you can probably tell, I’m much more of a shadowworker than a lightworker. And my name ‘Layla’ means ‘night’ in Arabic. I feel most comfortable, most myself when the moon is dark.
What are a couple of things that you are excited about currently? Why?
At the moment I’m really excited about the fictional Earthseed spiritual system that I have been reading about in Octavia Butler’s Parable series (Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents). The books, which are set in a dystopian USA in the 2020s onward chronicle the life of the protagonist and eventual spiritual leader, Lauren Oya Olamina - a young black woman who suffers from a syndrome called hyperempathy which causes her to feel any physical pain she witnesses. Throughout the books, Lauren works hard establish a new belief system called Earthseed, the verses of which she channels throughout the books and eventually authors in a book called Earthseed: The Books of the Living.
It is the third Earthseed verse that has me really excited right now. The third verse states:
The Destiny of Earthseed
Is to take root among the stars.
It is to live and to thrive
On new earths.
It is to become new beings
And to consider new questions.
It is to leap into the heavens
Again and again.
It is to explore the vastness
It is to explore the vastness
In the books, Lauren talks about ‘taking root among the stars’ as a literal journey into our outer space. The context that I am viewing this from however, is the necessity for us as a human species to go beyond what we have been before, so that we can create a new world that does not include systemic oppression or what bell hooks calls ‘white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’. We don’t know what a world without these systems looks like. But like Lauren I believe that in order to create such a world, we will need to ‘become new beings, consider new questions, leap into the heavens, explore the vastness of heaven, and explore the vastness of ourselves’. That work is for us all to do both individually and collectively. And it is something that I am called to devote my life’s work to.
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