The Bliss Blog

The Bliss Blog

Creative Conscience: An Interview With Ilanna Sharon Mandel



Artist, writer and creative soul Ilanna Sharon Mandel finds in each day an opportunity to use her gifts and talents for the betterment of the planet. Whether it is photographing  nature,  writing about the concept of tikkun olam (the repair of the world), or the pain of  her father’s passing,  her work draws the observer or reader in and offers them a view into scenes that may otherwise have ‘gone unseen’. She lives by the quote from Rabbi Hillel “If I am not for me then who will be for me, But if I am only for myself then who am I; and if not now, when? “


How do you live your Bliss?

The way I live my Bliss is by connecting with others – people I care about and new people I love to meet and by following my creative heart.  When I’m being creative I’m in bliss. And when I connect with people I truly care about I’m in bliss.


Although it may be difficult to label, how do you define your artistry?

Writing, photography, singing and using it to raise awareness around issues of social justice.

Had you been creative as a child, or did this come to you later in life?

As a child I was very involved with music and theatre.

As a photographer, how do you see beyond the physical image to the essence behind it and then translate it to the viewer?


When I’m taking a photograph I’m generally very involved with the subject and not thinking about translating it to the viewer.  That comes later when I look at the photographs, and then I try to see what others might see or experience in the photograph.

What in particular about nature draws you to it?

I can only say this – it feels like home.

How did you develop your social conscience?

I owe a lot of that to my late father’s influence and my early work in the disability rights field.  In that field I met many wonderful people with whom I still call friends today.  They have taught me much about social justice, equality and human rights.

Although anyone who looks at your work will have their own perception, is there something you would like them to feel?


My hope is that they find something in each photograph that touches them in their own way.

Every artist I know has a dream about what their work can do out in the world. What is yours?

I dream big!  I would like to have my novels and poetry published.  I would like to exhibit my photography around the world.  For me, my writing and my photographs speak volumes and I truly hope people around the world will want to listen.  But, I should be honest.  I dream of being interviewed on television and radio and that these interviews do me and my work justice.  I hope that my work can one day make a positive influence in the world.  I also dream of working in the documentary genre one day.

Photo: more beauty



Fathers with Cancer

I stood by as you lied to the doctor about your true weight

Hoping it might mean something other than a death sentence

I shook as you sat with me

You knew this was the end

Still you took my hand

Quietly begged me to never give up on love

Telling me through silver tears that I was the best daughter I could be

Asking me if I would sit by you if your humanity began to slip away

Would I be with you if you chose to end your life

Would I help you take your last breath

Would I stay as you drifted away


Your corporeal body soon to be a shroud for the Kingdom of Heaven

Or would I beg you to stay no matter the consequences

Just to have my father here with me – if only for a few more minutes


Are You In Love?

Love is a birthing and sustaining Force, the impetus for all creation, the companion on the life path that we all traverse. We are taught that it looks a certain way and reflects particular types of relationships. It is my contention that it is the peanut butter and jelly on whole grain bread of existence. Simple, stick to the ribs, nourishing, doesn’t need to be fancy to be appreciated. It has long fascinated me since I was born into a family where it was a given. I never questioned or doubted that I was loved. A small immediate family and large extended family, we swam in ‘ love soup’.  Not that I ever took it for granted, but accepted it as my birthright. Interesting the trajectory my life took, teaching people that it is their birthright too. Sometimes they resist that truth. Sometimes I resist that truth and my cave thoughts (the dark, shadowy ones that echo against damp drippy walls) come roaring out.


Yesterday this train of thought ran riotously down the tracks:

“Grateful for friends who mirror and express what I most need to hear. Coming face to face with gremlins from the past who have been sneaking up on me, making snarly faces, attempting to scare me away from what I most want, telling me that it means sacrificing emotional safety and who I am to be loved  and accepted. Learning that I have created this whole elaborate system of pseudo-protection with the illusion of security, when mostly what it does is keep me separate and holds the relationship I desire at bay. Easier to be on the outside as a therapist who works with couples, a minister who marries people, a writer who pens stuff about relationships and a facilitator of workshops that touch on the subject than immerse in the messy mucky sometimes shadowy stuff that come along with this human experience. Ooooppppsss, I just told on myself.”
Two of my friends called me out about these thoughts and feelings last night and reminded me to be authentic, self compassionate and accepting of all aspects of myself, rather than being judge, jury and jailer. I have been sitting with it all day today, as I watched my son and his girlfriend banter and enjoy each others’ company. I pondered it as I brought to mind the two celebrations of love I witnessed this weekend; one a party for two friends who had gotten married on Maui in
September and the other a wedding I officiated Christmas Eve for a friend I have known almost 12 years who has been with her husband 13 years and they took the leap this year.
During the first one, Patti and Michael re-enacted some of the ceremony and were asked questions about whether they would cause each other pain and push each others’ buttons, driving each other crazy. The answer was yes to each query, and yet would not be done intentionally. In an effort to avoid those inevitable aspects of human relationships, I have remained somewhat blissfully single even as my heart and soul have sent out invitations for the partner with whom I want to share my
 life. How can this person show up if the welcome mat hasn’t fully been out? Those limiting, play it safe thoughts have been keeping it covered with crunchy leaves;  the ones that tell me I can’t have it all….the relationship AND the creative work that nourishes me. A year and some months ago, a psychic told me that my relationship will be with my Muse. My question was whether she meant that this person will also be my creative inspiration or whether the creative force itself will
 be my partner. She never answered it, but thus far, I have sensed it was the latter. When my now 25 year old son Adama was a little boy and was asked to choose between two flavors of ice cream, he said he would have “Both of each.”  I would like that too, please.
My mother used to check in with me daily via phone,  (now she does it on the Spiritual hotline) since she lived in Ft. Lauderdale and I am in the Philly area. She would sometimes ask “How’s your love life?” to which I would respond, “Great!  I love life.”  She would then laugh and say “You know what I mean.” In this year, it is my intention to embrace love in all forms, including that shared with the partner for whom I have been preparing as the One has been preparing for me.
Couldn’t decide which song to choose….so I choose both of each: Love Song-Elton John Love-John Lennon


The Gift That Keeps On Giving

As we are immersed in holiday time, many folks are still scrambling to think of the perfect gift to give to family and friends. Colorful wrappings and ribbons that have already or will adorn boxes and bags, will be torn and strewn and then scooped up and tossed. This year instead of focusing on presents, the best gift to offer yourself and those you love, is your presence. I remember last year, sharing that same message, but this year it has even greater poignance. 2012 has been the year of Superstorm Sandy, a contentious election and the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut and the (as she rolls her eyes) apparently erroneous belief that the end of the Mayan Calendar meant the end of the world.  Not for a moment, did I think it was more than “the end of the world as we knew it”. At such times, we step up and take care of each other.  I vote for that,  all year long, how about you?


For such a long long time, I have found myself a member of  many overlapping soul circles, some in my immediate locale; the Philly area and others scattered world wide. In the past few weeks, I have been embraced literally and figuratively  by sweet souls in my home at the Annual Latke Party last weekend, as well as a Solstice gathering on Friday night at which we placed what it is we wanted to release from this past year into the Yule Log and then burned it. My friend Deva Troy says each year that the log literally feels heavier by the time it gets passed by each of us (about 40 people). Last night, I ventured 3 1/2 hours southward to visit Patti and Michael in Gaithersburg, MD who got married in Hawaii in September and since that ceremony was only attended by their immediate family, this was an opportunity for their family of choice to join together to celebrate both their marriage and the Solstice in our typical fashion. Alot of hugs, cuddles, snuggles, laughter and love were present in this house that we were all blessing with our presence. It had been a few years since I had gotten together with some and it felt like coming home. Time melted away as light hearted bantering ensued well into the wee hours. My head touched the pillow at 2:52 a.m. and blessedly I slept until 11:00 a.m. followed by brunch that included leftovers from the festivities. More laughter, love and snuggles ensued…how much of that can one woman stand?


When I consider my relationships, I feel enduringly blessed, especially when I remember that there was a time when these dear souls weren’t even on my radar screen. Even if we don’t see each other often, there is a comfort in knowing that they are out there, doing their life as I am, mine. Their friendship is a gift that keeps on giving. For that I am eternally grateful.



One of my favorite unconventional holiday songs  Christmas in the Ashram-Tom Prasado Rao and Cary Cooper


Share Love Now


A few days ago, this beautiful image came across my computer screen. I was drawn to it for many reasons. The first thing I noticed was that it reminded me of a shaddai  or hamsa (Hand of God) which is said to be sacred in Jewish, Islamic and Pagan traditions. Add to it, the ‘mudra’ of a peace sign and the mantra ‘share love now’ and it is the perfect trifecta.  When I learned what its purpose was, I jumped on board. It represents an invitation from a group of intrepid peace mongers, planetary lovers and world healers to join together with everyone around the third rock from the sun and make a huge difference. What if, in every precious NOW, you could share love, in spoken, written and action form? What if you could infuse your own heart, mind and body with that essence and energy so that even the most virulent fear couldn’t penetrate it, the most obnoxious monkey mind inner critic thought would just bounce off of you like a super-ball? Considering that puts a grin on my just woken up sleepy morning face. Share Love Now encourages (as a start at least) for folks to be in love-mode for 12/21-23.


Today is 12/21/12; a day drenched in meaning for so many reasons. It is the ‘end’ of the Mayan calendar, the meaning of which I and most others in my circles choose to see as a portent of peace and positive transformation rather than a time of crisis and cataclysm. It is 7:22 a.m. est here in the Philadelphia, PA area and obviously since I am still here to write about this, the world has not ended. Perhaps ‘the world as we know it’ has indeed taken a turn into something more fulfilling and soul satisfying. The question is, what will we do with this newly birthed opportunity?  I choose to love it into maturity with my thoughts, words and deeds.

It is also the Winter Solstice, bringing with it, the newly dawning Light. Tonight, as I have for many years, I will sit in the living room of my friends Deva and Stan Troy and other member of overlapping soul circles, many of whom are part of a group called PeaceWeavers. Their focus is healing and sustainability for the planet. We will drum, pray, sing, chant, let go of stuff from this year,  set intention for the new year and share pot luck delights.


For me, personally, it honors the passing of my husband Michael who died 12/21/98 from Hepatitis C after a 6 year dance with the disease. It wasn’t always graceful, but always Grace-filled. Fourteen years ago today,  I was launched into a new life that at 40, I had not anticipated; that of being a widowed mother of a then 11 year old son. Uncertain of what was to emerge from the pain and fear, the loss and grief, the letting go of the familiar, I entered into an existence, that now  delights and enthralls me. I had transitioned from being a magazine publisher and  nursing home social worker, to becoming a free-lance journalist,  interfaith minister, author, transformational speaker and organ donor educator; since Michael died while awaiting a liver transplant. I have drawn into my life, too numerous to count, sweet souls that I would not likely have met otherwise. I have welcomed opportunities to be a Love Ambassador each day and for that in particular, I am incredibly grateful.



From the Share Love Now website:

MISSION POSSIBLE:  Create a Better World Together

Your mission…create a viral, self-organizing, globally coordinated Movement of Love & Solutions in Action. Proceed carefully: This movement is highly likely to cause chain results of positive and radical transformations.

Should YOU choose to accept this mission….read on.

The website is filled with all kinds of ideas for ‘spreadin’ the luv’, from creating events or attending those already in place that celebrate love, to blogging about things that you observe or do in that realm. Check it out.



It is my certainty that love is the Force that keeps this pretty planet spinning through space. This Pretty Planet-Tom Chapin

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