Last month, I had one of the best weeks of my life on an “SDI Journey” which took place in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The facilitators, Matt Whitney and I (Jeanette Banashak), in addition to sacred musician, Simon de Voil, spent a week forest bathing with an amazing group from North America and Europe. The ages of participants were vast as were their worldviews, stories, and questions.
Throughout the week, we experienced winter, spring, and summer weather, and through the variety of temperatures, we slowly, gently, and mindfully walked and built relationships and fostered reciprocity with the more than human world. As we attuned to nature in embodied ways, we nurtured our ecological identities and considered our pursuits of environmental justice. In the mornings, we accessed our senses, considered the movement within the forest, crossed thresholds, befriended trees, played in a babbling brook, sat in order to simply be, and connected our heart-minds with the natural environment. During the afternoons and evenings, we integrated our experiences through engagement in nature-themed creative endeavors, hikes through the mountains, rest, “birdsong and poetry vespers” (singing, silence, and poetry readings), and processing our days in small groups. One participant said that they would never walk in the forest the same way again. We heard from many others who said the same thing.
What a joy and honor to with-ness the human participants showing up for nature as well as each other: we were intentional about “learning to experience nature as nature experiences itself” (Ben Page). Being present in and with the natural environment encourages the walls between us, the more than human world, our stuff, and others’ ideas, to dissolve as we understand more intimately our inter-beingness.
~ Jeanette Banashak
Our faith traditions tell us we are supposed to be patient, kind, and generous, but sometimes that’s just plain hard to do. Life is challenging. People are too. This is why it is important to learn to treat ourselves kindly—to treat ourselves as lovingly and tenderly as we would a dear friend or a precious child. Instead of being disappointed in ourselves for missing the mark, or failing at embodying the spiritual virtues to which we aspire, we can choose another course of action: self-compassion.
In every spiritual tradition, compassion is highly valued. Compassion for ourselves, however, has often been aligned with self-absorption or selfishness. And we are not taught, nor encouraged, how to be self-compassionate.
In truth, self-compassion is one of the most powerful spiritual virtues we can adopt to walk peaceably in the world. First, we must learn to walk peaceably with ourselves. Then we can learn to walk this way with others. We cannot exhibit true compassion for others if we have not cultivated it for ourselves.
~ Dr. Jan Lundy
© 2023, All Rights Reserved.
¡Oh noche que me guiaste!
¡oh noche amable más que el aluorada!,
¡oh noche que juntaste
amado con amada,
amada en el amado transformada!
After nine months of torture and imprisonment, Spanish mystic of the middle ages, St. John of the Cross, established a model of contemplation. In a small, windowless cell and without human contact, St. John had only bread and water to sustain him. And though he had little to no human connection, he was acutely aware of God’s love and presence. In the now classic poem that spans the range of traditions, The Dark Night of the Soul, is a song with lyrics that describe the development of intimacy with the Divine.
The contemplative visionary’s dark night is less about difficult, doubting, lonely times (which is how it is interpreted today) and more about increasing faith and love. St. John of the Cross explains that faith is a practice that “gives light to the soul, which is in darkness”. According to juanist theology in his poem, the soul is on a journey to union with God: “Union of the soul with God is attained when the likeness that comes from love is produced”.
Embracing the dark night means getting acquainted with “the unknown and the experience of not knowing with an open and humble heart, much more full of wonder and willingness than fear”, writes Zen Buddhist monk, Deborah Eden Tull. Tull describes endarkenment as embodied and relational invitations to deep listening, slowing down, creativity, connection, and reciprocity. The dark night reminds us that we are dependent on each other and the more than human world, from our breath to the care we offer.
The dark night invites us to go slowly, gently and with self-compassion. When I muster the courage to explore the intimacy of the inner dark night of my soul, I feel more brave to pursue intimacy with the external world, including with distant and proximate relations as well as with the natural environment.
Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!
~ Jeanette Banashak
Knitting Hearts Together
The following reflection is part of the final integration project of a recent SGTI graduate. We found it deeply meaningful and hope you will enjoy it!
As a fiber artist and new graduate of SGTI, I have found that spiritual guidance is continually weaving itself into my life. My interest in fiber arts is centered around understanding how different materials can be manipulated to construct various objects. Projects begin with a focus on choosing materials based on weight, texture, color, and other features so that as they are manipulated they create items that are beneficial and beautiful. It is interesting to view spiritual guidance through my fiber arts lens.
Creating yarn on a spinning wheel produces single-plies of yarn that can be difficult to use by themselves so single-ply yarns are generally combined with one or more other plies. This process allows the combined plies to twist back onto and lock into themselves forming a much stronger yarn. The SGTI curriculum, the readings, videos, and audio segments ply together in a way that strengthens and reinforces each individual part. Like yarn that twists and locks creating firm foundations, we have a solid place from which to continue to learn and grow.
The Japanese art of kumihimo, begins with different threads that are braided together to form a cord or braid. Sometimes my vision doesn’t always turn out the way I thought it might, and I find myself unraveling and trying again. Reworking something (although it takes longer) always results in the creation of something better. Small groups and VRI’s allowed us to braid people with different life experiences into something cohesive. Occasionally I experienced the need to unravel and try again, but like kumihimo, things always came together and created something stronger and more beautiful. Cords of kumihimo have been found that are centuries old, may this sacred work last as long.
The 3-dimensional qualities of basket making piques my interest in construction and turned me into a basket maker. I am intrigued by baskets because they are used to contain things. They create or delineate spaces – just as we attempt to do for our seekers. Seekers need safe spaces and we have been finding ways to create them. Gratefully our seekers stepped into our containers knowing we were students and trusted us and the spaces we were creating.
My love of fiber has its roots in the potholder looms of my childhood and although my current loom is much larger, it remains all about warp and weft. The warp on a loom are the long threads that are held under tension and the weft is drawn through, over and under the warp. The warp must be in place for weaving to happen and needs to be strong and accommodating of the weft. Jeanette and Jan, our supervisors, our year-long mentors, and our own spiritual guides provided the warp for our individual wefts, allowing us to create whole cloth.
Although our time together as a cohort is drawing to a close, I will be forever grateful and I’m leaving sharing my delight in knitting for another time. I must say however, that it is through knitting that our hearts come together in love.
~ Lisa Ray Janes
Happy New Year from SGTI!
We offer you this meditation from the mystic, Howard Thurman as you embrace all that will come in 2023. This piece, “Through the Coming Year” is featured in his book, Meditations of the Heart. May it encourage you in the days ahead.
Grant that I may pass through
the coming year with a faithful heart.
There will be much to test me and
make weak my strength before the year ends.
In my confusion I shall often say the word that is not true and do the thing of which I am ashamed.
There will be errors in the mind
and great inaccuracies of judgment...
In seeking the light,
I shall again and again find myself
walking in the darkness.
I shall mistake my light for Your light
and I shall drink from the responsibility of the choice I make.
Nevertheless, grant that I may pass through the coming year with a faithful heart.
May I never give the approval of my heart to error, to falseness, to vanity, to sin.
Though my days be marked
with failures, stumblings, fallings,
let my spirit be free
so that You may take it
and redeem my moments
in all the ways my needs reveal.
Give me the quiet assurance
of Your Love and Presence.
Grant that I may pass through
the coming year with a faithful heart.
A New Cohort Begins
In November, the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute began its sixth cohort for training in spiritual direction/companionship. We also facilitated our first ever hybrid experience, with Zoom attendees and in person attendees at a beautiful and contemplative space on Lake Michigan. Our SGTI intern, Tejai, facilitated thoughtful discussions on identity and compassionate sacred activism, in addition to offering her compassionate and reflective presence; Our SGTI co-founder/co-director, Jan, led us into foundational practices of Pure Presence and gently guided us through deep listening exercises and conversations; our other co-founder/co-director, Jeanette, initiated dialogue and experiences related to inter-contemplation and interspirituality. Throughout our five days together, we were challenged, encouraged, and inspired by the care, respect, and love that each new student brought to the cohort. We are ever grateful for this incredible group as they continue in the tradition of spiritual companionship as old as humanity.
Photos by Kate Anthony, Sara Baker, Jeanette Banashak, Julie Brooks, Marybeth Redmond
Could you tell us a bit about who you are? What would you like for the SGTI community to know about you?
How do you define spiritual companionship? How do you practice spiritual companionship?
What are your hopes/wishes about working with SGTI?
You can learn more about Tejai on the SGTI Faculty page.
(2023)Within each of us there is a silence
-a silence as vast as the universe . . .
When we experience that silence, we remember
who we are: creatures of the stars, created
from the cooling of this planet, created
from dust and gas, created
from the elements, created
from time and space…created
Silence brings us back to basics, to our senses, to our selves.
-Gunilla Norris, Shared Silence
For a week next March (2023), SGTI co-founder, Jeanette Banashak, and Creative Director of Spiritual Directors International, Matt Whitney, will be co-facilitating a Nature Immersion and Deep Listening experience in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Silence, peace, and joy will be nurtured through guided shinrin yoku (forest bathing) walks and optional community and solo building activities from creativity-making to reflections and storytelling around a campfire to group spiritual direction/companionship with humans and the more than human world.
Forest bathing is designed to awaken the senses in an intentional way and facilitate aliveness of life. Slowly and mindfully, we engage with the natural setting and cultivate awareness of, relationship with, and appreciation for the more than human world. If you would like to join us in the “wood wide web” (Suzanne Simard) or would like more information, here is the website with a video, explanation, and FAQs: https://www.sdicompanions.org/product/sdi-journey-the-forest-as-companion-nature-immersion-and-deep-listening-march-19-25-2023/
Note: Registering before Oct. 8 allows participants to receive a $500 discount.
In Suzanne Simard’s book, Finding the Mother Tree, she writes, “There is no moment too small in this world”. This is her creed - she is writing about appreciating and embracing all aspects of nature. Children have a natural way of wondering about and connecting in the natural world. The cultural historian, scholar of world religions, and self-described geologian Thomas Berry, stated that depriving children of time in nature denies them their “inner intuitive identities”. For Berry, what is learned in nature is a kind of knowledge that is the bedrock for making meaning of our lives and appreciating beauty.
Recently, at one of our yearly siblings (and partners and children) camping trips, I took my young nieces and nephews on a forest bathing experience and invited them to ask a tree if we could approach it, touch it, and be with it. I asked them to pay attention to how the tree responds to their inquiry. After a few quiet moments passed (this was a miracle), they each said that the tree is ok with them approaching and touching it. What intuition! Without hesitating, my five-year old niece gave the tree the biggest hug (I had never seen her hug a human in the same way), while my eight-year old nephew proceeded to climb its branches. The others explored around the tree’s base collecting curiously placed bones.
A sense for Mystery begins in nature. By noticing the changes that occur outside in a day, in a season, by watching birds, interacting with insects, and engaging with trees, we build our capacity for relationships with the human and more than human world. When we build relationships in nature, we co-create spaces for belonging. With our understanding that we all belong to each other, we become compelled to look out for each other, we learn to right any wrongs that we commit, and we work to make things better. Thomas Berry remarked, “As [children] grow to understand their belonging within this larger context, their natural longing to create a better world will increase and they can learn new ways of functioning and creating within a sustainable life context.”
What are ways we can invite children to have direct experiences in nature? It begins with modeling – spending time immersed in the natural environment, prioritizing – making the decision to designate time in nature as more important than other activities, and embedding nature in daily life – building reciprocity and solidarity with nature within and outside the home.
After the experience my nieces and nephews and I had in the forest, I asked my five-year-old-tree-hugging niece a question because I had noticed how familiar she seemed with the trees: Do you prefer hugging trees rather than people? Oh yes, she said, I prefer hugging trees for sure.
~ Jeanette Banashak
This year Spiritual Directors International hosted another wonderful conference (first year hybrid!) with the theme of Engage. One of the workshops I really appreciated was Cindy Lee’s "Decolonizing the Spiritual Direction Space" where Dr. Lee explored hospitality and the power dynamic within a spiritual guidance relationship with BIPOC and facilitated practices she calls movements of spaciousness for BIPOC seekers.
Dr. Lee referenced Margaret Gunther’s text Holy Listening and Gunther’s theme of hospitality on the part of the spiritual director. Yet, Lee turned the question around and asked what if it’s the seeker who is the hospitable one, generously opening up to spiritual directors with their stories? With this posture, and especially as we meet with seekers with different identities than our own, we consider ways to be responsible with our power. We actively seek understanding about the impact of our roles, education, race, gender, ethnicity, class, ability, sexual orientation/affection, etc. This stance invites us to receive whatever stories are shared and be open to being changed by the stories.
Dr. Lee discussed ways to facilitate spaciousness in order for our companions to “access their sacredness”:
I am left with questions like where do I need to slow down in my life? What inner work am I in need of doing so I can continue to do what is mine to do? I am grateful for SDI’s vision for the conference and speakers including Cindy Lee and Yavilah McCoy, among so many others, who have opened up new pathways for deepened connection with self, seekers, the natural world, and the Divine.
About this blog
Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.