What does it mean to offer “pure presence” to someone? According to James E. Miller, author of The Art of Being a Healing Presence, presence is "the condition of being consciously and compassionately in the present moment with another or with others, believing in and affirming their potential for wholeness, wherever they are in life."
I cite Miller’s definition here because, in my view, it perfectly aligns with our understanding and practice of presence in the purest sense. His definition states that this type of presence is something we create within ourselves. It also makes very clear that whenever we intersect with anyone in this way we have the opportunity to affirm their essence—their divinity as well as their deep humanity. Our conversational efforts become the practice ground for viewing the individual in a wholesome way.
This can be our highest hope as well as the intention that guides us throughout this training: to have open-hearted conversations that can lead to enhanced relationships and positive outcomes with whomever we meet. It is presence without agenda. It is presence that welcomes each individual who steps across our threshold (mental or physical) with wholeheartedness and compassion. This is not any easy thing to do today given our ethnic, religious and political differences.
For our purposes here, we can think of presence as a calm, openhearted space of welcome and service. When we offer someone presence, we invite him or her into our circle of care for conversation and the sharing of life experiences. We hold presence and we offer presence for the benefit of the other. We are here to serve.
“Pure Presence”, as presented in the SGTI curriculum, is a unique protocol for sacred listening that can enhance and deepen one’s ability to offer presence to clients and seekers of any tradition. It is uniquely designed for caring professionals to be used in a myriad of settings, ministry formats and private practice. Pure Presence allows an individual to listen deeply; to offer the deepest empathy and spiritual care to whomever they are with.
©2017 Janice L. Lundy
Pure Presence: A Workbook and Journal
The Practice of Opening
Guest post. Words and image by SGTI alumnus Christine Hiester
“If your everyday practice is to open to all your emotions, to all the people you meet,
to all the situations you encounter, without closing down, trusting that you can do that–– then that will take you as far as you can go. And then you will understand all the teachings that anyone has ever taught.”
What if this practice of opening– this discomfort, this deep presence with exactly what is in each sacred moment (and they are all sacred) – is the only work?
What if understanding “all the teachings that anyone has ever taught” can be summed up in the everyday encounters with our inner responses to the mysteries, struggles, frustrations, and quiet joys experienced in the midst of this very human life?
What if trusting the moment-by-moment unfolding within us is the path that will also take us outward, to the edges of the cosmos, and the great insights of existence?
Or maybe these questions are too lofty. Maybe they remove us from our lives and place us in an ideal that is all too easy to ponder rather than live out. Maybe with feet on the ground, in the messy reality of life, we instead ask these questions:
Whom will we meet today?
What interruptions will derail our plans?
What conflicts will arise at work, or at home, that will push every button we have?
What physical pain will distract us as we go about the tasks of our day?
What if stubbing a toe, getting cut off on the highway, receiving a phone call with bad news, or being caught in a downpour which makes us late to an important meeting are each divine opportunities to open, open, open our hearts fully to the journey that will make us whole?
What would it feel like to resist the closing, and instead open to everything– everything! – with soft heart and deep breath?
How are you living into your holy “What ifs?” today? How can you invite others to do the same?
Christine Hiester is an interspiritual spiritual companion, retreat facilitator, artist, and musician. She finds her home in spacious places where contemplative and creative practice meet deep connection in community. You can find her on her website www.shapingtheriver.com and on Instagram at @shapingtheriver
What Is the Quality of Your Silence?
“Where the lips are silent the heart has a thousand tongues.”
slowing down -
the setting sun
over mountain creek
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have been living and working in different environments than we would ever have anticipated. Parents and caregivers are home with young children who are in virtual school all day; business people have been working from home for months; restaurant workers are meeting the demands of constantly shifting indoor and outdoor service; service workers have pivoted to online appointments; nearly everyone has had to modify their schedule or lifestyle in some way.
Chances are also good that the noise levels at home and work in the past year have been anything but the same as pre-Covid days. For some, the home environment is noisier because family, friends, and housemates are around a lot more. While for others, it is quieter due to working from home without colleagues present.
Several years ago I had a similar change in daily habit when I spent a month at a Cistercian monastery in Norway. I joined their rituals and practices as much as I could and while initially exhausting, the daily liturgy and contemplation, work, and silence provided a welcome rhythm to my otherwise inconsistent and noisy existence. One of the most striking and surprising revelations came to me as I experienced working together to make soap in silence: Silence is my friend (and this was especially essential for me as an extrovert). Yes, the nuns occasionally spoke to clarify something, but for the most part, everything was done in consistently quiet ways – including resolving conflicts. I spent years processing those days of stillness with my spiritual director and ultimately decided it was important to incorporate silence into my daily spiritual practices.
Researchers teach us that there are psychological and physiological benefits to silence, including improved sleep, improved concentration and calm, stimulated brain development, boosted immune system, the increased ability to be more discerning in decision making, repaired cognitive resources, and a more relaxed body and brain. In addition to psychological benefits, silence promotes attention and intercontemplation, a term coined by Beverly Lanzetta to describe “the dialogue of religious experience as it reaches into deep states of contemplation and silent prayer”. Intercontemplation is a way of being that encourages the interdependence of spiritualities, religions, practices, healing, wholeness, and fecundity of nature.
Last June, Josh Sims, a journalist for the BBC, wrote an article entitled Will the world be quieter after the pandemic? In his piece, Sims considers if noise pollution will be the next major public health issue. He notices that access to quiet has been primarily granted to those with privilege, including people who have had access to quieter neighborhoods and resources for technologies that enhance peace. Sims quotes postdoctoral researcher and founder of Noise and the City, Erica Walker, who maintains that quiet should be a human right. Noise and the City, Community Noise Lab, Herb Singleton at Cross-Spectrum Acoustics, and noise researcher, Arline Bronzaft, collaborated on a research project that looked at noise levels in and around public schools. They concluded, “Noise pollution impairs learning in children and affects schools in city neighborhoods” and they offered their top recommendation: “[Be] noise aware!”
Since my time at the monastery, I have taken small steps to incorporate silence and intercontemplation, and be noise aware, with everything I do. At the foundational level, this looks like taking an extra breath before making a decision and allowing my body to regulate and calm. Additional ways include taking multiple day silent retreats each year, camping and backpacking in nature, taking a break from electronics, walking through the city, writing haiku, and being deliberate about the moments of silence throughout the day. If I can, I’ll do almost anything, or nothing, to recognize beauty and sustain presence.
I wonder, will there be a new standard for quiet after the pandemic?
bends rocks and minnows-
Text and photos by Jeanette Banashak
Co-Founder, Co-Director, Spiritual Guidance Training Institute
Whether you have been doing it for awhile now or have needed to switch due to the Covid-19, most spiritual companions have been using Zoom, Skype, or the phone to meet with our clients/seekers/companions. One of the things we are promoting now is using the phone more than Zoom or Skype. This may seem like the opposite of what you might have thought. After all, if we are in the service of relationships, shouldn’t we want to see our clients (especially those of us who were meeting in person up until mid-March)?
In an article entitled Why Is Zoom So Exhausting, Beckie Supiano explains several issues with the platform: “The body language and other cues that we expect but can’t access; the way we monitor our own appearance; the stimulation of staring into faces at close range; the inability to take a break, move, or change our surroundings.” Where Zoom used to be an opportunity – and still is – now it is an obligation in professional and personal relationships. Many of us are suffering from the void that we feel after the calls and meetings.
Supiano suggests that using Zoom is exhausting because we have constant access to monitoring our own non-verbal cues. When we talk on the phone with our seekers, we obviously still lack the non-verbal cues, but we do not feel a need to self-monitor, and we are less distracted by our client’s movements. This frees us up to access our intuition and trust the knowing in our own bodies without the distraction of our seeker’s face. On Zoom there is little physical distance between you and your screen, which may have implications related to intimacy. On the phone, we do not have a face right in front of us, allowing space for proper intimacy. Talking on the phone also allows us to move; we can change locations or even walk and talk.
There are certainly benefits to each of the ways to connect in spiritual companionship. The questions we are discerning right now are which ways promote deeper connection, integrity, and attention, and which ways might hinder deeper connection?
Submitted by Jeanette Banashak
At the SGTI, we believe that we can promote interfaith harmony through deep listening and compassionate presence. One of our co-founders, Jeanette Banashak, is going to present at Chicago’s Interfaith Fair on Thursday, February 6 at the Chicago Cultural Center. In her talk, "Interfaith and Interspiritual Companionship (Direction): Listening to One’s Self for the Healing of Another", Jeanette will share about how one of the greatest gifts we can offer another is to see them, to hear them (and we acknowledge the ableism inherent in those ideals), and most importantly, to be with them. In the practice of spiritual direction, we meet with someone monthly for about an hour to listen to their sacred story, to support their meaning-making process, and to offer ways in which they can live their best lives. We create a space for deep, active listening and as much as we are able, are aware of any biases and assumptions that we have. As spiritual companions, we are like a mirror, a reflection to the seeker. Yet, while we listen to others we also listen to ourselves. Seekers are also a mirror for us (though to keep with the integrity of the practice, we tend to anything that comes up for us after a session.) Kathleen Dowling Singh wrote, “Our practice of the gift of attention is a perfect mirror for our self-cherishing mind. It reveals every intrusion of “I” with great clarity."
One of the ways we are attentive to another, no matter their religious, spiritual, or ethical traditions, is to practice maintaining our attention. Spiritual guidance is both a practice and a lifestyle. It is recognizing the Divine in another. With a "heartmind" (a Kathleen Dowling word), we practice being calm, concentrating, cultivating community, seeking justice, serving. We make conscious decisions about where we put our attention. These are the practices that help us to become aware of our own ego - which is a necessary part of development—and then to move beyond ego, or as Ram Dass said, to "‘extricate (our)self from an identification" with it.
During this week devoted to interfaith harmony, we commit to listen to our selves even as we companion another, and we hope that in our awareness we begin to heal ourselves for the wellness of all.
If you are in the Chicagoland area and would like to participate in Interfaith Harmony Week as sponsored by the Parliament of the World's Religions, this link provides more information.
It's not unusual for any of us here at SGTI to be asked by someone, "What is spiritual guidance anyway?" Wonderful question!
In one of our early learning modules in the 18-month training program, students are asked a similar question: What is spiritual guidance? Here are some of their answers:
• Spiritual guidance is a form of helping relationship in which together, one is guided in the discernment and development of intimacy with the Divine. Through deep listening and in creating and holding sacred space, the spiritual guide listens into being the Divine Story of the seeker. (M.W.)
• Spiritual direction is a dedicated container for exploration of the inner life through the lens of the sacred or the deeply meaningful. A spiritual companion’s role is to hold safe, nonjudgmental space for your questioning, healing, and deepening in your spiritual life and your relationship with the Divine as you understand it, with the understanding that you are the authority on those topics. (C.O)
• "Seeker and guide create an interconnected orb in sacred space and time – an orb in which the Divine is invited to join. In this sacred human/Divine triad intimacy between seeker and Divine grows. Often the guide strengthens her own intimacy with the Divine." (C.R.)
In a publication offered by Spiritual Directors International, "Portrait of a Spiritual Director," one gets a more complete picture of who spiritual companions are and the purpose they serve, their "call" and skillset, along with their hopes for the people they companion. It says:
"Spiritual directors or companions support the unique spiritual journey of every individual. They are welcoming and present with those they companion, listening and responding without being judgmental. They are contemplative and honor silence as a spiritual practice. They are intuitive spiritual friends—accountable and compassionate, hospitable and open, loving yet independent."
To read the essay in its entirety, visit this page.
Locate the link which says, "Click here for a printable pdf version of the "Portrait"
If you feel the call to explore spiritual companionship/guidance training yourself, we'd love to chat with you. We are already accepting applications for the 2020-2022 training program which begins in August. You can contact us here.
Listening to Myself Telling My Story
At the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute, we value and celebrate the power of story. Being able to tell your story to a trusted companion can heal, inspire, nourish, connect, and transform us. The first time I told a difficult part of my story to a mentor, he responded, “Well, everyone sins…”. I spent years unpacking that one. Not only is that not my worldview, but his response could have sent me back into a state of fear and mistrust.
A little while later, with the guidance of both a spiritual director and therapist, I continued to share my stories over and over again - until I got to the point where I did not expect my spiritual director or therapist to be the ones to heal me, inspire me, nourish me. Rather, with self-compassion, I learned to connect with a deep inner teacher that ultimately helped me to see me for who I was and am. That is something to celebrate!
One of our current students from our third cohort is an art therapist, poet, writer, and emerging spiritual guide. She recently wrote three poems that we’d like to share with you because they speak deeply to the influence of meeting ourselves again and again through each telling of a part of our story.
A Celebratory Chant
I am a woman who dances.
I am a dance of a woman.
I am a dance of the Dance.
I am a woman who dreams.
I am a dream of a woman.
I am a dream of the Dreamer.
I am a woman who sings.
I am a song of a woman.
I am a song in the Song.
I am a woman with a story.
I am a story of a woman.
I am a story in the Story.
I am a woman who loves.
I am the love of a woman.
I am love inside Love.
100 Stories Each Human Has to Tell
The story of:
loss love fear betrayal failure success
labor grace birth worth faith fidelity
faithlessness mess illusion confusion hurt
healing doubt longing belonging
mother father lovers children
remembering forgetting hunger abundance
gratitude complaint grief joy
pain illness health stealth
time youth aging refusal acceptance
roots culture wildness domesticity
ancestry land politics
generations history colonization
slavery trauma violence
peace brokenness wholeness
trust distrust anger
possessions knowledge wisdom
questions change growth seasons
solitude community family tribe
war famine harvest
song mirth creativity
falsity truth dreams beauty
hiding revelation dying
greed generosity redemption
Each Time I Tell My Story
Each time I tell my story,
it is different,
seen through the hundred
or ways of being human.
And there is a listening spirit
(that some call God)
listening to each telling,
and all hundred names and ways of God
hear and respond,
until my story becomes
a hundred times a hundred stories,
or ten thousand stories.
And you, my fellow human,
are also listening,
and you are hearing and responding
with all your stories
within the hundred names and ways
of being human
and my story becomes
a hundred times ten thousand
or a million stories,
just between the three of us,
you, me, and God.
And I carry within me
these million responses,
and to each,
from all my human ways,
I respond within,
and so, my story becomes
a hundred times a million,
or a hundred million stories
each of which can then be told 100 ways
and be responded to by God’s 100 ways
and by each living person’s 100 human ways,
times seven billion people,
and these responses,
can be taken in and lived by me
and then stories told
from that living
on and on until so very soon
infinity is reached
because the story
never was my story.
It is always our story.
And always one story.
The endless and
eternal story of All.
That being said,
let me tell you my story…
-Poems by Liza Hyatt
What Goes on As I Listen
At the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute, we include listening practices and techniques in each of our modules. One of the ways we practice deepening our listening is to reflect on how we are doing with our own listening in various contexts. During our spring residential institute, our students spent some time one-on-one with a peer and discussed a relevant topic for the day’s theme. After the discussion, we met back together and asked, “What did you notice about your listening?”
The following include paraphrases of some of our students’ responses:
• I noticed my body and what I do with it while listening.
• As I was listening to the story, I was thinking that I knew the end to the story, so I didn’t fully listen in the moment.
• I felt a need to want to affirm their theory.
• I felt distracted by the listening techniques.
• I was wondering where my eyes go when I am listening.
This list is not an exhaustive list, but a collection of responses that represent a range of thoughts or feelings that emerge while we are listening. Being able to name some of them is a way to first acknowledge the transient nature of our thoughts and feelings and then to let them go so we can be fully present with our companion. By offering our attention to the person in front of us, or on the other end of a phone/Zoom/Skype call, we engage in the practice of companionship. We not only getin touch with the sacred in another and in ourselves, but we also touch the sacred in another and in ourselves. And that may be one of the greatest gifts we can offer another.
Here at The Spiritual Guidance Training Institute we assist our students in developing "sacred listening." One of the tools we use to do so is a unique protocol developed by Dr. Janice Lundy called "Pure Presence™." The methodology and practices are intended to open one's heart to listen to others in ways that are "pure"— without bias, judgment, or hidden agendas. This allows us to transcend religious doctrine, cultural prejudice, or anything that could keep us separated from our fellow human beings. It enables us to create a space for connection and healing to happen within a spiritual guidance session.
We could say that we at SGTI are trying to foster "hearts as wide as the world." In our final learning module with Cohort 1 students we explored this concept, and invited them to share their understanding of "a heart as wide as the world." This is what one of our students, Jeffrey Phillips, wrote:
“The heart of the world” – what is that? Is it the social world misshapen by structures and systems that seem unchangeable, and that, more often than not, go unnoticed by people who have been taught to not see and question unjust schemes? Is it the world itself – beautiful, dying, the original body of God? Is it the world of creativity, imagination, science, curiosity, discovery, spirituality, primal experiences, social bonding, sexuality, and the arts?
Or it is God – that which beats (like a heart) at the center (the heart) of all things? The goodness, the joy, the love, the moral imperative to care? Being, Consciousness, Existence, Spirit, Mystery, Eternity – experienced in shared, sacred story, symbol, rituals, concepts, and completely unorthodox (“profane,” “secular”) and unexpected numinous, luminous places, people, and circumstances?
How does one listen to that Heart? By taking time in the daily practice, by stepping outside the ordinary routines to attend the festival of a different social group or take a new course. By paying attention to your toothbrush – really looking at it for the first time! By sitting when you could be busy. By resting when you could be working. By savoring a conversation, a meal, a day. By being when you could be doing. By reading a poem slowly – really chewing on it - rather than reading the news. By “praying the news,” and considering those stubborn social systems and the suffering they inflict on innocent folk.
And then by reflecting on that toothbrush-looking, that sitting, that being, that soulful reading, that news praying. And doing it again the next day – or doing something completely different. Or maybe by approaching a daily practice with no agenda at all other than to Be Open, and to see – and hear! - what happens in the moment, in the here, in the now. I have learned that this last year and a half.
Spiritual Companionship and Emotions
Dr. Jeanette Banashak, co-founder and co-director of SGTI, has recently had an essay published by Spiritual Director's International for their website/blog. "Spiritual Companionship and Emotions" lays out a noteworthy method of working with personal emotions which can be of benefit to spiritual guides.
"No matter how, where, when, or by whom we were raised, scholars agree that there are 5 emotions that we all have in common: enjoyment, sadness, disgust, fear, and anger.
As a spiritual guide, I am constantly looking and listening for clues that help me understand what a seeker is feeling. At the same time, I am listening for clues in myself that let me know what I am feeling.
This self-listening and self-awareness grows as I learn which emotions and conscious feelings I am experiencing in any given moment." (cont'd)
Read the post in its entirety here:
About this blog
Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.