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.
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.
As a follow up to our previous post, Jeanette Banashak has just had an article published by Spiritual Directors International for their blog. Her article guides you through a complete practice of inviting a tree to be your spiritual director: "Trees as Spiritual Directors/Companions."
This wisdom by Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr holds an interesting view of who or what could serve as a spiritual director/guide/companion to us. Inspirational pieces like this one are the kind of inspiration that SGTI sends out every week in our FREE "Universal Wisdom" offering. Have you subscribed yet?
Enjoy this sample and allow yourself a few minutes of gentle contemplation as you sit with the Reflection Questions.
"I must share with you a story about a particularly barren time in my life when I used a tree for a spiritual director. I learned so much that year because I listened in silence...
Because it was small I couldn't lean on it but could only sit beside it. That taught me a lot about what the role of spiritual guide should be. Even though it was small, it had the ability to give me a certain amount of shade. You don't have to have a lot of leaves to give shade.
Because it was silent I listened deeply. You don't need a lot of words to connect with God.
When it got thirsty I watered it. The miracle of water is a little like the miracle of God's love. That little sycamore taught me a lot about foot washing. Watering it was a great joy. A soul-friend relationship never works only one way. There is a mutual giving and receiving.
I learned from my tree that being transplanted is possible. I can always put down roots again, connect with the Great Root, and grow on."
-Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr, A Tree Full of Angels
1. How have trees been your companions?
2. Is there a particular tree that you have connected with? What was it about that tree that drew you to it?
3. You may want to take a walk with the intention of finding a tree to sit by and with and invite it to be your spiritual director. Or alternatively, perhaps the tree is inviting you to be its spiritual companion.
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
Drs. Banashak and Lundy discuss their individual calls to become spiritual directors-guides and wonder if you may be experiencing something similar. Have you heard or felt a call to serve others by being a spiritual companion?
SGTI's next 18-mo. training program to become a spiritual director/guide with an interfaith-interspiritual focus begins August 27.
Note: This cohort will begin on time as SGTI is primarily an internet-based program. If the presence of Covid-19 makes the first Chicago Residential Institute unlikely, it will be rescheduled as soon as possible, but online learning will begin anyway. We are currently accepting applications and filling the cohort. We hope you will consider joining us! Contact us for an application.
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.
In our module on Islam, one of our students, Peter Marnocha, shared a reflective expression that integrated his own tradition and offering companionship to people of different religious/spiritual/ethical traditions. You will see how he incorporates the major practices of Islam with questions that a spiritual guide might ask a seeker.
If you are a seeker, you may be asked these questions by your spiritual guide. If you are a spiritual companion, these are great questions that really get to the heart of the matter.
Questions for seekers in the spirit of the Five Pillars of Islam:
Testament of Faith: The proclamation that there is no god but God. How do you affirm this in your own belief system? How do you describe the entity or energy that is much greater than the human species.
Prayer: Prayer is formal worship. In what ways do you pray? How are you 'constant in prayer' and what does this mean to you?
Charity: In what ways do you give of yourself and resources in a humble and sincere way? How do you accomplish this selfless service without looking for praise or reward?
Fasting: What are the practices that you take time for to observe moments or days that are sacred to you? How do you practice compassion and generosity? Assuming that you are willing to practice non-attachment, how is this expressed in your life? To what extent are you willing to endure the process of self-transformation?
Pilgrimage: Pilgrimage is a journey of shared experiences and unity. How might you travel alone or with others to experience the oneness of all things and Nature?"
About this blog
Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.
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