By Jeanette Banashak, co-founder of The Spiritual Guidance Training Institute
“The mandala evokes the universal longing for inclusivity, equality, peace, wisdom and love that is the profound spiritual aspiration of all living beings.” In this quote, Dr. Edward Bastian describes a tool that has the potential to grow and progress the spiritual life. The mandala is a contemplative tool that incorporates 12 spiritual styles, 12 questions, and 12 religious/spiritual/ethical traditions. The styles are “predispositions or lenses” that serve to support learning and spirituality; the questions are the big questions of life that have been asked for hundreds and thousands of years about the nature of people, creation, ideas, animals, etc.; the traditions include any spiritual/religious/ethical tradition that holds some of the means and practices that might illuminate and expand the questions.
Different traditions highlight different spiritual styles. Buddhism highlights meditation, Christianity highlights love, Taoism highlights wisdom (I realize that in this comment I am distilling these traditions into one word. It is beyond the scope of this article to outline the rituals, aesthetics, prayers, practices, and beliefs of all traditions.). The Mandala helps us to walk the spiritual path in step with our own traditions, spiritual styles, and big questions. In other words, we concentrate more succinctly on our development with focused awareness on ourselves in relation to our religious, spiritual, ethical traditions.
I have recently been trained as a facilitator of Interspiritual Meditation (ISM), also developed by Dr. Bastian, and in my final project, I created a Nature Immersion inspired by Forest Bathing Therapy and ISM. I’d like to extend the project and experience by considering and exploring how spending 1.5 – 2 hours in nature might serve any of the spiritual styles.
(On the website, you can click on any of the spiritual styles, any of the seven steps of ISM, and any of the traditions and a curated list of resources is available for me. For example, for the purposes of this paper, I looked for arts and indigenous sources (and found sub-sources for a variety of indigenous traditions), body and indigenous sources, devotion and indigenous sources, etc.)
The style of art appeals to people who are attuned to their senses: they connect with beautiful things, sounds, tastes, and smells. The questions for the artist include the following: “Are you naturally creative or comfortable with artistic expressions? Are there artists or works of art that give expression to your own sense of the spiritual? Does participating in the arts inspire and bring out the spiritual in you?” (p. 17). While immersed in nature, the artist may pay special attention to the textures of the trees or rocks, the smells of the woods, the sounds of the birds, or the taste of foraged mushrooms. They may feel inclined to create something while in nature (even a mandala using whatever is found around them) or after the immersion in order to enliven their experience.
The style of the body appeals to people who learn through movement and connection with somatic expression. The questions for the kinesthete include the following: “Does your need for physical activity make it difficult for you to sit still? Do you like to explore and express your spiritual insights through movement? Do you feel subtle emotional and spiritual states through your body?” (p. 25). People with this style would appreciate the act of walking in the woods, dancing through them, or doing yoga among the trees.
The style of devotion appeals to people who have a strong sense of loyalty to people, systems and ideas. The questions for the devotee include the following: “Are you more prone to faith than skepticism? Are you naturally loyal to a job, a person or a community? Do you yearn to be dedicated to a greater cause or higher principle? Do you long to be committed to a spiritual teaching, teacher, or higher power? (p. 39). Once immersed in nature, the devotee may reconnect with their commitment to climate change or a relationship with a person or something in nature.
The style of imagination appeals to people who perceive images and symbols as forms of knowing. The questions for the dreamer include the following: “Do you have vivid and memorable dreams? Are you drawn to spiritual symbols, icons and imagery? Are you naturally interested in mythological stories and beings? Have you had a rich and vivid imagination since childhood?” (p. 45). People with this spiritual style may perceive and conceptualize the animals of the forest, waterfalls, trees, paths, sky, etc. in ways that connect with qualities and practices that are meaningful to them.
The style of love and compassion appeals to people who have an acute sense of our interconnectedness, empathy, care for all people. The questions for the lover include the following: “Do you have a natural empathy for others? Do you want to create happiness and eliminate suffering? Do you have a naturally kindhearted feeling toward others? Do you feel embraced by a universal love and compassion greater than yourself?” (p. 51). While in nature, the lover may experience an overwhelming sense of love from the Divine that might lead to an insatiable desire to serve; they may pass other sojourners and offer love and compassion through a silent prayer or intention.
The style of meditation or contemplation appeals to people who appreciate silence and introspection. The questions for the meditator or contemplator include the following: “Do you long for inner tranquility, focus and insight? Are you comfortable sending considerable time alone in silence? Are you called to discover truth and needle through deep introspection?” (p. 33). For the meditator/contemplator, the journey into nature parallels their journey within, for while they gaze at the beauty and wonderment of a place, they also gaze at their own beauty and wonderment.
The style of mystic appeals to people who perceives things beyond what they might regularly observe with the senses. The questions for the mystic include the following: “Have you had unexplainable experiences of the supernatural? Are you attracted to the possibility of mystical visions and revelations? Have you had paranormal experiences not mediated by your five senses? Are you drawn to an unseen mystery that could review of the ultimate nature of reality?” (p. 57). Individuals with this particular spiritual style might connect with the magic and mystery of the woods or they may interact with the non-human elements.
The style of nature appeals to people who feel at home outdoors and communing with natural places. The questions for the naturalist include the following: “Is your connection with nature sacred? Is nature your church or place of worship? Do you feel a special affinity with animals or plants? Do you feel tranquility, oneness or an inter-beingness when immersed in the natural world?” (p. 63). This style will naturally attract individuals who relate to the land, advocate for the land, and work to keep the balance and peace of the environment.
The style of prayer appeals to people who seek assistance or forgiveness, extend gratitude, and feel reverence for people, animals, nature, and ideas. The questions for the prayer include the following: “Do you receive a special peace and tranquility when you pray? Do you feel that prayer is an essential part of spiritual practice? Do you have a daily prayer for help, guidance or protection from a higher power? Do you believe that there are transcendent beings that can hear your prayers and help you?” (p. 69). While meandering in nature, individuals with this spiritual style may feel the desire to sing or chant, or may be compelled to pray for others, offer gratitude for the gifts of their life, or feel a sense of awe for their surroundings.
The style of reason appeals to people who find profound satisfaction in thinking, pondering deeply, and figuring things out. The questions for the thinker include the following: “Do you need a good reason before beginning a spiritual endeavor? Do you like to ponder the universal questions of existence? Do you regard reason as a foundation for a spiritual practice? Do you naturally ask the big why questions, rather than the how questions?” (p. 73). For the thinker, time in nature may include extended time to contemplate life’s big questions or consider nature’s ways of working from an intellectual vantage point.
The style of relationships appeals to people who love to connect with others and practice interacting with others in positive, compassionate, and healing-centered ways. The questions for the mensch include the following: “Do you gain wisdom primarily through relationship with others? Do you prefer the company of others to solitude? Do you like to help others to learn, solve problems and become happy? Do you enjoy being involved in community projects for the common good?” (p. 79). Individuals with this style may want to immerse themselves in nature with a companion or take part in a ritual with a community in support of each other.
The style of wisdom appeals to people who have a deep understanding of life’s truths, insights about or direct perception of ultimate reality. The questions for the sage include the following: “Do you long for the wisdom to guide your own life and help others? Do you yearn for transcendent insight into the true nature of how are you? Do you aspire to the wisdom of the Buddha, Christ, Lao Tzu, Black Elk, Ramakrishna, Muhammad, or Moses?” (p. 85). Individuals with this style may take in nature’s surroundings and integrate the information into their consciousness for future insights and understandings about life.
Working with our spiritual styles helps us to relate to life’s grand questions in ways that nurture and support us. In the context of nature, accessing our styles can enhance our time and lead to holistic spiritual experiences.
At SGTI, we encourage our students to express their learning in creative ways. Today, we gladly offer this series of poems by one of our current students, Katie Spero. We are grateful for her permission to post them. Enjoy!
Estimated Time of Arrival
she starts to notice shoulders under a t-shirt in front of her
the atmosphere breathes his body out
and it expands
breathes him in and it contracts
that one too
and the woman standing
grabs a seatback as the bus jolts
the voice wants to know
how can I love myself
when I am myself
who is breathing us
who am I
I breath it in
it’s swept away
with a place to land
who is next in line to be loved
Don’t Give Away the Ending
An old couple walks onto the bus
Sit across from each other
Then next to each other
Then a few rows back
Whispering silently under the loud hum
She sips water
I am thirsty
We are all a part
Apart is the illusion
Two small boys with big hair like me
Stomp up the two stairs towards the back of the bus
They shout observations
A car with people in it
A car radio
It sure is right
It is all right
Everything is part of the poem
picks up a pen.
and I awake. I fall asleep
and it disappears.
About the poet:
Katie Spero is the Parish Life Director at Church of Saviour, an Episcopal church in Chicago. Prior to that she spent time serving and living at the Satchidananda Ashram in Buckingham, Virginia which was founded on the principle that reflects Katie’s own life journey, “truth is one, paths are many.” Katie is a trained teacher of Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, and Stress Management, and is a member of the COS College of Preachers. Calling on her degree in Poetry from Columbia College Chicago, it is Katie’s joy to try to put into words that which cannot be spoken to spiritually connect and serve her communities.
Created by Jeanette Banashak:
We’d like to share a practice with you that invites you to engage with nature in a contemplative and compassionate way. The following is a guide for you to immerse yourself in a 1.5 to 2-hour nature experience that is inspired by facilitator, Phyllis Look’s, practice of Forest Bathing, nature walks, and Interspiritual Meditation. Nature Immersion incorporates 7 stages or experiences that correlate with the 7 steps of Interspiritual Meditation.
Forest Bathing, or shinrin-yoku in Japanese, was developed in the 80s in Japan in order to help relieve stress. As it has made its way to the West, the motivations to forest immersion are slightly different, but the science remains the same. Trees emit phytoncides, which is a substance that helps trees and plants protect themselves from harmful germs and insects. This substance affects humans who participate in forest bathing: reduced stress, lower blood sugar, better concentration, diminished pain, and improved immunity. We also generally feel better and happier after connecting with nature, even up to 30 days after your experiences in it.
Developed by Dr. Ed Bastian, Interspiritual Meditation is a 7-step process that incorporates wisdom from the world’s contemplative religious and spiritual traditions. It is simultaneously a spiritual practice and a way of being. The steps include: motivation – may we be happy and healthy; gratitude – may we be grateful; transformation – may we be transformed; intention – may we be loving and compassionate; mindfulness – may we become mindful through our breathing; wisdom – may we become wise through our meditation; service – may we be in service to all beings.
In the experience/meditation, we take in nature through the senses, through the eyes, nose, ears, mouth, hands, and feet. We stimulate and engage our senses by being awake and alert to what we see, what we smell, what we taste, and what we feel.
For more information on Interspiritual Meditation, check out: https://spiritualpaths.net/
For more information on Forest Bathing, check out: http://forest-therapy.net/home.html
We hope you enjoy the journey and please feel free to connect with us to let us know how it goes.
©2020, Jeanette Banashak
As people on a dedicated spiritual path, we are always trying to do our best. We are not perfect people, but we are vulnerable human beings who play multiple roles and are beyond busy, so there will be times when we are off-balance and errors are made. Things said. Situations or people neglected. At times we may feel less than kindly toward ourselves— self-critical, judgmental, or disappointed.
Feelings such as these keep us separated from our innate peace. It is wise for us to remember that mind states like these are sourced in the ego—our small, immature, wounded self—and that when we hold on to them, we perpetuate our own suffering. The opposite of the virtue of peacefulness is aggression. When we entertain thoughts and feelings that demean the reality of our basic goodness, we are at war with ourselves.
When this happens to you, take a deep breath and make an adult-sized promise to yourself: a promise to thrive and be gentle with yourself. Feeling closed down, irritated, struggling with something you’ve said or done? Stop what you’re doing and open your heart to yourself.
Place your hand over your heart. Feel the warmth of your hand covering your heart.
With the inhale, breathe in understanding, With the exhale, breathe out concern.
Breathe in self-forgiveness. Breathe out your disappointment in yourself.
Breathe in a feeling of kindness. Breathe out relief.
Continue in this way until you return to a feeling of equanimity and balance. Rest in spacious awareness and trust that all is well.
Receive what your wise self knows: You are a good person.
Receive what your faithful heart says: You are doing the very best you can.
©2015, Janice L. Lundy
Excerpted from Portable Peace: A Weekly Guidebook
Considering the Interrelationship of Sending, Receiving, and Experiencing Emotions Within a Spiritual Guidance Session
Amy Halberstadt, Susanne Denham, and Julie Dunsmore discuss a model for affective social competence, which they describe as “three integrated and dynamic components: sending affective messages, receiving affective messages, and experiencing affect.” While the model was created with children in mind, we are wondering about the relevance of affective social competence as spiritual guides who often work in the realm of emotions – being aware of our own emotions, having emotion communication skills, facilitating our client’s understanding of emotions, etc.
According to Halberstadt, Denham, and Dunsmore, each of the three components (sending affective messages, receiving affective messages, and experiencing affect) encompass four abilities: awareness, identification, working within a social context, management and regulation. Sending affective messages has to do with the awareness of a need to send the message, identifying the message, sending the message within a set of rules, and managing the sending of the message as well as any false or real signals. In the context of spiritual direction the guide considers what messages they might send, when to send them, and how to send them.
Receiving affective messages has to do with being aware of the message, identifying the meaning, understanding the message within the cultural context, and managing the receipt of the message as well as any false or real signals. In spiritual direction this might look like being attuned to the messages our seekers are sending us, picking up on any clues they are offering, and discerning the meaning within their unique context.
Experiencing affective messages relates to being aware of my own emotions, identifying my emotions, understanding them within a social context, and regulating my emotional experiences. In the context of spiritual guidance, the guide does not ignore any emotions that might surface, but can bracket their experiences and tend to their emotions after the session in a time of reflection and perhaps supervision.
Each of the components ebbs and flows as the session unfolds. By integrating this model, the potential for deeper listening is present because we are ever aware of our own emotions while not being derailed by them. Halberstadt, Denham, and Dunsmore write that we can “integrate and control the overlap between these skill areas of sending, receiving, and experiencing emotions”. In relationship, we send messages that influence how another receives them; what and how we receive messages influences what we send. Furthermore, we discern what we communicate next based on the interactions of our own emotional experiences and what our seekers share with us.
Our hope as spiritual companions is to promote our shared humanity in a context of trust and care. We believe that the affective social competence model has the potential to deepen our practice for the healing and co-creating of a better world.
~ Jeanette Banashak, PhD, EdD
We are pleased to present a reflective writing/project by a current SGTI student, emerging spiritual guide, Kitti O'Hallaron. We hope you find it is meaningful and inspiring as we did.
One of the most painful twists of living in the era of COVID-19 is that, in the midst of so much trouble and uncertainty, we have been largely unable to do the first thing we humans do in times of crisis: turn to each other. Gather. Our inner wisdom knows, instinctively, that other people are the place to go for help and holding, for grieving, for hope.
Yet the situation we find ourselves in turns this all on its head. So many of the places we might normally find our particular slices of community—houses of worship, workplaces, schools, gyms, arts venues—remain closed. We know that staying in our homes when possible is itself an act of care, that obscuring our smiles with masks when we must venture out is love in action. Some of us have had no choice but to continue to report to work, or have kept working out of a sense of duty. Many have gathered in protest, affirming that systems of racist oppression are also a pandemic urgently in need of our collective attention. But most of us, most of the time, are living in worlds that are much smaller than the ones we knew in early March. Our hearts bear the weight of all that is missing. Our hearts bear the weight of all we have lost.
It is in this climate of isolation and heightened emotion of all kinds that I recently embarked on a small project of communal care. Spiritual direction training formally prepares us to offer guidance in one-on-one and group settings. Over time, the practice takes on a life of its own, finding new forms in the checkout line or the waiting room or, in this case, in a repurposed tree branch propped up by the street alongside some blank notecards, markers, and a poster posing a set of questions:
How do you feel?
What do you miss?
What do you need?
What is your wish for or promise to others/our city/the world?
I set these materials out in front of my home one morning, hopeful that the invitation to share would be of service. Before long, I looked out my window and saw the first response fluttering in the breeze. Soon there were many others. People stopped to participate, to read, and to talk to one another about what they were seeing. Responses have ranged from hopeful to despairing to deeply spiritual.
Here’s what I hear as I listen to this project:
Children miss their routines, and they really miss their friends.
Adults miss theirs too, and the family they can’t visit.
People are keenly aware of their need for physical touch.
Some people are lonely and frightened.
Some people find cause for hope in this time of slowing down and reconsidering.
A number of people are attuning to issues of racial justice and resolving to help make change.
It matters deeply to people to feel a sense of community.
As of this writing, the tree is still up. When I walk outside to check for new cards, holding them tenderly, reading them like small prayers, I feel my breathing deepen and my heart expand. Here is tangible, incontrovertible proof of the thing we are all a part of, and always will be, no matter what. As isolated as circumstances might lead us to be, we are not ever alone.
~ Kitti O'Hallaron
Her services and writing can be found at thresheld.com
I am a blade of grass
a grain of sand
a drop of rain
I began as a single cell
99% oxygen, carbon, hydrogen
nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus
.85% potassium, sulfur, sodium,
All necessary for Life
I am human complexity, effectively & efficiently
designed in body and soul
intertwined with Mystery divine
like all my human family
intrigued to grow and experience
the gift of life
alone & together
I am unique and I am everyman/woman/child
we all travel through the same developmental seasons
lived in and through the endless complexity & diversity
of human civilizations, past and present
we are one and we are many
all lived out on
I am sacred, you are sacred, we are sacred
Birthed through the womb of timelessness
finite days given to be alive, aware, alert
to walk with one another
with and on mother earth,
caring, loving, respecting, honoring
self, other & mother earth
revealing Mystery as we go
~ Original art and poetry by emerging spiritual director and SGTI student,
Sometimes the way someone writes about something opens a new door of understanding for you. Or it pries open the portals of your just a little bit wider. We want to share a deeply moving (and insightful!) blog post by one of our SGTI alumni with those hopes in mind.
Meet Marv Baldwin, a spiritual guide, and the gentle force behind Soul Journeys. He blogs regularly on his website and we were drawn to share this particular post where he writes about how to practice the presence of love. Now.
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.
About this blog
Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.
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