Little boy. Knees so busy under your school khakis. Your dried millet stalk prods an old bicycle tire, bare of tread, along a rocky footpath.
You wear a cereal box on your head.
You are fearless! The magic of your cardboard helmet makes you bold, protects you.
Your tongue trills out machine noises, your body synced. You are an engine of movement, propulsion. You are a green dart of energy running towards me, flitting to the side when we intersect.
You come into focus, and I fold into laughter. Magic Sugar Flakes, imported from Ghana, now transformed. I know this box. Knock-off Frosted Flakes from the Muslim grocer. His store is Fridaos. Muslim Heaven. Did the wind carry the box out of the trash heap and lay it at your feet, like manna?
With the donning of colored paper with shiny letters, you metamorphose.
You take a scrap and animate it, let it animate you.
You are unstoppable, courageous.
Will anyone tell you this? Will you remember it if you reach adulthood?
Will you find other ways to protect yourself, to dodge harm when malaria and parasites and infection comes?
Later this afternoon, I drive the truck to another footpath. A new village. The rumble of the diesel an intrusion. The rhythms of this place are pestles pounding manioc, machetes chopping wood, women sifting chaff from rice.
I come to say hello, to visit. I approach a group of four women crouched on wooden stools where the path opens. There you are beneath them, the second little boy of this day. And the second mask of this day. You lie on the ground, atop a red and yellow pagne. You are all knees and twigged arms. Your face. What is this? Are you, too, wearing a cereal box? I double take, uncomprehending.
Then I see the older woman sitting closest to you. She tends an ochre paste in the scooped out earth. She is applying the mud to you. Not a mask. It is your misshapen face. Your jaw is longer than my hand. Your eyes bend and bulge through stretched, contorted skin.
You see me, too, and then you turn away. Is it a tumor? A birth defect? There is no box to contain what I’m seeing, not even Magic Sugar Flakes.
My tears start. Too many and too fast to swallow. Yes, this is happening. I go from watching to being watched. You and the women have no container for this, a white stranger who openly sobs.
We have scarcely exchanged the most threadbare of greetings. Nyanewisi: you and the sun. The afternoon greeting, followed by a litany of questions about the state of your health, your work, your children.
But no further questions will continue under this sun.
And only God knows how the years will unfold under suns back home, in North America. I will sit with people seeking spiritual guidance. I will encounter them--sometimes in the midst of great suffering--and it will unmask us both.
But for now, uneasy air stirs like a dirty swill of river water around us. None of us knows how to ease back into the everyday. I have seen you. And you have seen me seeing you. And we cannot unsee.
This is a place of suffering.
This is a place of bravado.
This is a place of brazen love.
Love in your unmasked faces, your downward gazes, bearing witness as you attend.
And while this day has been extraordinary, you are all preparing me to see others and myself more clearly as spiritual guide.
Little boy from this morning, you are preparing me to find bold, bald courage. To re-use the tools I have to leap into new worlds.
Little boy in this afternoon sun, you are preparing me, too. Preparing me to sit unflinchingly in waves of suffering and waves of love, in equal measure.
Women, you are preparing me. You teach me to turn my face toward what is before me, my attention more potent than any medicine I offer. You show me what it means to love until the end.
Author Jane Neal is a student with Cohort 2 The Spiritual Guidance Training Institute, graduating in January 2020. She lives with her family in Tyler, Texas.
Last year, my partner and I became “dual pilgrims” after walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain and the Kumano Kodo in Japan. Right as we took our first steps on the Camino, we said to each other, “We have been preparing for months for these first steps in the Pyrenees.” We felt hopeful, anxious, excited: Did we prepare enough? Are we ready for the challenges? Are we really pilgrims? A dear friend shared some sage advice that we turned to daily – “You will encounter a physical, emotional, or spiritual issue everyday.” And indeed we did.
Lacy Clark Ellman teaches that people walk the Camino, or take any pilgrimage, for a variety of reasons, including for healing (emotional, physical, spiritual, mental or any other type of healing), the pursuit of self-knowledge and self-discovery, creating community, and renewal. We learned that a person’s reasons for walking (or cycling, bussing, training) were varied, yet similar, and always personal. Some days I had no answer for why I was walking the ancient pilgrimages, while other days, I knew I was doing it because it was what I needed to do.
On day 23, we passed words painted on a large rock that read Santiago is not there. Is in you. That phrase has been my meditation for months now and has been a meaningful perspective as I navigate my emotions, thoughts, ideas, identity, and habits. The journey is both an outer exploration of the world with all its surprises, as well as an inner exploration of my values, attitudes, and perspectives. The destination is already inside of me, and I access it when I trust my inner teacher to guide my actions.
Isn’t this what we do as spiritual companions? We provide a safe and loving space for our companions to find their way to their inner Santiago.
At the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto last year, I went to a workshop on Pilgrimage by Robert Nash, Soumaya Khalifa, and Noam Marans. In the workshop Soumaya outlined three levels or types of pilgrimage: out of the country; in the city; 1 on 1. At the heart of what we do as spiritual companions is journey as pilgrims together, either 1 on 1 or in a group.
In addition to 1 on 1 pilgrimaging, we are thrilled to be offering our first Urban Pilgrimage in June of 2020! During our journey, we will explore both the outer world of Chicago, with its variety of sacred sites, as well as our inner world, with its variety of sacred rooms. Please consider joining us in this interspiritual experience as we, like Robert Nash expressed, “make the familiar unfamiliar, and the unfamiliar familiar.”
~Jeanette Banashak, PhD, EdD
SGTI's Urban Pilgrimage is open to the public. Send us an e-mail if you'd like to be added to the "I'm Interested!" List.
On August 22, we welcomed our new SGTI students into the exciting dimension of interfaith/interspiritual guidance. Eleven individuals joined us in Chicago for a sumptuous week of learning and day pilgrimages to various holy houses. They came from around the U.S. and Canada, embracing many different religious, spiritual and ethical persuasions.
One of the highlights was a pilgrimage to the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago. We experienced a wonderful tour by a senior member of this community and witnessed devotional practice happening in each of the two temples. The above photo was taken on the grounds in front of a memorial to Swami Vivekananda, who is best known as introducing Hinduism to the West in 1893 at the first Parliament of the World's Religions held in Chicago. He was the first "ambassador" of interfaith connection and addressed Parliament attendees as "brothers and sisters," something quite unheard of back in the day.
We also took part in a Shabbat Service at Anshe Emet Synagogue, the 3rd oldest synagogue in Chicago. At the Midwest Buddhist Temple we participated in their Sunday morning Family Service and met with Rev. Ron who compassionately (and with great humor) guided us through the framework of Shin Buddhism.
Our new community of SGTI learners also benefitted from their classroom studies—the interspirituality of Br. Wayne Teasdale and interfaith spiritual direction through the lenses of Rabbi Howard Addison. We often played games together at night and laughed a lot, we ate Lou Malnatis' famous Chicago pizza, and appreciated the beauty of the Lake Michigan shoreline.
What a glorious week it was and we feel blessed to be journeying with such deep and compassionate people who desire to serve as spiritual directors/companions/guides, offering their unconditional, compassionate presence to others.
At the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute, we are constantly amazed at the wonderful inter-religious gatherings that we have been a part of that promote justice, respect, care, and conversation. We thought we would highlight three different ways to go about growing together as one interconnected community. Below, you will find some ideas about what you might experience in an inter-religious gathering, and perhaps you may be interested in facilitating your own gatherings.
One of our favorite ways to engage in dialogue revolves around a meal. Because many participants are available for dinner, this kind of gathering tends to begin at around six and last for two to two and a half hours. There are many ways to organize the dialogue, but it is common for the organizer to bring in a few differing religious, spiritual, and/or ethical perspectives around a theme while attendees sit around tables (we prefer circles). For example, themes could be death and dying, loving others and self, spiritual practices, etc. The order can vary, but generally, each of the experts or practitioners shares about their tradition’s worldview, attendees have opportunities to discuss together in small groups, attendees ask questions of the experts/practitioners, and everyone may have a chance to ask questions and discuss in a big group setting.
A storytelling event can be a powerful way to engage with others around a theme. They can include snacks or a meal, a formal or informal time to meet other attendees, an explanation of the theme by experts/practitioners/storytellers, and of course, the stories themselves. These events can last three to four hours and have many aspects to them, so we recommend inviting six storytellers to share, and coaching them, or having a coach, to teach them some tricks to the storytelling trade. We have also participated in storytelling events where the host provides prompts for attendees to write a line or two of their own stories related to the theme. These are read in between storytellers and before a new teller is announced.
Panels are good ways to engage in dialogue when the focus is on content and engaging with an expert in the field. Like dinner dialogues, panels are usually organized around a particular theme. Panels tend to be shorter in length than dinner dialogues, as they can last about an hour to two. Because the nature of panels includes asking questions and seeking answers, the key to a memorable panel is the host. This person facilitates conversation among the panelists, as well as attendees. It is also helpful when the panelists know each other and interact together in real time.
We hope that you may find a way to attend inter-religious gatherings and also to host them in whatever unique context works for you and your audience.
In his deeply insightful book, Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent, Rabbi Rami Shapiro writes about the process of trying to articulate what we mean by "perennial wisdom." He shares views of this important concept from Meister Eckhart to Eknath Easwaran: "We are sifting through scriptures and teachings of many traditions that step beyond the limit of any culture and point to the Reality that cannot be named."
This is what we do here with our students at SGTI—we sift and sort to unearth universal wisdom that can benefit us all. We also do this with all people who are interested in the same by sending out weekly "Universal Wisdom" messages.
Have you subscribed yet?
Here is a recent sample.
"Spiritual formation, I have come to believe is not about steps or stages on the way to perfection. It’s about the movements from the mind to the heart through prayer in its many forms that reunite us with God, each other, and our truest selves… Prayer is standing in the presence of God with the mind in the heart – that is, in the point of our being where there are no divisions or distinctions and where we are totally one within ourselves, with God, and with others and the whole of creation."
1. Nouwen writes that the heart is the intersection of body, soul, and spirit. How does your heart guide you to make decisions?
2. As you look within your heart, what do you find? You might want to spend some time in silence creating space for compassion for others, creation, and self.
If you enjoyed this selection, subscribe to more. We love creating them and sending them out into the world for people like you to enjoy!
We are pleased to present Part 2 of our conversation with Matt Whitney of Spiritual Directors International about what it means to "live a contemplative life" and how one goes about doing that.
In this new podcast, we also speak about the goals, format and work of the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute and, specifically, our 18-mos. training program with a new cohort beginning in August.
We hope you find this conversation meaningful and helpful in your own life of living into Mystery.
(If you missed Part 1, "Spiritual Fluidity," you can listen to it through this link as well.)
Friends, we are pleased to announce the release of a new SDI (Spiritual Directors International) podcast featuring SGTI cofounders, Jan and Jeanette, on "Spiritual Fluidity." Please take a listen as they are interviewed by SDI's Matt Whitney. This conversation may speak to your heart, especially if you are a spiritually independent person, or someone who companions people who are inclined this way.
Here is how Matt introduced us in the podcast:
Jan Lundy and Jeanette Banashak are longtime members of SDI, they are spiritual directors, and founders of a unique training program called the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute – which educates and equips people to be spiritual directors and companions.
This episode is Part 1, with a focus on what it looks like to be a “spiritual independent” or “spiritually fluid”. It doesn’t mean you have no faith tradition (though it might), but in your life’s journey to commune with mystery and the ground of all being, you may find that no one particular tradition has all the answers you seek. What is perhaps most true is that each person’s spiritual journey is unique, and not easily identified by a way of thinking or an ideology. Jan and Jeanette both have been on this journey personally and vocationally.
Part 2 will premier next week.
You can listen to (and download) the podcast on these channels:
Step out of the circle of time,
and into the circle of love.
When we attended the Spiritual Directors Conference in Seattle in March we became aware of the ever-growing need for spiritual companionship for people of all traditions (and none)—BY people of all traditions and then some.
SDI has been moving forward to expand the understanding and practice of spiritual companionship—beyond formal spiritual direction. We at SGTI support this effort. There are a myriad of ways we can companion individuals of various religious, spiritual and ethical traditions and many forms of training one might be able to take to get comfortable with doing so.
When we think of all the heart-centered individuals in various caring professions—chaplains, social workers, counselors, coaches, hospice workers and health-care professionals, clergy and lay servants, spiritual and secular community leaders, and more—who might want to expand their understanding and practice of compassionate presence and care, our hearts open even wider.
The world is in such great need of healing and many of its citizens are ailing, feeling spiritually uncertain, isolated or unsupported. A spiritual companion is someone who can hold presence for someone right where they are, just as they are. No matter their religious, spiritual or ethical framework, a properly and ethically trained companion can serve others individually and collectively.
Spiritual Directors International defines spiritual companionship in this way:
"Spiritual direction or companionship inspires people to experience authenticity in their lives as they connect with and explore the ground of all being, that deepest of truths which is beyond life and death and goes by many names, including God, and no name at all."
In keeping with this international movement to promote and expand spiritual companionship, SGTI has expanded its 5-month training program to be more inclusive.
We are pleased to announce "Interfaith/Interspiritual Wisdom Training." This innovative training program is for people in all the caring professions. online program results in a Certificate in Interfaith/Interspiritual Competence. This will prepare you to companion and serve seekers of various religious, spiritual and ethical traditions.
The premier cohort is now forming and we invite you to learn more about "Interfaith/Interspiritual Wisdom Training" and listen deeply to hear if this kind of offering might serve you and those YOU serve very well.
We welcome your questions and look forward to hearing from you and do hope you will consider joining us—and enter the "circle of love" of which Rumi spoke.
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.
The Spiritual Guidance Institute recently spent a fabulous week together at our spring residential institute. We camped out at the Cenacle Center, a wonderfully hospitable retreat center on the northside of Chicago. The week’s activities were quite varied: We incorporated teachings on development and the enneagram, practiced deep listening with our unique methodology Pure Presence, had a day of silence, ate community meals together, met with a Cenacle sister, and visited the Hindu Temple in Lemont, an Ash Wednesday service at a Presbyterian church, IMAN (Inner-city Muslim Action Network), and a Muslim/Christian dialogue dinner. It was a week to remember!
We feel grateful to our students for the productive conversations and presence during the week. And we are grateful to our friends who hosted us and shared their sacred stories with us.
Our next cohort will begin in August 2019. An interfaith immersion experience like this could be yours! Learn more.
About this blog
Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual companionship across traditions.
Chat with us on Facebook