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.
The foundation of SGTI's sacred listening protocol we use with students, mentees, and colleagues is called Pure Presence. This interfaith and interspiritual approach to formal presence training is the most comprehensive way we know to both deepen and advance spiritual understanding and care in our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces and religious communities.
One of the key questions we ask ourselves as a result of Pure Presence awareness and practices is this: 'Who are we to one another?' Today, we share an excerpt from the Pure Presence Workbook and Journal which offers an answer to this pivotal question.
We can keep in mind as we intersect with others that we are spiritual beings. We are also very human. We are “divine-humans”, and, because we are, every person is unique and of value. Every person is a unique expression of the Divine (and this includes you). Each person has a sacred tale to tell and to engage with them in all their uniqueness is a gift.
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
This post is in honor of one of SGTI's most luminous students, Bijayananda Singh, who departed this earth one month ago. Bijay was a graduate of our "Interfaith and Interspiritual Wisdom Training" program and was much loved by all who studied with him. He lived in India, a devoted son, husband and father. He will be dearly missed.
Bijay had a heart of service and enormous love for young people. He was Secretary/Executive Director of the NFP, "Solidarity for Developing Communities"
(www.sfdc-org.in/institutionalbased). He headed up a residential school for marginalized students, especially those considered to be "untouchable", instilling in them the skills and values to be "human harmonizers." "Human Harmonizers are expected to grow physically, mentally and spiritually in a balanced manner. As they grow holistically, they are expected to influence others by their thoughts and actions leading to ushering transformational changes within and outside their own communities."
Bijay's heart of compassion lives on through his colleagues at SGTI. He penned many beautiful poems as part of his SGTI learnings and submitted them for assignments. With his family's permission, we share one of them here. His words convey the essence of Interspirituality which he believed was necessary for world peace, and the commonly held value of compassion. We hope you will be moved by it as we were.
Bijay, your spirit of service, unconditional love and respect for others of all religious traditions, is something we can all aspire to. We are honored to have walked the earth with you. Thank you for being a way-shower for us. Peace be upon you. Shalom. Om Shanti, dear friend.
to be avatars as Buddha, Christ, Krishna, Moses, Muhammad, Nanak and the like
striving to find the way outs by the avatars for the sufferings of the humankind
avatars’ desire to pass their wisdom to their next generations
infinite manifestation of the Unmanifest
infinite names of the Nameless
infinite forms of the Formless
the attraction of man and woman
the potential on a seed to produce infinite seeds
a plant not germinating with ripen fruits with it
an untaught bird weaving nest for its kids
a baby fish able to swim instantly
a caterpillar taking time to become a butterfly
roots of trees on the sunshine and on the shed sharing food secretly
my mother’s ability to not eat after her children eat up everything
our school peon’s love that donated one of his kidney to his son
missionaries leaving their land for another country
trees breathing out oxygen
Mother Teresa’s desire to document her aridity of God’s love
father burping his baby putting on his shoulder
trees dropping their ripen fruits gently down on the ground
our country supported by other countries during this pandemic
Creator creating infinite emptiness to house infinite things
getting in touch with our own hearts and functioning from it
watching the tongue lest it slip a bad word
Nature’s food cycle
meeting of your eyes with the eyes of your dog
praying for know and unknown, asked or unasked
loving-kindness or kindness plus love
Dalai Lama’s pet name
mother’s milk ready when baby is on the way
the worms forming on the dead body for it to decompose
silence understood without speaking a word
death in God’s time
wondering what is not compassion?
Sun’s desire to evaporate water to form cloud in the sky
cloud’s desire not to hold the rain up in the sky
willing to write a book on the compassion
jasmine’s wish not to hide its fragrance inside
Earth’s ability to nurture its infinite plants, on its womb, with sweet, bitter and sower milks
being compassionate to the compassionless
cooperation of an iron to be modeled as a tool
patience of a reed flute to be holed to produce a melody
empathy, sympathy and mercy, all put together
heart’s ability to feel the feelings of ‘others’
intuiting, everyone and everything is One
not surplus of compassion, but deficiency of it
gratitude, sometimes, overflowing
innumerable births as Bodhisattva
common to all the faiths without which it is not a faith
Buddha Purnima 2021
As we are in the middle of admission season for our next 18-month cohort for spiritual companionship training, we thought we’d write a bit about what is going on behind the scenes at SGTI. Lifelong activist, educator, and researcher, Dena Simmons encourages, challenges, and inspires us: "If we don't apply SEL [social and emotional learning] with an anti-racism lens, SEL risks turning into white supremacy with a hug." While her statement is not about spiritual companionship, we could easily substitute spiritual companionship for SEL: If we don't apply spiritual companionship with an anti-racism lens, spiritual companionship risks turning into white supremacy with a hug.
As a priority and practice, we are committed to being an anti-racist and anti-oppressive institution that continually strives to identify and dismantle inequity and unjust systems. We are committed to the process of interrogating and decolonizing our curriculum, policies, practices, and procedures and to the ongoing professional and personal development that supports and amplifies compassionate-sacred activism, respect, equity, and hospitality. We, the co-founders/co-directors, acknowledge that we live on the appropriated homelands of Indigenous peoples. We are committed to building relationships with Indigenous peoples and nature of their homelands. It is important to us that we increase our spectrum of perspectives: We acknowledge that we are in process with all of our commitments, and as an interfaith and interspiritual institution, we will strive to build sustainable relationships with BIPOC and the land in which we live.
It is our deep desire to have ongoing conversation about race, class, ability, gender and other identities as well as their intersections and to incorporate critical discussions within our curriculum. In addition, we strive to practice contemplation, reflection, and self-examination related to these issues, opportunities, and our commitments. And we continue to nurture prior relationships within our communities and seek out new ones for collaboration and connection.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
About this blog
Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.
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