This spring, SGTI, SGTI students and alumni, as well as 1600 others, participated in Spiritual Directors International’s first virtual conference. We asked the SGTI community the following questions as a way to serve as a debrief of the conference, learn from each other, and share with our readers: What insights did you gain from this year's SDI conference? How might those insights inform your current or future practice of spiritual companionship/spiritual direction?
One alumna offered this response (used by permission):
I need sustained belonging within a contemplative learning community. Yet, strong communities of deep-diving seekers actively engaged in the world are truly hard to find. For me, SGTI is such a community. Yet, since this January, after graduating from the 18-month training in inter-spiritual guidance, I’ve feared that my experience of belonging within my cohort would weaken and fade over time, until I was once again without the community nourishment I relished as a SGTI student and need now, more than ever. As winter shifted toward spring, I lived inside this fear, confused and unsettled as I continued discerning how to fit my new growth as spiritual director into my already full life as art therapist and teacher of graduate art therapy students.
In this unsettled place, I considered cancelling my registration for the Spiritual Directors International virtual conference. I doubted I would feel nourished, or connected to other attendees, by spending yet more hours in front of a computer screen. But this would be my first time attending an SDI conference, and I hoped it might offer ways to see more clearly where I am and where I am headed. And so, I showed up, living my questions, hoping to be touched in some way.
I now am at a loss for words to describe how much I was touched by during the conference. Simply put, I no longer feel afraid. Instead, I feel like the little boat of belonging within which I sailed as part of our intimate SGTI cohort has been taken on board the much larger vessel of SDI, within which I can continue to grow, learn, and find connections to fellow seekers who are as engaged as I am. Deeply inspired by Father Adam Bucko’s workshop and keynote presentation, I am now reading his book on new monasticism and I feel affirmed that I have been a modern-day monastic literally my whole life. Through SGTI and SDI, I have found my fellow monks.
On the first day of the SDI conference, I woke to find a wet, heavy snow coating April’s greening new life with strange winter garb. This snow continued off and on all day. As I sat in my home in Indianapolis attending the day’s virtual offerings, I grieved for the spring-growth I was sure would be frozen and ruined. Instead, when the snow melted, to my surprise, most everything survived and kept blooming.
As I returned to my normal routine after the conference, my delight at spring recovering from winter’s last blast has been co-mingled with my delight at having found connection to SDI’s abundant community of contemplative learners. A grouping of yellow, purple and white pansies is how nature conveys for me these overlapping delights. As I look into the faces of these flowers, I see brightly dressed monks with wide-eyed singing expressions. And I feel like one of them, not alone. This is how I felt throughout the entire 4-day SDI conference and how I continue to feel after it. Like pansies surviving frosts and snows, we contemplatives live amidst the suffering caused by humanity’s frozen-heartedness, and willingly serve it, again and again, helping hearts thaw and spirits bloom. And we find each other. Somehow in this non-contemplative, struggling world, we keep seeking until we find each other. Thanks to SGTI, and in new ongoing ways through SDI, I have truly found belonging within a vibrant community of beautiful, flowering, hardy, courageous spirits who are committed to strengthening each other so that we can live authentically in this suffering world and serve with love.”
Another alumna shared this in response (used by permission):
"A sense of belonging was a big take home for me, too. The strongest sense for me was what felt like a palpable urge for the SDI community to respond to the blights that have plagued our larger social landscape more than ever, especially since COVID struck. This sense of purpose came across much stronger to me than it had when I went to the previous two SDI conferences. I felt that within this culture of SD (spiritual direction) and Interspirituality, there’s a unique contribution we can make and all want to make together.
I also felt a sense that we’re learning as we go. One participant shared that SDs have up till now mostly concerned themselves with the inner life of their companions and their immediate social circles. But there has not been sufficient concern for the collective in SD practice. And it’s that concern that I felt many of the keynote speakers and much of our community express. I was really impressed and heartened that it’s possible to align my love of contemplative practice and Interspirituality with a crying urgency to do our parts to hold up the values of democracy, empirical truth and decent regard for all people walking our streets.”
We heard other comments and reflections that all spoke to the richness and depth of this year’s conference. We echo these reflections and continue to be grateful to SDI for the many ways it supports us and our communities. We are forever changed."
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.
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.
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.
In the next few weeks, a new feature will appear on the SGTI website. We are excited about spotlighting our current students and alumni and have plans to do both beginning in February. We feel that our new features, "Student Spotlight" and "Alumni Spotlight," will help you get to know the Institute better, especially when it comes to the kinds of students we attract, why they take SGTI's unique training, and how they hope to serve others once their training is complete.
In the meantime, one of our current students, Matthew Whitney, has been featured as a guest on the Spiritual Directors International podcast, "SDI Encounters." Matt is usually the host of this wonderful series, but this time the tables were turned and he is interviewed about his life as a contemplative artist and a student of spiritual companionship. We hope you will take a listen!
Visit this main page for SDI podcasts:
then look for Matt's podcast:
"Art, Creativity, and Spiritual Companionship"
You can also listen here:
On Spotify – https://open.spotify.com/show/2ufeZhwf9z6WuBi5pZEeNn
On Apple Podcasts https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/sdi-encounters/id1451231142?mt=2
On Stitcher - https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/sdi-encounters
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 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.
The mystic and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, famously said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” When we pursue the spiritual life, we pursue the human life. What does it mean to be human? And, what does it mean for a child to be human? In this essay, I suggest how parents’ understanding and practice of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) and scaffolding enable children to be and become more human.
Lev Vygotsky defined the ZPD as "the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers". The ZPD is significant when a skill may be too difficult to grasp on their own. In this zone, the adult or peer provides guidance, support, and/or encouragement to the child, which helps them operate at a higher level within the zone. The adult or peer is constantly modifying the task in order for the child to amplify understanding.
While Vygotsky never used the term scaffolding, David Wood, Jerome Bruner, and Gail Ross define scaffolding as a process "that enables a child or novice to solve a task or achieve a goal that would be beyond [their] unassisted efforts." Scaffolding entails activities facilitated by an adult or peer (e.g. modeling, making meaning of seemingly insignificant actions, or breaking down a task into smaller tasks, to name a few) that support the child in the ZPD. The goal is for the child to be able to complete the task on their own. Both the ZPD and scaffolding promote knowledge and understanding for the child.
The ZPD and scaffolding also provide a way for children to make ethical choices and ask questions about their existence. Adults and peers can engage in conversations with children that invite them to answer the how and why questions children have and make meaning of them. At a Parliament of World’s Religions breakfast last week week, I learned about the interreligious organization Spiritual Playdate, where facilitators create opportunities for dialogue between adult and child around spiritual issues. Together, they “explore and discover beliefs…”. Exploration and discovery are very different than monologues by adults about what a child ought to believe. The emphasis is more on being and becoming than believing, belonging, or behaving (to borrow a phrase from Elizabeth Drescher’s Choosing Our Religion).
Within trusting and safe environments and relationships, children try on new and different identities and behaviors; they question their values, preferences, and motives; and they explore and discover what it means to be human. The concepts of the ZPD and scaffolding offer insights into why we can’t be neutral, non-participating adults when it comes to nurturing the humanness of children. Rather, we can join them in their exploration and play, encourage their curiosity, and listen deeply to their questions.
Jeanette Banashak, PHD, EdD.
About this blog
Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.
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