by Jeanette Banashak, PhD, EdD
Is there an experience that you have had that you haven’t explored as a spiritual guide for yourself? What are some of the questions you could ask yourself as you explore the depths of your inner world? How might they help you create meaning?
I recently spent some time in South Africa, and as is the case with nearly anything I do, I witnessed the land and her people with the lens of an interreligious and interspiritual companion. As a spiritual guide, I am writing this reflection to re-live some beautiful moments in South Africa. As I journeyed across the land, I was not always aware of the interior land that was unexplored without reflective-reflexive expression. In other words, I want to be a spiritual companion for myself.
At the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg (originally named Egoli or Gauteng, meaning the place of gold, by the first Africans), I read a quote in one of the exhibits from Nelson Mandela. He said, "The cell is an ideal place to know yourself. People tend to measure themselves by external accomplishments, but jail allows a person to focus on internal ones, such as honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, generosity, and an absence of variety. You learn to look into yourself.” Though I cannot fully comprehend Mandela’s 27 years in prison, it is with his pursuit of goodness that I write this piece.
My reflective expression (I chose one experience for the purposes of this blog): What did I feel as I biked through sewage, surrounded by tin "houses" in Soweto? What did I notice in my body as I learned that there are vacant apartments (for the past 8 years!) since Jacob Zuma changed Mandela's vision of offering free housing? What was my response to the children's memorial site that explained how, in 1976, 11-18 year old students stood up to their oppressors? Who am I in relation to the mothers and sons, the sisters and grandfathers? And, to quote spiritual director, Kaye Twining, who do I now know myself to be after such an experience?
Throughout the bike tour in Soweto, I felt deep grief, sadness, fear, surprise, amazement, respect. My sadness and grief were felt in my stomach; I felt surprise and amazement in my heart. I got choked up at the memorial site with the famous picture of Hector Petersen after he was shot. And yet, what were the other names of those peaceful protestors who also were shot or injured? At times, I had a difficult time feeling connected to the people of Soweto. I tried to notice when I wavered between pity and compassion, when I felt sorry for them or practiced loving kindness. As I ponder the experience and look back on photographs, I can embrace our common humanity while honoring their historical and cultural context. This is not easy! But, it is my way forward if I am going to have a reflexive expression fueled by compassionate action.
We live in challenging times, divisive times. How do we keep faith and hope alive? How do we continue to believe in the power of good? In the love and reconciliation of which each person is capable?
SGTI co-founder, Jan Lundy, believes it is "important it is that we help one another reorient toward the good, the higher emotion, the life-affirming virtues that we carry within us, especially during challenging times."
Read her essay originally published by Spiritual Directors International here:
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Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual companionship across traditions.
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