Guest post. Words and image by SGTI alumnus Christine Hiester
“If your everyday practice is to open to all your emotions, to all the people you meet,
to all the situations you encounter, without closing down, trusting that you can do that–– then that will take you as far as you can go. And then you will understand all the teachings that anyone has ever taught.”
What if this practice of opening– this discomfort, this deep presence with exactly what is in each sacred moment (and they are all sacred) – is the only work?
What if understanding “all the teachings that anyone has ever taught” can be summed up in the everyday encounters with our inner responses to the mysteries, struggles, frustrations, and quiet joys experienced in the midst of this very human life?
What if trusting the moment-by-moment unfolding within us is the path that will also take us outward, to the edges of the cosmos, and the great insights of existence?
Or maybe these questions are too lofty. Maybe they remove us from our lives and place us in an ideal that is all too easy to ponder rather than live out. Maybe with feet on the ground, in the messy reality of life, we instead ask these questions:
Whom will we meet today?
What interruptions will derail our plans?
What conflicts will arise at work, or at home, that will push every button we have?
What physical pain will distract us as we go about the tasks of our day?
What if stubbing a toe, getting cut off on the highway, receiving a phone call with bad news, or being caught in a downpour which makes us late to an important meeting are each divine opportunities to open, open, open our hearts fully to the journey that will make us whole?
What would it feel like to resist the closing, and instead open to everything– everything! – with soft heart and deep breath?
How are you living into your holy “What ifs?” today? How can you invite others to do the same?
Christine Hiester is an interspiritual spiritual companion, retreat facilitator, artist, and musician. She finds her home in spacious places where contemplative and creative practice meet deep connection in community. You can find her on her website www.shapingtheriver.com and on Instagram at @shapingtheriver
“Where the lips are silent the heart has a thousand tongues.”
slowing down -
the setting sun
over mountain creek
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have been living and working in different environments than we would ever have anticipated. Parents and caregivers are home with young children who are in virtual school all day; business people have been working from home for months; restaurant workers are meeting the demands of constantly shifting indoor and outdoor service; service workers have pivoted to online appointments; nearly everyone has had to modify their schedule or lifestyle in some way.
Chances are also good that the noise levels at home and work in the past year have been anything but the same as pre-Covid days. For some, the home environment is noisier because family, friends, and housemates are around a lot more. While for others, it is quieter due to working from home without colleagues present.
Several years ago I had a similar change in daily habit when I spent a month at a Cistercian monastery in Norway. I joined their rituals and practices as much as I could and while initially exhausting, the daily liturgy and contemplation, work, and silence provided a welcome rhythm to my otherwise inconsistent and noisy existence. One of the most striking and surprising revelations came to me as I experienced working together to make soap in silence: Silence is my friend (and this was especially essential for me as an extrovert). Yes, the nuns occasionally spoke to clarify something, but for the most part, everything was done in consistently quiet ways – including resolving conflicts. I spent years processing those days of stillness with my spiritual director and ultimately decided it was important to incorporate silence into my daily spiritual practices.
Researchers teach us that there are psychological and physiological benefits to silence, including improved sleep, improved concentration and calm, stimulated brain development, boosted immune system, the increased ability to be more discerning in decision making, repaired cognitive resources, and a more relaxed body and brain. In addition to psychological benefits, silence promotes attention and intercontemplation, a term coined by Beverly Lanzetta to describe “the dialogue of religious experience as it reaches into deep states of contemplation and silent prayer”. Intercontemplation is a way of being that encourages the interdependence of spiritualities, religions, practices, healing, wholeness, and fecundity of nature.
Last June, Josh Sims, a journalist for the BBC, wrote an article entitled Will the world be quieter after the pandemic? In his piece, Sims considers if noise pollution will be the next major public health issue. He notices that access to quiet has been primarily granted to those with privilege, including people who have had access to quieter neighborhoods and resources for technologies that enhance peace. Sims quotes postdoctoral researcher and founder of Noise and the City, Erica Walker, who maintains that quiet should be a human right. Noise and the City, Community Noise Lab, Herb Singleton at Cross-Spectrum Acoustics, and noise researcher, Arline Bronzaft, collaborated on a research project that looked at noise levels in and around public schools. They concluded, “Noise pollution impairs learning in children and affects schools in city neighborhoods” and they offered their top recommendation: “[Be] noise aware!”
Since my time at the monastery, I have taken small steps to incorporate silence and intercontemplation, and be noise aware, with everything I do. At the foundational level, this looks like taking an extra breath before making a decision and allowing my body to regulate and calm. Additional ways include taking multiple day silent retreats each year, camping and backpacking in nature, taking a break from electronics, walking through the city, writing haiku, and being deliberate about the moments of silence throughout the day. If I can, I’ll do almost anything, or nothing, to recognize beauty and sustain presence.
I wonder, will there be a new standard for quiet after the pandemic?
bends rocks and minnows-
Text and photos by Jeanette Banashak
Co-Founder, Co-Director, Spiritual Guidance Training Institute
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
At the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute, we value and celebrate the power of story. Being able to tell your story to a trusted companion can heal, inspire, nourish, connect, and transform us. The first time I told a difficult part of my story to a mentor, he responded, “Well, everyone sins…”. I spent years unpacking that one. Not only is that not my worldview, but his response could have sent me back into a state of fear and mistrust.
A little while later, with the guidance of both a spiritual director and therapist, I continued to share my stories over and over again - until I got to the point where I did not expect my spiritual director or therapist to be the ones to heal me, inspire me, nourish me. Rather, with self-compassion, I learned to connect with a deep inner teacher that ultimately helped me to see me for who I was and am. That is something to celebrate!
One of our current students from our third cohort is an art therapist, poet, writer, and emerging spiritual guide. She recently wrote three poems that we’d like to share with you because they speak deeply to the influence of meeting ourselves again and again through each telling of a part of our story.
A Celebratory Chant
I am a woman who dances.
I am a dance of a woman.
I am a dance of the Dance.
I am a woman who dreams.
I am a dream of a woman.
I am a dream of the Dreamer.
I am a woman who sings.
I am a song of a woman.
I am a song in the Song.
I am a woman with a story.
I am a story of a woman.
I am a story in the Story.
I am a woman who loves.
I am the love of a woman.
I am love inside Love.
100 Stories Each Human Has to Tell
The story of:
loss love fear betrayal failure success
labor grace birth worth faith fidelity
faithlessness mess illusion confusion hurt
healing doubt longing belonging
mother father lovers children
remembering forgetting hunger abundance
gratitude complaint grief joy
pain illness health stealth
time youth aging refusal acceptance
roots culture wildness domesticity
ancestry land politics
generations history colonization
slavery trauma violence
peace brokenness wholeness
trust distrust anger
possessions knowledge wisdom
questions change growth seasons
solitude community family tribe
war famine harvest
song mirth creativity
falsity truth dreams beauty
hiding revelation dying
greed generosity redemption
Each Time I Tell My Story
Each time I tell my story,
it is different,
seen through the hundred
or ways of being human.
And there is a listening spirit
(that some call God)
listening to each telling,
and all hundred names and ways of God
hear and respond,
until my story becomes
a hundred times a hundred stories,
or ten thousand stories.
And you, my fellow human,
are also listening,
and you are hearing and responding
with all your stories
within the hundred names and ways
of being human
and my story becomes
a hundred times ten thousand
or a million stories,
just between the three of us,
you, me, and God.
And I carry within me
these million responses,
and to each,
from all my human ways,
I respond within,
and so, my story becomes
a hundred times a million,
or a hundred million stories
each of which can then be told 100 ways
and be responded to by God’s 100 ways
and by each living person’s 100 human ways,
times seven billion people,
and these responses,
can be taken in and lived by me
and then stories told
from that living
on and on until so very soon
infinity is reached
because the story
never was my story.
It is always our story.
And always one story.
The endless and
eternal story of All.
That being said,
let me tell you my story…
-Poems by Liza Hyatt
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:
About this blog
Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.
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