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."
Drs. Banashak and Lundy discuss their individual calls to become spiritual directors-guides and wonder if you may be experiencing something similar. Have you heard or felt a call to serve others by being a spiritual companion?
SGTI's next 18-mo. training program to become a spiritual director/guide with an interfaith-interspiritual focus begins August 27.
Note: This cohort will begin on time as SGTI is primarily an internet-based program. If the presence of Covid-19 makes the first Chicago Residential Institute unlikely, it will be rescheduled as soon as possible, but online learning will begin anyway. We are currently accepting applications and filling the cohort. We hope you will consider joining us! Contact us for an application.
We recently had a casual Zoom conversation about our thoughts on what it means to be a spiritual guide/companion/director during challenging times, especially these times of pandemic. Take a listen!
May peace be upon you,
Jan Lundy & 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.
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Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.
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