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
We are always pleased and privileged to feature one of our students' work. This entry came about as a result of a module on "Contemplative Practices Across Traditions." Please enjoy the work of Christine Hiester, a video with an original chant.
"I decided to create a video with a chant I composed and recorded along with images of candles from different traditions and a Hafiz poem—one of my favorites! Creative media are a significant part of my prayer practice ... I began to compose a chant one day last week using the interval of a perfect 5th. The interval of a perfect 5th along with its complement, a perfect 4th, when sung or played in tune has frequencies that match so completely it creates a hollow, open sound. You can hear this when listening to a violin or other string instrument tune. When the 5th locks in, the musician can hear what is called a “beatless” 5th and knows tuning is complete.
Once I sang through the chant, I created a harmony to go on top of it. The composing of this chant brought me into a space of prayer and I envisioned my singing bowl as the initial tone. I decided I wanted to create a video with images that were meaningful to me, and I chose candles from many traditions, lit in prayer and unity.
Finally, I chose the poem by Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky, which speaks to the reality of unity and Oneness that is discovered through contemplation when we enter into the heart of the One Who Loves."
Watch and listen here:
Thank you, Christine, for allowing SGTI to share your creation with others!
Recently, SGTI welcomed Dr. Beverly Lanzetta to its "Interspiritual Luminaries" webinar series. She spoke candidly about the invitation that many of us are feeling today to turn inward and explore more deeply how we see and name ourselves. What is unique about our religious/spiritual orientation? She encourages us to re-think how we view ourselves and our relationship with the Sacred. We are reminded of the quote by Rumi: " There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."
To do what Dr. Lanzetta suggests, we take time to not only explore the expressions of other traditions, but listen deeply within our heart-mind to discern how the Divine may be uniquely calling us. How does this manifestation of the Divine encourage us to live in alignment with our deepest values and highest purpose? How do we engage an authentic life that honors how God/Brahman/Tao/G!D/Allah/Ultimate Reality makes itself known to us? Deep silence and spiritual practice can point the way.
Here at SGTI, we often use the terms interfaith and interspiritual. These terms describe the orientation of our studies. We, as instructors, as well as our students, may describe ourselves in a multitude of ways. All ways are honored here.
Dr. Lanzetta provides us with some enlightening definitions and descriptions of ways we can see ourselves, naming our experience of the Sacred. We invite you to explore some of these definitions on this page of her website. Perhaps they will help you discern an answer to the question, "How do you see yourself?"
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 are constantly amazed at the wonderful inter-religious gatherings that we have been a part of that promote justice, respect, care, and conversation. We thought we would highlight three different ways to go about growing together as one interconnected community. Below, you will find some ideas about what you might experience in an inter-religious gathering, and perhaps you may be interested in facilitating your own gatherings.
One of our favorite ways to engage in dialogue revolves around a meal. Because many participants are available for dinner, this kind of gathering tends to begin at around six and last for two to two and a half hours. There are many ways to organize the dialogue, but it is common for the organizer to bring in a few differing religious, spiritual, and/or ethical perspectives around a theme while attendees sit around tables (we prefer circles). For example, themes could be death and dying, loving others and self, spiritual practices, etc. The order can vary, but generally, each of the experts or practitioners shares about their tradition’s worldview, attendees have opportunities to discuss together in small groups, attendees ask questions of the experts/practitioners, and everyone may have a chance to ask questions and discuss in a big group setting.
A storytelling event can be a powerful way to engage with others around a theme. They can include snacks or a meal, a formal or informal time to meet other attendees, an explanation of the theme by experts/practitioners/storytellers, and of course, the stories themselves. These events can last three to four hours and have many aspects to them, so we recommend inviting six storytellers to share, and coaching them, or having a coach, to teach them some tricks to the storytelling trade. We have also participated in storytelling events where the host provides prompts for attendees to write a line or two of their own stories related to the theme. These are read in between storytellers and before a new teller is announced.
Panels are good ways to engage in dialogue when the focus is on content and engaging with an expert in the field. Like dinner dialogues, panels are usually organized around a particular theme. Panels tend to be shorter in length than dinner dialogues, as they can last about an hour to two. Because the nature of panels includes asking questions and seeking answers, the key to a memorable panel is the host. This person facilitates conversation among the panelists, as well as attendees. It is also helpful when the panelists know each other and interact together in real time.
We hope that you may find a way to attend inter-religious gatherings and also to host them in whatever unique context works for you and your audience.
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.
The term "interspirituality" is still a fairly new term in terms of public awareness. Many people who might consider themselves to be "interfaith", are often called deeper: to explore the intersection of religious/spiritual experience on more universal soul level.
These people are often mystics, and sense a deeper thread of universal truth running through the religious traditions of the world. Perhaps they've never used the term "interspiritual" to describe themselves, but, in truth they just might be.
In 1999, Br. Wayne Teasdale, a Catholic monk who also practiced in the Hindu tradition, spoke of "the mystic heart," the meeting place of all the world's spiritual traditions—a deep well of wisdom sourced in Ultimate Reality that anyone can access.
Here at SGTI, we are proponents of this deep well of wisdom. We are encouragers of mystic hearts. To that end, we have now made a dynamic new e-course available to all seekers and companions (not just our students): "Enter the Mystic Heart: An Introduction to Interspirituality."
Created by Dr. Janice Lundy, it is a self-paced, downloadable course with 12 dynamic lessons, including videos and audios, to help deepen your understanding of your own mystic heart, or the hearts of those you companion. This unique course is both an informational, content-rich class and an opportunity to engage in spiritual formation through an interspiritual lens.
We hope you will take advantage of this unique opportunity!
At the Parliament of World Religions in Toronto last November, I attended a session entitled “GenInterfaith: Claiming Complex Religious Labels”. Author and speaker, Susan Katz Miller, began with a premise that speaks to us at the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute. From her description she wrote, “Few of us have singular religious identities. Most of us have extended interfaith families, are multiple religious practitioners, live in post-colonial environments with religious layering, and learn from and draw on the many religions that surround us.” We interact in face to face and online encounters with diverse representations at the intersections within our community.
In her presentation, Susan Katz Miller highlighted the fact that ¼ of our population in the US is growing up in interfaith families. In addition, the fastest growing interfaith couples are Christian and Atheist. We are in need of new practices, given the rise in intermarriage, multiple religious practices, and spiritual fluidity (a term by Dwayne Bidwell, author of When One Religion Isn’t Enough). The following four practices were suggested:
We would like to add one more and are also curious about what practices you would add.
At the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute, we celebrate the multitude of religious identities as well as the identities of race, ethnicity, class, gender, ability, sexual/attractional orientation, age, socio-economic class, work, education, veteran status and more. And, we trust that our practices align with our words.
Interspiritual Meditation - Christian Meditation
Nada te turbe,
nada te espante
todo se pasa,
Dios no se muda,
todo lo alcanza,
quien a Dios tiene
nada le falta
solo Dios basta.
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things pass away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
-St. Teresa of Ávila
About this blog
Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.
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