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
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.
Here at The Spiritual Guidance Training Institute we assist our students in developing "sacred listening." One of the tools we use to do so is a unique protocol developed by Dr. Janice Lundy called "Pure Presence™." The methodology and practices are intended to open one's heart to listen to others in ways that are "pure"— without bias, judgment, or hidden agendas. This allows us to transcend religious doctrine, cultural prejudice, or anything that could keep us separated from our fellow human beings. It enables us to create a space for connection and healing to happen within a spiritual guidance session.
We could say that we at SGTI are trying to foster "hearts as wide as the world." In our final learning module with Cohort 1 students we explored this concept, and invited them to share their understanding of "a heart as wide as the world." This is what one of our students, Jeffrey Phillips, wrote:
“The heart of the world” – what is that? Is it the social world misshapen by structures and systems that seem unchangeable, and that, more often than not, go unnoticed by people who have been taught to not see and question unjust schemes? Is it the world itself – beautiful, dying, the original body of God? Is it the world of creativity, imagination, science, curiosity, discovery, spirituality, primal experiences, social bonding, sexuality, and the arts?
Or it is God – that which beats (like a heart) at the center (the heart) of all things? The goodness, the joy, the love, the moral imperative to care? Being, Consciousness, Existence, Spirit, Mystery, Eternity – experienced in shared, sacred story, symbol, rituals, concepts, and completely unorthodox (“profane,” “secular”) and unexpected numinous, luminous places, people, and circumstances?
How does one listen to that Heart? By taking time in the daily practice, by stepping outside the ordinary routines to attend the festival of a different social group or take a new course. By paying attention to your toothbrush – really looking at it for the first time! By sitting when you could be busy. By resting when you could be working. By savoring a conversation, a meal, a day. By being when you could be doing. By reading a poem slowly – really chewing on it - rather than reading the news. By “praying the news,” and considering those stubborn social systems and the suffering they inflict on innocent folk.
And then by reflecting on that toothbrush-looking, that sitting, that being, that soulful reading, that news praying. And doing it again the next day – or doing something completely different. Or maybe by approaching a daily practice with no agenda at all other than to Be Open, and to see – and hear! - what happens in the moment, in the here, in the now. I have learned that this last year and a half.
Dr. Jeanette Banashak, co-founder and co-director of SGTI, has recently had an essay published by Spiritual Director's International for their website/blog. "Spiritual Companionship and Emotions" lays out a noteworthy method of working with personal emotions which can be of benefit to spiritual guides.
"No matter how, where, when, or by whom we were raised, scholars agree that there are 5 emotions that we all have in common: enjoyment, sadness, disgust, fear, and anger.
As a spiritual guide, I am constantly looking and listening for clues that help me understand what a seeker is feeling. At the same time, I am listening for clues in myself that let me know what I am feeling.
This self-listening and self-awareness grows as I learn which emotions and conscious feelings I am experiencing in any given moment." (cont'd)
Read the post in its entirety here:
This post was originally published on the blog of Spiritual Directors International. SGTI's co-director, Jan Lundy, shares her favorite quotes on listening and explores the significance of listening within the spiritual direction/guidance relationship.
About this blog
Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual companionship across traditions.
Chat with us on Facebook