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.
As I sit in the non-violent communication (NVC) training, I am pondering any difficulties that I have with anyone who is not like me. I ask myself if there are individuals or groups of which I’ve made “static assessments” or written off because their differences seem too great for me to resolve. According to NVC, every action an enemy takes is an expression of feelings and needs. When my needs are critically unmet, I can make an enemy of others. Maybe I have lacked in historical competence because I do not know their cultural history. Or perhaps I lack understanding or hope for change.
Rather than humanizing the other, I have demonized and diminished them, creating distance between them and me. Accessing empathy and self-empathy lessens the distance and creates connection to meet both of our needs.
Non-violent communication (NVC) was developed by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s. At once a communication practice, a spirituality practice, and a peace organization, NVC is deeply interspiritual. NVC practitioners see the other as sacred and having dignity; they see themselves in the same way. They practice mutual seeing – hearing each other at the core – and mutual assisting – giving and receiving without coercion and with freedom and gratitude.
The main intention of NVC is greater understanding and connection with the self and others related to needs. NVC defines needs as qualities that contribute to the flourishing of life – needs are ultimately the point of connection. A non-exhaustive list of needs has been created that fall under categories such as connection, physical well-being, honesty, play, peace, meaning, and autonomy. The key is being aware of my needs, being aware of your needs, and believing and living like each of our needs matters.
NVC is an interspiritual practice that offers a way to communicate what is alive in me (self-expression), connect with what’s alive in me (self-connection), and connect with what’s alive in you (empathy). It is a movement away from judgments, labels, demands, no choices, and towards inter-connection and intra-connection.
Even though I don’t fully comprehend the depth of compassion that exists in me, in you, in the world, I believe that what is required in this new era is, as Wayne Teasdale wrote, for religious and spiritual traditions to “pool their treasures of the spirit”. To any historical or current enemy: What gem do you bring to our open table?
Jeanette Banashak, PhD., EdD.
About this blog
Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual companionship across traditions.
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