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
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
Little boy. Knees so busy under your school khakis. Your dried millet stalk prods an old bicycle tire, bare of tread, along a rocky footpath.
You wear a cereal box on your head.
You are fearless! The magic of your cardboard helmet makes you bold, protects you.
Your tongue trills out machine noises, your body synced. You are an engine of movement, propulsion. You are a green dart of energy running towards me, flitting to the side when we intersect.
You come into focus, and I fold into laughter. Magic Sugar Flakes, imported from Ghana, now transformed. I know this box. Knock-off Frosted Flakes from the Muslim grocer. His store is Fridaos. Muslim Heaven. Did the wind carry the box out of the trash heap and lay it at your feet, like manna?
With the donning of colored paper with shiny letters, you metamorphose.
You take a scrap and animate it, let it animate you.
You are unstoppable, courageous.
Will anyone tell you this? Will you remember it if you reach adulthood?
Will you find other ways to protect yourself, to dodge harm when malaria and parasites and infection comes?
Later this afternoon, I drive the truck to another footpath. A new village. The rumble of the diesel an intrusion. The rhythms of this place are pestles pounding manioc, machetes chopping wood, women sifting chaff from rice.
I come to say hello, to visit. I approach a group of four women crouched on wooden stools where the path opens. There you are beneath them, the second little boy of this day. And the second mask of this day. You lie on the ground, atop a red and yellow pagne. You are all knees and twigged arms. Your face. What is this? Are you, too, wearing a cereal box? I double take, uncomprehending.
Then I see the older woman sitting closest to you. She tends an ochre paste in the scooped out earth. She is applying the mud to you. Not a mask. It is your misshapen face. Your jaw is longer than my hand. Your eyes bend and bulge through stretched, contorted skin.
You see me, too, and then you turn away. Is it a tumor? A birth defect? There is no box to contain what I’m seeing, not even Magic Sugar Flakes.
My tears start. Too many and too fast to swallow. Yes, this is happening. I go from watching to being watched. You and the women have no container for this, a white stranger who openly sobs.
We have scarcely exchanged the most threadbare of greetings. Nyanewisi: you and the sun. The afternoon greeting, followed by a litany of questions about the state of your health, your work, your children.
But no further questions will continue under this sun.
And only God knows how the years will unfold under suns back home, in North America. I will sit with people seeking spiritual guidance. I will encounter them--sometimes in the midst of great suffering--and it will unmask us both.
But for now, uneasy air stirs like a dirty swill of river water around us. None of us knows how to ease back into the everyday. I have seen you. And you have seen me seeing you. And we cannot unsee.
This is a place of suffering.
This is a place of bravado.
This is a place of brazen love.
Love in your unmasked faces, your downward gazes, bearing witness as you attend.
And while this day has been extraordinary, you are all preparing me to see others and myself more clearly as spiritual guide.
Little boy from this morning, you are preparing me to find bold, bald courage. To re-use the tools I have to leap into new worlds.
Little boy in this afternoon sun, you are preparing me, too. Preparing me to sit unflinchingly in waves of suffering and waves of love, in equal measure.
Women, you are preparing me. You teach me to turn my face toward what is before me, my attention more potent than any medicine I offer. You show me what it means to love until the end.
Author Jane Neal is a student with Cohort 2 The Spiritual Guidance Training Institute, graduating in January 2020. She lives with her family in Tyler, Texas.
According to the Pew Research Center (Religion and Public Life), approximately 40% of millennials do not consider themselves religious and are not affiliated with any form of tradition religion. But does this mean that millennials are not spiritual? Or religious? Not necessarily.
Phil Couseneau, director of the Global Spirit series that airs on Public Television, presented a program recently titled, "The Power of Community - The New Monastic Movement."
In this powerful video segment, we see millennials, along with kindred others, forming dedicated contemplative communities, exploring their inner lives in a more interspiritual way. And, at the same time, bringing these values to the street, literally, through acts of altruism.
Enjoy a segment of the video here:
Learn more about the Global Spirit TV series here.
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Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.
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