“Where the lips are silent the heart has a thousand tongues.”
slowing down -
the setting sun
over mountain creek
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have been living and working in different environments than we would ever have anticipated. Parents and caregivers are home with young children who are in virtual school all day; business people have been working from home for months; restaurant workers are meeting the demands of constantly shifting indoor and outdoor service; service workers have pivoted to online appointments; nearly everyone has had to modify their schedule or lifestyle in some way.
Chances are also good that the noise levels at home and work in the past year have been anything but the same as pre-Covid days. For some, the home environment is noisier because family, friends, and housemates are around a lot more. While for others, it is quieter due to working from home without colleagues present.
Several years ago I had a similar change in daily habit when I spent a month at a Cistercian monastery in Norway. I joined their rituals and practices as much as I could and while initially exhausting, the daily liturgy and contemplation, work, and silence provided a welcome rhythm to my otherwise inconsistent and noisy existence. One of the most striking and surprising revelations came to me as I experienced working together to make soap in silence: Silence is my friend (and this was especially essential for me as an extrovert). Yes, the nuns occasionally spoke to clarify something, but for the most part, everything was done in consistently quiet ways – including resolving conflicts. I spent years processing those days of stillness with my spiritual director and ultimately decided it was important to incorporate silence into my daily spiritual practices.
Researchers teach us that there are psychological and physiological benefits to silence, including improved sleep, improved concentration and calm, stimulated brain development, boosted immune system, the increased ability to be more discerning in decision making, repaired cognitive resources, and a more relaxed body and brain. In addition to psychological benefits, silence promotes attention and intercontemplation, a term coined by Beverly Lanzetta to describe “the dialogue of religious experience as it reaches into deep states of contemplation and silent prayer”. Intercontemplation is a way of being that encourages the interdependence of spiritualities, religions, practices, healing, wholeness, and fecundity of nature.
Last June, Josh Sims, a journalist for the BBC, wrote an article entitled Will the world be quieter after the pandemic? In his piece, Sims considers if noise pollution will be the next major public health issue. He notices that access to quiet has been primarily granted to those with privilege, including people who have had access to quieter neighborhoods and resources for technologies that enhance peace. Sims quotes postdoctoral researcher and founder of Noise and the City, Erica Walker, who maintains that quiet should be a human right. Noise and the City, Community Noise Lab, Herb Singleton at Cross-Spectrum Acoustics, and noise researcher, Arline Bronzaft, collaborated on a research project that looked at noise levels in and around public schools. They concluded, “Noise pollution impairs learning in children and affects schools in city neighborhoods” and they offered their top recommendation: “[Be] noise aware!”
Since my time at the monastery, I have taken small steps to incorporate silence and intercontemplation, and be noise aware, with everything I do. At the foundational level, this looks like taking an extra breath before making a decision and allowing my body to regulate and calm. Additional ways include taking multiple day silent retreats each year, camping and backpacking in nature, taking a break from electronics, walking through the city, writing haiku, and being deliberate about the moments of silence throughout the day. If I can, I’ll do almost anything, or nothing, to recognize beauty and sustain presence.
I wonder, will there be a new standard for quiet after the pandemic?
bends rocks and minnows-
Text and photos by Jeanette Banashak
Co-Founder, Co-Director, Spiritual Guidance Training Institute
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!
By Jeanette Banashak, co-founder of The Spiritual Guidance Training Institute
“The mandala evokes the universal longing for inclusivity, equality, peace, wisdom and love that is the profound spiritual aspiration of all living beings.” In this quote, Dr. Edward Bastian describes a tool that has the potential to grow and progress the spiritual life. The mandala is a contemplative tool that incorporates 12 spiritual styles, 12 questions, and 12 religious/spiritual/ethical traditions. The styles are “predispositions or lenses” that serve to support learning and spirituality; the questions are the big questions of life that have been asked for hundreds and thousands of years about the nature of people, creation, ideas, animals, etc.; the traditions include any spiritual/religious/ethical tradition that holds some of the means and practices that might illuminate and expand the questions.
Different traditions highlight different spiritual styles. Buddhism highlights meditation, Christianity highlights love, Taoism highlights wisdom (I realize that in this comment I am distilling these traditions into one word. It is beyond the scope of this article to outline the rituals, aesthetics, prayers, practices, and beliefs of all traditions.). The Mandala helps us to walk the spiritual path in step with our own traditions, spiritual styles, and big questions. In other words, we concentrate more succinctly on our development with focused awareness on ourselves in relation to our religious, spiritual, ethical traditions.
I have recently been trained as a facilitator of Interspiritual Meditation (ISM), also developed by Dr. Bastian, and in my final project, I created a Nature Immersion inspired by Forest Bathing Therapy and ISM. I’d like to extend the project and experience by considering and exploring how spending 1.5 – 2 hours in nature might serve any of the spiritual styles.
(On the website, you can click on any of the spiritual styles, any of the seven steps of ISM, and any of the traditions and a curated list of resources is available for me. For example, for the purposes of this paper, I looked for arts and indigenous sources (and found sub-sources for a variety of indigenous traditions), body and indigenous sources, devotion and indigenous sources, etc.)
The style of art appeals to people who are attuned to their senses: they connect with beautiful things, sounds, tastes, and smells. The questions for the artist include the following: “Are you naturally creative or comfortable with artistic expressions? Are there artists or works of art that give expression to your own sense of the spiritual? Does participating in the arts inspire and bring out the spiritual in you?” (p. 17). While immersed in nature, the artist may pay special attention to the textures of the trees or rocks, the smells of the woods, the sounds of the birds, or the taste of foraged mushrooms. They may feel inclined to create something while in nature (even a mandala using whatever is found around them) or after the immersion in order to enliven their experience.
The style of the body appeals to people who learn through movement and connection with somatic expression. The questions for the kinesthete include the following: “Does your need for physical activity make it difficult for you to sit still? Do you like to explore and express your spiritual insights through movement? Do you feel subtle emotional and spiritual states through your body?” (p. 25). People with this style would appreciate the act of walking in the woods, dancing through them, or doing yoga among the trees.
The style of devotion appeals to people who have a strong sense of loyalty to people, systems and ideas. The questions for the devotee include the following: “Are you more prone to faith than skepticism? Are you naturally loyal to a job, a person or a community? Do you yearn to be dedicated to a greater cause or higher principle? Do you long to be committed to a spiritual teaching, teacher, or higher power? (p. 39). Once immersed in nature, the devotee may reconnect with their commitment to climate change or a relationship with a person or something in nature.
The style of imagination appeals to people who perceive images and symbols as forms of knowing. The questions for the dreamer include the following: “Do you have vivid and memorable dreams? Are you drawn to spiritual symbols, icons and imagery? Are you naturally interested in mythological stories and beings? Have you had a rich and vivid imagination since childhood?” (p. 45). People with this spiritual style may perceive and conceptualize the animals of the forest, waterfalls, trees, paths, sky, etc. in ways that connect with qualities and practices that are meaningful to them.
The style of love and compassion appeals to people who have an acute sense of our interconnectedness, empathy, care for all people. The questions for the lover include the following: “Do you have a natural empathy for others? Do you want to create happiness and eliminate suffering? Do you have a naturally kindhearted feeling toward others? Do you feel embraced by a universal love and compassion greater than yourself?” (p. 51). While in nature, the lover may experience an overwhelming sense of love from the Divine that might lead to an insatiable desire to serve; they may pass other sojourners and offer love and compassion through a silent prayer or intention.
The style of meditation or contemplation appeals to people who appreciate silence and introspection. The questions for the meditator or contemplator include the following: “Do you long for inner tranquility, focus and insight? Are you comfortable sending considerable time alone in silence? Are you called to discover truth and needle through deep introspection?” (p. 33). For the meditator/contemplator, the journey into nature parallels their journey within, for while they gaze at the beauty and wonderment of a place, they also gaze at their own beauty and wonderment.
The style of mystic appeals to people who perceives things beyond what they might regularly observe with the senses. The questions for the mystic include the following: “Have you had unexplainable experiences of the supernatural? Are you attracted to the possibility of mystical visions and revelations? Have you had paranormal experiences not mediated by your five senses? Are you drawn to an unseen mystery that could review of the ultimate nature of reality?” (p. 57). Individuals with this particular spiritual style might connect with the magic and mystery of the woods or they may interact with the non-human elements.
The style of nature appeals to people who feel at home outdoors and communing with natural places. The questions for the naturalist include the following: “Is your connection with nature sacred? Is nature your church or place of worship? Do you feel a special affinity with animals or plants? Do you feel tranquility, oneness or an inter-beingness when immersed in the natural world?” (p. 63). This style will naturally attract individuals who relate to the land, advocate for the land, and work to keep the balance and peace of the environment.
The style of prayer appeals to people who seek assistance or forgiveness, extend gratitude, and feel reverence for people, animals, nature, and ideas. The questions for the prayer include the following: “Do you receive a special peace and tranquility when you pray? Do you feel that prayer is an essential part of spiritual practice? Do you have a daily prayer for help, guidance or protection from a higher power? Do you believe that there are transcendent beings that can hear your prayers and help you?” (p. 69). While meandering in nature, individuals with this spiritual style may feel the desire to sing or chant, or may be compelled to pray for others, offer gratitude for the gifts of their life, or feel a sense of awe for their surroundings.
The style of reason appeals to people who find profound satisfaction in thinking, pondering deeply, and figuring things out. The questions for the thinker include the following: “Do you need a good reason before beginning a spiritual endeavor? Do you like to ponder the universal questions of existence? Do you regard reason as a foundation for a spiritual practice? Do you naturally ask the big why questions, rather than the how questions?” (p. 73). For the thinker, time in nature may include extended time to contemplate life’s big questions or consider nature’s ways of working from an intellectual vantage point.
The style of relationships appeals to people who love to connect with others and practice interacting with others in positive, compassionate, and healing-centered ways. The questions for the mensch include the following: “Do you gain wisdom primarily through relationship with others? Do you prefer the company of others to solitude? Do you like to help others to learn, solve problems and become happy? Do you enjoy being involved in community projects for the common good?” (p. 79). Individuals with this style may want to immerse themselves in nature with a companion or take part in a ritual with a community in support of each other.
The style of wisdom appeals to people who have a deep understanding of life’s truths, insights about or direct perception of ultimate reality. The questions for the sage include the following: “Do you long for the wisdom to guide your own life and help others? Do you yearn for transcendent insight into the true nature of how are you? Do you aspire to the wisdom of the Buddha, Christ, Lao Tzu, Black Elk, Ramakrishna, Muhammad, or Moses?” (p. 85). Individuals with this style may take in nature’s surroundings and integrate the information into their consciousness for future insights and understandings about life.
Working with our spiritual styles helps us to relate to life’s grand questions in ways that nurture and support us. In the context of nature, accessing our styles can enhance our time and lead to holistic spiritual experiences.
We are currently living in times that have been called unprecedented, uncertain, difficult and ripe with opportunity. What can we do to engage with these trying times, rather than deny or withdraw or disconnect? What assumptions are confronting us that we can look at and possibly change if change is needed?
The times are calling us to access our spiritual resources, including emotional, physical, mental, etc. and consider what tools and relationships we have to buffer against harm (e.g. stress) that may be caused to ourselves or others.
Pir Zia teaches us that when we suffer from illness we can attend to what is needed by getting in touch with patience, slowing down, ceasing to take for granted, watching the breath, breathing to be held by God, and becoming close to those who are dearest to us. We hold these truths in our heart-minds and bodies as we hope for transformation on a global scale.
The following are healing words and prayers from an interspiritual collection of the Sufi Healing Order. You may want to memorize some parts of these, read them multiple times aloud or silently, and/or hold them in your hearts and minds.
(language may be altered to reflect modern thought and practice)
Short One Line Sufi Prayers (located in the Mysticism of Sound)
Help me to serve your cause.
Oh Spirit of Guidance, throw your Divine Light on my path.
Open my heart, that your spirit I may reflect.
My life is changing and taking a better turn.
My mind is still, my thought is steady, my sight is keen, my life is balanced.
Harmonize my soul, God, with all people and with all conditions.
My body is healed, my mind is fortified, and my soul is illuminated by the grace of God.
Lead us from darkness to light
Lead us from sickness to health
Lead us from death to immortality
Om, Peace, Peace, Peace.
Buddhist Prayer- Brahma Viharas
With the thought of LOVE let me contemplate the world and may this
LOVE extend to its four horizons.
And then with the thought of LOVE increasing beyond measure,
let me encompass the whole universe Up to its confines.
With the thought of COMPASSION let me contemplate the world and may this
COMPASSION extend to its four horizons.
And then with the thought of COMPASSION increasing beyond measure,
let me encompass the whole universe Up to its confines.
With the thought of JOY let me contemplate the world and may this
JOY extend to its four horizons.
And then with the thought of JOY increasing beyond measure,
let me encompass the whole universe Up to its confines.
With the thought of PEACE let me contemplate the world and may this PEACE
extend to its four horizons.
And then with the thought of PEACE increasing beyond measure,
let me encompass the whole universe Up to its confines.
Jewish Prayer/Affirmation -Shema
Sh’ma Yisrael Listen and hear
Adonai Eloheinu The Divine is God
Adonai Ehad The Divine is One
Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
God, make me an instrument of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Creator, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
The Hopi Elders Speak
By Oraibi, Arizona Hopi Nation
You have been telling the people that this is the eleventh hour.
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is the hour.
And there are things to be considered:
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
Rachel Naiomi Remen, MD
The purpose of life is to grow in wisdom and to learn to love better.
If life serves theses purposes, then health serves these purposes.
And illness serves them as well, because illness is part of life.
~ Jeanette Banashak, PhD, EdD
The Second in a Series of Interspiritual Meditations
“Subhuti, if anyone gave to the Buddha an immeasurable quantity of the seven treasures sufficient to fill the whole universe; and if another person, whether a man or woman, in seeking to attain complete Enlightenment were to earnestly and faithfully observe and study even a single section of this Sutra and explain it to others, the accumulated blessing and merit of that latter person would be far greater.”
“Subhuti, how can one explain this Sutra to others without holding in mind any arbitrary conception of forms or phenomena or spiritual truths? It can only be done, Subhuti, by keeping the mind in perfect tranquility and free from any attachment to appearances.”
“So I say to you –
This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:”
“Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
Or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.”
“So is all conditioned existence to be seen.”
Thus spoke Buddha.
-Diamond Sutra: Chapter 32
SGTI Co-director, Jan Lundy, has had a new essay published at the Spiritual Directors International blog. "One Golden Rule to Guide Them All."
About this blog
Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.
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