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.
Last year, my partner and I became “dual pilgrims” after walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain and the Kumano Kodo in Japan. Right as we took our first steps on the Camino, we said to each other, “We have been preparing for months for these first steps in the Pyrenees.” We felt hopeful, anxious, excited: Did we prepare enough? Are we ready for the challenges? Are we really pilgrims? A dear friend shared some sage advice that we turned to daily – “You will encounter a physical, emotional, or spiritual issue everyday.” And indeed we did.
Lacy Clark Ellman teaches that people walk the Camino, or take any pilgrimage, for a variety of reasons, including for healing (emotional, physical, spiritual, mental or any other type of healing), the pursuit of self-knowledge and self-discovery, creating community, and renewal. We learned that a person’s reasons for walking (or cycling, bussing, training) were varied, yet similar, and always personal. Some days I had no answer for why I was walking the ancient pilgrimages, while other days, I knew I was doing it because it was what I needed to do.
On day 23, we passed words painted on a large rock that read Santiago is not there. Is in you. That phrase has been my meditation for months now and has been a meaningful perspective as I navigate my emotions, thoughts, ideas, identity, and habits. The journey is both an outer exploration of the world with all its surprises, as well as an inner exploration of my values, attitudes, and perspectives. The destination is already inside of me, and I access it when I trust my inner teacher to guide my actions.
Isn’t this what we do as spiritual companions? We provide a safe and loving space for our companions to find their way to their inner Santiago.
At the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto last year, I went to a workshop on Pilgrimage by Robert Nash, Soumaya Khalifa, and Noam Marans. In the workshop Soumaya outlined three levels or types of pilgrimage: out of the country; in the city; 1 on 1. At the heart of what we do as spiritual companions is journey as pilgrims together, either 1 on 1 or in a group.
In addition to 1 on 1 pilgrimaging, we are thrilled to be offering our first Urban Pilgrimage in June of 2020! During our journey, we will explore both the outer world of Chicago, with its variety of sacred sites, as well as our inner world, with its variety of sacred rooms. Please consider joining us in this interspiritual experience as we, like Robert Nash expressed, “make the familiar unfamiliar, and the unfamiliar familiar.”
~Jeanette Banashak, PhD, EdD
SGTI's Urban Pilgrimage is open to the public. Send us an e-mail if you'd like to be added to the "I'm Interested!" List.
SGTI is pleased to announce that our co-founder, Dr. Jeanette Banashak, has just had a new book published by Apocryphile Press: The Mindful Pilgrimage
What happens when you take a mindful pilgrimage? Shift happens!
Have you ever wanted to walk the Camino or take another pilgrimage? Are you looking to start a new practice at home or abroad? Co-founder and director of The Spiritual Guidance Training Institute, fellow pilgrim, and educator for over 20 years, Jeanette Banashak, PhD, EdD, has crafted an accessible guide for anyone desiring to go deeper into their spiritual journey.
Mindful Pilgrimage is small enough to take with you on a 40-day journey or to keep on a bedside table for practice at home. Full of quotes and wisdom from interfaith and interspiritual leaders, this book helps you start or end your day with intention for the journey.
Each day for 40 days, you set aside a few moments to read and contemplate sayings of wise teachers. And, each day, you are asked three questions that you can ponder as you explore your inner landscape.
Whether you immerse yourself in new culture and territory or stay at home, Mindful Pilgrimage will be with you every step of the way. Say yes to change, and take the next step on your journey!
You can learn more about the book here. It is available through Amazon.com.
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.
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Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual companionship across traditions.
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