The Spiritual Guidance Institute recently spent a fabulous week together at our spring residential institute. We camped out at the Cenacle Center, a wonderfully hospitable retreat center on the northside of Chicago. The week’s activities were quite varied: We incorporated teachings on development and the enneagram, practiced deep listening with our unique methodology Pure Presence, had a day of silence, ate community meals together, met with a Cenacle sister, and visited the Hindu Temple in Lemont, an Ash Wednesday service at a Presbyterian church, IMAN (Inner-city Muslim Action Network), and a Muslim/Christian dialogue dinner. It was a week to remember!
We feel grateful to our students for the productive conversations and presence during the week. And we are grateful to our friends who hosted us and shared their sacred stories with us.
Our next cohort will begin in August 2019. An interfaith immersion experience like this could be yours! Learn more.
The mystic and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, famously said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” When we pursue the spiritual life, we pursue the human life. What does it mean to be human? And, what does it mean for a child to be human? In this essay, I suggest how parents’ understanding and practice of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) and scaffolding enable children to be and become more human.
Lev Vygotsky defined the ZPD as "the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers". The ZPD is significant when a skill may be too difficult to grasp on their own. In this zone, the adult or peer provides guidance, support, and/or encouragement to the child, which helps them operate at a higher level within the zone. The adult or peer is constantly modifying the task in order for the child to amplify understanding.
While Vygotsky never used the term scaffolding, David Wood, Jerome Bruner, and Gail Ross define scaffolding as a process "that enables a child or novice to solve a task or achieve a goal that would be beyond [their] unassisted efforts." Scaffolding entails activities facilitated by an adult or peer (e.g. modeling, making meaning of seemingly insignificant actions, or breaking down a task into smaller tasks, to name a few) that support the child in the ZPD. The goal is for the child to be able to complete the task on their own. Both the ZPD and scaffolding promote knowledge and understanding for the child.
The ZPD and scaffolding also provide a way for children to make ethical choices and ask questions about their existence. Adults and peers can engage in conversations with children that invite them to answer the how and why questions children have and make meaning of them. At a Parliament of World’s Religions breakfast last week week, I learned about the interreligious organization Spiritual Playdate, where facilitators create opportunities for dialogue between adult and child around spiritual issues. Together, they “explore and discover beliefs…”. Exploration and discovery are very different than monologues by adults about what a child ought to believe. The emphasis is more on being and becoming than believing, belonging, or behaving (to borrow a phrase from Elizabeth Drescher’s Choosing Our Religion).
Within trusting and safe environments and relationships, children try on new and different identities and behaviors; they question their values, preferences, and motives; and they explore and discover what it means to be human. The concepts of the ZPD and scaffolding offer insights into why we can’t be neutral, non-participating adults when it comes to nurturing the humanness of children. Rather, we can join them in their exploration and play, encourage their curiosity, and listen deeply to their questions.
Jeanette Banashak, PHD, EdD.
The term "interspirituality" is still a fairly new term in terms of public awareness. Many people who might consider themselves to be "interfaith", are often called deeper: to explore the intersection of religious/spiritual experience on more universal soul level.
These people are often mystics, and sense a deeper thread of universal truth running through the religious traditions of the world. Perhaps they've never used the term "interspiritual" to describe themselves, but, in truth they just might be.
In 1999, Br. Wayne Teasdale, a Catholic monk who also practiced in the Hindu tradition, spoke of "the mystic heart," the meeting place of all the world's spiritual traditions—a deep well of wisdom sourced in Ultimate Reality that anyone can access.
Here at SGTI, we are proponents of this deep well of wisdom. We are encouragers of mystic hearts. To that end, we have now made a dynamic new e-course available to all seekers and companions (not just our students): "Enter the Mystic Heart: An Introduction to Interspirituality."
Created by Dr. Janice Lundy, it is a self-paced, downloadable course with 12 dynamic lessons, including videos and audios, to help deepen your understanding of your own mystic heart, or the hearts of those you companion. This unique course is both an informational, content-rich class and an opportunity to engage in spiritual formation through an interspiritual lens.
We hope you will take advantage of this unique opportunity!
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.
At the Parliament of World Religions in Toronto last November, I attended a session entitled “GenInterfaith: Claiming Complex Religious Labels”. Author and speaker, Susan Katz Miller, began with a premise that speaks to us at the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute. From her description she wrote, “Few of us have singular religious identities. Most of us have extended interfaith families, are multiple religious practitioners, live in post-colonial environments with religious layering, and learn from and draw on the many religions that surround us.” We interact in face to face and online encounters with diverse representations at the intersections within our community.
In her presentation, Susan Katz Miller highlighted the fact that ¼ of our population in the US is growing up in interfaith families. In addition, the fastest growing interfaith couples are Christian and Atheist. We are in need of new practices, given the rise in intermarriage, multiple religious practices, and spiritual fluidity (a term by Dwayne Bidwell, author of When One Religion Isn’t Enough). The following four practices were suggested:
We would like to add one more and are also curious about what practices you would add.
At the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute, we celebrate the multitude of religious identities as well as the identities of race, ethnicity, class, gender, ability, sexual/attractional orientation, age, socio-economic class, work, education, veteran status and more. And, we trust that our practices align with our words.
On Monday, January 7, 2019, we celebrated the graduation of SGTI's first cohort of interfaith/interspiritual guides. This was a landmark moment for the Institute as well as for these students because they are some of the first in the U.S. (the world!) to have received formal training and certification in interfaith/interspiritual direction. We are so very proud of them. Congratulations, graduates!
Students for this cohort hailed from California, Texas, Illinois and Michigan. We initially gathered with them in August 2017 in Chicago, IL. for a one-week Residential Institute. We took trips to various holy houses in the greater Chicago area to expand our knowledge and experience of various traditions. On our first full day together (pictured above left), we visited Mishkan, and participated in a Shabbat service and potluck afterwards.
Over the next 18 months, our students continued to learn and grow together in an online format (one learning module every two weeks), by doing spiritual guidance in their own cities, and receiving one-on-one supervision. They went deeper into their spiritual lives and learned with and from the voices in our texts, guest speakers, peer groups, and directees. Their instruction included written, audio, video and "real time" interaction with one another; 30 learning modules, a rigorous training. They learned the art and practice of Pure Presence™ Listening. In April of 2018, they returned to Chicago for another one-week Residential Institute. Students completed their training in January of 2019 by submitting a final project/paper.
A long-distance graduation ceremony was held (pictured above, right) online. We acknowledged each student's gifts and achievements. They also acknowledged one another in this way. They were commissioned to go into the world and offer spiritual guidance with open, curious minds and wise, compassionate hearts, which we know they will faithfully do. We wholeheartedly support their ongoing efforts to serve and grow in the charism we call spiritual guidance. Congratulations, again, to our gifted grads!
"The gift you give another person is just your being."
SGTI is currently hosting its 2nd cohort who will graduate in January 2020. We are currently accepting applications for Cohort 3 to begin in August 2019. Contact us for an application.
SDI co-founder and co-director Jan Lundy has a new essay featured as a blog post on the Spiritual Directors International website. "Cultivating Loving Awareness" offers a bow to yogic sage, Ram Dass, and a deep invitation for us to "see through lenses of love." A method and practice for doing so is offered as well.
"A few years ago, I was blessed to have a private conversation with the yogic sage, Ram Dass, whose work has guided me for years. During our time together, we talked a great deal about the "heart-mind." For him, our spiritual health ...
Here is the link to read the entire post:
One of the threads that repeats itself throughout our curriculum is to learn about and practice contemplative practices across religious, spiritual, secular, and ethical traditions. Our second cohort is well underway, and one of our recent modules highlighted hundreds of practices, including why we do them, when we do them, and how we do them. At the end of each module in our 18-month program, our students create a reflective expression, which can come in many forms, including a traditional reflection, or another format, such as a video, song, poem, art piece, dance, etc.
For this module, we asked them to reflect on the state of their lives as a contemplative, to consider any new insights they have gleaned about the nature of the contemplative life and, specifically, the importance and role of spiritual practices in their lives and in the lives of those they companion. Lastly, we asked them to explore how a contemplative life prepares us to be present and active in the world.
At the SGTI we have been impressed over and over again by the beautiful and honest reflections that have been submitted to us. We asked the permission of a couple of our current students to share their work here. These are only portions of their completed reflections about contemplative practices across traditions.
"My life as a contemplative deepened with my involvement in Druidry, The Gnostic Celtic Church, and the Dolmen Arch course and my discipline and appreciation for it expanded. Now, studying with the SGTI has solidified and focused my practice. It has given me permission to be kind and gentle with myself in my spiritual growth and it has given me a family to work and grow with as we each develop our spiritual gifts and expand into the contemplative life.
Without my Spiritual Practice I would be a very different person. I would suffer greatly from anxiety, depression, and insecurity and I would probably drink alcohol to escape. Fortunately my practice sustains and nourishes me. It helps me endure the travails of living and I am extremely grateful for its positive influence in my life. I am better able to deal with the people around me - family, friends and strangers alike. It enables me to see the Divine (or at least TRY to) in each person I meet…"
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.
This August marked an exciting beginning for the 18-month training program at The Spiritual Guidance Training Institute. Drs. Banashakand Lundy, both graduates of the GTF and current adjunct faculty, welcomed a new cohort that hailed from New York, North Carolina, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Texas. The training takes place online with 2 residential weeks in Chicago. The new “emerging spiritual guides” created community together while beginning the exploration of spiritual direction, immersing themselves in deep listening practices, spending time in silence, and visiting interfaith worship services... (Read more here)
(This article recently appeared on the Graduate Theological Foundation website.
Author: Jeanette Banashak, PhD, EdD)
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Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual companionship across traditions.
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