At the SGTI, we believe that we can promote interfaith harmony through deep listening and compassionate presence. One of our co-founders, Jeanette Banashak, is going to present at Chicago’s Interfaith Fair on Thursday, February 6 at the Chicago Cultural Center. In her talk, "Interfaith and Interspiritual Companionship (Direction): Listening to One’s Self for the Healing of Another", Jeanette will share about how one of the greatest gifts we can offer another is to see them, to hear them (and we acknowledge the ableism inherent in those ideals), and most importantly, to be with them. In the practice of spiritual direction, we meet with someone monthly for about an hour to listen to their sacred story, to support their meaning-making process, and to offer ways in which they can live their best lives. We create a space for deep, active listening and as much as we are able, are aware of any biases and assumptions that we have. As spiritual companions, we are like a mirror, a reflection to the seeker. Yet, while we listen to others we also listen to ourselves. Seekers are also a mirror for us (though to keep with the integrity of the practice, we tend to anything that comes up for us after a session.) Kathleen Dowling Singh wrote, “Our practice of the gift of attention is a perfect mirror for our self-cherishing mind. It reveals every intrusion of “I” with great clarity."
One of the ways we are attentive to another, no matter their religious, spiritual, or ethical traditions, is to practice maintaining our attention. Spiritual guidance is both a practice and a lifestyle. It is recognizing the Divine in another. With a "heartmind" (a Kathleen Dowling word), we practice being calm, concentrating, cultivating community, seeking justice, serving. We make conscious decisions about where we put our attention. These are the practices that help us to become aware of our own ego - which is a necessary part of development—and then to move beyond ego, or as Ram Dass said, to "‘extricate (our)self from an identification" with it.
During this week devoted to interfaith harmony, we commit to listen to our selves even as we companion another, and we hope that in our awareness we begin to heal ourselves for the wellness of all.
If you are in the Chicagoland area and would like to participate in Interfaith Harmony Week as sponsored by the Parliament of the World's Religions, this link provides more information.
In the next few weeks, a new feature will appear on the SGTI website. We are excited about spotlighting our current students and alumni and have plans to do both beginning in February. We feel that our new features, "Student Spotlight" and "Alumni Spotlight," will help you get to know the Institute better, especially when it comes to the kinds of students we attract, why they take SGTI's unique training, and how they hope to serve others once their training is complete.
In the meantime, one of our current students, Matthew Whitney, has been featured as a guest on the Spiritual Directors International podcast, "SDI Encounters." Matt is usually the host of this wonderful series, but this time the tables were turned and he is interviewed about his life as a contemplative artist and a student of spiritual companionship. We hope you will take a listen!
Visit this main page for SDI podcasts:
then look for Matt's podcast:
"Art, Creativity, and Spiritual Companionship"
You can also listen here:
On Spotify – https://open.spotify.com/show/2ufeZhwf9z6WuBi5pZEeNn
On Apple Podcasts https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/sdi-encounters/id1451231142?mt=2
On Stitcher - https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/sdi-encounters
It's not unusual for any of us here at SGTI to be asked by someone, "What is spiritual guidance anyway?" Wonderful question!
In one of our early learning modules in the 18-month training program, students are asked a similar question: What is spiritual guidance? Here are some of their answers:
• Spiritual guidance is a form of helping relationship in which together, one is guided in the discernment and development of intimacy with the Divine. Through deep listening and in creating and holding sacred space, the spiritual guide listens into being the Divine Story of the seeker. (M.W.)
• Spiritual direction is a dedicated container for exploration of the inner life through the lens of the sacred or the deeply meaningful. A spiritual companion’s role is to hold safe, nonjudgmental space for your questioning, healing, and deepening in your spiritual life and your relationship with the Divine as you understand it, with the understanding that you are the authority on those topics. (C.O)
• "Seeker and guide create an interconnected orb in sacred space and time – an orb in which the Divine is invited to join. In this sacred human/Divine triad intimacy between seeker and Divine grows. Often the guide strengthens her own intimacy with the Divine." (C.R.)
In a publication offered by Spiritual Directors International, "Portrait of a Spiritual Director," one gets a more complete picture of who spiritual companions are and the purpose they serve, their "call" and skillset, along with their hopes for the people they companion. It says:
"Spiritual directors or companions support the unique spiritual journey of every individual. They are welcoming and present with those they companion, listening and responding without being judgmental. They are contemplative and honor silence as a spiritual practice. They are intuitive spiritual friends—accountable and compassionate, hospitable and open, loving yet independent."
To read the essay in its entirety, visit this page.
Locate the link which says, "Click here for a printable pdf version of the "Portrait"
If you feel the call to explore spiritual companionship/guidance training yourself, we'd love to chat with you. We are already accepting applications for the 2020-2022 training program which begins in August. You can contact us here.
At the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute, we value and celebrate the power of story. Being able to tell your story to a trusted companion can heal, inspire, nourish, connect, and transform us. The first time I told a difficult part of my story to a mentor, he responded, “Well, everyone sins…”. I spent years unpacking that one. Not only is that not my worldview, but his response could have sent me back into a state of fear and mistrust.
A little while later, with the guidance of both a spiritual director and therapist, I continued to share my stories over and over again - until I got to the point where I did not expect my spiritual director or therapist to be the ones to heal me, inspire me, nourish me. Rather, with self-compassion, I learned to connect with a deep inner teacher that ultimately helped me to see me for who I was and am. That is something to celebrate!
One of our current students from our third cohort is an art therapist, poet, writer, and emerging spiritual guide. She recently wrote three poems that we’d like to share with you because they speak deeply to the influence of meeting ourselves again and again through each telling of a part of our story.
A Celebratory Chant
I am a woman who dances.
I am a dance of a woman.
I am a dance of the Dance.
I am a woman who dreams.
I am a dream of a woman.
I am a dream of the Dreamer.
I am a woman who sings.
I am a song of a woman.
I am a song in the Song.
I am a woman with a story.
I am a story of a woman.
I am a story in the Story.
I am a woman who loves.
I am the love of a woman.
I am love inside Love.
100 Stories Each Human Has to Tell
The story of:
loss love fear betrayal failure success
labor grace birth worth faith fidelity
faithlessness mess illusion confusion hurt
healing doubt longing belonging
mother father lovers children
remembering forgetting hunger abundance
gratitude complaint grief joy
pain illness health stealth
time youth aging refusal acceptance
roots culture wildness domesticity
ancestry land politics
generations history colonization
slavery trauma violence
peace brokenness wholeness
trust distrust anger
possessions knowledge wisdom
questions change growth seasons
solitude community family tribe
war famine harvest
song mirth creativity
falsity truth dreams beauty
hiding revelation dying
greed generosity redemption
Each Time I Tell My Story
Each time I tell my story,
it is different,
seen through the hundred
or ways of being human.
And there is a listening spirit
(that some call God)
listening to each telling,
and all hundred names and ways of God
hear and respond,
until my story becomes
a hundred times a hundred stories,
or ten thousand stories.
And you, my fellow human,
are also listening,
and you are hearing and responding
with all your stories
within the hundred names and ways
of being human
and my story becomes
a hundred times ten thousand
or a million stories,
just between the three of us,
you, me, and God.
And I carry within me
these million responses,
and to each,
from all my human ways,
I respond within,
and so, my story becomes
a hundred times a million,
or a hundred million stories
each of which can then be told 100 ways
and be responded to by God’s 100 ways
and by each living person’s 100 human ways,
times seven billion people,
and these responses,
can be taken in and lived by me
and then stories told
from that living
on and on until so very soon
infinity is reached
because the story
never was my story.
It is always our story.
And always one story.
The endless and
eternal story of All.
That being said,
let me tell you my story…
-Poems by Liza Hyatt
Jan and Jeanette take a few minutes to talk about the upcoming "Interfaith/Interspiritual Wisdom Training" which begins January, 2020.
This one-of-a-kind training program is for people in the caring professions: spiritual directors, clergy and lay servants, educators, social workers, therapists, life coaches, chaplains, spiritual and secular community leaders, and more. Completion of the 5-month, online program results in a certificate in Interfaith/Interspiritual Competence. This will prepare you to companion and serve seekers of various religious, spiritual and ethical traditions.
Learning Format: Online and via Zoom
Dates: January 13-May 26, 2020
Optional Interfaith Urban Pilgrimage in June, 2020 in Chicago
Applications now being accepted
We hope you will consider joining us!
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.
On August 22, we welcomed our new SGTI students into the exciting dimension of interfaith/interspiritual guidance. Eleven individuals joined us in Chicago for a sumptuous week of learning and day pilgrimages to various holy houses. They came from around the U.S. and Canada, embracing many different religious, spiritual and ethical persuasions.
One of the highlights was a pilgrimage to the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago. We experienced a wonderful tour by a senior member of this community and witnessed devotional practice happening in each of the two temples. The above photo was taken on the grounds in front of a memorial to Swami Vivekananda, who is best known as introducing Hinduism to the West in 1893 at the first Parliament of the World's Religions held in Chicago. He was the first "ambassador" of interfaith connection and addressed Parliament attendees as "brothers and sisters," something quite unheard of back in the day.
We also took part in a Shabbat Service at Anshe Emet Synagogue, the 3rd oldest synagogue in Chicago. At the Midwest Buddhist Temple we participated in their Sunday morning Family Service and met with Rev. Ron who compassionately (and with great humor) guided us through the framework of Shin Buddhism.
Our new community of SGTI learners also benefitted from their classroom studies—the interspirituality of Br. Wayne Teasdale and interfaith spiritual direction through the lenses of Rabbi Howard Addison. We often played games together at night and laughed a lot, we ate Lou Malnatis' famous Chicago pizza, and appreciated the beauty of the Lake Michigan shoreline.
What a glorious week it was and we feel blessed to be journeying with such deep and compassionate people who desire to serve as spiritual directors/companions/guides, offering their unconditional, compassionate presence to others.
At the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute, we are constantly amazed at the wonderful inter-religious gatherings that we have been a part of that promote justice, respect, care, and conversation. We thought we would highlight three different ways to go about growing together as one interconnected community. Below, you will find some ideas about what you might experience in an inter-religious gathering, and perhaps you may be interested in facilitating your own gatherings.
One of our favorite ways to engage in dialogue revolves around a meal. Because many participants are available for dinner, this kind of gathering tends to begin at around six and last for two to two and a half hours. There are many ways to organize the dialogue, but it is common for the organizer to bring in a few differing religious, spiritual, and/or ethical perspectives around a theme while attendees sit around tables (we prefer circles). For example, themes could be death and dying, loving others and self, spiritual practices, etc. The order can vary, but generally, each of the experts or practitioners shares about their tradition’s worldview, attendees have opportunities to discuss together in small groups, attendees ask questions of the experts/practitioners, and everyone may have a chance to ask questions and discuss in a big group setting.
A storytelling event can be a powerful way to engage with others around a theme. They can include snacks or a meal, a formal or informal time to meet other attendees, an explanation of the theme by experts/practitioners/storytellers, and of course, the stories themselves. These events can last three to four hours and have many aspects to them, so we recommend inviting six storytellers to share, and coaching them, or having a coach, to teach them some tricks to the storytelling trade. We have also participated in storytelling events where the host provides prompts for attendees to write a line or two of their own stories related to the theme. These are read in between storytellers and before a new teller is announced.
Panels are good ways to engage in dialogue when the focus is on content and engaging with an expert in the field. Like dinner dialogues, panels are usually organized around a particular theme. Panels tend to be shorter in length than dinner dialogues, as they can last about an hour to two. Because the nature of panels includes asking questions and seeking answers, the key to a memorable panel is the host. This person facilitates conversation among the panelists, as well as attendees. It is also helpful when the panelists know each other and interact together in real time.
We hope that you may find a way to attend inter-religious gatherings and also to host them in whatever unique context works for you and your audience.
In his deeply insightful book, Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent, Rabbi Rami Shapiro writes about the process of trying to articulate what we mean by "perennial wisdom." He shares views of this important concept from Meister Eckhart to Eknath Easwaran: "We are sifting through scriptures and teachings of many traditions that step beyond the limit of any culture and point to the Reality that cannot be named."
This is what we do here with our students at SGTI—we sift and sort to unearth universal wisdom that can benefit us all. We also do this with all people who are interested in the same by sending out weekly "Universal Wisdom" messages.
Have you subscribed yet?
Here is a recent sample.
"Spiritual formation, I have come to believe is not about steps or stages on the way to perfection. It’s about the movements from the mind to the heart through prayer in its many forms that reunite us with God, each other, and our truest selves… Prayer is standing in the presence of God with the mind in the heart – that is, in the point of our being where there are no divisions or distinctions and where we are totally one within ourselves, with God, and with others and the whole of creation."
1. Nouwen writes that the heart is the intersection of body, soul, and spirit. How does your heart guide you to make decisions?
2. As you look within your heart, what do you find? You might want to spend some time in silence creating space for compassion for others, creation, and self.
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About this blog
Deepening the understanding, practice and importance of spiritual guidance-companionship across traditions.
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