“My Neighborhood” – Writing as Spiritual Companionship


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My friend Anna and I have had a writing practice for over twenty years. First we meet on the phone and share with one another what we plan to write about. Then, hot tea on the table for each of us—it’s a tradition—we begin. After an hour or so, we speak  again on the phone to read our “stuff” to one another. Anna and I met last week. During these days of COVID-19, not many in person meetings are taking place, and spiritual companionship in this way is especially nourishing and comforting for both of us.

Anna leans towards Buddhist thinking. When she read her writing to me,  I said I thought it was about the many faces of God and that it made me cry—in the good way.

The writing practice is extremely rich for both of us. Because we always meet and write at the same time, we are as if in the same room. We cherish the depth of our friendship and the writing-listening we offer one another, and each feel we are receiving rich spiritual companioning. In a good SD session, the spiritual director has an empty mind and a full heart. Anna and I hear-ourselves-into-being a little more deeply as we read and listen to one another.

— Jinks Hoffmann, Spiritual director and SDI Poetry Editor

My Neighborhood

By Anna Miransky

Ordinarily, when I sit down to write with Jinks, I can trust that my emotions will guide me.  I will write about something that is hurting me, something that has moved me, something I regret, something I’m disappointed about, something that I’m excited about, and usually, something that I’ve learned on this spiritual/psychological journey which is my life. There is often some drama in an important relationship and my writing reflects what I have come to understand. 

My internal environment in the last few weeks has been rather quiet.  The crises of rats and damp basement walls have been resolved.  There are no big emotional waves inside.  So what can I possibly write about?  This comes to me….

As the weather turned cool and I contemplated a Covid winter, I realized that I needed to resurrect my early routine – the one which brought me so much comfort in the months after Ed’s death. After breakfast, I sit down to meditate, and then after meditation, I write.  I don’t write very much these days, because there isn’t much “inside” to write about, but there is often a phrase, a couple of words that move me. I underline them and let them be.  Then I go on my morning walk.  My morning walk is quite contemplative.  I enjoy the feeling of my feet on the pavement, the sights and the sounds of my neighborhood. 

A couple of days ago, on my walk, the words “my neighborhood” came into my mind, and with it, came tears.  I was walking through Bickford Park and noticed the young Arabic man who does an intense workout on the pavement path beside the bench.  Perched on the bench, his friend was listening to a French song on his cell phone.  There was a young family pushing a child in a stroller and people scattered on the grass.  On Montrose, heading north to Bloor, I passed an elderly couple walking together very slowly.  Crossing Bloor, I headed to the north end of Christie Park and then down into the park and across a path with a row of trees where I threw some bird seed to the pigeons. Back on Bloor, I stopped into the Village Market, a neighborhood grocery I had never set foot in before the pandemic, where I picked up some greens, and chatted with the Chinese brother and sister couple who own the store.  They were born in South America and often speak Spanish to their customers.  I don’t know why the words “my neighborhood” brings tears, but I do know that I am attached to my neighborhood, to the progressive vibe of it, to the friendliness of it, to the multi-mixture of people and languages and cultures of it. 

I got an electronic keyboard recently to replace the acoustic piano I was able to donate to a church.  One of the reasons I started to write in my journal again, was that I thought that it would help me find the inspiration for my song lyrics.   I’ve been enjoying exploring the keyboard, and learning the sounds and the rhythmic patterns that it can make.    It used to be that the lyric came first out of something that needed to be understood or expressed, and then the music was crafted to fit the lyric.  But there’s no urgency with the words these days.  I may just try to write music and see if there are words that want to fit themselves to it.   

I would say that I am “peaceful” except that there is an underlying undercurrent of anxiety.  It is about the coming election in the US, it is about the environment, it is about wildfires, and species extinction and droughts and floods and food insecurity.  The present is grim.  The future is grimmer.  What comforts me are the small pieces of good that I can do.  

I’ve watered my garden and planted trees in Christie Park.  I’ve grown vegetables in my back yard and bought them from my local greengrocers.  I’ve collected unwanted cell phones to be rehabbed and given to homeless people n Moss Park so they can access social services. This Sunday there’s a food drive in Christie Park for the Fort York Food Bank and I will be there.

My neighborhood is a microcosm of the world.  People of every ethnicity work, live and go to school here.  For the most part, it works without extreme rhetoric, hatred or violence.  My neighbor Tony, a right-wing, working class guy, helped me find and seal the cracks in my concrete basement floor when I was dealing with a rat invasion.  He was extremely kind and helpful.

I can have no impact on the outcome of the election in the US or on the wildfires in California.  But I can green my little corner and try to make my life a little better for my neighbors.

Anna Miransky is a semi-retired psychotherapist who has been in practice since 1978.  She has had a committed meditation practice for over twenty years.  Words and music, especially together, have been an important part of her life.  She has been a professional song writer with songs recorded and released by Canadian and American artists and she has received several song writing awards.   She has been a member of a chamber choir and an opera chorus. Anna also edited a book of her father’s translated Yiddish poetry.  She lives and works in downtown Toronto.  She can be reached at [email protected].     

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  1. I loved reading these writings as a way of thoughts being shared in the present moments of dedicated time and place for honouring current life-journeyings. Thanks for the sharing!

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