Hidden Gems – Inspiration from the First 2 Years of SDI Podcasts

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Matt Whitney - SDI

By Matt Whitney, SDI Creative Director & SDI Encounters Podcast Host

Thank you to everybody who has supported the SDI Encounters Podcast, by listening, sharing with a friend, writing a review, or by being a guest. At SDI, we see the podcast as a vital part of our outreach to the public on the merits, value, and necessity of spiritual companionship in the wider culture. Much of our work at SDI is to provide educational media and resources that are for the broader public, to share the healing work we do as spiritual directors and companions to as many people as possible. I view all my work this way – I firmly believe that spiritual companionship should be widely understood and practiced in our culture, and that everyone should have a spiritual companion.

In honor of our two years doing the podcast, and recording nearly 100 episodes, I’ve compiled something of a “Best of the Podcast” list. I don’t really think there are “best” episodes – because they’re all amazing for their own reasons! Of course, I believe each episode contains deep wisdom and lived experiences of spiritual companionship. And the ones that might be perceived as lower quality are relative. For example, the first few episodes reveal a bit of age in their technical quality – I was still learning how to put together a podcast and didn’t understand all the timing nuances and audio tricks like volume leveling and noise reduction. But they still are formative for being the first ones we put out there, and I still love them as much for their technical warts as for the universality of spiritual companionship that we are speaking about.

With that said, it can be overwhelming if you are new to the podcast to know where to begin. I would really say “Begin with the first one and listen to them all!” but realistically you may not have time for all of that. So, as the host of SDI Encounters, here’s an attempt to present a few categorized “curated” lists.

Top Five Episodes based on overall downloads, as of October 22, 2020

EP034 and EP035 – Richard Rohr giving his Keynote on the Universal Christ at the 2018 SDI Conference in St. Louis. Richard Rohr is a superstar, so no surprise here. Let’s just count this as one episode.

EP040 – Spiritual Journey – Iona with Frederica Helmiere and Dave Brown. Receive a taste of what could have been with the 2020 Iona Journey, had the pandemic not shut everything down and cancelled all our plans.

EP036 – Rewilding and Companioning the Earth – Mary DeJong. I was really moved by the deep heart Mary has for the natural environment, in particular the way she holds grief for environmental degradation with dignity, hope, and purpose.

EP033 – Cultivating the Spirituality of Children – Kristen Hobby. This could be a “fish bowl” episode as Frederica and myself offer our own children as guinea pigs to Kristen’s safe and gentle guidance. People must be pretty curious about whether spiritual companionship is something that can be offered to our little ones (hint – it can!).

EP063 – Walking as Spiritual Companionship (Pilgrimage in Place). This is one of my favorites as well as one of yours. Jeanette went for a walk through Chicago, with me on the phone, as we companion and pilgrimage together in real-time. If it hadn’t been here, I’d have added it to the “Personal Favorites” for its experimental quality.

“Nuts and Bolts” of Spiritual Direction:

EP087 – Non-Theistic Companionship with Joe Sehee.What is spiritual companionship, if “spirit” is not necessarily the ground by which the companioning relationship takes place? The practice is – being fully present and holding space for someone, and respecting aheir agency er to understand and find meaning in their journey, with compassion and non-judgement – Joe approaches his work with deep integrity and purpose.

EP071 – Supervision with Lucy Abbott Tucker. Rev. Seifu talks with Lucy about the supervision process, the need to practice accountability as spiritual directors, and how Lucy’s teachings are distilled in her book.

EP093 – Bernadette Miles – a refreshing conversation in which Bernie tells her own story of getting into spiritual companionship. Bernie describes her earlier relationship to religion as an “insurance policy for getting into heaven” until one day when a pastor sees her at an icon (a Crucified Christ on the Cross), ponders it for a moment, and says “that wasn’t a very happy ending, was it?” This small encounter opened the floodgates of the reality of Spirit and that relationship with the Divine is truly available to all of us.

Any of the Rev. Seifu 1/1 conversations. My Boss is a Zen Priest” or “Hallmarks/Dimension of a Spiritual Companion” series. In these episodes Rev. Seifu and I explore the modality of spiritual companionship and how this relationship is necessary for anyone on the spiritual journey (which is everyone!).

Examples of real-life companionship (I call these “fish bowl” episodes, because you get to hear actual examples of companionship, rather than talking about it)

EP013 – Dani Forbess on Embodied Spirituality –I opened up about my own wrestling with how I relate to my Christianity in a way that sounded somewhat heretical. Dani held the space for me to do so gently and without judgement.

EP075 – sharing poetry with Dave Brown. This one was really fun – Dave starts by sharing about how a poem itself can be a spiritual companion to us. Then he and I go back and forth sharing some of our favorite poems in a “Poetry Battle” (or if that’s too militaristic, how about a “Poetry Dance”?)

EP070 – Dreamwork Session with Amy Curran – In the previous EP069 episode, Amy and I do the interview format about her spiritual companionship practice as a Dreamworker. But in this episode I offered one of my own dreams and we do real-time dreamwork together. If you have ever been interested in dreams or dream interpretation, this episode is a must-listen!

EP081 – Nonviolent Communication with Pam Winthrop Lauer: I brought my inner critic for an open and vulnerable conversation with Pam, who adeptly held the sacred space for me to do so, while practicing the tenets of Nonviolent Communication to help hold the safe space and to disarm my inner critic.

Personal “Favorites” – I don’t really have favorites, but there are some where the podcast interview format gets interrupted in creative ways.

EP065 – SDI Staff reading the April 2020 Issue of Listen – We tried to do something creative with the podcast format and I really love how it turned out!

EP042 – if you want to hear Frederica and myself cracking up multiple times in a very unprofessional way, here you go.

Hidden Gems – where are the episodes where the content is “buried”? Wait for it…and here it is!

EP089 – AccountabilityThis is a Hallmarks of Spiritual Companionship conversation I had recently with Reverend Seifu about the need for spiritual directors to seek supervision and to hold their practice as professionally as possible. What the process of accountability does is it puts our very identity as spiritual companions under the microscope. Ultimately we learn to let go of the need to direct, we trust the person we are companioning, the seeker, to find their own direction, to trust their hearts, to find and walk the path that is put before them.

EP077 – Sexuality and Spiritual Companionship with Karen Erlichman: I just appreciate the real groundedness that Karen has as a spiritual companion. She talks frankly and plainly about sexuality as it pertains to spirituality – the beauty and the traumas and the potential pitfalls. And the dissolution of any sort of boundary or taboo around what is considered “spiritual” and what is not.

You can listen to my Hidden Gems podcast here.

P.S. We just passed 50,000 downloads – a modest achievement compared to some other podcasts, but we are delighted, for this means 50,000 more opportunities for people to learn about spiritual companionship. Here’s to the next 50,000!


Matt Whitney

Matt is a multidisciplinary artist and educator who grew up in the Pacific Northwest and lives in Seattle. He works between drawing, painting, photography, video, design and illustration. He is the host of SDI’s weekly podcast, SDI Encounters, which engages in conversations around spiritual direction, contemplative practice, and spiritual care. He is currently training to be a spiritual director through the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute, an interspiritual program sourced in the Perennial Tradition, and as a meditation facilitator through Spiritual Paths, a resource for helping others discern and create authentic contemplative practice.

Matt Whitney - SDI

Matt Whitney - SDI

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