ASCENDING THE MOUNTAIN: DIMENSIONS OF SPIRITUAL COMPANIONSHIP
by Reverend Seifu Anil Singh-Molares
Spiritual companions and directors are fortunate to accompany those who seek our aid as they unspool and discern their own unique sense of God, the Universe, or however they might refer to the essence of all. We are like mountain guides facilitating the ascent, reinforcing the growing skills of our counterparts, as well as appreciating the transcendent scenery from the top, which is different for each of us, even when we are right next to each other.
But what exactly are the skills that we bring to bear?
A couple of years ago, an SDI committee concluded its work on a “Portrait of a Spiritual Director,” the latest in an ongoing set of iterations where we consider the universal distinguishing hallmarks of spiritual companions, independently of our faith traditions or spiritual orientations.
In the last couple of months I have had the opportunity to engage in a couple of deep dives allowing me to more thoroughly consider some other characteristics, but before embarking on those, let us recap the by now familiar ones, which encompass:
- Deep listening. Which is not a passive act, but rather a profound and supportive engagement with the people we companion;
- Contemplative grounding. A prayerful, meditative, immersive approach. One that acknowledges that in order to access the Beyond, we must use channels beyond our rationality. And that we need to keep going back, over and over, to that wellspring;
- Good discernment. We are intuitives, and quiet guides. We provide reasoned feedback (only when asked!), and we also try to evince balance and equanimity at all times.
- Accountable. To ourselves, to the communities we serve, and to our supervisors, who help keep us honest.
- Lifelong learners. We are committed to constantly learning (sometimes the same lessons, again and again, until they finally sink in).
- Respect agency. We honour the unique character of each person we encounter, and we try to leave our own predilections and inclinations to the side, even when doing so is difficult, to allow our companions to find their own way through.
- Take care of ourselves, as well as others. We are compassionate to others, but we also know the importance of taking care of ourselves.
- Follow Universal Ethical Guidelines. At the very least we “do no harm,” but more than that we endeavour to always comport ourselves in an ethically correct manner. And to admit our mistakes, and apologize, when we invariably make some.
Beyond the preceding, there are other qualities worth considering:
- Exploration of the Unknown. We position ourselves in groundlessness (so as to achieve maximum stability), moving towards the unknown with our companions courageously and fearlessly. We acknowledge that entering the field of the Beyond requires us to shed our preconceptions, to be humble, welcoming, and willing to let go. We also need to be ready to explore the shadows and sufferings that feed our collective spiritual growth.
- Experiential, Reverential. Understanding that our conceptual framings, as valuable as they may be, are in the end no substitute for a direct experience of God or the Universe. So we marry our intellects to our intuitions, and encourage those who we walk alongside to find their own balance between the two.
- Mature and Committed to Growing Maturity. Spiritual insight and revelations are critically important steps along the way, but, with some effort, are accessible to just about anyone. Spiritual maturity (or any kind of maturity really), on the other hand, is not. Consequently, beyond the flashes of realization our colleagues and we encounter, we keep practicing living into our principles, with the hope that some growing measures of wisdom result.
- Intimate. We are “intimacy workers,” committed to getting up close with those we companion, and with the essence of the Universe, even when that can be very challenging. At the same time, we always honour healthy boundaries.
- Committed to Mutuality. Spiritual companionship is a two way street. And, as with most successful relationships, it is most fruitful when our preassigned roles start to fade away and we start to melt into each other. That is, when the false difference between self and others disappears, and we are swept into God’s embrace together.
- Skillful Means. We try to recognize where people are at, with understanding and compassion, and meet them there without judgement. That means having enough tools in our arsenal to engage in multiple modalities, as appropriate. And it also signifies recognizing when we have reached our own limits, and being able and willing to refer those who come to us to others as circumstances warrant.
There are of course many other facets and attributes to spiritual companions and directors. We would love to hear your take! Please do send it along to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wishing you all much peace, serenity, and alignment during these trying times.
The following questions are offered for guidance, journaling, or meditation.
You may wish to share your responses with a spiritual companion.
- Can you recall a previous encounter with darkness that proved to be a “springboard” into deeper insight or awareness?
- Do you regularly identify the One at the extreme edges of your life experience? How might you find the One in the “middle” of these polarities?
If anything arises that you would like to share with the community, please tell us at email@example.com.
Paradoxes for the New Year
I am utterly insignificant, and yet infinitely valuable
My work and efforts are meaningless, and yet how we spend our lives matters. We must be compelled to respond to ‘that of God in everyone’
Individual choice matters, and yet nothing we accomplish in life is the result of our individual efforts
No success, or perceived success, can be claimed by me alone; however, my failures are my responsibility alone
To be alive is infinite ecstasy; to be alive is deep melancholy
Time as we experience it is not real, but a persistent threat is stolen time and attention by trivialities
The world’s darkness is not separate from me, I, too, contain worlds of tilted possibility to good or evil
Values are true, in so far as they are embodied
Separation and otherness is a human illusion, our life’s work is to bring all living beings into kinship with one another
Denise Hearn is the co-author of The Myth of Capitalism.
When we find the middle ground...
...we can remember our
Ultimate Belonging in
every particle of an
expanding, infinite Universe.
A chalice I craft
to hold my losses
of warm wood
whose carvings surround its globe
as the arms of loved ones
once encircled me.
The foot I craft slender,
to float like a feather
on the ledge where it stands.
I peer down into the bowl,
its round hollow planed smooth,
cupped like a holding hand.
The circle of liquid pooled there
like a sunken mirror reflects
my grieving gaze.
One teardrop slides carefully
onto the aqueous surface.
It does not dissolve.
It anchors like an Egyptian barge
in miniature, ready to ferry
the dead to an afterlife.
The tear sparkles like a ruby,
its blush spreads like a fine Shedeh wine.
Its light enfolds me.
All embracing life and love.
I raise the chalice to my lips.
I sip from its flame.
Linda Ankrah-Dove writes about the natural world, climate collapse, the weird workings of society and the spiritual journey. Her book, Borrowed Glint of Jade, is available through the author.
“As we persist with our spiritual paths, our companions listen us deeper and closer to the heart of the matter, far beyond opposites and dualities. We don’t deny the latter, as the denials would be extreme themselves, but as we navigate our moments of despairing sorrow on the one end, and those of joyful ecstasies on the other, we may find that true peace of mind lies in the middle spaces. Those where we are truly one with each other, and where we remember that our essence is beyond yesterdays, todays and tomorrows.”
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