Essence 2023 Workshops

Workshop Details

Our workshops will be held on Thursday, May 4, and Friday, May 5, 2023 between 2:30 PM and 5:30 PM.

Workshop durations run from 90-180 minutes each.

To register for the conference and make your workshop selections, click the register button below.

Day 2 Workshops (B)

Friday, May 5, 2023 - (2:30 PM - 5:30 PM)

All times listed are in CDT. To convert to your own timezone, refer to this timezone converter.


Neuro-Mysticism and Contemplation: The Essence of Trauma-Informed Spiritual Direction

Spirituality is a felt sense of safe and nurturing connections to one’s Self, others, Spirit, and the Earth. While previously understood as “events,” trauma is now more widely considered to be the ruptures and residues of overwhelming events. Trauma is a state of disconnection and isolation and, as such, is a spiritual wound that often separates us from our inner wisdom.

Spiritual direction/companionship has something to receive from and contribute to trauma-informed care. Contemplative practices take us to the core of ourselves and to the margins of experience, often to the areas of traumatic desolation. In the places of agony, the mystic can discover union with the Divine, however named and experienced. Using the body as a text of soma divina, through the languages of neuroscience, contemplative practices, and mysticism, spiritual directors can facilitate a hermeneutic to help repair the sacred fabric of spiritual companions and communities.

Shannon Michael Pater

Shannon Michael Pater, M.A.R., M.Div., Psy.D., E-RYT 500, is a trauma-informed spiritual director and restorative yoga teacher in private practice for more than 15 years. In 2020 he suddenly became an international COVID refugee while traveling in India on a long pilgrimage. For 21 months he took refuge in McLeod Ganj, a small village in the Himalayas, the home-in-exile of H.H. the Dalai Lama. While there, he was rescued from near-total isolation by the companionship of street dogs.

Informed by ancient Wisdom Traditions and modern neuroscience, he offers individual and group spiritual direction, supervision and consultation, and an Apprenticeship in a Trauma-Informed Scope of Practice. His soul is deeply nourished by the poetry of Mary Oliver and he practices Miksang, a Tibetan form of contemplative photography. For more about him and his practice:


The Infinity Process: A Model for Socio-Spiritual Discernment

In this workshop, Ashe Van Steenwyk will guide participants through an adapted version of “the Infinity Process.”

The Infinity Process helps participants unearth the toxic myths and ideas that have taken root in their own consciousness, as well as confront the way those same myths and ideas find expression in oppressive societal structures.

This process is about more than confrontation; is about finding healing and liberation for ourselves as we find ourselves more able to “show up” for the ongoing work of social transformation.

There are four primary movements in the process: attending, naming, unveiling, and integrating.

It is called “the Infinity Process” not only because the flow between inner and outer work is expressed visually as an infinity symbol, but to demonstrate that this movement from inner to outer is continuous. Recursive. Our inner work continually reflects outward. And the outer work continually shapes our own consciousness.

M. Ashe Van Steenwyk

Maki Ashe Van Steenwyk (she/they) is the Executive Director of the Center for Prophetic Imagination in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Ashe is the author of A Wolf at the Gate, unKingdom, and That Holy Anarchist, and a contributor to a number of edited tomes. Ashe has been published in Sojourners, Geez Magazine,, Leadership Magazine, the Mennonite, and Mennonite World Review. Her work has been featured in the Minneapolis Star Tribute, the Boston Globe, and on Most of her work was published under her previous name: “Mark.”

Ashe founded the Mennonite Worker, which she pastored for 15 years. In the tradition of the Catholic Worker, the Mennonite Worker practiced hospitality, simplicity, peacemaking, and resistance.

Ashe has a B.S. in Ministry from the University of Northwestern, an M.Div. from Bethel Theological Seminary, and studied Spiritual Direction at St. Catherine University. Ashe is currently working on her doctoral dissertation at United Theological Seminary.


Reweaving Our Life Tapestries When Things Fall Apart

In this experiential workshop, we will explore three great movements in life: 1) creativity and creation, 2) loss and unraveling, and 3) willingness to stand in the darkness in order to find the light. Each of us, as well as the people we are supporting as spiritual directors, may be at a different point in this life cycle, and like the seasons that flow from one to another, we also transition from stage to stage–blooming, unraveling, hibernating, and starting all over again, hopefully with more wisdom. We will focus on how you can create more space to embrace each stage, expanding the awareness that we are all part of the tapestry of life that never ceases to be woven.

Mavis Tsai

Mavis Tsai, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and research scientist at University of Washington’s Center for Science of Social Connection. She is the co-creator of Functional Analytic Psychotherapy (FAP), a treatment that harnesses the power of the therapeutic relationship to transform clients’ lives. She is the co-author of five books on FAP and over 70 articles and book chapters. She is a recipient of the Washington State Psychological Association’s Distinguished Psychologist Award and is proud to be named by New Harbinger Publications as one of “13 Badass Psychologists… Who Happen to be Women. As Founder of the Nonprofit Organization Awareness, Courage & Love Global Project, (, she trains volunteers to lead chapters on six continents to create a worldwide network of open-hearted change-seekers who strive to meet life’s challenges through deepening interpersonal connection and rising to live more true to themselves.


Listening with the Ear of the Heart in the Midst of Difference

As listening professionals, we are engaging in more conversational encounters with persons who are unfamiliar to and different from us. As much as we aspire to engage deeply, we inevitably experience moments of disruption, challenge, and resistance.

In those moments of dissonance, our biases become open for inspection and revision to the extent that we listen with the ear of our hearts—that is, listen within as we listen to the other.

In this workshop, participants will be invited to:

  1. Explore what it means to listen with the ear of the heart from the perspective of various wisdom traditions;
  2. Practice listening with the ear of their hearts to their own thoughts, feelings and sensations as they simultaneously engage in conversation with others;
  3. Consider the implications of this way of listening for shaping a more inclusive, equitable, and just form of engagement in our communities.

Diane Millis

Diane M. Millis, Ph.D., is a spiritual director, teacher, and writer. She has taught at several schools including the University of Minnesota, College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University, and United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Diane currently offers ongoing formation for spiritual directors through professional development days, retreats, and workshops. Through her practice at Center of the Heart,, she and her colleagues Pamela Ayo Yetunde and John Chang-Yee Lee offer workshops on Spiritual Directors Working with Difference. Diane served as founder and initial convener of the New Contemplatives Initiative for SDI, and serves on the editorial board for Presence. Her most recent book Re-Creating a Life, published by SDI Press, introduces approaches to deep listening and story tending. She aspires to cultivate spaces for belonging, inclusion, and equity through story. For more information, visit

John Chang-Yee Lee

Rev. John Chang-Yee Lee, D.Min, is an ordained Presbyterian (PC(USA)) Minister of Word and Sacrament and a Buddhist-Daoist practitioner. He is second generation Chinese-American with a background in critical race theory, racial ethnic identity formation, and communal leadership. John is a spiritual director and former assistant professor of Spiritual Formation at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. He is a certified Qualified Administrator of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). John has published works in Lion’s Roar with the article Awakening with ‘A Love Supreme’” and the Routledge Handbook of Buddhist-Christian Studies with the submission “Herding Cows and Sheep: Giving Guidance in Buddhist and Christian Spiritual Formation.” His current research and practical application interests include spiritual formation and direction for BIPOC individuals and communities as well as  non-dual cultivation practices across religious traditions. 


When Directees Talk Politics

Some of us may regard political conversation in a spiritual accompaniment session as a distraction from soul work or as a transgression of our professional role or ethical code. This workshop recognizes politics as an expression of values that can shape a directee’s self-image, impact spiritual and emotional well-being, and humanize or dehumanize others. How can we help directees to explore connections between their political world-views and their spiritual lives?

Nicholas Collura

Nicholas Collura is a spiritual director and visiting retreat director at St. Raphaela Center in Haverford, PA. A board-certified chaplain, he is directs a pastoral care team for a Catholic hospice organization in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and he co-coordinates EcoPhilly, a faith-based organizing initiative dedicated to creation care in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. His website is


Holding the View of Nondualism as We Companion for Our Evolving World - An Interspiritual Exploration

Sunyata Kopriva and Nathan Bettger (New Contemplatives 2021) will guide a challenging, interactive, and at times light-hearted exploration born out of their ongoing and deepening friendship and alignment in nondualism and interspiritual practice and companioning. This truly will be an unceasing and compassionate nondualistic invitation to consider what it means to be an integrated and congruent guide or companion in our evolving world. Sunyata brings a wealth of experience as a trauma psychotherapist, researcher, yoga and meditation teacher, social justice artist, and long time student of Minling Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche of the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Nathan’s approach comes out of his practice of full-time hospital chaplaincy and fathering a son with a terminal disability. Drawing from his contemplative and mystical spiritual practice and also his work with grief, trauma, and death and dying, his ongoing invitation is to lean into ALL of life.

Participants will be challenged and invited to dive into the deep end of nondual interspiritual relationships and encouraged to deepen their experience and discipline of interconnectedness for the thorough journey of transformation and liberation for all beings.

Nathan Bettger

Nathan Bettger is a board-certified hospital chaplain and spiritual director from Oshkosh, WI, where he lives with his wife (Kat), his two sons (Brendan Arthur and Owen Raine) and his Welsh Terrier (Wendell). Nathan is committed to nurturing connection and community, through our relationships, our bodies, our sense of self, the land that we live on, and our experience of the Divine. Deeply grounded in contemplative and mystic Christianity and nature-based spirituality, Nathan seeks to consistently invite others into more unitive and loving life, whether it be through spiritual companioning, caring for those in the hospital, advocating for more natural earth keeping, caring for his honey bees and his garden, or writing. Nathan has led community groups for many years focused on spiritual integration, conversations on death and dying, grief support, and men’s spirituality. He received his Masters in Divinity from Bethel Seminary in St Paul, MN and Certificates of Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Direction from George Fox Seminary in Portland, OR. Nathan served on the founding board for the men’s spirituality non-profit, Illuman and is a graduate scholar of the Orphan Wisdom School, led by teacher, story teller and author, Stephen Jenkinson.

Sunyata Kopriva

Sunyata Kopriva (they/them) MSW, RYT, LCSW was New Contemplative with Spiritual Directors International from 2019-2021. They are a psychotherapist, artist, and researcher specializing in culturally congruent care for complex trauma, and in 2019 they established their own private therapy practice, Healers Hive. They guide people in integrating multifaceted experiences, internal and external, over time, so that they can reach new levels of beingness in this fast-paced and challenging time in the world. As a dedicated student and teacher of Vajrayana Buddhism and yoga for over two decades, they blend wisdom from many traditional and modern sources to support people at different points in their integration process. This work is deeply meaningful and personal, and Sunyata has learned to hold peoples’ unique and universal stories with dignity. Currently residing in California on unceded Ohlone land, Sunyata enjoys dancing with the redwoods and laughing with the Pacific.


Experiencing Belonging & Interbeing as an Antidote to Othering: The Essential Practice of Tending to a Sacred Relationship with Earth

All around us the systems of capitalism, racism, classism, patriarchy, homophobia, speciesism, etc., seek to divide us and teach us that we do not belong to ourselves, each other, or the planet. Join us in this session to engage in practices of belonging and learn how recognizing interbeing & re-connecting to nature can provide useful guidance as we come back into our bodies and into reciprocal relationship with our stories, each other and the land. In this session we will draw upon the work of Sebene Selassie, Robin Wall Kimmer, Joanna Macy, Amos Clifford, Kimberly Crenshaw, bell hooks, adrienne maree brown to explore how felt experiences of belonging to self, land and community can help us disengage from oppressive structures and re-engage in co-creating spaces of deep belonging.

Jodi Lammiman

After living at a wilderness retreat centre for four years, Jodi Lammiman (she/her) founded Refugia Retreats, an initiative that uses retreat, facilitation and eco-spiritual direction to explore the confluence of social & environmental justice and spirituality. Refugia acknowledges nature as teacher, supports people living with ecological & climate grief and anxiety, and fosters holistic wellness practices.

As an interspiritual director and community educator, Jodi is also informed by ecology and living systems theory. She is particularly interested in what nature can teach us about rhythms of rest, germination, and activity.

Jodi was one of SDI’s 2022 New Contemplatives. She completed training in the Work that Reconnects under Joanna Macy, has a Bachelor in Sacred Literature, MA in Spiritual Leadership and has a certification in Spiritual Direction. Jodi currently lives in Mohkinstsis, also known as Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where she resides as a grateful guest on Treaty 7 land.

Justin Ferko

Justin Ferko is a 2022 New Contemplative, Certified Interspiritual Companion, Certified Relational Nature and Forest Therapy Guide with the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, and professional chaplain. He founded Wild Spirit Paths, LLC, in 2022. Justin’s work focuses on the wholeness of beings, supports LGBTQ+ folks on their spiritual paths, and invites folks to return to embodied joy and belonging as children of Earth. He celebrates the giftedness of the LGBTQIA+ community and facilitates soul friendship with Mother Earth.

Justin practices reciprocity and relationship with the More-Than-Human world, Tibetan Buddhist meditation in the Karma Kagyu lineage, and Carpathian Mountain Folk Spirituality. Justin and his spouse Craig live along the banks of the Susquehanna River in Susquehannock and Haudenosaunee lands. His educational background includes completion of Masters of Theological Studies in Church in the World, Spanish Language and Literature, and Secondary Education.


Exploring the Essence of Spiritual Companionship Through Descriptive Inquiry

In this interactive discussion, we will inquire into the meaning of “essence.” The facilitator will call on the practices and protocols of Descriptive Inquiry inspired by the work of Patricia Carini and contemplative educators of the Prospect School in Vermont. During the group’s time together, Rev. Dr. Felicia will support participants in storying and finding connections in how we enact this year’s conference themes in our daily lives.

Felicia Black

Rev. Dr. Felicia Black is an ordained interfaith/interspiritual minister, licensed educator, and Doctor of Philosophy in Education with a focus on Curriculum and Instruction, and Early Childhood Education. She is the owner of The WellSpring Center for Renewal, where she offers spiritual life companionship and education consulting to her clients. Her life work focuses on applied spirituality, interspiritual literacy, and the identity development of Black and Brown women and their communities. Felicia integrates her love of dance, music, nature and play into all aspects of her vocation and ministry. When she is not working on her passion projects, Felicia enjoys music, dancing, watching movies, spending time with family, and tending to her contemplative and playful spirit.


Let’s Go Fly a Kite

Using the image of kite flying, the workshop will talk about the need to be both grounded and having the ability to imagine and dream as essential for both the director and the directee in spiritual direction conversations.  Using input, storytelling and art work, the participants will have an opportunity to reflect on these concepts:  grounded, realistic, and visionary.  We will consider how these interact and support the direction relationship.

Lucy Abbott Tucker

Lucy Abbott Tucker has been a member of SDI since its inception. In addition to the work she has done for SDI, Lucy worked at the Institute for Spiritual Leadership in Chicago for 30 years, preparing people for the ministry of spiritual direction.  She has traveled to Canada, Europe, and Australia, as well as extensively throughout the United States helping to prepare people for the ministry. SDI recently published Lucy’s book on supervision, Spiritual Direction Supervision: Principles, Practices, and Storytelling


Mystical Dimensions of Spiritual Direction and Companionship

In a follow on and expansion on his keynote, Jim Finley will present and elaborate further dimensions and insights on the vital connection of mysticism to spiritual direction and spiritual companionship, including considerations of the role of trauma, addictions, and contemplation, among others .  He will also take questions and dialogue with participants. (90 minutes)

Dr. James Finley

Dr. James Finley has been a great friend to SDI over decades now, but it’s been a while since he has been able to join our yearly conference. And what better time than now?

We need to hear Jim’s wisdom and insights as we confront these dark moments we are going through, and recommit ourselves as spiritual directors and companions to composting, distilling, and recognizing Mystical Essence in everything that surrounds us.


Reimagining Historic Faith and Wisdom Traditions for Today

What will it take to share and reimagine historic faith and wisdom traditions for today’s spiritual directors and companions?

In this in depth follow on to their morning keynote, Michelle Scheidt, Uvinie Lubecki and Alicia Forde will further plumb how seekers, explorers, and wayfarers are all trying to find new pathways for meaning, to connect with mystery and spirit, and to embody love, liberation, and human flourishing in a time when fewer people feel connected to institutions. The Fetzer Institute has initiated a project called Sharing Spiritual Heritage to explore this question with BIPOC spiritual innovators — including spiritual directors and companions, clergy, spiritual entrepreneurs, and other leaders within and outside historical traditions and institutions.

This workshop exploration will give all participants more room to explore the question of how to get to the depth of what we’re seeking in a world that’s full of surface structures. What would serve all of us to build the spiritual infrastructure, and spiritual direction and companion practices, of the future?

Michelle Scheidt

Michelle Scheidt, Senior Program Officer at the Fetzer Institute, is leading an effort focused on field building and network development among spiritual innovators. She and her advisors are asking: How will we hold onto the rich teachings of our historic faith and wisdom traditions while applying them creatively in today’s time? How will we reimagine roles and institutions as the spiritual and religious landscape dramatically shifts? Join her and Uvinie Lubecki, founder of Leading Through Connection, and advisor to the Institute to learn more about this invigorating body of work.

Uvinie Lubecki

Uvinie Lubecki is an organizational consultant and coach who is passionate about designing spiritual practices for secular audiences. She has worked with leaders from over 20 organizations including Macy’s, Johnson & Johnson, GoPro, Volvo Cars, the California Department of Justice, and Google. In 2017, she founded Leading Through Connection, an organization focused on Compassionate Leadership. She currently brings her experience in spiritual innovation to the Sharing Spiritual Heritage project at the Fetzer Institute, where she supports a learning cohort of BIPOC spiritual innovators who are advancing spiritual innovation. Uvinie was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in Nigeria, Jordan and New York. She holds a BA in Neurobiology & Behavior from Cornell University and a MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health. In her free time, she writes young adult fantasy novels. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and feral cat, Norbu.

Rev. Alicia Roxanne Forde

The Reverend Alicia Roxanne Forde serves with the Unitarian Universalist Association as the Director of the International Office. Alicia is passionate about engaging individuals and communities in discerning what they most care about and working alongside others as they seek to enact Love and Justice in this world. She has developed a profound appreciation for self-care, spiritually grounded leadership/organizational development, and the crucial importance of meaningful connections in establishing sustainable lives.

Alicia was born and spent her formative years in Trinidad and Tobago. She identifies as an African-descent, queer, cis-gender female with deep roots in Tobago. She considers herself bi-cultural and is grateful that her formative years – and ongoing education – enabled her to cultivate a transnational feminist perspective. Alicia is a certified Spiritual Director and has a strong interest in health and wellness. When she’s not hiking, you can find her reading, working-out, or walking with her favorite podcasts. She is a graduate of The Iliff School of Theology (MDiv ’03) and currently lives with her partner in Boulder, Colorado.


Writing Workshop #2

SDI favorite Tania Casselle, our conference Writer-In-Residence, will lead a two part workshop on all aspects of the writing process, from ideas, to writing techniques, and all the way through the publication process for spiritual directors and companions.  More details coming soon.  Tania will also be available for 1/1 consultations throughout the conference (signups for these consults also available soon)

Tania Casselle

Tania Casselle has been a writer and editor for 25+ years, published in books, magazines, newspapers and online media in the US, Europe and Asia. She is a committee chair for the American Society of Journalists & Authors and a senior teacher and mentorship director for the Sage Institute online Meditation & Mindfulness Leader training program. Her nonfiction, fiction, poetry and radio work have been recognized in numerous awards and anthologies. She holds a Masters in Transpersonal Psychotherapy, follows a contemplative path in the Zen Buddhist and Christian mystic traditions, and is an alumnus of Fr. Richard Rohr’s Living School for Action and Contemplation. As a writing coach and teacher, she works with people individually and in seminars and writing retreats in person and online. She helps writers on every level, teaching not just the craft and business of writing, but also exploring the deeper creative and spiritual impulse, helping writers free their natural writing voices and navigate internal blocks. A Brit from London, Tania lives in New Mexico.