By Joan Alexander
It is early morning and the hotel room is dark. I pause for a moment at the window. The curtains are closed and the only sound I hear is the air conditioner as it blows cool air on me. Slightly disoriented – yesterday had been a long day of driving – and after a slice of pizza I had fallen into bed and a deep sleep. Which province did I stop in last night? Every hotel room looks the same.
The curtains open with a swish and the light reflecting off of the fields of wheat bring me into the moment. Oh, the prairies of Saskatchewan in all of their splendour!
Having traveled from the east to the west (Ontario – Manitoba – Saskatchewan – Alberta – British Columbia) several years before, I am now retracing my “steps” and travelling back to eastern Canada. This time, to Prince Edward Island, nestled between the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Québec and Newfoundland and Labrador in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Canada consists of ten provinces and three territories extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific and up into the Arctic Ocean and covers 9.98 million square kilometres. It is the world’s second-largest country by total area. The climate and terrain impact all those who inhabit it. And the land, called by some indigenous peoples “Turtle Island,” holds the space for various spiritual beliefs about creation. The turtle itself represents identity, culture, autonomy and a deeply-held respect for the environment. It is no surprise, then, that spiritual seekers across Canada are different in how they present themselves and what they are searching for.
My spiritual direction journey began in southern Ontario where my window offered a view of a river and a university campus. Here, I first studied spiritual direction and opened a practice. The seekers who came were academics, farmers from surrounding lands, faith leaders and other curious ones – some who found Spirit on the nature trails surrounding the city that we called home. Many were interested in the Enneagram and we spent sessions exploring their types and how their spiritual lives were forming within and outside of each one.
On to central British Columbia, where my window offered a spectacular view of mountains and clear lakes. This is where my practice grew. It is said that the mountains hold the dreams of those who call them home. These keepers of the dreams tower over the towns and villages offering protection from wind and summer heat. Dreamers brought their night-time memories to sessions and workshops for Jungian-flavoured dream interpretation.
Having recently settled on Prince Edward Island, I once again have new views outside of my window. I rarely close the curtains. The ocean bay changes every day – often every minute! Waves, stillness, winds, bright sunshine, and rain that raises a tumult on the window as I sip my tea. The people here are a mix of second and third generation islanders and “those from away”(those not born on the island). Currently, I am meeting with people who are very interested in the labyrinth. Meeting with a seeker at an outdoor labyrinth for a session can offer a deeply spiritual experience. The land here, with its red sand and soil, is rich with history, growth and memory. To take off our shoes and step on the path, to hold silence and space, is one of the most beautiful gifts I can share.
Over time, during these moves, I reflect on how my spiritual direction practice has changed. Like the views from the windows, I am different in each place. Transitioning into all virtual sessions, workshops and presentations last year opened up new windows of connections and opportunities never before imagined. I also experienced the sadness and longing to prepare tea, open the door and settle in together beside the window. While the grief of these transitions must be acknowledged, let us also celebrate the vistas that have opened for us all on virtual platforms!
There are many terrains in Canada that I have not walked on yet. Now that we are opening up to travel again, I wonder if my new awareness of window views will be enough to satisfy my wanderlust – spiritual and otherwise. Or will I venture out again to stand at the curtained windows of hotel rooms in wondering?
My curiosity about the views of my directees has grown, too. Windows offer many opportunities to spiritual directors. For example, ask a directee what they see outside of their window. This question may provide a wealth of deep sharing. Asking if there are curtains (or blinds) on their windows may also encourage reflection. And, for those seekers who ask for “homework”, suggest that they step outside and look into their window.
As my own perspectives continually change, I share the following wonderings with you:
- What spiritual similarities do people who live in the same geographical areas have? All seekers long for purpose, love, forgiveness and to be seen and heard.
- How are our everyday spiritual lives similar or different based on where we live? While everyday lives present different experiences and connections, our inner lives with all of our wishes and hopes, are remarkably similar.
- Is much of the above rooted in spiritual teachings and experiences or does the land itself hold the wisdom we long for? The land we walk on offers far more nourishment – spiritual and otherwise – than we can dream or imagine.
Joan Alexander (she/her/hers) is a trained Spiritual Director (Haden Institute) & Supervisor (Mercy Center, Burlingame, CA, USA) with an active practice in Canada, the USA and UK. Joan is a mentor and facilitator at The Mercy Center, Burlingame, California in The Art & Practice of Spiritual Direction and Sacred Journey programs. As a supervision educator, Joan offers virtual supervision workshops that are based on the teachings of her mentor, Lucy Abbott Tucker. In addition, she co-facilitates a group supervision monthly gathering. Joan also offers virtual presentations that focus on Spiritual Direction with the LGBTQ+ Community, Spiritual Trauma and Group Spiritual Direction & Supervision. Her website is here.