GUIDELINES FOR INTERSPIRITUAL DISCUSSION AND MENTORING
by Ed Bastian
The primary language of InterSpiritual dialog and mentoring is shared silence. It is the soothing elixir that places each person and each tradition on neutral, reciprocal ground. In silence we are liberated from our fixed religious or non-religious identities and the words that distinguish one truth from another. We celebrate and welcome the diversity of our respective spiritual styles, traditions, racial, gender, and ethnic diversity. Separately and jointly we experience a wordless quality or essence of being that unites us.
When I am liberated by silence,
when I am no longer involved in the measurement of life,
but in the living of it,
I can discover a form of prayer in which there is effectively no distraction.
— Thomas Merton
When we enter into conversation with each other it is important that we maintain this same gentle and kind quality of being. Openness implies vulnerability, therefore we must take great care with our intentions and our words. Opening up to and with each other is rare and delicate occurrence. Therefore we take great care not to cause another person’s shy inner self to recede back into the shadows of his or her consciousness. We create a safe and supportive container within which this contemplative process can unfold.
Here is a set of guidelines I have compiled to help us help each other. It is based on fifteen years of work with contemplative teachers from many traditions with the Spiritual Paths Foundation.
- Embrace silence as a common language and the elixir of shared experience.
- Don’t feel compelled to teach. In this process we are not guides or gurus but friends.
- Cultivate the art of the question rather than the urge to provide answers.
- Our job is to help others to discover, honor and harness their spiritual styles and questions for their personal spiritual and contemplative practices.
- Genuinely celebrate and honor the diversity of all spiritual traditions.
- Soften the personal boundaries of fixed identity of your own religion and belief system and open your heart for sincere sharing and learning from the experiences of others..
- Expand your exclusive identity to one that is inclusive and universal.
- Do not respond to a statement by another person with disagreement, agreement, or affirmation. Simply listen compassionately, allowing the statement of another to rest in contemplative reflection and silence.
- Refrain from imposing or projecting your personal views on others’ traditions, beliefs, or practices on others.
- Do not try to speak for another person’s spiritual tradition or practice.
- Refrain from imposing a single universal truth on all religions and spiritual traditions that might not be shared by the traditions themselves or the person with whom you are working.
- If you belong to a specific tradition, speak “from” it rather than “for” it.
- Be careful not to misappropriate, or lift out of context, a specific practice from one tradition and graft it onto another tradition or your practice without knowing its indigenous meaning and purpose.
- Engage in compassionate listening to elicit the experience and wisdom within each individual.
“Circles of Trust Touchstones”
by Parker Palmer
The following “Touchstones” were adapted from Parker Palmer’s Touchstones for Circles of Trust. More information can be found in his book “A Hidden Wholeness,” or at The Center for Courage and Renewal: www.couragerenewal.org. Palmer’s methodology provides an an extremely important grounding for InterSpiritual dialog.
- Extend and receive welcome. People learn best in hospitable spaces. In this circle, wesupport each other’s learning by giving and receiving hospitality.
- Be present as fully as possible. Be here with your doubts, fears and failings as well as your convictions, joys, and successes, your listening as well as your speaking.
- What is offered in the circle is by invitation, not demand. This is not a “share or die” event! During this time, do whatever your soul calls for, and know that you do it with our support. Your soul knows your needs better than we do.
- Speak your truth in ways that respect other people’s truth. Our views of reality may differ, but speaking one’s truth in a circle of trust does not mean interpreting, correcting, or debating what others say. Speak from your center to the center of the circle, using “I” statements, trusting people to do their own sifting and winnowing.
- No fixing, no saving, no advising, and no setting each other straight. This is one of the hardest guidelines for those of us in the helping professions. But it is one of the most vital rules if we wish to make a space that welcomes soul, the inner teacher.
- Learn to respond to others with honest, open questions instead of counsel, corrections. With such questions, we help hear each other into deeper speech.
- When the going gets rough, turn to wonder. If you feel judgmental, or defensive, ask yourself, “I wonder what brought her to this belief?” or “I wonder what he’s feeling right now?” or “I wonder what my reaction teaches me about myself?” Set aside judgment to listen to others—and to yourself—more deeply.
- Attend to your own inner teacher. We learn from others, of course. But as we explore poems, stories, questions, and silence in a circle of trust, we have a special opportunity to learn from within. So pay close attention to your own reactions and responses, to your most important teacher.
- Trust and learn from the silence. Silence is a gift in our noisy world, and a way of knowing in itself. Treat silence as a member of the group. After someone has spoken, take time to reflect without immediately filling the space with words.
- Observe deep confidentiality. Trust comes from knowing that group members honor confidences and take seriously the ethics of privacy and discretion.
- Know that it’s possible to leave the circle with whatever it was that you needed when you arrived. Know that the seeds planted here can keep growing in the days ahead.