In Search of Spiritual Companioning and Community
As I sat waiting for Pat to join me for coffee time my thoughts turned to my search for broader relationships. The topic seemed strange at first, but an awareness was arising in me of just how narrow my relationships have been from early life onward.
As a kid I was into my private life – my hobbies, my interests in astronomy and science, and the like. I did not feel connected emotionally or interest-wise, especially to my peers, but also not with adults. With the latter my connection mostly involved being obedient and feeling connected via their approval and recognition for my performance in various activities – school and the like. But I do not believe I was conscious of a love connection. And my interests seemed very different from those of my parents, family, and peer groups at school, church, and scouts.
All through school, career, family, organizations, and church I did not seem to have things in common with others. I was not into sports, and did not seem to find friends who were interested in science, meaning of life, and spirituality (though I would not have called it spirituality back then). When I finally got connected with women, my focus seemed limited to sexuality rather than broadening to shared common interests. I seemed to stay private in what was most alive in me. Oh I would play the perfunctory roles well enough, but it was as if I were two people – one who tried to fit in and define himself in the culture (family, work, church, etc.) and the other whose mind ventured forth into the meaning of life and the Cosmos.
During this time I did not feel safe in discussing meaning of life beyond my conservative church circles. And within these conservative circles I did not feel safe to really share and explore things far beyond accepted dogma. So the two Garys – the private and the public Gary – continued.
By the time I turned fifty the pressure to break out and find something that would support me in exploring my inner curiosity was severe, equaled, however, by my unconscious fear of doing so. Where to turn? Would I stay stuck or pursue my inner longing? I was only vaguely aware of what I was even looking for. Then a Catholic nun came into my life via an organization we were in. She mentioned that she did spiritual direction – a term not familiar to me as a Lutheran. I met with her and said that I thought I was looking for a “12-Step program with a non-named malady.” I’m not sure where that description came from, but retrospectively it sounds pretty accurate. I was open to Catholic groups, any group she thought would fill this need.
She knew of no such group, but agreed to help me start such a group. There were three Catholics and me in this first group. It went on for five years and was followed by my starting a number of similar spiritual groups with a local Lutheran Pastor. We would use techniques he had learned about Group Spiritual Direction at Shalem Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. These small groups satisfied a hunger in me. Typically we would meet on Saturday mornings, read some spiritual writing, and go into sharing, usually deep sharing, about what was up in our lives. For whatever reason all of these ended after seven or eight years. Probably one reason included how defended I was and how confused I was about life. By then I had divorced, left my company and my church, and other issues were up in my life, and, needed or not, this mode of spiritual community ceased, at least for a while.
At this point in our coffee time Pat joined me. I shared my reflection on longing for broader relationships, starting with her and my relationship. Was our relationship as broad as we liked? We have our precious coffee sharing, we are both on spiritual paths, we enjoy movies, walks, travel, and have a few very dear friends in common. We have not hit on too many areas of common interest beyond these, but these seem to be more than enough.
We talked about other friends and for some of them how different their lives seem to be from our own – much more into the culture, successful in life we would say, travelers, engaged in family and holidays and church and the like. Then I spoke of how my engagement with a few in my circle who fit this description was. I can have deep conversations and enjoy them, even becoming animated, but then it seems to be “too much,” or at least too narrow for my friends. This perplexes me. It saddens me. I feel intensity of connection, and then disconnection. It is painful.
Pat reflected to me my intensity and sadness. She observed that I care for such people and that I have a longing for deep connections with them. “What gets evoked in you,” she asked, “when you are with such folks?” I noted that I really enjoy my relationship with a dozen or so people, people who are more aligned with where I am. But some of my friends, as above, are not as aligned, but still I enjoy time with them. I enjoy their openness with me. Pat responded, “You appreciate the sacredness of the dynamic with them, their willingness to be open with you in ways perhaps they may not be open to others. I too, have friends like that.”
Pat noted that maybe what we were doing with such folks could be called “Spiritual Companioning.” Pat continued, “And maybe this is what we do with our kids as well – we enjoy being spiritual companions to them as much or more than being parents to them.” I added, “Maybe all of our closest friendships are in the nature of Spiritual Companioning! Maybe this is our deepest longing – building up a community of Spiritual Companions.”
I then realized that this is what I did NOT have growing up – not in my family, not in my peer-group, not in my school, and not in my church. This “Spiritual Companionship,” this place of deep, honest, open sharing I so longed for (though unconsciously), was missing. I did not have folks I could talk with concerning what was most deeply felt and thought. Spiritually I felt alone in the world. This deep longing for spiritual companionship finally broke onto the scene in my life when I turned 50 and got involved in starting small spiritual groups. And today our coffee time is that. This felt like a lot of the dots in my life just got connected!
Pat spoke of Buddhism and the Three Jewels: the Buddha (Truth of Reality), the Dharma (Teachings), and the Sangha (Community). “We have talked about spiritual community. Now we, you and I, are a sangha for one another.”
I jumped ahead with, “Maybe we need more of an intentional spiritual community.” Pat was not there yet. This took her too much into “church” and other similar communities that still hold baggage for us both. I was reminded of Pathwork Lecture 194 that speaks of the visualization of what we want as feeling the feelings we long for in a spiritual community and then letting the feeling manifest in whatever particulars arise around that felt visualization (click here for this reference).
Pat noted that perhaps this is what I wanted from my writing group, for example – but noted that it doesn’t always seem to “click” that way. This, too, could be a space for the Sacred. I agreed. We could make Spiritual Companioning an intention for the writing group. What would that feel like? Do others value this as much as I do? What would make it so for each of us?
At this point I noted that I was feeling enlivened by our dialog. I was FULL. Something awakens in me in this process of morning Coffee time with Pat. This is such a blessing!
I then turned to Pathwork. I think that what I am longing for in my Pathwork Community is MORE SPIRITUAL COMMUNITY, MORE SPIRITUAL COMPANIONING. Maybe this includes Core, Emotional Processing, Teaching, etc. But maybe not. What I do know is that I am looking for more spiritual companioning – a feeling of closeness, of love, of a shared journey. We’ll see what unfolds on all these fronts. I can feel my juice for it, and am grateful for that juice!
With love, Gary
PS Pat and I then spoke about our watching In Search of the Miraculous – The Teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff by P. D. Ouspensky. We watched it last night and then this morning Pat read aloud from the book by the same name. She read the Foreword by Mairanne Williamson who says this book was foundational to her search in the 1960’s and would be foundational for anyone entering a spiritual path afresh. She notes that there are many writings on spirituality on the market these days, but this book, written in 1949, provides a foundation for all that followed. I certainly experience Pathwork this way, written between 1957 and 1979, and foundational for my life. Pat and I may explore Gurdjieff a bit more. Sounds interesting.