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Spiritual Directors International

The Home of Spiritual Companionship

Spiritual Companionship & Emotions

Guest Author: 
Jeanette Banashak, Phd, EdD

No matter how, where, when, or by whom we were raised, scholars agree that there are 5 emotions that we all have in common: enjoyment, sadness, disgust, fear, and anger. As a spiritual guide, I am constantly looking and listening for clues that help me understand what a seeker is feeling. At the same time, I am listening for clues in myself that let me know what I am feeling.

This self-listening and self-awareness grows as I learn which emotions and conscious feelings I am experiencing in any given moment.

When a challenging emotion emerges during a session, I try to notice it and put it on hold until the session is over. Then, when I have time to reflect on the experience, I go back to the feeling connected to the emotion and let it become a teacher. I consider the feeling and its origins. I befriend the feeling and say things to myself like, “Jeanette, you are not your feelings.” I also remember and accept Pema Chödrön’s words: “Relax and touch the limitless space of the human heart.”

Here’s an example.

In a session of spiritual companionship, a young person spoke about the future in glowing terms. This person was describing all the wonderful professional options that were on the horizon, all the community support and financial support that had been received. At a certain moment, I realized that I was feeling jealous of this individual’s success – and sad that I had not experienced such good fortune in my 20s. After recognizing those emotions, I suspended them for the duration of the session and instead, accessed joy for this seeker’s journey.

Later, as I reflected on those strong emotions (and I still reflect on them to this day), I was able to put them in perspective, and thus, feel gratitude for the life that I have. I also welcomed the beauty of meeting someone emotionally where they are at.

I believe it is possible to have up-to-the-minute information about how a seeker and I are feeling, but that it takes significant practice in contemplative practices like meditation.

In addition, we can attempt to counteract our emotional states. If we feel annoyed with another person, we can cultivate patience, open-mindedness and care. If we feel anxious, we can work on being present with what is and letting something from the past or future go. If we feel discouraged, we can turn sadness and despair around and participate in meaningful activities. These are not meant to be trivial responses to complicated situations and difficult emotions, but rather provide potential remedies to reverse negativity and help move forward.

We may also feel deeply for another when we are empathetic and re-create another’s state (i.e. pain or elation or any other feeling.) One way that I continue to grow in compassion for my young seeker is to re-create the satisfaction the seeker expressed about his/her future.

May you live with an expansive heart that you constantly grow in each encounter with a seeker.


Dr. Jeanette Banashak is the co-founder and director of The Spiritual Guidance Training Institute, an organization engaging in education, experiences, and relationships for practical, integrative, unitive living.  A bilingual interreligious/interspiritual guide, she also teaches mindfulness to K-2nd graders in Chicago Public Schools.  Jeanette is currently preparing to take a pilgrimage to Spain and Japan.

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