Rev Lisa j Winston is a Spiritual Companion / Guide, Healer & Interfaith Chaplain. In this feature, Lisa shares her personal journey, her passion for companioning and guiding others and insightful advice on self-care and spiritual practice.
Please tell us a bit about your background and what led you to help guide others in their journey.
This question is like following Ariadne’s thread through the labyrinth… I was probably like many teens growing up in the 60s-70s, a bit rebellious, skeptical about authority and organized religion, while also being curious about faith, the occult and the unseen world. From a spiritual perspective, I read Carlos Castenada, Ram Das, Kahlil Gibran, the Tao and loved the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. I went off to college for photography and graphic arts with my Tarot deck in hand, and somehow, my roommate and I became the de facto spiritual counselors for our dorm mates.
Fast forward through marriage, divorce, jobs, moving across the country, more jobs, and walking away from a roll-over accident without a scratch–– at 40 I launched my own marketing and PR consulting business with global brands in the outdoor recreation industry as clients–– and, I climbed Kilimanjaro. That was a big year, and at the time, I thought working and playing outdoors was about as good as life was going to get.
Yet the spiritual undercurrent flowed through me. Friends asked me to officiate their outdoor wedding. I created ceremonies on desert camping trips, and I choreographed my mother’s memorial service, outdoors of course. One winter day while in Sedona, watching the snow fall on the red rocks, I heard a voice loud and clear, “You’re to teach people to see.” One of my spiritual teachers refers to that as my “destiny memo”.
One year later during a surgery, I had a near-death experience (NDE) that was so vividly graphic it made that voice hard to ignore. That event proved to be life-changing. There was definitely life before my NDE, and life after. While I continued to work a few more years, my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I traveled, spent time in nature, honed my photography skills with Zen contemplative practices, practiced tarot and rune reading, got involved with a labyrinth group creating community ceremonies and kept following that thread, deepening my curiosity in esoteric spirituality.
That’s when I discovered and attended Nine Gates Mystery School. Before I finished the program, I knew that accompanying and guiding others on their spiritual path (ie: Teaching people to see…) was my calling. The only question was how to do that. I became a member of the staff, and for ten years was keeper of the temple, holding space for a community-wide prayer circle. To continue my spiritual studies with several mystery school teachers, I sold my house in Colorado, shut down my business and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. Then for practical theological grounding, I attended seminary at The Chaplaincy Institute (ChI) in Berkeley, where I ordained as an interfaith chaplain and received my certificate in spiritual direction.
The San Francisco Bay Area has been home for a decade now. I’m an initiate in the Aghor Yoga tradition and was a resident for a time at my teacher’s ashram in Sonoma CA. I also worked as a hospital chaplain, and in operations for a psychedelic assisted therapy startup organization. Today, I’m a guest teacher and academic advisor for students at The Chaplaincy Institute, while growing my spiritual companioning practice. I’m following the thread of my calling, doing the work I truly love.
How would you describe Spiritual Companionship?
One’s spiritual path is rarely a straight line. It’s apt to have many have twists and turns, like walking a labyrinth, or perhaps a spiral opening wider with each upward turn. Spiritual companionship is being of service to the client, meeting them right where they are on their path, being willing to walk with them, witnessing the exploration of their sacred nature and being a non-judgmental mirror of their truth. Spiritual companionship, is communion, it’s listening for that undercurrent in a seeker’s life that can connect them more deeply with their higher Self, the sacred nature in other beings, the planet and cosmos. It’s having no agenda, while being curious and asking questions that open the client to possibilities, without trying to fix anything. Some clients come with specific topics to discuss, some ask for homework and we can do that as an invitation without pressure to perform. As a spiritual companion I am guide, witness, confessor, counselor, mentor, depending upon the needs of the seeker/client.
What is your process when working with clients?
From a practical perspective, the first session is a “get to know each other” session. If, after that, we determine we’re going to work together, we establish a minimum six-month agreement. I see some clients once a month, others two times a month. If someone is in the throes of a spiritual or existential crisis, I might see them more often for a while. I meet most of my clients on zoom.
My current clients range in age from 25 to 75 and each is so very different. Most are spiritual but not religious, or embrace multiple traditions. I begin almost all sessions with a grounding practice, either a visualization and/or pranayama breathing, to bring our energy fields into resonance, and we invite in Divine guidance with the lighting of a candle. Sometimes we might open the session with a poem, or music. One client sends me an email before sessions with a specific topic he wants to discuss. He’s quite scholarly in his relationship with the Divine, so we might compare and contrast different scripture or religious viewpoints on a given topic in his sessions. Some of my clients are seminary students in process with their spiritual or theological formation. One client is a gifted spiritual healer in the throes of their own cancer journey, another is a hospital chaplain. When clients are able to meet in person, depending on what they bring, we might draw divination cards around a specific question, work with reiki and crystal energy healing, breathwork or movement. We might explore their inner landscape through visual meditation on photographs or art. We may even go for a walk-‘n-talk in nature. Primarily I’m listening for where and how divinity lives within my clients and how they want that relationship to unfold.
In your opinion, what is one of the biggest things that holds people back from living a fulfilling life?
That’s a great question. First, we have to know what “living a fulfilling life” means to the individual. The most common core wound I’ve heard expressed that holds people back, and it’s mine too, is, “I’m not __________ enough…” Fill in the blank. Too often we compare ourselves to some unrealistic familial or societal expectation of perfection. I once asked my spiritual teacher and founder of Nine Gates Mystery School, Gay Luce, “When is enough, enough?” Her reply? “When it is.” How do we get to that fulfilled, enough, space? I think it has to do with compassion, generosity, and most importantly, Love. Loving ourselves and others.
“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own and another’s spiritual growth.” – M Scott Peck. “We do not become fully human until we give ourselves and each other in love.” – Thomas Merton
Do you have any spiritual or self-care practices that you regularly follow or would recommend?
Every day when you wake up, before you put your feet on the floor, sit up in bed and take three deep breaths to welcome and ground you into the world. Then repeat, “I love myself, I honor myself, I respect myself,” three times.
If you find yourself in a state of agitation or stress during the day: stop, take a step back, take a breath. Better yet, take those same three deep breaths mentioned above. Our breath is the most readily accessible way to regulate our nervous system, to lower our heart rate and our anxiety. Learn different pranayama exercises.
In addition to the above from my Aghor Yoga teacher, Baba Harihar Ram (Babaji) also says, “Nothing is worth losing your peace”. If you can remember that, it will help you stay centered in equanimity and aid your non-violent communication practice.
Be curious, gentle and kind with yourself. Be your own best friend when you speak to those vulnerable parts of you from your heart-centered higher Self.
During covid lockdown, I walked between 3 and 5 miles daily, combining Shoshin – the practice of seeing life with wonder, with Wabi-Sabi–– the art of appreciating beauty in the naturally imperfect, impermanent and incomplete world–– while silently repeating the mantra given to me by my guru. I did this for my mental and spiritual health. It literally kept me sane. I snapped photos with my smart phone and posted them on Instagram every day, sharing the beauty I was seeing with others. I highly recommend walking meditation and taking refuge in beauty in all its forms.
If you have a creative practice: playing music, making all forms of art, writing poetry, dancing, pottery, gardening, cooking, etc., or if you appreciate creativity and beauty, make that creation, and/or appreciation your spiritual practice.
Be grateful every day…
Interfaith Ordination Prayer
Let us look inward, deeply…past the gatekeepers of
arrogance, pride, lust, greed, sloth, anger, fear and aversions.
Step into the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies, where
the Shakti energy rises to the natural frequency of Divine Truth.
Enter the center of your own vortex where you must stay grounded in stillness.
Be in discernment so as not to spin endlessly in your mind’s imagination.
Listen to that still voice of your inner Guru,
“stop, take a step back, take a breath…” and then
with conscious speech say only what is necessary.
Stay disciplined in your daily practice filling your soul chalice,
so that selfless service pours forth with Divine grace.
Be mindful of every word… every thought… every action.
Practice compassion. It is far more powerful than tolerance.
Keep the tabernacle of your heart open… pure and free to love and be loved.
Safe sacred space is our birthright… and our calling is to hold it for all.
Forgive yourself and others… in all ways.
See beauty, elegance and nobility flowering in each soul.
Our purpose in this human form is to unite with the Divine.
Be courageous and have faith in the mystery… the unknown,
with no attachment to outcomes… even though it is most uncomfortable.
Let go of anything that no longer serves… and learn when enough is enough.
Because nothing is worth losing our peace…
Namasté – The Divine in me bows to the Divine in You
©11_2016 Rev. Lisa j Winston