Spirituality is always top of mind for me when I travel to my favorite wellness spas. Going more deeply into a spirituality practice helped me to overcome dark times after a significant loss and over the years it has become a time to immerse myself in classes, meditation and the act of just ‘being’ while surrounded by the beauty of nature and the sound of my breath. It’s grounding and helps with my creativity. It isn’t easy for me to quiet my mind and go to the deepest part of my soul, however, when I’m at a place like Canyon Ranch in Tucson, I find that I can be more fully present.
Spirituality has always been a core part of the Canyon Ranch experience, however, the Spirituality Center at Canyon Ranch is fairly new and it’s an oasis of tranquility. Prior to this new building the classes and private sessions were offered in a separate area. I wanted to delve a little deeper into spirituality and so I recently connected with Stephanie Ludwig, PhD, MA, MDiv., Director of Spiritual Wellness at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, AZ.
I’m grateful for the opportunity we had to connect further about spirituality and Canyon Ranch and think you’ll enjoy Stephanie’s insight, tips and authenticity.
DMA: What inspired you to go into Psychology and Divinity?
SL: Some early life experiences of loss and trauma led me to start asking the “big questions” at a young age. The need to make meaning out of my own overwhelming experiences met a natural curiosity within me, and an innate sense of life being more than meets the eye. This led me to both a spiritual path and a profession where I can explore those big questions with others seeking meaning, healing, and growth.
DMA: What tips would you like to share with my readers to enhance their spirituality and meditation goals, needs and mindfulness?
SL: Take time every day to connect with your deepest spiritual self and with whatever you experience and name as the source of your life, whether that’s the Universe, Spirit, God, Ultimate Reality, Great Mystery or some other name. Use whatever practice creates that deepest sense of connection for you. Meditation, journaling, walking in nature, yoga, prayer, gardening, dancing, reading a sacred text – these are some of the many rich possibilities. Spiritual deepening doesn’t generally happen by accident. Like any relationship, it requires a commitment of time and space in your days. It requires dedication and attention. And there is no right way to cultivate that deepening. Look for a practice that calls you to it, rather than imposing something on yourself, and then remember that the practice is simply the means to connection. Do it daily, but hold it lightly. If the only thing you do each day is maintain awareness of your breath, of your connection to Spirit (the word Spirit in English is related to “breath” in Latin), from the moment you awaken until the moment you return to sleep you will be transformed!
DMA: What is one of your biggest life lessons so far and do you use it in your work?
SL: Don’t try so hard. I trust there is a natural and divine order unfolding (I experience those working in harmony) that I may not be able to see or understand that I am participating in. When I let go of trying, pushing, controlling, and knowing in a purely rational way, I am carried in that current and experience peace. Even when life is painful, uncertain, and confusing. I use this daily in my work by listening deeply to another’s experience, listening for what is unfolding for that person spiritually, and offering the assure that whatever is happening is trustworthy even if it is uncomfortable.
DMA: If you weren’t working in Spirituality, what would you be doing?
SL: Either running a bakery or teaching ecology or geology. I love the magic of mixing ingredients in a bowl, subjecting them to heat and watching them change form! Plus, I have a sweet tooth. My spiritual life is deeply rooted in reverence for the natural world that sustains our lives. I spend time each day in the desert canyon near my home and love learning the science of it, or any place I am inhabiting. Inviting others to discover and appreciate the power, beauty, and curiosities of the earth brings me joy.
DMA: At Canyon Ranch, how do you assist guests in exploring and nourishing their spirituality?
SL: Our Spiritual Wellness department offers individual consultations that range from a Spiritual Dialogue about a person’s spiritual life to a Soul Journey, which is a guided meditation experience that incorporates sound, music and going on an inner journey. We also offer lectures that teach guests about spiritual topics, and workshops which delve more fully into a topic like forgiveness or becoming spiritually whole in a more intimate atmosphere with other seekers. In all of these settings we use conversation, reflection, visualization, meditation, prayer, direct teaching and other ways of inviting guests more fully into the spiritual life.
DMA: What do you do to stay educated in your field?
SL: Most importantly, I attend to my spiritual life by staying faithfully dedicated to my own practices, receiving regular guidance, and continuing to learn in ways relevant to my path. This is essential, to bring integrity to accompanying people spiritually and teaching. I also attend continuing education workshops and trainings and conferences in the areas of spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Maintaining membership with Spiritual Directors International is also helpful as they publish a wonderful professional journal and offer continuing education.
DMA: What’s next for you?
SL: I am very challenged and content where I am right now so I am not making any plans to change my professional path. But I am beginning to plan my annual trip to Hawaii to visit family and enjoy warm blue-green water. Some of my childhood years were spent on Oahu so returning always feels like going home.
DMA: Do you have a mentor? If so, how has he/she helped you?
SL: Fortunately, I have had wonderful teachers and mentors, some who are alive today and others who are not. They have included renowned theologians, psychologists and spiritual guides. Right now my most important mentor is the natural world. As I mentioned earlier, I spend time daily in places of wild beauty and I continue to learn how to be more spiritually human and loving through encounters with canyons, creeks, mountains and the creatures of the desert.
DMA: What’s your biggest challenge in your work?
SL: Caring for myself fully so I can be fully present each moment to the person before me and listen for, and respond to, what they are seeking. That requires daily attention to eating well, getting plenty of exercise and sleep, nurturing myself mentally and emotionally, working on my relationships, and attending to my spiritual life. It’s like keeping an instrument tuned so it can be played well. You can’t neglect yourself.
DMA: What is most rewarding to you in your field?
SL: Accompanying someone through a loss or trauma. These are the most difficult experiences for us as human beings. We often feel profoundly alone and alienated from others. To companion someone on that journey through darkness, hoping with them for the return of light, is a gift. Having journeyed through darkness many times in my life, and having something to offer someone in that place, is a gift. It is also very powerful to witness someone experiencing a significant shift in perception, a shift in how they see reality that moves them toward healing or greater wholeness. Seeing differently can change everything in our lives for the better.
DMA: Do you have any advice for someone wanting to get into this field?
SL: Pray for guidance and listen deeply for a response. Enter into a conversation with someone who can listen with you, a spiritual guide or companion. This is also known as discernment. If this is your work to do in the world opportunities will present themselves to you.
You can listen to our podcast here.
I hope that our conversation has helped you think more about your own spiritual practice and give you a glimpse of what Canyon Ranch offers in their Spirituality program.
Photo credit: Donna Adinolfi