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Was I lost? No question.
Did I know where I was? Not at all.
Had I ever been happier in my life? Never.
—Mary Oliver, Swan
I go by “Shannon Michael.”
I hope that you are safe and well.
I'm a spiritual director in private practice and have developed a method of "trauma-informed spiritual direction" that integrates the Wisdom Traditions, traumatology, and modern neuroscience.
This method has organically grown from working with my own trauma history and walking with spiritual directees (i.e. clients) in my private practice over 15 years. Additionally, I have hundreds of hours of post-doctoral trauma-informed training and over 1,000 hours of yoga & Ayurveda education in India and the U.S. You can click here for my professional & educational credentials.
After 25 years of ordained ministry, in early 2019 I sold, donated, or gave away most of what owned me and set off on a long pilgrimage to India, Nepal, & Sri Lanka. In March 2020, while traveling in the Himalayas, the COVID-19 pandemic left me stranded in McLeod Ganj, the home-in-exile of H.H. the Dalai Lama. Alone in paradise for 21 months, I discovered the transforming companionship of street dogs and the curious graces that arrive over a second cup of chai with strangers. You can read more about that journey here. I repatriated to the U.S. at the end of 2021.
I'm still a pilgrim; I'm also a poet, and a Miksang photographer (all the pictures on my website are ones I've taken).
If our paths should cross, may we greet each other as friends. If I can be helpful to you, please do be in touch.
In hopes of satori, samadhi, shanti, shalom & salaam; peace be with you,
The Rev. Dr. Shannon Michael Pater
M.A.R., M.Div., Psy.D. | Yoga Alliance E-RYT 500
Trauma-Integrating Somatic Spiritual Director
In late 2018, after a significant period of supported discernment, I gave notice to the congregation I served of my intention to resign and travel to India on a “one-way ticket.” I called it my “45-10 Project:” I was 45 and I had been their senior minister for 10 years, two good marking points. For three months we did the tender work of saying “goodbye” as mutual blessing and I sold, donated, or gave away everything that “owned me.” I arrived in India on 1 February 2019.
I lived in Mumbai for six months, then went to Nepal for a 30-day panchakarma. I returned to Mumbai for Ganesh Chaturthi and traveled frequently to southern India with Mumbai as my home-base.
On twelfth night 2020 (5 January), I let go of my Mumbai flat and took off on unfettered adventures. I went to an international kite festival, rode a camel into the Thar desert and slept under the stars, attended the world’s largest annual literature festival (Jaipur), came within a few barrier-free feet of a wild tigress at Pench, meditated at the Golden Temple, and spontaneously competed in an turban-tying competition (did not win) at the international desert festival.
I left India for Sri Lanka to see elephants and sleep in the jungle (a bull elephant charged our jeep), came very close to blue whales that were larger than the boat I was in, and swam with sea turtles. I’ve always got a story to tell and play a great game of “two truths and a lie” at parties.
And then there was a global pandemic.
We never know how the stories that didn’t happened would have been written. But in many ways, I was kissed by mercy and unseen grace grasped my hand.
I returned to Mumbai for the celebration of Holi with friends only days ahead of India closing its international borders. I could have been trapped in Sri Lanka on a quickly expiring visa.
Unaware of what was to happen next, I left Mumbai as planned for McLeod Ganj in the Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh. I had lived there for three months on sabbatical in 2014 and studied yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda. McLeod is a small mountain village, a “suburb” of Dharamshala, and is the home-in-exile of H.H. the Dalai Lama and the headquarters of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. The Tibetans are political refugees.
I was planning to visit for three weeks.
But on Sunday, 22 March, we went into lockdown. For more than 70 days, I was mostly restricted to my hotel room.
Suddenly, I was an international COVID refugee.
I first traveled to India as a volunteer when I was 14 and returned as a solo traveler five times between 2014 and 2018. I love India, I have always felt generously welcomed, and even credit my time there as a teen with saving my life.
But I was alone and afraid.
I had only been in McLeod for a few days ahead of the lockdown, not enough time to find previous friends or make new ones. I was in a simple hotel room with only a water kettle; no way to keep or cook fresh food. I wasn’t sure how I was going to eat during the first announced 21 days of isolation.
And I was keenly aware that I was subject to whatever a foreign government decided to do with expats during a global crisis. I often wondered if I was going to be taken to a COVID containment camp. Sometimes we could go outside for three hours a day, but I usually stayed inside because of the uncertainty.
And then amazing graces arrived in curious forms.
The Tibetans who ran and lived in the hotel sent food from their table to my door three times a day. Those who had been refugees for years saw the need in a new one. Every meal alone in my room was a great feast of thanksgiving and often tear-full gratitude.
The other incarnation of grace came in the form of a street dog who simply arrived at my door.
I would later come to know her name as Spotty Doggo. I’m not sure what originally prompted her interest in me, perhaps that I was a new boy in her clearly marked territory. It is likely that my soul is half canine, so I greeted her attention with delight. I was soon her “biscuit boy;” I was always clear that I’m her boy, she wasn’t my dog. I accepted her terms.
Spotty helped me to navigate between anguishing isolation and the serenity of solitude.
As I managed my way through four phases of nationwide lockdown, other street dogs would bring me into their pack. I also had relationships with monkeys; those are always complicated. Street cows are often friendly; the donkeys are usually suspicious.
I went through 18 phases of Unlock (there are currently 22 phases). When we were finally allowed to interact with each other again, slowly slowly, over chai with strangers, I became known in the village and found friends. I found companionship with an expat from Canada and another from Australia, but no other Americans. That was particularly difficult on the death of RBG, the presidential election, the death of my spiritual director (a near-20 year relationship), and the insurrection.
For 21 months, I had to regularly register with the Indian government. The rules were clear, expect for when they frequently weren’t. I was very grateful when they provided a two-shot COVID vaccine. That gift made my repatriation to the U.S. possible.
In late November 2021, the day after Thanksgiving, I was finally able to leave the Himalayas. I was surrounded by 10 street dogs and several friends as I left for Mumbai.
With commingled tears of joy and loss, I was again with friends in Mumbai for a few weeks. We sorted the extremely complicated international puzzle of managing my exit. With my required paperwork completed on the morning of my post-midnight departure, I crossed three continents during the Omicron surge.
Late in the evening of 14 December, I arrived safely in the U.S.
“Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence.”
My long-term research on trauma and my development of a trauma-informed method of spiritual direction, of course, comes my own experience of complex childhood trauma.
My early life and adolescence is replete with abandonment, multiple types of abuse, and insecure attachment. While my childhood faith community was mostly a safe place, in my adolescence I was subjected to toxic theology and spiritual abuse, especially in regards to any awareness and exploration of my queerness. I often attempted to spiritually bypass my pain; that can be a balm, but not an effective strategy for wholeness and wellbeing.
With contemplative curiosity (a wondering, witnessing, and noticing of what is being held in the entirety of my experience) and compassion (a heart-courageous act of turning toward our own suffering and that of others, not away), I seek to be a good steward of my suffering and transform it into redemptive empathy.
“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”
—Thich Nhat Hanh, No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering (2014)
I was born to teenage parents who married directly out of high school. Maybe they were sweethearts at one time, but I often observed emotional and physical violence between them. Our home was haunted by the hungry ghosts of previous generations; the suffering and wounds from my parents’ childhoods frequently visited our family. There was a yearning for a peace that seemed always to be outside their grasp. They legally divorced when I was 12, but stayed harmfully enmeshed with each other for years after. It would have been a severe mercy for them both if they could have just let the other go.
Outside of a few early childhood years in Europe, I grew up in rural Kansas; there isn’t much “urban Kansas,” but a little that I would sometimes visit. My childhood faith community was a caring and compassionate congregation of “non-aggressive fundamentalists.” While I was taught that the Bible was “the word of God,” my pastor often said that “some people are too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.” Unfortunately, in my adolescence, I was part of faith communities that were manipulative and abusive in their exclusive theology. This would set me on a long pilgrimage of walking home to myself.
A volunteer-in-mission trip to India when I was 14, however, saved me in many ways and instilled in me my love for India. The seeds planted there would take many seasons to germinate; further trips to Guatemala, Puerto Rico, and several to Mexico nourished the soil.
I was being transformed by exposure to diversity. India had not given me answers; it changed the questions I was asking.
During this time, I was also introduced to yoga. Fortunately it came to me as a spiritual practice (not an exercise routine) to help me gain some inner control over the external chaos of my family. I purchased and kept hidden a copy of The Sivananda Companion to Yoga (1983). While I became adept at standing on my head, the meditation, pranayama (breathing exercises), and lifestyle guidance cleared my head. Even in my long absence from India, I felt that I had found another side of my soul.
I was the first in my family to graduate from university. In graduate school I focused on psychology, theology, and the practice of ministry; I also came out as queer in spaces that were not at all safe to do so. No mud, no lotus. Outside of the three years I served as a chaplain (hospital, then school), I was on multi-staff teams in Open & Affirming congregations in Houston, Des Moines, and Atlanta (20 years in the pulpit).
In 2014, I returned to India while on sabbatical for three months. After traveling for two weeks, I retired to McLeod Ganj. While there, I lived and studied in a yoga ashram, frequented the temple of H.H. the Dalai Lama, kept Ramadan with new friends from Kashmir, and did a 30-day Ayurvedic panchakarma. It was the richest time of my life. From 2014 until my arrival in 2019, I returned to India an additional four times.
Trauma is never to be glorified, but from it can come post-traumatic wisdom and redemptive empathy. From the mud, a lotus can grow.
My trauma-informed hermeneutic of Christianity is supported by a rich spiritual architecture. Among the many pillars:
In it all, I seek the Wisdom that speaks from sacred texts and traditions, from stillness and silence, from seasons and cycles, and in the voice of my body and breath aligned.
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