The purpose of Spiritual Direction is to support an individual on her/his spiritual journey, to grow, to enhance spiritual freedom. The principle work of the spiritual director is to listen. The spiritual director needs to stay out of the way inorder to facilitate the person’s relationship with the Holy One. Actually the term“spiritual director” is a misnomer. It is the Holy Breath of the One who is the director. The human facilitator is perhaps better called a spiritual companion than a director. The spiritual companion may make suggestions, help the person to learnto pray, if that is needed, offer ways of praying, suggest books and/or articles to aid the person’s growth, suggest spiritual practices. However, these are suggestions not demands. It is the responsibility of the individual to consider the suggestions and determine which to pursue. We are each, of course, responsible for our own spiritual journey and growth...not a church, not a community, not one’s family, not a spiritual companion. On the other hand, support is something that is useful to all of us as human sojourners. We all need a space free of any control and expectations, particularly from “authority,” a golden womb of real love and space in which to experience one’s relationship with God, self, others, and creation. The work of the Spiritual Director is awesome and privileged. To be invited to companion someone on their journey is truly a sacred gift and sacred trust. The process of growing awareness provides us all assurance “so that life does not drift away without meaning.” [ Buddhist Gatha]
The spiritual journey is not about some unembodied part of ourselves, butembraces the whole person. So physical well being is important: eating healthily, getting physical exercise, getting sufficient sleep, having fun, cultivating healthy relationships. All of these things affect spiritual freedom, our journey and our relationship with the Holy One and are therefore an important concern on the part of a spiritual director/companion.
It is very important to realize that the spiritual journey is not merely an individual isolated journey, disconnected from relationships with other people and Earth. We may have grown up with a “God and I” mentality which distorts those aspects of authentic spiritual traditions which regard “righteousness” not as a solely personal, individual practice but necessarily includes community, justice toward others and care for Earth. Hence, individuals need to be aware that they have responsibilities as citizens to contribute to the “righteousness” of their country, society, and culture. There needs to be clear awareness and practice which carefully avoids the illusion of trying to co-opt “God” into self-serving “national interest/security” goals which oppress the poor and cause ecological disaster. The Faithful One will not be co-opted. “God and me” does not workbecause it is much, much too small.
Spiritual freedom is a worthy and necessary goal but it is greatly inhibited as one considers the many obstacles to spiritual freedom which touch our lives. The whole range of addictions can and do profoundly diminish spiritual freedom. Our penchant as human beings for denial and avoidance through various exit strategies is immense. Media/entertainment figures greatly in our reluctance to live in the present and deal with the challenges which present themselves. Diminished freedom of course, interferes with our journey, our growth, and hence our relationship with the Holy One.
Who is the Right Spiritual Director for You
It is important for the person seeking a spiritual director/companion to find the person who is right for them. The main criterion is that the seeker feels safe and is confident that what she/he shares will be kept in strict confidence, that the person has such a sense of safety that she/he could feel free at any time to seek another companion until such time as the right fit is achieved. And then, perhaps even after several years, it may be perfectly appropriate to seek a new director/companion. The relationship is not about pleasing the director/companion, it is about attunement to the Source, alignment with the One.
Why might spiritual direction/companioning be important today?
We need only to look around us to realize that we are all in desperate circumstances. Also, we live in a culture of denial – TV News of tragedy followed by ads of Utopia. Individually and culturally we constantly seek exit strategies to get out of the pain we are in, often consuming more. We create more suffering. Pain in life is a given, suffering is optional. Religious attendance has been going on for centuries, yet here we are in this situation at this time in human history. Christians kill Christians, Muslims kill Muslims, Israelis kill Palestinians, Irish kill British. And, of course, they may at any time be killing any combination of the above groups. Then there are the Democrats and Republicans trashing each other, all very religious people. There must be something that we need to do which we are not doing, which religious attendance has not begun to address. If institutional religion possessed integrity we would not be so seduced by consuming, clinging, climbing, claiming and blaming. Our egos would be serving our essences rather than eclipsing them. We would all be “Muslims–Surrendered Ones,” surrendered to the Holy One, respecting and honoring each other as brothers and sisters, recognizing and celebrating each other’s faith traditions for the richness and beauty of each tradition, holding each human life sacred, “beating our swords into ploughshares, our spears into pruning hooks...sitting under our vine and fig tree, learning of war no more.” (Isaiah)
Jesus suggests in the second line of the Lord’s Prayer, in one possible translation (midrash) from the language he actually spoke (Aramaic), “Help us to clear a space inside of busy forgetfulness, so that your Divine Vibration can find a home.” So it is about spiritual regular, daily spiritual practice because it is spiritual practice which brings awakening. “Our collective awakening can create worldwide change.” [The World We Have, by Tich Nhat Hanh, p. 26] “Each of us has to touch the Buddha (or the Jesus) inside us every day, so that awakening can manifest in us and in the people around us. Only awakening can save our planet.” [The World We have, by Tich Nhat Hanh, p. 32] Jesus says essentially the same thing in Matthew 6:34: “Don’t torture yourself standing watch over things, accomplishments or states of mind you want to still possess tomorrow. It doesn’t work that way. Tomorrow means things depart. Time and the elements wash them away just as they came, with abundance, as the future stands by watching. Each day completes itself with its own share of unripeness. Every illumination carries enough inappropriate action without carrying it forward. [Blessings of the Cosmos:Wisdom of the Heart From The Aramaic Words of Jesus, by Neil Douglas-Klotz, p.14]
Carolyn and I are firmly convinced, in the light of more than 38 and 40 years respectively as spiritual directors, that real change comes not from religious attendance but from spiritual practice. [Examples of spiritual practice are:centering prayer, breath prayer, walking meditation, chanting, davening, darshan, tonglen, and so forth. The central point is clearing the mind from “thinking.” Alsosee: The Way We Pray: Practices from around the World, by Maggie Oman Shannon ] Another book that may be immensely helpful is The Miracle of the Breath: Mastering Fear, Healing Illness, Experiencing the Divine,by Andy Caponigro.
Some time needs to be given to solitude if we are to survive, let alone grow. Pema Chodron says it well in No Time to Lose: "The main point is to make solitude a part of your life. In order to work with difficult outer cicumstances, we need to gather our inner strength. If even ten or twenty minutes of meditation a day helps us to do this, let's go for it!" But, for your own sake, even if you can do only one minute, do it, do it every day, and do it morning and evening. From there you can increase the amount of time gradually. Just follow your breath. See the book above, The Miracle of the Breath.
It can be helpful for spiritual practice to be assisted, encouraged,empowered and supported through spiritual direction.
Other Professional Disciplines There are times when the directee may need psychological or psychiatric help. A spiritual director/companion might suggest someone and work alongside such a complementary professional, being careful to observe boundaries appropriate to each profession. The spiritual director, as any trusted friend, will point out to the directee, that a particular course of action may be dangerous, destructive or unproductive, by repeating what he/she has heard and then appropriately commenting or even challenging the directee.
Spiritual Abuse There are various forms of abuse from which people suffer; physical, sexual, emotional, psychological. The spiritual director needs to be aware of these since they all have spiritual ramifications and to a significant degree block spiritual freedom. Another issue is spiritual abuse which most often stems from institutional religion. Directees must be heard when they speak of spiritual abuse and the director needs to help them to name it as such. Religious institutional abuse is about control by “religious authority,” which is picked up and reinforced by families. This may well be exacerbated by what C. G Jung refers to as the collective unconscious. The negativity comes down for generations. Affected in a particularly severe ways by spiritual abuse are women who are, as a group, so often excluded and devalued by patriarchal systems. [Patriarchy was securely in place by the time Judaism was born. (See Riane Eisler in The Chalice and the Blade.)Patriarchy is entrenched in institutional Christianity and other religious traditions. The only religions not so affected are the Earth and Goddess traditions.
Actually Jesus modeled inclusiveness toward women and this is discovered in the Greek texts of the Synoptic Gospels through the careful use of sacred geometry on the part of the writers.(See Margaret Starbird in Goddess in the Gospels: Recovering the Sacred Feminine)This truth has been consciously and deliberately suppressed by institutional Christianity because it is a direct affront to patriarchy which keeps males in control. It is the duty of a spiritual director to help women heal from spiritual abuse and to encourage them to follow their own intuition regarding their spiritual journey, whether within a traditional faith or outside it. The goal is growth in spiritual freedom and a deepening of relationship with the Holy One, rather than attachment to an institutional religious tradition.
Addressing Emotional Issues We are also beset by emotional issues and trauma. One approach to addressing this aside from or along with counseling is called “emotional freedom technique.” [Information about this approach can be found at www.emo.comA free manual is available at the website. This manual provides a clear explanation of the technique as well as offering DVD’s which clearly demonstrate the technique. It may be helpful to work with someone who has experience with the technique, at least until one has achieved some facility with the technique.] Our friend, Patty Hodge, offers workshops and webinars for healing using Emotional Freedom Technique via her website: www.creatorblessed.com Patty' e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org and her phone # is: 631-698-2315. Patty lives on Long Island, NY. Letting Go – Surrender In every authentic spiritual tradition, letting go, surrender is critical. Love demands surrender, letting go. Often we do not want to let go, yet we do not have to think very deeply to be aware that we humans are dreadfully prone to self-deception. Ego is a big issue for all of us. So the spiritual director will need to be attentive and supportive in helping the directee to deal with ego. It is ego that is inclined to cling, climb, claim, blame. So ego diminishment is essential for spiritual growth. [The best thing I have seen on ego is in Eckhart Tolle’s book,ANew Earth.] There are also practices which can be very helpful in dealing with the mind, which is often like a monkey, jumping from one thing to another and causing us loss of focus and increased suffering. [One such practice is Effective Prayer by Donald M. Pachuta, M. D. I have also found immensely helpful the work of Pema Chodron in When Things Fall Apart, and Ezra Bayda in Being Zen.]