What is spiritual direction?
Spiritual direction is a mentoring relationship between a seeker and a spiritual guide.
“Spiritual direction explores a deeper relationship with the spiritual aspect of being human. Simply put, spiritual direction is helping people tell their sacred stories every day. Spiritual direction has emerged in many contexts using language specific to particular cultural and spiritual traditions. Describing spiritual direction requires putting words to a process of fostering a transcendent experience that lies beyond all names and yet the experience longs to be articulated and made concrete in everyday living. It is easier to describe what spiritual direction does than what spiritual direction is. Our role is not to define spiritual direction, but to describe the experience. Spiritual direction helps us learn how to live in peace, with compassion, promoting justice, as humble servants of that which lies beyond all names.” – Liz Budd Ellmann, MDiv, Executive Director, Spiritual Directors International
I’m seeking a spiritual director. What are good questions to consider in my search?
Each person seeking a spiritual director needs to take reasonable steps to verify the competency of any potential spiritual director. As a ministry in many nations and many faiths, spiritual direction does not have a centralized certifying body that verifies the qualifications of spiritual directors since each faith tradition handles spiritual directors differently.
- What spiritual formation and theological education do you have in spiritual direction?
- What is your personal experience tending your own prayer, meditation, and contemplative life?
- What is your experience as a spiritual director? How many years? In what environments? What are you most interested in spiritually?
- How do you continue your education and supervision for your spiritual direction ministry?
- What ethical guidelines do you abide by, such as those published by Spiritual Directors International?
- What type of engagement agreement will we establish to clarify roles and responsibilities in our spiritual direction relationship, such as the samples provided to members of Spiritual Directors International?
Where, and how often, will I meet with my spiritual director? How much does it cost?
You and your spiritual director will agree on a convenient location and time for meeting, usually once a month for an hour. The fee is negotiable between the director and the person seeking direction. When you interview prospective spiritual directors, ask them about how they handle fees.
Will a Spiritual Director tell me what to believe?
No ethical spiritual director will tell the directee what to believe; that is between the directee and her/his higher power. The spiritual director will ask questions to help the directee clarify his/her beliefs that may open pathways to spiritual movement and clearer answers … or acceptance of the answers he or she already has. The spiritual director may suggest practices to deepen the directee’s spiritual experiences.
What about confidentiality?
There is an implicit understanding of strict confidentiality between director and directee, but it should be discussed up-front. There may be times when spiritual directors are legally and ethically called upon to breach confidentiality and refer spiritual directees to other appropriately qualified persons. And while it almost never happens, all information shared in a spiritual direction relationship is subject to subpoena in the United States.
Questions to ask yourself as you seek a Spiritual Director:
Here are the kinds of questions that you might consider asking yourself when finding spiritual directors to interview:
- What brings you to spiritual direction at this time in your life?
- Would you like to meet with a male or female?
- What spiritual affiliation or denomination would be most helpful for you?
- What day, and time of day, would best serve you for meetings?
The desire and search for the “right fit” is an important part of the process.
It is up to you to choose your spiritual director wisely. Let them know what draws you to spiritual direction in this time in your life and notice how comfortable it is for you to tell your faith story. Listen carefully for the way the spirit is guiding you in your selection process.
Misconceptions about Spiritual Direction (borrowed from Spiritual Directors International)
Misconception 1: Spiritual companionship is only for the pious few (priests, rabbis, nuns, monks, saints).
All of us, at varying levels, are seeking a deeper connection to our spiritual core. The process of spiritual direction is for everyone who feels a longing for a more peaceful and hope-filled life. Spiritual direction helps us explore the spiritual aspect of being human.
Misconception 2: Spiritual direction is only for Christians.
Some form of spiritual direction or spiritual companionship exists in all the major religions of the world. Spiritual direction is available to those who have no formal relationship with a particular religion, but who hunger.
Misconception 3: Spiritual direction is a new practice.
The origins of spiritual direction date back thousands of years. It is an ancient and venerable tradition in every culture and in every region of the globe.
Misconception 4: Spiritual directors are perfect and the spiritual path is about attaining perfection.
Spiritual direction or spiritual companionship is not about “fixing” things or doing something perfectly, because it is not about accomplishing or doing. It is about allowing things to be as they are, resting in awareness, and then, taking appropriate action when called for. Silence, deep listening, and non-doing are contemplative practices often explored in spiritual direction as a way to deepen relationship with the spiritual aspect of being human.
While it certainly helps to find a spiritual companion who is a “good fit,” God makes use of all of our experiences to help us grow in love and compassion. The spiritual direction tradition values humility and the journey toward ideals based on historic people’s lives, like Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Muhammad.
Misconception 5: It is difficult to find a spiritual director.
It is not. Your local church, synagogue, temple, or chaplaincy can help you find a spiritual director, and of course it’s available at Heartwood Center.