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What is Spiritual Direction?

"A spiritual director is one who helps another 

to recognize and to follow the inspirations in life, 

in order to arrive at the end to which God is leading."    ~Thomas Merton

Spiritual direction is simply a spiritual practice. It dates back to the 3rd century Desert Abbas and Ammas who left the distractions of the city to become clearer about their inner motivations...those motivations that led them closer to, or further from, the Source of Life and Love. Today, spiritual direction offers a safe place for examining our motivations, and attending to our interior life and our on-going process of surrender and transformation in service to Love.

Spiritual direction is a  1:1 conversation, often with longer-than-usual pauses for listening and silent reflection. It can take place in-person or by videoconference. Together we explore where Loving Mystery is present in your life and what invitations are being extended. We savor the goodness and sort out the challenges and difficult choices... discernment. Spiritual direction centers around God, prayer, meditation and the holiness of everyday life. A spiritual director isn't "directive" in the sense of telling you what to do. Instead, a spiritual director directs your attention to the places where the Holy Spirit seems to be active.

"The whole purpose of spiritual direction is to penetrate beneath the surface of our lives, 

to get beyond the facade of conventional gestures and attitudes which we present to the world, 

and to bring out inner spiritual freedom and inmost truth, 

which is what we call the likeness of Christ."  ~Thomas Merton

Spiritual Direction vs Counseling

Spiritual direction and counseling (or therapy) have many similarities. Both begin with desire and discontent; both encourage hope and insight; both value awareness and mindfulness; both impact choices. Spiritual directors and counselors both listen deeply to people's life stories, and hold these stories in confidence. With the understanding that there may not always be a clear distinction, the differences are in focus and function:

  • The focus of counseling is usually on a problem, a stuck place or our limitations, and it functions in service to greater personal effectiveness. 
  • The focus of spiritual direction is on God as the integral core of your being and purpose, and its function is to help you become more attuned to God's Spirit in your spirit so that you can more freely live out of Divine Love.

Counseling or therapy usually begins with an assessment (or diagnosis, if health insurance is being used) of what the problem is then proceeds with the intention of helping that person make a change to resolve the presenting problem. Spirituality can be included in counseling but it is not the primary focus; it is generally entered into cautiously, and is thought of as a tool, or a means to an end. The counseling relationship is a contractual relationship between the individual and the therapist and, at least initially, they tend to meet weekly or biweekly.

Although a "problem" may bring a person into Spiritual Direction, spiritual direction does not focus on solving a problem; there is no assessment or diagnosing. There is likely to be a change in attitude, motivation or behavior as a result of spiritual direction, but that is not the agenda. The "agenda" is to foster a relationship with the Holy, and to engage more deeply and intentionally with one's inner life. Most spiritual directors do not draw a distinction between the sacred and the secular, so talking about the mystery & meaning of life, as well as the mundane and ordinary is expected in spiritual direction. Spiritual direction sessions are usually monthly and they typically begin with a pause to acknowledge and enter more fully into the Presence of the Divine. The primary relationship in spiritual direction is between the individual and God; the director is secondary and often thought of as a conduit for Spirit; the relationship between the director and the directee is in the form of a pledge or covenant rather than a contract. 

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