Last year, I embarked on a journey of trying to solve some longstanding health issues, which I shared with you in these posts.
This year, although those questions are not all worked through, I felt strong enough to start another kind of venture, a training in Spiritual Direction that is offered online by the Sisters of Benet Hill Monastery, a Benedictine community in Colorado. Spiritual direction, or spiritual companioning, is an ancient Christian tradition that means one accompanies and provides listening space for another on his or her spiritual journey.
“Direction” is a misleading name, because it should not mean telling someone what to do (even though some authoritarian streams may have evolved in that way). I like to think of it as being a sort of spiritual signpost, pointing in the direction that one has personally experienced as leading to greater self-knowledge and integration with the whole. It’s up to each person to move in that direction and judge its benefits for themselves, but having some kind of orientation in a confusing world can really help.
I’ve long been attracted to this field, maybe because I often felt so lonely and uncompanioned on my own search for spiritual knowledge and healing. I wasn’t really alone, but the outer, sense-perceptible person to hear and mirror me in a supportive way was not always to be found. Now, I do have those resources and I know what a difference it makes. There is nothing higher I could aspire to than to offer that for someone else.
Sometimes, people who wanted to help me, or who did partially help me, ended up hurting or abandoning me because it was in fact too much for them. They were not trained or prepared for the task. That’s why I decided I wanted to do a proper training before trying to take it on myself, rather than relying on my life experience so far and offering my services. It seems a bit nuts for me to do still another training, on top of the many others I’ve already done, and yet I feel as though those were all really rehearsals for this one. This is what I want to do, and although there’s no assurance I’ll even be able to find directees or make this a viable profession, I’m going to follow that dream. I’ve had enough experiences of denying my true goals and wishes, and suffering for it.
So I thought that as with my health journey, I’d share some of my experiences here as the training proceeds. I’m now two months into the first year, which focuses on personal spiritual formation before going on to actually directing others in the second year. The content touches on a lot of things I’ve already tried out, but I appreciate the chance to review and reconsider them in the context of a group, while also learning some new things and adding more helpful tools.
The first month focused on the fundamental need to establish periods of silence, peace, a space cleared to listen to the subtle whispers of the spirit. This is something that was so difficult for me to achieve, and yet eventually became a necessity in my life, for otherwise I could not survive. There are many possibilities, according to one’s temperament and needs — mindfulness practices, sacred reading, centering prayer, body-based practices — but something of this nature seems essential for human health, even if one doesn’t call it “spiritual”. I am glad this has been made the foundational step of the program, because I know full well the cost of rushing into action without that listening space.
The second month turned specifically to embodiment and heart-aware practices. This reminded me of how 25 years ago, I jumped into a spiritual movement program (eurythmy) that I thought would heal me and enable me to heal the world. You would think such a program would be embodying, but it wasn’t. It rather encouraged and intensified the mind-body split I already had, with its focus on performance and outer appearances, and drove me almost to the point of disintegration before I found some aids to going in a better direction. It has still taken me all this time to start to understand and process what happened to me then, and it feels very confirming to find out that there are people who do know how to start out with the right focus, from the beginning. There is a whole method of “bio-spiritual focusing” that sounds very interesting and that I definitely want to learn more about.
I don’t blame any more the people who misunderstood and hurt me back then, because I realize they didn’t know any better, and were caught up in the unhealth and ignorance of our culture. Disembodiment is the basis of our Western world, and even well-meaning, striving people are prone to spiritual bypassing, which I think usually comes down to ignoring or misinterpreting the spiritual messages that come to us from our bodies.
I cannot change the past; all I can do now is try to take up a different way myself, and it’s extremely heartening to find that I don’t have to reinvent the wheel or be all on my own with these ideas. There is a substantial movement to reclaim the wisdom of our bodies, which I think is key to reclaiming and healing the Christian faith itself. For too long, that faith been a tool of exploitation and enslavement, of distancing ourselves from our bodies and using other people’s, which it was never meant to be. In the humble task of incarnation lies our salvation, I believe.
So this first step has already been very exciting, and I look forward to sharing more with you. Please let me know if anything particularly speaks to you, or you would like to know more. I know it’s going to be an amazing year.