Accompaniment as a Full-Time Job

Celia's blogBy Celia McBride
Recently, after submitting a short write-up for the “Meet our Spiritual Directors” link on the Jubilee website, Julie Elliot, who edits this blog and has been contributing her administrative, creative and soul-healing gifts to Jubilee for as long as I’ve known her, replied that she liked the distinction I’d made in my bio between “being a full-time spiritual companion rather than a part-time spiritual director.” She thought it would make a great piece for the website and I agreed to expand further on what I’d meant.

Interestingly, her request came around the same time that I’d awakened (not for the first time) to the part of me that “over-gives.” One of my directees is an astrologist and for the last six years we’ve been doing a trade: she reads my cards and I accompany her on her spiritual journey. Tarot cards are a fascinating spiritual tool. Very simply, they speak to my life. The message they provided from our most recent reading was “You are exhausted.” (I’m usually the last to know.)

In the same week, I’d also signed up for a conference on “Compassion-based Interactions” for those caring for the ill and the dying, which connects to the work I do with the elderly. The leader, a dynamic Buddhist teacher and PhD named Roshi Joan Halifax, introduced us to the term “pathological altruism”, which basically means causing self-harm through self-giving.

Suddenly, writing a blog about being a full-time companion didn’t seem like such a good idea. Was this vision of myself actually rooted in the kind of giving that leads to self-imposed burn-out? Hadn’t I hit that wall 100 times in the past? Was this “full-time companion” business just another example of how I overdo and overachieve until I’m completely spent?

I brought the issue to my supervisor. Thank goodness the Jubilee program-training includes this vital component. Without a supervisor there is little accountability in spiritual direction work. Supervision keeps me on track, in alignment with myself and with Spirit.

“I’m rethinking this idea of the full-time companion,” I told her. “Nobody actually works full-time at anything!”

We talked through my original vision of what being a full-time companion really meant. I heard myself describing the experience of being open and available to whatever might come at anytime, to being a presence for others no matter who they were, be they a family member, a cashier, or a directee.

“Everyone is a companion and I am a companion to all I meet,” I said. “I work full-time for God and I’m given everything I need to do the job. Money comes when I need it.”

The challenge of this way of being comes when the tank is empty. And just before our supervision call, I’d been contacted by three different friends all asking for spiritual support. Because I was depleted, their desire to connect made me irritable.

“We need to take breaks,” my supervisor said. “We need to check-in with ourselves to see how much we actually have to give. This aspect of the work is not only a requirement of the full time job, it’s an absolute must.”

Taking breaks and checking in with my energy is a practice I have certainly gotten better at over the years. And yet I can also fall short here. Often. After our call, I took some time to go within, to listen deeply for how I might respond to the three requests for my time. How could I include the necessary component of self-care? The answers came and I followed wisely.

A few days later, I had a call with my own spiritual director (it had been a pretty good week). As I shared about my ongoing journey of Conscious Awakening, the gratitude for getting to be “Celia McBride” poured out of me. It’s taken a long time for me to detach enough from my defects and my difficulties to enjoy the privileged life I’ve been given, the gifted personality that is uniquely mine.

“It almost sounds like you are your own spiritual director,” she said, “That you’re companioning yourself in all that you do, listening and following your own Inner Guidance, living into that radical self-acceptance in the fullest possible way.”

I had to agree.

“What wants to happen next?” she asked me.

The Silence penetrated my bones. Feeling deeply rested and full of peace, I answered, “I think I’m ready to write that blog.”

Headshot taken in December 2008 for Longest Night 2008

Celia McBride is an alum of the Pacific Jubilee SoulGuiding program ~ a two year practical learning program in spiritual growth, soul development and the art of spiritual direction. Learn more about Celia and her commitment to contemplative living and Unitive Consciousnesss here.

If you have any questions or comments about this blog post, please be in touch with Julie Elliot, Communications for Pacific Jubilee.