What is spiritual direction anyway?

By Julie Elliot

That’s a simple question that doesn’t have a simple answer.  In fact, it’s sometimes easier to explain what it’s not:  it’s not counselling, it’s not therapy, it’s not life coaching, it’s not even fixing.  Then what’s left? My dear friend, Lois Huey-Heck, has been a spiritual director for 10 years and I think her explanation is the best one I’ve come across.  When someone asks Lois what spiritual direction is, she wisely suggests they have a meeting and see what happens. This is effective because you can’t explain what happens when we create a space for deep listening, unconditional love, non-judgement and openness to Divine Mystery.

campfire_t610I wish I’d known Lois’ approach before I spent an hour with a dogged enquirer who wanted me to explain my beliefs, definition of God, why spiritual direction works, how it works, and so on.  Our very words were getting in the way of his understanding and our “analysis” was in fact, the opposite of what spiritual direction is about.  It was like trying to explain how a campfire burns.  You can do it but you know your words are a long way from the heat and warmth of the flames.  But I stayed with his questions because I understood his need for an explanation that was clear and concise. He couldn’t go along with the idea of spiritual direction if I couldn’t tell him exactly how it works.

He also wanted assurance that some kind of teaching would be an outcome.  There is teaching in spiritual direction but it’s not the teaching model of show me or tell me what to do.  It’s a model of me, as the “director” actually getting out of the way.  If I can get out of the way and be present and fully there for the other that’s when the teaching happens for my directee.  That’s when I see a softening in their eyes; when the tears of understanding spill out, when the aha! moments occur and when speaking their truth brings insight.  It’s not that I don’t do anything.  It’s that what I do is through the Spirit and it’s not a realm that can be articulated. Transformation happens.  That’s clear in the moment but I can’t tell you how it happens.  The realm of this work is about mystery, trust, and vulnerability.

I’m learning to trust that spiritual direction is beyond explanation.  So, the next time someone asks me what it’s all about, I’ll take Lois’ lead and answer, “Let’s meet and see what happens.”

Julie Elliot is a recent graduate of Pacific Jubilee SoulGuiding  – a two year practical learning program in spiritual growth, soul development and the art of spiritual direction.  She’s also responsible for Communications for Pacific Jubilee.  If you have any questions about spiritual direction or any Pacific Jubilee offerings,  please contact Julie or Lois Huey-Heck  (Enquiries – Admissions – Program Development)