What is Spiritual Direction?

Many religious traditions have the practice of sharing one’s inner life with a trusted guide. In the Ignatian tradition, spiritual direction is an essential part of doing the Spiritual Exercises. People who undertake spiritual direction are not doing a retreat, but simply growing in their spiritual lives and life-projects, making discerning decisions in the light of faith. They include Catholics, other Christians, and people of all faith traditions and spiritual paths. 

What exactly is spiritual direction?

Spiritual direction is one important form of the help given by one person to another which enables someone to pay greater attention to God’s personal communication to them and to respond to it, to grow in intimacy with God, and to more fully live out the consequences of that relationship. (Adapted from William A. Barry and William J. Connolly, The Practice of Spiritual Direction) 

That help involves regular, confidential conversation with a spiritual director. 

One-on-one, confidential conversations about personal matters of importance are also similar to therapy or counseling. But spiritual direction differs from therapy in important aspects: 

  • It deals with our spiritual experience. It is concerned with a person’s relationship with the divine.
  • It is also about the whole of our lives. Spiritual life is not isolated from the rest of our lives. It doesn’t usually involve extraordinary events but happens in and through daily life. The  ongoing relationship between the person and God is experienced especially in prayer. 
  • It seeks to foster someone’s living relationship with GodIt is based on the conviction that God has an active interest in the lives of individuals, and that God invites all people to greater authenticity and more generous service to others. 
  • The real spiritual director is God. The spiritual director does not “direct” in the sense of giving definitive advice or solving problems. (For this reason, some people prefer the terms “spiritual accompaniment” and “spiritual companionship”).  A director is there to try to help a directee recognize where and how God is inviting them into a deeper friendship.  

The Ignatian way: what is distinctive about Ignatian spiritual direction? 

  • It is both realistic and hopeful.  It is based on the insights of the Spiritual Exercises about God, the world, and human existence. The Ignatian perspective sees the world as good, but it is also fully aware of the subtle and constant temptations to pull away from goodness. 
  • It is adaptable. It doesn’t ask the directees to follow a pre-set program or prayer method. The direction is always adjusted to a person’s unique life history, current situation, and spiritual experience, and always with an eye to what will be more helpful.
  • It is a partnership. Ignatian spiritual direction is a conversation between directee and director as equals who are both humbly seeking God’s will. It involves mutual respect and listening, openness to the other’s frame of reference, and always being more inclined to interpret the other’s statements positively.
  • It seeks God’s will in all things.  Our deepest and most authentic desires tend to come mixed up with more superficial desires, for things which are ultimately less valuable. When our most profound desires are shaped by the Holy Spirit, they point us toward choices that lead to spiritual growth and fruitful service.
  • It fosters lifelong discernment. Ignatius’ rules for the  discernment of spirits permeate Ignatian spiritual direction. These methods help identify the inner movements of our hearts. By reflecting on them we come to better understand where they come from and where they lead us.

When should I seek spiritual direction? 

The answer to this is up to the individual.

Some people seek direction when they have an important life-decision to make, and want to do that in a way which takes the spiritual dimension of life seriously.

Others may simply feel an increasing desire to grow in their faith life.   

Spiritual direction presumes that a directee is open to the transcendent, which has many names - and is also willing and able to devote regular time to quiet reflection.

How do I find a director ?