Do I Need a Spiritual Companion?
Consider some of the big questions in life. Do any of these resonate with you?
- “Why do I feel out of alignment? I feel like something important is missing for me.”
- “Who am I? In the truest and deepest sense?”
- “What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of my life?”
- “How can I nurture the connection I feel in nature or in peak experiences where I feel “at one” with what I’m doing?”
- “What do I have to give to the world?”
- “What skills for living can help me cope with the inevitable pain, loss and difficulty that beset us all at some time?”
These are deep questions. Spiritual companions go to work every day – listening, asking questions, offering compassion – to help people find their own answers. Workable answers. Answers that are both personal and practical. That build inner strength and equanimity.
A spiritual companion honors your birthright to discern your own spiritual path.
Spiritual companions serve all society by helping each person find balance and compassion.
For more: Read this post on “What Makes a Good Spiritual Director” by Executive Director Rev. Seifu Anil Singh-Molares.
Like psychotherapy, spiritual direction is often offered as a one-to-one or group experience in private sessions with spiritual mentors who have most likely completed extensive formation for this practice and service.
It is up to you to choose a spiritual companion who has the training, formation and experience that suits your needs.
A spiritual companion includes and relies on your own understanding to Spirit: To God, to Allah, to refuge in the Buddha, to the Universe, to Nature, or however you name the Ground of All Being. Spiritual direction includes this connection as a third partner in the process.
And if you don’t know or have a sense of that connection, a spiritual companion can help you discern that, without coersion but in deep respect to your own ability to discover and articulate the ways in which you innately connect.
While it may be appropriate at times to discuss personal and relational struggles in the context of spiritual direction, a spiritual director is not a psychotherapist, nor does the spiritual director provide such services. Similarly, you may discuss financial issues in spiritual direction, but a spiritual director does not offer financial advice and any decisions and actions you may take in that regard are done without advice or recommendation, and are purely your responsibility. We recommend you engage with our resource, Guidelines for Ethical Conduct, before entering into a new relationship with a spiritual guide.
Spiritual Companionship Across Traditions
Below are a few examples of what spiritual companionship looks like across a spectrum of traditions.
“Spiritual direction is encompassed in the Buddhist student-teacher relationship; the connection between spiritual director and spiritual directee is most reminiscent of the ‘spiritual friend’ relationship—known in ancient Pali as kalyanamitta.
This sacred friendship is one in which there is a depth of connection and commitment—a joining together through empathy and wisdom. In “Buddhist” spiritual direction, the spiritual director, in mindful presence, shares in a heartfelt way, the feelings expressed by the spiritual directee—meeting the spiritual directee’s inherent goodness—the sacred still place within.
Through empathy and wisdom, the spiritual director skillfully leads the spiritual directee to know his or her inherent goodness, inspiring the spiritual directee to envision and meet his or her true potential. Mindfulness practices are often introduced as tools to enhance clear seeing and ease of well-being.”
Karin J. Miles, MA, spiritual director and mentor, Interfaith Spiritual Center, Portland, Oregon, USA
“Buddhism is a philosophy, a religion, or a set of ethical principles, depending on one’s belief. Buddhism in Thailand might be taught, experienced, or expressed (practiced) differently than Buddhism in some of the ‘new schools’ of Buddhism found throughout the world. The basic, fundamental, or ‘old school’ Buddhism is based on the Buddha’s teachings, meditation, and a dharma teacher. The old school is non-theistic (not to be confused with atheistic). Some of the new schools of Buddhism are based on chanting mantras or the names of deities, and are somewhat theistic.
Spiritual direction, then, differs from one tradition to the next, or there are overlapping practices. There are dharma teachers, spiritual friends, and ministers. Buddhist practitioners may meditate, learn from teachers, chant, or pray. It is through meditation that the ‘five spiritual faculties’ are cultivated: faith, effort, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. Through chanting mantras, one’s mind can become fixed on a certain spiritual quality or spiritual law. Through learning from a dharma teacher (at a retreat or otherwise), one can explore and apply direction toward a spiritual life that is less theoretical, and more personal. With spiritual friends, one can find ongoing support for the spiritual lifestyle one has chosen to live.”
Pamela Ayo Yetunde is a hospital chaplain and a graduate of the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies Chaplaincy Training Program
“Spiritual direction is, in reality, nothing more than a way of leading us to see and obey the real Director — the Holy Spirit hidden in the depths of our soul.”
Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, USA
“Most people would agree that spiritual direction means companionship with another person or group through which the Holy One shines with wisdom, encouragement and discernment. Some, however, expect this companionship to be of a professional nature, with a trained, supervised, and perhaps even certified spiritual director. Others see it as spontaneous and gifted, strongly resisting signs of professionalization.
Spiritual guidance can happen authentically in a vast variety of forms. The many forms can be divided into two major groups: Formal spiritual direction and informal spiritual companionship. Formal spiritual direction includes relationships that are explicitly defined as spiritual direction with a clear separation of roles between spiritual director and spiritual directee. Meetings are usually scheduled in advance on a regular basis, and a spiritual directee normally has only one formal director.
Informal spiritual companionship is characterized by a lack of structure and role definition. These relationships are not considered exclusive, and most people have several such companionships. Meetings tend to be irregular and spontaneous. There is nearly always some atmosphere of mutuality, and each person retains his or her own locus of discernment. There is no notion of providing a service, and fees are out of the question.”
Gerald May, MD. Excerpted from Shalem News, Volume xxii, No. 1, Winter, 1998, “Varieties Of Spiritual Companionship”
“We define Christian spiritual direction as help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship.”
William A. Barry, SJ and William J. Connolly, SJ, Center for Religious Development, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
“Spiritual direction is the process of helping every believer realize her or his own soul freedom and to help everyone accept the responsibility of developing a relationship to God through Jesus Christ while in community. Some spiritual guidance practices that strengthen that relationship include spoken and extemporaneous prayer in formal and informal worship; participation in challenging learning communities; dialogue on scripture, faith practice, and mission; personal study and interpretation of scripture; silence, meditation and use of the labyrinth in some associated churches.”
Rev. Catherine Fransson, Seattle First Baptist Church, American Baptist
“Spiritual direction is a contact whereby someone accepts someone else as a guide on (a part of) their spiritual way. Someone seeks and accepts someone else as a guide on their own spiritual way and entrusts himself to his guiding authority. A sort of archetypal spiritual direction in the Christian tradition was practiced by the Desert Fathers (between 300 -600 AD). In the desert surviving as a human being and a faithful Christian was for most people only possible with a reliable guide. Spiritual guidance grew in a very natural way. Beginners looked for support from experienced fellow-travellers. They sought concrete advice. ‘Speak a word to me.’ They wanted clear directions so that they would not lose their way.”
Gideon van Dam, Dutch Protestant Church, Netherlands
“Presbyterian spiritual direction requires a scriptural foundation and theological familiarity in our case with the Reformed faith and tradition, that’s our lens. But direction is primary interested in our universal spiritual experience and that necessitates the capacity and willingness to notice God through many lenses. Direction is not about telling people what to believe or how to act but working with the Spirit to discover, surface, name for themselves, and engage in what God is doing.”
Rev. Kenton Smith, Presbyterian, USA
“Spiritual direction in the Anglican Tradition is somewhat like the Anglican Church itself — a combination of many paths which have been handed down over the centuries. Traditionally the “Anglo Catholic” segment of the Anglican Church has always had a form of spiritual direction. There are still some spiritual directors from that old tradition which held that the spiritual director was also one’s confessor. Just as direction is becoming more sought out in other traditions, we too are experiencing more people looking for spiritual directors and so now there are both Evangelical and “Anglo Catholic” seekers.
Spiritual directors here in Ontario are trained in Franciscan, Beneditine, and Ignatian traditions, and the Anglican way is to combine these traditions and others as it seems necessary for a spiritual directee’s needs. Certainly spiritual directors in the Anglican Church are aware of a special attachment on the part of some Anglican spiritulal directees to the Prayer Book and the spirituality of the daily offices.”
Dana Fisher, Professor at Trinity College, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
“Traditionally Lutheran spiritual direction is concentrated on sin. Luther said faith alone can free us from sin. So what people are looking for is salvation which to most means the experience of bliss. Consequently the spiritual director’s first task is to help the spiritual directee discern what is sin and what is not. The next task is to help the spiritual directee to realize that in spite of suffering peace is the sign of grace.
Since the 1950s many retreat houses have been built, and lay people as well as priests direct there. Lay people can also give the absolution of sins. There are no formal guidelines for spiritual direction and no guidelines for training. During the last two or three decades the Lutheran Church has been looking more and more towards the Roman Catholic Church for inspiration. Many of us have attended courses in spiritual direction in Roman Catholic institutions.”
Eva Basch-Kahre, psychoanalyst and spiritual director, Lutheran, Sweden
“Spiritual direction is the facilitation of one’s spiritual formation through a covenanted relationship with another, formalized in regular meetings for inquiry, conversation, and reflection around one’s personal experience. The spiritual director is one who, by virtue of personal holiness and spiritual maturity, helps the spiritual directee to pay attention to the presence and work of God in her or his life. Within the Wesleyan/Methodist theological tradition of Christianity, holiness of heart and life is the goal with an interconnected system of spiritual direction for all as the means toward that end. The sharing of stories in small accountability groups or through public testimony, and the linking of personal devotional practices with service among the poor are emphasized as means of grace.”
Rev. Douglas Hardy, PhD, Church of the Nazarene, Kansas City, Missouri, USA
“Spiritual theology has to do with living the Christian life instead of thinking about it…. The counseling movement, even within the church, became heavily psychologized and became almost exclusively therapeutic, so what people were dealing with were problems. If you had a problem you went to a counselor. But spiritual direction in a sense doesn’t begin with a problem. Spiritual direction deals much more out of health and an identity of Christian holiness, so I think it’s an obvious response to the failure to transcend.”
Excerpted from a 1995 interview of Eugene H. Peterson, Evangelical, Professor of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
“Jewish Spiritual Direction or Hashpa’ah (Divine Flow) is a process for exploring our connection with what we experience as God, Spirit, Truth—however we express and understand the Sacred in our lives.
Through these explorations, those engaged in spiritual direction, try to discern the presence of the Sacred, in their everyday lives, work, celebrations, and struggles.
This call explores the historic and current evolution of Jewish spiritual direction, some of the key elements of the experience, and how this sacred practice can help individuals and communities deepen their connections to God, self, community, and the world.”
Rabbi Shawn Israel Zevit, Jewish, USA
“The object of spiritual direction is to cultivate one’s ability to discern God’s presence in one’s life—to notice and appreciate moments of holiness, to maintain an awareness of the interconnectedness of all things, to explore ways to be open to the Blessed Holy One in challenging and difficult moments as well as in joyful ones.
The director serves as a companion and witness, someone who helps you (sometimes with questions, sometimes just by listening) to discern the divine where you might have missed it and to integrate that awareness into your daily life, your tefillah, your tikkun olam work, your study, your ritual practice.”
Rabbi Jacob Staub, Jewish, USA
“A Jewish spiritual director recognizes the spiritual hunger of contemporary Jews. Throughout Jewish history, mentors such as the mashpia, chaver, or mashgiach, provided spiritual guidance for their settings and eras. Drawing on our heritage to create a contemporary model of spiritual companionship, a Jewish spiritual director helps people to connect experiences of the holy to Jewish vocabulary and tradition, explore Jewish pathways that sustain the inner life, panimiyut, and inspire participation in kehillah, spiritual community.”
Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center website
“Islam means to surrender to God in peace. The journey of surrender is the lifelong work of transforming the ego, opening the heart and becoming conscious of God. We need to bring Divinity into the center of our lives. The guidance, inspiration, and support of a spiritual director, spiritual teacher, or spiritual friend is crucial to this process. The thirteenth-century sage Rumi says that whoever travels without a guide needs two hundred years for a two-day journey.
A Muslim spiritual director, teacher or friend has abiding faith in the spiritual guidance abounding in the Quran, insights of the Prophet Muhammad and teachings of Islamic sages. The Quran tells us that ‘God is closer to you than your jugular vein’ and ‘Everywhere you turn is the Face of Allah.’
To remove the veils between us and our Creator, the Prophet Muhammad says, ‘Know thyself and you will know thy Lord,’ and, ‘Die before you die.’ He also explains the role of a spiritual teacher and companion: ‘The teacher kindles the light; the oil is already in the lamp.’ Mystics advise seekers to exercise discernment in their choice of a spiritual guide.
Choose someone who reminds you of God, one who counsels you not with the tongue of words but with the tongue of deeds. Rumi’s prayer for us is that over a lifetime we connect with several spiritual teachers, guides, and friends so that we can “come out of the Circle of Time and enter the Circle of Love.”
Jamal Rahman, Muslim, originally from Bangladesh, currently lives in Seattle, USA, serving as minister of Interfaith Community Church and adjunct faculty at Seattle University. He is author of The Fragrance of Faith: the Enlightened Heart of Islam.
Sufism is the mystical core of Islam. Although Sufism is more prominent in Muslim countries, its ideas, practices, and teachers can be found throughout the world. The practices of Sufism are often thought of as spiritual medicines and the sheikh, or guide, is the physician. According to an old Turkish Sufi saying, ‘You can bandage a cut for yourself, but you can’t take out your own appendix.’ That is, we can learn and grow through our own efforts, but for profound spiritual transformation we need a guide. The guide inspires and teaches students to move closer to realizing their inner, divine nature. That teaching is in itself an expression of divine will. Rumi writes, ‘Whoever travels without a guide needs two hundred years for a two-day journey.’
Robert Frager, PhD is the founding president of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, California, USA where he is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Spiritual Guidance Program. He is a sheikh in the Halveti-Jerrahi Sufi Order and has written three books on Sufism.
“To live one’s life in union with the Divine and to realize the freedom of one’s highest Self is the ultimate goal of the Eastern philosophy of Yoga. Spiritual direction, from the perspective of Yoga, is founded on the understanding that God lives within the hearts of each of us and of all creation.
The aim of spiritual direction is the formation of a partnership between God, the directee, and the director in a holy alchemy, which lovingly upholds the directee during exploration and deepening of one’s relationship with God, others, all creation, and the higher Self.
Through deep listening, powerful questions, and reflection of the thoughts and feelings conveyed by the directee, spiritual direction provides an opportunity to regularly reflect on life’s events and circumstances from a spiritual perspective.
Spiritual practices, including spiritual direction, have the ability to expand one’s inner awareness where stillness, peace, happiness, and joy reside; meditation, contemplation, chanting, or hatha yoga may be offered as tools to support the directee in experiencing God in every moment of this sacred dance called life.
With grace, self-effort, and the support of a spiritual director, directees can fully awaken to their inner divinity and express their true natures of love, compassion, and service in their everyday lives.”
Donna Woods, Philosophy of Yoga, USA
“Spiritual direction is the contemplative practice of accompanying (or joining with) a person or group as they awaken to the spiritual in everyday life, and it is the shared intentions and supports for the directee to have a deeper relationship with spirit through all phases of life.”
Dale Rhodes, Taoist, Enneagram Portland Oregon, USA
“Unitarian Universalists offering spiritual direction accompany other seekers from diverse traditions, offering our skills, our caring, and discoveries gained from our own spiritual practice and training. Our perspectives are open and accepting, and our resources are rich, deriving from all the world’s faith traditions.”
Ann H. Deupree, EnoRiver Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
“Spiritual guidance is being present in the moment, seeing and honoring the sacred mystery of the soul of another. It is witnessing this mystery and reflecting it back in word, prayer, thought, presence, and action. Spiritual guidance is modeling a deep relationship with the Divine and standing in faith and love with the other as that relationship unfolds. Spiritual guidance is a journey of deep healing and an affirmation of Holiness (wholeness), the Sacred, and the Mystery of all of life.”
Carol A. Fournier, MS, NCC, Interfaith Spiritual Director/Guide, Silver Dove Institute, Williston, Vermont, USA
‘Outside a ministerial context and stripped of its theological underpinnings, spiritual companioning holds much of the same potential that Jon Kabat-Zinn recognised in meditation when he moved it away from it Buddhist roots to bring forward mindfulness. I know I’ve never found anything better to help me be present, pay attention, and make peace with questions that will never be answered.’
Joe Sehee, Nontheistic Spiritual Director, and Executive Officer, Social Health, Australia
Next Step: Find a Spiritual Companion
Locating and interviewing a spiritual companion, chaplain or life coach is an important step in your spiritual journey. SDI’s desire is to provide an easy, inviting way for seekers to connect with a spiritual companion, to find a training program and/or a retreat center. We also help existing spiritual companions find supervisors and additional training resources.