The Art of Spiritual Direction

By Susan Pannier-Cass

“When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them”. – Martin Buber

The art of deep listening has been somewhat lost in modern times. It seems as if everyone has something to say, while few are really listening.

It is an incredible gift to be deeply listened to and understood. When I am heard, it always leaves me feeling full and complete. As if I’m finally able to exhale breath I didn’t even realize I was holding.

I am always humbled and honored to hear the sacred story of another. To walk with someone in their struggles and questions of the heart is such a blessing. We all need at least one person in our life who is able and willing to hear us out without judgment and whom we can trust to have our best interest in mind. A Celtic term for such a person that resonates with me is anam cara – “anam” meaning soul, and “cara” meaning friend. Your anam cara beholds your light and beauty, and accepts you for who you are.

Spiritual directors, or anam caras, create a safe, warm, and hospitable container that’s essential to developing trust in this special relationship. We do not claim to be wiser than the person seated in front of us, but recognize that to see one’s life objectively and clearly, we simply need one another. During a session we put ourselves aside, cultivate an open heart and maintain an awareness in the present moment that allows us to offer relevant responses. That response may be a question that invites deeper reflection, a suggestion or a mirroring back what we heard in a way that may bring fresh perspective.

What occurs within a spiritual direction session? This is very individual and depends on what is on one’s mind and in the heart when they walk through the door. I always ask what, if anything, are they looking for or seeking. What initially brings someone to spiritual direction can vary considerably. People have come for help discerning a big decision or next steps forward, navigating a life transition, illness, grief and loss, or they may be seeking a safe place to work out thoughts, feelings and process their life’s spiritual journey.

In my spiritual direction practice, I have found two things most people have a greater need for – more silent pauses in their life, and a greater sense of joy and connection to their essential selves, others and God.

Most of us, whether we realize it or not, do not allow enough space in our life for silence. Deep silence is necessary for well-being, especially in the second half of life. It is in the quiet spaces that we are able to tune into our inner landscape and away from the noise and distraction of the outer world, and start to relax our body and mind. Typically just a few minutes, scattered throughout the day, of silence and focused breathing is all that’s needed to begin anew from a more centered and grounded place.

We live in a left brain, analytical, “head centered” Western world, but connecting to God from this space can seem dry, rote and uninspiring. By tapping into our creative and imaginative right brain, we can open ourselves up to the Divine in new and unexpected ways.

Too much of life feels like work. It’s busy and filled with a long list of “have-to’s”. Joy, play, and re-creation is often at the lower end of most priority lists. What would be different in your life if you made play a priority? Is there a passion or interest that you once had and lost or feel you no longer have time for? Maybe it’s painting, gardening, playing an instrument, walking in nature or something else. I invite you to identify a forgotten passion, or discover a new one, and think of it as a spiritual practice. Rediscovering ways to find joy and playfulness helps us to align with God’s call to celebrate the blessings of abundance that are provided to us daily, and is key to feeling a greater sense of being alive.

In the spirit of reflection below are a few questions for you to ponder:

1- What is your relationship to silence and solitude?

2- Images are the language of the soul. What images of God are most satisfying to you at the present time?
(For example – a loving grandmother, the sacred heart of Jesus, the sunrise, a dove…)

3- What current openings or doorways are calling you to greater joy and playfulness?

Susan Pannier-Cass is one of seven Spiritual Directors on staff at the Claret Center.
During this time of shelter-in-place, we are offering sessions via Zoom, Skype and FaceTime.