Future reflections on spirituality will be posted on my new site: LauraKnowlesCavanaugh.com.
One of the scariest things about learning a new skill is realizing that you’re expected to go out into the world and actually USE it.
Although we have one more session tomorrow morning before we say goodbye to each other at noon and go off on our merry ways until April, we did some wrapping up this afternoon as well. One of the things our director said in her “farewell address” was that we had already been given all the basic skills we would need to do spiritual direction and that we should feel free to use what we have learned between now and April. That way, when we return for Session 2, we will have a lot more to talk about, questions to ask, issues to raise, and experience to draw from.
So here’s my question to you dear and lovely readers who have been following and supporting my journey thus far:
Who wants to be my guinea pig?
If you are willing to make yourself available to me as a practice-directee, I would LOVE the opportunity to try out some of what I have been learning and test the waters. We can meet in person if you live nearby, or we can try out what it would be like to have a spiritual direction session via Skype or phone. (I have done Skype with my own spiritual director, and that wasn’t too weird. I’ve also had a Skype session with a spiritual director I’d never met in person. It was a little awkward at first, but we made it work.) Whatever works for you, I’m up for trying if you are! Needless to say, there is absolutely no obligation or pressure, although I would certainly be interested and open to hearing your feedback about what did or didn’t work for you so I can keep growing and improve.
Or, if you are just curious about what spiritual direction is or what it might be like to be in a session with me, I’d love the chance to practice explaining it and work out some of my own language about what I want to take from this program and how I might be similar to or different from other directors.
Fair warning, though, that I will probably be doing some of the latter on this blog anyway and asking for your feedback on how the language strikes you or what fits/doesn’t fit about my approach and method.
For the moment, I am just trying to wrap my brain around the idea that I could actually sit down with someone tomorrow and conduct a real spiritual direction session after only experiencing half the program! That is an exciting prospect but also a terrifying one. I feel ready, and I worry that I will never be ready. What a strange place to be, here in this middle-space, here in this in-between, here in the space between already and not-yet.
Wow, I just went Pauline on you, my dear readers. Don’t worry. That shouldn’t happen in session!
Today my biggest take-away was a growing respect and awe for the many different and nuanced ways people express and experience their spiritual journeys. I am just blown away by the depth, vulnerability, honesty, and capacity of spiritual journey-ers of all “shapes and sizes,” as they say. I feel so honored to be invited into the sacred space created by the sharing of these personal and varied stories, and I so look forward to the opportunity to enter this kind of sacred space with many more people after I leave Hesychia.
It’s too early to reflect on my experience here, but it’s hard to avoid doing so. We only have two days left of Session 1. In some ways, I can’t wait to get home to my own bed and my husband and my regular life. In other ways, I’m not sure what it will be like to return after having been in Arizona for two weeks. I’m not sure what the desert has done to me. I’m not sure how I have been affected by this program already. I’m not sure of anything at all.
I think the thing about being in the middle of something is that it’s all so nebulous. I’ve begun, but I haven’t finished. It’s like having one foot on the shore and the other foot on the boat. I know where I’ve been, but I’m not sure where I’m going yet. And the ground beneath me is shifting. Something is happening, but I can’t define it. Something is stirring, but I couldn’t name it yet.
But it’s something.
In some ways I feel like a sponge. Not that I am impressionable or indiscriminate. It’s just that there is so much here, so much in the people in my class, in the teachers, in the material we are being exposed to, in the director sessions we are practicing, in the desert setting, in the supplemental reading, in the sacred space we are creating together.
There is so much.
I feel like I have to soak it all up, get it all in there, every single drop. And then I can sit in it all and let it begin to begin to be something new, something with shape and figure, something perhaps even with name.
In tea-language, I need to steep.
In some ways, I am glad for the break between sessions. It gives me a chance to breathe, to recover from the pace I have been keeping and the lack of sleep I have been getting, and to let things simmer.
I am mixing my metaphors. Oh well.
But I still have two days left. Two more days to soak up and take it all in before we break. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.
Just for fun, our group had an impromptu tour of the Pathless Path, a Buddhist retreat center on-site at Redemptorist. Here’s a little video so you can see the building, meditation path, retreat rooms, and meditation room. We pass the big gong in the hallway. A fun little almost-adventure exploring the building right next to the Hesychia classroom. On Buddhism day, it was a fitting excursion. You also get a glimpse of some of my group-mates as well as Father Greg who is leading the tour and our school.
Warning: it’s a little bumpy.
The hardest thing about practicing is not getting to try again.
I directed my first spiritual direction session today. Ever since yesterday, I have been plagued with periodic attacks of anxiety imagining myself in the director’s chair on display within the fishbowl having to perform for the group. Today I tried to tell myself that the nervous energy I was feeling was really excitement and that I was ready for this.
And then I spent the whole 25-minute session trying to control my shaking and relax at the same time. My goodness, I was in a state! My facial muscles were twitching, and my body was tense. My fingers were fidgeting, and my heart was pounding so loudly I could barely hear my directee speak not two feet away from me. I spent most of the session trying to breathe deeply to calm my heart and hoping no one could tell how internally stressed out I was!
The good news is, God showed up. My directee did not pick up on my anxiety at all and was not “blocked” by anything about my demeanor. In fact, he actually appreciated my attentive presence and reported that the word I had shared that seemed to name some of his experience was really insightful and helped open up a new avenue for him to explore.
The group was gentle. They acknowledged my anxiety and offered suggestions for next time. The facilitator actually made some revisions to some of what we had learned last week about how to interact with the directee in a session that was really freeing for our whole group. So we all learned together.
It was both affirming and a learning experience. I was proud of myself for having taken the risk to name what I was hearing in the session and was honored that it resonated with my directee. I was proud of myself for taking the risk to participate in the practicum at all. No one was holding me there. I could have skipped out. I could have even quit back on Day 2, Week 1 when I was so full of doubt and discouragement. But I stayed. I tried. I learned.
And you know what? I wanted to go again and put my learning to use right away to see what it felt like to be a little looser and more myself in the session. I wanted to try more active and reflective listening. I wanted to pause and ask a deeper question. I wanted to be in the hot spot again!
I’m actually disappointed I won’t have another opportunity to play the director in practicum until we return for Session 2 in April. What a change from last week at this time. What a change from this morning! This morning I was trying to convince myself that my anxiety was excitement. Now my excitement has actually usurped my anxiety. Now my heart is beating in anticipation. Now that I have tried and learned, I feel ready to do this. I can do this!
As the Little Engine said,
I thought I could! I thought I could! I thought I could!
It’s Interfaith Spiritual Direction Week, which means this week we’re being exposed to spiritual direction within faith traditions other than Christianity, including AA and “spiritual but not religious.”
I think my biggest takeaway from today is this: Let the directee name the moment. Don’t impose language on them that isn’t theirs.
How often we go about our lives unaware of how we are shaped by our own assumptions and experiences. How often we blunder into unintended offenses simply because of our assumptions about others. We assume people are like we are, think like we do, talk the way way do, feel how we feel, and want what we want.
How easily we can shut a person down or end a conversation by using language that they receive as an implied judgment or a lack of understanding of who they are, where they are coming from, and what they have to say.
Rather than asking a person what their experience of God is like, ask: “What does your spiritual world look like?”
It is my desire, through this experience, to learn how to portray and conduct myself as a person who is open to conversation, who does not judge, who will not be shocked, and who is capable of hearing and containing another person’s sacred story with interest, compassion, and empathy.
It’s so easy to turn someone off with a careless gesture or misplaced word. As Parker Palmer puts it, the soul is like a wild animal, easily scared away by sudden or rough movement and loud language. I want to create space where the soul can feel safe to come out into the clearing and share that sacred story.
It starts with my own self-awareness. It starts with my own openness. I am responsible for the space I create, and I am responsible for containing that space.
Tomorrow afternoon I will sit in the director’s chair for the first time and practice in front of the group. I spent all afternoon today experiencing anxiety over the anxiety I expect to feel tomorrow! I hope and pray I can find a way to release that anxiety, release the desire to “perform” and to “get it right,” and use the opportunity to really practice, try something out, take a risk, and be bold.
Oh, Lord, help me now! Help me THEN!
What I hope more than anything else for my director session tomorrow is to create that safe, open space for my practice-directee to share his sacred story with me. Above anything else, I want to be able to hold his story, honor his experience, and simply be present with him in whatever he chooses to bring before the group.
I think I can. I think I can. I think I can!
And if you’re not following me on Twitter, you should check out my feed and see some of the pictures I’m posting throughout my experience in Arizona. You won’t want to miss the one about the scorpion attack! Gross.
Well, it’s Friday. I made it through the first week of the program! I’m very proud of myself, especially considering I was ready to pack up and head home after the first day of class.
What came up today that I most want to reflect on is my earliest memory of encountering God. I remember distinctly.
I was very young, maybe four or five, and I was very angry. I’m not sure why, but my suspicion is that I was in time out or pouting after not getting my way. Whatever it was, I have this sense that I was certainly not in a spiritual place. I was full of emotion and sat on the floor of my bedroom sobbing into the bed skirt around the edge of my little twin bed. The bed skirt had little white and pink flowers on it and matched the bedspread and the curtains on the window. I was feeling unfairly punished or frustrated or misunderstood. Whatever it was, I was in a very broken moment of my young life.
As I sat there with my face buried in the bed skirt, I experienced in a very tangible and physical way, that I was being held. I literally felt God behind me, surrounding me, comforting me. I remember very clearly how I slowly relaxed into that tangible presence. My tears subsided. My breathing normalized. It was going to be okay (whatever it was). God was with me.
I spent years searching for that experience of God again. I held onto it in moments when I was sure God did not exist, or if God indeed existed, was not interested in me. I held onto it in the moments when I was broken and laid waste inside, knowing that it was possible to experience God the way I longed for and trusting that I would find God again if I just kept searching.
A lot has happened since that first moment when I knew for myself that God was real and personal and good. As my conception of God changes and is shaped by the ideas and people I encounter on my journey, I hold on to that first moment, that first truth that I received all on my own.
I hold on to God because God first held onto me.