Long-Distance Spiritual Guidance - Benefits, Blessings and Drawbacks

Guest Author: 
Janice L. Lundy, DMin

 

Many years ago when I was training to be a spiritual director, the kindly Sister who led the program made it very clear to us that spiritual guidance over the telephone was not acceptable. More specifically, that good spiritual guidance could not happen unless two people were face-to-face and the “third chair” was physically present in the room.

Today, I know better and do offer spiritual guidance via Skype or over the telephone. I have found it to be a very useful modality benefitting some seekers, in some situations, but not all.  Without a doubt, it can have a providential outcome as I have experienced with seekers outside the U.S. (my home), homebound seekers, and those whose lives present varied and difficult circumstances in terms of travel, child-care needs, or work schedules. Grace can move through the ethers across telephone lines and satellite networks. Who are we to say it can’t?

Long-distance spiritual guidance does require openness, deep intention, prayerfulness and discernment on the part of the guide and the seeker. It may seem vague to say that distance direction depends on the people having the conversation, but it truly does. If you are interested in exploring it for yourself, my advice is to try it and see. It works well when it works and then sometimes it doesn’t. You will not know for yourself until you dive in.

This is what I’ve learned about offering long-distance spiritual guidance:

1. There should be a conversation with the seeker first about what to expect and how this type of call will work. She or he needs to guarantee they can be in a quiet and relaxed setting where they will not be interrupted, calls forwarded, and computer put away; a space where prayerfulness can be experienced. I once had a seeker try to convince me that she could experience a session while driving home from work. Of course, I told her this would not work. Nor was it safe. It is up to us as guides to set wise perimeters around the conversation.

2. The session will only be as prayerful as the space I hold for it. This means, just like with an in-person session, I must prepare myself before the meeting occurs. I sit in silence, invite spaciousness and lean into my heart. I prepare my inner landscape to be open and receptive. Grounded. I encourage the seeker to do so as well.

3. Be prepared for glitches in technology for they will occur. Lay out some guidelines ahead of time about what the two of you will do if you lose connection. Who will call whom back? This saves time and frustration.

4. Begin in silence, just like in-person. This time of quiet over the phone (or Skype) can be very beneficial. It’s amazing to me how the silence in this unique setting feels deeply sacred and connective. The seekers I journey with agree, and love this special time together, often thanking me for initiating it because they may have felt rushed or disjointed before the call began. You can end the call with silence as well, or a prayer of gratitude for this gift of connection.

5. Be aware that some individuals will have a difficult time at first with conversing via telephone or the internet. They may feel uncomfortable with silence, filling the gaps with words. Discuss this together. To adopt a contemplative stance—listening, waiting—is something to work on.

6. You will step on each other’s words. This will happen, be assured of it (unless you are using Skype where you can see one another). Bring this issue to the conversation and discuss what you can do about it. What I’ve discovered is that once you have a session or two with an individual, you begin to find a rhythm, and things flow more easily.

7. As the guide,  pause often, take several breaths and drop back into spaciousness. This is just like during an in-person session. One of the dangers of guidance over the telephone is, I believe, how we may tend to get heady—processing words—thinking our way through responses because visual clues may be absent. At any given moment, when in doubt, we can drop into our sacred center and plug back into the Divine as we understand it. Let us never forget who is doing the guiding here.

8. Ask for feedback. After the session, ask the seeker how this worked for them. Did they feel comfortable, relaxed, prayerful? Or was it stress-inducing? Transparency in this conversation is key because any spiritual guidance session should be about serving the seeker well. And what about you? How did you feel communicating wth this modality? Shall the two of continue on in this way, giving it a little more time to see if the kinks get worked out? Or try something else? Long-distance spiritual guidance is simply a tool, one of many, and not every tool works in all situations, or for all people. In truth, I have had some seekers say, “I really have to be sitting in the same room with someone.” Or, you will discover that long-distance direction may not work with certain individuals at all. They simply do not have the capacity to pause or be comfortable with space for silence on the phone. They are used to talking non-stop and do not listen well. This is fine and good to acknowledge. At this point, I don’t hesitate to recommend that we try to find a spiritual guide in their area instead. (On a personal note, keep in mind that each of us takes in and presents information differently. I find that I prefer telephone sessions rather than Skype sessions. Over years of phone sessions, my listening is deeper. I am more attuned to the tone of voice, emotion, to the spaces between words. The conversation feels more intimate to me, but this is just me, my style. I find myself often distracted by the visual of Skype, attuned more than I like to admit to the seeker’s setting, house décor, presence of pets, etc. We each must find what works best for us as well as for the seeker.)

9. If you request a fee for your services, or ask for a donation, provide options about how this can be handled. A check sent ahead of time? An invoice sent via Pay Pal? I use both methods depending on the person’s preference. Come up with a mutually satisfying solution.

10. One of the reasons I enjoy offering spiritual guidance over the phone is that it inevitably invites us deeper. There is a growing edge to our listening and presence. Each of us can learn to be better listeners; to listen more intently, heartfully, prayerfully—no matter what.

As I write this, I am thinking about Myra, a teacher from Australia. We have never met but have been journeying together for nearly four years. Our spiritual friendship is deep and our sessions always fruitful. Out of necessity, we have found our way through long-distance spiritual guidance together. We started out using visual Skype (her choice), which ultimately made her uncomfortable. She was often emotional and felt embarrassed shedding rivers of tears in front of me. We switched to audio Skype (great for international calls), and if I listen carefully, I can hear her sniffling, which means she could be crying, which is cue enough. I know we have stepped into the territory of the sacred heart together.

Over time, we have become comfortable with the spaces between our sentences. These feel like holy ground and we can companionably rest in them. Myra has often voiced how meaningful this is for her, to rest in the Silence together. Despite the fact that she is on one continent and I am on another, Presence is here. Grace whooshes through the airwaves, comforts and blesses us. We are grateful for the technology that allows us to be still and know ... together.

I welcome your thoughts and stories about long-distance guidance. Conversation by conversation, we grow.


 

Dr. Janice Lundy is the co-founder and director of the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute which provides education and certification in interfaith and interspiritual direction. She is an interfaith/interspiritual guide herself, the author of several spiritual formation books including Your Truest Self and My Deepest Me, and the creator of the Pure Presence® method of compassionate listening. She is currently Visiting Professor of Spiritual Direction at The Graduate Theological Foundation. She resides in Michigan, USA.

 

Comments

Submitted by Vicky (not verified) on

I have been meeting with a directee using FaceTime for 3 years and it works well for us.
I am a very visual person and find that a phone session doesn't work as well for me.
We have talked about finding a quiet place where she will not be disturbed and we each light a candle.
We begin each session with prayer and the quiet times that occur are comfortable and grace filled.
My directee works long hours and can only meet later in the evening.

Vicky, I am glad to hear that you have found benefits from "distance direction" and that you feel it is serving your companion well. This is really what matters most, yes? I appreciate reading how you set the stage for careful listening and presence as well. Thank you. Blessings upon your ongoing journey.

This is super helpful, thank you! I have done spiritual direction via Skype, Google Hangouts and telephone, and your tips are right on. I meet my own director through video, and it works well for us, though I have had to learn to create the space before and after our sessions which I need in order to be present for the session and to process afterward.

As someone who provides direction in American Sign Language as well as English, I have struggled with technology issues around clarity of video (since we are depending on our hands to communicate, so blurring or dragging is very prohibiitve) which we have resolved over time. The need to communicate a bit more slowly (via video phone or skype) has actually been a good way to control pace and help us to slow down and be prsent.

Though I do prefer in-person direction, I have found distance direction to be a great blessing, both for me and for those I serve.

Dear Tessi,
Thank you for your helpful words here and letting us know how you successfully engage distance direction. I appreciate how you educated us on the use of sign language using this protocol too. Wonderful! Another way we can make ourselves available as spiritual guides, to hearing impaired individuals. Beautiful.

Submitted by Mardee Kaylock (not verified) on

Thank you for this article and your insights and experience. I am a Spiritual Director in Australia and have received a pilgrim from Scotland just recently. Your article is encouraging, insightful and practical and I am thankful for it.

As I reflected on my recent experience I wrote a response to it in my journal, I have shared it below as requested

in kindness
MarDee

A couple of nights ago I sat opposite an empty chair in my office. I lit a candle and listened to the dancing lilt of a central highland accent.
I offered Spiritual Direction via skype to a new pilgrim in Scotland. We could not see each other as the cameras caused static & to see the other meant we couldn't hear them.
It was a profound experience, and as she shared I realized she was about to commence her day, as I was ending mine. Her melodic tone and musical rhythm gave her words poetic stature.
I sat listening with a cuppa, a candle and a prayer focus. On the other side of the world, at the other end of the day she did likewise and yet we met spirit to spirit. This is the mystery of this ministry.
We met in vulnerable honesty and divine compassion. She invited and she trusted, I listened and I cared. I stepped into her space, her story and her world.
I sat in the dark opposite an empty chair with only her voice..... a voice that invited me into a tapestry of untold stories laced with threads of gold.
As I reflected I realised a similar experience was offered me on Saturday night. I sat in a warm, brightly lit church hall beside several cot beds made up with fresh sheets & clean pillows. I listened while I coloured, painted and pastel’d alongside my homeless brothers and sisters. The stories they shared were uniquely their own, but the themes are known across time, space and culture.
Listening to sacred stories of beauty and agony, offering a hand to hold or a thread for their tapestry is my place in the world these days.... and my prayer is to always offer a thread of gold and to do that requires vulnerability & presence.

Dear MarDee,
I am very grateful you shared this touching story. It truly speaks to the value and intimacy that can be found through distance direction. You set the stage so intentionally and invited your companion to do the same. This seems to make all the difference in the experience, doesn't it? As well as the state of our open heart, which you describe so well to us. Thank you for doing so.

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