Why Curiosity Is Important for the Emerging Spiritual Director
What lights up your soul? What brings joy to your moments? When do you feel wonder, awe?
Spiritual directors often ask questions like these as we develop relationships with those who we companion. We are blessed, honored, and privileged to get a chance to offer ourselves and our attention to the seeking souls of other “spiritual beings having a human experience.”
Yet we are human, too, and what we do sometimes can be hard work. Indeed, relationships are never really easy per se, and we are in the business of building relationships— through our presence with our directee and the Divine.
As emerging spiritual directors, we are sometimes unaware of how our own reactions can unintentionally bubble up and hinder our ability to be fully present to our directee. When we need to fix, advise, cajole or otherwise change our companions and their reactions, we can sideline the movement of Spirit. It is ethically questionable to blindly speak our strong reactions. Yet, we still face the issue of what to do with our rising thoughts, feelings and sensations.
When we notice our pulse racing, or emotions rising, or thoughts racing, we can react with fear or an attempt to block the feelings we are experiencing:
“I shouldn’t feel this way.”
“I need to be present and not judge.”
“I don’t want to make this about me.”
The problem with these “shoulds” is that they dismiss our humanity and reduce the space for our own presence in the room. (A spiritual direction session includes the director!) Our call is not to totally dismiss ourselves in the session, but rather to acknowledge our own reactions from the posture of curiosity that we grant so easily to our directees.
Perhaps instead of worrying about our reactions, we may notice, breathe, and allow.
What could happen if instead of attaching to the “shoulds,” we notice with openness and interest:
“What could it mean for me that I have these reactions?”
Perhaps instead of tensing with fear or concern, we may provide space to inquire later, in our journal or with our own spiritual companion:
“How wonderful it is for me to be aware of what I feel when I’m in session with my directee, what can I learn from this?”
“How do my feelings—anger, distrust, fear, sadness, disgust—affect my body when I have them?”
“How might these unspoken feelings affect my directee?”
Our unconscious reactions to directees often require a good amount of self-reflection and peer supervision to uncover. (Psychotherapy calls these reactions "countertransference.") But the effort to be open, honest and aware of ourselves is worth it. As we become kind and compassionate to our own flaws and shadows, we are more able to let go of the emotional roadblocks that keep us from connecting. In this way, curiosity is a game-changer, allowing us to move beyond our personal reactions to deep listening and openhearted presence.
Allie Kochert, MA, LPC is a spiritual companion, psychotherapist, writer, and mom of three. This year she will finish her training in spiritual direction at the Haden Institute. She is the owner of Rooted Growth, dedicated to supporting “helpers and healers”-- those in the ministry and caregiving professions. In addition to her retreat work and course offerings, she provides counseling in Pennsylvania and spiritual companioning worldwide. Her website is www.alliekochert.com and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.