Musings from the Well...
Copyright © 2019 Catharine Mitchell. All rights reserved.
Years of study
Countless books read, digested,
Mostly forgotten, except for that one bright
Kernel gleaned from among the verbiage -
A cloak of words to wrap myself in.
White bookshelves filled with
The musings of wise teachers
Surrounding myself with their thoughts,
Their memories, their experiences.
All bringing me no closer to something
Knocking quietly, from the
All of the work, the years of solitude,
Endless hours watching, listening,
Only prefaces to the real story.
The story you and I write when we sit
Without words. The cloak lies gently folded
On the back of the chair.
Now, we wrap ourselves in
Spiritual guidance (or as it is more frequently called, spiritual direction) has been around for a very long time, and practised within a number of traditions. In the Christian tradition, it is associated with the desert fathers and mothers in the early years of the Common Era, moving eventually from there into the monastic orders, where it remained for centuries. Only in the past few decades has the western tradition of spiritual guidance been sought after and practised by Catholic laypersons, flowing into Protestant circles, and spreading from there into other faith traditions. Finally, it has become an important listening modality for that growing demographic sometimes referred to as the "spiritually independent".
Though the term "spiritual director" is most well known, my own preference is for the term "spiritual guide". Celtic traditions often refer to a spiritual guide as an "anam cara", or "soul friend", and though my Celtic DNA cherishes this, the term is known by few. Spiritual guide it is, then. The word "guide" suggests someone with life experience who has travelled herself and returned to walk with others as they head off on their own spiritual journeys. While a guide may, at times, share insights or experience she has gleaned from her own wanderings, her main purpose is to hold a safe space and provide accompaniment as the seeker journeys, looking for and reflecting with the seeker upon what is important and/or sacred in the seeker's life.
The poem "Folded Coat" was written after a few years of working with my own spiritual guide. I am, by nature, one of those eternal students who is always studying something new, and my life as an academic and educator supported this preference. Facts, theories, and the details of a busy life filled my mind, and even retirement from teaching seemed primarily a great opportunity to study even more. There was a part of me that longed for something deeper, and spiritual guidance provided the container. A vital component of a spiritual guidance session is the practice of silence. Though at first I rushed to fill this space with words and ideas, eventually it became a longed-for space where I could stop thinking and doing and just be. The cloak of words now lies folded upon the chair. Ah - but which chair? Susan Phillips (in Candlelight: Illuminating the Art of Spiritual Direction, Morehouse Publishing, 2008) tells of how she sets out three chairs for her sessions: one for the seeker, one for herself, and one to represent the presence of the Sacred. Though I do not follow this practice myself, her example reminds us that there is something that makes a spiritual guidance session unique - the understanding that there is a sacred container for the session, however that container is understood. For some, it might be nature, for others, the universe, community, mystery, or divinity. Perhaps it is understood as the quantum or unified field. (Or maybe they're all the same thing - but that's another musing for another day...) In any case, it's something, and my role as a spiritual guide is to respect how this container appears to a seeker (usually most easily felt during times of silence), and to be aware of how it enfolds us during the session. Within this awareness, I can be more present, and listen more deeply to the story which unfolds. This is spiritual guidance.
I have had a deep love for language - and all forms of writing - since I was a child. Writing, especially poetry, is an integral part of my own spiritual practice, and for me, the deepest form of prayer I know.