What Is Spiritual Direction?

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Here are some of my favorite quotes about spiritual direction from spiritual directors.


“Spiritual direction explores a deeper relationship with the spiritual aspect of being human. Simply put, spiritual direction is helping people tell their sacred stories every day.

Spiritual direction helps us learn how to live in peace, with compassion, promoting justice, as humble servants of that which lies beyond all names.”      Liz Budd Ellmann


“Training ready!” I hear that phrase from my personal trainer several times in a session. That is shorthand for standing upright with chest out and being attentive to inhaling and exhaling. Basically, it serves as a reminder to be focused and intentional about what I am doing. It is so easy and natural to stop paying attention and to lose focus.

I’ve spent a great deal of time over the years helping those who pray to have a similar stance of intentionality. I know how easy it is to get distracted and lose that sense of intentionality. It’s my own experience in prayer and it is the experience of those I have journeyed with in my years of spiritual direction.

We are sometimes half asleep, almost in a slumber – whether with our physical or spiritual exercise… Part of the gift of a spiritual director is that he or she can wake me up spiritually. Just the fact that we’re meeting will make me more attentive to what is happening in my interior life. I might speak of a movement in my interior life to my director and he asks a subtle question that causes me to look at my situation in a new way.

There are times when a spiritual director has to offer a corrective. Perhaps I’m approaching my prayer in too strict a manner. Maybe I’m not spending enough time on the review of prayer. Maybe I’m rushing through the prayer or the rhythm of my day and not reflecting on how it’s going.

I’m realizing that all of these roles of a director have their counterparts for how my personal trainer helps me. He points at my posture in the mirror and shows me something. The fact that I’m meeting with him will make me more determined to work on things and get them right. He points out how I tense up in the shoulders or I start to hold my breath. I’m not relaxed, and, therefore, unable to focus on the exercise at hand. I forget to take the “training ready” stance. My hope is that the new habits he is giving me will plant themselves in my brain and truly become new habits.     Phillip Shano,  S.J.


Spiritual directors offer space to rest in the presence of mystery. As companions with others on their spiritual journey, our ministry is not to rush directees toward the light, but to honor the dark, fertile spaces of their lives as well. The imagination becomes the bridge between the dark space of incubation … and the moment of illumination when the creative act breaks through us calling us to give outward form to our inner movements.   Christine Paintner


The whole purpose of spiritual direction is to penetrate beneath the surface of our lives, get behind the façade of conventional gestures and attitudes which we present to the world, and draw out our inner spiritual freedom.           Thomas Merton


In spiritual direction, however, the true healer, nurturer, sustainer and liberator is the Lord, and the director and directee are seen as hopeful channels, beneficiaries, or expressions of grace for each other.  Gerald May, M.D. in  Care of Mind, Care of Spirit, A Psychiatrist Explores Spiritual Direction



 “Why am I passionate about spiritual direction?”  Videos from Spiritual Directors International: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6puSuLJtWM0