If you're to become your own guru, inevitably the question arises, "But what if I get it wrong?" Indeed. What if we listen to the wrong inner voice? What if we wander from the path and get ourselves lost? What if we mess up?
We might observe that this is in fact how we grow. We make mistakes, we get things wrong, we learn. We can't hide from the lessons life can only teach us through trial and error for fear that we'll mess up. Of course we'll mess up. That's why we walk humbly, less inclined to judge others than to show them compassion, as we would have them do to us. We're all learning on the job here.
But the question still stands. What if we get it wrong? Religious leaders have been notorious for hearing a voice in their head and leading their flocks to drink the Koolade, to pick up the gun, to condemn the sinners. Equally, though, such monstrous examples provide the reason we should never trust anyone or anything other than our own inner sense of things. As Sting famously sang, "They go crazy in congregations; they only get better one by one."
So the answer is not to block our ears to our inner voices, to our instincts and the urgings of hearts. The answer is to take them seriously; but also, to test them with a trusted spiritual companion. We may have to walk that lonesome valley all by ourselves, but humans are made for community, and community is the context within which we find our way.
In the thirty years or so since I received my training as a spiritual director, or guide, the nomenclature has changed, from "direction" to "companionship." The only "direction" we were giving was to focus on the seeker's own instincts and wisdom, rather than on their spinning thoughts and fickle emotions. The only "guidance" was to encourage their openness to whatever was presenting itself to them on their spiritual journey, as if it were a holy visitor.
Ultimately, the relationship of the "director" and "directee" was one of profound trust: that God, by whatever name, was in our midst and would guide us home. Unlike traditional counselling, the focus was not on what was wrong, but on what was emergent; not on getting things right, but on remaining open. In some ways, it wasn't about the seeker at all. It was about that other Presence that existed within us, between us, beyond us.
A spiritual companion might be a trusted friend, a good counsellor, a clergy person or a member of a religious community. But no one is telling anyone what to do. We are removing our shoes. Because together, we walk on Holy Ground.
Next Week: Becoming a Good Companion