Life Coaching, Spiritual Direction, and Holy Work

Life Coaching, Spiritual Direction, and Holy Work September 8, 2015

Spring 2012 30In a post last week I talked about how the first step to re-enchant the world is understanding that disenchantment is real – the feeling that something’s wrong with the world is an accurate assessment of the way things are, even if we can’t quite articulate the way things should be instead.  Our mainstream society (and especially the sorcerers of advertising) see our disenchantment, but their recommendations only make things worse.

Make no mistake, disenchantment is suffering… suffering our mainstream culture says we should treat by buying more stuff.  Or losing weight, or finding a new partner, or hiring a life coach.

What, you don’t have the money for that?  Work harder!  Are you lazy or something?

And so we treat our suffering with the wrong remedy.  We double down with more of the same and our disenchantment only grows.

Shortly after that post went up I had a private message from Jessica Minah, which she has given me permission to share.  Jessica took issue with my inclusion of life coaching in this list.  She said (in part – I have edited for length but hopefully not for content):

I will admit that there are a lot of life coaches out there who are … promoting the concept of following your bliss as a way to rid your life of all uncertainty and anxiety.  But there are many of us doing much deeper work. Work that is about stepping directly into this sense that something is wrong with the way we are living…

We work with them to cultivate the resilience and courage needed to ask questions like: What am I living my life for? What does the world want from me? For the sake of what is all this for?

When they have found something resembling answers to the questions, we help them cultivate the skills and competencies needed to go do those things, and to achieve long-term excellence, to be self-correcting, and self-generating…

I really consider it Priestessing work, and part of my sacred contract with the world.

What Jessica describes is honorable work.  I thought about these things before I added “life coach” to that blog post.  I decided to leave it in because there are a lot of life coaches who spout nothing but New Age garbage to privileged suburbanites and get paid a lot of money to do it.  They are more symptom than problem, but they are part of the problem.

That doesn’t mean this kind of work is unnecessary, unhelpful, or unworthy of compensation.

In a religious setting, this work is often called spiritual direction.  A person will engage the services of a knowledgeable elder in their tradition: maybe a clergy person or maybe an experienced peer (just not someone who’s so close a friend they can’t give hard advice).  They meet, the client describes their spiritual life and goals, the spiritual director listens and then offers recommendations in accordance with the ideals and boundaries of their shared religious tradition.  At the next meeting, they discuss progress, or the lack thereof – spiritual direction provides accountability.  Some meet frequently, some meet occasionally, some meet only as needed.

Anyone can benefit from the counsel of an experienced co-religionist, even the most senior priests and founders of traditions.  In the words of Thorn Coyle “beware teachers who only have students.”  I engaged Thorn for spiritual direction in 2011 when I was on a stuck on a plateau and needed help to get moving again.  She didn’t do anything dramatic, but by working through the process things picked up and they haven’t slowed down since.

I don’t have a regular spiritual director right now, but there are two people I consult on a fairly regular basis, and several others I call on if I have an issue in their area of expertise.

I also do spiritual direction as part of my service as a priest.  Some arrangements are informal, others are structured – it all depends on what the client wants, needs, and is willing to do.

Some of this work – from both sides – has been on a fee-for-service basis and some has been pro bono.  If you ask someone to work for you, you should expect to compensate them for their time and effort, including the time and effort that went into learning the skills necessary to do that work.  I field a lot of questions from Pagan seekers and I’m happy to listen and make recommendations – I neither need nor want to be paid for this.  But eventually, such conversations reach the point where either they’re complete or they need to become something more formal.  A spiritual direction arrangement allows the director/client, teacher/student, mentor/mentee relationship to develop the structure and accountability necessary to stimulate spiritual growth.

[For the record, I don’t chat and I don’t carry on informal conversations via social media or e-mail.  I don’t do it with my close friends and I don’t do it with casual acquaintances.  If I decline your offer for such communication, it’s not because I don’t like you and it’s not because I’m a snob, it’s because I find small talk annoying and unproductive.]

Spiritual direction – both paid and unpaid – is honorable and holy work.  But although this work can be done and done well in a secular setting, when it is removed from its context in a shared religious tradition, the opportunity for exploitation (of both the process and the client) grows exponentially.

Many people who in another era would look for a spiritual director are not part of any religious community, or they’re in a church where spiritual direction isn’t widely practiced.  Or perhaps they don’t see any power in their religion and they figure if they want to change their life they need to look elsewhere.  They’ve heard about this thing called life coaching and so that’s what they look for.

That means if someone wants to offer their spiritual direction services to a wide audience (which is pretty much required if you want to make a living doing it) they’re going to have to promote themselves as a life coach, even though there are life coaches out there (I have no idea how many) who are pushing narcissism, mindless consumption, and faux spirituality.

In the background I hear some very Christ-like Christian ministers saying “tell me about it.”

Helping others find their true calling and develop the skills necessary to carry it out is holy work, whether it’s done in a religious context or in a secular one.  If you feel you can benefit from this I encourage you to explore it, whether you look for a spiritual director or a life coach or a knowledgeable, compassionate elder who works under some completely different name.  Many use a sliding scale so as not to turn away those with limited financial resources.

Re-enchanting the world is glorious work, but it is also hard work.  Just remember you don’t have to do it alone.

candle lights candle

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