We’re stuck online for now. Are Zoom, Skype, or Doxy the way we’ll do spiritual direction forever? This is the question for spiritual directors and their clients after 10 months of pandemic social distancing. There are pros and cons to the online life, and tricks to doing it with style that I will address here.
Some spiritual directors have decided that working from their home computer via online video has opened a new world for them. Prior to the pandemic, I saw Phoenix clients at a church office and anyone not able to meet in person by Zoom. I am now considering doing all my sessions online, even after the pandemic passes.
- No Commute. Why should spiritual direction have to involve a commute? Working online shrinks our carbon footprint, saves time and allows both client and director to have a session no matter where they both are at any given time. Some spiritual directors have realized that if they have all online clients, they are able to travel extensively or move to a geographic area that is more suitable for them and not lose a beat.
- Comfort Level. I’ve noticed there is a level of comfort for both me and my spiritual director (both introverts!) in being in our own cozy safe space while talking. Same thing for most clients. Once people got used to holding meetings via Zoom, many forgot about any inconveniences and warmed up to the screen. A few things for spiritual directors to keep in mind about working from your computer: consider your background carefully, just as you would consider a brick-and-mortar office. Find a location that is private and well lighted, position a candle where it can be seen, and make sure everything in the camera’s range exudes contemplative and sacred space.
- More opportunities. Spiritual directors can market online and get directees from all over the world (although coordinating time zones can be a headache!). And people seeking a spiritual director may now find exactly what they are looking for in a director because the pool to choose from is enormous.
- Stay safe. After March of 2020, we had to do spiritual direction either by phone or online to be safe. We’re not just avoiding COVID-19, we are avoiding all kinds of other airborne or surface bugs. Another advantage is that with online communication the boundaries around touch are clear cut. I know for some huggers out there, this seems like a con, but touch has always been a tricky area for spiritual directors. We always have to consider whose needs are being met when we reach out, even for a handshake, with directees. It’s not even an issue with distance work.
- Fatigue. It is tiring and physically unhealthy to sit too long in front of a screen. I purchased a variable height desk platform to have some options. I don’t stand up for spiritual direction sessions, but I do for any other meetings or online classes that I conduct. Also, eyeglasses with blue light protection can help your eyes not get so dry and tired. You may need to arrange your calendar such that you have ample break time between sessions to stretch and refresh.
- Technology isn’t perfect. It disrupts a session to experience a frozen screen, get disconnected or encounter slow WiFi. I’ve certainly had to practice patience and flexibility with technology as my natural instinct is to curse and walk away from the computer when it and I are not getting along (not advisable in a contemplative setting). I now know I need to turn my computer on first thing in the morning so it is “warmed up” before doing webcam work. I check to be sure the Zoom or Skype software is working (Skype likes to update just as soon as you turn it on, so if you wait to the last minute you could be late) and I check my microphone and camera prior to each session. You can minimize your chances of going offline but you can’t eliminate them completely. It’s helpful for director and directee to agree on what to do if and when technology hits a snag. You can go to the phone, dump out of a meeting and then reconnect or, in a case where it feels hopeless, you can reschedule.
- Not as warm and fuzzy as in person. You do lose that kinesthetic full-body experience when you meet online instead of in person. Some people just communicate better in person. And some enjoy taking a drive to someone’s office space. I’ve heard of a few spiritual directors meeting in person right now: fully masked, outdoors and sitting 6 feet apart — which works if you have excellent hearing. And don’t mind being in the cold for 50 or so minutes. (That’s not warm and fuzzy for me, though!).
It’s really an important discernment question for both director and directee: does meeting online feel lifegiving to me, or not? And what am I willing to do to be in spiritual direction? I know some spiritual directors are taking a break until they can meet with people in person. Others went into online sessions kicking and screaming and can’t wait to get back to in-person interaction.
Whatever you and your spiritual companions decide to do, I hope your sessions are safe, meaningful and life-giving — whether together or apart.
Want to learn more about spiritual direction? I have a book Spiritual Direction 101: The Basics of Spiritual Guidance by Apocryphile Press that addresses many aspects of this practice. It’s available on Amazon.