I am currently in the process of training to become a spiritual director through Still Harbor. As part of my program, I must offer free 1:1 sessions to willing participants. More specifically, I will offer three individuals three free, monthly sessions each over the course of February, March, and April of 2022. For more information about this offering, please look through the FAQ section below, and if you are interested, reach out to me through my personal email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who are you, and what are your qualifications for offering spiritual direction?
My name is Gabriela De Golia (she/her + they/them), and I am a white, queer, and disabled spiritual seeker living in Wangunk and Quinnipiac territory (also known as Middletown, Connecticut). I am what some would call a “multiple-belonger” in various spiritual traditions, including Protestant Christianity and Zen Buddhism, and I am in a process of studying and reclaiming animistic traditions and practices associated with my ancestral lineages from Western Europe (that is, land-based, earth-honoring frameworks that incorporate kinship with one’s ancestors and the more-than-human world). I am also a tarot reader, a writer, an artist, and a former social justice educator and organizer. I completed some years of seminary studies, which included a number of spiritual care courses, but eventually decided to leave academia to pursue less conventional forms of training, including training to offer spiritual direction.
While I am still in the process of completing my spiritual direction training, I have lots of experience offering spiritual care to individuals and communities. This includes serving as a deacon for many years in my local church, being trained as a candidate for ordained ministry in the United Church of Christ (a process I eventually withdrew from but deeply appreciated), working and living as a resident-staffer in a Zen monastery + mindfulness retreat center in my mid-twenties, and serving as my seminary’s first Peer Chaplain (meaning I offered spiritual support to fellow students of many backgrounds, both as-needed and on a regular basis), among other roles. The training I’m going through now is a continuation of my varied experiences serving as a spiritual care provider.
What is spiritual direction? What is it not?
Spiritual direction (which is increasingly known as “spiritual companionship”) is the practice of accompanying someone along their spiritual journey. A spiritual director offers witness and a listening presence in an effort to assist another in discerning the movement of the sacred in their life. A spiritual director does not dictate another’s path, nor are they an “expert” who provides ready-made answers to the participant. Rather, a spiritual director serves as a trusted companion along one’s journey, asking questions meant to assist in accessing one’s own deep knowing.
While spiritual direction can be therapeutic, it isn’t therapy and doesn’t replace the support of a therapist. There are no “goals” or “treatments” in spiritual direction, only the witnessing of how the sacred/spirit/source moves in the life of the participant. Questions, rather than answers, take center stage in this process, and the unknown is seen as a generative space along the journey.
Spiritual direction is also distinct from chaplaincy, pastoral ministry, and other forms of spiritual care in that it is a 1:1 relationship in which we meet regularly, over an extended period, outside the bounds of “conventional” religious institutions. There is no prescribed dogma associated with spiritual direction and no expectation that participants have (or adopt) particular spiritual beliefs or practices. A participant’s journey is unique to them, and a spiritual director respects and celebrates this.
Can you explain a little more about your specific practice of spiritual direction? What informs and inspires you?
My practice of spiritual direction is informed by the fact that I belong to multiple spiritual traditions, as noted above. I am comfortable working with people from many different spiritual and religious backgrounds (or none at all) and I welcome those who are in the process of questioning and exploring their spiritual identities. For myself, I work to avoid spiritual and cultural appropriation by honoring the boundaries of spiritual traditions that are not mine to claim. At the same time, I recognize (and live into) the possibility of entering into an ethical relationship with traditions that are not part of my own ancestral lineages (namely, in my case, Zen Buddhism). I encourage others to be discerning about the ways they are (or are not) engaging in a conscientious, reciprocal relationship with the spiritual traditions they engage with.
Additionally, as someone who has worked within a variety of social justice movements, I am passionate about offering spiritual support to those who are helping to build a world that exists beyond the confines of oppressive systems such as white supremacy, capitalism, and imperial colonialism. I believe that spirituality and justice are sacred siblings and that sustaining movements for justice is a deeply spiritual process. I welcome those who are interested in further blending their progressive politics with their spiritual beliefs and practices.
Relatedly, as a queer disabled person who lives with mental illness and holds other identities that are often dismissed (and even targeted) by social systems, I know many communities (including spiritual ones) often ignore and exacerbate the experience of marginalization. I strive to create a space in which people are comfortable bringing the parts of themselves that have been stigmatized and harmed by society and the state. Rather than bypass the realities of these experiences, I welcome the open expression of grief, anger, and other “difficult” emotions that come with living a marginalized, resilient, and resistant experience. I believe these feelings are sacred responses to injustice, and that they merit being expressed, seen, and used as fuel for positive growth and transformation.
At the same time, I am a white, financially-stable citizen of the United States who benefits from immense privilege, power, and protection. As someone with years of experience supporting white folks and people with various privileges in reckoning with internalized (and externalized) supremacy, I welcome those who want compassionate spiritual support as they investigate their power + privilege in service of creating a more just world.
My practice also aims to be trauma-informed and healing-centered. For more information on this, see the next question.
Do you have a trauma-informed, healing-centered lens to your practice?
Yes. Part of my spiritual direction training has included learning what it means to offer trauma-informed and healing-centered care, and I have also received trauma-sensitivity training in other roles and jobs I’ve been in. As a survivor of abuse and trauma, I know from personal experience that discussing certain facets of oneself and one’s life can be difficult at times, including (and sometimes especially) in a spiritual context. I promise to move at the pace of those I meet with, to listen deeply without prying, and to be clear about the care I am (and am not) qualified to offer so participants know what to expect from me. Participants’ needs are central to the spiritual direction process, and I will work to help meet those needs to the best of my abilities (and I will let participants know where my capacities and credentials end so we can ensure proper support can be sought out elsewhere when necessary).
What logistical things should I know about this offering?
All 1:1 sessions I offer as part of my training are given freely, at no cost to the participant. Each session lasts 50 minutes and will occur once monthly over Zoom during the months of February, March, and April of 2022. My schedule is relatively flexible, which should ensure that gatherings occur at convenient times for those who are interested in this offering.
What does an individual spiritual direction session look like?
Spiritual direction sessions can look many different ways, but they usually include a centering moment at the start, a period of sharing and questioning that takes up the bulk of the time, and an intentional closing to signal the end of the gathering. Sessions are crafted based on the participant’s desires, spiritual background, and needs, so the finer details can look very different from one participant to the next. If a participant wishes to discuss specific topics on a given day they’re invited to bring these up, but that is not a requirement – the sacred often reveals itself even without our predetermined plans.
Is what I share with you during these free sessions confidential?
Yes, with some important caveats and exceptions. Confidentiality is a crucial part of a spiritual direction relationship and I take your privacy very seriously.
That said, given that these free sessions are being offered as part of a training program, I am required to reflect on my spiritual direction calls with supervisors in a way that maintains the anonymity of people I meet with. Specifically, I must write two verbatims of my spiritual direction calls so instructors can assess how I’m doing. A verbatim is essentially a script of a conversation that includes my reflections on how the conversation went, which I submit to my supervisors. Any verbatim written as a result of a call between us will not include identifying details about who I had the conversation with and will only be shared with program facilitators for the purpose of assessing my practice.
As part of my training and for accountability purposes, I also partake in group processing about my practice with fellow training program members, during which I may share anonymous elements of our conversations. Your identity will remain protected and anonymous even in such processing sessions.
Additionally, and perhaps most importantly: please understand that if you express serious intent or plans to harm yourself or someone else during a session, or if you disclose a situation in which a minor, elderly person, or dependent adult is currently suffering abuse, I cannot hold this in confidence and will do what I can to assist all parties in remaining safe or regaining safety. This may include reaching out to your emergency contact, connecting you with harm-reduction resources in your area, or reaching out to emergency response resources and human services in your state. Such outreach would be done with as much attention to honoring your agency as possible while also prioritizing safety and respecting mandated reporting guidelines.
If you have questions about any of this, please let me know and I will answer your questions.
What happens if I need to reschedule a session with you?
If you need to reschedule a session, please contact me as soon as you know of this so we can find another time to meet. This will help to ensure I am able to meet my graduation requirements in a timely manner and ensure you receive all the sessions you signed up for.
What if I decide I don’t want to pursue spiritual direction with you anymore?
If you no longer feel called to participate in spiritual direction with me for any reason, you can let me know of your decision at any time.
What if I become interested in continuing to meet with you for spiritual direction after this free offering has ended?
I would be happy to discuss that possibility with you at the end of our three free sessions!
A note on supervision and accountability
My primary instructor through the Still Harbor program is Nathan Bakken, who serves as my supervisor and is one of my accountability partners in this process. They can be contacted at email@example.com should that be necessary for any reason.
Other individuals and groups who help me maintain an ethical spiritual care practice by offering support and constructive feedback include my other Still Harbor instructors, Marchaé Grair and Enrique Cintrón; my Still Harbor classmates, with whom I engage in peer mentorship with; my spiritual director, who meets with me on a monthly basis; my therapist, who I see every week; and the various spiritual, political, and educational communities I belong to.
How can I get in touch to express my interest in this opportunity, or to ask further questions?
You are welcome to reach out to me through my personal email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to let me know of your questions or interest. If it would be helpful, I am happy to schedule a brief call over the phone or Zoom to discuss in further detail the possibility of meeting together over the next three months before we commit to that.