New skills and using silence in online spiritual direction - by Robin Hepburn

Posted on September 17th, 2020

As the pandemic has restricted all face-to-face meetings in recent months, many of us have been grappling with the use of new technology in meeting with directees during this time.

For most of us, the ministry of spiritual direction has previously been something we undertook in the presence of another, and like many of you, I’ve had to learn a new set of skills. Whilst there is a range of video-links available, FaceTime, Skype or Zoom, to name a few, there is also the old-fashioned telephone.

I have tried using all the above video systems for the purposes of a visual meeting, not always with success. One of the first and most common drawbacks is getting the technology to do what I want. Whilst I may be confident dealing with it, it also requires my directee, wherever they may be, to also have confidence in using it. If establishing a connection is the first hurdle, maintaining it is the second. The difficulty of a consistent internet connection means that too often a session is interrupted as one party freezes and the litany of ‘can you hear me’ begins. Too often this occurs at a sensitive point in our session. The other drawback is the distraction factor. I can find myself distracted by looking at the books on the shelf in my directee’s room, or by a stray email alert as something drops into my inbox. And if I am distracted I am sure my directee senses this and can often see it too, as my gaze wanders.

I have found having a simple phone conversation to be a better solution. First, as I am wholly reliant on what I am hearing, I have to focus my listening and to remember to use good listening skills of reflecting back, summarising, and allowing space (this requires practice). Second, the technology is common to us all and it doesn’t fail in the same way internet connections do. It helps if I remember to occasionally tell my directee if I am smiling at something they have said, or some other unspoken reaction. I also choose to suggest things, like pausing after our initial introductory conversation to light a candle, which I do in my space and suggest my directee may choose to do where they are.

I find it is really important to remember to use silence too but making sure I’ve signposted it, so that my directee does not think our phone connection has failed.

But whatever the technology, this is still a safe and sacred space in which we meet to share our onward spiritual journey.

Go well.

Robin Hepburn
Chair of trustees, London Centre for Spiritual Direction, and Spiritual Director

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