As many of us have begun to practice social distancing, and the venues that we may usually hire close their physical doors, you might have found yourself wondering how to continue your spiritual direction relationships.
When I first sought out a spiritual director, I was living overseas and could not find someone local who offered direction in English, so I went online. I found an experienced and wonderful director in the USA and we started meeting monthly. It continues to be a rich and deep relationship. I now offer direction online as well.
For those of you needing to start meeting your directees “virtually”, at least for a time, I offer the following tips and ideas that have worked for me.
1. Get the tech sorted.
This is of course crucial, but it is not as hard as you might think. You need a decent internet connection, and a device with an inbuilt mic and camera (which most tablets and laptops nowadays do). Avoid using your phone – the screen is simply too small.
There are also a multitude of video providers. Skype is well known. Zoom is very popular with directors who do this regularly, but you’ll need to pay a monthly subscription. A free and very simple alternative is the website whereby.com, which allows you to register a “room”. Send the link to your directee and you can “let them in” when your session begins!
My biggest advice is to test it on a friend before you connect with your directee – make sure the camera angle takes in your whole head and shoulders, and that they can hear you well. Set your device up so you are not holding it and can move and gesture freely during the session.
2. Set up your own space.
If you meet directees at home, you might have a good space already set up. But even in an online session, you are welcoming your directee into “your” space. Remove any clutter or overly personal items from behind you so they are not distracting. Make sure there is no background noise; it is also best to use a room with lots of soft furnishings that will absorb the echo, and ensure a better sound quality. Watch your lighting – you will need enough light in front of you for your directee to see you clearly! Turn off any notifications on the device you are using, so they don’t ping mid-session.
3. Prepare your directee.
Normally, a directee will travel to your meeting place, and that travel becomes an important time of preparation for the session. Invite your directee to set aside 20-30minutes before your online session to prepare themselves. Ask them to set up their own space to be ready – remove clutter and distractions, make sure their device is set up and notifications off, and have time to sit quietly before the session begins.
Once you begin the call, allow five minutes for the normal small talk there would be as you invited them into a physical space. If you have regular practices for opening the session together, consider how you can adapt these to do together, e.g. if you light a candle to begin, invite your directee to do so in their space as you do so in yours.
4. Consider the differences.
There are of course some downsides. You will not be able to see all of your directee’s body language, for example, and you may need to use more sounds in responding and listening than usual, so that your directee knows that you are with them and receiving everything they say. Be prepared for how you will respond if there is a technical issue, and how to bring the directee back into the flow of the conversation if that happens.
I often hear online Spiritual Direction talked about as a second-best option, and it’s ok if you look forward to being to meet in person with your directees again. But my experience is that it can offer some surprising benefits. There is something very intimate about being allowed into someone’s home space, and the directee can feel safer and consequently open up more. You also end up “sitting” closer than you ever would in a physical session! Although eye contact doesn’t happen in quite the same way, there is still a beautiful sense of closeness that can develop. The directee also has a safe space after the call, to immediately spend time in prayer or journaling in response to what has come up in the session.
Finally, don’t be anxious. God is equally present whether you are meeting together in a small room or looking at each other through two screens! Trust that God will use this time, perhaps even in ways you hadn’t expected.
And let us thank God for the gift of still being able to walk alongside people at this uncertain and challenging time.