June 29 through July 1, 2018, I was an attendee and a presenter at Limmud Bay Area on the campus of Sonoma State University (CA), described as “a weekend of growth, learning, relaxation, and coming together as a [Jewish] community...".
When people ask me, "How was Limmud?" my immediate response is that there were so many ways to customize one’s agenda that inevitably there could be hundreds of unique responses to that question. (I must quickly add, that a generic response is that the weekend very capably met what I saw as its objective of creating a "pop-up" Jewish learning community.)
My personal response would have to be put in the context of my primary goal for the weekend—to help bring awareness, understanding, and an experience of spiritual direction to fellow Jews. I feel confident that, along with two of my spiritual direction colleagues—Wendie Bernstein Lash and Alissa Hirshfeld-Flores, I was successful in this endeavor.
Spiritual direction? What's that? Answering that question always seems to be a challenge because it demands creating a definition for something that is somewhat indefinable and engenders more unique responses than "How was Limmud?" The experience of spiritual direction varies greatly, and the words one is forced to use to describe it often mean different things to different people… When I began to respond to the question with a similar disclaimer, a fellow Limmudnik waved me off, asking for a "standing-on-one-leg" response. Fewer words may or may not provide more clarity, but my quick response was, "A spiritual director is like a personal trainer for your soul." Inexact as that metaphor may be, it seemed to satisfy her immediate curiosity sufficiently for her to sign up for one of the half-hour mini-sessions that we offered throughout the weekend.
Still struggling to provide a definition, I turn now to the words I received in emails from three of the people with whom I provided spiritual direction at Limmud. The following quotes would seem brazenly self-promotional, but for the fact that this really isn't about me. These are typical responses to the sacred process of spiritual direction. I highlighted one word in each quote that reflects a significant aspect of spiritual direction. Feel free to disregard the rest.
Ushering is another way of saying companioning. Both of these words much better reflect what spiritual directors do than does the word directing. We accompany people on their spiritual journeys—wherever they may be along that path. For some, even the word spiritual is problematic. They are looking for meaning and a deep connection in their lives without the use of that particular term (let alone the G-word!). They may find it in nature or the arts, in their relationships with loved ones and in acts of lovingkindness, in their dreams, or maybe just in moments of silence. Others, with or without belief in God, come to spiritual direction with specific problems, yearning for guidance. Whatever seekers may be seeking, it's typically easier for them to recognize what is true or sacred in their lives with the support of a companion with whom to share it. That's where compassion and holy listening come in. Spiritual directors are trained to listen deeply, without judgment, to occasionally hold up a mirror to the seeker or to ask a gentle question to aid in their discernment. The process takes many forms contoured to the specific circumstances of the seeker as well as the spiritual director. By creating a safe container for opening up to the divine flow, spiritual direction facilitates moments of personal revelation, helping one to live life as a spiritual journey.
By taking a taste of spiritual direction in the midst of the cloistered Limmud weekend, seekers (and perhaps the spiritual directors as well) were in an environment that may have especially enhanced their ability to open to divine wisdom. Most of them had specific issues for which they were seeking answers, and the answers readily came—less from the spiritual director than from the seekers themselves. What one brief taste of spiritual direction may not have revealed, however, is the power of the cumulative effect of exploring life's mysteries on an ongoing monthly basis—something readily available from spiritual directors virtually or in person.
It was a privilege and a blessing to engage in these holy conversations with others. Companioning a handful of Limmud attendees, even briefly, only reinforces my quest to bring awareness, understanding, and an experience of spiritual direction to everyone.