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Contemplative Listening at the Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction

The heart of the program is contemplative, emphasizing the importance of spiritual study, discernment and prayer. Its focus is on the experience of a person’s relationship with God, and on fostering this relationship as the foundation of one’s life.

By Fr. Pat Grile, C.Ss.R., Hesychia School Director, and Peter Tran, Hesychia School Assistant Director

The Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction teaches a method of contemplative listening. Spiritual Direction is a special one-to-one relationship in which a trained person (spiritual director) assists another person striving to discern how God, A Higher Power, or the Spirit is working in his or her life.  A spiritual direction session encourages the directees to explore a deeper relationship with the spiritual dimensions of human existence by telling their sacred story. Often called spiritual companionship, spiritual direction is more about contemplative listening than providing “direction” in the sense of giving instructions, assignments, or direct advice. The director is not there to give advice or counsel. A spiritual director’s role is to listen and help one discern the ways the directees are being led to a deeper and richer life.

The ministry of spiritual direction is important, and the role of a spiritual companion and mentor is to respect, listen and share with another whose spiritual progress is worthy of the time that is necessary for preparation and training. Herein lies the mission of the Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction. The School is designed to train ministers, clergy, lay leaders and pastoral workers in the contemplative tradition of spiritual direction. It aims always to focus on contemplative listening—by learning the art of listening deeply with the ears of the heart. This is listening without asking questions, but merely observing and reflecting back what one hears.

The practice of spiritual direction is the focus of the practicum sessions. We begin the week of practicum with trainings in listening skills, and a class on the non-directive or “evocative” mode of spiritual direction. Contemplative listening is fundamental to our approach. During the Practicums the students are paired off and have 20-minute sessions where one is the director and the other is the directee. The director listens to the directee and aims to help the directee discern how God, A Higher Power, or the Spirit is working in his or her life. After the session there is time for reflection and feedback to see where there may have been “openings” for the directee to discern how God is in his or her life. Or perhaps there were “blocks” where the director was not listening closely enough to the concerns, desires and needs of the directee. Another important principle that Hesychia teaches is that God is the real director in the sessions. We use the term “The Third Chair” to illustrate this very important aspect of the evocative, non-directive method of Spiritual Direction.

Facilitators and presenters over the four weeks have given very inspirational and enlightening talks about many aspects of Spiritual Direction. Some of these topics have included:  Images in Spiritual Direction, Working with Trauma Victims, Discernment, Grief Work in Spiritual Direction, Contemplative Spiritual Direction, Code of Ethics, Boundary Awareness, Mind-Body-Spirit Connection, 12 Steps Spirituality, Spirituality of Different Religions, The Mystical and Apophatic Traditions, Inter-religious Spiritual Direction, Spiritual Direction with LGBTQ and marginalized persons, Self-care for the Spiritual director.

The heart of the program is contemplative, emphasizing the importance of spiritual study, discernment and prayer. Its focus is on the experience of a person’s relationship with God, and on fostering this relationship as the foundation of one’s life.