The Spiritual Mentor
By Robert Brumet
This article (yet to be published) introduces the both the nature and the importance of Spiritual Direction in today’s world.
Life is difficult. With these words Scott Peck begins his classic book The Road Less Traveled. This title is taken from a line in a poem by Robert Frost. It often refers to the path followed by those who choose to live consciously and to find meaning in this life journey.
Wisdom teachers from many traditions remind us that the difficulties of life can be the raw materials from which our soul shapes its true destiny. In the East it is common for someone on the spiritual path to have a teacher or guru to guide him or her on the journey. In our Western do-it-yourself culture of independence we are wary of teachers and guides who purport to provide any wisdom for us.
Our path of supreme independence has served to break us free from the bonds of tradition and dogma, yet it has served us at a price. The price is that of chronic loneliness and isolation, so common in our culture. Our cultural myth is that of the lonely cowboy on horseback, blazing new trails, while conquering all obstacles and single-handedly carving out a new world for future generations. ¹
In most traditional cultures there are those who guide others in the ways of wisdom. These guides are often known as the elders, the wise ones. Much of their wisdom comes from their own life experience, often hard-won. Yet much also comes from tribal and cultural wisdom and tradition handed down from generation to generation.
In the West we have no elders, as such. Our senior citizens are seen as over-the-hill and irrelevant to the mainstream culture. We have religions and religious leaders who may offer some wisdom, but all too often are more interested in perpetuating dogma or promoting a particular point of view. There is an unfulfilled spiritual need in the Western psyche.
In the West more people are now recognizing the need for a spiritual guide, an elder brother or sister who can walk with us and shed some light on our journey. In certain religious traditions- particularly the contemplative traditions- we have had the function of spiritual director, one who guides us in prayer life and our spiritual awakening. Outside of the formal religious traditions there are a growing number of individuals who are functioning as spiritual mentors and spiritual counselors for those who are on a spiritual journey.
Historically, most counseling has fallen into one of two general categories. A counselor may be one who gives advice and suggestions in matters legal, financial, educational, or relating to health issues. A counselor may also refer to one who functions in the arena of psychotherapy. Certainly there is a broad spectrum of approaches within the area of psychotherapy but most mainstream therapies steer clear of spiritual matters. In psychotherapy the approach is primarily on working within the scope of an individual’s biographical history. Cognitive, emotive, and behavioral issues are typically the focus. Matters of spirituality and ultimate meaning may be acknowledged, but rarely are they the primary focus of the counseling sessions.
On the other hand, in recent decades there has risen a plethora of counseling which may be loosely referred to as New Age counseling. Astrologers, psychics, channellers, and diviners of all sorts are typically lumped into this category. While many people find these types of counselors to be helpful, they are generally not accepted as legitimate by either the psychotherapeutic or religious communities.²
There exists for many today a deep need for spiritual guidance that does not have the agenda of a religious institution and goes beyond the relatively narrow confines of mainstream psychotherapy. Perhaps this is why so many New Age approaches have gained popularity. What is needed today is an approach to counseling which includes the best wisdom and knowledge of all of forms of counseling from all traditions.
I believe that within the New Thought movement lies the potential for a form of ministry which is not at present clearly formed. I give it the working title of Spiritual Mentoring. While this certainly is not be within the exclusive purview of the New Thought movement, I believe that this movement is one which embraces the best of all the aforementioned philosophies and practices.
New Thought synthesizes religion, psychology, the sciences, and cross-cultural spiritual wisdom, with leading edge theories and modern discoveries. Within this framework, prayer does not have to be separate from psychotherapy; religion does not have to separate from science; modern knowledge does not have to be separate from ancient wisdom. The effective spiritual mentor draws upon the best of each of these and synthesizes them into a framework that is relevant for the person being mentored.
And, the New Thought mentor practices the essential precepts of effective counseling: Who you are being is more important than anything you say; and how much you care is more important than anything you know. Listening with deep empathy is your most important function. Seeing the divine within the other is the greatest gift that you can give.
¹Likewise the spiritual mythology of The Hero as described brilliantly by Joseph Campbell depicts the spiritual pioneer as one on a solitary journey discovering new worlds for self and others. The Hero image is a powerful one and a very appropriate one, yet it must be balanced by a very basic truth and that is we cannot become completely whole in isolation. This true because in truth we are not isolated beings, we are intrinsically connected in many ways.
² In addition to the New Age counseling we have traditional religious counseling, which typically condemns the New Age approach, often dismisses the need for psychotherapy, and sees the answers to anyone’s problems to lie within the teachings or dogma of the particular religious institution.