Still Listeningby Norvene Vest
This volume of essays by seasoned spiritual directors from a variety of faith traditions addresses issues of concern to directors today such as direction with: abused
Interest in the practice of spiritual direction has grown in recent years. With the increased number of people seeking direction have come a number of new issues confronting spiritual directors.
This volume of essays by seasoned spiritual directors from a variety of faith traditions addresses issues of concern to directors today such as direction with: abused persons, the poor, church drop-outs, and gays and lesbians. Other essays look at spiritual direction in new contexts, such as the congregational setting, the corporate arena, spiritual direction and generational issues, and direction at the turn of the century. The final section of the book addresses some specific circumstances: working with the addicted, with those who are dying, using art in spiritual direction, and direction and social justice.
Contributors include: Joseph D. Driskill (Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, CA); Juan Reed (Chicago, IL); Rich Rossiter (Oak Park, IL); Sandra Lommason (Davis, CA); Howard Rice (Santa Rosa, CA); Tom Cashman (Federal Way, WA); Steven Charleston, Episcopal Divinity School; Barry Woodbridge (Rancho Cucamonga, CA); Margaret Guenther (Washington, D.C.); Betsy Caprio Hedburg (Culver City, CA) and Kenneth Leech, (London), Janet Ruffing, and Norvene Vest.
The Spiritual Directors International Series – This book is part of a special series produced by Morehouse Publishing in cooperation with Spiritual Directors International (SDI), a global network of some 6,000 spiritual directors and members.
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Still listeningNew Horizons in Spiritual Direction
Church Publishing IncorporatedCopyright © 2000 Norvene Vest
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSpiritual Direction in the Corporate Environment
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The intent of this essay is not to offer a "how-to" process for doing spiritual direction in the corporate world. My hunch is that this environment is too complex and the directees too diverse for any general approach. What I share instead is how my ministry has developed in this area and how it continues to evolve. Ultimately, all any of us can share authentically is our own experience.
I question whether any of us ever sets out to do direction with a particular category of directee. Even if you are focused on doing direction a particular constituency, such as Roman Catholics or Presbyterians, the Holy Spirit often arranges otherwise. So we may be surprised to find ourselves journeying with clergy, or with gay and lesbian directees. Perhaps we are called to work with persons on the edge of the church, with only a toe or two still within it—not at all what we had in mind when we began to exercise this charism and calling. But if you are already working with corporate directees or are on the edge of this ministry, then perhaps my reflections will be helpful.
Some definition of "spiritual direction in the corporate environment" is important so that we are clear on the context.
To do this requires me to recap how and why I came to the ministry of spiritual direction. In 1983, people in my own congregation began coming to me informally for direction and spiritual companioning. I simply accepted this as a natural dynamic of parish life until my own director of that time, an Episcopal priest, Jack Gorsuch, told me of a program that he and several colleagues had started, the Pacific Northwest Spiritual Direction Training Program. He felt I had a charism for this work and, with his encouragement, I emerged two years later as a certificated spiritual director. In 1992 I went back to school for a B.S. in applied behavioral science, specializing in consulting and leadership. The degree gave me skills and some internal permission to leave the Fortune 500 company in which I had worked for nine years, and to begin to combine consulting, corporate coaching, and spiritual direction. One of my research projects for this degree led me to design a model for facilitating clergy-support groups. My work with two of these groups brought me into contact with a broad spectrum of clergy, and I found my direction practice gradually shifting to include an increasing number of clergy. It had simply never occurred to me that clergy might choose to work with a lay director.
By 1995, seven of my directees were clergy from a variety of denominational backgrounds. But I had met a few newer directees through consulting and organizational development. There was interest growing in some managers with whom I had connected in my corporate coaching work.
Just as my spiritual direction practice with clergy was a surprise development, that corporate managers sought to journey with me was unanticipated. The process by which this typically happened is worth explaining. Frequently I found myself coaching clients who sought discernment around spiritual issues and values. With awareness that I was making a shift in our work together, I would ask questions that touched on the clients' spiritual values and that sometimes evoked awareness of God moving in their lives within the corporate milieu. Similarly, I found myself bringing coaching dynamics into spiritual-direction sessions, often with clergy. When I mirrored segments of the narrative back to the one being coached or in direction, the person often was able to see the issue clearly for the first time. Next, questions, discussion, and/or suggestions helped the client develop alternatives and strategies for working with the issue.
These episodes greatly increased my awareness of the potential for overlap between the two disciplines and of the importance of understanding the differences. I needed to be aware what mode I was in at any given moment. I began to tell my directees and clients when I was making a shift from spiritual direction to coaching, or vice versa. It seemed important as well for them to be aware of my modus operandi, so they could hear and respond in an appropriate way. It was at this time through word of mouth that corporate managers began to come to me for spiritual direction. Over the last two years clients have asked to work with me in a mix of both spiritual direction and coaching.
Avenues into Spiritual Direction in the Corporate World
Let's look at the ways corporate managers come to seek spiritual direction. The entrée sometimes comes when a client in coaching or consulting is unexpectedly affected by a life crisis that colors everything he or she is doing. Divorce, death of a colleague, or serious health challenge shifts perspective on the relative importance of work, career, family, personal goals, and a relationship with God. The window for discussion of spiritual direction opens. Often I would make referrals; some would ask me to work with them.
These events are not very different from the "trigger" issues for most new directees. But some crises specific to the corporate journey can open the typical successful manager, executive, or CEO to the need for a companion on the spiritual journey. Sometimes downsizing suddenly leaves the middle manager expendable in the new organizational chart. Sometimes acquisition by another company radically shifts a manager's role. She finds herself needing new skills and often feels disoriented and unsure of her own identity in this new constellation. Quite often the trigger is nothing less than success. A personal goal is achieved. Through the individual's vision and efforts the company moves into a new market successfully, or radically shifts the focus of its services. It is the corporate equivalent of winning the World Series, or running the four-minute mile. But the executive may find the moment of triumph hollow and without the sense of achievement he or she had imagined. In the sadness, in the postpartum depression that sets in, God calls. A yearning surfaces for the Transcendent, for the real, for that which is not transitory. In that moment, events can be seen from a numinous perspective that looks beyond the goals and yearnings provided so relentlessly by our culture and media. The need to know what is real, true, and ultimately important asserts itself. A window opens for a relationship of spiritual direction to begin.
Spiritual direction with clergy is perhaps a chapter for another book at another time. The task is quite different, yet similar in some respects, to work with corporate directees. There are some parallels that make the practice useful to mention. Both clergy and senior corporate managers feel the weight of the responsibility they carry. Both are highly motivated, capable professionals who expect much from their professional and personal lives. Often the spiritual journey is only slightly more conscious for clergy than for corporate executives. Clergy often have a strongly inculturated expectation that they are to be more "spiritual" than they find themselves in actual practice. They expect their prayer life to be more developed, more intense, and more intentional. They expect a more direct sense of contact with God through their spiritual practice. They expect themselves to receive significant and inspirational material for their sermons and counsels. Spiritual dryness for clergy is difficult to own and acknowledge.
By contrast, the executives with whom I have worked are somewhat astonished when our consultations take us into spiritual areas. Our culture tends to categorize persons as spiritual or as practical, pragmatic, professional types. Of course, we are all some mixture of those qualities. When a CEO first discovers that he has a functional spiritual gear on his psychic transmission it can be an amazing revelation. Often I work with a directee in "backtracking" over the significant events of life, opening the possibility of seeing God at work in and through those events. Then I may probe gently for some shape to the individual's worldview. What internal model of "how the world works" does this person carry? Where is God in that schematic? What God-image does this person carry through life? How might that image relate to parents and to family of origin?
Next we would explore the directee's prayer life. What prayer practice exists? What image of God is present in prayer? To which person of the Trinity does the directee pray? With what expectations is the prayer offered? Does the directee have any sense of prayer ever being answered? Does the directee have any sense that prayer is even heard?
Some individuals are unable to begin with these fairly traditional starting points for the journey of spiritual direction. For a variety of reasons, they may be blocked from directly addressing God in prayer, or even from consideration of God in their worldview and values. At the same time, there is still a yearning for God, for the Transcendent that seems to be in the very next room, but without a door for access. With these persons, nearly always men, I use a values-clarification exercise as our first work. With a set of eighty to one hundred value cards, I ask the new directee to select the fifteen most significant values. These are thoughtfully reduced to eight values. He is invited to reflect over time on their relative importance, and we discuss the process. Seldom have any of these executives previously come to grips with their core values. I talk them through the rationale behind the selection of each value, using each as an example of the executive's strong spiritual core that is being uncovered.
At this time, there may be flashes of insight. One executive burst out, "Good God! No wonder I fight with my staff over the shareholder reports. We are working from diametrically opposed values about what the shareholders are entitled to." Almost always this process is one of great affirmation. Almost always the directee is grateful and amazed to find that significant spiritual values undergird not only his relationship to family and friends, but also the action and direction of his professional life. The stereotype of life being compartmentalized into sacred and secular comes under examination. My premise that God is present in all aspects of life, that all is holy, all is sacred, and all is suitable material for the direction process may be difficult for these directees initially. Only after months of reflection and dialogue does this premise begin to resonate with the experience of the directee.
Major Issues with Corporate Directees
Other issues surface with corporate directees that are similar to, yet different from, issues for lay directees with whom I have journeyed.
Preference for doing rather than being. While this is a cultural pattern for all of us twenty-first-century, white, urban, affluent Americans, it is far more pronounced in the corporate culture, where productivity is paramount and workaholism is endemic. High activity is not only important as a way of maintaining corporate image, but also bolsters one's own sense of worth. Perhaps only clergy receive more positive reinforcement for their dysfunctional workaholic tendencies than do corporate managers. When this fact comes to a directee's consciousness, I suggest that he or she begin to remember (or imagine, if necessary) what "being" time is or was like. Once that image is clear, preferably from that person's experience, they need to accept that this time is actual, valuable spiritual practice. The next step might be carving out time in the directee's personal schedule for regular "being" time. Last, and perhaps most difficult, is for the directee truly to own this practice as equal to the "doing" time that commandeers so much of our professional and private life. The ultimate gift may well become the rich experience of God speaking in or through "being" time in unexpected and significant ways.
Exploring one's prayer life. Even the term "prayer life" will often seem incongruous to new directees. Sometimes it's useful to help the new directee discover that he or she has an internal life that is as vital as the external life, and that prayer is part of that. Often it helps to characterize prayer as a conversation in which the directee takes responsibility for one side of the conversation. The response is received in various voices, tones, and movements; in the voices of others through whom God touches one's life; in and through events; sometimes through dreams and flashes of intuition that carry a numinous quality. Testing and interpreting the response is, of course, necessary and raises the topic of discernment.
Another aspect of prayer-life development is exposure to various prayer styles and practices. For new directees I suggest an exploration of contemplative practice, Franciscan, Celtic, and lectio divina. This step reminds me of a wine tasting, as it is highly individualistic and filled with the potential of significant discovery. There is delight when a directee finds a style of prayer that fits her personality. Too often in our liturgies and personal prayer traditions we have encouraged the individual to try to fit themselves to the given prayer, rather than attempting to fit the prayer to themselves.
Some directees are more comfortable with a diagnostic/prescriptive approach to prayer alternatives. If the directee's Myers-Briggs type is known, I use the excellent book, Prayer and Temperament, by Chester Michael and Marie Norrissey. The book's descriptions of each typology's spirituality and suggestions for prayer exercises to match each type are invaluable. If the MBTI is unknown or has never been determined, I use the Gregorc Style Delineator, which is quick and easy to administer. With results in hand, it is fairly simple to refer the directee to one of the four major approaches to prayer that Prayer and Temperament spells out.
Discernment. Dimensions of nuance and modality affect spiritual discernment in the corporate environment. Managers and executives exercise a kind of discernment constantly in their corporate roles. Decisions based on "running the numbers" are easy compared to decisions that involve many intangible factors. For example, a decision on how best to use people in building a project team is a classic example of right-brain function and creative discernment. This creative process is also at work in sensing how people are best motivated and rewarded within that team, and adjusting team process accordingly. The ethos or "feeling" of a team within a company, indeed, of the entire organization, is becoming a significant concern for corporate leadership. But being aware of team "feeling" demands subjective discernment rather than the process one might use in engineering. Technology fails to help us much when the data are "soft" and subjective. When working with clients with backgrounds predominantly in engineering, discernment at first can be a difficult leap in style. During one session with a manufacturing-process engineer, I casually used the term "hunch." That word galvanized him and the conversation that followed. Engineers, especially those who work in theoretical areas, are very familiar with the hunch or intuitive leap that often leads to a breakthrough, to new solutions. Asking the directee to "think about where that hunch comes from" takes us quickly into the spiritual arena in a nonthreatening way.
How spiritual discernment resembles what directees presently do, and how it is different, is often important bridging work. Integrating prayer, especially contemplative prayer and experiential spiritual practice, into the discernment process flows naturally out of that dialogue. Awareness that the directee is accessing and in some way "partnering" with the Holy Spirit in the discernment process may take a little longer. Sometimes a group-discernment episode in the corporate life of the directee has helped shape understanding. Remembering how the "new thought," whether God, Spirit, intuitive flash, hunch, or inspiration—however the directee best understands the idea at this point—changed the process and led toward discernment is always useful. Remembering what freed the group to get to that state may help. Ultimately, the goal is to enable the directee to engage in focused discernment with some assistance from the director.
Challenge of discovering God in all aspects of life. As a culture, Americans tend to compartmentalize life: This is sacred, that is secular. This is holy, that is profane. Because of my activity with Celtic Christian spirituality, I often refer to the worldview of Celtic times. All was holy. Everything was sacred because all came from the hand of the Creator. And so the Celtic Christians had prayers for all activities of daily life—churning the butter, carding the wool, driving the cattle to the upper pasture, and rowing the boat. There were even prayers for the daily routines of bathing and using the backhouse (outhouse). We can find a similar worldview in most Native American cultures, and in virtually all aboriginal peoples worldwide. It is only as we have become an urban people, a people of technology, distanced from the land, that we have lost this worldview. The sacred has become "other" and now needs to be sought with difficulty.
The corporate manager may need both encouragement and much "mirroring" from his director to begin to see God's presence and touch in professional events. Occasionally he will hear a significant message through the offhand or casual remark of a colleague. You can help your directee "unpack" that remark, to separate it from the person and the professional relationship and then to hear it as possible sacred content. "What struck you about this remark? Why does it seem significant in a professional (yet also spiritual) context? Or perhaps it is important for you in your personal life? Considering the content of the message, whose voice are you hearing? Are you hearing the voice of a particular person of the Trinity? Or is it a patron saint? Is it perhaps a guardian angel?"
Excerpted from Still listening Copyright © 2000 by Norvene Vest. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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