Distinctions between Spiritual Direction and Integral Coaching
Traditionally in the Christian contemplative lineage, spiritual direction has been the method of developmental support and, mostly in our present time, continues to be the predominant model of contemplative support. Throughout the ages, countless Christian contemplative souls have been enormously helped and supported by gifted spiritual directors. It has been said that St. John of the Cross was the ultimate spiritual director, and while I firmly believe this legend, given the spiritual genius he embodied, I am more concerned with what happens after psychospiritual support has come to an end.
Although there is tremendous, stylistic variability in spiritual directing as in most helping professions, my impression is that there exists an imbalance of power in the spiritual directing relationship — a contemplative “expert” and a spiritually confused directee. Essentially, the spiritual director interprets the contemplative picture and “directs” the directee into more clarity, depth, understanding, and right action. Consequently, a spiritual director “leads” and the directee “follows,” in hopes of stabilizing the directee’s spiritual state with a higher perspective.
Indeed, there is an indisputable place for spiritual direction in the Christian contemplative tradition, but it’s not the only way Christian contemplatives can develop in a supportive, relational container. Spiritual coaching, or more specifically, Integral Coaching, is a transformative paradigm of developmental support that is founded upon a balance of relational power — two human beings relating and encountering each other on various levels of authentic, human contact. True to the term “integral,” the integral coach includes the client’s whole self in the coaching relationship: 1) Interior experience of subjectivity: thoughts, feelings, emotions, interpretations, memories, perceptions, and sensations — the “I” experience 2) The collective world of relationships, ways of relating, culture, values, and politics 3) The diverse experiences and phenomena of the physical body; the impact of exterior “space” and “place” on the body 4) The experience of ourselves in nature, technology, systems, and government.
An integral coaching methodology is essential as no part of our human nature is excluded or repressed. Sometimes the “spiritual” nature of spiritual direction can inadvertently deprive the client of the space to explore other aspects of themselves like sexuality and gender expression, which add to the fullness of one’s Christian contemplative life. Anyone deeply familiar with the history of Christian contemplative practice can attest to its shadow or repressed elements as well as its wisdom and transformations of consciousness. Integral coaching embraces the whole of human nature, which is ultimately the Christian contemplative’s destiny in the world. While many believe the contemplative journey is about becoming more divine, I’m persuaded it’s more about becoming more fully human and, through the flowering of our humanity, unifying our human potential with the incarnate divinity that we already are and continue to become more richly by faith. Our humanity co-creates with divinity through evolution as we move toward our glorious end in Christ.
Hence, the power of integral coaching does not consist in “directing” or “leading” the client, rather integral coaching provides creative inquiries, practices, and dynamic feedback to profoundly shift the client’s Way of Being. In metaphorical terms, the integral coach and the client are submerged in a spiral dance of the soul. By Way of Being, I refer to the way or mode in which we experience existence, whether the contemplative’s way of being is a swirling confusion that doubts everything or the embodiment of mystical faith that moves into illuminative clarity. In either situation, the integral coach’s way of being is rooted in a rich, nonjudgmental, attentive presence that lovingly holds the client’s entire subjective world as we descend into new narratives of being that unlock contemplative potential.