I want to share with you my personal story about how I came to discover spiritual companionship, and why I think it’s such a vital practice in our world.
I am someone who considers themselves to be on a spiritual path. As such, I have always been hungry for conversations with others who share this sense of spiritual journey. I am energized by big meaning-of-life questions. Here are some of mine: “Can God be experienced, rather than just read about?” “What is a mystical experience and can it be trusted?” “What do we do with suffering?” “What happens when we die?”
The thing is, it can be really difficult in our culture to find friends who want to go deep with one another into questions like these! Do you feel like there’s a friend whom you can unload your deepest longings? Your feelings of hope comingled with despair? I’m guessing you wouldn’t even know where to begin, or if you tried, your friends either thought you were annoying or you needed therapy.
I attended church all my childhood, and into my 30’s. What I heard in sermons and from pastors were mainly answers to questions. These answers can be comforting, but for me, they were unsatisfying. Eventually, I found I couldn’t listen to sermons anymore. Even when the things said were nice, they pointed to answers that I didn’t discover for myself. Or worse, they were platitudinal in nature and glossed over very complex and nuanced realities. With each sermon I felt more and more patronized, then annoyed, and eventually bored and frustrated. Frankly, I didn’t trust what I was hearing anymore. Nor could I tolerate anymore any spiritual community that excluded anybody in any way, shape or form, even indirectly. I never attended a church that said “we exclude you” but in so many ways via policy and denomination the exclusion became clear enough. So I quit church. It was a very difficult but ultimately very healthy decision for me
What I’ve discovered is that meeting with a guide, once a month or so, helps us live into our own questions. Guides, spiritual directors, or spiritual companions are committed to helping others get spiritually “unstuck”. And by sharing my own longings, by speaking them into being with someone trained to receive these speakings, I was opened to deeper truths within me. These truths, once opened, become easier to hear over time, until the Inner Truth is the one we hear the most. Our Inner Truth, which is connected to Universal Truth (call it God, Universal Intelligence, the Ground of All Being – names are many but the reality is the same), becomes a guiding light for us, reveals that the world is very, very good, and we have an important place and part to play in it.
I am convinced of the vitality and urgency of this work, so much so that I trained to become a listening guide myself. Spiritual companions are trained in deep listening, without judgement, to the questions and the sacred stories of all they encounter. Each time a story is shared, each time a big question is explored, each time a person is honored just as they are – a grand action of healing and awakening is occurring.
Imagine each of these listening acts, done each day in the work of spiritual companionship, multiplied by millions. Spiritual companionship can heal the world! I believe this to be true and my work is committed to bringing this healing modality to as many people as possible.
Whether you are a fellow spiritual traveler (as we all are), or work as a spiritual director, life coach, chaplain, or religious leader – the world needs your healing presence, and SDI needs your voice, energy, and support. Whomever you are, and wherever you are in your spiritual journey, there’s never been a better time to join our global family of spiritual companions.
I am inviting you today to try for yourself the experience of having a listening guide to help you on your journey. I can walk with you on your journey, wherever you are at, learn to discern your own Inner Truth, and find peace, equanimity, and joy. Let’s work together to find greater truth in yourself, and to bring healing to all we encounter.
Thank you for reading and for listening to my own story. And thank you for joining me on this grand journey together.
Matthew Whitney (he/his/him) is a multidisciplinary artist and educator rooted in the Pacific Northwest. He is currently the Creative Director for Spiritual Directors International (SDI), a non-profit member organization of over 6000 spiritual directors and spiritual companions. SDI seeks to cultivate the practices of deep listening and spiritual practices across all faith traditions and spiritual orientations. Matt hosts the SDI podcast, SDI Encounters, which engages in conversations around spiritual direction, contemplative practice, and spiritual care. He also works as a spiritual director and meditation facilitator and is certified by the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute and the Spiritual Paths Foundation. He has given presentations and facilitated group spiritual direction for the Center for Action and Contemplation and the Shift Network. Before joining SDI, he taught studio art and visual culture courses for Northwest University, Seattle Central College, and Seattle Pacific University. He is an avid backpacker and pedestrian, weaving between the spiritual practice of pilgrimage, and the concept of the French flâneur. He lives with his family in Seattle, Washington, USA, and acknowledges that his daily walks occur on the traditional land of Seattle’s first people – the Duwamish Tribe.
I also am a visual artist. View my online portfolio on art and walking.
For inquiries, please use the form below, or you can e-mail me at matt at matthewwhitney dot com.