One of my mentors in this adventure called spiritual direction described three essential elements in the unfolding director-directee relationship: educator, accompanier, and witness (thank you, MM). I have continually focused on my responsibility to keep widening and deepening my knowledge base. Lately, I have been feeling the need to be a witness to my own process. How did I get here? Who have been the primary influencers? Patterns? Essential themes?

I keep in mind Teresa of Avila’s instruction that the bread of self-knowledge has to be eaten with every meal. Sometimes that bread is dry and hard but sometimes it tastes really good. Think chocolate croissants, crullers, dark rye, challah, French toast… nourishment, and sweetness.

I now have more insight into how so many seemingly disparate and unrelated thinkers and teachers in my life history really does constitute a wholeness. The essential factor is actual experience. The drive to understand my experiences has fueled the ongoing search: prayer, study, conversation, spiritual direction, and psychotherapy. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius provided important teachings about discernment.

Crucial elements along the journey:

From Ecstatic Confessions, The Heart of Mysticism, Collected and Introduced by Martin Buber. (The book contains his translations of some of the mystics that he read in his own seeking. He published it in 1909 when he was 31; I and Thou was published in 1923; he was 45.)

“These communications by human beings concerning an experience which they felt to be beyond the human realm have not been collected for the sake of either a definition or an evaluation, but rather because in them the power of the experience, the will to utter the ineffable, and the vox humana have created a memorable unity. Whatever bore witness to these elements, whatever bore the marks of the Word, seemed to me worthy of inclusion.”

An exciting moment for me was when I looked at the table of contents. I have read books and commentaries by and about many of the writers listed there. He went looking in the same places I went looking. 19 of the excerpts are from the writings of European women mystics.

I see in Buber, Levinas, and others (1) the elements that have comprised my journey—experiences, imagination, dialogue, justice, a profound interiority—and (2) my quest for others who could validate these while at the same time instructing me in discernment. Sometimes that instruction came from across centuries; across cultures; sometimes it came from clients, and sometimes from holy ones living up the street.