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center for non-religious spirituality 

Spiritual Direction Training Course
1. Introduction

The CNRS Spiritual Direction Training Course​ ​is designed to equip men and women to offer spiritual guidance and support to those who seek to cultivate a meaningful spirituality outside traditional religious frameworks.


There are two terms that are common descriptors of the non-religious community. The first is "nones," which are those who do not identify with any religion. The term comes from what is typically the last choice on questions about religious affiliation - "none of the above." There is also the SBNR distinction - "spiritual but not religious." These are people who are generally disinterested in traditional religious structures and seeking a more authentic and personal spirituality. Many people today are interested in exploring spirituality outside the framework of organized religion and theism belief system.


There are also a growing number of people who seek support and counsel as a result of suffering spiritual abuse or being damaged through their involvement in fundamentalist and toxic religion. Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) is the term most commonly used in the mental health field to identify this. A significant part of my work over the years has been counseling people in recovering from the harms of religion and cultivating a meaningful spirituality outside the religious framework.


As a Chaplain with the American Humanist Association, I encounter many people who embrace ethics, compassionate living and spirituality but do not hold any belief in the supernatural. Because "spiritual direction" is often associated with religious ministry and particularly the Christian tradition, many of these people would assume that spiritual direction is not applicable or relevant to them. The Center for Non-Religious Spirituality exists to provide resources, programs, and training in non-religious spiritual direction. 

2. What is Non-Religious Spiritual Direction?

Non-Religious ​SPIRITUAL​ Direction


The term “spiritual” is understood in many different ways and from diverse perspectives. Spirituality relates to our personal desire to establish a felt relationship with the deepest meanings, powers, longings, and dynamics that infuse our lived human experience. It includes the universal human desire to become fully what we are and realize our highest potentialities and possibilities. There is also a transcendent aspect to the spiritual, a sense that we belong to and participate in an ultimate reality that is greater than our individual selves. Spirituality may be a deep sense of aliveness and interconnectedness. The outcome of a spiritual process or experience is often described as transformative, awakening, unitive, metamorphic, and liberating.


Whether a person subscribes to a particular religious tradition or belief-system about God, identifies with a non-religious or secular outlook on life such as atheism or humanism, or someone who would consider themselves “spiritual but not religious”, the spiritual component of the human journey is meaningful, consequential and accessible to every person.


There are many beneficial pathways for cultivating a meaningful spirituality and an evolving spiritual journey. Religion contains many symbols, stories, rituals, wisdom, and experiences that meaningfully connect people with the spiritual dimension within themselves and the world. There are many different spiritual practices people find meaningful such as meditation, mindfulness, self-examination, yoga, bodywork, simplicity, time in nature, self-acceptance, study, soul friendship, and activism.


Philosophy offers a wide landscape of perspectives and viewpoints that speak to the deepest questions about human existence, life’s meaning, and our place in the universe. Psychology provides insight and tools for the inner work and process of becoming a healthy, whole, integrated, liberated, and fully-developed human person.


The sciences provide a foundation of knowledge for understanding the dynamics, structure, laws, processes, and behavior of the physical, material, and natural world and universe. The arts are a vehicle of creative self-expression across a wide spectrum of outlets including literature, performing arts, and visual arts.


The lived human experience has a deeply meaningful spiritual dimension. A person may or may not find that organized religion is a worthwhile pathway for cultivating their spiritual interests. One does not need a religious tradition, defined belief system, or organized religious community in order to fully cultivate, access, and actualize the spiritual part of who they are.


Non-Religious Spiritual ​DIRECTION


The term “direction” is often misunderstood. People often equate a person who is “directing” as someone who is controlling or dictating a process. The definition of a “director” is one who is “in charge of an activity, department or organization.” In spiritual direction, however, the term “direction” is meant to convey guidance, assistance, companionship, and support, which is offered by the spiritual director to another person or group of people who seek to deepen their experience of life and spiritual journey. ​Spiritual Direction (SD) is the practice of being with people as they seek to deepen their relationship with the transcendent or to learn and grow in their own personal spirituality.


There is a spectrum of mental health and personal development roles that make significant contributions to one's personal growth, health, and well-being, which include: therapist, pastoral counselor, life coach, personal mentor, or spiritual teacher.  

It’s important to distinguish what Spiritual Direction isn’t.


  • SD is not coaching. The goal of coaching is to identify and reach one’s specific goals, whereas Spiritual Direction is about discerning, cultivating, and embodying one’s life purpose.

  • SD is not mentoring, which is showing or modeling the steps, practices or process to be emulated by another. Spiritual Direction is accompanying another person as they listen to their innermost being, authentic self, or highest truth.  

  • SD is not teaching, which involves imparting knowledge from a source of information external to the student. Spiritual Direction uncovers the knowledge that is already present within the individual.

  • SD is not therapy, ​a form of treatment aimed at relieving emotional distress and mental health problems. ​Spiritual Direction explores the meaning of one’s life and suffering and supports one’s journey toward wholeness, self-actualization, and relationship to the sacred or transcendent.

Metaphors for Spiritual Direction: 

  • Midwifery – the art and skill of assisting another human being in the birth, emergence, or opening of new spiritual life.

  • Anam Cara – soul friendship and companionship that nurtures and holds a space where a person feels safe, seen, accepted, validated, and free to explore their life journey, inner world, and soul.

  • Sherpa – a skilled and experienced individual in soul work who assists, supports and guides another in their spiritual journey and soul expedition.

Some definitions and descriptions of spiritual direction are:


“Spiritual direction is the process of accompanying people on a spiritual journey.”

“Spiritual direction explores a deeper relationship with the spiritual aspect of being human.” 

“Spiritual direction is the contemplative practice of helping another person or group to awaken to the mystery called God in all of life, and to respond to that discovery in a growing relationship of freedom and commitment.”


“Spiritual direction is essentially companioning someone in his or her spiritual life. Other ways of describing spiritual direction include holy listening, spiritual friendship, sacred journeying.”


“Spiritual direction is being present in the moment, seeing and honoring the sacred mystery of the soul of another. It is witnessing this mystery and reflecting it back in word, prayer, thought, presence, and action.” 

NON-RELIGIOUS​ Spiritual Direction 

People who identify as “spiritual but not religious” hold much looser and unorthodox ideas about God, spiritual practices and religion, and diverge from traditional viewpoints. They ​do not regard organized religion as the sole or most valuable means of furthering spiritual growth.


Spirituality exists wherever we struggle with the issues of how our lives fit into the greater scheme of things. We encounter spiritual issues every time we wonder where the universe comes from, why we are here, or what happens when we die. We also become spiritual when we become moved by values such as beauty, love, or creativity that seem to reveal a meaning or power beyond our visible world. An idea or practice is “spiritual” when it reveals our personal desire to establish a felt relationship with the deepest meanings or powers governing life. People contact the Center for Non-Religious Spirituality for a range of reasons including:


  • Seeking a more meaningful and liberating spirituality

  • Experiencing a spiritual crisis or crisis of faith

  • Searching for answers to life’s existential questions such as the meaning and purpose of life

  • Interested in exploring faith and spirituality beyond the boundaries of their religious background or tradition

  • Wanting to identify and address the root cause of their unhappiness, discontent, and lack of peace in life

  • Aware of needing to cultivate a different kind of relationship with themselves through self-discovery, self-acceptance, self-compassion, self-trust, self-confidence, and self-reliance

  • Needing to unshackle themselves from toxic religious beliefs

  • Wanting to break through self-sabotaging inner dialogue and self-imposed limitations that are holding them back in life

  • Interested in exploring a non-religious spiritual path or secular philosophy for life

  • Desiring new tools and practices for soul work and spiritual growth such as meditation and dream work


3. Commitments and practices of a Spiritual Director


Though each Spiritual Director develops his or her own unique approach, there are common skills, characteristics, and commitments that are integral to the life and work of a Spiritual Director, including: 


  • Actively engages their own inner work and spiritual journey

  • Maintains regular spiritual direction for self

  • Receives supervision by peers and teachers—and is responsible for her or his work through that direct supervision

  • Devoted to lifelong learning, including the study of various faith or wisdom traditions and orientations, as well as other relevant areas of knowledge such as philosophy, psychology, and the natural sciences

  • Follows universal ethical guidelines, summarized as “Do no harm”

  • Shows respect for the agency of directees—that is, the capacity of individuals to act independently and make their own free choices

  • Honors confidentiality of directees in accordance with the Guidelines for Ethical Conduct

  • Inspires others to explore and embrace trustworthiness, vulnerability, openness, courage, and integrity

  • Practices deep listening and nurturing spaces of safety, acceptance, validation, empathy, vulnerability, and authenticity where directees feel seen, understood, valued, and supported

4. CNRS Spiritual Director Training Overview

CNRS Spiritual Director Training components:

●    Cohort group of 4-6 people who journey through the training experience as peers

●    Individual Training Sessions

●    Cohort group sessions

●    Individual and group assignments, projects, verbatims, and investigations

●    Three 6-month modules

➔    Module One: Exploring Non-religious Spirituality


  • Non-Theist Spirituality (Eastern Spirituality, Western Philosophy, Humanism, Interspirituality

  • Jungian Psychology (Individuation, Shadow Work, Archetypes, Conscious/Unconscious, Persona)

  • Religious Trauma Syndrome (Deconversion, Deconstruction, Reconstruction)

➔    Module Two: Developing Tools for Non-Religious Spiritual Direction

  • Creating Hospitality

  • Body Work

  • Active Imagination

  • Critical Thinking

  • Spiritual Experiences

  • Inner Work Investigation

➔    Module Three: Building a Spiritual Direction Practice

  • Establishing a spiritual direction philosophy and process

  • Individual and Group Spiritual Direction

  • Online / Zoom Spiritual Direction

  • Guidelines for Ethical Conduct

  • Supervision

The spiritual direction training program requires approximately 4-6 hours weekly. Each individual who completes the training receives a certificate of completion from the Center for Non-Religious Spirituality.


Center for Non-Religious Spirituality 

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