Going the final mile and the danger of self-direction

I wonder if I have a tendency to avoid going the extra mile when I start getting deep into my spiritual practice. I have been reading Henri Nouwen‘s The Genesee Diaryand he talks a lot about his meetings with his spiritual director, John Eudes. John was saying that when the normal distractions are gone – like attention, talking, normal relationships – we begin to focus on our base desires. Sex, food, sleep.

“In a sense, you fall apart, you regress, but it is also there that you become available for spiritual direction and can find a place for prayer and ascetical life. It is all a very sensitive thing. It can also lead to an egocentric preoccupation. You need guidance to prevent that.”

This is the last mile that I so often avoid. Turning the intensity outward to prayer and service rather that getting so preoccupied with self.

Nouwen also wrote earlier of what he was reading from the desert fathers.

Nothing is more harmful than self-direction, nothing more fatal… I never allowed myself to follow my thought without asking advice” (Instructions of Dorotheus of Gaza)

And this, too, is so poignant for our times. How often it is that we seek to find out own way, make our own decisions… “my spiritual journey is my own personal thing and I keep it to myself mostly.” My friends, as good as this sounds, it is not the way to move forward in the spiritual life. We must not separate ourselves from the saints, the fathers and the mothers, that have come before us, whatever religion they may be. They will always tell us of the need for a director, a spiritual companion, a confessor, a community.

One thought on “Going the final mile and the danger of self-direction

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful encouragement to realize and remember our very large “cloud of witnesses.”


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