You raise a very significant problem, DoM, to which there is no obvious answer. But I still think it’s worth saying that direction is the best first option that should be pursued by people in discernment, and saying this - or even saying it loudly, as Brother David and I have done on this thread - is not to imply it’s easy or even possible, just that it’s the preferred path to take.
My concern is that some of the threads in this forum seem to assume that sharing ideas is all that’s needed to help determine a course of action. (‘I think the xxxx sisters are great! Apply to join them!’). This might be helpful - I don’t want to place limits on Divine Providence - but it’s more likely to be confusing and inappropriate for the needs of someone known only as a username on an anonymous forum.
I think there’s a qualitative difference between making an undirected discernment by choice as opposed to making it by necessity because there are limited options available to you. Even spiritual direction at a distance or by someone of limited ability can sometimes be preferable to none at all. For myself I accepted direction for a year before making an application, and for the full 18 months of the application procedure. I would never have got through it without the help - and challenges - that I received from my director.
Perhaps you might consider direction from someone belonging to a non-habited institute? As we’ve discussed on these forums many times, not all religious are mandated or permitted to wear habits (canon law implies otherwise but actually refers the matter to the proper law of each institute). In and of itself religious garb does not grant particular skills in direction, nor does it actually tell you much about the wearer’s mindset, contrary to popular belief - some of the most conservative religious I know don’t wear the habit, and some of the habited religious I’ve met are actually very liberal in their ecclesiology and practice. You might be missing out on someone who’s very skilled but for sound reasons doesn’t wear a habit.
The priest who instructed me when I entered the church was perhaps the most orthodox tell-it-like-the church-teaches cleric I ever met, but he didn’t wear religious dress because of his personal austerity - he wore the same shirt and trousers every day, washing them nearly every evening as necessary! - and because he was a Jesuit, and they adapt to the culture in which they work rather than having a prescribed way of dressing. Similarly my first real exposure to Catholicism was through the Missionaries of Charity, whose female members wear the sari, not a traditionally styled habit, and whose male equivalents don’t wear any recognisable form of religious dress. And Mother Teresa didn’t raise no heretics.
I’m pretty sure you know all of that, and I’m not trying to patronise you here; I’m also trying to address the broader readership who might encounter this thread. Discernment is a long and often painful process, as you know from your own personal experience. I don’t think it’s wise to limit the available options for support without concrete (as opposed to aesthetic or binary) reasons. But of course it remains entirely your choice. :shrug:
Last point: some of the best spiritual directors I’ve encountered were secular people, neither religious or priests. Likewise there are courses in spiritual direction offered at some institutions, and students may be able to take on some clients under supervision. It pays to ask around and see who’s available. But perhaps these options aren’t available to you.
Best wishes and prayers to you and people seeking but not finding support in your discernment.