Soul Listening

February 21st, 2010 by gary.vollbracht

Fifteen years ago or so, and years before I was called to Pathwork as my spiritual path, I was drawn to a quote.  It was in an issue of the Weavings magazine.  I copied the quote, made a framed plaque of it, and it hung in my home office.  It followed me to my business office at Tourmaline Life Center in 2004. A few weeks ago when I was looking for it I was surprised that when I moved from my business two years ago the quote got packed up.  But its called remained, so  last week I dug it out of our storage shed and returned it to its proper place in my home office where it belongs.

“To ‘listen’ another’s soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another,” a quote from Quaker Douglas Steer.  All I can say to this is YES, YES, YES! Steer’s words capture what is most alive in my heart!  Consciously and unconsciously this quote has guided me my entire life.  It is my Calling.

I am aware that I answer this Call in at least three ways. First is a way that was for a long time unconscious to me. I was simply not aware that I was doing it, and further was not doing it systematically or with any firm commitment or rigor.  In fact I would have said it was wrong and against my values. But eventually I came to see and accept this first way of answering this Calling as central to my life. I was listening my own soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery!

How could I think this inward listening was wrong for so long? Easy.  I was taught and had come to believe that my soul was that poor miserable sinner that I had confessed each week in church for most of the decades of my life.  I would say that I came into this life with this inclination, this predisposition, and it was solidified and reinforced by church dogma. “Gary, your soul is sinful, fallen from grace, untrustworthy as a compass for your life!” This I did not question, and therefore came to look outside myself for my compass. Most noticeable I turned to the bible, or rather to my church’s interpretation of the bible.  This is what I “trusted.”

But inwardly I did not buy what I confessed outwardly.  I did not trust it, at least not fully and blindly.  Something in me said, “Now Gary, what are you doing here?  You are giving a lot of authority to your church, your parents, and others in authority in spiritual matters.  Please listen deeply to your inner sense of Truth.” In short, I was resisting individuation. Resisting finding my own way, resisting going on my own Grail journey.

When I got to Pathwork, my true inner truth was awakened. Pathwork lecture after Pathwork lecture flamed into fire this inner Knowing of following my own compass, my own sense of truth.  This did not mean my truth was “right,” but it was my truth in that now. And as I was informed by others, by life experience, by my inner intuition, I sometimes noticed my inner resonance with this source, my new “Yes,” my new awakening or birth. And as a result, my inner truth changed and continues to change, is refined, matured.

I am not clinging to my truth, defending it, fearful that it may be “off.” For it is “off.” How could it be otherwise — I am, after all, human, not God.  But being “off” is not a problem as long as I accept that I am “off,” and am willing to change.  Yes, this truth of mine is not fixated, unchangeable, and rigid, but dynamic, fluid, changing, maturing. It is an awakening unfolding truth I would say.

My sense is that my truth is joining, or rather is one-with, the great underground river of The Truth.  I can trust the Cosmos, my inner universe, and God to guide me into this River of Life that flows deep within my soul.  And that flows within all souls, for here it seems to me that we are all connected, all part of the One. Yes, I have come to listen my soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery. This may be almost the greatest service that this human being Gary ever performs for this human being Gary.  And when appropriate, these soul disclosures and discoveries are shared, as in this blog.

The second venue in which this soul listening happens is with friends and family members. And it is a two-way street. I listen another’s soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery as he or she listens my soul into this same condition of disclosure and discovery.  A mutuality of brotherhood comes into existence in this deep listening process.

Too often I have not been conscious of this dynamic in my many conversations with others, either in one-to-one dyads or in small groups.  Or I have become fearful of disclosing anything too deep of my soul, anything “too me,” fearful of my soul’s being rejected or mocked or proven wrong.  Fearful of my little inner truth having to change, grow up, and mature.

But over time I have become more conscious of this dynamic, more courageous to share what is alive in me now, less fearful of being proven wrong or the fool, and most importantly, open to changing and growing.  When I do not have to be “right” I can give up fearing being “wrong.”  Just listen deeply to the truth arising between or among us.  Ever changing, ever deepening, ever unfolding, ever enlivening.

A third place where this soul listening happens is when I am in a life coaching, accompanying stance with another who comes to me specifically to have his or her soul listened into a condition of disclosure and discovery, though he or she would not likely express why they come to me quite this way, or yet be aware of this process.

This listening another’s soul, I now see, is my Work. This is a role, a Calling, I find alive in me.  It is a humbling role, because to fulfill it “I” have to get out of the way. “I” with its preconceived “insights” and “wisdom,” its need to appear “brilliant,” has to be asked to leave so that the true I can simply be a listener to what wants to happen in this soul whose journey I am accompanying.

In Pathwork this role has a title, it is called being a “helper.”  I do not like this language. It suggests that “I” am somehow the energy, the “brilliance,” that is “helping” the other.  I am more comfortable using the word “companioning,” for this is what I do in this “helper” role.  So in this role I am a spiritual or life companion. And my Work in this capacity is soul listening.

Of course there is a problem in this softer language in that it does not fit the cultural norms.  To get paid for my Work, I have to do something more active, like “help,” or “counsel,” or “coach,” or “direct.” But here I must stick by my truth.  I am not a “helper,” a “counselor,” a “spiritual director,” or “life coach.”  Rather, I claim my Work as that of being a fellow human Called to be a Spiritual Companion, a soul listener.  This is my Call, this is my Work.

I am at peace in this companioning role.  And I am at peace with those who are helpers, counselors, spiritual directors, or life coaches.  For it is only semantics.  In these roles by any other name, when we do them well, above all we listen another’s soul into this condition of disclosure and discovery.  This, it seems, is what the world is hungry for, and what we can do for each other –for ourselves, our friends and family members; and if so Called, for those who seek us out as soul listeners.

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Living Beyond the Maps

February 19th, 2010 by gary.vollbracht

How do I live beyond the maps of life?  As I dive into various modalities and various paths, I begin with maps.  What concepts do these paths provide?  What experiences? I may try to follow them, as I have with Pathwork for ten years and a more traditional Christianity the many years before that.  I can ask whether or not the maps make sense, could they work for me?  If they might work, I will likely throw myself into the work.

But now I am faced with opening the doors to things beyond maps.  There are many many examples, but let me take just one.  Pat and I have a friend who is a whirling dervish.  That ceremonial dancing takes one into a state of experiencing death, Pat and I are told, and who you are before this “death” experience is radically different from who you are afterwards.  So what do I make of that?   And there are hundreds of these modalities beyond my comprehension or experience.

I am deeply engaged in our Pathwork community just now in working on curricula for our five-year transformation program, a program which is followed by five-years of training for helpership. Ten years of work in all.  And supposedly we grow in stages of consciousness through all this — in one model from personal, to inter-personal, to trans-personal, to unitive or impersonal stages.  One’s sense of identity, sense of who one is, changes through these stages, changes radically.  One’s life purpose changes through these stages, changes radically. In the final stage, the unitive impersonal stage, we enter a NO-SELF stage of consciousness.  A “No-I” stage.

One does not enter such a program in order to grow into a “No-I” stage.  Who would want to! Yet those ahead of me on the path have discovered bliss in this “No-I” stage.  Well “bliss” is too limiting a term, for in the mapless stage there are no words to describe one’s experiences.

From this perspective it seems meaningless to talk about being a Christian, a Buddhist, a Pathworker, a follower of any particular path.  All of these paths suggest movement and growth.  All of them have maps. But in the land beyond maps all is experience. Experience of Being.

As I said, I am serving on the Pathwork Council of my local Pathwork community.  This council is responsible for the Pathwork School at Sevenoaks.  While responsible for curricula, I am now in this awkward position of having no idea how a set of Pathwork program curricula can be constructed that comprehends, even facilitates, “arriving” at a mapless state. It seems the curricula of our programs must comprehend this maplessness. They must constantly fan the flames of each unique participant’s soul in that particular soul’s stage of consciousness. Teaching concepts I guess is important, as is some level of emotional processing I guess, provided we realize these activities and concepts are the scaffolding for the soul that will be torn down when the building, the “NO-I” building, is complete.

I am not dismayed but rather inspired by the task of building non-curricula curricula for the various Pathwork programs in my role on the Pathwork Council and now the Transformation Curriculum Committee. But I do feel an overwhelm that this is a task well beyond my grasp to fulfill.

This goes way beyond questions like, “should the Pathwork Transformation program be four years or five years.”  It seems the Transformation program should be as long as it needs to be for each unique student.

And on some level we are all students, perhaps forever; so I am again taken back to the idea of what “Pathwork” is, if it is anything in form, is a church, a safe place where people at all levels, including the unitive impersonal level, grow and share every day of their lives.

A church is not the form we are in now, yet I find some energy in this vision.  It seems to answer a need I have for community and purpose. And my own continued growth and development.  Arriving “they” say, at the “No-Gary” stage some day — outside of time, of course.  Am I crazy yet?  I smile.

It seems all I can do is stay faithful to what feeds me now.  If I do not yet relate to the higher stages of consciousness, I am not helped by “trying harder.”  Yet I have to do my work. The result comes from Grace, but Grace does not happen out of the blue, though it does happen spontaneously.

Just be with all of this Gary.  These seem like the right questions just now. Or non-questions. Whatever is beyond questions.

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Bringing Presence to My To-Do List

February 15th, 2010 by gary.vollbracht

During meditation this morning there arose a curiosity about what the day would bring. This was in contrast to being caught up in what I would accomplish or want to accomplish in this day.  True, I have my computerized calendar with its running to-do list, but can I relate to this list differently?  Can I not define my being by what I check off my to-do list this day?  Of course it is a both-and, but can I be more aware of the arising in each moment?

Morning coffee with Pat, rich with conversation, though the specifics escape me.  Glad I do not have to write down everything into my journal during these times.  This morning I wrote down nothing at all, but still know it was a rich time.  Progress in Presence.

Snow.  Lots of snow, so I had to shovel our driveway so I could get to the gym.  There I could exercise while taking in Pathwork Lecture 133 Love Not  Commandment… With the snow, my calendar cleared off things involving going out for both today and tomorrow.

Working with my computer consultant on a new newsletter I hope to get out this week was a delight.  More presence in how this could look, including the decision to add the photo of an Ohio Spiderwort wildflower to one of the pages. He helped make this choice. I reviewed all this with Pat, and she reflected that my first newsletter was clear and simple — just wanting to see who was interested in what.

Got a 21-page response to questions I had posed to our founding Pathworkers at Sevenoaks. Very rich response. I was deeply touched by the care and Spirit that went into this response.  It seems to be something we can build from.  Will take some time to dive into it, but I’m encouraged and see that I thrill at the engagement.  Email exchange with my daughter in Iowa.  Good to hear how she spent Valentine’s Day and another snow day with her four boys.

Decided to set up a conference call for our MAP Helper community.  Felt good to reopen this channel of communication, even if only a few of us can be on this first call of 2010.  Interesting paper from a Pathworker who serves China business people. A beautiful stroganoff dinner of leftovers from Valentine’s Day dinner, and again at our dining room table by candlelight.  Pat and I delighted in this time together.

Initiated a phone call with a Pathwork Helper from California.  Great conversation on how we work with the challenges in our respective regions, punctuated with statements about how much we love this work.  Arranged to do this again.

Now relaxing with Pat, snow continues.  A very satisfying day.  Rich in its variety and depth.

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Ever Deepening Spontaneous Epiphanies

February 14th, 2010 by gary.vollbracht

I was touched by Charles’ reply to my previous post.  Yes, the faith journey of the soul consists of an ever deepening series of spontaneous epiphanies. They come unexpected, seemingly unconnected to one’s work on the path of self-purification, and yet are a direct or indirect response to one’s deep work.  Each one takes me the journeyer deeper into the mystery of Life. Places beyond words.  Places the mystics and saints of old have traveled before me.

As Charles said, experiencing these spontaneous epiphanies increases one’s faith. With each epiphany I am no longer the same person.  I am a new creation. Once more, perhaps, “born again.” I am not clutching as much to the “safety” of the shore but rather surrendered to the deep magical Mystery of the Stream of Life. The Stream within.  Less and less can be spoken of in words, and yet the profoundness of the experience of life deepens. And life, my life, unfolds, joining the lives of all others in the unfolding Plan of Salvation, all by the grace of God.

I delight in splashing around in these new waters. The freedom is palpable, and brings with it the Joy of Living.  To this experience I choose to say YES to Life, YES to God.

These longed for but unexpected moments of grace become the visible stepping stones of my life.  And I see that many of them go by unrecognized.  What a pity. They are so packed with the energy of life, so full of Grace.  I pray that I may I be open to experiencing all of life this way — a series of ever-deepening spontaneous epiphanies.  Because in truth, this is what Life is!  Thanks, Charles, for helping me to see this more deeply.

And as Charles points out, these epiphanies come with the hurdles and pains of life as well.  And sometimes the hurdles and pains are needed for our growth, but again I know I have not always recognized the hurdles or pains on the path to greater maturity as necessary to get my attention or wake me up. Rather I saw them as problems to solve or deficiencies to fix.  No, Gary, just live into them and see what growth they offer as they resolve.

And what are your epiphanies, and hurdles, of your faith journey thus far?  I’d love to hear about them. Perhaps we can encourage and inspire each other.  Reminds me of a favorite quote by Douglas Steer: “To ‘listen’ another’s soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another.”  Think of a community where we do that for each other.  As Pat says, a place where we sit like two monkeys side-by-side picking out each other’s nits.

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Loving God

February 13th, 2010 by gary.vollbracht

In the wee hours of Thursday morning I awoke with a startling awareness.  It was all about loving God. I was drawn to the title of Pathwork Lecture 133 Love: Not a Commandment, But Spontaneous Soul Movement of the Inner Self. Realizing the truth that loving God is an inherent natural quality of my inner self, my higher self, my God-self, somehow brought a great relief to my soul. It meant I could stop trying to love God out of a sense of duty, or feeling guilty for not loving God. When I am true to my True Self, I love God. In my True Essence I love God. The True Gary loves God. I was created with love for God as part of my being, part of my Essential Nature. This nature did not go away in the Fall.

This truth was a profound awakening in me. I just need to pause and take this in.  I say it is so new to me, new even though these words have been familiar to me for many years now from this and other Pathwork lectures. Apparently I just didn’t get it until this moment.  I was not prepared to get it until this moment.  This is a big deal, to say the least.

Why did I not get this truth until now? The reasons are manifold.  Of course deep in my Lutheran roots this idea seemed to me to be anathema.  Me, love God in my Essential Being?  No way, the church dogma would say.  ”You are a poor miserable sinner, all your righteousness is as filthy rags.  You need to claim the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ as your ticket to heaven.  His death paid for your sin.”  All pretty firm.  So this core belief system had to be challenged.  Not a little deal for someone with my character structure.  And I realize part of my impure nature coming in bought into this story and clung to in.   Somehow my time in this lifetime is to break out of this belief system, and for that I needed the strong dogma of the Lutheran church to give me something to break out of.  Probably would not have happened if I were born into a more liberal setting.  So, “Thank you, conservative Lutheran Church.”

Second, my being separate from God was an essential message of my Christian upbringing. And again fit what I came into this life believing on some level.  The dogma just reinforced it.  There was God.  There was me. Dualism.  Only Jesus Christ could connect us.

Actually, it now seems to me that only Jesus Christ could show us that we are already connected to God, even one-with God.  As Jesus modeled, “The Father and I are One.” Of course instead of taking this oneness with God as a model for all of us humans, the Church interpreted this as Jesus claiming to be unique in his humanness yet one with God — uniquely true God and true Man — the hypostatic union of the Nicene Creed.  Jesus Christ, true God, true man, uniquely the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

There are thousands of words on the nature of Jesus Christ, God, and us human beings in the million words of the Pathwork lectures.  So I find it challenging to summarize all this in any meaningful way.  Of course this is complicated, too, by limited human capacity to understand the Grand Mystery of the Cosmos.   And I do not feel a need to attempt intellectual concepts to explain that which is beyond explanation. I am just Knowing on some level the marvelous truth that in my purified state, my essential nature is to love God.

Purification, ah, that word. Of course this I resist as well.  The word purification even triggers me. Always has.  I am caught in my human pride that says I need to be already pure, not in a long process of purification. But I find these days I am increasingly comfortable being just where I am, God-Self in my Essence, yet in my human nature contaminated with negative traits and even negative intentions.  Pathwork would invite me to consider the possibility that I am in this earth experience precisely to discover and work on correcting these negativities and negative intentions. If I did not have these negativities and negative intentions, I would not have been incarnated into this life on Planet Earth in the first place.  This invitation of Pathwork all resonates with some deep part in me and gives me a sense of purpose for my life: to wake up to my True Nature, my God-self, AND purify those parts of me that hold that I am separate from God and all the negativities and negative intentions I use as strategies to survive, even thrive, in my state of separation from God. Of course “thriving” while insisting I am separate from God is not possible, and so, by grace, I eventually turn around and get with the program of what the Pathwork Lectures call the Plan of Salvation.

Another of my blocks to my fundamental nature of loving God is my collection of God images, who I think God is, the construction of God in my thought patterns and emotions.  Who is God for me?  The ultimate authority, who happens to be stern, mean, punishing, demanding.  In my images I have no thought that serving God is serving my own best interest, serving my own happiness.  No.   In my image of God I somehow think God has no interest in my happiness. I think I know better what makes me happy!   I need to do life my way to really be happy. All lies, of course, but all images I have in my psyche.  No wonder I block loving God–I believe loving God means being unhappy!

The entire idea that God shows his love by sending Jesus to suffer and die for my sins also does not resonate with me as being true.  Righteousness demands punishment? I am more on the Gandhi page of, “An eye for an eye, and the whole world goes blind.”  How does punishment accomplish anything constructive?  No, purification is what constructively deals with our negativities and faults, evil if you please.   Punishment accomplishes nothing constructive with the exception of making a person think twice before committing a crime.

Another realization came in all of this.  Loving Jesus Christ is part of my Essential Nature. A shocking and amazing truth for me!   And loving Pat, and all human beings — all part of my Essential being.  And loving and accepting myself, yes, that, too, is part of my essential being.  How miraculous.  This realization that in my essential nature I love is the Gospel, the Good News, indeed! I feel the Grace of God in all of this.   Amazing Grace, once again.

I’m curious.  How does this all strike you?

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Many Paths, One Path

February 11th, 2010 by gary.vollbracht

I am struck by all the spiritual paths available these days.  How does one choose a path to follow? In recent weeks I have been quite stimulated by various deep conversations with people from a variety of spiritual paths.  I spoke to Greg who found his way to the Diamond Approach, a program founded by A. H. Almaas. Greg is training to become a teacher or minister in this program.  He helped to organize an active local group where members support each other in meditation and inquiry. It was a stimulating engagement for me.

Then several weeks later I spoke with Jeanne, a person who found meaning in A Course in Miracles. She pulled up roots and spent five years working at the Foundation for A Course In Miracles with one of the organizations founders Ken Wabnick. Grounded in this transformative experience, Jeanne now co-leads a local group.  She is passionate about The Course.  A most inspiring conversation on how she found and follows this path.

And of course there are countless other groups: numerous 12-step groups; consciousness groups connected with folks like Eckhart Tolle, Adayashanti, and Leonard Jacobson; Enneagram groups, Landmark Forum, Mankind Project, and on and on.  My brother Paul is served by his Lutheran Church, and inspired by Christian Schwarz’s work in Natural Church Development, especially Schwarz’s most recent material on the many styles of spirituality.

There is Ken Wilber and all of the Integral Institute work mapping out states of consciousness and paths to awakening, and then encouraging the formation of support groups for personal and spiritual development.  Akin to this is the EnlightenNext establishment and its founder and leader Andrew Cohen.  And of course there is the entire world of therapy, counseling, spiritual directing, and life coaching. And the endless list of self-help authors and programs around the world.

And as I have shared, Pat is involved deeply in Awakening Into Presence, a derivative of Tibetan Buddhism.  Both of us are involved with a woman Faye who leads a powerful Ira-Progoff-type program on journal writing as a means of personal and spiritual growth. And I do body work with my Hakomi therapist to help ground my spiritual and personal development work in my body.

And each of these paths, be they Pathwork, A Course In Miracles, a 12-step program, even a therapy practice, is not monolithic.  Each usually has a number of subgroups or splinter groups or just differences because each group of people is different.  And often this brings conflict and distraction.  But this seeming chaos is all part of what is in the organic unfoldment of our lives on this planet.

And as I pause here, I wonder what has been so captivating for me in Pathwork.   For I have been exposed to many other paths before and after and so far have come back to my home in Pathwork.  I’ll put a bookmark here for a future posting.

In a recent conversation with other Pathworkers we shared pieces of our respective journeys to Pathwork.  I was amazed by the diversity, each path unique and dynamic.  Some come by way of therapy, others by one of the various forms of 12-step programs, others by discovering a Pathwork book that spoke to them, others by meeting and talking with those in the Pathwork program.

Each path unique! I am reminded of the Pathwork sentences in Lecture 68: “…one’s personal spirituality is an eminently private affair.  The maximum growth of one human being may be based on entirely different spiritual factors and ways of life and expression than the maximum growth of another person.” Amen.

Or another quote found by Patty, a Pathwork friend of mine, “As a bee seeks nectar from all kind of flowers, seek teachings everywhere. Like a deer that finds a quiet place to graze, seek seclusion to digest all that you have gathered. Like a madman beyond all limits, go wherever you please and live like a lion completely free of all fear.” – an Ancient Tibetan text.

The key words in this second quote for me are SEEK and DIGEST and FREE. Seeking opens me to find whatever might resonate with my soul.  Digesting means I commit to really living what I find that resonates with me. I am not taking a survey course of all spiritual paths on the planet, but rather diving deeply into a path that really works for me. And free means freedom from fears wherever they show up, important for me since much of my life has been limited by fear.  Fear has kept me from looking at so many things that could help me.

So while there are many paths out there, each perhaps a key for the locks of a particular set of souls, I am grateful that I have found my one path, the key to unlock my soul.

And by my one path I do not mean Pathwork. No!  My path has included a variety of components, each appropriate for a given segment of my life.  And even now, while grounded in Pathwork, I am helped by bleed-over from Pat’s AIP program, Faye’s Ira Progoff-type journaling, and my many conversations with my many friends from many directions.

So in the end my one path is an intricate and unique composite of many pieces.  The goal, after all, is not to know the path itself as one would study to know a map, but rather engage the territory called Life, fully using and living the path, my path, the map, my map.  Living each moment of life is the goal.  We are not going anywhere.  Just growing, perhaps awakening, perhaps being purified. Perhaps growing toward God, whatever that might mean.  But all of this would be another post, another time. OK, many more posts!

And with this, I’ll end.  But know that I’d sincerely like to learn about your path, however such an exchange could come about.

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