A Holotropic Breathwork Experience

January 31st, 2011 by gary.vollbracht

On Saturday Pat and I attended our second Holotropic Breathwork experience with two Grof Holotropic Breathwork facilitators who work in Lexington, KY, Andreas Schmitz PhD and Regina Forster MD. We went to a meeting the night before where Andreas and Regina led the class of breathers through some of the work of Stanislav and Christina Grof regarding Holotropic Breathwork. The previous session had been positive for both Pat and me, and so we looked forward to this one as well.

The Saturday workshop consisted of two 3-hour breath sessions in pairs, with one witnessing and one breathing. One breathed in the AM and one in the afternoon. Pat’s time was in the morning, as I witnessed her. My time was in the afternoon, as she witnessed me.

What did I experience this time?

First was a process discovery. I have done other forms of breathwork many times. I had always thought that my “flailing about” during the breathwork meant “good breathwork session.” But Saturday I found this was not correct, again for me in this particular session. At other times the flailing about might arise, but this time it wasn’t until my flailing about ended that I settled into a deep space of altered consciousness.

In that deeper space here is what I experienced. About an hour and a half into the session (a guess on my part, for time disappears) I felt my heart being healed, it seemed literally so.  It swelled, it warmed. It was beautiful. Uncontrollable tears of joy filled my eyes. Then I felt an intensification of my embodiment, my incarnation. I was really embodied.

From there I moved on to experience the healing of my relationship with my family of origin as they circled around me on the”other side,” it seemed. It was beautiful. This was followed by a time when I found myself in a deep void, facing away from some center, facing a deep darkness. Sacred. Then suddenly there were children all around and finally I had a sense of profound oneness.

I knew the session was over, though the full three hours had not elapsed. I was complete. And I felt a pain arising in my shoulder hinting at what might come next. But it did not seem the time.  I stopped. Afterwards we each drew mandalas representing out experience and then, before ending, joined in a group and shared experiences. It had been a good day.

I notice today, the day after, that my body feels healthier, more alive in some way.  It seemed important to share this experience as it relates to my path. Pat and I shall likely do this quarterly for a while.

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Love in Leadership

January 31st, 2011 by gary.vollbracht

I got myself somewhat worked up going into a meeting of Pathwork helpers and leaders I was to facilitate on Sunday evening.  It was billed as a Sevenoaks Town Hall meeting for the 26 members of the helper community sponsored by the Board and Pathwork Council with parts facilitated by me and parts led by Kent, Chairman of our Board of Trustees. It kept my entire Sunday on edge.

The meeting seemed to go well enough, though only nine of our twenty-six helpers participated. The “check in” where everyone shared where he or her was in Pathwork and in leadership turned out to be the longest part of the meeting, and was facilitated by me. Afterwards Kent gave an overview of the Board governance structure, priorities, and strategic framework. He followed this up in writing.

I thought what he wrote was beautifully done. I emailed him, “This seems very well done to me. Kent, thanks for your tireless and skillful leadership. Love, Gary”

He responded with, “I think you did a masterful job in facilitating tonight, drawing people out, acknowledging key points, and creating what turned out to be an astonishingly beautiful sharing by each person. We didn’t even need the last part, but I hope and pray that Helpers were open and receptive to my brief sharing at the end. Given that most of us are truly beloved colleagues who have spent time as fellow teachers in CB down preparing for and debriefing PTP weekends, and many of us have become beloved friends, this felt more like a reunion than a convention. But having the spark of connection and ongoing sharing is so vitally important. Your stewardship was magical tonight.”

Kent’s words gave me cause to pause. As I did I was warmed, not that he was talking favorably about my facilitation role but rather by his sharing what was important to him. I responded back with, “Thanks much, Kent. That you value what seemed to happen all by itself tonight means a lot to me, my friend. In what you say here in your email to me I can see in you one who truly longs for more intimate sharing, connection, friendship and love among us. I sometimes forget. And I sometimes forget these values myself. And in myself. In missing these values I miss the key aspect of why we do all of this — for the sake of Love, for the sake of God. Love, Gary”

I went on to add a PS:  “On a practical level, in the midst of conflict I frequently find myself using an excerpt from Pathwork Lecture 203. I also frame this in a teaching Moira Shaw, my helper, gave me during one of my sessions nearly two years ago.  I find I am trying to use these to frame some of our upcoming meetings this week.  Here they are if you are interested (I think you already use them in practice, but just in case you may be interested)”

Excerpt from L203

Notes from Helper session on L203

As I sit with all this I see a beautiful friendship unfolding between Kent and me. I can also smile. While his comments toward me are positive and fairly lengthy, I realize I could never get enough praise and positive comments. Here the child in me steps in with its insatiable appetite for praise, insatiable because it is still rooted in dualistic consciousness rather than non-dual consciousness. Seeing this, and letting it go, feels like growth.  As I’ve said before, Sevenoaks is my Teacher! And I am grateful, both for my teacher and for my friendship with Kent and others. It was a good evening!


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Sevenoaks, My Teacher

January 15th, 2011 by gary.vollbracht

I began this morning’s coffee time with Pat with the statement, “Sevenoaks is perplexing to me.”  With Sevenoaks I experience connection and growth, but also anger, overwhelm, frustration, confusion, the pain of not knowing, even hopelessness at times. Pat queried, “Is it Sevenoaks or your relationship with Sevenoaks that is perplexing?” “Both, one feeds the other.”

Last Monday my Pathwork friend Jenny got me onto Pathwork Lecture 162 Three Levels of Reality for Inner Guidance. It was one I had not recorded, maybe had not even read, but I instantly got into it and was moved deeply by it. This lecture speaks of three levels of reality. After beginning with 0) Pre-reality, it adds the three realities of 1) what I think exists, 2) what actually exists, and 3) what could exist. I realized that my comments opening my coffee time with Pat this morning, expressing my exasperation with Sevenoaks, meant I was mostly in the state of 0) Pre-reality. I did not know specifically what I thought or felt with regard to Sevenoaks, only vaguely and generally.  This awareness of being at a stage of pre-reality is a good self-realization, a good starting point.

Pat was led to a quote from her path, “If your life isn’t palpably changing, you are in pattern.” That mapped into ¶40 from L162, “The way you can gauge whether you have arrived at what you ought to know about yourself at the moment is the only reliable gauge there is: Do you have the feeling of utter relief and liberation, of being energized and light? If so, you can be absolutely sure that you have attained, at this moment, the level of self-knowledge that you ought to have. When this feeling is missing, you can be quite sure that many answers are still outstanding and that you need to find them. You need to ask yourself the appropriate questions.” Clearly, I must have some questions to ask of myself regarding Sevenoaks and my role in it. Questions about ME, not about Sevenoaks and others in leadership.

Pat felt compelled to offer another bit of wisdom from her program, “The wise King does not carry the biggest sword, but rules in a way that the sword is not needed.” She held out hope for me in my role of leadership with her next words, “You are very good at asking the right questions. And even though you don’t see it, your heart is right there so that others can see what needs to be seen.”

Pat then offered words from The Four Agreements, the first agreement being “Be impeccable in your word.” You are an Enneagram THREE, holding the virtue of Veracity. Be very careful about what you say. Your word manifests not only by the speaking but by the energy and force that goes with it. Your words can be used for the good or for the bad.”

We, the Sevenoaks leadership are planning a leadership retreat for April.  I was thinking, “Boy, we should build our retreat around Pathwork Lecture 162.” This would be powerful, I believe. Where is each of us in the fog of pre-reality – where we are not even truly aware of what we think exists regarding Sevenoaks? Where is each of us in what we think exists regarding Sevenoaks and our various roles in it? Together, can we discern what actually exists? And from there can we explore, even experience, what is possible to exist? How exciting such a leadership retreat could be, I could feel my energy for this.

But my pattern is to jump into action. “Oh, why don’t I send Lecture 162 out to all the leadership! — Right NOW!” But I can see that this approach could be all wrong. Perhaps I need to apply this lecture to myself before throwing it over the wall for others. Perhaps this is a time to lead by example, not by using my sword to get others to read and apply this lecture to their lives. Can I first try coming out of my own fog, navigating through my own process of finding the three levels of reality for inner guidance?

Pat continued, “You have an obligation to complete this task.  You are on the Council. You are on the Board. Your teachers have arrived: Sevenoaks and your various roles in Sevenoaks, these are your teachers! Your prayers for growth have been answered! Just when I was thinking about resigning because it is all just too much, Pat suggests that resignation would be saying no to my teachers. It seems that resigning is not an option.

Wow! Quite a morning of coffee time. In all of this I began with my perplexity and unsettlement with Sevenoaks. I saw how that pointed to something that has to be discovered in me, that Sevenoaks was actually called in by the Cosmos to be my teacher. That Lecture 162 was delivered just in time for me to use it — for me, just in time for school!

Even in this awareness I experience the fog lifting somewhat. I feel relief when I realize I do not have to fix Sevenoaks or offer herculean effort. Rather, I just have to be me.  When I can do that, Lecture 162 would suggest, anything is possible!

So on with my work: Get out of the fog. What do I think exists? What do I feel? Is this really true? What actually does exist? … What could be possible.

Oh, one other point. About in the middle of our coffee dialog Pat suggested, “The King needs a confidant, one with whom the King can mull things over. This confidant cannot be from your peers. Who could it be? Your helper? But she is not available all the time.” The question remained open. Later in the morning I got what is so obvious. In the kitchen I said, “Pat, I know who my confidant is with whom I can mull things over.” Pat was pleased. “So who is that?” “You, my dear!” After the shock wore off she said, “Why of course.”  Amen.

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Identity: Role, Activity, Love

January 15th, 2011 by gary.vollbracht

Three of us colleagues have met monthly now for over 12 years.  We have seen a lot of each other’s life in these times of challenge, growth, and even transformation.  Our most recent meeting, this past Thursday, was particularly special for me, and it seemed for them as well. The three: Isabelle, Jean, and I.

We covered a lot of ground in our two-and-a-half-hour gathering at Panera — running a half-an-hour over our scheduled time without any of us even noticing. Toward the end of our conversation I talked about inquiring inside to see what motivates me to spend so much time involved with Sevenoaks Pathwork Center. As an Enneagram THREE, I spoke about perhaps identifying with the various roles I was playing in leadership and teaching at Sevenoaks. Jean listened reflectively during my sharing, and then asked, “Gary, do you identify with roles or with the activities you do in those roles?”

Quite insightful and helpful.  In point of fact I do not identify so much with the roles or titles, but with the activities that go with them. Involvement in leadership in the Pathwork School allows me to explore and help guide how we are called to offer Pathwork in the context of all the spiritual programs available these days. I get to work with organization of workshops, development of curricula, and interaction with peers who are also passionate about such matters. And my role in Sevenoaks finance work taps into my passion for organization and clarity of numbers and what they mean. Yes, these activities are what I identify with and enjoy. And, again as a THREE, I am driven, sometimes compulsively so, to stay productive in these activities that I so enjoy. I am aware how my life can get out of balance this way. Yes, Jean had opened a beautiful clarifying insight for me. I expressed my appreciation.

Isabelle listened quietly to Jean’s and my conversation and then shared her experience, “It is a real pleasure to watch you two engage with each other.  Gary, you receive Jean’s wisdom for your life as if he were a father figure for you.” While Jean seemed happy in being seen as the wise father in this dyad, and I felt a twinge of pain in being seen as the “needy” kid, I could appreciate Isabelle’s observation. Of course “needy kid” is my phrase, not Isabelle’s, and is just that part of me that is growing up. I can smile as I watch this process within and without on all fronts.

But there was more.  Isabelle went on to say, “And Gary, you offer Jean so much love from your heart.” This took my breath away.  Could this be true? She went on to say that she sees this love in my engagement with Jean when we three are together and, when Jean is not there, how I speak of him with her.  Jean nodded in agreement and smiled with appreciation.

Isabelle then asked, “Gary, how do you feel?” “Vulnerable, a little shaky, maybe even afraid.” We talked a bit more before ending our time together. I was aware of how special this experience was for me.  Yes, I am aware that my passion is tied up with activities and productivity. I see my creativity coming out in these. But can I open to the love that I hold for others, and perhaps for myself? The Heart space is also part of being a THREE, I acknowledge. Can I allow myself to experience this core part of me?

Sharing this experience with Pat the next morning at coffee brought tears to both of our eyes. Just sit with this, Gary. And remember the biblical phrase from 1 Corinthians 13: “The greatest of these is love.”

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Entering Overwhelm

January 5th, 2011 by gary.vollbracht

As I reenter my life after my New Year’s workshop experience, especially in reentering my organizational life in Sevenoaks and Pathwork, I find myself in a state of overwhelm.  In the past two days of dealing with finances, accounting, fundraising, all the matters of the Pathwork Council — including planning, forecasting, and marketing workshops, deciding the direction of Pathwork within the school, considering various policies and procedures, working with a diverse group of strong personalities on a wide range of interests, and the like, quickly drowns me in matters that feel so important and yet defy my capacity of cognitive logical thinking for supplying the leadership I feel responsible to provide. Yes, overwhelm is a good word for this.

Last night I sent out a complex agenda for an upcoming Pathwork Council meeting. But this in itself, instead of grounding me with a rational framework, led me to see the complexity of our issues.  What to do? How to lead? These are my questions.

During morning coffee time, as I shared my sense of things and my overwhelm, Pat responded that her sense of what was needed here was a combination of strength and flexibility — the ability to flow with what is, to be aware of what is and of what wants to happen. No room for forcing my own agenda or even my own vision. Just bring my felt-sense as my inner beingness meets my environment.

My first response to this awareness was to confess my overwhelm and reach out for help. And this I have now done — arranging to speak to most of the Pathwork Council members one-on-one before we meet on Thursday morning.  As I envision these conversations, I feel a peace coming upon me.

But I am also aware that my entry into the EmbodyBeing program mentioned in my previous blog provides perhaps an even more solid grounding, a grounding from within, from my body wisdom, my inner core. I am reminded of words from Pathwork Lecture 69 that suggest that my inner wisdom sees ahead more clearly than my rational mind, and this inner Knowing leads me to seek out the spiritual resources needed to support what is coming up on the journey in front of me. This seems almost literally true as I reflect on the juxtaposition of all on my plate as I enter 2011 and having just entered Mary Stokes’ EmbodyBeing program.

I find myself more settled, aligned, and at peace. I find my faith strengthened. I find myself grateful.

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Holding A New Inner Space for 2011

January 4th, 2011 by gary.vollbracht

I was blessed, along with seven others, to participate in a five-day meditation workshop over the New Year’s holiday.  It was the first of three five-day workshops scheduled as part of a 10-month program for this year and was titled EmbodyBeing. This 10-month program is being led by Mary Stokes, who for a number of years was my Pathwork Helper. The five-day workshop slowed me down and helped my “mud to settle.” I was not aware of to what degree my mud had settled until I returned home and picked up the reins of my life.

My challenge now, entering 2011, is clear: holding on to the felt sense of living I dropped into during the workshop.  I was so glad that in the day following the workshop, a day filled with catching up, I had awareness of this felt sense of living slipping through my fingers and noticed that with awareness I could bring some consciousness to what was taking me away from how I want to live my life as experienced during the workshop.

During this morning’s coffee-time sharing, Pat and I explored my struggle, a struggle she also faces when she gets “on task,” as she says. What characterizes the space into which I dropped during the five days of the workshop? I found myself using words like slowness, savoring, silence, listening, emptiness, knowing nothing, accepting without reacting, curiosity, receiving life on its terms. Perhaps these are words for Presence and Felt Sense.  In reflection I can sit here right now and re-experience our group, its beautiful energy, and felt-sense of connection.

Another aspect of this workshop was Mary’s leadership style. Yes there were times of teaching as well as exercises to experience and practices to learn. But Mary would go with her felt sense of what was arising in the group in the moment. She might initiate a slight movement or short activity, and then follow where the group went with it. This was quite fascinating to me.  I am eager to try this in some of my own group and private work.

Before we left the workshop Mary invited us to have awareness about what could take us away from our felt sense, from our core inner wisdom.  I noticed several things that wanted to pull me out on my first day home. First was my need to attend to some of the financial matters at Sevenoaks for which I am responsible. Oh how easily I can get caught up in figures and spreadsheets! The time speeds by, and I almost do not notice that my mind is feeding off this mental activity and in the process is stirring up my mud.  The same mud-stirring happened in a number of lengthy phone calls I had regarding matters at Sevenoaks. The calls were fun and engaging, but took me out of the space I had come to love.

And I noticed a more subtle temptation, if I may use that word.  A Pathwork leader sent me a very interesting and provocative article linking Pathwork, nondual consciousness, and shadow work. All three of these topics and their interrelatedness are very interesting to my mind, and I realize that, without giving it a thought, I would want to jump into this stuff headlong. Certainly, I would rationalize, this rich spiritual material relates to my work with the Pathwork Council where we develop approaches to Pathwork workshops, our transformation program and our Pathwork training programs.  All this stimulation, fitting my Pathwork Council role at the same time, could really be a pig-in-mud experience for me.

There is that word — mud — and it could be the right word to use.  Part of me is so fascinated with mental frameworks for spirituality, psychology, and levels of consciousness that I could jump into this without thinking.

But wait.  Yes, this mental engagement would be fun, interesting, even stimulating and useful perhaps. But from this five-day workshop experience all this mental activity does not seem to hold such a central place in my life anymore. Rather, I notice that I have actually enjoyed my first two days following the workshop doing the meditation practices offered during the workshop.

I notice that this positive attitude toward meditation is new to me. For years I have meditated, but all too often it was a matter of will, not desire.  But in these first days since the workshop, meditation has seemingly taken on a new role in my life, at least for now. This recognized joy in meditation seems like an invitation, if not a call, to slow down and not jump on something just because it is engaging my mind.

In fact I am sensing that even at the workshop I could have benefitted from having more inner silence.  Conversations outside of group time were most interesting and even engaging, offering opportunities to get to know each other. But with that ice now broken, maybe in subsequent workshops of this group times of silence would add to the mud-settling process.

In any case, I find I am entering 2011 from a new inner space.  I am eager to see how it unfolds as life offers its experiences around, in, and through me.  And as I conclude this entry I notice I am coming from a felt sense of love.  Blessings on your year.

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