What is Pathwork?

Before talking about Pathwork, let’s begin with a few framing questions such as, “What is spirituality?” and What is a spiritual path?

What is spirituality?

There are many definitions of spiritual and spirituality.  I am helped by Roger Haight, SJ, theologian, in his very readable book, Spiritual AND Religious – Explorations for Seekers ©2016 . Here Haight defines spirituality as that which is transcendent (beyond direct knowing and understanding of the meaning of the cosmos and independent of the cosmos) and that which gives one a sense of ultimate reality (quoting Haight, his “working definition” of spirituality is, “Spirituality refers to the logic, or character, or consistent quality of a person’s or a group’s pattern of living insofar as it is measured before some ultimate reality.”). I would add that this “ultimate reality” is not really Ultimate Reality but rather one’s sense of ultimate reality. I would further add that this sense of ultimate reality may be conscious or unconscious — both conscious and unconscious aspects of one’s sense of reality influence one’s pattern of living.

In this sense, everyone (from atheist to religionist of every stripe: fundamentalist to mystic, young and old alike) has a spiritual naturesomething that consciously or unconsciously informs and guides him or her about an ultimate reality against which his or her life choices are made.

What is a Spiritual Path?

Again there are many definitions, but for me, practically speaking, a spiritual path is that which guides one in life toward ever greater levels of consciousness of, or awareness of, or experience of Ultimate Reality.

A Jungian Framework

I have found that the Jungian framework, described by Robert A. Johnson in his memoir Balancing Heaven and Earth (and of course by many other Jungian authors) to be helpful in describing one’s path through life. In this Jungian framework life passes in two often-overlapping halves.

The task in the first half of life is ego development, and this influences the way one establishes himself or herself within the culture in which one lives. During this first half of life one establishes one’s place in the world: career, marriage, religious roots, financial foundation, house, family, and a base of friendships, organizations and causes with which to affiliate. The second half of life, usually occurring between age 35 and 50, or even later, is where the ego is transcended in some way that brings more meaning to life as well as more consciousness of Ultimate Reality.

First half of life — Ego Development

What is the basis of ego development in the first half of life? This is a complex matter, but in general it comes out of childhood and establishes the way the child learns to have patterns of behavior that bring maximum pleasure and avoid pain. For some this involves compliance — fitting into the culture through obedience of authority, performing better than peers, behaviors through which one receives rewards for obedience and punishment or humiliation for not obeying authority or not performing better than others, and so on. The rewards for compliance later in life can be financial and career success, reputation for leadership and talents, and a satisfying family life, etc. For others ego development involves rebellion against the culture, doing one’s own thing, defying authority, and the like. This rebellion, too, can work if one is focused on his or her talents and gifts.

Resources to help guide one through the first half of life include guidance from parents, family, teachers, peer relationships, one’s religious affiliation, etc., and if these are not enough, then life coaches (practical help with life skills or career direction) or psychotherapists (help to overcome debilitating childhood wounds, overcoming relationship issues, addictions, and debilitating depression, and the like) . All of these resources help to ground the person in some modicum of success and satisfaction in the first half of life. The goal in this first half of life is having a “Good Enough” life.

Second half of life — Transcending the Ego — entering the spiritual path

For some people, after building a “Good Enough” life in the first half of life, “something” begins to be unsettled and to move “within” a person, stirring his or her being, “awakening” him or her out of what in retrospect will have seemed to have been “sleepwalking” through life on “automatic pilot” during the first half of life. This “something” that begins to awaken the soul is often experienced as an inner force, a Call, or an intuitive sense of purpose that is being energized and that is somehow “beyond” the meaning and purpose one experienced in the first half of life.

If (and this is a life-changing “IF”) one chooses to follow this inner Call or force, it changes one’s sense of Ultimate Reality forever — what had appeared as real and what had guided one’s life on automatic pilot during the first half of life is no longer perceived as ultimately real. And the big change in the second half of life is coming to see that Ultimate Reality is not some fixed thing one is hoping to eventually perceive and experience, but rather Ultimate Reality is a dynamic, living, endless, ever-growing, ever-changing, ever-expanding, forever unfolding Ultimate Reality!  AND Ultimate Reality transcends AND includes all that went “before.” AND since Ultimate Reality is “timeless,” there is no “before,” “present” or “after.” AND no “good” or “evil” in the inherent “Oneness” of Ultimate Reality!

Some experience this radical change in one’s a sense of ultimate reality early in life, others in the familiar “midlife crisis,” and others still later. As one chooses to respond positively to this call and grows in consciousness or awareness of an ever-new “Ultimate Reality,” one perceives life in ways never before experienced. And once perceived in a new way, one cannot go backwards to old ways of seeing.  Pandora’s Box has been opened! One has now entered the second half of life, or embarked upon his or her spiritual path.

Other Frameworks for Levels of Consciousness and Sense of Ultimate Reality

As an aside, I mention here that there are frameworks other than the Jungian first-and-second-halves-of-life framework for describing personal and spiritual growth. One I have found helpful is the work of Ken Wilber and Don Beck. This framework is called Spiral Dynamics, and here are two resources that describe this framework: 1) An article from What Is Enlightenment featuring an interview with Don Beck on Spiral Dynamics and 2) a presentations I made in 2008 on Tier 3 consciousness (that today some call Nondual).

Troubles along the spiritual path

All is not a bed of roses in this awakening process to the second half of life or spiritual path! First of all one has no real idea how to live in this new sense of ultimate reality. At first everything is confusing and unfamiliar. Secondly, most of these changes in one’s sense of ultimate reality, while different from the old sense of reality, are still wrong in some sense. One typically has many distortions and misperceptions which, while adequate for “good enough” living in the first half of life, actually block progress in the second half of life. AND these distortions and misperceptions do not usually disappear in “one grand awakening” to Ultimate Reality! Part of the work in the second half of life is to discover and change these distortions and misperceptions. 

The spiritual path is usually lifelong.  In the first half of life the spiritual path could be a particular religion that either came from one’s family of origin or was selected for some other set of reasons later in the first half of life. In entering the second half of life one discovers that the many paths that can be followed are illusions and lead one into painful pitfalls or blocks or dead ends. All of these pitfalls and blocks are opportunities for learning in the second half of life. Often a person “following” his or her spiritual path in the early stages of the second half of life feels lost and confused, groping in the dark for the “right” or at least “best” way to live in the light of the new sense of ultimate reality. And as one continues to grow, one’s sense of ultimate reality changes — again and again — since Ultimate Reality changes continuously. Discouragement, sometimes profound in a so-called “dark night of the soul” experience, is often the result.

Help for “The Dark Night of the Soul”!

Resources that were helpful in the first half of life — one’s family, religious affiliation, teachers, friends, and one’s life-coaches or even sometimes one’s psychotherapists — do not seem to be helpful in the second half of life. These resources that were so useful in the first half of life can actually be impediments and blocks to the second-half-of-life journey. Where can a person find help for the second half of life? Eventually the person, now a more conscious AND a more wary seeker, discovers a need or hunger for some new and deeper kind of help — a spiritual director, a Jungian psychotherapist, a spiritual practice, a guru, or a body of wisdom literature that will nourish, inspire, encourage, and guide him or her along the way in this second-half-of-life experience.

Sometimes one searches for some kind of metaphysical framework or map for the spiritual journey as well as a set of practices and resources that help to ground and expand the experience of what the seeker now discovers to be his or her personal (i.e., psychological) and spiritual development in the second half of life.  We call such body of help, such a set of teachings, tools, practices and resources for the second half of life, one’s chosen spiritual path. Usually this path is unique for each person and is comprised of a set of resources of different types and modalities. An interesting resource for configuring one’s unique spiritual path is Thomas Moore’s A Religion of One’s Own.

The importance of BOTH psychological AND spiritual development in the second half of life

It is important to recognize that the psychological AND spiritual work go together – BOTH are required throughout life, but especially in the second half of life where the spiritual side often gets emphasized.  When psychological development is ignored, spiritual bypassing can occur and the person becomes an “enlightened jackass,” as Ken Wilber points out. The shadow work is always there and is often darker as the work goes deeper along the spiritual path. Many enlightened gurus in the West have fallen prey to this trap, and while enlightened, still in some areas of life live out the shadow side of their personality.

Psychotherapy in the two halves of life

In Balancing Heaven and Earth, Jungian therapist Robert Johnson speaks of people coming to him either in their twenties for help in first-half-of-life issues (career, relationships, addictions, etc.) or in their forties for help in second-half-of-life issues (loss of meaning, purposelessness, “successful” but lost, etc.).

Johnson then mentions that the hardest people to help were those who would come to him in their forties facing BOTH first AND second-half-of-life issues at the same time. Often their first half of life was quite undeveloped or underdeveloped and had not led to a “good enough” life from the perspective of successful career, good relationships with family and friends, or financial stability AND at the same time life was losing its meaning and purpose — which are second-half-of-life issues.

Which spiritual path to choose?

There are a multitude of spiritual paths from which to choose — and more come on the scene every day. Formal religions can be such a path, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and the many others — and each of these have many branches to choose from — from fundamentalism to mysticism and everything in between.  And there are a host of other “spiritual but not religiouspaths — and these seem to be the fastest growing groups these days.

Usually the seeker grows through several spiritual paths in his or her lifetime. Some paths help more in the beginning, during the first half of life, as the seeker gets his or her feet on the ground.  Fundamentalist forms of religions (Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc.) usually fit in this category. Other spiritual paths seem to fit better later on the second half of life as the questions become deeper and the searching more profound. This growth can occur within a particular religion as one moves into the higher states of consciousness within that tradition’s more mystical stages. Or it can be a new path altogether for the seeker.

What is Pathwork?

So in this vast field of spiritual paths, what is Pathwork? Pathwork is a spiritual path that includes BOTH depth-psychological AND spiritual dimensions of the work required for addressing  second half of life issues. (NOTE: some have found Pathwork quite helpful in first-half-of-life work, but my experience is that other sources of help — life coaching and specialized professional psychotherapy — are better suited to people struggling more serious problems during the first-half-of-life whereas Pathwork seems to me to be particularly suited to second-half-of-life work that blends depth-psychology with spirituality — at least that has been my experience with Pathwork)  

Pathwork is 1) a body of helpful inspirational wisdom and metaphysical writings, 2) a set of processes, practices, classes, groups, programs and workshops, and 3) a network of experienced helpers, counselors, spiritual directors and teachers making up a rich spiritual community to support the seeker in his or her psychological and spiritual development, leading one toward his or her home, fulfillment and God in the second half of life.

1) The Pathwork wisdom writings

In Pathwork, the body of helpful inspirational writings consists primarily of a set of Pathwork lectures given through Eva Pierrakos over a 22-year period between 1957 and her death in 1979. I say given “through” rather than “by” because Eva sensed that the material coming through her in trance sessions was from beyond her and came from an unnamed source dubbed simply the Guide. The lectures were given monthly in the presence of an ever-growing group of followers in and around New York. The lectures were recorded. After each lecture Eva, who was in a trance state of conscious and not aware of what was coming through her during the lecture, transcribed the lecture from the recording and distributed it to the attendees and others. She sensed that she was still under the influence of the Guide in her transcriptions and would make (usually small and sometimes not so small) changes in the lectures accordingly. The transcribed lectures became the Pathwork source of wisdom material for study and growth.

During the 22 years that Eva channeled these lectures, 258 were given in all, along with 100 or so Question and Answer sessions in which attendees would ask questions and the Guide would answer. These Q&A sessions, too, were transcribed by Eva and distributed.

Channeled Material?!

My first exposure to Pathwork lectures (in a book of compiled lectures) was at the age of 58 in 2000. While I grew up conservative Lutheran, was intensely involved in leading bible classes for 30 years, and was taught that the bible was the only reliable source for truth needed by humankind, somehow the words of these Pathwork Lectures, the lack of clarity concerning their origin (i.e., “channelling” the Guide) notwithstanding, have truly inspired me, challenged me, and rooted me in a path of the most intense psychological and spiritual development I can imagine.

Overcoming my conservative Lutheran and Christian Fundamentalist upbringing that claimed that such “foreign” writings could only be suspect at best and Satanic at worst, I can only say how they have impacted and continue to impact my life. I receive these Pathwork lectures not only as practical teachings about the means for psychological and spiritual growth but also as an energetic transmission and inspiration that I take into my being in snippets many times during most days. Sometimes I am moved nearly to tears as pieces of “truth” resonate so deeply with my inner “truth knowing,” the resonance seemingly “calling forth” truth from deep within my being.

2) Pathwork Programs

Almost immediately after I found Pathwork (August of 2000) I got involved with the 5-year Pathwork Transformation Program at Sevenoaks Retreat Center (2000-2005) and then with the 2-year Pathwork Teacher Training (or Advanced Pathwork Studies classes) and then a 3-year Pathwork Helper Training class, from which I graduated in 2008. Since 2012, my most significant Pathwork group experience has been the Sacred Dimensions of the Pathwork, a program consisting of 4 independent 3-day offerings. These have been offered each year beginning in November 2012. An example of the 2016-17 program.

The processes used in this work, in addition to the teachings of the Pathwork Lectures, include Gestalt-like group processing, Core Energetics (derivative of Bioenergetics), Breath-work, and several forms of meditation and other personal practices for inquiry and reflection. My greatest challenge has been, and is, moving from my head to my heart and body. These process activities have been invaluable for my progress in this challenging area for me.

3) Pathwork Helpers and Teachers

Pathwork includes a network of experienced Pathwork helpers (counselors) and teachers. These are people often with decades of training and practice in all aspects of Pathwork. This group of helpers and teachers is a rich resource to tap for personal and spiritual development work.

Is Pathwork Christian?

While Eva was of Jewish descent, as were many in the Pathwork community, Christ is central in the metaphysics of Pathwork. But whether or not Pathwork is not only “Christ-centered” but also “Christian” depends upon which flavor of Christianity one holds.  In a Q&A session (Pathwork Lecture 63) a question about Christian faith came up, and the Guide spoke to this question directly.

I would say that Pathwork aligns well with Christianity as an evolutionary spiritual path through which one reaches ever higher levels of consciousness as described by the Episcopal Priest Cynthia Bourgeault in several of her books including, among others, 1) The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind–A New Perspective on Christ and His Message (©2008), 2) The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity (©2010), and 3) The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice (©2016).

Summary of Pathwork

To summarize, having been working with Pathwork since 2000, because its truths resonate so deeply with my soul, I have found the Pathwork program in its entirety ideal for my spiritual growth and personal (psychological) development. If you would like to know more, Pathwork Lecture, #204-The Path gives a framework for these teachings.

Are there other paths like Pathwork?

There are of course many spiritual paths and self-help programs. My sense is that some paths emphasize the spiritual side sacrificing the depth-psychological work required. One could follow any number of spiritual teachers, go to their workshops, read their books, etc., but not really do the hard depth-psychological and spiritual work (meditation, etc.) required for true personal and spiritual development.

On the self-help side, some paths emphasize working to change childhood beliefs and other impediments to psychological growth in order to realize success and abundance, but they often leave out the spiritual side entirely.

I found that I was drawn to Pathwork precisely because it so strongly emphasizes BOTH the depth-psychological and spiritual sides of the work.  On the spiritual side, coming out of a strong Christian background, I was also helped by Pathwork being Christ-centered in its metaphysics.

I am aware of two other programs that emphasize BOTH depth-psychological AND spiritual work. The first is the Diamond Approach developed by A.H. Almaas (Reference in Audible: Endless Enlightenment: The View of Totality in the Diamond Approach). The second is Ken Wilber’s Integral Life Practice. The former is current and active, the latter may have not caught on.

Is Pathwork right for you at this time in your life?

Of course, like any spiritual path, Pathwork must be tried AND practiced for a while (perhaps years) to do its work, not just read about. Could it be right for you where you are now in your life –right for discovering and dealing with the deeper issues of meaning, peace, joy, and fulfillment in your life? Men and women in the Pathwork programs I have been in have ranged from age 20 to 75, have included MDs and Marines and moms and dads and lawyers and students, have come from all kinds of religious and non-religious backgrounds. Most, especially those entering the second half of life, have found the programs and materials rich and very helpful. I can just say how Pathwork (with some of the other programs I am or have been in) has helped me and continues to help me find fulfillment, love, pleasure, and peace in the labyrinth of life, helping me return to my home in God.