A Midcourse Correction, Turning Toward Home at 50

Last Friday night (April 12), for reasons known only to God (a retreat schedule was changed to meet the needs of another, making it possible for me to join my brother and his wife for this event, an event I had never envisioned attending in the first place but got invited), I attended the 2013 University of Cincinnati College of Engineering and Applied Science Annual Awards Banquet held at a first class hotel in Cincinnati. This was my alma mater, having graduated with a BS in Mechanical Engineering in the class of 1965 some 48 years ago. The evening was truly a gala affair attended by some 300 people, all of whom are successful in the world of engineering, academia, and business. The meal was exquisite and the décor first class – beyond anything I’ve attended of late. But it was the experience with the people involved that stood out for me.

My first experience occurred during the reception preceding the banquet. I knew only a handful of people at this affair so I spent time talking with my brother and his wife and a friend from my SDRC days, Ed, and his wife Angie. I could feel myself drawn into friendly conversation with Ed and Angie, but it was awkward for me at first since when they knew me back in my SDRC days I was happily married (to my wife of 34 years) and fully engaged in my professional life (my 29-year career at SDRC), church life (33-year member in leadership at St. Paul Lutheran Church), and volunteer life (active in United Way and other charitable organizations). That was the Gary they knew best – a normal nominally successful businessman, family man, and church goer – but that familiar Gary was now dated by nearly 20 years. Angie, whom I had not seen for over 20 years, asked the obvious questions – “So Gary, where is your partner?” (she knew that I had divorced and was now connected to Pat, whom she did not know) and then second, “What are you doing these days?”

I had not brought Pat to this event (though she had been invited), precisely because I did not want to engage people who knew me 20 years ago to discover my current “wayward” life. I felt out of my element in such a professional setting, a setting I had been away from for so long. And my having divorced the wife they knew made me feel awkward. But after my early shyness softened I became comfortable giving her my story of life since my retirement some 16 years earlier – sharing my steps of serving as a hospital chaplain intern for 9 months, becoming a massage therapist and being in that “career” for several years, setting up my Tourmaline Life Center as a resource for people who were spiritual seekers, my foray into Life Coaching, and finally my finding my spiritual home in 2000 in Pathwork. I could speak of my life back in August of 2000 when, as a 58-year-old just having left my wife of 34 years, my church of 57 years and my career of 29 years, I was feeling lost. I could share how my lostness led me to a breakdown of sorts at a 1-week directed retreat in August of 2000 on the second day of which my retreat director said, “Gary, you are most serious about your spiritual path, but boy do you need help. The only place I know that can give you the level of support you need is the Sevenoaks Pathwork Center 470 miles away near Charlottesville, Virginia.” I could comfortably share that Pathwork has seemed to answer my Soul’s deepest hunger these past 12 years. It felt good to be at ease in this sharing. Yes, perhaps some day Ed and Angie could meet Pat and we could have an interesting sharing.

Of course Angie, being Angie, then pushed on. “There are many spiritual paths out there, so just what kind of spiritual path is Pathwork?” “Is it Christian?” “Is it humanistic?” “Does it have a bible or body of teachings, and if so, what are they and who started it?” I was surprised how comfortable I was with her questions. My answers were not particularly cohesive and articulate, but I was feeling neither defensive nor needing to advocate Pathwork as a path for everyone. The subject was dropped as we went on to others in our small group and picked up on what others were doing in their lives. The experience of being free to share my Pathwork in such a setting was refreshing for me.

The take-away for me in my exchange with Angie was sitting with the question, “Is Pathwork Christian?” The next time that question arises I think I’ll respond with, “Just what do you mean by ‘Christian’?” Certainly there are as many answers to that question, “What does being Christian mean?” as there are answers to Angie’s question regarding the many answers possible to “What is spirituality?” and “How does Pathwork (or any other spiritual path) fit in to the world of spiritual paths?” Perhaps by inviting clarity as to what the other means by “Christian” I could build a bridge between what the other person views as Christian and how Pathwork speaks of Jesus Christ, who, while certainly central to the Pathwork teachings, is not presented in exactly the way that many orthodox and unorthodox Christian doctrines describe Jesus Christ in the broad context of so many versions of Christianity.

My experiences of the evening went on. At 7:00 we adjourned to the banquet and the presentation of various awards. The new President of the University of Cincinnati spoke a few words, as did the new Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Then the achievement awards were announced, complete with very-professionally produced videos of the individuals honored. Three of the awards and videos stood out for me – those of the older alumnae of College of Engineering and Technology, my alma mater, whose lives were being recognized for achievement in their technical fields.

These alumnae truly exemplified excellence in the field of engineering and applied science. The one with whom I most related received the Herman Schneider Distinguished Alumnus Award. He was truly accomplished in his engineering profession having been, years after graduating in engineering, in top engineering management roles at the General Electric Aircraft Engine Division. He shared that throughout his life he loved learning about and experimenting with mechanical objects, especially automobiles. After graduating from high school he followed his zeal for automobiles by pursuing mechanical engineering as his career, ending up in jet engines, however, rather than cars.

In his acceptance speech he announced, “The role of a true engineer is that of a problem solver. And as engineers we are trained to solve any problem from engineering to personnel – it’s in our training and in our blood.” He honored his wife for having supported him in his career. His kids were in attendance as were several of his colleagues from General Electric. Since retiring he has be involved in many volunteer roles in the community, especially roles with the college of engineering. Yes, he followed his dream and his Soul’s desire! And, appropriately, received the accolades he earned.

By contrast, I noticed how his life put my life in perspective, however. He had known what he loved as a kid and followed his passion throughout his life. His marriage and family life were rich and both congruent with and supportive of his career. And now he is taking this all into his retirement and being of service. It seems there were no major hiccups – he “followed his bliss” with passion throughout his life.

On the other hand, while my life appeared to be similar to his for the first fifty years, I was not at all settled and stable when I entered my tumultuous sixth decade. I recognized that for many reasons I had not “followed my bliss” coming out of childhood. So as my life unfolded in my 20s, 30s, and 40s I was doing a lot in my career, church, other organizations, and family, but these manifestations were not really following my passions. I knew this deep down, but felt stuck, especially spiritually, emotionally and relationally. Why was I so “successful” on the outside and so unsettled on the inside? What got me stuck and then what got me unstuck in my sixth decade (between age 50 and 60)?

I am getting more insights to this each day of my life, of course. But let’s begin with my recent realization that on a soul level I am a mystic, inspired by matters spiritual and cosmic, by the Mystery of inner and outer life, consciousness, and the “meaning of it all.” At the same time, I long for deep emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical connection with a true soul mate. But it seems that nowhere were these two key aspects of my life truly supported or encouraged, nor did I have the inner courage and commitment to follow these passions. I did not really understand what was truly alive in me, nor did I envision where following what was truly alive in me could lead, or that what was alive in me might not be what’s alive in others. In the end I did not truly value what was alive in me but rather went with the flow within the world of my parents, the church, and the culture.

I did not have a mentor to help bring out what was so alive in me. Whatever I pursued I pursued on my own it seemed. In grade school I was drawn to spirituality, but did not have a mentor to school me in this. Rather, I would engage the bible and the teachings of the Lutheran Church. In confirmation class I bought a special catechism that had a blank page for notes between each page of the text, and I would eagerly take notes on the pastor’s explanation of these teachings. I loved the bible, but could not relate to the rituals and liturgies of the church. This is how my spiritual bent got rooted. Yes, my inner mystic was alive, but could not find a way to express and nurture what was so alive in him spiritually.

In a second dimension, I was also interested in cosmology and in high school this included eager engaging with Velikovesky’s 1950 controversial book Worlds In Collision given to me by my Uncle. This book linked bible teachings in Exodus with cosmology. I drank it in with excitement. And I found and devoured several astronomy books written in the 1950s by Fred Hoyle, George Gamow, and others. Later this expanded into works by Edgar Cayce (especially his Story of Jesus), and several books on the paranormal. All this cosmology fascinated me but was at odds with my conservative Lutheran church. With whom could I discuss such matters – linking spirituality with cosmology? When I asked my pastor about these matters he dismissed me with, “Gary, you think too much.” And my spiritual bent put me at odds with the scientific community, so I had no one to turn to who would take my interest in a spiritual cosmology seriously. I was not aware of the grand worlds of higher levels of consciousness, psychology, and a more general spirituality that would later capture my attention.

Without support or a mentor, my energies were displaced and went into my studies of engineering and then into the organizational roles I played in my rich career at SDRC, in church, and in other organizations. When my parents were killed in an auto accident in 1972 (just before my 30th birthday) I retreated from my soul’s passion for spirituality, cosmology, and the meaning of life and became a strong somewhat fundamentalist Christian. But aspects of my professional and church life, while fitting in to the outside world I was living in, were not my Soul’s true home and did not provide the bliss my Soul intuitively knew was possible. It seemed my Soul was at odds with my life. I was set up for a true midlife crisis.

And what about my longing for a soul mate in this grand spiritual journey? Perhaps this whole connection with a soul mate – spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical connection –  has been my main task on the planet, however this has been and continues to be a slow unfolding, resolving my many distortions one by one. But particularly at the time of my midlife crisis this longing for a soul mate played a major role, beginning my spiritual transformation.

How did my pursuit of a relationship with a soul mate trigger my midlife crisis – a crisis which ended up in early retirement from my career and organizational life, leaving my church in which I had been so active, and, most tragically, divorcing my faithful wife of 34 years and all the pain and turmoil that caused her and my family?

My Pathwork buddy Jenny and I were driving home from our 4-day retreat Oceanside on Thursday, April 11, the day before the grand Awards banquet I would attend on Friday.  During our long ride Jenny, who is not only and ardent Pathworker but also a practicing psychotherapist, helped me gain a new insight to my midlife break at age fifty. It turns out that central to this break was a special woman that entered my life when I was fifty, but I had not seen this quite so clearly as when Jenny gave me some context for my experience. During our drive Jenny and I were chatting about positive and negative transference between therapist and client and the important role of transference in the client’s ultimate transformation. Jenny said there were several schools of thought about this. In her early training the conventional wisdom of the day among therapists was that the therapist should welcome positive transference. This positive transference made it safe for the client to share deeply and come to understand aspects of him or herself of which he or she had not been aware. This growth is often benign in nature and can be helpful to the client’s healing and growth. It can take someone who is struggling functionally in his or her relationships or career and get him or her on a better course of life. This is all very helpful.

However there were other subsequent schools of thought that held that profound transformation can come only in the crisis of deep negative transference between client and therapist. Using negative transference as a tool of transformation takes great skill and courage on the part of the therapist – holding space for the client with significant negativity coming at the therapist – and courage, ego strength, and commitment on the part of the client to hang in when the stress and emotional pain of the relationship with his or her therapist is severe. Jenny said that some would say that no real significant transformation happens unless this what I’ll now call a “transferential wounding experience” happens. When the client is not ready for this level of work, such an experience of negative transference can be disintegrating, but when the client’s ego strength, courage, and commitment to growth are strong, then this level of work can result in a life-changing and profound transformation. At this I shared with Jenny that if this was the truth of the matter, then I may not yet have experienced any significant transformation in my life for I have not, to my knowledge, had such a strongly-positive-to-strongly-negative transition experience with any therapist with whom I have been involved.

Jenny and I have shared so much of our respective lives with each other over the past four years or so, and from this knowledge of me she said that she disagreed. She said that the woman who entered my life at age fifty, and left it tumultuously when I was 55, provided that transferential wounding experience, and this experience had led to a profound transformation in my life. Wow. I had not seen this before, and yet it made total sense to me. I choose not to elaborate on this “transferential wounding experience” here for obvious reasons, but suffice it to say without this particular “transferential wounding experience” I would not have had the courage to so turn my life upside down over a ten year period (ages 50-60) that resulted in my leaving the church (at 57) and my wife (at 58) and entering my time of “searching for the holy grail,” as some call the midlife experience. For some period – say from age 55 until 60, I was in my “dark night of the soul,” lost, and without a compass, and yet not realizing to what degree that was true for me. At first I did not feel lost, rather free.

Then slowly, from age 60 onward I would say, awareness and light entered my life. I could face my lostness and distortions that needed healing. There were several sources for this light, but by far the strongest was the wisdom, the experience, and framework for purification and transformation provided by the Pathwork Lectures and my current support network that helps my Soul find its home in its own Divine Essence. Literally everything in my life changed since age 50, and now at age 70, while increasingly seeing the depth of the true Mystery that life is, I find my life full and oh-so-rich.

Back to the Awards banquet of Friday, April 12. Another award was given during the evening: The Herman Schneider Award, a top award for undergraduates graduating in the Engineering class of 2013. The recipient of this award had not yet embarked upon his or her career, but was selected as the person who most exemplified excellence in his or her school and work experiences in the College of Engineering and Applied Science. A young new graduate won this award. I had to go up to him afterwards and congratulate him. This was special to me since the Herman Schneider Award was exactly the award I received when I graduated 48 years before him in 1965. Not sure he related to me with such an age difference, but I can’t help but wonder how his career and, more importantly, his life will unfold over the next 50 years. Will he build on his roots of being a great engineering student like the recipient of the Herman Schneider Distinguished Alumnus Award had, or rather, will his life get derailed and redirected at some point like mine has, ending up in a life far from the engineering and business careers so familiar to the other 300 attendees in the room that evening?

I smile at this point. While receiving the Herman Schneider award in 1965, I see how today, 48 years later, it would be impossible for me to be in contention for the Herman Schneider Distinguished Alumnus Award!  Wow, what a ride my life has been thus far – and yet seeing that I am still at the doorway to many other beginnings. What will these future beginnings bring? There are many facets to it, but the one most central is the one of building up my relationship with Pat. Perhaps this focus on a whole relationship with a soul mate is my main task on the planet in my remaining years.

Shared in love, Gary