Happiness And the Spiritual Path – A Conversation over Lunch
“So Gary, you’ve been deeply into Pathwork as your spiritual path for 13 years. I want to cut to the chase. Tell me, on a scale from 0 to 10, 10 being “blissed out,” how happy were you when you came to Pathwork and then how happy are you today? I want to know quantitatively just how effective Pathwork is in making one happy before I consider it for my spiritual path.” The question came from Joan, a person coming to the Sevenoaks Retreat Center for her first exposure to this spiritual path called Pathwork. We were sitting in the dining room finishing up lunch. I smiled and gave her my answer. “Joan, when I came to Pathwork my happiness index was about a 7. I had been successful in my career, in my very active church life, had lived in a spacious home, and was basically a happy person. And today? I would say my happiness index is about a 4.”
Joan was shocked. Why would she ever join a program that would take her happiness from a 7 to a 4! “Gary, you certainly aren’t wearing your Pathwork marketing hat, but I’m curious about your answer and about why you have stuck with such a program as Pathwork for all these years if it has taken your happiness ‘backwards.’” Certainly a fair question. Yet in fact nothing has had as profound effect on my life as has Pathwork – and trust me, I have explored many spiritual paths. So what’s the story behind the story here? “Joan, let me explain my answer, if I can.”
I came to Pathwork late in life – I was 58 in August of 2000. And it is true, I would have said that my happiness before Pathwork was high, but there were areas where my life was pretty dysfunctional and deeply painful. I didn’t know how much pain I was in. But my Soul seemed to know and was leading my life journey.
Of course there were signs of problems, if I would have been more conscious about my life. What were some of these signs? Before I came to Pathwork I had retired from my successful 29-year career. I had, seemingly abruptly, even shockingly to some, left the conservative church, my life-long church home, in which I had held many leadership roles, including that of adult bible class teacher for many years. I had taken eight or nine graduate courses at a local Catholic seminary and had served as a hospital chaplain intern — but all of this had ended. Most significantly, I had ended a 34-year marriage, a step which had brought great pain to my ex-wife and to my family, and yet a divorce which, though painful for many, including myself had I understood myself, seemed to have been so necessary for my survival and fulfillment. Indeed, after the divorce, retirement, and leaving the church I thought I was finally free and happy and would now be able to pursue the life that would be truly fulfilling. My happiness was a 7 or 8. I would have said I was happy. And yet, unconsciously, I was lost in life. I just did not know how lost I was. In ignorance I could maintain my pseudo happiness.
My introduction to Pathwork was in August 2000. I was participating in a one-week personally directed retreat. Julie, my director for this retreat (through a miraculous happening in its own right, but that is a longer story) was a Barbara Brennan School of Healing faculty member. I had my first 1-hour session with Julie the first day of the retreat. Things got stirred up in this session, but I was not aware how much, nor was Julie. However, after the session and into the early evening I actually fell apart, became full of self-loathing, asking myself what had I done to my wife, family, church friends, and ultimately to my own life! On the second day I had my second 1-hour session with Julie, confessing all the guilt, shame, and pain of which I was becoming aware. Julie was shocked. She had no idea what was lying just beneath the surface of my seemingly fulfilled and happy life. Then she paused, looked directly at me and said, “Gary, you are serious about your spiritual life (looking at all the church and spiritual activities in which I had participated up until then), but do you ever need help for your journey. The only help of which I know that is at a level that can help you is a spiritual path called Pathwork, which is available at Sevenoaks, a Pathwork Center near Charlottesville, Virginia.”
I trusted Julie. I traveled to Virginia for my first Pathwork workshop in September (after a 10-day pilgrimage to Israel as part of another program I was in at the time). The Pathwork workshop was confusing, disorienting, and not at all like anything I had ever experienced. But something convinced my Soul that I needed to be there.
At the end of the workshop the leaders casually announced that in October a new Pathwork Transformation Program class was forming. Again, my Soul seemed to know I needed to be there, and for the next five years I took monthly trips to Sevenoaks (468 miles from my home in Cincinnati) for this program. Still in the beginning I did not like it. I had been a successful engineering student, bible class student and teacher, and business and organizational leader all my life, but what was all of this new experience needed to get me in touch with deeper elements of my being?
By the third year I warmed up to the Pathwork Lectures, the tome of 258 lectures (around 3,000 pages worth) that form the basis of this work called Pathwork. In the end I devoured these lectures. Nothing I had ever read seemed to hold the truth in a way that so resonated with something deep inside of me. In the end, I made audio recordings of all 258 lectures – over 200 hours of wisdom – and I listen to them, read them, and apply them to my life nearly every day of the week. This wisdom, and the several Pathwork teachers who support me in this growth process, have become the foundation of a life I find profound, inspiring and full of meaning.
So what happened to my happiness and joy in the 13 years since I began this Pathwork journey? That cannot be explained in only a few words over lunch, but here is a sketch of what I discovered about my life over these 13 years. Yes, I would have assessed my happiness as a 7 before entering Pathwork, but in truth I did not know what true happiness was. Learning about true happiness took me into my pain – pain, for example, of not knowing truly how to have an intimate relationship with others (men or women) or even with myself. So much of the mental construct I had of myself had to be discovered and then stripped away, uncovering things that were not very pretty about myself – my narcissism, my arrogance, my intensity, my strong self-will, and beneath that my fear, even terror. Coming to see these aspects of myself without at the same time judging myself to be hopelessly damaged goods was hard to deal with, and, on a felt-sense level took years to experience and hold.
Then, deeper still, I came to see the power of a force within me that demanded to be separate from Source, from God, and even from Jesus Christ, this Jesus Christ I had taught about for years in the church. This resistance to God was scary to feel, yet I could feel the power of this negative energy. I discovered that in many ways, though very active in the church and even a bible class teacher, I was in fact a closet atheist with no real felt connection to God or Jesus Christ – though I was in church every Sunday. This realization was shocking and is a lot to be with. And yet to really see this about myself has been so freeing. Why freeing? Because it is Truth, and indeed, the Truth sets me free.
Certainly through parts of this Pathwork journey my happiness was at best a 2 or less, but gradually things changed. I could accept my reality, my being merely and utterly human, a limited being in the cosmos, perfect in my imperfection. And most importantly I could come to experience on a felt sense level, deep within, underneath the layers of distortions, rebellions, and pretenses, that my true Essence was that of a being Who was one with God. Realizing that the true Gary was this God Self, or, more accurately, this God-Man Self, was almost scarier than thinking I was all evil, nothing but a “poor miserable sinner.” And on and on it has gone. A thrilling yet at times scary process of living. I would not trade this for anything — truly the “Pearl of Great Price” or the “Treasure in the Field.”
So where is my happiness now? In some ways it varies from 2 to 10, even during a single day. But increasingly I can see my own role and responsibility for manifesting or not manifesting whatever I experience in the way of happiness. I can work with beliefs and conclusions about life that give rise to my unhappiness. I can see and at times feel the energy of my inner divinity, my Essence that can hold it all. And in this higher level of consciousness I can experience a higher level of Joy that can hold both the inevitable happinesses and the unhappinesses of life, in other words, the Joy that can hold my humanness.
And that higher level of Joy varies as well, because I experience my life journey as a spiral. On this spiral I run into things at deeper and deeper levels, things that reveal and contribute to pains, faults, and weaknesses beyond what I can even imagine. But I am increasingly able to hold the Knowing that this oscillating spiral is the nature of Life on the earth plane. I realize that life changes moment to moment and that beyond this pain that is deeper than I can imagine there is also a Joy that is beyond anything I can imagine.
“So in this moment, Joan, I am at a 4, actually, after this conversation, more of an 8 – because I am feeling an energetic connection with you. I realize that much of what I have shared may not make total sense to you as we chat here in the dining room of Sevenoaks. But I invite you to take in some of my words. Perhaps some of them resonate with something deep in your Soul, and perhaps someday that resonance may bring you to Pathwork or to another spiritual path that fits your Soul and that can guide you to your true self. This, Joan, is my wish for you.”
Shared in love, Gary