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A Shared Life of Wrestling, Growth, and Discovery

Perhaps It Was a Taste of Enlightenment, Just Perhaps

This possible glimpse of enlightenment I tasted occurred near the end of an April 14-17, 2016 workshop. It was Module 3 of the 2015/16 Sacred Dimensions of the Pathwork Program, created by Erena Bramos and staged at Sevenoaks Retreat Center near Charlottesville, Virginia. Erena had invited Marjorie Bair, a senior teacher, to lead this Module 3. Before sharing my experience, my possible taste of enlightenment, I need to provide a context, which, of course, happens to be my life until now. I’ll try to keep it brief, but not too brief.

To begin, I am not at all sure what “enlightenment” is, but I’m pretty sure I’ve not experienced it nor, I realize to my surprise, have I ever consciously “sought after it.” Why would I seek after enlightenment since I do not even know what enlightenment is? And if I should ever experience enlightenment I expect that it would be a “new” experience for me and as such be unfamiliar to me in many ways. And further, I suspect that if enlightenment does come to me it will come upon me “uninvited,” in a moment of pure Grace.

But even without a conscious goal in mind, my soul keeps on its journey of life, seemingly manifesting what it needs for “personal development,” but again not knowing what “personal development” is either. I smile at how little I know about the spiritual journey and yet, throughout this “not knowing” period, keep telling myself, and others, that I am on a path of spiritual and personal development.

And, looking at the evidence of my life, I also seem to be pretty committed to this thing I am calling personal or spiritual development! What a paradox. I’m on a path to a place I do not know, and yet find myself intensely following this mysterious “path” to who knows where!

And, notwithstanding my lack of understanding concerning my life course and it’s direction, purpose, or destination (if any), I notice in looking back over my life that I’ve been graced with or manifested or co-manifested quite a few things that support my soul in this mysterious life journey. Actually, when I pause and look back at my 73 years, I am quite amazed at this commitment and seemingly endless energy I invest. I am also amazed at what gets manifested all around me and in me as I grope along in life, step by floundering step.

This journey, though it began when I was born, ramped up in earnest, and deviated significantly from my earlier life, when I turned 50, having had at that point a very satisfying career, family life, and church life. But at age 50 my life was not to level out into a time of relaxed pleasure on the beach and certainly not any form of “retirement.” In fact I seemed to get on a much faster train when I turned 50! And what was graced upon me (or perhaps what my soul seemed to manifest for itself) after I turned 50 included many riches.

I was provided teachers, a Jungian therapist, and counselors who guided me and to whom I gave a wholehearted, “Yes.” These teachers and counselors included spiritual directors and seminary professors who subtly and not so subtly weaned me off my “solid” Lutheran moorings that had supported me “well” during my first, say, 40 years at least. Classes were provided. I took 30 hours of graduate-level seminary courses at a local Catholic seminary to guide me and inspire my journeying, courses with the seductive titles such as The Spiritual and Psychological Meaning of Midlife, or Experiencing God. I was energized by all of this. It was a very new way to look at my life and its development, and I seemed starved for this new way. The old way, while it had served me through many trials, was simply no longer working.

In addition to these spiritual directors and seminary classes, several spiritual teachers also helped me start small spiritual support groups where four to eight of us could explore and share “life as it is.” These were initially modeled after 12-step programs such as Alcoholic Anonymous, but had no named addiction. We just wanted to dig into the deeper meaning of life. We had no dogmatic givens, not even leaning on the Bible, and no authority beyond our own experiences – which seemed adequate since the groups often included several from religious life. I loved such groups!

In my life-past-fifty there were dead ends.  I was not sure how some of these new adventures would turn out. I entered and exited various roles after my retirement, at age 54, from an engineering and business career. These temporary roles included those of hospital chaplain intern, massage therapist, and life coach.

Most significantly, when I was 58 one spiritual director whom I deeply respected, Julie Murray, led me to Pathwork. Although I did not relate to some aspects of the Pathwork programs, I found myself thrilled and inspired by the Pathwork Lectures, so thrilled that, unasked, I eagerly took on for myself what turned out to be a six-year task of recording my reading of all 258 of the Pathwork lectures – a project that resulted in a body of over 200 hours of recorded material created between 2006-2012.

In 2010 (at age 67) I was led to my current Pathwork helper (or counselor) Moira Shaw. Moira had been deeply involved with Eva Pierrakos, the founder of Pathwork, in the 1960’s and 1970’s until Eva’s death in 1979.  Moira was there with Eva helping to create the early Pathwork Programs, and after Eva’s death worked intensely with the tome of Pathwork lectures to create the so-called Unedited Version of same. Who better to support me in my love of the lectures and the Pathwork process then Moira who had been with Eva so many years and who is so committed to Pathwork and the Pathwork Lectures!

Next, in 2012, I committed myself to helping Erena Bramos create the Sacred Dimensions of the Pathwork. In Sacred Dimensions of the Pathwork Erena created a deepening experience I selfishly wanted for myself but to which others were drawn, others who were also seeking what I seemed to be seeking. Next year will be our fifth year of this amazingly helpful and deepening Sacred Dimensions program.

In 2013, my passion for the lectures led to my creating what I called the Devotional Format of the Pathwork lectures, a poetically formatted form of the lectures. This format was something that arose in me as a way to more deeply ponder and absorb the teachings.  While I am the primary benefactor of this work (and it is certainly an effortless effort kind of work), others have also enthusiastically responded to this format, including some senior Pathwork leaders.

Finally, the past 5 or 10 years I have manifested or rather co-manifested several deep dyadic relationships with two devoted Pathwork friends, with several family members, and with others on their own spiritual paths. These regular conversations on the deeper matters of life are quite mutual and invigorating.

All of this that occurred over the 23 years since I turned 50 fed my hunger for spiritual development – the spiritual direction, the seminary courses, the small group work, my chaplain intern work, massage therapist work, dyadic relationships, and finally Pathwork in all of its wisdom.

But I still have to ask myself, “Gary, why such a commitment if you have known neither where this intense work was leading you nor what your goal in it all was?” I certainly was not consciously seeking some kind of “enlightenment”! All I can say is that this work, all of it, so resonated with me and enlivened and inspired me that I pursued it for its own sake and for no reason other than responding to how it affected me. I just knew this work was somehow “right” for me, though I knew not why. If the goal in life is to enjoy the journey and not just focus on the destination, then I was surely having a “successful” life on some important basis both in my first 50 years and doubly so in my past 23 years. This is amazing Grace!

But there was another key dimension in addition to the obviously spiritual dimension to my life. Somehow at age 50 my soul was also brought to realize that my major life issue and challenge lay before me. This challenge was in my connecting to others in love from my heart, and in particular to a spiritual partner who would share with me the spiritual journey as well as the deep reverent journey into love, eros and sex. In this relating aspect of my growth process I slowly, very slowly, came face to face with my severe attachment dysfunctions that blocked my experiencing warm loving relationships with others and in particular with a partner, no matter the level of love they afforded me or that “leaked” out of me.

This long journey of finding and growing in a primary relationship took me in and out of a satisfying traditional 34-year marriage, through two intense affairs, and finally, 17 years ago, into slowly developing a relationship with Pat, who became the centerpiece of this connecting-in-love piece of my work today as I come to open my heart to her in a process of reverent relating. My marriage and affairs, reflecting my distortions and emotional/sexual attachment issues as they did and though extremely painful for the women involved and for me, were invaluable in my growth as a human being on a spiritual path. I am immensely grateful to the women involved with me in these major relationships. AND I am also very remorseful and sorry that my dysfunctions, images, lack of integrity, and immaturity brought so much pain into their and my own lives. I am so grateful that my wife for those 34 years of raising a beautiful family, has forgiven me and that we remain friends.

Pat’s and my work together is and always has been intense. For the past 5 years or more we have evolved a meditation practice that includes an opening period of silence, an hour or two of deep conversation related to our respective spiritual paths and to our relationship in all its dimensions, followed by a guided meditation, The Naked Simplicity of Being (audio)(text) by Adyashanti. We smile, realizing that no other couple we know has the luxury or even the desire to begin each day in this way; nor is any couple we know so committed to working through issues in spiritual growth and divine relating in the domains of love, eros, and sex. We are on compatible spiritual journeys and that makes our work together very engaged and mutual.

And, as with my spiritual dimension of life, Pat’s and my souls have manifested all that we seem ready for to support us in our work of reverent relating. In particular, four years ago we began working with the senior Pathwork teacher Sage Walker and her husband Anthony Wilson. In June we shall have our fifth annual couple-to-couple 3-day intensive as the four of us explore all areas of Pat’s and my path of reverent relating. Between the annual intensives we have bi-weekly Skype calls with Sage and Anthony. They are rich calls. We record them and listen carefully to them between each session. And five weeks before our upcoming intensive with them in June, Pat and I shall participate in Sage’s workshop titled Divine Sexuality. Again, as with my spiritual life, in my life with Pat I experience more amazing Grace!

I smile at all this – at the spiritual work as well as the couplehood work. It’s as if I have been walking around with a bag of seeds, throwing them out and leaking them about as I walked, seeds that are now bursting forth in ways very meaningful to Pat, to me and to many others. From this perspective I can see myself as a kind of “faithful gardener.”

And yet I have never had a true vision of where I am going, or where Pat and I are going, or why. Rather I and we are just being presented with one situation after another, one person or program or teacher after another, and we go with what our inner compasses say would serve us or would serve others. Some opportunities we choose to say “yes” to, and to those we seem to commit 130% of our energies. The ones we say “no” to we walk away from. And the ones where we say “yes” in the beginning but eventually realize we were wrong, we give ourselves permission to work our way out of them with thankfulness and gratefulness.

This long treatise is all background framing my experiences of the Sacred Dimensions 3-day program at Sevenoaks this past weekend (April 14-17) led by Marjorie Bair. Importantly, both Pat and I were in the group, and, equally importantly, both of us have shared this program for over a year now.

Amazing experiences came to me at this workshop. I’m not sure where to begin in sharing these experiences, but over the initial hours and days of the group’s time together I seemed to be being prepared for some kind of “new” experience. Actually, I sense it was not merely the early hours and days of the workshop but rather the entire preceding years of my life, and then especially the past several weeks of preparation for both this workshop and the Divine Sexually workshop coming in May. (See Footnotes 1 and 2 for the readings in which I was marinating myself in preparation for these two workshops.) Yes, as always, all that went before prepared me for this experience I want to share.

From the beginning of the workshop I noticed a deep level of relaxation was coming over me. The relaxation was palpable. And in looking at my notes from the workshop it is not clear how this experience of what seemed like deep relaxation came about.

A little more than midway through the three-day program Marjorie led us in a meditation. Again I cannot recall much of what she said, but the gist of it was her invitation to feel ourselves flowing with and being carried by, supported, held, guided, protected, understood, and loved by the Stream of Life.

As I began this visualization I immediately had the awareness that there was NO “I” to flow with the Stream of Life, to be carried by or supported, or held by the Stream of Life. Rather I somehow deeply “knew” that I am the flow, I am the Stream of Life!

With this sudden and unexpected awareness, there was what I would call a warm rush arising from within. I was filled with joy at this experience of BEING the Stream of Life.

I found myself inquiring, “What does it feel like to BE the Stream of life?” From this inquiring I knew that in Being the Stream of Life I was FREE, that I was ONE, that there was “NO OTHER.” And I sensed that this state could be accessed and experienced at any time.

I went on with my inquiring, “Now, Gary, what is it like to BE not just the Stream of Life but also to BE in this body, on this chair, having sensations and feelings?” “What is embodiment?” when “I am the Stream of Life!”

After the meditation Marjorie asked if anyone wanted to share. I did! And Marjorie said I was experiencing the paradox of BEING BODY AND BEING STREAM. I wasn’t sure what she meant, but it did not matter. I was in a state of “quiet joy.”  I was alive in a different and quieter way.  This energy seemed to stay with me on some level during the rest of the workshop.

On the last day of the workshop Erena led us in an early morning meditation. It was mostly silent, but to set the tone Erena read a Thomas Merton quote before we entered the silence. The quote included the familiar line, “I believe that my desire to please God, does in fact please God.” I immediately realized that I do not desire to please God. I was somewhat shocked at this awareness – and at the same time pleased at the awareness – the awareness that some part of me really does not at all have an intention or desire to “please God.”

I immediately abandoned the meditation, not inquiring as to what part of me did not desire to please God, and not exploring how this God I did not desire to please was not the true God but rather the god of my “god-Image.”

Rather, in my mediation time that followed, I reflected on BEING the STREAM OF LIFE. What does this feel like?

Words just flowed up from within. Many words… Relaxed,    Free,    Aware,    Present,    Living,    No “I” or “THOU,”    Peace,    No Forcing,    No Planning,    Open to Surprise,    Each Moment New and Fresh,    NO TIME,    Open to All,    Curious,    Basic Trust,    The NOW is Enough,    The NOW is Full,    No Judgment,    No Right or Wrong,    LOVE – but Love in a New Way,    Pleasure,    Welcoming the Unexpected,    No Fear,    Simply Mystery,    Being the Mystery… In just a few minutes, as these words arose I felt flooded by grace.

Then I realized that perhaps the Stream of LifeISGod!”  With this realization I could say, “Yes, I do desire to please God!” –  meaning, “I desire to please the Stream of LIFE!”  Why would I not want to please this God, this Stream of LIFE, with all that it brings! I seemed to be in a new space, a deeply relaxed space. I just sat there feeling somehow very different.

But of course ordinary life quickly came back once I left the workshop. But do I still have access to this space as I sensed I would?

One of the participants shared an experience of going to the gym and trying to do so in silence. I realized that my gym time – 1½ hours three times a week – is made enjoyable (or bearable) by my listening to favorite audio books from Audible. My mind is not “in my body” but rather my mind is “in my mind” – as I listen through headphones to all the “wisdom” pouring into my head by great philosophers, theologians, psychologists, authors, and the like.

So on Monday after the workshop I tried an experiment. Could I spend at least ½ hour of this 1½-hour time with my iPhone turned off? Well to my amazement I could! And the space was similar to what I experienced at the workshop. I could tell the difference, and the half-hour of silence was beautiful rather than dutiful! And I was able to do this again on Wednesday.  And on Friday.

And what would happen if I brought such silence to my time with Pat? I notice that since the workshop I am listening more deeply to Pat, and I am not so eager to share and not so overly focused on where I am.  This feels enriching to our reverent relating. The sharing goes deeper still.

In reflecting on all of this, and in again wondering what motivates me on this journey of life, I am reminded of a sentence from Pathwork Lecture 204 What Is the Path that certainly relates here: “Every human being senses an inner longing that goes deeper than the longings for emotional and creative fulfillment, although these are, of course, part of the deeper and more essential desire.  Perhaps the most accurate “translation” of this longing would be a feeling or sensing that another, more fulfilling state of consciousness and a larger capacity to experience life must exist.”   (From paragraph 16 of Lecture 204)

So instead of hurrying through life can I slow down and find simple happiness and pleasure in savoring life, all of life, each groping and floundering step of life? Can I find happiness and pleasure in simply being with Pat, enlivened by her mere presence?

I notice in these very NOW moments that I find myself enlivened and graced by pleasure and happiness in each moment of this process of creating this blog entry. And this happiness is there whenever I am creating the Devotional Format of the Pathwork Lectures. And again in my morning meditation time with Pat.

I am eager to take this enlivening energy into our Divine Sexuality workshop in May, to our couple’s intensive in June, and into all of Pat’s and my life together, and into all of my life in all its rich dimensions!

In this reflection I am reminded of a 13-minute  video clip on Grace and Happiness by Rupert Spira. So what motivates me on this amazing journey? I am being called by Happiness from within, from my Divine Essence! It is all Grace!

So, from the title of this blog entry, I ask, “Gary, were you surprised and graced with a taste of enlightenment in this series of experiences at the Sacred Dimensions Workshop and the days that followed?” Someone wiser than I am in such matters would have to say. But in any case it was an experience where “my cup overflowed with Happiness and Grace.” I’ll take that as enough! And then I’ll take my next floundering – but happy – step into Life…

Shared in love, Gary

Footnote 1 – Readings assigned by Marjorie for the Sacred Dimensions Workshop

1) Basic Trust by A.H. Almaas

2) Pathwork Lecture 213 The Spiritual and Practical Meaning of “Let Go, Let God”

3) Pathwork Lecture 221 Faith And Doubt in Truth Or Distortion

4) Pathwork Lecture 250 Inner Awareness of Grace – Exploring the Deficit

Footnote 2 – Some of the readings assigned by Sage for the Divine Sexuality Workshop

1) Pathwork Lecture 207 The Spiritual Significance and Symbolism of Sexuality

2) Pathwork Lecture 44 The Forces of Love, Eros, and Sex

3) Pathwork Lecture 140 Conflict of Positive Versus Negative Oriented Pleasure As the Origin of Pain

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Gary Vollbracht