Pulling Out of Despondency
Most mornings, after our meditation time, Pat and I sit on the couch, sip our coffee and compare life notes, perhaps for forty-five minutes. And sometimes for an hour and forty-five minutes. We acknowledge to each other that these are perhaps the richest times of our lives, our growing times. We call these times our “P&G” times, and record much of what goes on in these moments into our journals.
This morning, a Saturday morning, was particularly rich. We returned Friday afternoon from seven days of personal growth work — a day and a half at our first experience of Holotropic Breathwork under the direction of two Grof-trained facilitators followed immediately by five full days of Ira-Progoff-type Journaling work under the loving, agile and skilled facilitation of Faye Schwelitz.
So why this morning did I wake up in a mood of overwhelm and despondency? I was aware that I could not engage in my work with Sevenoaks Pathwork Center, was not able to sense playing my assistant teaching role in the Pathwork Transformation Program, and felt myself not “on my game” spiritually compared to so many of the others at the journal-writing group. I was in a funk.
Pat offered that I could be in my pattern space of comparing myself to others. I responded that I felt myself to be lost in the forest of my life. And I did not like being lost in the forest of my life. “If I were on my game,” I was telling myself, “I would not be lost in the forest of my life. I would, rather, know where I was and know where I was going.”
Pat took me to a space we learned from our couples’ counselor, Theresa Sapunar. It is a spiritual side of Rosenberg’s Non-Violent-Communications material as taught by Robert Gonzales. It is called Spiritual NVC. This process reminds me that I am telling myself that I am lost in the forest, and, more significantly, I am telling myself that being lost in the forest, especially spiritually, makes me wrong, bad, weak, stupid, resistant, stubborn, and very very vulnerable to life and others. Most people, spiritually speaking, I tell myself have answers that satisfy them, and if I would just humble myself and accept their answers, I too could know where I was in the forest of my life, my spiritual life. I, too, would not be or feel so lost. Finally, and most importantly, I tell myself that being in a state of NOT KNOWING, that is, in MYSTERY is NOT OK. Hence the funk.
Pat could see how that would come up in me. “You have a deep propensity to be open to the Mystery of life. You are a searcher. You are vulnerable as a searcher in the Mystery of life because here you came into this world, a naked open blob, open to and excited about Mystery, and into a world that insists that you KNOW the answers to life’s mysteries. You are living in a world where Mystery is anathema! Especially spiritually, scientifically and philosophically.
I noted how this ties into a dream I worked on in the Journal workshop two days ago. In this dream (which occurred on my 68th birthday a couple of weeks ago) I was going to be executed for a political crime, the nature of which I did not know. As I dialogued with the Dream, I found myself in the following dialogue:
Dream: “… You are not to feel really supported by anyone. You are going to have to stand for your own convictions, not the convictions of those around you.”
Gary: “This seems like a big deal! I’ve been seeking a community of like-minded folks in order to feel their support.”
Dream: “In the end, Gary, you are alone. You have to stand on your own two feet, on what you Know to be True.”
Gary: “But I don’t know what is true!”
Dream: “Then there is where you stand: in the Mystery of Not Knowing. That, you see, was your political crime. You stood for “NOT KNOWING.” Those in power could not tolerate that. Had you joined in with some group who claimed to know something, anything, those in power could have stood it. It would have been a conflict between two different and conflicting knowings, sure, but not the danger of NOT KNOWING at all. So here you are alone. People do not gather together to stand up for NOT KNOWING, for PURE MYSTERY. So here you are, facing execution, alone.”
Boy did that ever fit this morning! My “crime” (in my own mind) is living into the Mystery of Life. So as others in our journal group seem to know what their lives are about, I feel increasingly vulnerable when I do not. I begin to believe that I do not fit in. (This is all in my head, of course, since they would admit they did not know either I suppose.) I start believing that I’m supposed to Know too! And when in truth I do not know, I feel very vulnerable and go into a tailspin, here this morning falling into feelings of overwhelm and despondency.
And this Not Knowing comes up everywhere in my life. When I am an assistant teacher in the Pathwork Transformation Program I start thinking that I have to know — know how to “help” the students, how to “teach” them something from Pathwork that would “help” them. In such a position, NOT KNOWING is unbearable, at least to a part of me that holds the belief that I should know, after all, I am in a teaching role. Yet in another part of me, I experience the Joy of Mystery. In this latter part I do not have to have answers. So the internal battle between “having to know” and “not knowing” or Mystery, rages onward.
Pat, with a smile, pointed out, “Gary, you are nose-to-nose with your Opponent. You are the Joy of Mystery. This is who you are. Your Opponent says NO to Mystery, NO to your essence. Your Opponent says you have to have answers, not Mystery!” I engaged Pat with, “My Opponent can’t stand not having THE answers to Life’s Mystery. My Opponent cannot stand not knowing, not being right in my knowing. In this space, even Pathwork itself, ‘my path,’ must be ‘Right,’ and other programs, such as the Landmark Forum or the Roman Catholic Church or the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, must be ‘Wrong.'”
Yet Pathwork itself does not preach its rightness but rather encourages self-responsibility to discern one’s own truth. Yet I am the one that preaches Pathwork’s rightness, or, rather, I am the one who holds to a need for Pathwork to be “right,” taking away altogether the Mystery that is. Now, when I sit with this I realize that to my Soul it is Mystery, not Answers, that feels “right,” if I can even use that word “right” in the land of Mystery and Unity. My Soul holds with suspicion those who have answers, including even that part of myself that thinks it has answers, or ought to!
Pat carried the point further. “The Pathwork Council is, perhaps, lost in the forest, and you, as Chairman, are trying to lead the Council out of the forest. How ironic. Here you are as a Council facing the unknown. Perhaps your role is allowing the Council to be lost in the forest. Perhaps helping the Council in their opening to Mystery is the only way to play a leadership role for the Council.”
I responded, “So my role is to help us face the Mystery of Not Knowing — until the Mystery reveals itself.”
Pat went on, “So this morning your own ‘having to know’ makes you overwhelmed and despondent.” I added, “Even hopeless, because in this ‘having to know’ I insist on knowing the unknowable, that which is inherently Mystery.
Pat: “I was just feeling for you, for that child in you that came into the world knowing that Mystery is Reality. And this child part of you had a connected felt sense of that Knowing that Mystery is Reality. And here you are today surrounded by the rigid authorities who must know — rigid authorities that include that part in yourself that must know rather than celebrate and live the Mystery that Life is. This ‘longing for Mystery’ was a thread you brought into this world. This longing for the Mystery is the true essence of you, and probably of all of us.”
Gary: “I don’t want the need to know and understand to rob me of the joy of the Great Mystery that Life is.”
Pat: “Perhaps this is a theme in you: It is intolerable to not know. Even in our relationship where we are wrestling with the meaning of the love between us it is intolerable for you not to know how this love will play out.”
“And I can see your compensatory ability to fight against not knowing. You play with the computer until it works for you — you have the patience and stick-to-it-tiveness to get things to work. Like in school. You worked hard to know, but then even there that true self in you gave up on getting your PhD. Perhaps you knew unconsciously that for you the answers in Life would come from opening to Mystery, not from learning the externals.”
“So what do you have in your life that supports ‘Opening to Mystery’? Nothing may change in the externals, but your view of what you are doing may change. For example, your role in the Pathwork Council may not be to lead them out of the forest of Mystery but to Live the forest of Mystery. Recognize the duality of competing knowings, or the duality of knowing/not-knowing. Perhaps you can catch yourself in this pattern when it shows up. Look out into the world and see how important the transformation of this piece is.”
Gary: “For me this means taking “being right” and “knowing” off the table so I can fully live the Mystery that Life is. And you ask who supports me in this, You do!”
Pat: “It is quite something that we live together and have this great opportunity. Our relationship is unlike anything else in my life. It is a defining relationship because of all that is brought to bear in the complexity of our living together. Mystery everywhere. Mystery of us. Mystery of family. Mystery of choosing. Mystery of my program of Awakening Into Presence. Mystery of your Pathwork. Mystery all around us in everything we do and are. … So how are you feeling now?”
On Sunday I was drawn to read The Sacred Depths of Nature, by Ursula Goodenough, who is a Professor in the Department of Biology at Washington University in St. Louis. She calls herself a non-theist, and I found I could understand her sense of this self-title from her writing. I found the book a good read, and in light of the above post, was drawn to her closing words:
Taking on Ultimacy
We are all, each one of us, ordained to live out our lives in the context of ultimate questions, such as:
• Why is there anything at all, rather than nothing?
• Where did the laws of physics come from?
• Why does the universe seem so strange?
My response to such questions has been to articulate a covenant with Mystery.
To this I say Amen.