Searching for Who I Am, Searching for Love
For over ten years I have been part of a spiritual writing group – a devoted group of 7 or 8 who choose a topic about life, write a 1-2-page paper on same, and then gather to share. We meet 8-10 times per year. Yesterday the group met and once again we were struck by the richness of the group we have created – six (or sometimes seven) women and me ranging in age between 58 and 75.
The general theme for yesterdays gathering was, “Something Good About Me.” It was suggested by Isabelle. The topic was a challenge for us all, yet the results were beautiful. My writing follows…
Searching for Who I Am
Thank you, Isabelle. After our most recent writing group two months ago you asked whether or not I could say anything positive about who I am and then went on to suggest this topic as our theme for today’s writing and sharing. Your question led me into a month or two of introspection and some helpful reflections. What follows are some of the pieces that seem to frame this tricky but important question for me.
I believe someone in our writing group many months ago recommended a movie she really enjoyed. It took until ten days ago for it finally to become available to Pat and me on Netflix. It arrived just in time for Pat and me to take it on our vacation with us to a retreat condo located in Sapphire Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. After all these months we had forgotten what the video was about exactly but quickly became engaged with it as the story unfolded. We have now watched the video twice within five days, ordered a copy of it for ourselves, along with two CDs – the music by the man this video is about: Sixto Rodriguez. The video is Searching for Sugar Man. (The complementary CDs are Coming from Reality and Cold Fact)
The video is a documentary about the life of a 1970’s songwriter/singer, Rodriguez, and as we watched I was inspired by the unique combination of Rodriguez’ talent, his obscurity for 25 years followed by his being discovered (hence the “Searching” in the title) and then his recent experience of fame and recognition. Throughout his 70+ years of life (like me, he was born in 1942) he sustained a remarkably steady level of integrity and humility. While in 2012 Searching for Sugar Man won an Oscar for Best Documentary and although the director had begged Rodriguez to attend the Oscars since the movie was, after all, his biography, he did not attend. In fact, he had resisted even being in the movie. On the night of the Oscars he was at home, slept through the event, and did not know the movie had won an Oscar until his daughter called him the next day.
Though he is now somewhat famous, Rodriguez continues to live the way he has always lived – in the rundown-but-since-fixed-up house he bought in Detroit on sale from the government 40 years ago for $50 (that’s right, $50). He has no computer, no television, and no telephone – except a cell phone that his daughter insisted he get so she could stay in touch with him. Most of the money he has received of late due to his having now been discovered he has given away. His career these past 40 years, besides being a songwriter, has been that of a hard-working manual laborer – working in construction and demolition. And in the documentary his demolition job supervisor said Rodriguez brought dignity, service, presence, and humility to all he did, just like any artist. In the past year or so Rodriguez has been going blind, and as a result he walks awkwardly and sometimes must be led. I find I am inspired by who he is – truly a role model I would have chosen to emulate had I heard of him before now.
What impresses and challenges me most is his balance of integrity, humility, and presence to life as it comes to him, whether that be hauling a refrigerator on his back out to the trash on his demolition job or taking in the sustained applause of over 5,000 fans in South Africa where he came to fame in the past few years. In either case he would be the same Rodriguez. Amazing.
What were the characters in Searching for Sugar Man searching for in their search? A great songwriter and singer of course, one that had made a significant impact in South Africa. And what did they find? That and so much more! They found a Life that “leaves you joyous and moved,” as the cover for the DVD says.
Another film that comes to mind as I consider my journey of 71 years is, It’s A Wonderful Life. Here too you have George Baily (Jimmy Stewart) meeting life day by day, and meeting it in both integrity and humility. Unlike Rodriguez in real life, however, George Baily saw his life of integrity, humility, love, and service as a failure. It took Clarence, the angel trying to earn his wings, to get George to see how he had affected the world around him simply by being who he was.
I confess to a George Baily streak in me. Perhaps this is what Isabelle was picking up on in my writing last time and what led her to ask her question about whether or not I could find anything good in me. When I look at the externals of my life what do I find? Through hard work I was a great engineering student, but dropped out of my PhD program and on the job was a lousy engineer. In my 29-year career with SDRC I was a manager, salesman, and CEO – but not particularly satisfied or effective in these roles, requiring that another take over as CEO as I took other roles in the background.
In church I was a leader, elder, and bible class teacher, but again not terribly effective in these roles, and the church struggled during my involvement. Eventually I could no longer relate to my Lutheran roots and left the church for good late in life. My married life of 34 years ended in divorce. After retirement I explored being a hospital chaplain, but this was for only nine months, and I felt awkward in the role the entire time. I became a massage therapist, but never really an effective one, and though with Pat I co-founded Stillpoint Center for Therapeutic Massage, we could not lead it to financial viability and besides I had little energy for massage. I founded Tourmaline Life Center, but in the end closed it down due to financial and business shortcomings. I trained as a life coach, but never became one. I entered Pathwork and was trained as a Pathwork teacher and helper, but never really taught effectively nor did I build a helpership practice. Most recently I played various leadership roles in Mid-Atlantic Pathwork, but the organization did not thrive during my participation. So from the outside, what do I have to show for my life? Not much.
Yet there is another way to look at my life. As my son said after my divorce, “Dad, just because a marriage ends does not mean it was a failure.” Or last night at an SDRC reception at the University of Cincinnati – folks coming up to me and remembering me not for any achievement or brilliance I had at SDRC but rather for “giving them a bible for their wedding,” or another who said, “I struggled when I had to fire someone and you supported me by giving me a box of candy afterwards, knowing how hard this was for me.” And at the reception I noticed that in no way did I relate to the technology or business successes that were being toasted and hailed during the evening. Or, most recently, a colleague told me after I stepped down from my roles in Mid-Atlantic Pathwork, “Gary, I appreciate you in any group where we are together.” What I see in all of this is that who I am does not depend on how the organizations, careers, or roles I have been involved in have thrived, achieved, or performed but rather on how I showed up and how I was with the people involved. I could find my true identity in being a common Joe, struggling with life like everyone else. From that place I could find meaning in my life.
So if my energy was not in organizations, technology, church-work or business, where was it? Where have I experienced the most inner energy during my 71 years on planet earth? Here is what surfaces: photographing wildflowers; falling in love late in life; having conversations one-on-one or in small groups on matters spiritual, philosophical, or conceptual; working with and applying the Pathwork lectures (my grand recording project!); and finally organizing ideas and concepts into presentations. I’m not sure how all of these energies in me integrate to make up a life, and there are pieces that are missing, but these aspects of my life energize me from the depths of my soul!
I feel at peace with this new self-assessment. And I now look ahead. For ten years Pat has served a couple as an elder care provider. The wife died five years ago and the husband died on Sunday, October 27. Suddenly Pat is retired, and since I stepped down from all my roles in Mid-Atlantic Pathwork effective October 1, Pat can join me in in our true retirement.
At our most recent couple’s counseling session last week (during our vacation), Sage and Anthony at one point noted, “You two bring such obvious commitment, consciousness, and love to your relationship – imagine what would happen if you would come into full Unitive Consciousness in all dimensions of your relationship and in all of Life!” Their comment puzzled me. Part of me was still in the George Baily space of not seeing that indeed Pat and I do bring “obvious commitment, consciousness, and love to our relationship.” Perhaps I need a Clarence to show me how this is true.
In these reflections I see that perhaps my search for “who I am” is over, and, as with those searching for Rodriguez, what I have found as who I am is so much richer and deeper than I could have imagined, and at the core has little to do with performance in the externals but rather has very much to do with humble presence to life and people. I’ll go with that! So once again, thank you for the question Isabelle! I needed that just to find happiness in being who I am as a common “Joe.”
Shared in love, Gary
Before reading my writing at our writing group I read it to Pat. Regarding the second to last paragraph where I reference our session with Sage and Anthony, Pat said that whereas she could see how Sage and Anthony could see our “obvious commitment” and perhaps even our “obvious consciousness,” she could not see how they could they say that our love was obvious! I realized that I had reacted the same way – commitment, yes, consciousness, maybe, but our love for each other? Our love for each other is not at all obvious to us. So we ask how could our love be “obvious” to Sage and Anthony after they have worked with us so intensely for nearly 18 months? Do they not “get” us, the “unlovers,” at all? Or on the other hand do we simply not “get” love at all, and hence do not recognize the love we actually do have for each other? This is a big deal for us. We need to discuss it further at our next session with Sage and Anthony.
I shared Pat’s and my struggle over using the word “love” to describe our relationship with the women of the writing group. They too, knowing Pat and having listened to my deep sharing for ten years, said that Pat’s and my love was absolutely “obvious.” One of them, who knows Pat and me well from a couples workshop she led and we attended, quoted to the group her favorite line from M. Scott Peck – his definition of love: “Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth…” She added, “I certainly see Gary and Pat embodying this definition.” And I find I am very satisfied that Pat and I love each other in the sense that Peck defines love – absolutely we are “nurturing our own and the other’s spiritual growth” in our relationship.
But for me there is still something missing in our experience of love. Peck’s definition of love continues, “Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” I find I am not agreeing that mature love is a “choice of the will,” as Peck purports. Rather I see that true love, when we are conscious and when our spirituality is mature, becomes a part of who we are. Then love is no longer a “choice of the will” but rather a spontaneous outpouring of our Essence – as the title of Pathwork Lecture 133 says “Love: Not a Commandment, But Spontaneous Soul Movement of the Inner Self.”
So I see love as a two-phase development. In Phase 1 Love we can exercise our will and choose to love. But we must recognize that this choice may be in action only, coming from our mask-self; that is, by exercising our will we are intentionally “Doing the right thing” in the spirit of “fake it until we make it.” But while faking it during this Phase 1 Love, we also recognize that we are indeed faking it and that our acts of love are not yet motivated spontaneously by our Divine Essence. In Phase 1 Love we are not yet at the maturity of consciousness required to spontaneously emanate love from our Essence. Eventually, as we grow spiritually and enter Phase 2 Love, love will indeed become “a spontaneous soul movement of the inner self,” an emanation from our Essence. This Phase 2 Love is the love Pat and I long for!
But of course there is also the high-energy of Eros. According to Pathwork Lecture 44 The Forces of Love, Eros, and Sex, Eros plays the role in our human condition of bridging the way to love. So since we are not feeling Eros in our love, our question might be the reverse of this, “Can Pat and I come to experience the energies of Eros that we long for as our love becomes spiritually mature and as we enter a holistic level of Unitive consciousness?” We have thought of Eros as “chemistry” in a relationship and have assumed that the “chemistry” either is or isn’t – it can’t be manufactured. So our question remains open, “Can ‘chemistry’ or Eros emerge organically from a deep and mature love?” Pat and I will wait and see! Or rather we shall explore this question with a spirit of curiosity.