Disillusionment with the Path
By Brian O’Donnell
“The more you try to identify with your idealized Self Image, the harder is the disillusionment whenever life brings you into a position when this masquerade can no longer be maintained.” (Lecture #83)
While working recently in a process group, the notion of being disillusioned with the Pathwork came up for someone. I felt it was a significant moment in the worker’s journey. I was excited as I sensed an important shift occurring for this person. What do I mean by this? How could I be excited when someone was losing faith with the work? After all, aren’t we all attempting to increase our faith?
What is it that brings someone to a spiritual path? My sense is that it is usually a mixture of longing for the Essential or Real Self and a hope for transcendence from the demands of life. The latter reason is what creates eventual problems in terms of disillusionment. This is because there can be an unconscious desire for the Path to save us. To fix what is wrong with us. To deliver us from ourselves. We believe that if we follow the right and prescribed steps as outlined by the Guide and/or our helpers that salvation will be ours. In essence we create an Idealized Image of the Pathwork. The more we want to avoid certain forces or realities that live within us the more we hope that the Pathwork will save us from them.
Thus disillusionment can be seen as a necessary phase in our development. Disillusionment can be a doorway to a deeper understanding of these teachings. We begin to realize that nothing will “save” us. We see that what we’ve been so busy trying to save really needs to be released. The self that usually wants fixing is an amalgamation of our character, Idealized Self images and Lower Self. It is our frantic desire to be fixed or saved that prevents real freedom.
This illusion of hope occurs in all significant relationships whether it be romantic, therapeutic or philosophical. It can be even more seductive and compelling with a spiritual path due to the projected reward for doing it right. After all, isn’t there the promise of Pleasure Supreme and Infinite Bliss? Our egoic self believes that it now has found the answer. It can have its cake and eat it too. The ego can have freedom and not have to “die” to a greater Life.
Spiritual maturity understands that real freedom means accepting Life as it is. It knows that we can’t have life on our own terms until we are willing to surrender to the way it is now. We have to face and go through all that frightens us. We have to be willing to be undone by Life. To the extent we expect the Pathwork to assist us in not being undone we will be disillusioned eventually. Nothing can stop Life from its course of bringing us back Home.
One way I often describe the Pathwork is that it is a Path of Disillusionment. It provides incredible insight into the illusions we all carry. It is a Path of Truth. The guide presents Spiritual Law and tools to find our own truth. Sooner or later, if we stay the course, I believe we will encounter the illusion of the Pathwork that we carry, that we hope will allow us not to have to go all the way.
People often leave a teaching or a teacher when the disillusionment occurs. This may be the right step for them or disillusionment might be the process that would further deepen their practice if they stayed and worked with it. The leaving may be a refusal to fully accept self-responsibility for life’s manifestations. One blames the teacher or teaching for lack of progress.
The other side of the coin is those spiritual communities that don’t allow for identification or expression of disillusionment. This would be, for me, one of the factors that creates a cult. Cults provide and fortify an Idealized Image of the teacher or teaching. Questions are discouraged and disillusionment is seen as a failure, not as the necessary step it may be for many seekers.
Disillusionment can occur in the first exposure to the Path or it may take fifteen years, or it can come in stages. I remember my first year on the Path is the year that Eva died. I’d come from a number of year studying with Eastern Gurus. At that time, and in my mind, I saw them as Realized Beings who didn’t suffer in the way the rest of humanity did. I was deeply confused that the new teaching I was exploring had its Teacher dying of cancer. I needed my Teachers to be above mere mortals. My affiliation with the Pathwork was touch and go for a while. I’m glad I elected to stay as my disillusionment with Eva was life changing for me. I began to see my need for transcendence as exemplified by Realized Master’s, was in fact a large part of what imprisoned me. I was wanting my spiritual search to take me out of my body, away from my pain. This disillusionment served me.
Another disillusionment that I wrestle with regarding the Pathwork is the guide’s position on homosexuality. There are a number of references to the “problem” of this orientation. How can I reconcile the guide’s wisdom in so many other matters when it is clear he (or Eva) is so off the mark on this issue? This is a painful disparity for many who study these teachings. I have known of Pathworkers who have left the Pathwork due to this disparity and others who wouldn’t even join when hearing of these painful perspectives. How could I stand in my integrity as a helper, teacher and Foundation Trustee when I disagreed with this part of the teachings? My disillusionment with this bas been around my expectation that I could accept everything the Guide said as Truth. I needed to believe in the “Word.” My illusion that got shaken was that the truth was outside of me. If only I studied and absorbed it I would be saved. What I’m beginning to appreciate is the understanding that truth is a blend of the inner and the outer. I need to be open to the outer teachings, examining thoroughly my reactions to what I encounter while also honoring my inner knowing. This disillusionment has also served me.
The process of disillusionment can lead to the awakening of true inner authority. The kind of authority that is flexible yet firm. Authority that evolves along with the organic nature of life and isn’t rigid or set in its ways. Authority that doesn’t take itself too seriously yet is willing to stand in the truth courageously and wholeheartedly.