Compassionate Confrontation: How to Meet Evil with Love

Compassionate Confrontation: 

How to Meet Evil with Love

When my beloved adopted daughter Pamela was caught in the jaws of extreme drug addiction, my survival (and hers as well) depended on my learning compassionate confrontation.  To be only compassionate would have led to a permissiveness that tolerated the intolerable and enabled her self-destruction.  To be only confrontive would have deepened the alienation and unworthiness from which she already suffered.  I had to learn to combine the compassionate unconditional love I had for her with the confrontational tough love we both needed to survive.

A case can be made that our current president and his “agenda,” along with much of the popular culture of our country, is suffering from the disease of addiction.  Addicts are caught in the vicious cycle of physical craving for substances to deny and numb their pain and to inflate their pathologically low self-esteem.  In order to survive as addicts, they will do whatever they have to do to get their drugs.  Doing the terrible things they do exacts an awful price on their already low self-esteem and compromised moral integrity. The pain of guilt causes them to use more drugs, to seek more numbness, more escape, more denial, and, eventually, creates more acting out and yet more guilt.  And on it goes.

Addictive cravings demand immediate gratification, and make addicts unable to consider the consequences of their behavior.  Addiction has often been called a disease of “self-will run riot.”

Trump is an extreme example of “self-will run riot.”  His need to dominate others, to get the demands of his small self-will gratified, and to satisfy his basest desires all appear to stem from an underlying pathological condition.  This condition only gets worse the more his self-will is allowed to run rampant.  Like the addict’s dependence on drugs, no true satisfaction can ever be found; it is an inevitable spiral downward.  He can never have “enough” money, fame, power, sexual conquest, or domination of others.  The more he has, the more he craves.

Our culture’s drugs of choice are not just power, fame, money, sex, drugs and alcohol, but also mind-numbing TV, and all forms of shallow electronic entertainment, rigid religious and political ideologies, fossil fuels, processed foods, and the accumulation of material goods. Like addictive drugs, the culture fuels a compulsive desire for MORE, and also assures that we will never be satisfied.

The lessons I learned in dealing with addiction in my family – including the practice of compassionate confrontation – can be applied to political action in these times.  We need to learn to practice non-violent compassionate confrontation of the insane, addicted behavior of Trump and allies, even as we keep our hearts open to them as people who are suffering from their addictions.  And we need to look within ourselves for where our own addictions, fears, rages, and insanity are destroying our capacity for compassion and/or for confrontation.

One feature of the family disease of addiction is that when the addict is in the throes of using drugs, the whole family goes crazy trying to control the uncontrollable addict.  Given that the whole country seems pretty crazy now, this might be another indication that we can profitably view the issues we face from the perspective of confronting addiction.

Pamela and I wrote a book about our journey through addiction, called Love Unbroken: From Addiction to Redemption.  The title of the book is taken from this quote by Gangaji, a contemporary spiritual teacher, “Opening to whatever is present can be a heartbreaking business.  But let the heart break, for your breaking heart only reveals a core of love unbroken.”

In the course of Pam’s ten years of extreme drug addiction, I was often heart-broken.  I dove deep into my grief and pain and let it wash me clean.  I shook with fear and anxiety, and saw clearly that all my attempts to define and control life and others (especially Pam) were merely futile efforts to push away that soul-shattering fear.  I screamed with rage, was dragged down by guilt, and sometimes fell into despair.  But, over time, I learned to let each of these temporary emotional states move through me, stepping back, staying aware and accepting whatever arose.   Until, finally, I could let go; actually I had to let go over and over again, each time a little deeper.  Until I was, at last, swept into the vast ocean of unconditional, unbroken love beneath all experience.

What is happening in the U.S. now is truly heart-breaking.  It is only by feeling the pain of our own heart-break that we can come to know the foundational love that lives at the core – of ourselves and of all life.  There is a presence here deeper than our personal will which holds everything that is happening in compassion.  When we find this love in ourselves, we can confront the “other” without being oppositional and polarizing in our confrontation.

Martin Luther King, my first spiritual teacher, knew this foundational love.

He knew:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

He taught:

“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’  It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”

During the civil rights movement of the 1960s in which I was a peripheral player—standing with King on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, teaching at Howard University, spending “Freedom Summer” of 1964 in Mississippi—it became clear to me that the only action that brings enduring change is action which is aligned with Love and Truth.  These great cosmic forces illuminate and unify.  If, on the other hand, action is motivated by self-righteousness, fear and division, it will only create more entrenched egos, more un-grounded fear and more angry divisiveness.

We need to practice again King’s kind of political action.  Action from the heart, powered by love.  This is what worked for me in dealing with addiction and this is what I believe will work to bring the change we wish to see at a societal level.

POLITICAL ACTION  from the Heart

* Grounded in Awareness and Acceptance

* Directed by Guidance

* Powered by Love

When I was dealing with active addiction in the family, I received a lot of help from Al-anon, the fellowship for family and friends of those suffering from addiction, including alcoholism.  One of their most effective maxims is:  the 3 “A”s:  1.Awareness,  2. Acceptance, and (only then) 3. Action.

  • Of the outer situation: We have to make sure we see what is really happening, that we are getting accurate information.  Just as the family of the addict needs to get out of denial, we all now need to find out what is really going on here, as best we can.  We need to read reports that are as unbiased as possible, and/or read several different biases so that we are not just reinforcing our own preconceptions or feeding our fears.

We need to see what is so:

  • without denial AND
  • without exaggeration


  • Of the inner situation: We need to take a good, clear, compassionate look at what is going on inside of ourselves:
  • We need to be aware of our own thoughts, judgments, prejudices, and pre-conceptions.
  • We need to be aware of our feelings/ sensations including  Fear/ Anger/ Grief
  • We need to allow these feelings to be fully felt – just as they are,just as they arise in the body, without mental justification or explanation.  Simple bodily sensation/feeling.  Allow it to pass through like a wave arising, and then falling away.


In my experience with my daughter Pam, the most difficult challenge to awareness and acceptance of WHAT IS happened before the addiction ever took hold, when she was just 13 years old.  She was raped.  By three boys.  It was horrific.  After the police came to our house to talk to her, I drove her to the hospital. All the way to the hospital, I kept saying out loud, “This shouldn’t have happened.  This shouldn’t have happened.”  The event was overwhelming, and my defense against the horror was denial.  As the car approached the emergency room, Pam tried to comfort me:  “It happened, Mom.  It just happened.” 

It would take me months to fully assent to the reality that “it just happened,” but it was only after that acceptance that I was able to find my sanity again.  I was able to go through the trial of her rapists in sorrow rather than in denial or in revenge.  I was able to take seriously the deeper issues and needs of my daughter, which I had not seen clearly until that time.

(This story is told in Chapter 1 of Love Unbroken.)


  • We usually need to start the process of acceptance by accepting our own inner reactions to the outer situation.

We notice and accept all the negative thoughts we have, just as they are, without blame or justification.

We notice and meet all our feelings, just as they are, as pure sensation


  • If we are fortunate, we can recognize a Background Presence “behind” all our thoughts and feelings, however negative or disturbing they may be. This Presence is Just Here/ Just Now.  It always accepts what appears exactly as it is.  One name for this Presence is:  Unconditional Love.  What we know about Love is that:

                                              Love accepts Life as It Is

  • If we are fortunate enough to be able to glimpse this unconditional love as the background presence in our lives, then our challenge is to view the outer situation of which we have become aware through the lens of this unconditional acceptance. We repeat as often as needed, accompanied by sighs, as needed:  “It is as it is.”

I had many opportunities—in the long ten-year course of Pam’s active drug addiction—to practice acceptance of what is. 

One such moment:  After a great deal of effort and money, we send Pam, on a one-way ticket, to a drug treatment program in the middle of Mississippi which has a reputation of success with young addicts.  A week into treatment, I have a reassuring conversation with her counselor who tells me at some length about how well Pam is working the program there.  Twenty minutes later, the counselor calls me back to say that Pam has left the premises—in the middle of winter, barefoot, without a coat, and with no money.  

And, no, they won’t help us find her nor will they call the police.  Since she has left the premises, they have no further responsibility for her.  My sputtering fury and frustration are matched only by my soul-searing grief.  I stomp and scream and wail for hours.  And then I go to an Al-Anon meeting.  When the roiling waves of emotion subside, I simply wait to hear—from her, or from the police, or from some morgue somewhere—about her fate. About a week later, she calls to say she is Washington DC, having hitch-hiked back. Unscathed.  She simply isn’t ready yet to get clean.

(This story is told in Chapter 19 of Love Unbroken.)


  1. ACTION:

Only when we are willing to be aware of and accept all our experience—the good and the bad, the joy and the suffering—can we act out of love rather than out of fear or anger.   Only after we have let the chaotic waves of emotion move through us, can we return to the inner stillness and silence which are the ground of our being.

Then we can listen to the guidance of our inner being (what the Quakers call “the still, small voice within”) and do what is called for, what is in alignment with Love and Truth, with our own deepest nature.

As an adopted child, Pamela had severe “attachment” issues.  Throughout her childhood we never fully bond.

When she is an adolescent, Pam decides she wants to live with her biological dad.  But a few months after moving there, she begins using cocaine and then runs away from school and home to the streets of Omaha, Nebraska.  I am frantic. 

I call a PI (private investigator) in Omaha and ask if he can find my daughter.  He cautions that it is a “million in one” chance. I hire him.  He says I’ll have to come there and we’ll have to get a court order (she is almost 18) to empower him to apprehend her, and, even then, there is only a slim chance she can effectively be detained.

Her biological father washes his hands of her.  My Al-anon friends here say I need to wait until she asks for help.  My husband thinks it is a crazy idea for me to go.  Everyone cautions me to wait, to take care of myself, to calm my terrible anxiety.  They are concerned that, even if I go, and if I can’t find her, I will be in worse shape than I already am.  It is excruciating, but … I wait.  I pray. I allow that anything might happen. 

I accept that I am helpless.  I repeat the first three steps of the 12-step program over and over:  “I am powerless over the (addict).  I trust in a Higher Power to restore me to sanity.  I surrender my life and will to that Power.”  I sit in meditation and prayer through half a night until finally some peace comes.  I sleep for a few hours.

Then I am awakened by a bright moon.  I stand at my window and the light of the moon pours in through my head.  A clear voice, the voice of the Divine Mother, the Moon, says to me:  “Go.  Listen for my Voice. I will guide you every step of the way.”  I go back to bed in complete calm. 

The next day I go to Omaha, find the PI, call on the lawyer to get him to draw up the legal papers, visit the school Pam had last attended, and then, when the papers are finally ready, the PI and I go to get the signature of a judge at the local courthouse.  It is already past 5 p.m. on a Friday and everyone has gone home.  But I “see” an angel in front of us, leading us into the courthouse, and there we find a middle-aged African-American woman judge who is just leaving her office.  I plead, “This is my last chance.”  She signs the papers.

Almost immediately thereafter I get a call from Pam on the cell phone I have rented.  Within 24 hours of my visitation from the Divine Mother of the Moon, Pam is in custody and starting to de-tox.

(This story is told in Chapters 10 and 11 of Love Unbroken.)

Pam could see that I wasn’t going to give up on her, and that I would do anything to help.  We bonded.  Her addiction did not end then, but the terrible rift between us was over.  From then on she knew I was on her side, and together we would fight this terrible demon disease that was hell-bent on killing her.  And we did.

Even though Pam and I forged an unbreakable emotional bond at that time, her disease still had to run its course.  I had to learn the nature of her disease.

I had to learn to discern the difference between the addicted person, whose personality had been hijacked by drugs, and my loving daughter who deeply wished to be free of drugs.

My loving daughter needed my compassion, my unconditional love.  I needed  to reassure her, over and over, that I still loved her, still believed in her, and that I would be there the moment she was ready for help.  The addict needed my confrontation, my tough love:  I would not give her any money when she was using drugs, even when she was living under bridges and eating out of dumpsters.  I did not let her live in my house, or any place that I helped finance, as long as she was using drugs.  When she was in the first years of recovery I drug-tested her often and unpredictably.  When she was using, I learned not to believe what she said as she was, mostly, lying.

I made many mistakes: I tried too hard to rescue her, but also didn’t come to her aid when she was sincere.  I believed some of her lies, and didn’t believe her when she was struggling to tell me the truth.  But throughout I knew that the “enemy” was her disease, not my beloved daughter.  As long as I could keep my heart open, I could and did find a path that worked for both of us.

Pam is now ten years clean and sober, holding a good job as office manager of a drug treatment center, raising two children, and in a new marriage.

When the time is right, and the action is guided by Love – a power greater than ourselves – miracles do happen.


During the many recoveries and many relapses in Pam’s journey to sobriety I kept deepening my capacity to accept what is, and to wait for action until the time was right.  I knew I needed to wait to act until it was clear that the action was in alignment with Guidance from a Source greater than my own mind.

Gradually my perception shifted:   I started out as a mother loving her daughter.  Then I saw myself as a devotee of the great archetype of love—the Divine Mother. I believed I was on this earth to serve as an instrument of Her Divine Will.  It was always from Her that I received my guidance about when and where to act to help Pam recover from addiction.

Then, at first suddenly and later gradually, I was led to an even deeper level of the unbroken, universal love which I had been called to serve.  I came to recognize that this love is my true nature.  It is what I am.  I AM that.

The love that I had served melted away the separate person I thought I was, like ice melts in water.  There is only this One Love, this one reality, expressing as Susan, as Pam, and as all that is.  This foundational love woke up in this body to reveal itself as the truth of what we are. That is true for every one of us, no matter how much the outer personality obscures that inner reality.

Faith in this foundational love allows us to accept whatever arises in experience and to trust that which is guiding the whole show.

More than anything, Love Unbroken is about Pam’s and my discovery of this core of love unbroken.


Applying the lessons:

Here’s how I applied the lessons I learned in dealing with addiction to the need for Political Action in our time

Like most of the people I know, the election of Trump felt like a devastating blow.  It felt so “wrong,” so much not in accordance with my ideas about how our species needs to evolve toward more truth and more love in order to survive on our beloved planet.  Trump’s personality was the incarnation of everything I most disliked; his chauvinistic aggressive defenses thoroughly masked his simple, flawed, vulnerable humanity, which he seemed to despise.  And yet, here it was.  He was, for now anyway, the president of the United States.  How was I going to accept WHAT IS?

After Trump’s election I first turned attention to my inner state.  I stomped and raged and wailed, as I had done after Pam’s runaway from treatment in Mississippi. I let the rage and fear and grief and despair flow through me, and then I let it all wash away.  I observed the negative thoughts about our future as a species, about the Republicans, about Trump – I watched the thoughts and let them go.  I saw the thoughts, but did not believe them.

And then, when I finally got quiet, I asked for guidance:  What can I do?

I received guidance to lead a Winter Solstice ritual last December 21 (2016) that 75 people attended.  Since then I’ve led Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice rituals, and I will keep that commitment to lead seasonal ceremony at our Medicine Wheel and on other parts of the land where I live –  at Sevenoaks Retreat Center,

I got clear that I was to go to the Women’s March and to another march led by Native Americans for their rights and for protection of the earth’s waters.  I wrote letters and signed petitions when the subject called to me.  I sent more money and read more news reports than I ever have.  I occasionally attended rallies and protests and support groups in Charlottesville, the town nearest to us with an active Resistance movement.

Where I am now:

I do my best to keep viewing Trump as a sick man, an addict of self-will.  He lives within a fearful closed mind and a terribly shrunken heart.  He seems to me to be very unhappy.  I see him as possessed by some really wrong ideas.  I do not see him as the “enemy.”

What IS the “enemy”?  It is the temptation to separation – and that temptation is in every one of us.  It is the temptation to identify exclusively with the apparently separate self and its personal will – “I want this and I don’t want that.”  In identifying with separation, there is the further temptation to see the “other” as not like “me,” which shreds our capacity for  empathy, acceptance and love.

When we see ourselves as separate, we live in constant fear, because this separate self will ultimately dissolve (die), and so we are always on guard, “protecting” this idea of who we think we are.  Fear then creates what it is afraid of – the “other” which is seen as threatening.

Protection of separation causes us to view “happiness” as the enhancement of our separation–domination, acquisition, and superiority–rather than seeing happiness as a natural outcome of our inherent capacity for connection and love.

And when the separate self seems to “get” what it “wants,” in the form of power, fame, and money, then self-will can truly become addictive.  “More” is never enough.

“Evil” results from our numbness to our own deeper needs, including the need to love and be loved.  This leads to numbness toward the other’s needs, and blindness to their equality and worth as fellow human beings.  Once we have cut off our connection to self and others, we can justify any amount of cruelty in the mistaken notion that the “other” is a “threat” which we must “conquer” in order to enhance our personal separate self / race / ethnicity/ country.

The only way “evil” can ultimately be overcome is within the self.  We need to face this temptation to separation within ourselves, bring it out into the open, have compassion for it, and then discover the pain we carry as a result of living from this illusion of separation.  We need to un-numb ourselves and feel our pain.  As we open up to compassion for the self, we open up to compassion for everyone.  We open to our longing to love and be loved, to connect with all humans and all life on the planet.  Guided by this longing, we can find the happiness and love that live within us as our true nature, underneath our apparently separate self.

Then we can help others.  And we help others by doing for them what we do for ourselves: illuminate their belief in the separate self, and confront the consequences. We meet them with compassion AND with confrontation and invite them back into relationship – with us and with themselves and with all life.

Like anyone in active addiction, Trump needs to be confronted and contained as much as possible.  As long as people around him keep enabling his addiction, he will not get well. And the acting out of his addiction will keep getting worse, until he self-destructs.  We do what we can – to get through to those around him who are still in denial and to assist the addict to “hit bottom.”

And yet…Trump’s and our country’s transformation is not up to us. Our actions cannot come from our personal will opposing his personal will.  That just creates more duality.  We can, instead, let go and realize that a force larger than our own personal wills is in charge of the show here.  And that the show will unfold…however it unfolds…within the context of a boundless unbroken love, that accepts everything just as it is.  And when we align with that love and commit to serving that love–as Martin Luther King, Jr. did–we can truly become instruments of Divine Will, so that miracles can happen.

I do my best to observe and accept when I am triggered into reactive outrage, my non-acceptance at what I still see as the havoc Trump and the Republicans are wrecking on the country.  I allow the reactions to be fully felt, but then take time to let them settle back into calmness and faith.

When I feel clearly called, I act.  Women’s issues, Native American issues, Water issues –these most call to me.  I will keep connecting to the Medicine Wheel daily, and I will offer solstice and equinox rituals as long as people want to attend. I will keep monitoring my emotional reactivity until consciousness returns to its innate silence and stillness.  And in that silence I will listen to the “still, small voice” and act whenever I am guided to do so.

I offer my experience here to whoever might find it useful as you sort out your own reactions, and find your own true basis for action from the heart.

Blessings, Susan Thesenga

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Elder Community at Sevenoaks?

Residential Spiritual Community for Elders at Sevenoaks?

I have a vision of a residential community for active old people who want to focus the remaining years of their lives on spiritual matters, gradually letting go of the activities and achievements of the small ego, and allowing the greater wisdom within us to guide our lives and prepare us for our passing at death.  This vision has been realized in a number of ElderSpirit communities, including one in SW Virginia which encourage mutual support, consensus decision-making, and shared spiritual practices, in a co-housing community.

In a co-housing community, each person (or couple) has complete autonomy over his/her/their own private living space, including kitchen and bath, but we also create shared living spaces—a community kitchen and dining room, extra guest rooms, a meditation room, laundry room, exercise room, etc.—which we create, care for and use collectively.

Sevenoaks offers a potentially ideal environment for such a community, which could offer a rich mutuality with the retreat center and with the Mid-Atlantic Pathwork.  Two areas of the land are being discussed as possible locations for such a venture:  1) nine acres to the south of the main driveway (left side as you are driving in from the main road/mailbox), just after the woods on the right side gives way to an open pasture space.  Or 2) thirteen acres on the right side of the driveway from the mailbox until the open pasture area.

In addition to the acreage on which the houses will be built, however, residents would have access to the whole 120 acres of the entirely pesticide-free Center—including 5 miles of walking trails, organic garden, river and pond. The Center has been a place for personal transformation and spiritual awakening for over forty years; the vibration here is very strong.

When we are in the presence of this vibration, when we experience harmony with nature, we also can come into harmony with all of what we are.  As Adyashanti, a contemporary spiritual teacher says, “When we expose ourselves to that awakeness, to that environment where spirit and matter are harmonized, it helps us awaken.”

There are many questions about how this all might come to pass.  If you are interested in continuing the dialogue, please contact Susan Thesenga at   I will set up some electronic forum for extending the conversation (let me know if you have a suggestion as to the best way to do this), and before long, we’ll set up a day at Sevenoaks where we can be in face-to-face conversation about community, walk the land, and seek guidance about our next steps.

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Through the Door of Devastation

I am posting here two chapters from Love Unbroken which describe an initial awakening to the truth of what we are.  Such an opening can occur when we intensely pursue this truth, or it can descend on us unexpectedly in a moment of grace.  Or sometimes, as in my case, it can come after the personality has been emotionally devastated, shattering our ideas of who we thought we were.  Into this emptiness may arrive the awareness of what we are beyond personality.

In my case, the devastation occurred when my beloved daughter left the spiritual community where she had lived for a year, and returned to the streets and to drug addiction.  I went back to Brazil where I had been teaching the Pathwork and immersing myself in the Brazilian religion of the Santo Daime and its healing sacrament, ayahuasca (taken in this spiritual context, the sacrament is also called Daime.) 

Chapter 15

Through the Door of Devastation

Rio Branco, Brazil, March – April 2000

 For two days Pamela calls no one. Then she telephones me to say not to worry about her because she has “friends” she can stay with near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C.—an area of the city where young people go to party.

I’m speechless. She is almost nineteen years old; is this really the life she’s choosing? She won’t tell me where she’s living and doesn’t want to see me. It’s now been almost a year since the rescue in Omaha. Since then, she has lived a decent life in a serious spiritual community—but now she’s gone. Again.

I am scheduled to teach in Brazil three days from now. I have no idea how I will be able to do it. The day of my night flight to São Paulo, I am at my ninety-two-year-old mother’s house, sobbing uncontrollably. My mother is ready to call 911. All she can imagine is that I must be having a heart attack.  I am, but not the physical kind.

On the ride to the airport everything passes in slow motion and nothing feels quite real. As I wait for the plane, I pull out the only book I’ve brought with me, about a man’s personal spiritual journey to no-self, to the awakened state. (The book is Journey to No-Self, by Patrick Drysdale.)  Reading this book is the only thing that keeps me sane. I read: “It became obvious that what I called ‘my’ life was nothing but a series of impersonal events. It was an unsettling surprise to see that all the nervousness and anxiety in the past was a big waste of energy because, in reality, there wasn’t any me for ‘my’ life to belong to…. I understood more deeply than ever that I didn’t have to push the river of life. It flowed all by itself. “Since it was all God’s doing anyway, I learned to accept every situation that came along and lived with a calm indiffer¬ence to what transpired in my life. The self that worried about what might happen had disappeared and the old nature was no longer there to feel afraid.”

The possibility of this state of consciousness calls to me, but “calm indifference to what transpires in my life” seems unimaginable. Still, something inside me knows the state being described is real—and is, indeed, my destiny. Every day of working in Brazil, I help people do their personal psychological work—to open the numb places, let the feelings flow, uncover the misconceptions formed in childhood that govern their lives. Every evening after teaching, I flee to my room and seek solace in this book that illustrates a new way to be with experience: neither being whipped around by all the ups and downs of life, nor being in denial. Instead the author is pointing to true detachment that can only come from letting go in total trust of a greater reality. I know that only this larger perspective will allow me to survive the fear and grief that threaten to overwhelm me. I read and reread the author’s story, trying to grasp his awakened perspective. I cannot understand it, nor can my mind relax from what is troubling me, but somehow just being reminded that such a perspective exists brings some calm.


At the end of my teaching, I meet my friend Barbara at the São Paulo airport. Together we travel to Rio Branco (a town in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon forest). I want to explore this unusual city for myself.

In my first time in Rio Branco with Pam, we had participated in many Daime ceremonies both at the Daime compound and at the Barquinha church, in addition to attending the rituals with Antônio (a healer/shaman. I had taken Pam to Rio Branco for her to attend healing rituals led by Antonio.)   On my last day I had visited the tomb of Master Irineu, founder of the Daime church.

Raimundo Irineu Serra was a very tall black man from the most¬ly Afro-Brazilian northeast part of Brazil, where he was raised by a devoutly Catholic mother. In the 1920s, he moved to the state of Acre to work as a border guard (Brazil borders both Peru and Bolivia here). He learned the use of ayahuasca from Peruvian Indian shamans, then started drinking the sacrament on his own.   He received a vision of the Divine Mother in the moon. She became his teacher and guide, teaching him prayers to say and hymns to sing. These prayers and hymns became the basis for his starting a new path, which evolved into the church of the Santo Daime. He came to be known as Master Irineu, and was well-respected in Rio Branco. His congregation included many former alcoholics, and several people who were cured of terminal illness. He was known far and wide in this Amazon town as a remarkable healer and spiritual teacher. Master Irineu had an abiding connection to the Divine Mother and a deep awakening to his spiritual nature.   Though he died in 1971, those who drink Daime frequently feel that his spirit visits them during the works.

When he first came to me in a miração (a vision) in Mauá, I recognized Master Irineu as my next spiritual teacher. His presence aroused in me the same awe and inspiration I had felt in the early 1960s in the presence of my first spiritual teacher, Reverend Martin Luther King, whose teachings of liberation and non-violence were a guiding light for me. For a while in my young adulthood I was immersed in the civil rights struggle and in an African-American culture which I found deeply nourishing—forgiving, heart-centered and faith-filled.

In meeting the Afro-Brazilian spiritual teacher Master Irineu— through drinking Daime—I felt like I was coming home to a deeply familiar place in my soul.   Master Irineu’s open-air tomb in Rio Branco is a place of reverence for anyone who drinks Daime. When I first visited here, I felt overwhelmed by the spiritual presence and power I felt there.   This pristine outdoor sanctuary felt like my true church.

The tomb is located on a stretch of unpaved country road on the outskirts of the city, across from M. Irineu’s original church called Alto Santo, which is now led by his widow. The grounds around both the whitewashed church and the blue-tiled tomb are beautifully maintained with carefully tended jungle vegetation and bounteous flowers. Outside is a sign requesting appropriate clothing, the removal of shoes, and silence in the tomb. Inside is the raised sarcophagus of the founder. The interior of the building, with its waist-high walls, is covered in light-blue tile.  The tomb is a sanctuary for many ordinary townspeople who come here to pray, light candles, say a rosary, leave plastic flowers, or just touch the Master’s final resting place. Simple, devout people come here every day, everyone in silent reverence for the magic of this place. I too have been led to this spot.

After my first trip to the tomb, I wrote in my journal:   “I know I am a flower in the Master’s garden. His tomb is the most soothing place I have ever been; my body and soul resonate in complete harmony with the vibration here. I feel an immense serenity—a calm that permeates into the bone marrow, a peace that dissolves coagulated pockets of fear, letting them melt back into a continuous flow of love. I feel the Master’s presence intimately. We talk. I feel my devotion to him. He keeps bringing me back to friendship and mutual respect. He is immensely reassuring, humble, respectful. I know myself as part of his team, another star orbiting his brilliance.”

Though I knew I needed to come back to this place, I could not have known how desperately I would need what could be found here. By the time Barbara and I arrive in Rio Branco to our sparsely furnished room in the hostel of the Daime community, I am emotionally and physically exhausted.


Barbara and I go to the tomb at least once each day for two weeks, often starting with a short morning service of saying prayers and singing some of the hymns of Master Irineu,  We go at six a.m., which is sunrise pretty much year round this close to the equator. We are always alone in the early morning, and after we sing we sit in silence, opening to the new day, letting in the sounds of birds and bugs, sensing the spiritual presence here—and in my case letting the pain of recent disappointments wash over me.

It is clear that the time has come for my own healing. The many shocks and wounds I’ve experienced in mothering Pamela have taken their toll on my body. I feel deflated, defeated, a failure. Like Job in the Old Testament story, I have exhausted my efforts to understand. I accept that no explanation will ease the simple pain of heartbreak.   I need to sit with the exhaustion and the defeat without trying to evaluate or analyze or question anything. I need space and time to let the pain be, just as it is. And this is my sacred space where I know all will be received, all will be held.

Inside my body are grief, fear, and confusion. All this comes to the surface for recognition and release. I cry and pray and allow whatever needs to come up to flood to the surface. And when my tears subside, I rest in the hollow emptiness that is all that remains. My body becomes a vast, raw tenderness. Into this vulnerable tissue I let in the strength and love that surround me in this place. The tomb becomes the holy place where I can let myself die. All my expectations, hopes, and dreams for Pam come to the surface and shatter. I do this day after day until I finally land somewhere near the bottom.


One morning Barbara and I drink some Daime in an early-morning ceremony at the hostel where we are staying. We are still feeling its effects when we arrive at the tomb. I’m unusually raw and needy on this day; my singing is interrupted with the sound of my own voice crying softly. My mind is empty.

In the silence following our singing, I start regressing in my consciousness to the feeling state of an infant. I feel lost and, most of all, bereft. Where is my mother? Where is my motherWhere is my mother? I can feel the infant frantically scanning, screaming, searching for the single most important presence in her life… and there is… nothing. The loss stabs deep into my heart as my belly clenches, and I double over.   I have done lots of regression work in the past, but this is different and deeper. It’s personal, but beyond the personal. It’s a universal feeling of loss and disconnection. Sharp, serrated pain cuts through my body, reaches into all the deepest recesses, and scrapes out every bit of scabbed-over disappointment and loss. Slowly and of its own accord, the pain lets go.   I feel washed clean, more empty than ever before in my life. But now it is a quiet emptiness, an emptiness that lacks nothing.


Throughout our time in Rio Branco Barbara has been steadfast and patient with me—simply receiving and supporting me, not trying to fix or change what needs to well up in its own way. I am immensely grateful for her support.

She has also helped me enjoy this unusual place. We take daily walks in a park filled with old jungle trees with plaques naming each one. We watch for unusual birds and hang out in the city’s central square with the food carts and musicians, eating the mangoes that are so plentiful they rot in the gutters. We get our food from the open air market, including our daily drink of açaí juice, long before it would become a health food fad. We cook in the communal kitchen at the Daime hostel, for ourselves and for the other Daimistas, Brazilian and foreign, who pass through here on their journey deeper into the rainforest to the Daime spiritual community of Mapiá.  Or we eat at the por kilo restaurants where we pay according to what the food weighs. We visit my doctor friend Zé Luis, and along with him, we do Daime ceremonies at several different churches. We enjoy exploring all Rio Branco has to offer.

But nothing touches me nearly as deeply as my time in Master Irineu’s tomb.   At the end of the two weeks Barbara has to fly back to the States, but I know I need more time here. Donovan agrees that it makes no sense to hurry home. Pam is truly gone—for now at least—and my work can wait. While I am grateful for Barbara’s comfort and friendship, I know I need to take my next steps alone.

Chapter 16:

The Mother and I Are One

Rio Branco, Brazil, April 2000

I continue my early morning visits to the tomb. Gradually, I feel less pain and more emptiness. The question “Where is my mother?” had welled up from the deepest place in me, the original separation we all experience when we take birth in human form.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the question is now morphing into something even more basic: “What is my mother? What am I? Are we really separate?” These questions begin to gather momentum inside me. I want to break through whatever is holding me back from union with my true nature. I want to meet in myself the feminine face of God. I want to know what life is all about—not just my personal drama, but the whole human drama. I want to know the mystic’s reality, the one described in Journey to No-Self. I have a sense of an interior intensity that is not only building, but is also taking charge of this life.

Years earlier, in the early 1960s when I was given my first glimpses of the spiritual path, I had a vision of having a rope tied around my waist, connected to a large wheel, a winch. Something un-nameable was turning that winch and drawing me into itself. I sense that now the winch is turning again and I am being dragged to a destiny that I can never understand with my mind.


In a morning ceremony I drink Daime, then afterwards go to the tomb to await instruction. I find myself in deep meditation, repeating a kind of mantra: “What is it? What is it?” I can’t assign a name to this “it” which I seek, but the urgency of the question is undeniable.

Then the mantra spontaneously ceases, the mind stops altogether, and an emptiness that is vast—not personal, more like cosmic, formless space—opens up inside. As long as I keep my eyes closed, this space grows ever more immense. As an experiment, I open my eyes. Immediately, the spaciousness crystallizes into all the forms seen around me—blue tiles, green trees, blue sky, this bench, and this body sitting on this bench. I take it all in, all at once, and a “voice-over” announces: “This is It.”

Everything pulsates with life; I perceive an undulating tapestry of organic life forms that are intricately interconnected. Whatever is animating this gigantic tapestry of life animates every part of it equally, including this body sitting on this bench. No one part of it is more special than any other part—and none of it is personal. Nothing is “mine.” There is no identification with any part as separate from the whole. It all comes from the same Source: actually it all is the same Source, dressed in myriad forms.

I am enthralled. I find that when my eyes close, there is only the formless vastness. When they open, I am plunged into this exquisitely alive, sparkling fabric of infinitely interconnected forms. Nothing is separate from anything else—and there is no separate “me.” And then more words come: “The Mother and I are One.”

I have come to know the Divine Mother as my true mother, the spiritual fount from which my individual spirit flows and upon which my life depends. But what is happening now is new. It erases all sense of separation between the Godhead or Source or Mother and this particular body that is still sitting on this particular bench in this exact place at this precise moment. This, too, is God, here and now. There is no “individual spirit”; there is only Her. She is blue sky and blue tiles, green vegetation, and this body and this mind. She is all of it, here and now.

I know that what I am experiencing is the same reality Jesus realized and tried to communicate when he said “the Father and I are One.” Or that Buddha pointed to when he said, “In all the universe, I am the only One.”

Spontaneously the body gets up and starts to move around the tomb, gliding, dancing, delighted. I go out into the surrounding gardens and truly feel that I am in the Garden of Eden, seeing the world as if for the first time. Not separate from what is witnessed, I am completely childlike, innocent, open. The Mother is this garden, this human female, this blue-tiled tomb—we are all Her incredible play, and there is nothing outside it, nothing excluded from it. And there is no meaning outside of this play; its very existence, its is-ness, is the only meaning. It is all Her unfolding, everything exactly as it is: one undulating, animated, and unbounded wholeness. Everything is dancing Her joy.

The sound of traffic reaches the ears, and this body spontaneously turns back toward the tomb. Then something on the ledge of the low wall of the tomb catches attention: a snake. And then the snake explodes into a thousand snakes, and the fear-thought arises that they are all coming off the wall and heading toward me. (The hallucination of the multiple aggressive snakes is the only time I have experienced something in the Daime that was solely a projection of my own fearful mind.) Fear sneaks into paradise, and the experience of Oneness shatters. When looking at the proliferation of snakes, this thought is directed to them: “I know you are not real, and I want to see and know only what is true.” They retreat back into the one snake that truly is here, which slowly slithers down the wall and away. As I watch, the snake appears to look back at me and then disappears in the undergrowth.

I cannot fully return to my earlier state.  Fear has had its entry point, creating separation between the snake and the witness of the snake. But I have had an enormous shift of perspective, and will never forget it.

Since experiencing it, I have never doubted that my true nature is spirit, identical with the true nature of God (or the Divine Mother). Nor have I doubted that, in essence, all manifestation is only the outer garment of the Divine, all forms reflecting a formless spiritual essence. There is no material “something” with an independent existence. And there is no independent “me.”


Much later I would recognize that this experience was a taste of what is often called “awakening” in spiritual literature. It is a universal spiritual experience that mystics of all traditions—Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and others—have described. It is essentially the same for everyone, from whatever religious or spiritual background. We open to the reality of what we are as spirit, which is vast and empty and eternally alive as compared to how we normally think about ourselves as a separate limited human body which will die. Spiritual awakening is comparable to waking up from a nighttime dream and realizing that, while the “character” we were playing in the dream felt very real, it is obviously not the truth of what we are when we wake up. It is a shift of perspective in which we come to know, not as a thought but as a lived experience, that our true nature is one with Source and that this Oneness is the only reality that truly exists.

The thirteenth-century poet Rumi illustrates my journey:

The way of love

is not a subtle argument.

The door there

is devastation.

Birds make great sky-circles

of their freedom.

How do they learn it?

They fall, and falling,

They’re given wings.

Following the way of love, I have fallen fully through the door of devastation. I have been given wings. I have glimpsed freedom.


The intense energy of this breakthrough into a deeper level of reality stays with me for several weeks. I barely sleep, and I’m filled with joy. There are curious manifestations of my new awareness. For instance, I find myself suddenly much more conversant in Portuguese and have conversations with Brazilians I wouldn’t previously have thought myself capable of. I also have a newfound confidence in driving my rented VW all over town with Daime friends who come through Rio Branco, navigating potholes and washboard roads that would have intimidated me before. I feel that I possess an incredible secret. I plainly see that most people don’t know who they are: divinity itself. I feel greatly comforted in knowing that I will be able to share this experience fully with Donovan.

When thoughts of Pam arise, at first there is sadness. I want her to know what has been shown to me, and to rest in her inner, infinite worth. But for the first time, I also begin considering the possibility that who she is right now—a young woman choosing to do drugs with other young people and live a precarious existence on the streets of Washington, D.C. —is also an expression of divinity. Allowing myself this perspective gives me relief; I know, at least for now, that what is happening in Pam’s life isn’t “wrong.” It just is what it is. And her life and problems aren’t about me. Her life is an expression of God the Mother, doing whatever She does, as Pam.

I feel a rush of gratitude to Pam for being exactly who she is: someone who has challenged every particle of my conventional middle-class identity, and every idea I’ve had about myself as a mother. Because of her I have been plunged into deep self-examination, opening hidden pockets of pain and emerging into a brighter light than I ever dreamed possible. I acknowledge that Pam has been the greatest catalyst for my spiritual growth. At the same time, I release her to her own destiny.


After my experience in the tomb, I decide to go to Mapiá, a journey I had always considered daunting before. Getting there takes three full days from Rio Branco, first by auto and then by canoe. I travel to Mapiá and back with new Brazilian friends, sharing a canoe ride, sleeping in a hammock covered by mosquito netting in the home of one of the founders of the village, walking alone in the jungle, dealing with the heat and the bugs. I go to large Daime works in the village church and do daily prayer services with my hostess. I even meet with Padrinho Alfredo at his mother’s house—and we speak Portuguese. Despite my anticipation of an ardous trek, the trip to Mapiá is seamless, flowing, easy.

I particularly enjoy a Daime work called a gira, which is held outdoors in Padrinho Alfredo’s terreiro (sacred outdoor sanctuary). I feel well received and spiritually nourished in Mapiá, but I also sense a detachment from the church of the Santo Daime. The reality revealed in the tomb is the basis of my new ease. I have seen beyond the religion of the Santo Daime (or any other path or church), recognizing that they are all boats for carrying their followers to the other shore—awakening to our true nature. Once we have been shown what we are, we have a new relationship to the boat which helped us to arrive.

In the past I had always tried too hard to be a “good girl,” obedient to the many rules and beliefs of this church. My identification with the good girl persona meant twisting myself into something that did not feel natural to me, bringing exhaustion and resistance. Now I feel free of this demand on myself to conform. Ironically, this allows me to be in the works with less rebellion, more harmony with the ceremonial forms, and more enjoyment.

After a life-changing five weeks in Brazil, I return home feeling empowered and relaxed. I am confident that spirit is living this life and it will do whatever is needed to help Pam.  I need only relax into this perfect faith.

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Witnessing the Death of a Civilization

I was born the month that Hitler invaded Poland. As a result of Hitler’s invasion, World War II was launched.  Even as a child I was preoccupied with the issue of evil—what made people hate other people so much they wanted to kill each other?  When I was a little older, I read everything then available about Hitler and his Holocaust:  How could this terrible racist tyrant have come to power in a democratic country with a noble culture and history?  My drive to understand the origins of evil—and how we collude with evil, like the “good Germans” did—eventually led me to the Pathwork and its profound teachings about evil.

Through practicing the Pathwork, I came to deeply experience my own “lower self”—the intent to separate from others out of self-will, pride, and/or fear.  I came to understand in myself the evil of numbness that is a defense against pain and which allows us to hurt others because we have walled ourselves off from feeling their (and our own) pain.  I opened up to emotional pain, feeling deeply what was in my heart, and discovered that love and compassion flowed.  I came to see the mask of superiority (pride) that defended my deepest feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.  The mask dropped, the pain of inadequacy was felt, and the result was a humbler, realer connection to others.  I observed the stories that fear wove and that gave rise to the impulse to control or suppress what was imagined as the outer source of the fear.  I let the stories drop, felt the raw fear, and then trust flowed and fearlessness began to blossom.  I am so grateful to have found a way to deal with evil by turning inward to its source in the egotism and fear that live within each of us.

I never thought I would witness in my lifetime the re-creation of Hitler’s rise to power in my own country.  But that is, essentially, how I see the current rise of Trump to his position as a presidential candidate.  He is feeding on and creating dark scenarios about the threatening “other,” just as Hitler did, and just as every other tyrant in history has ever done.  He is trying to convince his audience that only his strong-armed authoritarianism can make them safe from the fears they carry in their minds.  Many Republicans have already become the “good Germans,” enabling an unstable, tyrannical, and crassly egotistical man unsuited for the presidency to lead their party.

What is even more remarkable is that the United States in 2016 is not Germany in the 1920s, when Germans understandably felt oppressed and resentful due to the harsh terms that the Allies had imposed on Germany after World War I.  The educational and work opportunities and the standard of living in United States today are the envy of the world.  The jobless rate is the lowest. The stock market is the highest.  Crime is down.  Illegal immigration is much less of a problem today than it was during the Reagan era.  Injustice toward African-Americans is no more egregious now than in it has been for the last two hundred years; there’s just a lot more recognition of that harsh reality.  Even police killings are down from the time of Reagan.  There’s just a lot more negative publicity, and Fox news has played a ghastly (and immensely profitable) role in stirring up fears and prejudices.   The only demographic group that is actually worse off today than in 2008 when Obama became president, are poorly educated, white factory workers whose jobs have been shipped overseas by businessmen like Trump.

Bernie Sanders, from the opposite end of the political spectrum, has also painted a dire picture of America and the crumbling of its democracy.

But it does not seem that America today is on the verge of economic or social collapse, even though there are serious problems, including that “big money” threatens our democracy and including that some people definitely are hurting economically.

It seems right to ask now the kinds of questions that the Pathwork teachings direct us to ask.  What are the deeper reasons for the un-ease many people feel which make them susceptible to the promise that a dictator could take away their fears?  Can those of us who make a practice of self-inquiry look within to the source of our own fears?  Can we take responsibility for and feel the fear rather than pretend we know what is wrong and how to fix it?

I’ve found in myself compassion for the fears others may be feeling.  Fears arise as old identities crumble, and the dissolving of fixed ideas (what the Pathwork Guide calls the “edifices of error”) is a constant theme of my (any) spiritual path.  Culturally we used to define ourselves based on limited patriarchal Euro-centric thinking, where roles and rules (our personal outer reality) were based on gender, class, ethnicity, and religion.  In the space of a single generation, we have been thrust out of our comfortable limited identities and instead been exposed to a dizzyingly diverse present-day American and global society—where those of vastly different cultures, religions, lifestyles, economic class, sexual orientation—all rightly clamor for a place at the table in a democratic country fundamentally committed to equality and inclusion, and with a history of welcoming and integrating immigrants.

Beyond the challenge to reach beyond our familiar old identities and sympathies, all humans face the challenges brought on by climate and environmental denigration and over-population.  We feel a deep uncertainty about the future of the human species on this planet.  Major changes are coming.  Terror inevitably arises in the face of the massive changes destined to renew our being.

Can we look within ourselves to meet this terror of change?  Can we see our eagerness to crawl back into our fixed ideas and limited identities, rather than meet the call for continual letting go of the past and opening to the reality of the present?  Can we examine the places where we go numb or get judgmental and opinionated and, instead, open up to the pain and anxiety of not-knowing?  Cane we include EVERYTHING in our experience?  Can we see how we hold on to the mind’s scenarios created from fear, self-will and pride, rather than surrender it all to the Mystery which is unfolding, just as it is?

A Facebook friend recently asked if there is any advice for how to meet the death of a civilization (as there seems to be ample evidence that we may be on the threshold of the death of the white Euro-centric civilization which has dominated the globe for a few centuries).  His request reminded me a of a recurring vision I’ve had of being a Native American elder in the 19th century, watching as my way of life was dying in the face of the invasion of the Europeans.  My heart broke with the recognition that the ancient ways of our people were dying, our beloved lands were being exploited, our civilization was being crushed under the egotism of the white man.  I can not see what good can come from the ways these pale-faced people treated the earth and its inhabitants.  It makes no sense to me. Why can they not understand that “what we do to the earth we do to ourselves”?  Are they intent not just on destroying our old native ways, but destroying the earth Herself?

In deep agony, I sit in a doorway under the blanket wrapped around my shoulders and sigh and weep with these terrible questions.

Finally, pain subsides and spaciousness is born.  I have no answers to these questions, only a willingness to feel the pain and to surrender my ideas about how things should be.  The heart expands.   All that is known is that life goes on.  Life itself, the Mystery itself, is allowing this new civilization, this new way of relating to the earth, which seems so wrong to me.  If it is here now, then it must be the Way of the Creator.  All I can do is to sit in the creative power of not knowing, with heart as open as possible to the pain and compassion for  what is being witnessed.

This vision came back to me again recently as I contemplated the present American political scene.  The certainties of the white Western settlers of the early 19th Century—based on beliefs in racial, patriarchal, and religious superiority—are crumbling.  The crises of species extinction and climate degradation have shown the limits of that worldview. The certainties of the communist/socialist experiments in the early 20th century about how to save the world are also crumbling.  There are no more political saviors or ideological prophets who have our answers for us.

Yet in this country we still have the best roadmap for collective self-governance (“all men are created equal”).  And now we are called to expand that understanding into “all life is created equal.”  Equality and inclusion, fundamental spiritual truths, are at the heart of this democracy.  It’s as close as we can come to knowing how to proceed.

It’s a huge expansion to include all of it, and not demand that people conform to our ideas about who we think they ought to be, that the country be organized the way the mind thinks it ought to be.  It’s a huge leap from exclusion and superiority to inclusion and equality, the basic tenet of democracy.  It is a leap from fear to faith.  There is no one outside of us, no perfect leader, who will save us.  It’s just us, struggling to find our way …awkwardly, uncertainly, with no clear roadmap.  It’s just life, unfolding as it must.  Can we embrace the diversity of all that we are as a human species?  Can we accept and surrender to the challenge of not-knowing what we are and where we are going, or even if we will survive as a species?

If we can personally embody the tolerance, the embrace of all diversity, … If we can accept reality just as it is, and be willing to let go of our fixed ideas about how things should be … if we can drop our own defenses and live in our vulnerability … if we drop our resistance to the changes destined to renew our own being … then we join the benign natural life force of the universe which is constantly destroying what is unsustainable and giving birth to new expressions of itself.

Can we view this election cycle as an opportunity to practice faith not fear, connection not separation, acceptance not judgment?  Can we rest in the creative space of not-knowing which allows and supports life as it unfolds?   Can we be the change we wish to see in the world?



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My Mother’s Good Death

 I am posting again something I wrote over 10 years ago, a week after my mother died.  This essay appears in a book recently released, entitled Saying Goodbye to our Mothers for the Last Time.

A Good Death

Susan Thesenga, May 2005

My mother died last week.  I had the great privilege of being with her at the time of her death, and for most of the two weeks before she died, as well as caring for and sitting with her body for the two days following.  The services of Hospice let us care for her at home until her death, and we were also helped (by another service) to care for her body after her death.  Her body lay quietly in her own bed until we placed it in a casket, which we then accompanied to her burial.

Being with my mother in her dying and with her body afterwards was intimate, profound, and deeply reassuring.  I was given glimpses of the perfection of God’s great design, as every detail of her passing seemed so perfect.  And I felt the completion of a karmic cycle, knowing I had fully worked through my issues with her.  At her death we entered into a deep union.

I was able to give my mother in her dying what she had not been able to give me in my birthing—physical intimacy, visceral reassurance, emotional warmth, and a feeling in the room of safety, fearlessness, and peace.  In offering this deep connection as one of us transitioned from embodied awareness to non-embodied awareness, it hardly mattered who was mother and who was daughter, or whether the passage was into or out of the body.  The transition at death out of the body and into the Mystery is no less wonderful than the transition into the body at birth.

The Hospice chaplain used exactly this metaphor with my mother, inviting her to consider that, just as humans on “this side” welcome a soul into a new body, she might be welcomed also on the other side to a new state of consciousness, traveling through the “tunnel” of death, paralleling the journey through the birth canal.  My mother, who was not religious, though always open and curious about life, liked the metaphor.  And so I used it often in my attempts to reassure her and guide her in her passage.

Just outside the window of my mother’s bedroom, in which she lay dying in the hospital bed Hospice had arranged for her, a mother duck sat on eleven eggs in a nest on the patio.  Birth and death were that close.  Two hours after my mother died, Michelle, the Hospice nurse who had beautifully guided us through every step of the dying process, came to visit, even though her job was done, and even though it was her birthday that day, saying that when she woke up with a dream of baby ducks, she knew my mother had passed.

I had incredible support and help with my mother–not only from the Hospice staff, all of whom were terrific, but also from my sister Martha, who came regularly and was supportive, and from Maureen, who had become my mother’s full-time caretaker.  I could not have done this without everyone’s help.

After my mother’s passing, we had the service of a woman, Beth Knox, who helped us to take care of the body, dressing her and laying her out in her own bed, radiating the peace that I suspect comes from a good passing, and subsequent loving care.  Beth, whose services I would highly recommend, runs an organization (  for those who wish to care for their own dead.  Beth came to this work through her own personal tragedy of losing a young daughter to an airbag accident.  She was with her daughter in the hospital at her death, and fought the hospital’s policy to send dead bodies to funeral homes.  She convinced them of her right to care for her own daughter’s body, and took her home.

It is perfectly legal for anyone to do this.  Most of the myths and fears we have about death, and dead bodies, are fostered by the funeral industry.  There was no smell, no decay, and no health hazard whatsoever in having my mother’s body cared for at home, which, of course, is what families always used to do.  It was also essential that we had Beth’s help in caring for the body, because she knew exactly what we needed to do at each step.  And she works with a funeral home that is sympathetic and will provide only those services the family wants.  (We had a casket delivered to the house, into which we transferred my mother’s body, and we had them provide a hearse and limo to the cemetery.  And that was all.  Most funeral homes try to sell you on the false idea that embalming is necessary, and that they have to do everything.  It isn’t and they don’t.  Embalming only came into practice during the Civil War when bodies had to be shipped long distances after being dead a long time; it is not necessary and is horribly invasive to the body.)

Having the body at home was a great lesson for the grandchildren.  My daughter Pamela was at first scared to see her grandmother’s body, but when she eventually chose to go into the bedroom, she fell into a state of reverence and amazement, commenting on how beautiful her grandmother’s body looked, how peaceful and radiant her face was, and how evident it was that she, the grandma Pam loved, was no longer there.  Pamela described going through a “wall” of fear of death, and said she now felt much more comfortable and grounded.  Now she just wanted to know where grandma had gone, which gave us an opening for some important spiritual sharing together as a family.

My mother’s great dignity and deep kindness were evident in her dying process, and both were reflected in her face at her death.  As long as she could still talk, she always thanked us for everything we did for her.  She graciously received the hymn singing and prayers that were offered to her by friends from my church.  She spent time with everyone she loved in the two weeks before she died, waiting until the last grandchild who was finishing college exams could come.  Then she waited one more day to die until I was with her, as she knew how much I wanted this.  Knowing her time was near, Maureen and I both slept in the room with her.  During Mom’s last night we all slept deeply and peacefully.  When we awoke at 6:00 a.m. my mother was still breathing, but took her last breath minutes later with both Maureen and I present, and well-rested.  Even in this detail her consideration for others shone through.

My mother was intelligent and liked to know what was going on.  She grilled the nurses on exactly what physical changes would take place, even though she didn’t always like what she heard.  She reported her observations of other realities as they began to appear—her awareness of a man in a dark suit coming for her (who looked, to her, like Elvis Presley!), her “dream” of a beautiful ballroom where many of her dead friends were dancing, and which was very peaceful.  Even the changing “pictures” she saw on the wall were reported with a curious and detached interest.

My mother liked to be in charge.  She kept control of her environment as long as was feasible.  She wanted to know everything we were planning, and when I finally suggested that it was time to let go, because Martha and I had everything under control, and that we even agreed on everything, she quipped, with her usual quick wit, “Well, that’s worth dying for!”

My sister and I were blessed with a deep harmony during this time.  We agreed on funeral and burial arrangements, casket, and all the other choices one needs to make.  I felt entirely supported as she let me take the lead in the emotional and spiritual arenas where I am strong, and I gladly followed her lead in all matters financial and legal, where I have complete trust that she will execute matters impeccably.

I have waited much of my life to be present for a conscious death.  My father died suddenly; my stepson died prematurely; my childhood best friend was already unconscious when I sat with her until she passed; my Pathwork spiritual teacher was in denial until almost the moment of her death; and my first church spiritual teacher died without warning.  It is one of the great wonders of my life that my own mother became the vehicle through which I could experience dying consciously.

In the moments after her passing, as I sat on the bed, holding her hand, I wept, not so much in grief (that would come later) as in gratitude, because she had let me so fully be with her in this most profound of all the passages we must each traverse.  I felt the merging of our consciousness, and was flooded with awareness of the deepest peace I have ever known.  I felt that I was going with her to this place—of pure peaceful awareness, of empty fullness, of vibrant nothingness—that is the ground of our being, the place we “come from” and the place we return to, and the inner reality behind our outer lives.  It was her final and greatest gift.

Thank you, Mom.

Susan Thesenga

Sevenoaks, Madison, Virginia

May 17, 2005


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Oneness and Terror

Oneness and Terror

Experiences at SAND (Science and Non-Duality Conference), San Jose, California, October 2015


In spite of having had a series of “awakenings” to my true nature as unbroken loving awareness, there remains a tendency toward anxiety—which often shows up as bodily sensations of nervousness, even when there is no mental “content” to which the anxiety attaches.  And then, of course, there are the occasions where fear attaches to the thought that something is wrong (or will go wrong) and “I” need to fix it, bringing the small self front and center again.  I’ve sat with anxiety for long stretches, become familiar and intimate with it, and found considerable acceptance for it.  It is as it is, and will stay as long as it will.  There has also, of course, been a wish that anxiety might “move on” and be done with this body-mind.

A few months ago, in a state of deep silence, Ramana Maharshi (a deeply enlightened Indian master) arrived in my inner space.  I have always related strongly to the story of Ramana’s initial spiritual opening which occurred when he was a teenager grieving the death of a family friend.  In “entering” the death of this friend, he went to the place just beyond death of the body where there is only the one eternal life.  Nisargadatta, another great Indian teacher of the last century said, “In death, only the body dies.  Life does not, consciousness does not, reality does not.  And the life is never so alive as after death.” I have experienced this in the three deaths I have been privileged to witness.  The intensity of the energy crackling in the room, along with the depth of peace pervading the room, after these deaths, was more alive than alive.  It was/is timelessly alive.

Unlike most of us who are given tastes of the reality beyond death, Ramana never really came back, or he never returned to the “ordinary” human perspective that believes I am a separate entity defined by the boundaries of this body and limited in experience to the time between the birth and death of this body.  Ramana lived the rest of his life on one mountain in India where an ashram grew around him.  He taught seekers by radiating the deep silent peace in which he lived.

Ramana came to me to answer a question I barely knew I had.  While I had experienced the death-less state beyond death, I had always felt (believed?) that birth (not death) was the real trauma of separation from the whole.  Whenever I re-entered my own birth experience, I felt terror and hadn’t been able to experience connection with Source.  The terror consumed me.

My birth was typical for its time—1939—in which birth was induced for the convenience of the male doctor, mother was drugged, then strapped down on a gurney in the hospital for the delivery.  The infant was taken from mother to the hospital nursery, then bottle fed every four hours, no picking up in between.  In many “work scenes” I have screamed the primal scream of dis-connection and disorientation and sobbed for my mother.  In many therapy sessions I have grieved the loss of visceral connection with her at birth, and then let go of this story, accepting fully what was.  Further, I’ve had many healing works in which the Divine Mother has come to me.  I have even re-experienced birth into this body with the Divine Mother’s soothing presence holding me through the apparent trauma.

However, the deeper existential question remained:  How does the One Life get born into separation, and is that separation real?

In a flash Ramana revealed the One Life which apparently separated into a distinct form—this human body—but was actually never separate from it.  It was just as present in the “separate” infant as it was in the fetus before it separated from its mother’s body or, for that matter, before it even had any material form as a fetus.  I entered Being which just IS, an is-ness that does not reside in form, though it can and does take the shape of forms.  Though it is not possible to put into words, the completeness of Being was experienced as fully intact in the infant, in spite of its apparent trauma and terror.  This form of the whole, in reality, lacked nothing.  Waves of relief.

Separation was seen to be only a matter of perspective.  From the perspective of Being, no form is ever separate from that which animates it, life itself.  From the point of view of the person, of course, there appears to be a separate form here.  But as the person remembers (wakes up) to its true nature as formless Being, we gradually lose identification with the separate form.

My experience at the SAND Conference:  

The first morning I attended a workshop with Dorothy Hunt, a non-dual teacher and psychotherapist, who was asked to teach by Adyashanti and who teaches within his lineage.  She had a picture of Ramana Maharshi on the table next to her and directly in front of where I was sitting.  (The first of many synchronicities at the conference.)  During the first part of Dorothy’s talk, listening to her wise words and meeting fully the gaze of Ramana, I easily and effortlessly re-entered the seamless reality of Being.  Smooth, gracious, empty, alive wholeness.

Dorothy then asked us to work in dyads, with the focus on that which does not yet remember its true nature.  I became aware of a slight headache in my left temple region, which is, on the physical level, a manifestation of an illness diagnosed last spring called temporal arteritis, an inflammation of the lining of the artery on the left side of my face which goes from ear to temple.  This illness has been a wonderful wake-up call for me, requiring me to slow down, tune in, and drop out of all over-activity of the mind and body.  Recovery, however, has been slow, and I am still acutely aware when stress or tension or straining or pushing is present in the body or mind because then the headache gets worse.

Dorothy suggested that there is usually a personal story connected with our dis-connected part and I know well the story of my over-active, over-achieving self, which came online as a school-aged child in order to please my parents.  Dorothy kept leading as back further in time, and it became obvious that very early on I had developed the belief that I was not valued for just being (the only gift an infant has to give her parents), but only for doing and accomplishing (by which I could and did earn my parents’ approval).  (I recognize, of course, that I am not alone with this mis-conception; it’s pretty widespread, at least in the Western world.)

As I went further back in biographical time, I was led, inevitably, once again, to the terrified infant.  Terrified that mother was not there, that life was entirely unsafe, that I would not be fed, that I would die, that I would cease to exist.  Waves of terror and pain shot through the body, possibly even more intense than ever before experienced.  I was shaking and vulnerable, and crying a lot.  But I also felt safe in the context of the session to let it all be just as it was, without resolution or completion about how this fits with the one-ness of Being that had been experienced just an hour earlier in the workshop.  I simply sat with the two very different experiential realities and did not require them to make sense of each other.

The next day I attended a talk by Joan Tollifson, another favorite woman teacher of Zen/non-duality, who was a student of Toni Packer and her pathless path.  At the end of Joan’s talk I attempted to ask a question about these two disparate realities I had experienced the day before, but time ran out and Joan had to leave.  In another synchronicity, Dorothy Hunt had been present for Joan’s talk and immediately came over to sit beside me, and to help.  I shared not only the gist of my experience in her workshop, but also what had happened for me in an hour-long meditation led by Rupert Spira that morning.  Rupert led us from sensate experience to its Source in Awareness.  I entered a very spacious benign reality where all was very well indeed.  While in that space, I had a thought of the terrified infant, but she seemed no larger than a speck of dust on the gracious gown of Being; she resided somewhere a thousand miles away.  Dorothy recommended bringing the terrified infant nearer, close in, all the way into the intimate heart-space of my body, thereby giving her a home. This I was able to do, though the experience felt to be on the psychological level of comforting the infant who still felt/believed she was an utterly separate being in mortal danger.

The next morning, in Rupert Spira’s second hour-long meditation, he led us from Source out to sensation to investigate what it really was, or was made of.  As I touched into the feeling of terror and the sensation of pain, I could clearly see that the only reality these “objects of consciousness” had was the knowing of them.  The knowing of them—the light of pure awareness—was real and palpable.  The terror and pain dissolved in the light of awareness.  Just dissolved.  No more reality.  An insubstantial “thing” dissolving into the powerful presence of the Light of Awareness itself.  As Rupert says, Awareness is one name for that in which all “things” (objects of consciousness such as thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions) appear, out of which all “things” are made, and by which all “things” are known.

The final morning of SAND completed the process.  Rupert led us this time into an embodiment meditation in which he (synchronicity again) led us to becoming infants before having the capacity of mind or speech.  From this place we were to investigate the reality of our bodily sensations.  I expected that the fear/ terror would return, but in fact it did not.  What happened was that the sensations of breath and of heartbeat filled the space of awareness; there was nothing else present as an object of consciousness.  No thought, no fear, just waves of breath and rhythms of heartbeat.  And silence.  And love.  And then I had the thought that this was a kind of re-birth into the reality of being inside a body having sensations for the first time.  This awareness of breath and heartbeat was the my/ theinfant’s first experience of being in a body.  And it was full and complete and lacked nothing.  There was no need to refer outside this body to a mother who wasn’t (t)here.  The body itself was the mother, the house of all these sensations, exquisitely interesting to the Awareness newly incarnating.  Nothing else needed, nothing lacking.

Finally Rupert led us into a meditation on investigating the “I am the body” illusion by focusing on some area where sensation felt “dense.”  These areas in the body where sensation is strong and where there does not appear to be much space around the sensation seem to be very convincing that this sensation points to the reality of the body as what we are.  I focused on the headache in my left temporal area which had returned.  He had us breathe Emptiness into this area, and to breathe out the density of the sensation.  This worked pretty well and the headache subsided a little.

More importantly, however, the pain of the headache was once again seen as simply the body-mind holding on to the belief in separation, and once seen, the body-mind could relax.  Spacious Awareness returned.  A gentle resting in Being.  The headache vanished and has not returned a week later.  A gracious completion for mind, body, terror, and pain – all coming home to the unbroken love that is our true nature.


Susan Thesenga

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Silence and Stillness, by Donovan Thesenga

 Silence; Wisdom; Inner Peace

Knowledge can be found in words; but wisdom cannot be found in words—not in reading words, nor writing words, nor in listening to the words that parade through your mind and clog your consciousness.  Wisdom may be found in silence.

In silence one may hear the voice of God.

If the idea of “voice of God” does not appeal to you, you may substitute “universal wisdom,” or “the life force,” for it is the same.

Tuning into a deeper wisdom cannot take place so long as your ears and mind are filled with the static of words, and especially with the static of out-of-control thinking, obsessing, remembering and anticipating.

Silence and stillness are your natural condition, and therefore you need not employ effort or manipulation in order to arrive there.  You may simply relax into a natural awareness of all that you perceive.  No special effort is required—in the same way that, when your eyes are open, they naturally see, without effort or strain.

In natural awareness you do not learn and employ a technique, and you do not try to control the mind.  Instead you notice all your usual attempts at control and you let them drop away.

As your mind relaxes you may notice a deeper layer of consciousnessthat lies beneath the foreground activity.  Contacting this level of awareness is enormously beneficial; learning to live in it leads to a great reduction of anxiety and tension, and an increase of openness and pleasure in the process of living.

We say again: this deeper layer does not need to be created.  It exists now, in the depths of the ocean of awareness, beneath all the turbulent waves at the ocean’s surface.  Given the proper conditions, it naturally emerges.

A serene and silent mind, living in the here and now, naturally blossoms into true inner peace.  Living in a state of inner peace, the realization of your divine nature is very close at hand.

In the words of Rumi: “This silence, this moment, brings you what you need.  Die and be quiet.  Live in silence and emptiness.”

© Copyright Donovan Thesenga, 2014; all rights reserved.


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Re-birth of Helper Community at Sevenoaks

As one Pathwork helper after another lit a candle, we each shared  where we had been stuck, where our hearts had been closed, where we had judged, withheld, acted out…where we knew we had hurt one another.  And then we each stood before a brother or sister in the circle saying “I’m sorry” and asking for his/her forgiveness, and adding “I love you.”

With each person I witnessed courageously speaking the truth, my heart beat a little more strongly, my lungs took in a little more air, the muscles in my body relaxed a bit more, the thoughts in my mind thinned out and came to rest.

An age-old ritual of confession and forgiveness was being re-enacted.

For millennia humans have known that ritual is needed to clear the air, “re-set” the energy, break up old karma, come to a “fresh start” in our relationships with one another. And here we were, in Light House Sanctuary at Sevenoaks on August 9, 2014, doing our part in clearing the past for the community of Pathwork helpers in the mid-Atlantic region.  We were living the deepest message of the Guide: that there is nothing so dark or shameful or painful in ourselves (and in each other) that cannot be met, accepted, and forgiven with love.

The helper community in this region has been through a long, painful “dark night of the soul” in which suspicion, projection, and the resulting divisiveness have held sway.  There has been acting out, and judging of acting out, there has been rejection and punishment,  withholding and exclusion.  We have lived at moments in fear and paranoia about one another.

According to the great mystics, meeting the “dark night” is an essential part of the spiritual path. The soul feels lost, innocence and trust feel betrayed, the shadow side of our own and other’s human nature is revealed in all its seamy unpleasantness.  We lose faith, and come face-to-face with  despair and hopelessness.

If we meet the “dark night” in full awareness and open-heartedness, then our spiritual work goes to another level.  No longer the starry-eyed beginner’s mind.  Nor the bitterness of betrayal of our illusions.  Now we enter the real work of being without pretense or demand that reality be anything other than just what it is, moment to moment.  Only then can the true glory of creation be welcomed because the mind has been swept clean of its ideas of how things should be.

As Rumi’s poem goes “Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.”  This field invites us to lie down in its sweet grass, and remember that there is only one life, one presence here and that nothing is wrong with how the human story is unfolding.

This whole human drama is just love meeting itself in different guises, or as Adyashanti says, “love coming back for more of itself.”  Or, as the Guide says, meeting the split-off parts of consciousness and welcoming them back into the whole.

We collectively touched into that deeper truth during our ritual and in the silences within which our meeting was held.  We were led by Erena Bramos, assisted by Darlene Rollins, and every heart present contributed to the deepening.

Much gratitude.

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Help for Moms of Addicts

The following was posted on “The Addict’s Mom” a Facebook group I recommend for all moms of addicts.

Addiction and Homelessness

Homeless. We dread letting our children go homeless. After all, a mom’s first job is to provide a home for her child. We feed them, change their diapers, keep them safe, protect them from danger. So when our beloved child turns into an adolescent addict, we naturally get confused. Addiction turns our children into abusive, unloving strangers, someone we would never let stay in our house…except that person also happens to be our son/daughter. So we don’t know what to do.

First we have to recognize that addiction has indeed taken over the life of the child we once knew. They are not who they were; it’s as if Dr. Jekyll (the rational person) has become Mr. Hyde (the monster). Family has no place in the heart of an active addict who has only one thing on his/her mind: where to get the next drugs. So family is only a means to an end and stealing and manipulation are what they do to get that compulsion satisfied. Any recovered addict will tell you this: they could not control their compulsion to use drugs and could not, therefore, also care about those who loved them. They just can’t. It’s just what the disease does to them. In active addiction, they have no choice but to use, abuse, manipulate, coerce, defend because they are COMPELLED to use.

Underneath they are being eaten up by guilt, the kind of terrible guilt which would tear them apart with pain if they ever stopped to feel it. So they don’t; they just bury the guilt along with all the other bad feelings they are trying to drug themselves out of feeling. … Keeping an abusive young person (over age 18) in your house just ADDS TO THE GUILT he is already feeling. The more guilty he feels for what his disease is compelling him to do the less likely he is to pursue recovery.

Letting him/her abuse you or take advantage of you makes it less likely that he will experience the FULL natural consequences of using. ONLY when the pain of using drugs becomes greater than the pain of not using drugs (which includes the pain of withdrawal from drugs, and the pain of guilt along with the pain of whatever emotional distress he was avoiding in the first place by using drugs) ONLY THEN will he seek recovery.

This is what they mean when they talk about the addict’s “hitting bottom.” He realizes that his life with drugs is just going to go from bad to worse, whereas his life without drugs, which will include all the pain he will have to feel along the path of recovery, at least offers him hope of a better life.

We did not let my daughter live in our house when she was using drugs. (And later, during her early sobriety, when I financed her housing, I drug tested her randomly and frequently, as a condition for receiving my support, to make sure she stayed clean.) On two occasions (totalling three years) our daughter lived “on the street.” Sleeping under bridges, eating out of dumpsters, panhandling for change, and all the rest of it. Yes, it was horrible, but it was also the NATURAL CONSEQUENCE of her drug use when we stepped out of the role of rescuer.

On the street our daughter learned a lot. She became a survivor. And finally she’d had enough. We always kept the phone lines open and we always financed any effort at rehab. (5 rehabs, 6 relapses, now 7 years clean time). We always said “I love you” and we meant it. We always said “we’ll be there when you are ready to get clean” and we were. But we never let her live in our house when she was using.

She affirms today that this was one of the best choices we made in support of her learning what she had to learn from and about her disease. Until it was done. I was one of the lucky ones because she did finally hit bottom, and she was ready, and she did, eventually get clean (but remember recovery includes relapses…for most addicts anyway).

Her experiences with homelessness were (I hesitate to say it) good for her. She is an immensely grateful person today. No challenge is ever too much now, because she has faced such intense challenges on the street that she knows she can handle anything. When it’s cold out, she’s so grateful to have a house. When it’s hot out, she’s so grateful to have air conditioning. She is no longer the “entitled” complaining, blaming child; she’s a very grateful young woman. Odd as it may sound, she grew up on the streets. She became a person, not just a bundle of psychological issues. She handled some very challenging situations…on her own. She found her strength. I can’t say what will happen for your son or daughter, and, as I said, I’m one of the lucky ones (which is entirely due to God’s grace).

But don’t be terrified of your child becoming homeless. It just could be exactly what they need.



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More on Addiction, Ayahuasca and the Pathwork

1) from Héctor, from México:

Dear Susan,

I have been reading your responses to several questions on this book. In one answer you say that the Pathwork doesn’t treat addictions or so, and in the same answer you say that you have found the MotherGod in the Ayahuasca, and that the Pathwork is not any more your path.

I understand and believe that a profound spiritual experience, will help you to leave the addictions , as it happened with founder of AA. But I don’t agree with you about Pathwork and addiction: Me myself was deep in addictions when I entered the Pathwork, and only with it now I have almost 12 years completely free from any addiction, I just have an event in the middle. But the Pathwork give me so many tools, first emotional growth to face any reality, second to know my different inner voices and , and become and observer and a listener of them, questioning them, and finally to wake up my higher self, who healed my sick parts, and also understands the influence of certain spirits, but most of all, the certainty that God will help me, if I ask.

This is something very brief but I am totally healed , Another thing you say is that with ayahuasca you meet the MotherGod and merge with Her.  I also did that with the Pathwork even though in Mexico the Pathwork is more Psicological than spiritual. And finally I understand the Pathwork as an endless path , very clear defined, self purification, so is impossible , if you want to reach God, to quit it.  We know that the name Pathwork is just a name, but self-purification is the Path I speak Spanish, dear Susan, so sorry if I wrote wrong , I will appreciate so much your answer, love !

2) Reply from Susan:

Dear Hector,

Thanks very much for your letter. I am so happy that you were able to find in the Pathwork the tools you needed to get sober/clean and stay with your sobriety. I’m very impressed!

In my (personal, limited) experience the Pathwork works best with people who have a strong enough positive ego development to be able to face their shadow side. Sometimes in the past we did a disservice to people who really needed either more traditional psychotherapy to build a stronger positive ego before they did more Pathwork, or they needed another path, such as AA and 12-steps, to deal with their serious addiction before they did more Pathwork.

My experience with the Pathwork in North America has been that deep, entrenched issues of addiction, spirit possession, and/or serious mental illness have not been healed by the Pathwork alone.  But the Pathwork was the crucial background for my healing and, through me, for my daughter’s healing from addiction.  Without Pathwork I cannot imagine where we would be as a family. It is the ground we stand on.  But it was, by itself, not enough for our daughter Pam to break through to a spiritual perspective on her addiction.

Incidentally, as an historical note, when people with an active addiction came to the work with Eva Pierrakos, she always required that they join the relevant 12-step group in order to work with her.  So from the beginning of Pathwork there has been this recognition that something more than Pathwork was needed to treat addiction.

However, you have brought something new to my experience, and I am so glad to hear of your personal success with the Pathwork in dealing with your addiction!

When someone is in the active grip of mental illness, spirit possession or addiction, the negative unconscious has often eclipsed the person’s ability to look at themselves objectively and with compassion.  Then something else is needed. It could be psychotherapy or 12-step work or it could be some kind of strong spiritual medicine. What is needed is something that can break through the hold that the negative unconscious has on the personality. Bill Wilson (who started AA) had a strong spiritual opening. It can come from anywhere, anytime, any place.

I am truly delighted to hear that, for you, this spiritual opening came through the Pathwork. It is very encouraging for me also to know that your work in Pathwork could bring you to the level of surrender to the MotherGod (as you put it) that can transform an entrenched addiction. Vivas to you and the Pathwork of Mexico! Having worked in Brazil in the Pathwork I know that South American Pathwork is much more open to working with spirits than is generally true in North America. Maybe Mexico is really more South American than North American!

Remember that my book Love Unbroken tells only our particular story. I cannot generalize about what works for anyone else. Our daughter was in no way ready for either traditional psychotherapy or the Pathwork when she started her downward spiral into addiction. In fact she wasn’t really ready for ayahuasca, but we tried it anyway, out of desperation. It happened to be what she needed. The spirit of the ayahuasca reached deep into her in a way that nothing else had done, so that she had her first glimpse of spiritual reality, and of her capacity to heal. It’s just what happened.

That does not mean that I am recommending it. I am not recommending to anyone the path we took. In fact, I specifically do NOT recommend it, if you read the Disclaimer at the back of the Love Unbroken book. Ayahuasca is CERTAINLY not for everyone. And it is NOT a cure for addiction.

I totally agree with you that the path of transformation is endless. I work every day with the tools the Pathwork gave me. There is no way I could ever stop looking at what arises through the eyes of the compassionate objective Presence which is always here. That presence first awakened in me in the form of what I named in The Undefended Self as the compassionate objective observer “self.” I wouldn’t call it that anymore, because it sounds like a separate “self” which is not how I see it anymore. It is more like the ground of Being itself which is compassionate and objective by nature.

Please try to understand about “being on a path.”  I am saying only that at the present time I no longer identify with any one path—Buddhism, the Pathwork, or the Daime path–or anything else (though each has played an important role for me, the Pathwork being the most important). Paths are designed to lead the person following them to a reality that can only be pointed to, never defined or captured by any one path. When that reality has been experienced, the idea of being a Pathworker or a Daimista, or a Buddhist or anything else, simply no longer makes sense. That doesn’t mean that I disrespect any of the paths. Certainly I do not disrespect the Pathwork. It will always have a very tender place in my heart as the path that helped me the most. You might be interested in reading my spiritual biography on my website, It is posted in English and in Portuguese. That explains it better than I have done here.

I am happy to know you (we’ve talked electronically before I believe), and so happy you have found what you needed in the Pathwork of Mexico. Felicidades!

Con amor, Susan

3) Reply from Hector

Hello dear Susan I write you again my last answer, this time trying to do it better.

I want to tell you that I understand what you lived with Pamela, she is my face friend and I appreciate her very much, as I appreciate you, and I think that taking that path with Ayahuasca was the will and the help of God for all of you. I respect it, it is a beautiful way of God.

For me even though I didn’t have a strong ego, as I started my spiritual journey long before the Pathwork, with some Lamas from Tibet, 20 years before my addiction crisis, I had a very strong faith and a natural way to contact my higher self. But in those times I was like a pendulum–moments of light and moments and expressions of my immature self, so in order to see my dark side I had to hold on to my faith and my higher self, until my ego grew up.

Of course I had a very good helper too, but she also said to me, the Pathwork is not for addictions, go to AA. But I was sure that if I awake my higher self , and that if I mature my inner child I will heal myself, and with all humility I tell that I did it, everybody in the Mexican Pathwork was surprised .

I can’t say either that the Pathwork heals addictions, but I think so, and with me it worked.

Te envio mucho amor Susan, I have walked with you and your husband in the same road that you also have walked, but if I did it, it was because you have the light to produce that 2 beautiful books that in the middle of the darkest night they came to my hand, to my soul, first in the middlle of party “Fear No Evil” and 3 months later “The undefended Self” they were my rope, when I finished your book asked God with all my hart to take me to that Path, and I went. I saw that if I went through it, I will be free again, innocent again !




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