The sharing circle began in silence. A long silence as members settled into the suggested Quaker meeting inwardness, seeking an inner place of unity from which to speak, if at all. Slowly, reminiscences of the Phoenicia Pathwork Center, nee Center for the Living Force, came to mind or slipped into the room.
Memories of all those years in the 70s, 80s, and into the 90s...Core classes in the barn, the ongoing deer vs human battle for garden vegetables, John and Eva’s golf cart, sweats in the lodge ending in the frigid stream, daring then modest swimming in the pool, huddling like puppies in front of the fireplace in the Albert Room (named for Eva’s brother), sherry and Saturday night dinners in our dress-up clothes (“a way of honoring each other” as Judith Saly explained it) followed by Sat. night groups with TG1 in the inner circle to guide the work, couples marrying under the apple tree, talent shows, fund-raising auctions led by Bert Shaw, Lee Hoiby’s Path song, the bird tapping at the barn window during Eva’s memorial service, scattering her ashes from the box held in John P.’s lap into the stream. Every other weekend for five years, then monthly for four, we came to stretch and challenge and brave the layers of defense to uncover the best in ourselves and each other.
Eva died in 1979 and the community reeled and struggled to right the ship, adjust the rudder, and chart a course with the Guide’s words now only at our backs and a new model of leadership/governance needed. Helpership and CoreEnergetics trainings continued. New people came and old ones faded away into their own lives. In the early 90s, a divide occurred that many, particularly in the helpers’ community, found painful and confusing. I know only the outlines of this but did miss certain dear faces the few times I came to Phoenicia after that for reunions or other events.
Our Center has been enlarged and upgraded and is now in the caring hands of Menla (Tibetan for "Medicine Buddha." See www.menlamountain.org for a history of the center’s ownership.) Menla's mission is to offer a world-class spa and integrated healing system. In the past year, several retreat weekends there have been organized by the NYRP Board--the five members of which, by the way, love each other’s company and membership. How often do you hear of that?
These process-oriented retreats have been ever so skillfully facilitated by Brian O’Donnell, a psychotherapist and Path helper from Michigan, who brings to the process the wisdom, compassion, clarity, imagination, and boldness that generations of Helpership Training Class students aspired to. Each of the three weekend has brought together more people who love the lectures and value the transformative power of working in a group. This past weekend, I experienced again the familiar bonding that occurs when risks are taken and souls are laid bare by revelations of the unflattering layers trying to protect vulnerability.
At the close of the May 2-4 2014 weekend, the Board hosted a Sunday luncheon and Sharing/Prayer Circle for participants and local Pathworkers, some of whom had not been to the Center for 20 years. Excitement and nostalgia and tension and pain jostled each other as the thirty or so people who share a love of the Path moved from the dining hall to gather in a circle in the large sunny room of a beautiful building known as the Yoga Studio (formerly Carey Hall), located just next to the building originally named for John Pierrakos.
As we silently centered ourselves and attuned to each other, some in the circle felt the presence of the spirits of those who’d walked the land before–-Native Americans, Path members who’ve passed on, all those who’d felt connected to that valley.
The accumulation of shared memories soon broke open a courageous confession of painful remorse and estrangement. This was met with a warm welcome back, and the conversation deepened. Not into old wounds or rehashing or justifications but into the aliveness of the Now, with all its potential for forgiveness in the form of simply letting go and letting the Spirit of God have its way with us.
The sharing turned to acknowledgments and re-establishment of precious connections between some who hadn’t seen each other in a very long time. The founding members and early leaders present were acknowledged: Bert and Moira Shaw, Adrienne (Winogrand) Lubeau, Jack and Cary Conaway, David Moskowitz, Gay and Gary Danna. Bert recalled the presence of the Guide at the Center and of being among those few intimates present at the Guide’s session for Gary Danna, Gay’s husband, shortly before he died in the 70s.
There were voices of sorrow, of love, and of passion. There were expressions of gratitude by both “newbies” and “oldies” for the role the Path has played in their lives. One woman had no plans for marriage until her exposure to the vitality of many Path couples led to her own extremely happy union.
I shared my seminal Path memory of Bert Shaw in one New Year’s Eve Saturday night group after a vibrant woman revealed her loneliness and longing and wish to be anywhere else on New Year’s eve. As Stuart Isacoff stepped forth to play the piano, Bert asked her to dance. Mine were not the only moist eyes in the Path family allowed to witness this ingenious stroke of tenderness.
As the sweet shoots of new life grew in our midst and the sun drifted into mid-afternoon, one woman brought into the circle the names of some Pathworkers dear to her who were not physically present. One by one, other names were called into our midst, spanning years and continents, until hundreds had returned to nestle with us in the familiar valley just emerging into its spring blooming.
No one knows what place this unique gathering will take in our rich history. But for one brief shining moment, more important than differences was love. Simply love.