“Here is a room full of people, and not one person is completely happy. There is not one person who would not want some kind of change—perhaps not even a pronounced change, a conscious “I want this instead of that.” You may feel an unhappiness, unrest, disharmony, fear, insecurity, loneliness, yearning. All of you, my friends, including those who will read these words, have the power to change this if you want to.”–The Pathwork® Guide
Here on Earth, there are definite periods of time, and they are measured alike for everyone. A year is a year, a month is a month, and a day is a day, the same for all of us. Likewise for distance and directions. Up is always up, left is not right, and down is down. But in the Spirit World, it doesn’t work that way.
Consider that on a clear day, an airplane pilot doesn’t need instruments to tell them whether they are going up or down. But when flying through outer space, beyond the Earth’s field of gravity, an astronaut can’t tell if they’re ascending or descending. In fact, it will feel like you’re going up when you’re actually going down. Why is this significant?
Because when we travel in outer space, we are approaching the laws of the Spirit World. And they work in a way that’s quite similar to spiritual development: Only by going down can we go up.
Progress Feels Like Going Backwards
It’s only by exploring the deepest reaches of our own unconscious mind that we can ascend in the true sense. We must uncover the faulty wrong impressions that we’ve managed to form over the course of many lifetimes. Because only by finding them and correcting them can we understand ourselves, including everything that’s happened and continues to happen in our lives.
As we work to dissolve these hidden misunderstandings, it will temporarily seem like we are going backwards. Yes, it’s nearly unavoidable that as we search to discover the truth of who we are, we will experience depression. And when this happens, it may be helpful to think about the analogy between exploring space and exploring ourselves.
We have to descend into our wild and wooly unconscious in order to reach new heights of freedom and clarity. For if we do the work of self-purification while we are still here in our human bodies, it’s possible to perceive far more truth than we now know.
Purification: What Does This Mean?
What does this word “purification” mean? It means we cleanse ourselves of all our attitudes and inner currents that are not in keeping with divine laws. For it’s our distorted attitudes and faulty currents that cause our suffering. They are responsible for life seemingly not going our way. And so it’s in our best interest to figure out just where and how we are violating divine laws. Because we suffer the consequences regardless of whether we’re violating them on purpose or doing so unconsciously.
Generally speaking, people who are pursuing self-development know right from wrong. So our work is not about whether or not to commit a crime. Because anyone reading these words is already living within the law. But what we can’t yet control is our emotions. We don’t yet understand what’s behind them, and we aren’t aware how much they are influencing our life.
Is There Really No Justice?
The problem we’re facing is that we doubt there is really any justice. For while we’re doing our best to be good and decent people, we’re still enduring so much suffering. And yet we look around and see others whose ethical standards are far below ours, and they seem to be better off.
What’s the reason for this? Where’s the justice in this? Where is God in this?
Here’s what’s happening: There are things that have gotten lodged in our unconscious that we react to by drawing conclusions. These conclusions form hard, rigid knots in our psyche. The Pathwork Guide refers to these rigid forms as “images.” So at a young age, our life made a certain impression on us, and from these impressions we have drawn general conclusions about life.
These images cause chain reactions to happen within our soul. Eventually, this leads to them controlling and directing how our life goes. And this happens even though—actually because—we are no longer aware them. This particular spiritual path is deeply concerned with digging out the wrong images that we’re harboring in the unconscious parts of our soul. Because without exception—allowing for a very few pure spirits who have come to Earth on a mission to help out humanity—we all have buried images.
Accepting in the Right Way
There is a tendency, especially among people who are devoutly religious, to feel we must accept any difficulty. That doing so is a sign of humility. But this is only true to the extent we can accept that we have been violating a spiritual law. If this is the case, then accepting the difficulty means we recognize that we’re the ones responsible for our own misery. This is the definition of true humility.
To be truly humbly, we cannot be totally passive. For being completely passive has as much to do with humility as being out-and-out rebellious. The passive part of true humility is about accepting our temporary state of suffering. For we understand that somehow, in some way—which we may not yet fully understand—it’s self-inflicted.
At the same time, when we are truly humble we will actively engage in working to overcome the problem. We are willing to fight our way through our inner misunderstandings and to take self-responsibility for our suffering, in the most direct way we can. This is a good example of how the active and passive forces work together in harmony.
So we can’t sit, with our hands in our laps, and wait for things to change. Instead, we have to work to change ourselves from the inside out. By doing this, we have the power to change whatever mishaps are happening in our lives. We can, in fact, completely change how our life is going.
But we can’t do this by changing things on the outside, or by only changing our actions. We can only change our lives for good by changing the inner causes of our problems, which are our wrong conclusions about life. In short, we have to clean up our images.
Watch Out for Guilt
It is entirely possible for us to change our lives by understanding what is bringing us all our suffering. Only then will we be able to reeducate our emotions, dissolve our images, and start creating new fluid, flexible forms that align with divine laws. Sounds wonderful, right? It is. And yet this doesn’t come cheap.
To truly master our life, though, is worth every bit of effort and every sort of sacrifice. Further, if we’re serious about doing this, we will be given help. That doesn’t mean God is going to fix things for us. But God has given each of us free will, and if we apply ourselves, we have the ability to find out what our wrong images are, and then change them.
A very important part of this process will be to have the right kind of humility. This is the kind that accepts the unhappiness we’ve been producing, but we don’t become angry with ourselves because we’re not perfect. We need to accept that, at this moment, we’re not perfect. And we must vigorously work to understand why not.
Yes, we might know in our heads that we’re fallible humans. But in our emotions, we may not yet know this. For in our emotions, we may want to be perfect. And when we discover an imperfection we hadn’t noticed before, we might then revolt against seeing this.
A common symptom of such an inner revolt is guilt. When we start to look for our hidden wrong conclusions about life, or images—the things that are causing our suffering and all the repetitive patterns running through our lives—we are not going to like what we find. It’s helpful, in fact, to anticipate that coming across these inner misconceptions will at first feel unpleasant. But encountering them with feelings of guilt will get us absolutely nowhere.
If we find ourselves feeling guilty, then we are rejecting the state we’re in right now. We are essentially unwilling to accept ourselves as we are. We might even confuse feeling guilty with humility and repentance.
So here’s a heads up about what to expect in the process of understanding our feelings: We may feel an unpleasant reaction before we become aware of what the recognition actually is. It’s important to push on and formulate our feelings into clear, concise thoughts. This is major part of our work on this path. And if we do this, we’ll see that what we feel guilty about is that we have made a mistake.
Why do we feel guilty about this? Because we want to be more perfect than we are. We want to be more highly evolved. We can’t accept that somewhere inside us, we’re ignorant, or we’re selfish, or we want to find the easy way out. If we can steer our way through this, it will help our development process immensely.
Some Advice About Finding Image
First, we need to face facts: This work is hard. And these teachings aren’t trying to make it easy. If these words were telling you that the greatest treasure imaginable could come easily to you, you would be right to be suspicious. What can be said is that doing this work is, by far, the most rewarding thing you can ever do.
Nothing in this world can offer you as great a power as the feeling of security that can come from surging ahead on this road. But in the early stages, you won’t have a sense of this. Because starting out, the work involves gathering a huge amount of information from lots of little buckets. Every time we face any disharmony in life, we’ll need to allow our emotions to come all the way to surface. And then we’ll need to articulate what we’re feeling, using concise words.
It doesn’t help to have a vague idea of what we’re experiencing. It also doesn’t help to keep pushing uncomfortable feelings to the side and covering them up. But if we take a close look at what comes up, we’ll start to uncover things we’ve never been aware of. These things may surprise us. And for some time, these isolated bits of information will seem disconnected. As such, we won’t know what to do with them. We might even feel dismay: “How is it helpful to find out I actually feel this way, when I thought I had completely different motives? What am I supposed to do with this?”
Friends, don’t give up and don’t lose heart. Finding these pieces of information will turn out to be extremely useful. Although in the beginning, they may not seem to add up to much. Keep searching. Keep digging. And also know this: We can’t get all the way through our work by ourselves. It’s not possible. But for everyone who is willing, ways to receive help will always be found for us.
If we keep going, we will see that all our isolated pieces of information will start to connect. We will recognize how the chain reactions work to create vicious circles in us: One reaction leads to another reaction until the circle closes, and we feel stuck. Seeing these in action represents a giant step forward. The clouds will soon part and we’ll understand things about ourselves and our lives, quite possibly for the first time.
Once we see the bare structure, we’ll find it easier to keep going and fill in the details. Eventually we will see how the overall plan is currently working to create conflicts. Note, it will take time to grasp it all and to see our part.
See It in Black and White
It can’t be stressed too much that when we find some aspect of our vicious circles, we must write down what we find. Otherwise, our learnings can dissolve once again and slip back under the waterline of our conscious awareness. But once we uncover them, we can start meditating on how these wrong conclusions have colored our lives. Truly, nothing is more powerful for creating than our images.
Trouble is, there is a desire embedded in our image that goes in the opposite direction of the conscious desires we cherish the most. Sorry to break it to you: The image-desires always win. For what’s tucked away in our unconscious always overrules what we consciously think we want, no matter how much we may want it.
Here’s how it works: Our images operate by silently drawing circumstances to us that correspond to them. They draw both people and situations to us. So it’s not hard to realize that it’s our wrong conclusions that are responsible for the problems we are facing in life.
What can help us find our way through our struggles is to keep a list of our problems and conflicts in front of us, written down in black and white. For we need to find the common denominator in all our conflicts. We won’t yet know what caused them, but we need to search to connect the dots of our conflicts.
With our list in hand, we may be puzzled to discover that some of our problems are recurring. Sure, they show up in different forms, but we start to notice there’s a theme, or repetitive pattern. This is our first clue that we’re dealing with an image. Note, some problems in life may occur just once, and therefore don’t seem related to an image. But don’t be too quick to judge.
This is a painstaking process and it could be beneficial to enlist the aid of others, perhaps with a small group of people who all want to uncover their own images. The goal? To finding where the breaking point lies. Where’s the off-ramp for our vicious circle? To find this, we must find the hidden belief that is not in truth.
What to Look For
Once we’ve identified a wrong conclusion and can see it clearly with our mind, we have to investigate our life and see how it’s been influenced by it, making it seem to be true. Then we can start to reverse things. Consider, in theory as first, what the opposite attitude might be.
Emotionally, we can’t just leap to this new approach. But we can start to see, right in the moment it happens, how our image dovetails with our life experiences. Then, by consciously re-experiencing all the emotions that arise, we can discover what the right conclusion would be. By doing this daily and meditating on what we’re finding, our emotions are eventually going to change.
We can’t stop at just changing our thinking. What matters is that our emotions change.
Also realize that our wrong conclusions are linked with our faults. We might already be aware of our faults, but we may not yet see how they are playing into our images. In fact, our images may contain an entire nucleus of faults. That said, don’t go looking for faults when searching for images. For our unconscious does not like a moralizing attitude.
For now, just work to see the bare structure of the image. As you go along, it will become more and more obvious how your faults fit into this puzzle.
How All Images Are Alike
There are a few things that all images have in common. One is the element of fear. Across the board, humans are generally afraid of being hurt, and we are also afraid of things happening against our will. Such fear exists because we have pride and self-will: “I want everything my way!” To avoid being hurt and/or feeling the pain of not getting our way, we build defenses.
We mistakenly believe that if we take a certain defensive approach, we can avoid the things we fear so much in life: disappointment, pain and suffering. Our error is that we fail to realize that by creating defenses, not only do we not avoid suffering, we actually make it worse.
To our Little-L Lower Self—the ignorant part of our personality that is immature and childish—these protective measures seem like a good and logical idea. But we created our defense mechanisms at the same time as when we built our image. When we were just kids! So the whole thing is faulty. It’s time to think all this through from a different angle.
Not only could we not avoid pain, but in the long run we brought way more pain onto ourselves than if we hadn’t constructed the defenses that go along with our image.
It’s important to consider our image from this viewpoint: “Why did I build it? What was happening at the time? What was I trying to protect myself from? How did that work out? And how might life go better for me now, if I didn’t have my ineffective protective defenses?
In a nutshell, here is the inescapable answer to our many questions: There’s no surefire way to ward off pain. It’s simply not possible to go through life without some measure of pain. We all know this. After all, no ordinary human being is pure. So we cannot avoid pain, at least to some degree.
But if we accept life—which can be painful at times—and always work to understand how we are calling it forth, then we meet it voluntarily. When we go about life like this, not only do we encounter less pain, the pain we can’t avoid won’t hurt half as bad.
This then is a very helpful lens for looking at life: “What was I trying to avoid? How well did I succeed?”
Pitfalls to Realizing We’re Responsible
When we start to catch on that we, ourselves, are responsible, we’re at a major milestone. Yet it’s possible to misunderstand this as well. First, many think the idea of self-responsibility eliminates God. So either there is a God and that’s who directs our lives, and if suffering is involved we just have to take it on the chin. Or we turn to atheism and believe there is no God.
But this is a false choice. In truth, we will only find self-responsibility to be a burden if we feel guilty every time we uncover an inner error. But once we get past this by accepting ourselves as we are right now—without getting angry or rebellious, or feeling the wrong kind of shame or guilt—then self-responsibility will become a doorway to freedom.
There’s no false security in the world that can match the true strength we gain from seeing what’s caused our discontent, our worries, our unhappiness, and our problems. It doesn’t matter what kind of false security we’ve tried: relationships with others, concepts, distorted ideas about God. True strength and freedom start arriving the moment we start understanding our own causes and their effects.
Yet as crucial as self-responsibility is for our development, most of us want to avoid it in some way. Even though we revolt against having our freedom curtailed! The only way to resolve this conflict is to find out how and why we have limited our own freedom. How have we given up self-responsibility in order to opt for an easier way to go through life?
Although it looks different for everyone—since we’re made up of differing qualities, faults and currents—pretty much everyone has a desire to escape self-responsibility. And the more we run from it, the more shackled we become. Then we strain against the chains, kicking and screaming at the world, and feeling it is all so unjust. We’ll even wallow in self-pity, while we stop doing the very thing that breaks the chains: take on self-responsibility.
Steps to Freedom
The key to becoming free lies in self-responsibility. First, we must find out: a) “Where am I causing myself suffering?” And b) “How is it in my power to change this?”
Second, we must find out about our fear of getting hurt. We must come to see that this fear is what causes of all our misery. Our excessive fear makes us act like a person who is so afraid of death they commit suicide. That’s basically what our images are doing. We’re so afraid of being hurt that we create these rigid forms in our soul. These forms, and the defenses they launch, bring more needless hurt to us than would happen without them.
The reason we must accept hurt is not because God is giving it to us. It’s because we have given it to ourselves. And that doesn’t mean we should now revolt against ourselves or the wise divine laws that structure life this way. What we need to accept is that we are imperfect, and depending on the extent of our imperfections, we will suffer. And the more we are willing to work towards purifying ourselves, the less suffering we will experience.
There are many requirements for doing this self-healing work, and one of them is to not expect miracles overnight. We can learn a lot by meeting our pain, and by accepting it for as long as we’re in this stage of our development. The more we can relax into the process of finding and eliminating the causes inside of us, the faster we’ll get over these obstacles.
Going about the process in a slow and persistent way will help us have the right attitude about pain. Once we accept pain—which we can do in a healthy way, and not by struggling against it or by masochistically making more of it than necessary—then pain will finally cease. Because when we accept pain, we go through it. And it’s only by going through something that we can reach beyond it. It’s by going down, into the depths of our soul, that we rise up.
“There are now several thoughts in this room: ‘Why should it be possible to purify only in this way? There are many people who do not know anything about images, yet they also develop.’ True, my friends, but in the last analysis it always comes back to this: No matter what period of history, what part of the earth you live in, no matter what names are chosen, the idea always remains the same: To find how you deviate in your unconscious from your conscious mind.”–The Pathwork® Guide
Need help finding your images? Here’s a suggestion for how to form a small group who can work together in finding your images.
Learn more in Bones, Chapter 9: Images and the Deep, Deep Damage They Do
Adapted from Pathwork Lecture #39: Image-Finding, and Lecture #40: More on Image-Finding: A Summary