“Our souls grow also through the pain of crisis. In the life of the soul times come when we begin to sense, in some area of our life, the acute pain of unfilfillment. Some neglected or unknown part of oneself presses to be born.” Ann K. Elliot
Gail Sheehy’s insightful book, “Pathfinders,” offers to assist us in overcoming the crises that occur in adult life while also finding our own individual path to well being. Although I doubt that her book accomplished this significant task for all who read it, it certainly provides a very helpful travel guide. Pathfinders, according to Sheehy, fit the following description:
|The individual must have emerged from a particular path or completed passage with “renewed strength and expanded potential…”|
|The individual must have done a minimum of harm to others during his or her journey.|
|The individual should not be exclusively involved in the service of others but should instead have sought a balance between a purpose outside of him or herself and individual growth.|
|One does not start out as a pathfinder, one becomes a pathfinder.|
|The individual is as committed to his or her inner growth as he or she is to outer achievements.|
One of the greatest privileges of being a therapist has been witnessing the making of a Pathfinder. While far from an everyday occurrence in my practice, when the process begins, it’s as wonderful an experience to behold as any I’ve ever encountered. It seems very much like a birth to me, beginning with fear and discomfort, leading into the acutely painful transitionary period, and culminating in bringing forth new perspectives, strengths, and direction.
Survivors of a Birthquake tend to make outstanding Pathfinders. Most have been broken and yet they still stand. They have been afraid, hurt, bewildered, and angry and still they moved on. Many found that their lives had been turned upside down, their identities battered, and their foundations shaken, and still they rebuilt. While they may have lost hope, they were never hopeless. Surviving the Quake requires great strength, and efforts to transcend often lead down a new and unknown path. James Hillman once wrote that, “Victim is the flip side of hero.” It is on this journey toward recovery that many survivors become Pathfinders — transformed from victims to survivors (and hero’s) of their own unique Quake.
“True healing means drawing the circle of our being larger and becoming more inclusive, more capable of loving. In this sense, healing is not for the sick alone, but for all human kind.” Richard Moss
In order to support the struggling seeker, faith must be maintained in the value of the journey. Often this is best achieved through reaching out to others who have been through their own dark forest and have emerged on the other side. From such individuals, the weary traveler learns that he or she is not alone, that others have also felt confused and inadequate, and that still they arrived safely, and stronger than ever before. It’s my belief that those struggling within the uncertain territory of a Quake benefit tremendously from the support of a group. While a personal guide can be helpful, the collective wisdom of others is often the most sustaining through the turbulent process, and when rebirth is achieved, it’s far better to be celebrating with others who stood by you than to be rejoicing alone.
What is rebirth? I believe that for each person the particulars of this evolutionary process are different. According to Wilfred A. Perterson, “Evolution is the story of stress and conflict, change and adjustment – the unconquerable urge of life to emerge in new forms.” Fundamentally, perhaps, it’s a place where one finally arrives that feels right. You’re born the first time into an unfamiliar place where you have absolutely no control. During your second birth, you’re immediately aware once you’ve made it through the tunnel, that you finally feel at home.
Written by: Tammie Byram Fowles, author of BirthQuake: The Journey to Wholeness