By John Lee Pendall
Pathworking is the practice of using symbols to move through your own mind.
You can also use it to move through other people’s minds, but that’s a talk for another time.
Pathwork is sort of like dreaming, but you’re 1) Doing it on purpose, and 2) Awake. If you hangout in Zen circles, you might hear some people call it makyo, followed swiftly by, “Don’t bother with that, just keep sitting.” Ugh. “Don’t bother with that bag of money you found in the ditch! Just keep sitting!”
Just like with dreams, pathwork involves a lot of symbolism. Actually, it’s probably more symbolic than our dreams. Pathwork can help us make decisions, solve problems, unearth hidden truths about ourselves, our relationships and our lives, perform spiritual alchemy, and do magic stuff.
The neat part about pathwork is that we can do it together. If you, ya know, close your eyes, relax, and give me complete control of your mind. I jest, I jest. Or do I? I do.
Symbols vary from culture to culture, but many of them are cross-cultural. We can use that to travel through our minds together to the same “place.”
If someone has “found” a path, they can also share it with others so that they can go there as well. I’m a natural pathworker, that’s why I fell in love with writing when I was still super young. The difference between pathworking and reading/telling a story, is that pathworking is all about the imagery. The plot, if there is one, is all you and it’ll change each time you go down the path.
I invite you to come down one of my paths today, one that leads to Sorrow—not just as a feeling, but as a living archetype that you can work with directly.
A huge part of finding myself, and taking back some control over my mind, involved working with Sorrow. We usually push Her away, but She just wants what we all want: to be seen, heard and loved. Reading a pathwork text is different from reading a book. Instead of zooming straight through it, stop and gather the image/scene in your mind whenever you see a ***.
When we read a story, the imaginary world sort of builds up slowly with each word. If we imagine, “There’s a red ball sitting on a log,” we see the red ball first, then the log. We pause and reflect during pathwork so that we can see the finished image right away, the same way that you can see the red ball on the log now as one complete scene.
None of this might sound very important—and, since the sun is going to explode someday, it really isn’t—but it makes all the difference when it comes to immersing yourself in the journey. The more real it seems, the more transformative it’s going to be. So, without further ado, I recommend practicing your favorite meditation method for a bit, and then going on a walk with me to Sorrow (what a fun sounding field trip!).
A dance with Lady Sorrow
It’s daytime, and we see the end of a bare branch, encompassed in a thick layer of glistening ice and swaying gently in a soft winter breeze.*** Now we see the whole tree standing on a small hill in a snow-covered land. Breathe deep, smell the snow, feel the cool.***
As you look at the tree, think, “I’m alone, just like this tree. I’m the only one here.”*** Now we hear hooting, the flapping of wings, see a snowy owl land on the lowest branch on the right. The ice clicks and clacks, a few pieces falling into the snow. The owl looks at you, curiously.***
A woman’s voice comes lilting through the air from your right. Turning your head, you see thick, snow-covered woods. She’s singing a wordless melody that seems older than the forest. The owl takes flight toward the trees as if begging you to follow.***
You’ve struggled against this moment for a long time, but you’re not frozen. You turn toward the woods, lifting your left food, and you start walk. She’s still singing as your footsteps crunch through the ankle-deep snow.***
A gust stirs up a small cloud of snow, each flake glistens in the sunlight, like a thousand sparks.***
The trees aren’t far, but it’s already dusk when we get there, the full moon is big and orange on the horizon to your left. The trees in front of you move on their own, forming an archway to the forest, with a dirt path leading into deepening dark.***
You step into the woods, and the owl suddenly flies off a limb and gracefully glides along the trail ahead of you. As its features dim in the gloom, it starts to glow. You follow it down the path, through the hush, cold on the outside but a growing warmth within. The only sounds are your footsteps and her tender voice.***
Darkness all around you now, you see flakes of snow lazily floating about, each one glowing a soft white. One seems to linger in front of your face, when you breathe out you, the plume of your breath shimmers from white, to forest green, to amber, to sky blue, purple, and finally dissipates.***
As you walk, let yourself think of Sorrow, let yourself feel.***
A soft, dark blue light shines through an opening up ahead, spilling into the last few feet of the trail. You step through another archway of trees to find a large, circular clearing with a fountain in the middle. It’s an old stone fountain, and on a pedestal in the center, is Lady Sorrow, singing her song.***
She’s a shapeshifter, She’ll never look the same, but She always sounds the same. Tonight, she has long, wavy, strawberry blond hair and she’s wearing a light blue gown. She sways and moves Her arms in flowing motions as She sings. She turns to look at you. Her eyes are hazel or blue, it’s impossible to tell. She smiles.***
She forms a bridge made of ice and walks elegantly down it to you. She stops singing, and holds your gaze in her own. There’s only kindness in her. She knows you completely, She can see all of the pain you’ve ever felt and will feel, and yet she loves you, she’ll never leave you. She only wants you to do what makes you happy.***
Now it’s your trip, what do you do? She’s your sadness and grief. She’s the inheritor of all your losses, the keeper of all your tears. She’s strong, yet vulnerable, powerful but merciful.
I hugged her, and I wept, and I knew that I wasn’t alone, that She’s with us all. We danced there, in that forest cathedral. We danced and I found myself, the innocent part of me that the cruelty of people and time could never steal away.
By befriending Her, by worshiping Her, she shared with me a bit of her resilient vulnerability, her forgiving power, and her command of shadows. She’s the queen of the night, winter, silence, solitude, death and the moon. As a symbol, an archetype in your mind, She’s as real as you make Her. As a feeling, an emotion, She makes us real. She makes life real.
Alright, whew. So, you can use that pathway whenever you like. It’s important to keep the step-by-step style of it rather than fast-forwarding to meeting Her. If you fast-forward, then that’ll give you too much control over the scene, and it will also blunt the immersive effect.
I’m looking forward to hearing about your experiences with this one. Feel free to plop them in a comment.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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