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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Help is available!


1) Message on website from Jane:

Dearest ladies,

In the midst of my extreme pain, I found your website and comfort. I am a recovering alcoholic, sober for 25 years. My son is in the midst of heroin addiction and dealing drugs. Last week I had to put him out of my home. I am walking by faith daily, knowing that I am not in charge of this man’s life. He is 25 now, but has been doing drugs I think since his early teenage years. This is not something I ever imagined for his life or mine.

Your website on advice to parents gave me much comfort and I bought your book. I am requesting the study guide if possible. I am an Episcopalian and I know that my God is steadfast from my own journey. Facing His will for my life and my son’s, however, is frightening to me. Yet, I know God’s will is perfect. I mean I know this in my heart. Yet I continue to think the worst. I do ask your prayers for both of us that we be lead from this darkness into the light. I am most sincerely grateful for your deeply healing life narrative and the guidance it contains.

2) Response from Susan to Jane:

Thanks so much for letting me know my words have helped to bring comfort. Please do get the support you need to face this extraordinary challenge. Your faith in God will be tested but will be strengthened by going through this test. Keep your heart open, get support to feel your pain, set your boundaries and release your son to God’s hands. Remember he is God’s son also. And PRAY a lot. I hope you also seek the support of Al-anon or Families Anonymous. I could never have made it without Al-anon.

Attached is the Study Guide. If you want, let me know your response to reading the book, and let me know how your story with your son unfolds. You will be in my heart and in my prayers.

With faith in the unbroken love of God, Susan

3) Response From Jane:

Thank you for your kind words. I am doing the things you suggested. I have released him to God as I believe in my soul this is a spiritual journey that Jack must walk out. As you well know the pain has been searing and at times I have thought I just want out of this vale of tears. I looked inward through meditation and prayer. From your web page I found out what I think I already knew in my soul, but did not want to face – this is my spiritual journey as well as Jack’s. Your confirmation allowed me to embrace what is. And, Susan, in reality you provided a sounding for me, which centered me and …not sure how to express this idea…but provided some sort of peace within me in the midst of this overwhelming chaos. The phrase “my God is steadfast” has centered upon my heart or that is where I feel its presence at any rate. Thank you for releasing your journey into our shared experience so that the many coming behind you may experience the light in the darkness.

4) Susan: [I asked Jane if I could re-print her words on my blog, to help reach more parents who need to read the “Advice” words on the website and/or the book.]

5) Jane’s response:

Please, please use my words. You will never know what your words did for me. I truly believe that God led me to your website and I received exactly what I needed– communion across time and space. Intensely profound. I was wallowing in the bad mother syndrome and all that, yet I knew that I had loved both my children with a committed intensity, therefore your thoughts were extremely validating. Tonight in my reading from the text Love Unbroken I was deeply moved by your commitment to never withhold your compassion from another human being. Deeply stirring to my soul. I only hope other parents who are experiencing this anguish will be led to your website. It was an eternal moment for me. Shelley’s words convey my gratitude for your courage to share and teach:

Hail to thee, blithe spirit!

Bird thou never wert–

That from heaven or near it

Pourest thy full heart

In profuse strains of unpremeditated art


Thank you, Susan


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Open to comments

Dear reader,

If you would like to leave a comment here, please first read Love Unbroken so that we have a basis for discussion.  After reading the book, leave me a comment with your real name and a working email address, and then I would be happy to engage in dialogue with you.

For those who followed my dialogue with Luis from Madrid, Spain, about our family’s use of ayahuasca in our healing from the family disease of addiction, he has written “But in the end, Ayahuasca is also an expression of God or Goddess, so why not?”  Luis would like to get connected with the Pathwork in Madrid, and I wish him the very best on his path, hoping that the connection I have forwarded to him may prove fruitful for him. Blessings on the path! 

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second reply to question about ayahuasca

Dear Luis,
Thanks for writing back.  I understand your concerns about psychological dependence on altered states as a way to avoid the external reality of life.  I too have seen this, in the Santo Daime church and, of course, elsewhere.  My point is only that the use of mind-altering drugs is a complex issue, not easily resolved by familiar dualistic thinking.  The Pathwork Guide often says that no action is in itself good or bad, it depends on many factors, most notably intent.
In the case of our family, ayahuasca, taken in the context of the Santo Daime church, was an important catalyst to our spiritual growth.  It brought us through a serious family crisis for which I will always be grateful.  The Santo Dame is no longer my path, mostly because it feels that I received what I was supposed to receive, and I have no further need to drink ayahuasca. (This is, incidentally, very different from how addiction proceeds.)
I totally respect that ayahuasca was/is not your path. It is certainly not for everyone. (Did you read the the Disclaimer at the back of the book?)
Just as I have seen people “stuck” in the Santo Daime church, I have also seen people “stuck” in the Pathwork.  The Pathwork can, inadvertently, encourge recycling process work because it is the known path.  This can never take one to a different level of reality, which can only be entered if the known path is released and the unknown is embraced.  As long as you think you know what reality is, the deeper truth of life will elude you.  As long as one looks through any particular lens, that lens will define and limit what one sees.
Eventually one outgrows any path, since a path is based on a specific world view, and life itself has no world view about itself.  It just IS itself.  And we are THAT.  So, sooner or later, one awakens from any path which attempts to lead the seeker toward the reality of what we are.  Instead, we awaken to that toward which all paths are pointing.  And that is the end of seeking, and the end of identifying one’s “self” with any path.
I love the Pathwork and the wonderful work it does with many people.  I support the Pathwork at Sevenoaks and occasionally still participate in Pathwork events.  I have deep, wonderful, life-long relationships with many friends who are Pathwork helpers and students.  I also have deep, wonderful, life-long relationships with many friends who are committed to the path of the Santo Daime, though I no longer participate in the ceremonies.
I do not judge my friends on the basis of what path works for them.  I am happy that they have found a path that works for them.  But at this time in my life I no longer feel a “part of” any particular path; it simply is not true for me now.  No one knows what the future will bring!
Thanks again for the dialogue,  Susan 
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Is Ayahuasca a Drug?

Is ayahuasca a drug?

The following is a recent correspondence with a reader of Love Unbroken:

Reader:  Hi Susan, greetings from Madrid, Spain. I was reading “love unbroken” and I have left the book in chapter 19. From one side, it is a moving history, sure. But there something I cannot understand. The book is about the drama of addiction and you spend the whole book recommending the drink of ayahuasca which is another kind of addiction. Yes, I know it is a sacred plant, but in the end, depending on ayahuasca to have a spiritual high is addiction. You give your power to the plant. Most of occidentals find in ayahuasca a way to escape from reality. In the words of your daughter: “I need drugs and I could care less what I put in my body if it alters my mind in any way” I don’t understand Susan. You are a mature practionner of Pathwork. You know we should not depend on nothing to contact the god
within. To be honest, I would prefer not to have read this book. I
loved the Susan of “the undefended self”.   Now I’m confused.

Kind regards, Luis

[Susan's note:  "The Undefended Self" is my first book, which is a summary of the teachings of the Pathwork, which I taught for over thirty years.]

Susan replies:

Dear Luis,

I note that you have not finished the book Love Unbroken.  The final third of the book hardly mentions ayahuasca, so I don’t think it is fair to say the book “recommends ayahuasca.”  I invite you to read the “Disclaimer” at the end of the book which specifically states why I do NOT recommend ayahuasca to anyone.

Nonetheless, I appreciate very much your writing your concern about Love Unbroken. You have given me an opportunity to address a concern which I expect many people share.

Your confusion about ayahuasca and drugs is very understandable. Many people think the way you do – that all mind-altering substances are the same and are all bad, especially for people on a spiritual path. However, the subject is much more complex than that.  As the Pathwork Guide and all spiritual paths teach, life is not dualistic, with things being simply good, or simply bad.

I would advise that, before you believe the culture’s ideas on the subject of drugs, you investigate a little more deeply.  You might begin with the book that a well-respected American physician, Dr. Andrew Weil, wrote many years ago called From Morphine to Chocolate.  He points out that many substances—from morphine to chocolate and including alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine—have mind-altering properties.  It’s just that some of these substances have become so ingrained in the conventions of our society now that we don’t think of them as “bad” the way we do the “illegal” mind-expanding drugs.

Dr. Weil also reminds us that many indigenous cultures used mind-altering substances in the service of contacting the spiritual realms.  He writes about how the universal impulse for contact with something “larger” than oneself has been perverted in modern times into a drug culture where pill-popping is common and drug addiction rampant.  Some drugs guarantee addiction: heroin, cocaine, meth-amphetamine, and alcohol taken in excess.  Some drugs cannot readily be abused in this way:  ayahuasca, peyote, and ibogaine are among them.  Often abuse is a matter of context and intent: some psychedelics can produce very positive results (see the research at but, if taken without adequate direction and positive intent, can be very destructive.  The study of what is a “good” use of mind-altering drugs and what is a “bad” use is complex, and depends on intent and context.  Research into this area is required so as not to simply reflect the prejudices of contemporary culture.

Remember that looking through the telescope was considered really bad, heretical even, in medieval Europe because it was believed that humans had no business looking at the heavens. People were killed as heretics for doing this. Some psychedelics, if used with proper intent, allow you to look more deeply at the structure of reality, a reality that is taken for granted by the conventional culture. To see beyond the conventional reality is threatening to a culture. We don’t kill heretics any more, but we do try to make them “wrong.”

And so, the US and most Western European governments codify conventional thinking by labeling all mind-altering or psychedelic drugs as VERY BAD, with no medicinal uses. And yet some governments, even in the United States (and of course in Brazil), recognize that some substances that might be “bad” if used carelessly, may indeed be “good” if used as a sacrament in a religious context. The US Supreme Court voted unanimously to approve the use of the ayahuasca sacrament in the context of a legitimate Brazilian church.

My husband and I came to feel that, in the case of ayahuasca, taken ceremonially in the context of a legal Brazilian religion, it could be part of the “solution” to the problem of drug addiction, not part of the “problem.”

More personally….

I did not choose to use ayahuasca casually. My life situation was dire, and the Pathwork alone offered no solutions. The Pathwork does not deal with addiction, spirit possession or serious mental illness. Other avenues were needed. I was desperate for something that could break through my daughter’s despair and my anxiety. I had gone as deep as possible with the Pathwork. I lived “the undefended life.” I still do. But when “the undefended self” encountered the multiple challenges of addiction, spirit possession, and serious mental illness, I had to go outside the boundaries of conventional Pathwork for help.

I went to 12-step programs for my own recovery from the family disease of addiction.  12-step programs deal effectively with addiction and, while they are “outside” the Pathwork, are certainly compatible with it.  As a young teenager, my daughter was not ready for the work of the 12-steps, and certainly not for the work of the Pathwork. We took our daughter to many therapists, psychiatrists, and even to a residential treatment center where she was “incarcerated” for two years. Nothing worked. No amount of therapy, nor this behavior-modification boarding school, touched her deeper issues.

And yet one experience of ayahuasca in the context of Santo Daime ceremonies in Brazil opened her up to the presence of God in a way that nothing else did. Once she had a palpable experience of the presence of God she knew that she was not hopeless. She and I believe that the Santo Daime saved her life by opening her up spiritually. Even though she still had to go through her addiction, until it was done, she would surely have been dead had she not carried in her heart the hope for liberation from addiction which the Daime visions gave to her. Later on Pam was ready for therapy and for 12-step work, but in the beginning of her descent into addiction, it was the Daime which gave her a glimpse of hope for a way out of her insanity.

For myself, no amount of probing and releasing childhood images, buried feelings, or past life experiences or calling in my higher self healed my chronic anxiety. My life was nonetheless perfectly manageable and I was successful as author, teacher, and Pathwork helper until the challenge of dealing with and finding help for my daughter presented itself. That challenge crumbled my idealized image as teacher and mother and catapulted me into a search for somewhere my soul could rest, a place beyond all ego ideas about who I thought I was.

That “resting place” came in the form of surrender to the archetype of the Divine Mother, completely resolving a “mother wound” that nothing else had been able to heal. I have never since felt any feeling of emotional deprivation or lack of love. The deep comfort that came from this surrender led me–once again through the “door of devastation”–to the discovery that “the Mother and I are One.” This shift in perception about who I thought I was then became foundational for a new way of being in the world. I am not a mother or a teacher or a writer. Instead, there is only this One unified field of love and this body-mind called Susan is, fundamentally, simply
an expression of That.

Without this spiritual opening on my part, I could not have gone the distance in helping my daughter.  Because of this shift in perception, I was enabled to sustain hope, to stand by her until she was ready for recovery. Something larger than my personal “higher self” had to come in, something beyond anything I found in the practice of Pathwork. That “something larger” came to me through the disciplined use of the sacrament of the Santo Daime.

Could my healing and Pam’s have come some other way—sure, theoretically. Maybe we could have been knocked to the ground like Saul of Tarsus and received directly from Jesus Christ the “blow” to our former selves that opened up the possibility of radical transformation. But in our case, that blow to the ego self and that opening to radical transformation included the use of a psychoactive substance.

It might have come another way, and I’ve often wished it had come another way. We have gotten a lot of negative response, in the U.S. and in Brazil, from Pathworkers who do not want to be associated with this path that we took. I have sympathy for that. The Pathwork is the Pathwork. The Santo Daime is the Santo Daime. They are different paths – each can work on the transpersonal level, but the methods are different. I have walked both paths.

The Pathwork is in my bones – I practice compassionate observation every day, embracing all that arises in consciousness. I am open to feelings and do my best to process all emotional reactions so that my expression comes from a genuine place, not a reactive place. I practice deep authentic honesty with others (when they are open to it). For these practices I thank Eva Pierrakos and the Pathwork Guide.

The connection to the Divine Mother is also in my bones. She is my mother, my teacher, my guru. And I am She. For this comfort and this awareness I thank the Santo Daime.

I no longer call myself a Pathwork teacher and I no longer drink Daime.  Both paths served me well, but I no longer identify with either path.  It feels like they have completed themselves for me. Instead, now the day-to-day practice of awareness and compassion and honesty and, above all, surrender to and trust in each moment just as it is, are all that are needed to guide me.  My “teacher” is my life. Actually life and teacher and “me” are just one stream of awareness and compassion unfolding flawlessly.

I hope this has been useful to you. I am happy to continue the dialogue. If you want to hold on to the “Susan of The Undefended Self” feel free to do so!  But if you want to know what it is like to meet a severe life challenge from the place of living from the undefended self, then read Love Unbroken. From this you may learn something about letting your heart be broken open and surrendering to the power of a love that is unbroken, unharmed, untouched by all our human dramas and heartbreaks. I can assure you that, sooner or later, awareness of this deeper love will come to everyone. How that unbroken love comes to you will be your path, not my path.  I can only write about how it came to me.

Blessings to you on your path!    Susan Thesenga


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