I have known Stephen Heilakka for at least 20 years in his various incarnations as therapist, writer, artist, musician and clergy person. With a Masters degree in Divinity, he is the founding coordinating minister of an interfaith community in Bucks County, PA called Sacred Paths. His creative style and curiousity about the inner and outer worlds, makes for a rich mixture that is a joy to witness.
How do you live your bliss?
Several years ago my dearest friend looked at me over dinner and said, “Steph, your only problem is you are living in bliss and you don’t know it.” The statement hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew it was true. That evening I made a conscious decision to lift the veil that I had placed around my seeing. How do I live my bliss? I live it consciously every day. All it takes is practice. The moment I find myself living in fear and not love I know that I have abandoned my bliss. In the noticing I move back into bliss. It’s also nice to have friends who are willing to point out when I have moved out of my bliss!
As an artist, do you see the world through unique eyes?
My eyes are not unique in any way. What is different is my “seeing” which comes from training. Being an artist means seeing what is there, not what the mind thinks is there. For example I used to look at trees in summer and see green. With my training when I look at a tree I am astounded at the kaleidoscope of colors that are present. When I look at a shadow on a building I no longer see black. It is amazing how colorful the world is. If you look closely at the sky you will begin to notice how blue it isn’t.
When did you begin painting and how would you describe your creations?
I began painting as a child. I did not however follow the bliss of painting until I was 46 years old. I’m a process painter who paints in a reductionist style. My goal is to have the viewer complete the painting as he or she looks at the work. My work points to the never ending journey of life. The work is sometimes messy, sometimes disturbing, sometimes beautiful. Always it is an expression of soul. The viewer is able to find the expression of his or her soul in my paintings because we are all connected.
How did you make a psycho-spiritual transformation from minister to therapist and back again?
That transformation was a process. I had to relinquish my ordination in United Methodist church when I was not willing to lie about my sexual orientation as a gay man. What was so ridiculous is that I was told repeatedly to lie so I could retain my ordination. Knowing that I was going to lose my ordination, I retrained as a therapist and began what I called my underground ministry. As it happened I specialized in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Over time my practice evolved into working with two populations: sexually abused women and heterosexual men who had been beaten by their fathers.
I’m actually very grateful that my journey took me out of the United Methodist Church. My work as a therapist was the true training ground for the care of the human soul. In my practice I was honored with the experience of people opening their souls to me. In the words of Marianne Williamson, they were giving themselves to Love. I was able to mirror back their soul’s sacredness. When you work with the soul and not the ego, transformation happens quickly.
The switch back to ministry happened when I had learned the lessons that I needed to learn in order to following my calling in the world as a nurturer of soul.
Do you feel you were called to do the work you are offering the world?
I do not just feel it. I experience my calling from the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual realms of my life. My work is about offering ways for the human soul to express itself. It comes as no surprise to me. As a child my soul got very shielded as a result of abuse. Having made the journey back to life it is my delight to point the way for others.
How were you guided to create Sacred Paths Community?
Part of my spiritual discipline is to spend quiet time every day. Often I will go on week long silent retreats. Silence is essential for me in order to provide the space and time for the sacred to enter my life. Three years ago I was on a week long retreat. While walking a labyrinth I heard what is often referred to as a “still small voice.” The voice kept repeating “Sacred Paths.” It was confusing at first. I asked the question, “Am I supposed to start a community called Sacred Paths?” The answer was, “Yes.” I had already created a gathering in my home. When I came back from the retreat I announced my plan to create a formal structure. On June 14, 2008 Sacred Paths Community was founded. One of our first tasks was to create a very large labyrinth that members of the community could use for personal and group meditation.
Sacred Paths Community is following the trend of the micro-church. We are a small group of people who gather around the affirmation that all paths are sacred. Our mission is to empower spiritual growth by sharing the messages of faith, hope and love. If one were to come to Sacred Paths, the structure would not appear radically different from a church. There are however some very different distinctions. The first distinction is that there is not a dogma that has to be adhered to.
Creative Director Carol Fisher and I meet weekly to create the “jungle gym.” Our goal is to provide a structure that is fluid and flexible enough for Spirit to move in. We strive to keep a conscious balance of divine masculine and feminine energy as we create the gatherings. There is a time for people to share the joys and challenges of their lives in the presence of community members so support and love can be experienced, not just talked about. One of the fun things we have at sacred paths is a conscious decision to welcome and embrace humor. There is a lot of laughter in the community. Our commitment is to remain open. Our mission has already been changed once. I suspect it will change again in the very new future. It has to. We are growing up. To keep the same mission for eternity is a death sentence. Life changes. The Soul changes. The mission serves as a guide for a bit until you have learned what you need to learn and then you move on.
One of the things not present on Sunday mornings is a sermon. Rather, a sacred conversation is facilitated with everyone contributing. Most recently we have been exploring the distinctions between the rational mind and the deeper wisdom of the intuitive mind. This experience has been so profound that people have actually transformed their lives . What has become so clear is that if we get our rational minds out of the way and allow the deep wisdom of Spirit to speak life occurs much more blissfully. It is fun.
Among the most beautiful traditions that has started at Sacred Paths Community is the prayer shawl. When someone has a concern or challenge a prayer shawl can be requested. During our gathering everyone in the community is invited to place their hands on the shawl and “charge” it with their prayers. The shawls are a visible sign of the intangible power of prayer and the support of the community.
One of our members has coined the phrase “the grand experiment.” Sacred Paths Community is a grand experiment. What is fun and blissful about it is the evolving vision that continues to be handed to the members of the community. With our commitment to listening to the deeper wisdom of the intuitive voice we know we have created and are creating another blissful spot on the planet. If you happen to be reading this and your still small voice if piquing your interest we meet for coffee and tea on Sunday mornings at 9:30am. Our gatherings begin at 10:00am. We meet at the Plumsteadville Grange, 5910 Easton Road in Plumsteadville, PA. The community is offering The Course Of Love on the second and third Sundays of the month, with a pot luck preceding the course on the third Sunday. On the fourth Sunday of the month beginning in September we will begin our fall enrichment series.
Our website is: www.sacredpathscommunity.org