I was born in Greece on February 8, 1921. My birthplace, Neon Oitylon, is a small village on the Mediterranean with sandy beaches and steep mountains planted with olive groves. It was tranquil and beautiful but it was also a land of splits, a land of disunity. In the middle of the split was the issue of sexuality. Men defended the “honor” of their women by killing each other. We call it “machismo” and in Greece they call it “philotimo.” Growing up in that culture, I felt an ominous force over me; the Greek Orthodox church condemned sexuality—you had to sacrifice the flesh to elevate the spirit.
I was surrounded by women: my mother, three older sisters, cousins, and aunts. They were caring and loving but they met some of their needs through me and with that I became dependent on them. My father was absent, traveling in Europe on business. He came home every few months for several days. He was the patriarch, very serious and disciplined. He never played with me, never told me he loved me. I was afraid of him, afraid he would find out about my burgeoning interest in sex with some of the girls around me. My mother was just the opposite; she held me and expressed her love. She called me “effendi,” a Turkish word that means master. It was a common term of endearment for the first male child. She was uncultured but her love gave me security and, ultimately, the ability to freely express my love for a woman.
We moved to Athens when I was nine. It was a shock to go from village innocence to city life. There was no nature, no sea, no rocks to play on, no fields to roam. I felt imprisoned; I was so furious I would kick a tin can all the way to school. I played soccer with the same intensity—I would kick the ball from one goal all the way to the other. I had such fury and frustrated sexual energy that no one could stop me.
In 1939 Europe was preparing for war. My sister and her husband were living in New York City. She invited me to live with her—I was eighteen and she wanted to protect me. Soon after my arrival in New York, I enrolled in Columbia College. I took my entrance exams in French because I could barely speak English. When I heard that my cousins in Greece were fighting in the war, I volunteered to return but my request was never processed because by that time everything was in hopeless disarray.
At Columbia I had to study twice as much as everyone else to catch up on my English. And compared to my life in Greece, the freedom here was a shock. In 1944, while still in medical school, I was drafted into the Army and became an American citizen overnight!
After I finished school I decided to stay in New York (instead of returning to Greece) and study for my Ph.D. in psychiatry—nothing else offered me such a broad view of life.
I remember the first time I got excited about this work: I was fifteen, attending school in Athens, and I had read a magazine article about two men—Freud who had discovered the unconscious and Reich who had discovered “life energy.” Reich’s name meant nothing to me but my curiosity was piqued: What is this life energy?
Years later, in New York City, a friend asked, “Have you heard of Wilhelm Reich?” I said, “No.” She suggested I read . I read it and thought, “Wow, this is great stuff! This is an understanding of life at its source.” After I discussed it with her, she suggested I work with him. I said, “Who, me? Who am I to work with this genius?”
I finally summoned up my courage and called him; he took me as a patient. And he gave me hell! He ridiculed the moustache and tailor–made suits I favored in those days. When I told him I wanted to see orgone energy, he took me down to his basement laboratory and put me in the orgone accumulator. I saw strange things—spiral movements, rays and fog–like masses—I thought something was wrong with my eyes; I was disappointed. My scientific training in medical school hadn’t prepared me for an experience like that!
I kept working with him even though I felt overwhelmed by his authority, his big face, his powerful voice—like my father’s. I felt inferior; he provoked me to bring up my anger, my issues with male authority. In session he would have me wearing only shorts and lying on the couch. He’d say, “You’re not breathing!” Of course I wasn’t breathing—I was scared stiff. Then he would ask me about my sex life as he observed my body. Occasionally he would put his hand on an area of blockage, my abdomen or chest—and say, “”Breathe out fast!” Or he would have me move energy by kicking or by flailing my arms. He didn’t deal with my personality issues at that stage of our work; he was only concerned with moving my energy.
In the late Forties, Reich was perceived as a threat by the American Psychiatric Association and others. They pressured the Food and Drug Administration to arrest him for transporting orgone accumulators across state lines. Although I was now a member of Reich’s group and believed in the essence of his work, I saw that he and his followers were handling the matter poorly. I didn’t want to jeopardize my medical license for an insupportable cause so I decided to withdraw. It upset me deeply to leave at that time because Reich had played a crucial role in my life; he had the fire within—that’s where I connected with him. I was with him for two years before I realized he was the one I had read about in that Greek magazine when I was fifteen.
After several years as a staff psychiatrist at a New York hospital, I resigned and began a private practice in Greenwich Village where I was eventually joined by Alexander Lowen who I had met in Reich’s group. I was now married and had two daughters. For the next 12 years Lowen and I developed what came to be known as Bioenergetics. It was based on what we had learned about energy and character defenses in our work with Reich. It was very exciting to experiment with new techniques and concepts. We worked from the feet up and the head down, grounding the personality both energetically and mentally. But as time went on, I began to feel that something was missing in the work and in my life. My marriage was not going anywhere—it never blossomed into full flower so my wife and I separated and were later divorced.
Around 1964 a patient of mine gave me a transcript of a lecture given by Eva Broch, a spiritual channel who, since 1957, had been giving lectures (while in trance) on the spiritual aspects of personal growth: the connection of ego and universal consciousness; love, eros, and sexuality; unity and duality and related topics. She had created a community (The Pathwork of Self–Transformation) that studied and practiced these ideas. After reading her lecture I knew I had to meet her because she was transmitting elements that I felt were missing in my work.
At our first meeting her dark eyes sent soul beams right into mine; she was vibrantly beautiful, a magnificent being. We quickly discovered the complementary nature of our work and she started giving me guide sessions. These were not therapy—it was beyond that. Her guide would evaluate my creative efforts. Through her he talked about ways for me to integrate and personalize my struggle, my work. It was very exciting and, of course, we fell in love.
A few years later, Eva and I were married and around that time I left Bioenergetics to develop my work in a new direction. Those years with Eva were the happiest of my life. She was an artist and a dancer. One day I told her about the dance school I had gone to 20 years earlier to learn the tango. I was in a room, alone with a very attractive instructor and thinking about more than tango when suddenly a woman opened the door and said, “Is everything OK in here?” I said, “Yes, fine,” while under my breath I was saying, “Get lost!” Eva said, “That woman at the door was me. I was the director of that school!”
Our work brought us closer together; she awakened my interest in the spiritual dimension of consciousness. I brought to The Pathwork the dimension of energy—how it connects the body and the personality with the spiritual self. This integration led to a flowering of the work and we practiced it until Eva’s death in 1979. Our love was precious, the way we cared for each other. There was a deep connection, total surrender. She was my soul–mate, I was hers.
Out of all this—psychiatry, Reich, Bioenergetics, Eva’s guide, Pathwork—came Core Energetics.
The work with Eva caused me to shift the emphasis of my work from the defenses to the creative, the spiritual self. Now, because I have a deep respect and love for people, my interventions can cut through their defenses quickly and cleanly. I know in my heart what I’m doing and why. My ego is not in the work the way it was before. And I continue to work on my own issues about authority, freeing myself to be more daring.
I yearn to see Core Energetics blossom in many more ways in order to help unify the split between psychology, religion, science, and personal life. My work is to reach the depth of a person’s entity. To help that person open up, transform— move!
— Excerpt from the book Eros, Love and Sexuality by John C. Pierrakos Copyright © 1997 by LifeRhythm, PO Box 806, Mendocino, CA 95460 www.LifeRhythm.com