Benjamin De Mott accuses Rogers of “nothing other than the professionalism of compassion: flower people cosseting others for fees."
The film begins. It has a slightly yellow patina and the graininess of a home movie. A middle-aged man enters what appears to be a classroom. He is bullet-headed, bespectacled, attired in a short-sleeved white shirt, no tie, a pair of slacks, and white shoes. Chairs have been arranged in a circle, and before he takes his seat, he places a small microphone around the neck of a black woman who sits next to him. Then he arranges his own microphone and sits down and waits. His name is Carl Rogers, the man credited as the founder of humanistic psychology. His role in the group being portrayed in this film, however, is less imposing; he is merely a “facilitator.” The other facilitator is Richard Farson, the Cary Grant of the West Coast behavioral sciences movement — craggy jawed, dimpled of chin, buttoned down in shin, tie, jacket.
Rogers attacked both Skinner and Freud for being determinists.
The year is 1967, in a classroom at San Diego State, and the Film, originally sixteen hours long, is later cut to about an hour. Its title is Journey Into Self. The seven participants in this encounter group, all of them specially selected, have agreed to the Filming. Some come from industry (their companies sponsored the movie), some from homes in San Diego; no one is identified in terms of occupation. Among the women, there is an impressive racial mix: one is a handsome black woman named Kathleen, another is a Eurasian known as Roz. The men seem cast from the same die: middle-aged, middle income. Later, members of the group are described as being “ordinary people who were never involved with psychotherapy either before or after.”
Empathetic listening remains one of the key concepts with Rogers.
Rogers begins: “I feel apprehensive and scared.”
The disarming introduction is his trademark, and with it, he helps to create a theoretical atmosphere of equality. The hope is that the other participants will feel free to speak of their fears. This is the implicit “formula” for the unplanned, undirected Rogerian group sessions.
Carl and Helen Rogers. “Through contact with a medium, Helen came in contact with the spirit of her sister."
Beth (a woman in her forties): “Sometimes I think the only one who loves me is my cat. My cat accepts me as I am. I can love my cat and my cat returns it.”
Rogers: “It’s pathetic that your cat is the only one who accepts you as you are.”
His voice is Midwestern. The “r’s” are sharp, inordinately so, and they cut like knives despite the cadence of his speech, which is slow.
Roz (the Eurasian woman):”I hope that I can love every one of you and that you can love me.”
In his convictions Rogers is unwaveringly self-assured. This is especially true of his belief in the value of his groups.
Though the film has just started, the session has obviously been in progress for some time. The words “I feel “ and “I hope I can love everyone” are the acquired vocabulary of participants in Rogerian encounter groups.
Farson (to Roz): ‘‘When l hear you speak, it’s like a bell tinkling. We don’t want to get into each other’s style, but I’ll remind you of it.”
Roz (crying out): “I don’t want to be a goddamned china doll ringing a bell. I want to have something to say.”
Rogers: “I like you very much.”
Farson: “You need us because you like us and not the other way around.”
A middle-aged man named Jerry tells the group that he can’t express feelings, that he has no friends, that he feels close to no one.
Rogers (repeating the obvious): “Is there no one you feel close to or who would come close to you?” He says this at the rate of one word every few seconds, as if he were forming each syllable in his mind.
Roz commences to speak about her feelings. At once, Jerry weeps softly, hiding his face behind his hand. Roz gets up and cradles Jerry’s head, hugging him, weeping. “And we accused him of not feeling anything,” she says.
Kathleen (the black woman) also begins to cry. “I wanted so much to reach out to you, Jerry,” she says. Then, to the group: “I was boiling inside, always holding back, because being a Negro, I couldn’t do things that would embarrass him. This damn society, where I have to think Negro first, is such a shame. Only once in my life I felt like a person, and I had to leave the country to do so. I could never do in this country what I could do [in Europel.”
Rogers holds the black woman’s hand while she holds Jerry’s.
Rogers: “Kathleen, when you come forth, you really do.”
Roz (to Rogers): “I put you up here [on a pedestal] because you’ve given so much love.”
Rogers: “I feel needed, useful, real.”
Roz: “I love you.”
Rogers: “I love you. A few years ago I couldn’t say this to a good-looking gal. I found it hard to weep when everyone’s eyes were focused on me.”
Jerry: “I feel like I’m coming closer to people. This realization has come to me: I couldn’t picture someone close to me.”
Rogers: “After your experience, I feel you’ve learned something that is, by gosh, irreversible.”
Farson shows his good profile to the camera. The participants stand up. Farson places his hand on Rogers’ shoulder. Slow dissolve. End. Credits: Filmed and edited by Bill McGaw of Western Behavioral Sciences Institute, La Jolla. Sponsored by several corporations, including Saga Food and American Airlines. The end.
Soon after it was completed, Journey Into Self was shown to film director Stanley Kramer. Through his help it was submitted for consideration for an Academy Award as best documentary of 1968. It won the Oscar. Eleven years ago, when Journey Into Self was being screened at theaters full of curious voyeurs, Rogers’ invention, the encounter group, was sensational, alluring. Though he and Farson held doctorates, they didn’t refer to themselves as doctors; they were “facilitators.” Their group encounters, given enormous publicity as a result of the film, employed techniques generally unheard of at the time; they were non-judgmental, nondirected. The emphasis was on the expression of feelings and the reinforcement by the group of self-esteem and self-love. The film showed Rogers at his best, and for a while, his name and the intense group experiences associated with it enjoyed widespread popular discussion.
Born in 1902 and raised in a rural suburb of Chicago, Rogers had a strict Congregationalist upbringing, and it still shows. He uses few spontaneous gestures. Though he studied theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York, he found it and the life of abstract ideas uncongenial to his nature. At Teachers College, Columbia University, he took a Ph.D. in psychology, and though he was later on the faculties of Ohio State, University of Chicago, and University of Wisconsin, he never felt he got the respect he deserved. “I asked myself what the University of Wisconsin had done for me. ” he said recently. “Thwarted all my plans, made my students miserable. I was attacked by the department of psychiatry at the University of Chicago but supported by the administration. I fought for innovation.”
This innovation consisted of discarding the traditional patient-doctor relationship and substituting in its place a conceptual arrangement he called “client to person.” At first, Rogers, who despised the grip that psychiatrists and psychoanalysts had on people, felt that his antiauthoritarian techniques would revolutionize the “helping profession.” His was to be a “client-centered” therapy, with the client responsible for his or her own directions. But the psychiatric establishment, wary of potential danger to people who were deeply disturbed, likened Rogers’ approach to that of a lifeguard who, when confronted with a nonswimmer caught in a rip tide, declines to throw out a life preserver and instead shouts to the victim that he should assume responsibility for his actions. The method, they felt, was far too chaotic, even irresponsible. Rogers stood fast, but in time, he moved increasingly toward groups in which there were no disturbed people, or at least no people he defined as being disturbed.
In his debates with Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner (roughly from 1956 to 1962), Rogers expostulated “free will” and attacked both Skinner and Freud for being determinists — Skinner, because he believed that people were almost entirely products of societal conditioning; and Freud, because of his theories that childhood traumas were related to adult neuroses. Filled with optimism and Christian notions of human potential, Rogers soon dropped the term therapy, relinquished the idea of goals, repudiated models or roles, and set about to have people meet in groups with only a facilitator present. (The term implies something less than leader or director, yet something more than a disinterested observer.) In these groups, everyone was to engage in the activity of expressing feelings, or attempting to do so.
Rogers’ timing was perfect. From the publication of On Becoming a Person (1961) to On Encounter Groups (1970), his theories both coincided with and reinforced the sexual, social, and ethical revolutions of the mid-Sixties and early Seventies. The Rogerian emphasis on the self, on placing the efficacy of one’s feelings above the traditional concepts of values, judgment, or commitment, midwifed the birth of what came to be called the “alternate lifestyle.”
Not long after Rogers accepted an invitation to join the staff of La Jolla’s Western Behavioral Sciences Institute in 1964, San Diego buzzed with talk of T-groups (training groups), sensitivity training, encounter-group workshops held for Navy personnel, young executives, college professors. In time, the entire state and beyond seemed tuned to the vibrations emanating from the Silverado Street buildings where Rogers and his colleagues were introducing new techniques to better living. It was surely an improvement to say “I feel” rather than “I think,” and “I can relate” rather than “I believe. ” A reorganized list of priorities developed. The agenda, covert and overt, was to express: I feel, therefore I am.
Rogers ’ work soon attracted national attention and WBSI flourished. Within a few years, however, the organization, swollen with new staff members and grant money from government and industry, began to show signs of strain. It had been a loosely organized, highly democratic institution composed of autonomous “centers,” whose members pursued individual projects. But as financial matters grew more complex, and as WBSI’s professional reputation became closely associated with Rogers, internal tensions mounted. Finally, in July, 1968, Rogers and more than twenty members of the staff resigned from WBSI, took up offices a few blocks away on Torrey Pines Road, and opened the Center for Studies of the Person. It is still in operation.
When I went to see Carl Rogers in May, his wife had recently died. It was characteristic of him that he did not refuse me the interview. Also characteristic was the fact that he had scheduled two interviews for one morning, back to back. When my taxi was late in arriving at his hillside La Jolla home, he was crotchety: why was I late? The master of “laid-back” was a bit uptight.
At age seventy-seven, he is clear-eyed behind his glasses; his posture is good. As in the film, his voice is a monotonous drone. He fixes his eyes outside the window quite often, though I lean over to be closer to him. I ask him how his theories have been accepted in the East (by East, I mean East Coast). He hesitates, gropes for words, and says, “I’m afraid they are not very receptive to them in China.” We both laugh at this misinterpretation.
I’m interested in knowing whether he has ever been criticized for the manner in which he recruits his facilitators. They come from all strata of society, may not necessarily have any formal schooling, and need only attend the La Jolla Program, a training session that meets every summer for approximately seventeen days. He replies, ‘ ‘I’m not aware of its being criticized. I read of a study that said that ten percent of the people suffered damage from group therapy, but that’s not the La Jolla Program. There are very few entrance requirements aside from having a sincere interest in the program. No amount of academic training makes a good facilitator. The academic is not receptive to human beings. The ideal facilitator is very aware of his or her feelings and recognizes the uniqueness of each person, including himself. Facilitators are persons who prize and respect other people and are sensitive and empathetic listeners.”
Empathetic listening remains one of the key concepts with Rogers, and that is his own greatest ability. He draws a comparison between himself and Fritz Peris, the guru of Esalen, in this regard. “I felt this about Fritz: He was an extremely shrewd therapist. What I mean is intervening in the person’s life with sharp probes, the kind of thing I don’t like to do.”
Sharp probes are surely not part of the Rogerian technique. By temperament and by ability, Rogers is not capable of probing. His answers are all affirmations of the group experience. By definition, the groups are composed of healthy people. Pressed about what he would do if he had someone in a group who was truly disturbed, he tells of a woman, a participant in a group Rogers organized in Brazil, who undressed and remained naked the whole time, walking through adjacent rooms and seeming “totally out of her mind. ” No one bothered her or gave her directions. “On the last day, she appeared at the community meeting fully dressed,” he recalls. “She told us she always hated her body and lived through some incredible inner experiences. She was so grateful that people had allowed her to be herself, to be alone. A year later she was still fine.”
It’s a closed and gorgeous world for Rogers, one in which there are no failures, no people who do not leave his groups better, improved. But outside, where most professionals dwell, it’s another sphere, and he is somewhat at a loss when it comes to dealing with deeply disturbed individuals. “The list of therapists that I would send a good friend to grows shorter every year. [I wouldn’t recommend] someone who will do a lot of interpreting, a lot of imposing of values. There are too many pseudotherapists. A pseudotherapist is one who puts himself or herself as a therapist before he puts himself as a person. It’s pretty damned obvious when you ’re talking to someone who sees himself as a psychologist or a psychiatrist and not as a person. You’ll get help from a person, but not from a professional.
“A real person is someone closely in touch with ongoing feelings and is able to live in terms of those feelings, so there is no falsity. The closer a person is to expressing persistent feeling, the closer he or she is to being a good person and a good therapist. ”
While Rogers expresses negative attitudes toward therapists, he is equally vehement about est, the group phenomenon started by Werner Erhard in which one group leader will handle hundreds of people, keeping them cloistered for many hours.
“My deepest concern with est is philosophical. They believe that any means justifies the end. Many people come out of est feeling they have been helped,” says Rogers, “and I don’t doubt it. But they couldn’t possibly go through that process again without paying attention to some guru-type leader.
“Est is determined to reach a given end by calling them ‘assholes’ or whatever. They keep them from going to the toilet. It reminds me of boot training of Marines, where they are treated like crap, and then when it’s all over, by God, they think, I’ve made it, and I’m part of the best fighting force in the world. ’ That’s what est is. I also mistrust any enterprise that is primarily commercial, and they go at it in a very commercial fashion. They give free tuition to the leaders and everyone else pays through the nose.”
I follow Rogers’ gaze out the window with these words. Beyond the living room there's a stunning view of La Jolla’s north shore, but, as I am aware, outside the door is another interviewer, waiting with tape recorder in hand. I ask to see Rogers again.
“Why did you tell me it would only take an hour?” he asks with visible impatience.
“Interviews are organic,” I respond. “If you ’re with someone who has little to say, it takes less than an hour. In this case, I still have many questions to ask.”
He pouts slightly, then resigns himself. “Eight-thirty Sunday morning,” he states.
The translation of 8:30 a.m. means that I have to be on the sidewalk and in my cab by 8:00 a.m. The ride is only a few minutes away, but I don't want to be late again.
This time I arrive at least ten minutes before the appointed hour, but he had not, in our previous meeting, given me the signal that I could ring his bell too early, or too late. La Jolla is socked in with fog; a mist drifts down upon the shrubs. The sky is gray; the water is gray. In the distance, the pier at Scripps Institution becomes a gray line that suddenly falls into the ocean. Exactly at 8:30 I ring the bell.
For whatever reason, our chemistry is better this time. Rogers is more relaxed and so am I. He seems to be in a receptive mood, especially when I ask about his familial relations, and in particular regarding his marriage and the recent death of his wife.
“Helen and I were married fifty-four years. At the time of our marriage, all stereotypes existed. Helen put her artistic interests secondary to being a wife and mother.” Rogers nods in the direction of the north wall without making gestures with his hands. “That’s one of her paintings there.” The painting shows a tree with rather rigid limbs, frozen in motion. Later, when Rogers shows me through his immaculate house, I see paintings by his wife that are freer in form, more open and expressive.
“In the last ten years of her life, Helen began to think that she could have taken more independence for herself. I always encouraged independence, but we learned a lot from our daughters, who left an unsatisfactory marriage to lead an independent life. Marriage and partnerships have changed greatly in our lifetime.”
Carl Rogers has two children, David (born 1926) and Natalie (1928), as well as six grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Natalie used to be a therapist who gave workshops with her father. “She was very quick to challenge me on old-fashioned chauvinism — not mentioning women participants when discussing groups. ’ ’ Rogers laughs in recollection.
He reflects carefully when asked whether the children felt self-conscious about having a psychologist for a father. “I was far from being the perfect parent. When my son was young, I was pretty much sold on intelligence tests. I thought I would do one with David and told him, ‘I’ll do it like with the boys at the office. ’ He must have caught my professionalism, because he told me, ‘I’m not really a boy at the office, am I?’ It’s disastrous to try to treat your children professionally.”
That Rogers is proud of David’s subsequent accomplishments is evident not only by the manner in which he speaks of him, but by the display of his son’s book, American Medicine: Challenge for the 1980s. “David thought of being a psychiatrist, but found psychiatrists so incredibly dogmatic that he turned away from it. He's in Princeton, head of a foundation that gives away forty or fifty million a year for research projects. But he was a good therapist when he was a practicing physician.”
At no time in our conversation is Rogers more open and moving than when speaking about the death of his wife, Helen. “It [the death] was a beautiful experience. In 1975 Helen was at the brink of death [from a blood disease] and five times after that we thought she wasn’t going to make it. Then, there was a miraculous turnaround.
“Through contact with a medium, Helen came in contact with the spirit of her sister. This was very meaningful to her and I must say very convincing and striking to me. First, we went to the medium, then she came here. It really was something to see our table tapping — boom, boom —bouncing around my living room. It eliminated every possibility of fraud.”
As if recalling the events in his mind’s eye, Rogers fixes his stare ahead of him, at the sweeping vista of the sea.
“The medium asked all of us to get in touch with someone deceased. I thought of my father. The table tapped toward Helen and it tapped out M-A-R-I-A-N. The table tapped out by doing one. A; two, B; clear through M. It was a slow process. Then Helen said, ‘What was the name of our brother?’ It tapped it out correctly. Her brother’s name was Art. Then the message became personal, essentially thanking Helen for what she had done for Marian’s daughter.
“Some time later, Helen had dreams or visions. She woke me up in the morning and said she had a dream but didn't know if it was a dream. It was her mother in her mature years, her mother who didn’t even play the piano, playing the piano beautifully. Her mother stood up and fell over — dead.” Rogers’ voice rises sharply. “Helen said, ‘What do you think of that?’ But far be it from me to interpret that one. She said, i think she is telling me to play it to the end.’
“Helen had several visions of her brother which were very meaningful. She realized she might be greeted on the other side by her family members. It was a beautiful form of dying, a peaceful dying. It was sad, but not a tragedy. It was an enormous relief for her and for me.
“For six years, I couldn’t do anything, go anywhere, without thinking, do I dare to leave the house, can I go to the beach, will it be okay? It’s been a burden in the back of my mind for a long, long time. For the last eight weeks, while she was in the hospital, I had the experience of living alone. I’m a loner by nature, so it hasn’t been as hard on me as it would be on some people. There’s an honest-to-goodness relief of being able to think what I want to do instead of what was good for Helen. She was seventy-seven, the same age as myself, when she died.”
Early this year, a biography of Rogers appeared. Titled On Becoming Carl Rogers, and written by Howard Kirschenbaum, it has been roundly trounced by critics for its style (that of a doctoral thesis) and, worse, for the absence of any detachment from its subject. When I ask if the book provided him with any new insights into his life, he answers carefully, “I saw in that book how completely and devotedly religious I was as an adolescent and how that is totally changed. Events surrounding my wife’s death have made me believe that there may be life after death. I never would have believed this before. Perhaps there is a spiritual realm we can be in contact with. Perhaps I have come full circle.”
As I am leaving, he asks me why I am writing an article for a local publication, and suggests that I do a story about him for a national magazine. Rogers is obviously miffed by the critique of Kirschenbaum’s book in the January issue of Psychology Today, in which Benjamin De Mott accuses Rogers of “nothing other than the professionalism of compassion: flower people cosseting others for fees, sweet-talking a muddle-headed lingo that any high school senior could master in an evening, miming ‘warmth’ with gestures any thespian could duplicate in a quarter hour. . . .” As if the memory of that review still stings, he tells me that he won't allow his picture to be taken for a San Diego paper, only for a national publication.
It is nearly impossible to find people who have worked with Rogers here in San Diego who will talk about him openly and for attribution. At Western Behavioral Sciences Institute there is a cordial if unbending silence on the subject of the 1968 split. One person there advises me to wait until Rogers is “gone” before attempting the definitive article that would present the man in his many dimensions. “You have to know when to stop, ’ ’ he informs me. “His followers want to see him as an idol, larger than life. ” When I confide to one of Rogers' associates that I began to feel claustrophobic in speaking with the man because he is so single-minded in his views, he replies that this is Rogers’ great strength, that he can take a simple idea, extract its essence, and write about it simply.
And it is true. Both in his writings and in conversation, Rogers is concerned with concepts that are simple, even common sensical. In his convictions he is unwaveringly self-assured. This is especially true of his belief in the value of his groups. But his reasoning is almost syllogistic: Workshops are successful, therefore they work, therefore they are successful. Nevertheless, he sells Rogerian concepts the way some people sell soap. They are done up in labeling that says, “No experience necessary. No one fails. No one goes home empty-handed. ”
This was borne out to me on the night that I participated in a workshop on Friday, July 13. l paid twenty dollars for a session that was scheduled to last four hours on Friday, twelve hours on Saturday, and at least four hours on Sunday. Considering the fees charged by such groups as est, it seemed a very reasonable price. The session was held at the UCSD campus, and many people had reserved room space in the dorms. After paying my tuition on Muir campus, I joined the other participants in the lounge on Revelle campus. There was a great deal of confusion about finding the rooms. People wandered about with name tags and the number of their group. The night was humid and I was personally exhausted: my dog had just undergone surgery and I had word that my sister was ill. So when I arrived for the communal meeting, I was not in the best of spirits.
At least one hundred people had crowded into the lounge and every available space was taken — not merely couches, but floor space. The meeting was nearly a half hour late getting started when a middle-aged man said, “My name is Bruce, and I feel very pleased to be here.” Immense pause. “I feel comfortable in the room.”
Gazing around, I detected a general sense of uncertainty. One man, who had obviously been to groups before, was stretched out full length on the floor with his shoes off. Others sat in the lotus position. The group was roughly sixty percent women and forty percent men. The youngest woman, at a rough guess, was in her middle twenties; the oldest in her late sixties. The men tended to be older, say thirty-five to late sixties. Apprehension swept the group because of the long, seemingly contrived silences. After minutes that seemed like eons, Bruce said, “We decided to have a community meeting this year.” Very long pause. “Some years we don’t. ”
My immediate response to these silences, these unendurable pauses, was that they were transparently phony. It was apparent that the people in the room were supposed to fill the silences, but they didn’t. They rolled on their haunches, they perspired. But they waited. Bruce waited. Uncertainly about what was to happen was as palpable as the heat.
“Sometimes these communal meetings work. Sometimes they don’t,” Bruce allowed.
“I’m beginning to feel afraid,” called out one woman from the comer of the room. No one responded.
“I don’t feel so comfortable here any more,” said Bruce.
I was sitting on the arm of my chair, self-conscious about my clipboard and paper. But the imposed silences, the manipulative way that the facilitator was using these silences, irked me. I was on the verge of calling out, when the woman in front of me said, “Why don’t we all go to our individual groups. ” Another woman cried with impatience, “I second the motion.’’ Still, Bruce sat and didn't make a move. If he had waited for the group to express itself, it had. More silence. More sweating.
“Sometimes these communal meetings work out. Sometimes they don’t,’’ said Bruce. “It could go either way.”
I thought, as in the joke about Einstein’s pondering of relativity, “From this he makes a living?”
At last, the woman in front of me said again, “Let’s get to our individual groups.”
Milling about, unsure how to find their rooms, everyone oozed out, slowly unwinding and rewinding up the stairs. I searched everywhere for my room number. It didn't exist. Someone suggested that I go back across campus. I debated going home. Not only didn’t my room number exist, but though I circled about, I could find no one with a tag that said group fourteen. I went over to a knot of women who seemed to be about my age and simply told them I was staying there. This was against the rule — you couldn’t wander from group to group.
As I entered I found myself sitting next to the man who had been lying on the floor downstairs. During the many imposed silences, he had turned and given his back to the group. After a while the facilitator asked what we thought of the communal meeting. I said l disliked it. No one else responded. Among the members of the group, one woman came from Washington, D C., and said she hoped to be a facilitator. Another woman and myself lived in the San Diego area. Most of the men had driven at least seventy-five miles to get to the workshop. Our facilitator was a woman from Vancouver.
One of the men offered that he had been coming for years, at least a decade, and that he loved it. He used to come before he was married; now he came as a divorced person. He got a lot out of the meetings. They were terrific; it was worth the long drive to get here. Having delivered himself of these remarks, he closed his eyes and never said another word.
Another man sat on the floor and said that he wouldn’t tell us anything about himself, about his profession, because any of those things got in the way of his feeling.
A woman who had been at this for a week already announced, “I feel the table makes the room too crowded.”
Another replied, ”l feel that we should get it out of here.”
When the table was moved to the next room, still another woman said, “Thank you for making us feel better about the room.”
The relaxed man, on the floor, who had shown us his derriere during the communal meeting, added that he felt very good about himself. He seemed to be full of the appropriate jargon. He spoke about group dynamics, relating, self-awareness. He had an arsenal of clichés and enjoyed using them. Later, when the facilitator remarked that she felt he was asking a lot of questions but not giving enough of himself, he responded defensively, “Are you trying to control me?”
I told the group that I was going to write an article about Carl Rogers. Great enthusiasm. Still, one woman didn’t feel good about my clipboard. I put it away. Silence.
I wondered how the rest could endure the triviality of the proceedings, the excruciating nonsense about the feel of the room and the feel of the lights and the feel of the feel. So I began to talk about my sister’s illness. Several women were deeply moved. One of them said, “After Eleanor told us this, I don’t feel I can say anything.”
The facilitator said, “When you came in here, I didn't feel anything about you. Now I feel that you are my close friend.”
According to the protocol of the meeting, l should have replied, “I feel very good that you feel you are my friend. ” But I made no reply. The facilitator persevered and asked, “Did you hear me?” I answered neutrally that I had heard her. The other San Diego resident said that she felt like hugging me, and the facilitator answered, “Don’t worry, before the workshop is over, you will.”
We did have a highlight in the form of a man who couldn’t find his group, who wandered in and who most wittily told the story of his Oriental travels and how disoriented he was (he didn't intend the pun). Yet the facilitator and the group accused him of telling a story and not expressing feelings.
It should be noted that everyone in the room was divorced or separated, except for one woman who explained in great detail how and why she and her husband didn't communicate. The man on the floor said he liked her and felt good about her. The veteran of ten such dynamic sessions slept. The group’s youngest woman pointed out that our adventurer from the Orient was breaking a rule and had to find his own group.
I will never know why I was so polite and why I didn’t protest his leaving. Mostly, I marveled that people all over the country, perhaps not on a summer’s night, but on some night, were engaged in this sort of activity. Why weren’t they home reading a good book, thinking a decent thought, acting upon impulses of generosity or committing themselves to some deed or tradition that would enrich, not merely their own lives, but those of the community around them? In theory, these workshops were supposed to do just that — in fact, I really didn’t care what the others were feeling. I thought about the great scene in Tolstoi’s Anna Karenina in which Levin is in the fields with the peasants, using his arms, caught up in the sensuousness of the wheat.
“That’s not a feeling,” someone cried out apropos of the lady with the uncommunicative husband.
I stood up to leave. The others voted to stay until 11:00 p.m., but I had to catch a bus. The facilitator came over and kissed me. I was too tired to be moved.
Instead of taking a bus, I sent for a taxi. As I waited on the street comer at La Jolla Shores Drive I thought of my experience with Freudian psychotherapy, its exploration of loss, grief, pain, regression. And those dreams. The fantastic and intricate analysis. The long search inward and the exfoliation of one layer after another, the necessity for patience, bitter though it often was. I also thought of the pleasure of having a mind and of using it. At that moment I decided not to return for Saturday’s session.
The cab drew up. The driver recognized me; he had taken me on many assignments. Opening the door for me, he asked, “How are you feeling tonight?”