Transpersonal Centre

Rock Bank

SOME EARLY HISTORY OF THE TRANSPERSONAL IN BRITAIN

Barbara Somers

We never planned to set up our Transpersonal work. It created itself

Ian Gordon-Brown and I met in 1971. By 1973, we were deeply in love and, being both Aquarians, wanted to express our joy through work. 'Why not start with a single workshop?' we said; little knowing what was to follow.

Ian's experience was as an industrial psychologist. He had deep roots in the esoteric field, particularly from his work with Alice Bailey, where he had also met Roberto Assagioli. His knowledge of ancient wisdom and of group dynamics was extensive. My own contribution was as a Jungian-oriented psychotherapist, with long experience in Zen and Tibetan Buddhism. Added together, this was a comely mix from which to begin. Both of us were working full-time elsewhere, so it was an adventure to start with a weekend workshop in October 1973, at Talgarth Road, Barons Court in London. We used a small mailing list and were astonished when twenty people turned up.

The weekend was based on talks, guided imagery, active imagination and artwork. This Workshop One was to become the pattern for all following workshops. It explored two journeys - the personality's experience through time and space; and the soul's journey through eternity. How might these two be connected and integrated?

The experience that weekend was unforgettable, it went to such depths and heights, through such tears and laughter. It ended in a profound meditation. 'What next?' we were asked.

So Workshop Two was shaped up. This time the theme was the integration of head and heart, of masculine and feminine principles in all life. Feminist issues were peaking at that period, and we learned a lot, trying to umpire slanging matches between men and women. I was often relieved that Ian was six foot two and big with it, as we coaxed the proponents to deal with the interplay of energies, rather than the arts of war!

Workshop Three - on will, purpose and direction - rapidly followed. This completed the basic triangle on which many later workshops were founded.

PigeonsIt was now 1974, and the continuing 'what next?' caused us to accept the inevitable. We registered the workshops and made clear-cut decisions. Our aim would be to 'seed' people with the reality of the Transpersonal perspective, so that they would take it on into their everyday lives and jobs, and in their turn 'seed' others. To this end, we would be an organism, not an organisation. We would avoid administration; would never advertise but would rely on personal recommendation and referral to fill the workshops. If ever we ceased to enjoy the work, we would stop. And, eventually, we would find a permanent home for the work.

Meantime, we hired suitable premises and added constantly to the workshop programme with themes such as Initiation, The Other Self, Dreamwork, Alchemy, Chakras, Meditation.

By 1976, we had each left our original work, Ian at the Industrial Participation Association and I at the Society of Authors, in order to handle the expanding workshop programme and our own private practices. In 1977, Ian took on the public side of our work. I established a training in Transpersonal skills in psychotherapy, with an annual intake of twenty-two students, which has continued for twenty years.

These were exciting times. We met many fine people and made deep and lasting friendships. Joan and Reynold Swallow joined us and in 1979 set up their own Transpersonal Psychology Study Centre in Devon, based on the London pattern.

To crown our joy, in 1984 a friend of our work enabled us to buy a large house in Pembridge Place, Notting Hill, with its own radiant garden. This became our steady base. The house was venerable and needed constant attention, from foundations to roof and back again. I recall one weekend, (aptly on the theme of 'The Creative Use of Crisis') when we waded through water from a burst pipe to greet participants at the door, and everyone joined in baling out.

Ian and I often agreed that our peak of happiness was to see the house and garden quietly containing groups of people, as they explored their lives and found new meanings. 'I feel I have come home' became a familiar comment.

Through the fast-winging years that followed, our original concept of 'seeding' flourished widely. We managed to remain organic, with minimal paperwork, yet without loss of professionalism. Other colleagues joined us, no doubt attracted by the free spirit prevailing. We all worked hard and lovingly, with much laughter and quite a few tears, as the profound work unfolded itself.

The training went to Belfast and Edinburgh, Newcastle and Leicester, and a colleague took it to Hungary.

In 1994, Ian mounted an international Transpersonal Conference in London. This required a vast amount of work and planning and he was visibly tiring. He was deeply involved with achieving status for Transpersonal psychotherapy and for our students, and could be seen through a snowstorm of paperwork. However, we were also concerned for the many workshop participants who might not wish to follow the psychotherapy path: for example, all those who attended each weekend who served the arts and crafts. For them, and many another, in 1995 I shaped 'Transpersonal Perspectives', which ran a changing programme of workshops on themes dear to the Transpersonal heart. This work went on apace, alongside Ian's.

'I am a totally fulfilled man,' said Ian, one bright evening in early 1996, as we relaxed over a meal together. A few months later, on October 6th, he died gently in his sleep.

He was a splendid person, and has left a great void in all our lives. We salute him and continue in the same spirit of gratitude and joy, as ever.

Barbara Somers, 3 March 1998

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