Guests enjoy themselves in the dining room.
Here at last is the second part of an interview with my neighbor, Elisabeth Abrahams, now in her mid-80’s. Still full of fire, elegance and jaunty humor, Elisabeth and her 97-year-old husband Joe are passionately involved in local politics – and continue to host lively parties full of dancing and singing for each of their birthdays.
I’d asked Elisabeth to share an experience that dramatically shifted her world-view. “That’s an easy one,” she smiles. It was at UCLA, where she studied Dance Therapy with Allegra Fuller Snyder, Buckminster Fuller’s daughter.
Elisabeth was in her 40’s and divorced. In England, she’d been “a solid Churchillian Conservative” but by the time she came to California in the 1970’s, she “was ready to hear Allegra.”
You must understand your body and experience as a way of knowing. In a functional way the ideas need to be embodied in your own thinking /experiencing. —Allegra Fuller Snyder
Elisabeth’s first marriage was to a man who later realized he was gay, “so physically it was a disaster.” Then her Tai Chi teacher, a Norwegian woman who’d studied Tai Chi in China and been analyzed by a Reichian, introduced Elisabeth to Wilhelm Reich’s books. Reich (1897-1947) was briefly considered heir to Freud and played an important part in shaping psychoanalysis.
With Reich, the defenses—narcissism, passive aggression, and the rest—moved to the fore. Psychoanalysis has adopted other interests (notably, empathy), but Freudian therapy as conducted today is closer to Reich than to Freud. — Slate.com
Reich’s status as heir didn’t last, however. His passion for his own ideas consumed him: he believed that proper orgasms could save the world. He named the energy in orgasms orgone and invented a special box, the orgone accumulator, to concentrate it – Woody Allen called it the orgasmatron in his 1972 film, Sleeper. Melding Freud with Marx, Reich was father to the Sexual Revolution. The counterculture, Esalen, the New Left, Fritz Perls, Henry Miller, Norman Mailer and William Burroughs, and many more are all indebted to Reich. His influence was huge, but hardly anyone remembers him.
An excellent retelling of Reich’s story can be heard on Pacifica Radio in a 2010 interview with Christopher Turner, author of Adventures in the Orgasmatron: How the Sexual Revolution Came to America. Listen here.
There’s lots of interesting history in the broadcast and I’m eager to read the book. Reich is part of my life story: not only did I play with his great-niece as a child – his niece and her husband were friends of the family – but years later, my first husband, a fan of Reich’s ideas, built an orgone box in our house!
The pleasure of living and the pleasure of the orgasm are identical. Extreme orgasm anxiety forms the basis of the general fear of life.”
― Wilhelm Reich
I tell you: “Only you yourself can be your liberator!”—Wilhelm Reich
Elisabeth decided that she was going to use Reich’s work, somehow, in her thesis.
At UCLA, Alma Hawkins was founder and chair of the Dance Therapy program.
I was not teaching technique and composition, but rather using movement as a personal means of experiencing and expressing. It was through my work with patients that I discovered the true meaning of organic movement as a vital force in the living process. —Alma Hawkins
Elisabeth remembers, “Alma was a lovely woman who had all the right ideas, a very forward-thinking woman, but definitely a spinster.
“I go into my first interview with her and she asks what I want to write about. I say I’d like to do something on tension and relaxation. What books do I intend to use, she asks, and I say I’d like to include Reich.”
“‘You don’t like Reich, dearie, do you?’
“‘Well, yes, I do.’
“‘I think we shall have to think about that. I’m not sure that we can accept…’ In great distress, I went to Allegra.
“‘Don’t worry,’ she says. ‘I’ll take care of Alma.’ And she did!
“It was not a very good thesis, but it could have, it could have been really something,” Elisabeth says.
She pauses. “You know, he was onto the right thing. Prana! Chi! Kundalini! And Hahnemann was onto it too. It was just too soon.”
Elisabeth glances at her watch. “There, I mustn’t desert my husband!”
“But I have one more question,” I say – but that will have to wait for the third part of the interview.
The city of San Luis Obispo from Monterey Heights
A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. Aldo Leopold
“The greatest lack in contemporary society is community,” someone at the SLO Soiree last Sunday said, and it struck me as true.
The setting in which the statement was made completely belied it: the guests at that gathering form a deliciously civilized community. At its heart is a group of friends who’ve been coming to soirees facilitated by Dr. David Hafemeister, physics professor and expert in nuclear policy and foreign relations, for many, many years. Now held at the Steynberg Gallery on Sundays from 7 – 9, participants enjoy wine and cheese before sitting down to a presentation of some sort and a lively Q&A session. Last Sunday a couple of retired lawyers debated whether America is in decline. They were wise and erudite and the discussion was both profound and very much fun.
To like many people spontaneously and without effort is perhaps the greatest of all sources of personal happiness. Bertrand Russell
Not so long ago, every neighborhood was a community. Small businesses served the neighborhood and kids went to the neighborhood school. A neighborhood was an ecology, a complex set of relationships, that took up the greatest part of our time, energy and attention.
Neighborhoods, small towns, villages, tribes, and families are all ecologies, for better or for worse, and more or less sufficient unto themselves. Cities are made of neighborhoods – fortunately, or they’d be cold places indeed – but all neighborhoods are not communities.
David Spangler says,
Some people think they are in community, but they are only in proximity. True community requires commitment and openness. It is a willingness to extend yourself to encounter and know the other.
Today, though there are impressive exceptions like the cohousing movement, communities built on proximity are increasingly short supply all over the world. The oil industry, all those cars and roads to drive them on, is largely responsible.
In Monterey Heights, my neighborhood, community is on the increase. Neighbors are coming together the way they do when facing a disaster – or the potential of a disaster, as many of us view the new freshmen dorms being built on our doorstep. A clear indicator of community is how long it takes to walk the dog – everyone I meet wants to talk.
Together, we imagine seven four-to-five story buildings looming over our mostly one-story neighborhood. We agree on how hard it is to cross Grand Avenue already. “Can you believe the Environmental Impact Report didn’t take the intersection of Slack and Grand into consideration?!” We visualize roving gangs of 18-year-olds looking for parties on our already student-rental-ridden blocks. A series of meetings is being held, and neighbors, armed with a common cause, are getting to know one another.
Equality comes in realizing that we are all doing different jobs for a common purpose. That is the aim behind any community. The very name community means let’s come together to recognize the unity. Come … unity. – Swami Satchidananda
As climate change, continuing economic instability, shifting values and lack of a common belief system bring more chaos into our lives, finding commonality with others around us is more and more essential.
As Ganesh Baba says,
We must shed our fear of one another, not for some medieval ideal, but as the only practical course to continue as a species.
Let’s make survival of the human race our common goal and take responsibility – individually and together – for our part in preserving the integrity, stability and beauty of the planetary community by preserving the integrity, stability and beauty of our own small part of it, the neighborhood.
Creating harmony amidst diversity is a fundamental issue of the twenty-first century. While celebrating the unique characteristics of different peoples and cultures, we have to create solidarity on the level of our common humanity, our common life. Without such solidarity, there will be no future for the human race. Diversity should not beget conflict in the world, but richness. — Daisaku Ikeda