Seymour Carter – A More Complete Lying Down — Recorded at the Vallombrosa conference in the spring of 2011, in this session Seymour invites us to a more satisfying experience of coming to rest in lying down.
Lee Lesser’s invitation to experiment is a 33 minute excerpt from a phone session with her Leaders Group. She begins by discussing how the question to explore with the group emerged that very morning, and then offers the experiment. Lee asks only that you take a little time to settle before beginning.
Marianne Ehrat, Zurich, Switzerland
I took my first workshop with Charlotte Selver in 1984, shortly after completing my training as a breath and movement therapist. I can still see her entering the room at the conservatory for music in Winterthur. She seemed so small and fragile and I wondered how she would manage a crowd of 50 people. And how she did! Even just the way she came to sitting and how she put her headphones on commanded attention and quiet. I remember Charlotte speaking about Elsa Gindler and how deeply committed she was to sharing her experience with as many people as possible. She emphasized that she wasn’t teaching a method and that we should forget everything we had learned before.
What a relief! I came from a family in which what authorities said or what came from books was more important than our own experience. Here I was in an environment in which people experimented and asked questions that could be explored by everyone. There was no “right” or “wrong” in the usual sense. I felt that a door was opened to a path that – if I was ready and awake for it – I could follow until the end of my life.
I also remember a conversation with Charlotte in which she asked me about my profession. When I told her that I had just finished my training in breath work and that I was a beginner, she looked at me and said: “I’m a beginner too”.
In my own classes I want to give students space for experiencing and opportunity to reconnect with their “inner authority, which will never betray them” (Jacoby), so they can live life less habitually. That is not easy, of course. I the case of my work with patients from the Lung Association I often had great doubts about my ability to reach them but when I wanted to give up my job at the Association they did not want to let me go. Working with cancer patients has always been easier. They seem to be more receptive to the Gindler/Jacoby approach.
Starting in 1987 I began taking lessons with Ruth Matter. She did not work with groups and she spoke little, unlike Charlotte. A stillness radiated from her which always helped me to come back to myself and created an atmosphere in which it was possible to listen to impulses from within.
Charlotte once asked me about the difference between her, Ruth Matter and Sophie Ludwig. For me, Charlotte was the artist, Sophie Ludwig the teacher, and Ruth Matter the one with immeasurable patience….
Connie Smith Siegel, Woodacre, California: A Journey of Discovery
My first experience with Sensory Awareness seemed charmed, almost inevitable. In the summer of 1966, weary of the complicated university art world, I had traveled to Monhegan Island, searching for meaning in nature.
Intrigued by an introductory lecture given by Charlotte Selver’s husband, Charles Brooks, I joined a two week course in Sensory Awareness. At the beginning I was skeptical, but as the workshop progressed, my doubts turned to fascination as the sounds, smells, colors and tactile sensations, already heightened by my being on the island, became even more vivid.
As if for the first time, I became aware of the pungent smell of grass mats on the schoolhouse floor, the sound of foghorns on a damp morning. I especially remember an outdoor excursion, walking barefoot in the woods over the soft trails and moss-covered stones. When an afternoon shower interrupted the class, instead of rushing home, we stood together in silence, experiencing the sensation of raindrops, surprisingly warm, touching our clothes and skin. As other people ran past, escaping the rain, I felt the power of our choice to experience, not run away from sensation.
I felt a closeness with the group, along with a very tangible kind of inner peace, more ordinary than what I had imagined spiritual awareness to be, but deeply satisfying.
When the workshop was over I remained on the island. With my sense of seeing renewed, the island revealed itself to me. As I drew the hidden tide pools and the web of plant forms covering the rocks and cliffs I found my creative center again.
In 1972 I finally left the university to join the first nine-month study group with Charlotte Selver. I had eagerly agreed to teach drawing to fellow members but was not prepared for the nervousness I felt at the beginning. As we gathered on an open porch in the small mountain village of Tepotzlan, with roosters crowing, dogs barking, and the wind blowing the drawing paper, I realized I was no longer the all-knowing professor backed up by the credit system and lofty campus buildings. I was just a fellow explorer in a new adventure, destination unknown. The journey of discovery I began that first summer on Monhegan was becoming my whole life.
Marlene Zweig, Denver, Colorado
I think that I’ve always had a desire to “really taste” life. I wanted to learn how, and to actually “live”, before I died. Of course, I had no idea how to do that but I was determined to find out. For a long time I gathered intellectual ideas, which I found fascinating. But there was this gnawing feeling that I wasn’t getting it, really. I was learning a lot about life but I didn’t feel that I was actually living it. Then, for a time, I threw myself into a lot of activity, hoping that by immersing myself in sheer quantity I would feel alive. But that tack turned out to be taking me even farther away from my goal.
When I began to study Sensory Awareness with Charlotte, I learned how to go about “tasting” an experience. I began to learn that the ability to experience is an art and that it requires development. I felt heartened. This was what I was looking for! But it was clear that it was not going to be easy; that it would take a lot of work. Later, I began to understand that the key was not so much in what I did or in how much I did, but was in the quality with which I approached whatever I did… even simple things like washing the dishes. I learned that to be able to really experience …to taste…holding the hand of a friend was IT! To be able to really receive the touch of that friend’s hand — not just with my hand, but with my entire being — was what it was all about. To be able to really experience a sunset — not just with my eyes — but with my entirety, so that there is a feeling of being touched by that sunset and, yes, fulfilled (or filled full) by it. I felt that I was beginning to live.
So now I know, not with my intellect, what sensitivity is. And it is certainly an art; one worth taking the time and effort to cultivate. I decided, then, that what I wanted to do with my life was to cultivate this very precious art and to share it with others. I’m doing that now. And I will be forever grateful to Charlotte for the understanding and for the very precious path.
Terry Ray, Boulder, Colorado: What Touched Me First
I first met Charlotte Selver in Mexico in 1975. It wasn’t love at first sight. Or even close. I liked being on the ocean in the small fishing village, Barra de Navidad, but the classes were strange. I waited for days for this little old lady with a funny accent to explain what we were doing and all she would say were things like “Do you feel your feet?” and “How is breathing?” To which I replied silently, “Of course I feel my feet, and what do you mean, how is breathing, and what does this matter anyway?” I put up with this for over a week, obediently doing the experiments in class, but mostly looking forward to lunch.
It happened with a jolt. About ten days into the workshop, I was in my small apartment washing dishes when I heard my own critical voice for the first time ever, and in the same instant I felt a deep hatred, mostly for myself. I felt it through and through, in the way I stood, held a plate, walked across the room, and spoke. The hostility informed my thoughts, and was lodged in everything I did. It was in my musculature, and in my breath. This shocking insight was so powerful and pervasive that it wasn’t even unpleasant. It was more like, “Wow!” It was just the truth. I lived this, experiencing it for almost three days. As I felt it subside I began to feel a new warm and wonderful and tender place inside me, and compassion began to emerge for the first time I could remember in my entire life.
I was hooked. I studied with Charlotte, discovering deeper and deeper layers of who I am, and finding out about this mysterious process of living, for 28 years. I myself now bring this practice into the world leading classes in Sensory Awareness, vipassana meditation and yoga, and through my psychotherapist practice, asking students and clients questions like, “Can you feel your feet, and how is breathing now?”
Sever Woll, St. Cloud, Florida: Life is Good
Life is good. Sever Woll was born 1944 in Alton, Illinois. His first and most vivid memory is being 7 years old standing in a vacant wild field and feeling this is who he really is – one with nature. He grew up with his two younger brothers; his doctor dad,in Wood River, IL; and his nurse mom in Kirkwood, MO, near St. Louis where he graduated from high school ready to travel and explore.
Nine years and three degrees in many “Ologies” in universities in Colorado left Sever with a B.S. and M.S. degrees in Fishery Science and a Master of Religious Ed. Next came post – grad. studies at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA., Zen Buddhism Studies; Hinduism, Shaivism, and Daoism. These questings, plus 35 years of Sensory Awareness with Charlotte Selver and 25 years of Tai Chi have led to his leading classes and workshops in nature awareness, sensing consciously, movement and meditation.
Sever has persued a lifelong occupation in nature art. Experiences in Alaska inspired his art work. He studied migrating salmon in the vast Aleutian tundra as a biologist. He roamed, as a naturalist, large lakes, volcanic mountains, and Kodiak Bear inhabited rivers of Katmai N.P. As a ranger, he patrolled iceberg cluttered fiords of Glacier Bay N.P.
As a museum artist at Rocky Mountain N.P, he studied art with noted Austrian and Japanese artists. Sever, has had showings of his art work in cities across the U.S.A. In his paintings are panoramas of space and solitude, of being with oneself in nature. Sever is the proud dad of a wonderful son Sky, age 13.
Sever has lived, traveled, and studied with teachers and masters around the world. Home is now gratefully St. Cloud, FL. After all this exploring, where does Sever find the final answer? Too sit, lie, stand, and walk in Beauty is to come close. For Sever, to wonder and wander is to live. Life is Good.
Stefan Laeng-Gilliatt, Santa Fe, New Mexico
It seems that I came to Charlotte Selver in kind of a reverse order. She was my last Sensory Awareness teacher, aside from my little son Julian, that is. When I met her in 1991 in the Austrian alps, I had already studied with a number of Sensory Awareness teachers, knowingly and unknowingly. Unknowingly, in the early 80s, when I studied Eutony with Barbara Ocusono in Switzerland; Eutony is a close relative of our work but what I didn’t know then was that Barbara had worked with Charlotte and Charles – and with my first ‘official’ Sensory Awareness teacher Seymour Carter too.
In 1983 I became a Buddhist practitioner and it was a Buddhist teacher who first told me about Sensory Awareness in 1989. I knew that this practice was it for me after the first class with Seymour in Zurich. It was a big turning point: Here was a Western practice that brought inquiry into the human condition and a path of awakening away from the cushion into my everyday existence in an instant. Even more, it seemed to integrate everything I had studied so far. I had, for example, been trained in Gestalt Therapy and Bioenergetics out of which had come the desire to go further into what I then called body work. Little did I know that Sensory Awareness would take me far beyond that – and far away from my home in Switzerland.
In 1994, after my second study group in California, Charlotte asked me if I would come and help her in her daily life, her work etc. – in other words (as Charlotte would say) , I soon moved in with her, leaving my home in Switzerland. That I did not live with Charlotte as long as I thought I would is a story that shall be told another time. However, it would have never crossed my mind that I would end up staying in the USA for good – and I certainly never thought that I would become the president and manager of the SAF. I feel incredibly honored and fortunate to have been able to serve this practice for all these years and especially in this time of transition.
Because now, with Charlotte gone, the explorations continue in ever new ways. For many years, I was offering the work not only in regular settings, but also in prisons when I lived in New Mexico. Worlds away from the gentle beauty of the Swiss countryside, I worked with men who got caught in a system of dehumanization. Silently, we listened to the ever present prison noise, quietly we walked together, playfully we tossed balls in a circle.
Thank you, Charlotte.
Stefan’s Website: www.pathwaysofsensoryawareness.org