CAPA_SI_JUNE 2006 _ Vol_nº 02

Letter to My Children

A version of this was published in Remembering Ida Rolf, published by the Rolf Institute and North Atlantic Books in 1996 to honor the 100th anniversary of Dr. Rolf's birth.
Pages: 5-8
Year: 2006
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration: The Journal of the Rolf Institute – June 2006 – Vol 34 – Nº 02

Volume: 34
A version of this was published in Remembering Ida Rolf, published by the Rolf Institute and North Atlantic Books in 1996 to honor the 100th anniversary of Dr. Rolf's birth.

February 21, 1996

Dear Children,

Two of you are barely six years old, my dear twins, Camille and Meredith; and Willie, you have just turned two. I have no idea when you will read this or be able to extract any meaning from it, but I do want you to know about someone who was (and is) very important to Daddy. I pray that by reading this you may one day understand that life-transforming people can and often do enter one’s life when one least expects it.

In 1971, I found myself at a place called the Esalen Institute, which is perched on a cliff above the Pacific Ocean. I was freshly graduated from Harvard, had hardly ever traveled west of Worcester Massachusetts, and, on one level, thought I knew everything; on another level, which I kept as much below consciousness as it would allow, I was confused, lost, and terrified that I would never find my niche – my life’s work. In my view, I had already failed at medicine, largely because I had no stomach for peering through a microscope in some dark laboratory.

After changing my major from pre-med to government, I ran a very successful business for the rest of my undergraduate years. In my junior year, I accepted an offer from Alcoa Aluminum to pay my way through Harvard Business School if I agreed to work for them a minimum of two years after getting my MBA. Then the 1960s hit your daddy full in the face. I became a peace activist, began meditating, grew my hair down to my shoulders, and reneged on the deal with Alcoa. Off I went to the Promised Land of California to the Esalen Institute, which touted humanistic values without all the dependence upon appearances that I had been schooled in.

At Esalen, I received ten sessions of Rolfing. (This effected a profound change on my mind as well as my body, but I will tell you about all that some other time.) A couple of years later, I decided that I, too, wanted to be a Rolfer. I had spent nine months studying with a psychologist, William C. Schutz (who was also a recently trained Rolfer), learning the theory and methods of his approach to humanistic psychology. I soon realized that Will had a particular vision and dimension of understanding in which I was woefully deficient and that I could not entirely learn from him. I knew it had something to do with his Rolfer’s-eye view of the physical body.

In the two years I had been at Esalen, I had studied a panoply of different techniques and therapies, including many body disciplines such as Reichian therapy, yoga, reflexology and massage. But I was frustrated because I still could not see the body the way Will did. So I decided to be a Rolfer, and thought, modeling after my then-mentor Will, that I could use it profitably in my pursuit of more important interests – namely psychology. I made an application to the Rolf Institute in Boulder and wrote a paper and then was scheduled to have an interview with Dr. Rolf and what was then known as “The Selection Committee”. I was confident that I would have little trouble being accepted by Dr. Rolf and looked forward to the interview with only a little bit of anxiety…yet I had heard stories.

The day of my interview, I walked into a room in what was called “The Big House” at Esalen. There were several Rolfers, many of whom I knew and this lovely, if somewhat austere, Victorian woman sitting in the center of a semi-circle of Rolfers. I sat down, and she began to ask me some questions. She began: “Well, Jason, your paper seems to be quite good, and I understand that you would like to be a Rolfer.” And I said, “That’s correct, Dr. Rolf.” “Let’s see, it says here”, she went on, “that you graduated from Harvard a few years ago and that in the intervening time you have studied Gestalt therapy, encounter techniques, Feldenkrais, Psychosynthesis, massage, Bioenergetics, yoga, meditation, and, according to your own statement, you have had considerable exposure to the work of Oscar Ichazo in the Arica training.”

I sat back and tried to appear humble and demure while inside I was thinking to myself, “Yes, you really have done a lot, Jason. She’s going to be so glad to have you.” I said, “Yes, Dr. Rolf, I’ve tried to learn as much as I could during the three years that I have been at Esalen.” She said, “Well, I think that is very admirable, and I want to commend you for your efforts.” Then I think my mind started wandering as to when I would actually be able to do the training. Would it be better in the spring, or maybe in the fall? “Well, Jason,” she said, “I really want to thank you for taking the time to make an application and to write your paper and to come in and see us today. I have very much enjoyed meeting you, but, I’m sorry you’ll never be a Rolfer.”

Of course, I thought that I had just misunderstood her and didn’t say anything. I just continued to sit there waiting for her to say something that was more in keeping with what I believed to be appropriate. “So, Jason,” she continued, we have an awful lot of people to see today. I want to thank you again for coming in, and I do hope that I’ll have a chance to visit with you again one day.” Then it finally got through to me. She was rejecting me. She was actually blowing me off. I said, “Dr. Rolf, wait a minute. I really want to be a Rolfer. Is there something that I’ve done or something that you see that makes you think that I would not be competent?” “Well, Jason,”‘ she said, “we are interested in having practitioners who bring a level of focus and commitment to this work that is one-pointed and exclusive of other disciplines. We really don’t have time to train someone who appears to be a kind of human potential dilettante.”

Well, my sweet ones, if she had stood up and thrown a mud pie in my face, I wouldn’t have been any more shocked or surprised. In that moment, I couldn’t even remember what a dilettante was but I knew it wasn’t good. “But, Dr. Rolf,” I stammered, “I’m not a dilettante. I’m really serious about Rolfing.” “Yes, yes, well,” she went on, “of course, you are. But I’m afraid that you will never be a Rolfer. Thank you very much. And on your way out would you send the next person in?”

Now look, kids, you know me. When I get upset or angry I usually do it in a fairly dramatic fashion, but it doesn’t happen very often. Back in those days I felt a lot of feelings of anxiety but hardly ever felt true anger. Even so, I could feel myself getting really quite upset that Ida Rolf was actually going to reject me. From the Rolfing process, feelings – anger, as well as sadness, grief, and love – had become much more available for me to experience. But in those early years I hadn’t had much practice in experiencing them directly, so when they came up it was always in this sudden, surprising, disorienting, and often downright scary fashion. So, up they came.

“The hell with her,” I thought, “I’m just not leaving until she agrees to train me.” So I sat there. Finally, I said, “Dr. Rolf, I have gone to a lot of work to get to this point and I very much want you to train me.” With that, she started to get a little irritated, and said: “Jason, how many times do I have to tell you? You will never ever be a Rolfer.” As I continued to sit there and refused to move, it became a little awkward in the room. I saw people that I knew and the other people in the room fidgeting and looking almost as uncomfortable and agitated as I now felt. But, wasn’t moving. Then she said: “Oh, Jason, come over here.” Obediently, l stood up, walked over, and she said, “Let me look at your hands.” I put my hands out in front of her, which she squeezed and pummeled the way one might pick out a ripe melon or pineapple. Then she declared: “Well, your hands are OK, but you’re all in your head so you’ll never be a Rolfer. But, listen, if you want to pursue this any further, what you may do is complete a thousand-hour certification course in massage and go build something with those hands. Plus, you have to promise that if I ever do agree to train you, you must agree to practice Rolfing exclusively for five years. Just get out of your head for a while. Do something with those hands and then you may come back and talk to us.” (By now, it was clear to me whom she meant by “us”, as none of the other Rolfers in the room had, thus far, said one word.) “Again, Jason, thank you very much for coming but you will never be a Rolfer. At the same time, do as I suggest and then maybe we’ll talk to you another time.”

Well, for the rest of the afternoon, children, I just walked around in a fog. I was, after all, already working on the Esalen massage crew (then the most prestigious group of massage practitioners in the world), and I just couldn’t imagine why she was being so hard on me. In fact, I had never run across any experience (or any person) like this in my life and, frankly, I didn’t like it. Immediately after the meeting I went to Beverly Silverman, one of the Rolfers in attendance who had also been one of the Rolfers who recommended me in the first place and actually knew me quite well. She immediately responded, “Oh, no, Jason, don’t worry about a thing. She actually liked you. Go ahead and do what she asked you to do, and everything will be fine.” “What do you mean?” 1 replied. “She wants me to complete a thousand-hour massage course they don’t even offer that at Esalen.” (At the time, there were only two such courses in the country one in Berkeley and one in Florida.) Beverly said, “Well, Gunvar and Keith Jackson have a school up in Berkeley, and you could probably commute up there from Big Sur and study at their school.”

So there I was; humiliated but determined. I spent the next several months driving three hours up to Berkeley in my Volkswagen bus to take this damn thousand-hour massage school course and then drove three hours back to my cabin in Big Sur. In addition, the following summer I went back east to Woods Hole on Cape Cod and worked in a boat yard. I also helped my father remodel a boat that he had recently bought and acquired some rudimentary carpentry skills.

Almost a year later, I drove down to Los Angeles to attend another Selection Committee meeting. By this time, I was terrified and slunk in the door with immense trepidation. l was sure, of course, that all of my efforts were completely in vain and that I had been an idiot to waste the entire last year completing her stupid requirements (the extent of which, to my knowledge, no Rolfer had then, or has ever, been forced to do). After entering the room, the first thing I heard was: “Well, look here, Jason has come back to see us.” (“‘Us’ again”, I thought.) “I am so glad to see you again. Now, let me take a look at you. Certainly, your body looks much sturdier. You look stronger, and your structure seems more stable and well organized. I see here that you did the thousand-hour massage course, worked in a boat yard, and helped remodel your father’s boat. Now, when would you like to take the training? In the fall, or would spring suit you better?”

So, dear ones, that was my introduction to this person. While I’m not sure that I can articulate exactly what I learned from the experience, I do know one thing. It was completely humiliating and, at the same time, therapeutically humbling. Furthermore, and in some fashion, it built my confidence in a way that few things in my life had previously been able to accomplish. I kept my word and devoted the next five years exclusively to building a very successful Rolfing practice in Carmel.

OK, fast forward with me to 1979, and I am now in an advanced Rolfing class, with Herself in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I’m working on what we call “models”, someone echo comes in from the outside to be a kind of a guinea pig and receive the initial ten-session series in a classroom situation. In those days, the advanced class consisted of taking people through the complete Ten Series, just like the basic class, and only then learning the so-called “Advanced Series”. I think it took around three months to complete. So, it was the very first week and I’m one of only six practitioners in the class and I’m just beginning Session One on my model, whom I had just met. There I was, happily working on his shoulder girdle as well as talking with him and trying to develop some initial rapport. As mentioned, I had been a successful Rolfer for the past five years in Carmel and had developed some realistic confidence and faith in my work.

All of a sudden – and I mean out of nowhere – I heard this voice, practically screaming: “Who’s the Rolfer tearing up that poor man’s shoulder?” I didn?t know whom she was talking to, but I was damn sure it wasn’t me, so I just kept working. I then heard: “ls that Jason over there?” Meekly I said, “Yes, it’s me, Dr. Rolf.” She then said: “Who, in God’s name, taught you to Rolf?” I said, “Well, Emmett Hutchins and Peter Melchior were my basic instructors and then I audited your class in 1975 in San Francisco.” “I just don’t believe it,” she said. “You climb off of that person right now and Sharon (Wheeler), you go see if you can help that poor man out. Jason, you let Sharon finish up. l’m just not going to have you take that person apart.”

So, here it was again. This time, while I had more confidence than I had five years before, I also had more feelings. I stormed out of the room, slammed the door closed, and hunkered down in the kitchen thinking to myself: “That miserable old lady! What right does she have to eviscerate me in front of my classmates, in front of my model, and after i have worked so hard practicing her bloody method? I’m just not going to take it. I am out of here. I’ll leave tomorrow and ask for my money back. There is no way I’m going to sit still for twelve weeks of this kind of treatment.”

Then Andy Crow, assistant to the class, came in, asked me how I was doing, and said, “Well, gee, that must have been a little rough for you in here.” “Rough? That hardly describes it, Andy. She was irredeemably insulting, rude, humiliating, and I’m not going to stand for it! I’m going home to California to my nice little practice and I’m leaving her and you and all of this behind me. The hell with it! The hell with you. The hell with her, and the hell with the advanced training! I’m leaving first thing in the morning.”

Andy said: “Jason, I want you to do something for me. Stay just for this week and if you want to leave at the end of the week, then leave. I’ll give you my complete support and try to get your money back. But, please, just stay ’til the end of the week. Actually,” he said, “this is how she shows her affection. In fact, she likes you.” “Well, that may be, Andy, but I sure don’t feel any affection and she should just blah, blah, blah,” and I went on into some meaningless tirade. Anyhow Andy after making me a red onion sandwich (delicious actually) successfully talked me into staying and eventually I went back into the room where Dr. Ro1f was teaching. She didn’t give me as much as a glance. I just sat over on the side and let this other Rolfer work on my model. Tom Thumb was a giant compared to me.

During the first session after lunch, we were all together, now without our respective models. Dr. Rolf was lecturing and did not at any time look in my direction. I, obstreperously, pretended to not even notice whether she was looking in my direction or not. After a half hour or so she turned completely away from where I was sitting and said: “I was a little hard on Jason, wasn’t I?” Inside me I was going: “A little hard? You don’t know what a little hard is. You were vicious, cruel, mean, nasty, and horrible, and had no right to treat a fellow human being that way, etc. “Then, with this little twinkle in her eye, and looking with apparent and great deliberation as far away from the part of the class that I occupied as possible, she said: “Well, the Lord chastiseth whom He loveth.”

Well, that did it. Immediately (and today with some embarrassment) I recall going from the deepest valley of despair to the highest peak of satisfaction and contentment. “She loveth me.” Andy was right. Well, I don’t know if he was right or not. What I do know is that at the end of the week I did not leave the class. I also know that l loved every second of the rest of that class and completed the advanced training in what turned out to be Dr. Rolf’s final class.

Ida Rolf and I, in fact, did progressively develop a fairly close relationship with one another; not as close as some, perhaps, but certainly close enough for me. In addition to learning a lot about this amazing work (and it really is amazing), I may have been the last to finally realize how completely at the effect I was of her and her imagined opinion of me. In fact, I came to see (due to her deliberate or inadvertent “pattern interruptions”) in horrifying clarity how affected I was by the opinion of practically everyone. I was like a feather plucked from a pigeon floating on little currents of air. If the current sucked me down, down I went, and I would feel so depressed. If the current blew me up, I went up with it; happy, high, and joyful.

But, where was my center? I think it was stuck somewhere in a range between what we might call a healthy sense of humility, at one end, and total, pull-the-sheets-over-your-head, abject humiliation / mortification at the other. Dr. Rolf knew something about all of this – I am sure of it, and she helped me and many others learn of it as well. Once a complete stranger said to me in passing: “It’s hard, friend… but it’s fair.” Was she fair or was she just hard? I’ve played with the question for fifteen years. Now, if you want, it’s yours to figure.

Subsequent to, and as a result of, these experiences, I have worked hard to develop some kind of center within myself, which, while not immune from the opinion and judgments of others, is at least able to withstand them. And I sincerely hope that you, during the labyrinthine course of your life journey learn way before I did to have your own judgments, opinions, and evaluations about your value and competence and not be as your father was, locked in a house mainly belonging to other people (no matter how powerful, respected, and wise you may imagine them to be).

The last thing I would like to tell you about occurred during that same advanced class. Throughout the class, and unknown to us until the very end, Dr. Rolf was suffering from colon cancer. Even when we did find out, none of us knew how much longer she had to live or how serious this disease was going to be. Understandably, we were all very concerned. In addition, she had lost much of her vision, and she had a very special kind of vision that was hard for her to lose. As a result, two or three of us used to go out to her apartment on weekends and read to her. I remember the first day I walked into her modest Blackwood, New Jersey apartment She said: “Now Jason, there are six different kinds of chairs in my living room. I want you to sit in every one of them and find the one that fits your structure the best.” Now I was tall and lean and had always been vulnerable to lower back pain, so I did as she suggested (as if she ever “suggested” anything), and found a chair that was a good height and felt quite comfortable for me. In all of the many living rooms that I had graced to that point, no one had ever made an offer of this kind; and, you know it made a difference. I felt better sitting there in a chair that didn’t cause my pelvis to tip back and my chest and trunk to slump over.

Over the course of several weeks, I read her Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics, some Agatha Christie mystery novels, articles from the Scientific American, and, I think, some of Carlos Castaneda’s book about Don Juan. This woman was a voracious learner and she loved taking in information of any kind, if not with her eyes, then with her ears. Toward the end of the class and during one of the weekends that I was out reading to her she said to me: “You know Jason, I have colon cancer.” I said, “Yes, Dr. Rolf, I know that and I’m terribly sorry. I hope it’s not giving you too much pain.” “No, it’s not too bad,” she said. “But, you know, these New York Rolfers have a healer that they want me to go see, and they think he can help me.” And I said: “Dr. Rolf, maybe you should go see this person. Why not take advantage of whatever help might be available?” “No. No. No, Jason, I know healers that are much better than these boys.”

Well, now I was hooked. I looked across and saw this silver-haired legacy whom I had loved and hated, and believe to have had such a profound impact on my life and on the world at large. So, I said: “Dr. Rolf, if you know healers that are better than these ones in New York, let’s go see them. I’ll take you there, any time. I’ll drive you. Come on, let’s go! We just can’t afford to miss the opportunity.” “No, no, no,” she said. (There had been times, and even quite recently, when I had complained that this was the only word she knew.) “I’ve completed my assignment here”, she continued, “I just want to know what my next assignment is.”

The actual and full impact of this comment has really taken me years to assimilate. Until that point in time, my Western-trained, reductionist, scientific mind sincerely believed that we were all here somewhat haphazardly and due to some Darwinian roll of the dice; that it was mainly a matter of evolutionary preference along with a smattering of dumb luck that she was who she was and I was who I was and you are who you are. After all, my grandfather was the chief of neurosurgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital and I was named after him. Therefore, I should have been a surgeon. It was nice that I was a Rolfer, and I was glad to have found something that seemed to nourish other people and satisfy me in some substantial way. But, still, that didn’t take away from the fact that I really was a failure and had completely missed what I was supposed to be, only to settle for what was merely second best.

Then, I started to think (usually not a good idea but, in this case, it worked out): “What does she mean by this idea of assignments? What if, in fact, it is my true assignment to be right here, sitting with her, practicing her work, not making anywhere near the kind of money I always thought that I would make, and certainly that my family thought I should make? What if this is exactly the way it was designed to be? What if I am here through some sort of divine appointment? And, if that’s the case, then what’s my job? Obviously, like her, my job is to complete my assignment.”

I’m sure it is very difficult to appreciate, my pets, how completely transformational this was for your Daddy. First off, I was struck by this whole teleological notion that I was there and that you are here as a result of some larger guidance – perhaps unknowable but nonetheless very real. This was an idea that I had paid a little lip service to, but never really believed. And then, it seemed to follow, if she was here for a particular “assignment” and if l was here for a particular assignment, that there was logically a next assignment; that there was something beyond our present experience; that it wasn’t just Jean Paul Sartre and Camus, and “you only go around once in life”. What if what we experience here as physical bodies is a particular phase of a course of evolutionary consciousness that continues, perhaps on levels of awareness that are far beyond our present knowingness?

Many years later I learned that this is actually a very ancient and well-established notion. The Vedic (Hindu) scriptures talk, not about assignments, but about “dharma”, and that each of us has our own dharma, our own purpose, something that we are here to do that no one else on the planet can do as well. The goal in life is not to be successful according to someone else’s measure (to earn the most money, to have the biggest reputation, to have the best friends, to be in the social group that everyone else wishes they were in), but to discover your true purpose, your dharma, your divine assignment.

And, children, if you haven’t left me pages ago, try to hear this part and try to hear it with all the clarity that you are heir to. Try to hear that you are here only to discover and realize your true assignment, your dharma, and don’t let your friends, your coaches, your teachers, your boyfriends or girlfriends, Mommy or almost anyone else (except Daddy of course) tell you what you’re supposed to do, when you’re supposed to do it, or how you’re supposed to do it. You and-fortunately or unfortunately – only you have, by divine inheritance, everything you will ever need to discover it for yourself. At the same time, there’s really nothing to worry about. You will get tons of help. It’s just that it may not always feel like help at the time. It may feel like defeat, loss, humiliation, tragedy or even despair. Just a wait a few moments, weeks, months or, if it’s really helpful, years. All the help you need will be there for you. It just may not be on your timetable. You, as well as everything inside and outside of you, is perfect, guided by a perfect light toward a singular, holy assignment that you will discover, accept, and complete in perfect fashion until it is time for your next assignment.

There is so much more that I could tell you about this person, Ida Rolf, who may or may not ever achieve the kind of recognition that many of us feel she deserves. One thing’s for sure. She was a whole person, as I hope you and I are continually coming to be. She could be mean. She could be unreasonable. She could be selfish. And, she could be extraordinary charming, funny, wise, and – in the end – willing and able to transcend the body that she devoted her life to healing.

I love each of you my children very much, and remember Dr. Rolf’s gift to Daddy and maybe to you, too: Don’t let anybody tell you who you are or why you are here -including (OK, especially) me.



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