The following is the third of a four-part interview with Myrtle Heery, Ph.D., Director of International Institute of Humanistic Studies, I.I.H.S., (www.human-studies.com) located in Petaluma, California.
The Institute provides trainings in the Existential-Humanistic model of psychology and psychotherapy, based on the teachings of James F. T. Bugental, Ph.D., author and professor emeritus to I. I. H. S.
Interviewer: You mention that you’ve done some trainings abroad. Can you describe the similarities and differences between these peoples and those you work with in the US?
Myrtle Heery: I think that the similarity is that we are all human. And there are four givens in the Existential-Humanistic model, that I always teach and always refer to.
The first given is no matter where you are, what human being you are, you are in a body. That body can be exhilarating or it can cause you lots of challenges. No matter where I have traveled, the people I have worked with are either having a lot of problems with their body or their body is enabling them to do some amazing things.
I: And that really has been a universal, no matter where you have gone?
MH: Absolutely. I remember one woman in Moscow who was literally dying of cancer, but came to my seminar. She wanted to still learn, and she wore the best suit she had. She looked gorgeous every day.
It surprised me when she told me and the group that she had metastatic cancer and that she might be dead in a month. She was very inspiring to us on that physical level. On how much she was taking care of herself. It was important for her to take care to look well. Everybody lives and dies uniquely. She didn’t have much materially and her choice to look her best each day of living was so moving in facing her dying.
The second given is choice. To watch in all these different countries how people choose, and what they choose. Most people, some day, will get some type of disease that will challenge them—whether it be cancer, or heart disease or another life threatening disease. Under these conditions we still have choices, i.e. this Russian woman looking her best no matter what.
And then is the responsibility that you have around those choices. And also part of the choosing is the fact of relinquishment, When we choose we also relinquish other possibilities. We give up, surrender. In her case it was a relinquishment of her life really.
The third given is being apart of and apart from. There is a pendulum in each human being. We feel very much apart of the world and very much apart from the world.
I am sure very much that the people who are reading this are going to be saying, ‘Oh I understand what she is talking about.’ And sometimes they will think, ‘I don’t know what in the world she is talking about!’
There is this continuum that moves when sometimes you feel very close to others and then you feel pulled away. And that is common in all human beings, all the time. A moving in and a moving out. Once a person realizes this swing of being apart of and apart from it is very enlightening in being present to the reality of being here.
And finally, the fourth given is that we will all die. We carry that awareness somewhere in our consciousness. Some people more than others. The Buddhists practice it daily, whereas other people repress it daily. So there is a huge continuum of how we carry the awareness of death.
It is very interesting when I do teach in different countries to find just the right moment to say, ‘Well, how are you carrying the fact that you are going to die?” It opens up such interesting dialogue with everyone.
I: What other experiences have you had in international trainings?
MH: The last place that I taught internationally was in China. I asked the professor in China if I could ask a certain question. It was a little bit risky, considering that I was in a Communist country, and I didn’t want to offend anyone. But he said it was fine, that I could ask the students the following.
“Tell me something, do you feel you function better with or without your government?” And they said, all of them, consistently, “Oh, we do much better if the government would leave us alone.”
And it wasn’t just in Communist China that I have asked this question. I have asked this question to students in America, Mexico, Europe, and Russia. And the majority of students I have asked this question to, they have said, “We can figure this thing out of living. And we wish that our government would leave us alone!”
A universal cry of letting the human have choices. And then to let them make their own decisions. Human beings actually want to make choices! And want to accept the awesome responsibility of being here now!
- Part I: How do we make meaning out of being alive?
- Part II: Who is this man, James Bugental?
- Part III: What are the 4 universal givens of life?
- Part IV: How can we live in the present moment?