Behavior: Human Potential: The Revolution in Feeling

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There are also numerous workshops in Gestalt therapy, an approach devised by the late German Psychiatrist Frederick S. Perls. One of the newest and most rebellious branches of psychology, Gestalt theory seeks to celebrate man's freedom, uniqueness and potential. This is markedly different from conditioning his behavior, after the manner of B.F. Skinner and other behaviorists, who argue that man is infinitely malleable, or from probing his subconscious and his past, like Freud. The "here and now," according to Perls, is all that matters; the mind and body are inseparably one; converts are commanded to "lose your mind and come to your senses." This is implied by the very word Gestalt, which means configuration, or the whole, and which, as applied in therapy, insists on the unity of mind and body. Hence it places great emphasis on the body as a part of the whole; and it is this emphasis, widely practiced by human potentials groups, that has helped earn the movement a reputation for being anti-intellectual. The accusation is not entirely true, but a casual visitor to Esalen could be forgiven for believing it.

To the uninitiated, an Esalen encounter group can be a shocking experience. As TIME'S Andrea Svedberg, who herself attended one, reports: "People touch, hold hands, kiss, throw each other up in the air, fight, use all the dirty words, tell each other cruel truths. Every aspect of so-called proper behavior is discarded. Every emotion is out in the open—everybody's property." Feelings are not spared. In time, the group develops a tribal loyalty, as fiercely protective as it is critical.

Over the years, Esalen has evolved, mostly by trial and error, dozens of ways by which group members can learn to communicate with their bodies rather than with their minds. Each procedure has its purpose. When, for instance, the spirits of some grouper noticeably sag, he may be rocked tenderly in the air on the hands of the others. Tears are a summons to "cradle": the moist-eyed one is warmly and multiply embraced. An extension of cradling is the hero sandwich: the whole group, often as many as 35 persons, cuddle together in a formation rather like the football huddle, but far more intimate. Esalen has also elevated massage to something of an art. The body is kneaded, not gently, from neck to foot; to some seminarians, the massage becomes an emotional bath—what insiders call a "peak experience."

Exciting Feedback. All such exercises are calculated to awaken in the grouper a new awareness of and respect for the purely physical side of his being. In a way, it is an extension of the flush of well-being that is one of the rewards of exercise, an attempt to recruit all of the senses—not just the mind—into the act of living.

Although no one man dominates the human potentials movement, its contemporary origins can be traced to the late psychologist Kurt Lewin, who fled to the U.S. from Nazi Germany in 1933. With him he brought a fascination with the dynamics of the group, society's basic unit. Lewin's work convinced him that no amount of telling people what to do—the standard educational approach-could be half so instructive as letting them find out for themselves.

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