Sometimes my path leads me into areas where I feel exposed, uncomfortable, and without a lot of obvious support.
I depend in the end on the feel of the path beneath my feet and the knowledge that I am not the first to come this way, and likely not the last.
I am sitting here reflecting on the Touch For Health conference this last weekend, and on one of the really good insights I got from Jonathan. He was telling me about a client of his. The first part of the consultation went roughly as follows:
The point being that many people accept the most appalling limitations in their lives without question. Unless there is pain or severe limitation of movement, whatever is, with all its limitations and restrictions, is right.
Their relationship is excellent - as long as they never speak to anyone of the opposite sex, and never disagree with their spouse's publicly expressed opinions, and have the house absolutely tidy at six p.m. when s/he arrives home.
The car is fine, as long as you don't drive too far in it. And so on.
These people are out of touch with their feelings. Feelings prompt effective behaviour. If you are in touch with your feelings and feel OK about them, you will act spontaneously and freely and with personal authority.
If you wish to control people, first get them to distrust their feelings, get them to shut down and anaesthetise that part of themselves. Formalise everything and make spontaneity socially dangerous. Then, lacking internal direction they are more likely to be amenable to whatever you are trying to sell them.
(Or alternatively, generate a crisis. Stress also acts to restrict feelings to anger, fear, or numbness. Fight, flight or freeze.)
Some of the most powerful feelings we have are those associated with sex and reproduction, and in nearly every social group, part of the process of forming a group authority is to regulate sexuality and, to a greater or lesser extent, make sexual feelings fraught with social consequence.
They are, if anything is, the perfect symbol of the tension that exists between freedom for an individual and power for the group.
In times of prosperity and peace, when perceived threats to group security are few, it becomes more acceptable to pursue individual freedom. Individual difference is celebrated and valued. Feelings are valued as keys to individuality. Social restraints on sexual behaviour become less effective.
In times of economic hardship or war, social conformity is seen to be a major component of group strength. (We will act as one!) Organisations such as Centrepoint come to be seen as socially dangerous.
Centrepoint was in one sense a paradox. It was a group set up for the purpose of developing individual freedom, encouraging an awareness of our feelings, valuing spontaneity and energy. Without our group identity, we would all be subject as individuals to the same forces that operate in "normal" society, and which are operating strongly at present to formalise and freeze behaviour into a mass of politically correct stances.
Inside the boundary of Centrepoint, we enjoyed a freedom that was not available to most people outside - to discover ourselves as individuals, to touch, to be intimate, to nurture and be nurtured, to make love with our friends, to have our feelings supported and encouraged.
In times of peace and prosperity there was little effective opposition to our presence and continued existence. We even enjoyed a measure of widespread support. Even laws that might prohibit some of our behaviours were less likely to be seriously enforced. In such times, individual freedom was seen as valuable and we were seen as having a useful social function in promoting it, so long as we didn't scare the horses.
When times changed, though, we began to see what I believe is a subconscious collective drive for strength and security which acts to enforce uniformity, "political correctness" of one sort or another. The actual form rarely matters - the uniformity, the group identity, is what counts. (1)
Organisations such as ours could now be acted against more effectively. A vigorous attempt to discredit us began, without satisfactorily explaining why nothing happened earlier.
So, the paradox is, that to keep our freedom, our personal authority, we needed to act to keep our group strong. In these circumstances it was easy to be confused about those in Centrepoint who pursued individual freedom to the seeming detriment of community interests, and about those who sought to limit and define "legitimate" freedom so as to ensure the survival and prosperity of the community.
There were even times when I was not totally sure that our past was in fact about individual freedom and self realisation.
As Rex Fairburn wrote about the U.S.A.:
Oh come to the land of the free,
In our relative uniformity of belief and social behaviour, we must look at at least two possibilities.
1. That our freedom has been an illusion designed to create Bert Potter clones. Or,
2. We are a very highly selected and homogeneous group in a greater society, and we are seeking a very precise kind of freedom as a member of a tennis club is seeking a very different and also very precise kind of freedom, through paying a much larger amount of attention than normal to a certain area of experience.
I suspect that in the past both were true to some extent. Whenever Bert and I differed in any respect, I for the most part declined to conform for the sake of conformity. So that when I moved it was with a full (and responsible) heart. (And Bert consistently said - whether he meant it or not - "Don't believe what I say. Try it out for yourself. Test it thoroughly.")
And I am consciously grateful for the changes in my life that have occurred out of my partnership with Bert.
When I hear some former members speak about social pressure and brain-washing - It wasn't my fault; they made me do it! - I have a difficult task believing they are the same people who gave me such a hard time on various occasions when I insisted on seeing for myself whatever set of new clothes the emperor was currently said to be wearing or providing for us.
For me, Centrepoint was always about my personal freedom, and my personal responsibility for every bit of it that I chose - and choose - to explore. It has been precious to me.
(1) A police investigation covering nearly two years resulted in a massive raid on Centrepoint, and a number of arrests on charges of child sexual abuse. Those arrested included most of the therapists and others who might be considered influential in the community. A number of arrests were made of persons no longer resident in the community.
Everybody charged who was resident at Centrepoint went to trial. Everybody was found guilty. Those who pleaded Not Guilty were on average sentenced to twice the prison sentences of those who pleaded guilty.
Only a handful of arrested non-residents were eventually tried, and of those who were, several were found "Not guilty", and no-one went to prison, except for Bert's son John.
One Centrepoint resident, outraged at the charges, and with a substantial defence, was met at court by a police officer just before his trial was due to begin, and told that if he pleaded not guilty there were half a dozen new charges which would be laid against him. He would be bound to go down on at least a couple, and he would be looking at a considerable number of years in prison. He dropped his defence, and pleaded guilty.
Anybody looking at this statistical distribution, before they considered any of the evidence at all would have to be smelling rats everywhere, and rats there were aplenty. It may be years before the full story emerges.
A prominent media personality with ties to CP was warned ahead of time by contacts in high places to cut all of those ties or go down with the community.
I have always suspected the arrests and the prison sentences had far more to do with the manufacture of and trafficking in ecstasy and LSD by several of our number than with sexual abuse, but then, I would also be misleading if I said that abuse had never occurred.
But it certainly never happened as it was presented in court and it certainly never happened as it has been presented by the media.
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