Where Were You in 1908?

I was recently at a fundraiser for The Wright Institute, a beloved Los Angeles institution… a place that gave me psychological shelter in the storm of my late twenties (in the form of sliding-fee high quality psychotherapy), a place that later helped train me as a psychology intern, a place started by a woman who recently turned 101 and is still practicing as a psychologist and teacher:  Hedda Bolgar.

After being lauded and honored in a lovely garden surrounded by multi-generations of spiritual children—therapists, teachers, supervisors, former interns, beginning interns, friends and admirers, Hedda addressed the group.  She said that she wanted to talk a bit about being 101, suggesting that while people fear getting old, but she highly recommends it.  “I’m selling it,” she quipped.

Hedda is the oldest licensed psychologist still practicing in the U.S., and she is still giving to our community by teaching interns.  I chatted with a couple of new interns, bringing back memories from seventeen years ago when I was in their shoes.  They marveled at Hedda’s teachings—her story of being in utero when her mother and father, a professor in Zurich, became friends with Carl Jung after which they would frequently eat lunch together in the university commissary.  Psychology literally helped form her.

Amongst the positives about being 101 Hedda touted the wonderful bonus of absolutely everyone being nice to you, everyone being gentle and polite.

Privately Hedda told me that she didn’t do any of the things she is most noted for until after she became 60, including founding a training program at an internationally renowned hospital, starting a training program and low-fee psychoanalytic clinic, The Wright Institute of Los Angeles, which has trained over three hundred clinicians and has served over twelve thousand people who would otherwise not been able to afford treatment, and she also founded a major psychoanalytic institute.

Beside recommending readers to peruse the WILA website, with a particular eye to sliding fee therapy in Los Angeles as well as help for eating disorders, I wanted to honor Hedda in this blog because she embodies the spirit of Parenting as an attitude toward the world.

“Parenting” is deeper and broader than directly raising children:  it is first and foremost an attitude of loving kindness toward whatever we chose to “parent”—thus parenting is the essence of service, and Hedda is the essence of parenting.  With or without children, one could “parent” the earth, one’s community… anyone or anything in need of empathy, understanding and love at its highest level—giving without calculation, credit or reward (other than the good feeling one gets from following a heart path of service).

Psychology can be a bit like religion in that many theories give rise to many groups and schools and followers and the like.  I was trained analytically, but I am a prodigal shrink, drawing from Freud, Adler and Jung; from Object Relations, Inter-subjective, cognitive-behavioral, family systems and also from yoga, and a host of sources from the Torah to the Bhagavad-Gita, from the Tao Te Ching to Alchemy.  I’m interested in what works and in being true to myself in the service of my clients (and readers).

In the end, the key ingredient in parenting, and thus in psychotherapy (if it is to be transformative and healing), is nothing more or less than love.  Not the love of romance, but the love of a parenting attitude (once parenting is broadly defined as seeing to the essence of spirit and being open to what is… much more than what parent or child, therapist or client wants things to be).  This is a paradox—being completely present and accepting about what is as a way of allowing growth, healing and change.  This is the essence of “parenting.”  This is the essence of non-intrusive and non-directive psychoanalytic psychotherapy.  It is not a theory that cures, it is a certain sort of relationship that allows growth and healing of all involved.

Isn’t this the sort of parenting relationship we yearn for?  Beyond “doing a good job” and instead living, and being continually transformed by, love.

Ultimately, as parents, therapists, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs or in any other role our real struggle and journey is to become our true Selves.  As parents we find little gain in trying to ape or emulate experts—it will never ring true and it will never convey true authenticity to those we parent.  My aim in blogging is to support you to be your best Self as a parent.

Often we suffer when we think we have blown this or that situation, from work to parenting; Hedda offers the model of person who just keeps giving and growing.  Isn’t this a better place from which to parent?  So let’s drop our guilt and simply recommit to patience and an open heart moving forward.

Following the lead of many diverse and generous teachers whom I am blessed to have had (and continue to have:  my 84 year old therapist joking recently after injuring himself on a mountain hike, “I’m not 83 anymore.”), my wish for you, as a reader and fellow-student in this ongoing classroom of life (even if we sit in the back and still shoot the occasional spitball) is to be radically true to your own Self:  accept yourself and the varied “children” you choose to love (biological, adopted, mentored… even animals); love them as they are and for who they are.  Do it for one deep-breathing minute and see how you feel.  If it feels right, repeat.

As a late bloomer myself, and having known only one of my grandparents, I take some encouragement from knowing that my great-grand-father lived to be 106… and I appreciate Hedda’s assertion that she’s so behind on her to-do list she simply has to live a long time.

So, here’s to honoring our teachers large, small and even those who we find vexing—and to learning and parenting all through our lives in the service of all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce

p.s. do yourself a favor and check out this footage of Hedda back when she was a mere 97 (http://www.beautyofaging.com/hedda-bolgar.html)

p.s.s. and if Hedda’s not old enough nor inspiring enough for you, check out Alice who turns 107 this month—and who suggests that music is God (http://www.youtube.com/user/AliceTheFilm)


14 Responses to “Where Were You in 1908?”

  1. Mark Brady Says:

    “giving without calculation, credit or reward.”

    Not possible! Our brains benefit profoundly from giving, whether we like it or not! 😉

    Unless, of course we cultivate the practice of … giving with a grudge. That might negate the neuro-benefits, but not if you do it often enough.

    Thanks for the introduction to Hedda. I need more role models like her. After all, I’m not 63 any more.

  2. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    Cheers to Hedda and the model of loving kindness she gives all of us.

    One line of your essay really stood out to me today, Bruce: “Amongst the positives about being 101 Hedda touted the wonderful bonus of absolutely everyone being nice to you, everyone being gentle and polite.”

    It occurs to me that, while reflecting on your wonderfully inclusive definition of “parenting,” I would do well to show more of a “parenting” attitude toward the older folks in my life, especially my parents and in-laws. None of them is near 101, but as I strive to be nice, gentle, and polite to my kids, why not try to behave that way toward those who still parent me? (And when they drive me batty, maybe I’ll conjure an image of Hedda and pretend I’m communing with her instead.)

  3. Laurie Says:

    This was perfect for me today and i thank you for that Bruce. I have an aunt that is 83 and absolutely miserable. I say she is in my path to teach me how NOT to grow old. So nice to find yet another example of how TO grow old.

  4. rebecca @ altared spaces Says:

    Ah, becoming our True Selves. I so want to sign up for becoming that myself and for seeing what IS in those around me. Thank you.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      And down that confusing path of our true Selves I do believe we ultimately meet in a common field, or perhaps cross myriad bridges to a common island. Perhaps then we’ll look back and better understand the narrative line of our unique journeys.

  5. Heather Says:

    Hedda is a true inspiration. I hope to be going strong when I’m even remotely close to her age!

    “So let’s drop our guilt and simply recommit to patience and an open heart moving forward.” You said it all right there. Parenting is as much a learning curve as growing up. We need to cut ourselves a little slack and enjoy the people that we are to nourish the parents we want to become.

  6. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    What a remarkable dame. Thanks for sharing her with us. People like Hedda (and Julia Child), who pick up steam later in life, are such an inspiration.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      You too, KW, are an inspiration. I love your recent post about the food fears of a foodie… in my dreams it’s often, literally, chicken I’m trying to cook.

      Thinking about your Vietnamese-inspired chicken sandwich (without pate, the liver, always the Promethean point of punishment for the hubris of living beyond our means, be they monetary, psychological, egotistical or spiritual) I recalled a particular dream about poultry: On the edge of beginning my journey at the Wright Institute (as a frightened and overwhelmed failing writer in bad need of inexpensive but good therapy) I dreamed that I was trying to make “passion chicken” but had way too much chicken. Even then I was able to interpret my imbalance, and so dove into the vortex of my fears, down into a river of life that leads to this morning’s moment of reading your words and leaving a reply.

      Here’s to patiently cooking our fears until they may be finally ingestible, safely comprehensible; here’s to that spoon full of sugar. Namaste

  7. Jack Says:

    I love the idea of not being known for anything until I am 60 or older. I figure that I won’t be middle aged until then anyway. Now is just part of a learning period that I am going through so that when I get to be that age I’ll smart/wise enough to something really cool.

    But to be clear, I am not waiting until then just in case…

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