Dr. Rogers’ Neighborhood

I met Carl Rogers in a bookshop in Paris.  Well, I guess I didn’t actually “meet” him, but I did encounter him, by way of one of his books, “On Becoming a Person.”

I was on my honeymoon, having been accepted into a doctoral program in psychology, knowing that my days working thanklessly at a movie studio were numbered, and living a free man in Paris feeling through a magical string of lovely September days, when I wandered into a charming bookstore with an open heart.

When it comes to ideas, I love a vast and wild tangle of possibilities, but when it comes to shopping, I hate malls and too many choices all lined up by focus-group-driven statistics to guess my behavior, exploit my fear-gripped psychology and divest me of my capital (be it time, money or spirit).  Thus when it comes to shopping, I love small places that are run by curators of things—shoe-sellers with soul, booksellers who pick a few gems.

It was in just such a store on the Rue du Cherche Midi (the street that looks for noon) that I found perhaps my favorite pair of shoes ever, paying too much and never regretting it for a pair of black Fenestrier boots.  Perhaps it was those very boots that led me into a Paris bookseller where the psychology section was wafer-thin but pulsing with transubstantiation, where I found myself holding a slim grey volume by Carl Rogers in my open hands.

This was a magical time in my life, a time of transition when psychology as a discipline itself was a luminescent mystery, one that dared me to traverse foreboding paths both within and out into the wild world and promised possible treasures, alchemical glimmerings and towering gauntlets… the book said, “read me.”

And so I began reading Carl Rogers, chatting with him in my head, really, (or was it sitting at his feet, a fire burning in the hearth, he as unpretentious as they come) as Carl spelled it out in simple and understandable language, our easy relationship unfolding in the Hotel Jeu de Paume, an elegant place in which Andy and I were paying beyond our means to reside (but one must not cheap out on the Lune de Miel):  old stone and heavy timbers offset by glass and elegant fixtures all fixed in the middle of the Isle St. Louis… named after St. Louis IX, who once paid a king’s ransom for Christ’s crown of thorns, ransoming the relic from a Venetian to whom the Byzantine emperor Baldwin had hocked it for much needed gold; I read on mesmerized in the town of a now-vanished Anton Mesmer (who was himself wrecked by Louis XVI)… stories of crusades and animal magnetism and spiritual and psychological history swirling around me like ghosts of rousing rabble and torched luminescence of the French Revolution as I inexorably slipped into the Rogerian realm, a liminal crossing into the heart and mind of a much more quiet American, but no less a revolutionary.

After my own glaring quasi-development in the middle of mall-building America, and after stints in boogie-woogie New York City and Day of the Locust LA, Rogers’ compassionate simplicity and elegant honesty was like secular renewal—an ablution and an initiation.

So, I had traveled to the lovely heart of Paris, tromping through the dazzlingly obfuscating realm of Lacan, in order to read the down-home words of an authentic American voice.  The distillation of Carl Rogers is:  Congruence.  He encourages us to find harmony in what we think, feel, say and do—to make those four factors fall into one consistent line, to be… congruent.

Congruence is the essence of authenticity.  Carl Rogers is a soft voice, I hardly hear him mentioned these days, but his whispered quiet spirit waits like Rumi for those who may stumble upon him in a Paris bookstore or an obscure blog post.

While Freud was brilliant (although a mediocre shrink at best), Jung a mystic after my deepest Self’s heart and Adler a hero of social context, it was Rogers who proved to be the very foundation on which I subsequently strove to build my own personal psychology, and my own practice (be it psychotherapy, yoga or blogging)—my own new approach to a new life.

Since we are working together this year to calm our fears (as this liberates effective thinking, feeling, intuiting, playing and relating) by better understanding, normalizing and accurately attuning to whatever it is we, our kids and each other actually feel—the congruence of Carl Rogers is certainly a spice worth adding to our alchemical brew—if not golden threads for a crowning relic, at least some saffron for our Paella.

Thus as a hedge against the reliquary of our angst, the second and third class thorns of uncertain provenance and yet haunting emotion I evoke the healing spirit of Carl Rogers and invite us toward congruence, venturing through our own wild tangles and serpentine paths to meet in Rumi’s field out beyond right and wrong, a halcyon, eternal and omnipresent island in the middle of life’s river.

Sometimes I can be a little Pollyanna, I admit, and I adore Andy on many levels, but one of those has been in teaching me that we do not live in “happy land,” and that real relating, real living, real loving includes pain and loss and misunderstanding and dust-ups and reconciliations—the wild tangle of unstructured and unorganized feelings.

Thus, to be congruent can, even must, include being pissed off, being scared, being confused and being sad.  We need not label these as pathology, nor rush to fix things that are not broken, but perhaps if we have angry (or sad, scared, confused, etc.) thoughts, and we go ahead and think them, and feel them, and express them (hopefully in ways that do not generally hurt others, but yet do not sugar-coat or deny the truth of our angst) and behave in authentic accord with those wild and wooly feelings… maybe we will feel more right within ourselves… and even more connected between ourselves.

If we give our kids, and each other, space to be.  To just be.  To simply think and feel and say and do what’s true for each of us (even when the truth of this might be “ambivalent” and we, at times, make sense to no one, not even to ourselves), we are on a road to more fully realized love—to the deep inter-connection born of feeling truly seen, self-expressed and understood… perhaps this is the very essence of loving and being loved.

I felt that somehow Carl Rogers managed to understand me with his words, and so it feels like I actually met him and remain connected with him… perhaps even love him.  And with my words I seek to honor him, and the spirit he chose to embody, by doing the same reach-out to you, offering the same encouragement toward congruence to whoever happens across these words, logging on in some so-called future, be it in Paris or Australia or down the road from me in LA, circa 2011.

Namaste, BD

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6 Responses to “Dr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”

  1. Katrina Kenison Says:

    Bruce, I’m having very much the same experience right now reading Stephen Cope, who I’ve met just once but who feels like a very dear friend indeed on the page. I will get Carl Rogers’s book today — had heard of him but have never read a word. How wonderful that our supportive, inspiring online friendships include the living and the dead, and that we are shaped not only by our collective present but by the wisdom of our predecessors as well. Great post, and thank you for pointing the way toward a new relationship.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      And thank you, Katrina, for being there and connecting in the spirit of inspiring friendship, growth and brave presence to the moment. Sounds like Stephen Cope is going on my to-read list. Namaste

  2. rebecca @ altared spaces Says:

    “find harmony in what we think, feel, say and do—to make those four factors fall into one consistent line, to be… congruent.”

    We all become congruent by seeking different things, perhaps, but this is a lovely definition.

    My author, were I to pick today, who guides me in this direction is Nikos Kazantzakis. There’s something in the way he beckons the gritty humanity and calls in divinity through all that muck that appeals to me. I feel the Grace in shadow and dirt I guess. That’s when I feel most aligned.

  3. Beth K Says:

    As I progress through my life journey, I appreciate more and more the importance of congruence. More congruence on the part of my younger self could have made some life events less damaging to me and others. Hindsight is 20/20.
    When I manage to pull it off, I marvel at how good it feels to be true to myself.

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