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Disowning your child

Disowning my child

I was ten years old. My father’s resignation scared me. On occasion, our family of five would take a Sunday morning drive to a park about 40 minutes from our home. South Mountain was a small mountain in that park. Excitedly, I said to my father, “Daddy, let’s run up the mountain together!” He replied, “You go ahead, son...I’m feeling tired.” I knew what feeling tired was. But there was something else wrong. My father was resigned about life. Unlike my mother, I could see no spark of excitement in my father about his life. I made a promise to myself, “As I grow up, I’ll do whatever I can to keep that child-like delight with the world alive in myself.” My father was only 31 years old then.

I was not successful and life was hard

Regardless of that resolve, step-by-step, I shut down. I wasn't really different from others. I looked as alive and happy as most everyone else. But I knew that this could not be all that life had to hold.

My life wasn't really hard. I could not point to any external circumstances as some others could. I liked my job. I had enough money. I worked for myself. I had a girlfriend. I was healthy. I had friends. I lived in an interesting city. But still. Life was hard.

Is therapy the answer?

I knew I had problems, but I couldn't pinpoint them. When I was 28, taking a suggestion from my first long-term girlfriend Loretta, I started weekly counseling sessions with a Gestalt-oriented psychotherapist Ruth Wolfert.

Dr. Nathaniel Branden

I knew about Branden through Ayn Rand. I was attending seminars on her philosophy of Objectivism at the Nathaniel Branden Institute in the Empire State Building. In 1968 Nathaniel Branden and Ayn Rand had a major falling out and went their separate ways. I didn't really take sides, but I began to follow Branden's work in psychology more than Ayn Rand's teachings. 

Branden's Intensives

Branden had moved to California but flew back to New York City to lead weekend Intensives in self-esteem. In 1974 when I was 30, I had tried out the est training (created by Werner Erhard in 1971). I hit a major wall and walked out of that training, violating a fundamental agreement of the training which was to "keep your sole in the room," that is the soles of my shoes.


I was concerned about hitting a similar wall that I was not ready to confront if I did Branden's Intensive. He reassured me that it was quite distinct from Werner's est training.

Without detailing the full buildup to the process that triggered my transformation, I'll give you a feeling of how the outcome occurred.

The ballroom lights were low. All of us (maybe 180 participants) were lying on our backs on the floor. Branden was taking us all through our individual guided fantasy. 

I was walking down a country road. I met a small five-year-old boy sitting under a tree on the right side of the road. Somehow I knew that he was me when I was five. And he knew that he would be me when he grew up. I started to tell him what it was going to be like to grow up. 

I burst out crying and sobbing, saying to him, "I'm so sorry that life is going to be so hard for you." I felt such compassion and deep sadness for him. I keep crying as I continued to express this to him. 

Suddenly, without pre-thought, it dawned on me! If I kept in my heart that spirit of aliveness that I had (and have) as that five-year-old inside me and combine it with whatever level of wisdom I might have gained as an adult, then life would seem so easy.

This realization was not just conceptual. It flowed through me, suffusing this knowing throughout my body and mind. I was reborn.

At my next session with counselor Ruth Wolfert, I thanked her for the changes she had assisted me with. And I ended my counseling with her. I knew I had more to grow but I had gone beyond what she could offer.

Staying alive

Later when the est training morphed into its more gentle version called The Landmark Forum in 1984, I took advantage of many of their programs. I also got some training with Bandler and Grinder in NLP. Continuing as an avid reader of "self-help" books, I changed my career from being a computer software consulting to life coaching in April of 1987. 

Although I may not have been explicitly aware of it then, by becoming a life coach I was taking advantage of the fact that by coaching others on how to have a great life, I was coaching myself in that at the same time. 

I continued to grow. As a major part of that development, I continued to find ways to stay in touch with and honor my child within, making it possible for him to gift me with the ongoing spirit of play, adventure, curiosity, and the awe of being alive.

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