Sunday, November 04, 2018

Marking the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Murray Creek Labyrinth

Entry for 4 November 2018:
On this day in 1988, the Murray Creek Labyrinth was constructed by Bob & Ann Elliott and their friends.  Inspired by a visit to Glastonbury Tor, my parents and their friends built a seven-circuit Cretan labyrinth on their property in the Murray Creek Valley in the Sierra Nevada foothills outside San Andreas, California.

In 2002, Ann constructed a website about this labyrinth, which is still online (thanks to my sister anna), the home page for which can be accessed at:  

A pictorial account for the building of the labyrinth can be found on this website, at:

Our family has long been fascinated by labyrinths, and to this day, Diane and I regularly stop for any labyrinths we happen to encounter. Last April, walked a Chartres-design labyrinth in the pouring rain when I came upon it in a courtyard in a courtyard in the Munich Ratskeller or Town-Hall.  On another occasion, we found one near Dunure castle on the Scottish coast between Ayr and Culzean Castle; I wrote about this in an earlier entry on this blog:

Over the years, labyrinths have been a powerful personal symbol for me, and I’ve written a number of poems about them.  The most developed of these is “Labyrinth Poem”, written when I was 19; I’ve included it in an accompanying blog entry:  

Returning to the Murray Creek Labyrinth, probably the most detailed account of the Murray Creek Labyrinth that I’ve written can be found in this blog in an entry I wrote in 2006, the year we moved to Scotland:

Over the years, the labyrinth has been a focus for and a symbol for the creative energy my parents gathered with the community of like-minded folks in the Murray Creek Valley.  Naturally, this energy has resonated deeply with me in ways that then emerged in poetry. Here is a link to the poem I wrote for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary in 1997:  

Along the same line, here is a link to the poem I wrote in 2009 for Ann’s 80th birthday.  It references the Murray Creek Labyrinth and has a couple of photos, including one of her walking it with the help of her hiking poles:

And here’s a series of haiku and little poems I wrote to commemorate visits to the Murray Creek Labyrinth at different times of year:

December 2008:
Labyrinth waits, silent
Wet stones settling into earth,
Path littered with oak leaves.

August 2009: The one, from, begins with a visit to the labyrinth:
Cool morning to a late summer day;
we put our pails down,
walk the labyrinth first.

This labyrinth has a bridge:
we return there, descending
from the rough planks to the dry creek bed.


August 2010:
Leave all that behind
Labyrinth knows what matters
Arrive at center.

July 2011, after the stones were re-set:
Labyrinth renewed:
buried stones dug up, re-placed,
gleaming in the sun.

2012, at the end of the year Ann died:
December labyrinth:
Winding path sprinkled
    with oak leaves;
We walk the circle again.

December 2013:
We light the fires, check the wireless network,
Walk your labyrinth in the fading light,
Raise and right the creek-misplaced bridge.

Although my parents have both now passed and the Murray Creek Valley seems empty without them, I try to visit as often as I can and to walk the labyrinth there.  Severe flooding two winters ago wiped out the main access to it across the Murray Creek, so we now need to walk down to the neighbors and cross there (with their permission).  Sadly, the stones are badly in need of re-setting, which needs to be done every 10 or so years. However, it’s still easy to make out and to walk, and doing so re-connects me to my parents, to the earth, and to the overall path of my life.

I the end, I think that the spirit of the Murray Creek Labyrinth is best captured by the words of the famous Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts,” written by Joseph Brackett:

Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free
'Tis a gift to come down where I ought to be
And when I am in the place just right
I will be in the valley of love and delight

When true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend I will not be ashamed
To turn, to turn will be my delight
'Til by turning, turning, I come 'round right.

Labyrinth Poem

Entry for 4 November 2018:

Note: To mark the 30th anniversary of the construction of the Murray Creek Labyrinth, I’m reprinting this poem I wrote this originally for a humanistic psychology class at UC Santa Cruz in 1970 when I was 19 years old.  In 2000 I revised it for a self-published collection of my poems.  The poem mixes familiar scenes around the UCSC campus with Greek mythology and Joseph Campbell’s archetypal “Hero of a Thousand Faces.” Psychologically, this was an attempt to capture the moment in which I began to gather the courage to turn back to face my mortality, and in so doing began to become an adult, a process I am still working on almost 50 years later.

             1. Prologue

When I am dead, remember me,
as one who walked, often quickly,
in deep shadow under tall redwoods,
on too-bright March mornings.

Please remember this, at least:
That I knew that I was lost and afraid,
but refused to give up, and would not take
the escape of doing things the easy way,
I would not follow a childlike faith,
at simple altars in sun-bright places.

Remember me, thus, as a person
who said what he thought was true and necessary,
and did not regard the difficulty or the pain.
And thus he walked awhile in shadow,
and found some small good, and was gone.

            2. Beginnings

Who now knows the hour or the way
by which we came into this maze, our life?

Others have recalled for me my birth:
Into this cave of night I came;
and grew where fires threw their glare,
throbbing, at the roof of my small world.

These first confusions of shape, color, and words,
describe the orders of my first and present worlds.

But they are hardly the first:
Before my birth was,
I slept a shoreless fetal sleep,
wandering in an inner sea.
Who knows how that sleep began?

            3. The Labyrinth of Daily Perception

Waking, I rise and creep to the window.
Like a cautious priest I part the curtains;
a thousand images leap through the glass:

Dawn is fighting to free herself
from the tangled, clutching
branches of distant trees;
her blood has run across the sky,
and stands in pools now.

A shivering oak:
Unsteady silhouette of leaves
cuts sharp and deep into the sill.

I go outside and find:
Behind a sea of green-feathered spear tips,
an ocean swells.

And the morning moon, past full
is now waning, dying,
as the sun rises to overtake it.
Cloud-shrouded, westering,
it is caught by a swell of redwoods
like billowing nets on the tide.

The air is chill,
an asthmatic motorcycle passes,
gasps up the hill.

This place of towers and trees bemuses.
Climbing up the hill,
I am confused by faces, found in the crowd,
then lost behind.

Superreal, warning off intrusion,
uncompleted buildings deflect my glance.
Men leave their noise, pause from their work,
constructing this maze or that mountain,
to glare me by.

I stop at last beneath great cumuli,
whose movement seems to shove the sky itself.
I cannot stay, and go below to read;
but there instead I wander underground,
with furtive looks, through rows of crying books.

Cold walls oppress, drive me to the surface,
to find the world is walled
by clouds and trees,
by dark wet roads
and white stucco towers,
by sights and sounds that lose me in their maze.

At last, I am exhausted,
from these thousand leaping images
My chosen path is now an aimless wandering,
and walking seems
a way of standing still
amid the passing show of place and face.

At dusk a friend comes by my room to talk,
but in the middle of his speech,
the words go strange:
He speaks to me as if he were King Minos,
come to greet the fourteen youths
Athens’ black-sailed ship has brought to Crete. 

Then he leads me into the Labyrinth
and leaves me in the dark.
In silence, sitting in my empty room,
I feel the images fleeing, demons,
drawn through the window to the night outside;
and in their place, opening, a great space;
the minotaur eyes of the staring void.

            4. Dreaming of Escape

This is how it seemed to me,
that King Minos rules the Labyrinth
but the Minotaur holds the void.
In the silence of the center I knew he sat, and waited
for me to come to him.

There is, I had heard, some secret way,
a path that leads to true birth from the womb-maze.

And I had listened to those who claimed:
“The Labyrinth?  A nautilus shell
describes its form, and all who know
can tell the way the exit lies,
for the passage grows ever wider.”

False hope, I judged.
For who knows where shell enclosure ends
and if free sky, when reached,
is not more shell,
bright, extended into heaven?

So I continued to seek my own way out,
but many were the blank walls and circular reasonings
that trapped my speculations and attempts.
First my physics, then my metaphysics
did not set me free, and, in fleeing from the center,
all I found was more confusion.

And I failed even to elude the void.
From the center, it reached out at me;
when it passed, its cold touch brushed me,
it stopped me from building, quickly crumbling
all my contributions and solutions
reducing them to twistings of the Labyrinth.

For at the center of this life, my death
sits, waiting, for me to come;
he will have me anyway,
whether I will it, or not.
And at my dying, the rats will carry
my bones to him, and he will have
my marrow.

            5. Epilogue

Into this cave of night I came;
and grew where fires threw their glare,
throbbing, at the roof of my small world.

I tire of the fears and fantasies of youth,
that have kept me at the edge of life!
And so I take as my archetype,
Theseus, who took another’s place
to penetrate the maze.
And I will seek the center of the world,
whether it be made of emptiness or connection,
terror, resignation or love,
and I, too, will try to be a hero.

-Robert Elliott (February-March 1970/December 2000)


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Fiftieth High School Reunion: Lodi Union High School Class of 1968

Entry for 28 August 2018:

In order to attend my fiftieth High School Reunion, we delayed our return to Scotland for this year’s annual late August running of Strathclyde’s Emotion-Focusing Therapy Level 1 training.  Now, on our way back, I’m still thinking about What It All Means.  

To prepare, I spent part of a day reviewing the 1968 Tokay, the Lodi Union High School (LUHS) Yearbook.  I looked through pages and pages of coverage of sports, social events, and arts performances, finding my 17-year old self missing in action. I remember feeling that these activities had nothing to do with me, nor me with them. I remember feeling pretty socially anxious a lot of the time, and not very good about myself.  Oh, there I was, popping up in a couple of places: chess club, literary magazine, minor academic honours. So I studied (but not super hard), read a lot of books, and had a few extracurricular activities to show for myself.  Oh, yes, and I did a few things that took me completely out of my comfort zone: I took a public speaking course, went to some speech tournaments, and ran for Senior Class President, which involved giving a speech (fortunately, I lost).  I remembered how terrifying these latter activities were. 

Then, I went through everybody in my senior class, pages full of rows and rows of names and photos of scrubbed and coiffed 17-year olds, with their ties or single-pearl necklaces, some 700 in all.  I spent 13 years in the Lodi public school system, kindergarten to 12th grade, and so crossed paths with hundreds of fellow students during that time.  Who did I still remember? Who would I recognise at the Reunion?  It was a big school, made of many overlapping subcommunities.  A surprising number, at least a hundred, were met with a sense of recognition of name or face, something in my body answering, “Yes, I knew this person”.  Some were friends or folks I hung out with, associated with specific memories, others were simply people that I knew I had known, faces seen, names heard again and again in attendance roll call, echoing in my memory.  Human facial memory is a wonderful thing, but name recognition is pretty good as well.

After that I read through the hand-written notes from friends and acquaintances, which filled the opening and closing pages of the yearbook.  My best friend Philip Frey (who died two years ago) was there, reflecting on our moderating influence on each other.  He’s a person I would certainly like to sit down and talk to now.  Several people commented on the speech I’d given when I ran for Senior Class President.  I had remembered this as an excruciating experience, probably better off forgotten, but the comments were positive, which surprised me.

We arrived a bit after 6pm at the Woodbridge Golf & Country Club.  I’d spent a lot of time there as a kid, caddying for my dad and at the swimming pool.  Parts looked somewhat familiar, but most of it was completely unfamiliar, since it has been completely rebuilt.  There were a lot of 68-year-old people whom I didn’t recognise, plus a mixture of spouses from elsewhere to confuse things further.  We were issued with name tags with our senior yearbook photos on them.  That helped.  We ran into my old friend Sam Hatch, whom we’d had a visit from 18 months ago when we first arrived in Pleasanton; he introduced us to his wife Susan and we had a great time visiting with them.  I also ran into several people I’d known from Saint John the Baptist Episcopal Church: Carol Gerard, Cindy Chappell, and others from various phases.

The reunion was very well-organised, with many nice features such as a free photo booth, prizes and so on, but two things really caught my attention: First, there was a set of class photographs from the LUHS’s elementary and junior high school feeder schools, so that many of us could see ourselves at even earlier stages. There I was, from kindergarten to third grade, in my plaid shirts and buck teeth.  Diane had trouble seeing the resemblance but I recognised me.

Second, there was a board of about 20 people known to the organisers to have died, a sombre reminder of how much had passed and what we had lost.  This was obviously a difficult thing to put together, and a thankless task.  The loss was only underscored by the fact that no one, myself included, had let anyone on the committee know that Philip Frey (one of the valedictorians) and Margaret (Linstrom) Weitzel had passed.  These were my two best friends from high school, and I still feel their loss keenly.  A 50th high school reunion is obviously a time for celebrating accomplishments, remembering good times, and renewing friendships, but it is also a time to acknowledge losses: youth and naïve enthusiasm, of hang-ups and pretensions, of opportunities and hopes, and of people loved and lost.  It is a kind of Memorial Day, of smiling through tears, of marking lives spent in the best way we knew how, of celebrating what has been and resolving to do our best with what remains of our lives: For us, the living, the best thing is to take each day as a gift, and each person met and then met again also as a special kind of gift.

Vale, LUHS Class of 1968!


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

On Psychiatric Diagnostic Categories from the Point of View of Humanistic-Experiential Psychotherapy

Entry for 12 June 2018 [revised 14 August 2018]:

This started out as a long email to Ueli Kramer & Antonio Pascual-Leone, posted, with their permission, only now two months later (a piece of unfinished business after my return from China).

I was stuck waiting in the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco for hours today, so you now have to suffer through the following screed:

Thanks for your responses and questions.  I taught in a clinical psychology doctoral course for almost 30 years, and also taught Abnormal Psychology on many occasions, as well as using different structured psychiatric diagnostic instruments.  Like you, I am intimately familiar with the very messy, complicated process of applying psychiatric labels to people in both clinical and research settings.  I studied with Ted Sarbin, and have what I consider to be a healthy ambivalence about the larger DSM/ICD enterprise.  On the one hand, I’m very aware of and have witnessed the various difficulties with stigmatisation, reification, questionable reliability and validity, conceptual muddiness/overlap, lack of etiological basis, and philosophical disharmony with humanistic-experiential approaches.  I also strongly believe that the language we use and the implicit assumptions and metaphors that it contains are important and powerful, for better or worse.  I regard language use as an ethical issue.

On the other hand, these categories have their merits and uses: (1) I’m aware that there are regularities that the diagnostic categories seek to capture; it’s not only or simply a social construction. I’m a dialectical constructivist here: the labels both point to something in the world and are at the same time a social construction of what’s there.  (2) Some clients find acquiring a diagnostic label to be clarifying and validating. I don’t want to deprive them of that, although I don’t mind reminding them that the categories are social constructions cooked up by groups of people as part of a political process.  (3) To progress and disseminate our work we have to be able to communicate with researchers with different philosophical perspectives and lived experiences, including those who exist in an unreflected way within a diagnostic system and psychiatric language that they are attached to and that feels like home to them. They will feel threated and will fight us if we try to take their cherished language from them.  (4) Some labels are more useful, reliable, valid etc than others, or at least less broken or over-simplifying than others; others, I think, pretty much suck and best consigned to the dustbin of history.  

Given these complexities, here is the course of action I have long tried to follow:

First, I try lead by example: I try to keep my language as clean as possible.  I personally find the word “disorder” to be stigmatising, so I try to always say “difficulties” instead; this has the advantage of allowing me an alternative gloss for favourite abbreviations like PTSD (“post-traumatic stress difficulties”).  I personally find “borderline personality disorder” to be especially problematic and therefore moved first to “borderline processes” and then, following Margaret Warner, to “fragile process”, which I find to be a far more accurate term anyway.  I replace “schizophrenia” with “psychosis”.

Second, although I do have my strong views, I try to avoid being polemical or confrontational. Snark such as inveighing against the evils of the “medical model” can be fun but it just puts some people off, and of course also ignores the fact that this too is a kind of stigmatising diagnosis, which for starters ignores the fact that there are many quite different “medical models”.  The main point here, however, is I understand that people are typically very attached to forms of language that are familiar and comfortable to them.  This can be difficult at times and I’m not sure that I always succeed.  In general, I try to assume good intentions in others, even when I experience their language as unreflected and potentially offensive or even harmful to some.  When this happens I go back to my first strategy of leading by example; and I expect others to extend the same respect for my use of language that I offer them: we may not agree with the language the other person uses, but I expect us to respect each other’s need or habit of using that language, at least for the moment.  This means that sometimes I will need to provide translations of my favoured ways of talking, even though I find these translations not to my liking.  At times, gatekeepers may even try to suppress my favoured ways of talking, in which case I will try to find a mutually-acceptable compromise. Only as a last resort and for carefully-considered pragmatic reasons will I capitulate to using language that I do not agree with.

Third, I think it’s very important for us to dialog about these differences in language, to try to develop both our understanding and our language more fully so that it increases in accuracy, transparency, respect and usefulness for our clients and research participants. That’s why I raised the issue when I saw your article.

See: Kramer, U., & Pascual-Leone, A. (2018). Self-Knowledge in Personality Disorders: An Emotion-Focused Perspective. Journal of personality disorders, 32:329-350. DOI: 10.1521/pedi.2018.32.3.329