Here at Dumbo Feather we’re all about people, individuals with big ideas, doing great things. Some of the most extraordinary people are you: our readers. We love hearing the stories of our readers, so we’ve started this series of online reader profiles.
To start us off, meet Helen Palmer, a Dumbo reader from way back and one of the founders of the Institute of Psychosynthesis NZ. Psychosynthesis asserts that to ensure our psychological well being, we need to pay attention to our existential and spiritual experience, as well as our emerging future and our past. Italian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Dr Roberto Assagioli founded the field in 1910, after developing its basic principles from a critique of psychoanalysis.
As well as a psychosynthesis psychotherapist, Helen is a writer, teacher, mother and friend. But enough from us, we’ll let Helen speak for herself.
How did you first find out about Dumbo Feather?
I picked up Issue Six at Magazzino in Auckland in December 2005. I thought my son might appreciate it in his Christmas stocking. As I leafed through I was astounded to see a profile on Julia Vargiu, the daughter of two brilliant American psychosynthesis teachers who became cult leaders and caused enormous damage to the development of psychosynthesis in the US in the late 80s. To see anything written about psychosynthesis, even in clinical journals, is rare, so to come across it in the first Dumbo Feather I found was amazing. To have access to Julia’s intimate story was so moving. I got in touch with her afterwards.
Who is your favourite Dumbo profile and why?
By now I have read so many profiles I can’t single out one in particular. One of the reasons I enjoy DF is that there is such a broad spectrum of inspiring and creative stories from around the world. It’s why my husband Peter Hubbard and backed the Dumbo Feather iPad app Kickstarter campaign. Imagine this information becoming more accessible to the mainstream!
Who would you love to see profiled in Dumbo and why?
Helen Pollock whose sculpture Falls the Shadow is being installed at the Memorial Museum in Passchendaele; Ruth Bonita, epidemiologist; Peter Russell who writes on consciousness; Rupert Sheldrake, whose most recent book is called The Science Delusion; Stephanie Dowrick, founder of The Women’s Press, writer, and Interfaith minister; Trish Clark, art consultant; Stephen Bambury, artist; Vivian Hutchinson, community activist, social entrepreneur, speaker, writer, learner and gatherer.
Helen, Ruth and Trish are three of my dearest friends. Peter, Stephanie, Stephen and Vivian are also friends. I met Rupert on his brief visit to NZ in the early 90’s and again in Ireland in 1994. His work is groundbreaking.
Who is the most extraordinary person you have ever met and why?
How to choose one out of so many possibilities? I have met extraordinary people throughout my life, starting within my family. I have been involved in a myriad of marvellous endeavours and participatory initiatives, so although I would like to answer the question, it is genuinely impossible to single out one person.
And what do I mean by calling someone ‘extraordinary’? If someone is living their life with focus and risking being non-ordinary, they are usually extraordinary. To manage the ordinary business of survival narrows our attention. It often demands participation in processes that are not aligned with valuing the interconnectedness of all life. Ralph Blum’s words from The Book of Runes come to mind: “Strive to live the ordinary life in a non-ordinary way”.
That said, I acknowledge Dennis, who I met when we were both visitors at Findhorn in 1977. Dennis had arms, a torso, no legs and a lust for life. He travelled the world in his wheelchair, walking on his hands and expressing his sartorial exuberance with an eclectic range of hats. He was not defined by the extraordinary limitations of his body.
What’s the most surprising thing you have ever heard or read?
I have always been taken by the words of Brian Swimme: “The Universe is not just as weird as we think, it’s weirder than we can think”. And from Mattsenberger Buie: “The three most common narcissistic snares are the aspirations to heal all, know all, and love all”. This one really takes my attention, as these are spiritual aspirations. Understanding narcissism in an everyday sociocultural context is part of my professional work, as is, of course, maintaining a willingness to acknowledge my own narcissistic impulses and defensive strategies. We hold a bifocal lens in psychosynthesis that helps us differentiate levels of consciousness. It also helps us to acknowledge that both our highest aspirations and more shadowy egoic motivations can serve the engagement with and expression of our ideals. Assagioli quotes the paradoxical Talmudic saying “Serve God both with your bad impulses and with your good impulses”.
What things have you changed in your life to make it more meaningful?
There is a teaching that we have in our Institute brochure, and on our website: “Carefully observe what way your heart draws you and then choose that way with all your strength”. Though my parents did not use these words specifically, I was always encouraged to follow my heart.
I grew up with the zeitgeist of the counterculture with an ecological awareness akin to that expressed in The Whole Earth Catalogue. I visited Findhorn many times as a young woman in the 70s and I found psychosynthesis. These events helped me orient my life to spiritual and ecological values.
Choosing to have children and marry my husband were profoundly meaningful choices. Founding the Institute with my husband in 1986 was a huge change from our life in London. I had been overseas for 11 years, he for 10. We came back home with our two young children to be near family and to action our vision of the Institute of Psychosynthesis NZ. Working with Peter has plenty of challenges and so much joy.
If you could be doing anything right now, what would it be?
I feel blessed and grateful to acknowledge that the answer to that question is exactly what I am doing. I am writing something that is meaningful. I am seeing people today in my capacity as a psychosynthesis psychotherapist and as a training supervisor. Later today we are driving down to the Coromandel to attend the funeral of a friend and colleague’s mother; that will be a joyous celebration of a long, rich life, lived in faith. On Saturday I fly to Hawaii to spend some time hanging out with Peter Russell and friends, and to swim with dolphins. This means engaging in a terror threshold, as I am not at ease in water after two near drowning experiences. I have just had an MRI follow-up from a brain tumour operation 18 months ago that shows all is well. Facing mortality spurs a carpe diem approach to life! I will return from Hawaii to teach counselling and psychotherapy training programs, which is deeply satisfying work.
What brings you the most meaning in your day-to-day life?
The experience of heartfelt connection – whether it is with my husband, clients, colleagues, people I interact with as I participate in communal society, texts with my sons in Barcelona and Amsterdam, awareness of the beauty around me: of bush, sea, sky, conversations with friends, cultural events, yoga, meditation, gathering food from the garden, cooking…. I delight in engaging with what feeds my mind, nourishes my emotional well being, develops my physical health, and connects me with the mystery of multidimensional reality. Meaning also comes through the experience of sorrow and pain. Even when my experience is difficult and I am struggling to find meaning, if I practice what I teach, I become more present and heartfully connected with myself and others.
What are you passionate about?
When I was in my 20s I came across this Wiccan version of the Golden Rule: “Do what thou wilt, and harm none”. This is the law/lore that is my touchstone; it guides me through the emotional intensities that passion evokes and excites. Sometimes being impassioned makes me opinionated and intolerant of others who may be passionate about things that I question and doubt, such as the wholesale vaccination of children, the medicalization of childbirth, genetic engineering of food, not valuing the importance of teaching history, the devaluing of the arts in an educational climate increasingly geared towards a commercial agenda – to name some things that arouse my passions.
I am passionate about finding ways to participate wholeheartedly and joyously in the shimmering, sacred, multidimensional mystery of life.
Find out more about the Institute of Psychosynthesis NZ here.