An Individual in Community: The Lifwynn Foundation
by Maureen Cotter
In the summer of 1969 I was a single mother of two young children
and was looking for employment near home on a nine-to-three schedule. I answered
an ad for a part-time secretary at The Lifwynn Foundation (TLF). They wanted
someone with the knowledge of psychology and/or German. I had neither, but sent
my resume anyhow, and was hired to work for Dr. Hans Syz, then President of
TLF, and Alfreda Galt, a Trustee. This was my introduction to an unusual organization
based on the theories and practices of the psychoanalyst, Trigant Burrow. It
has continued to be an important part of my life to the present day.
In 1969 the Foundation was housed in a lovely home in residential Westport, Connecticut. The impressive office was what would have been the living room. As with most other spacious homes in the area, there were several bedrooms and studies but, probably unlike other homes, the attic was filled with a large collection of psychological books and journals.
This entire setting was a legacy from the time when the Lifwynn group was much larger and worked and lived together, on-site. The literal "togetherness" was important, so adequate accommodations were required for those who wished, even after the death of Dr. Burrow, to join in the research. For instance, Bjorn Merker, a Swedish student stayed for periods of time in the 60's and 70's, as did Dr. Lloyd Gilden, our current president. However, there were only four people there when I began to work for TLF: Alfreda Galt and her mother, Mrs. Sill, with Dr. and Mrs. Syz in a nearby house.
The issue of oneness and interconnectedness of human solidarity was an underlying premise of the theories of Trigant Burrow, and it gave a particular meaning to working and living together. The unique camaraderie coming out of this work became increasingly evident to me, and I began to experience something I had not known before in a workplace.
Mainly, I worked with Dr. Syz, who was completing the soon-to-be- published translation of his book, Vom Sein und vom Sinn (Of Being and of Meaning) but somehow, even without the requested skills in German, I was able to do what was necessary for him and Mrs. Galt.
And I recognized how fortunate I was to work with people of such intense commitment and dedication. Over time I realized what the specific difference was at TLF: There was no "us versus them"; no "us vesus the work." Conflicts of every kind were openly discussed, reviewed, reflected upon. What was prevalent in other places at work (backbiting, one-upmanship, etc.) was essentially absent here. Initially, the oneness of work and life was a new reality for me, as was being encouraged to take timeout for an anti-war rally, while being discouraged from taking too much holiday time. It was not the usual, to say the least!
Also, all relationships were open to questioning, and were scrutinized: parent/child; employer/employee; doctor/patient--in other words, authority of any kind, in-and-out-of-itself, was questioned, examined, and open to continued investigation. Anything related to the ego-need of "getting ahead," or being an "authority" was grist fot the TLF-group mill.
As time went on, I became more and more cognizant of the theories of Trigant Burrow that underlay the dialogue process, and the research into what he named "ditention" and "cotention." But being without other academic background as a frame of reference, I struggled with these concepts. I found Burrow's books and papers difficult but, fortunately, found his letters more accessible, so Search for Man's Sanity was the greatest help. My deepest, previously silent feelings--that we are all one, that there is a way to come together and more fully realize our amazing interconnections--were confirmed.
Finally, in about 1975, I became an actual member of The Lifwynn Foundation, not just an employee. Now every meeting became an opportunity to put theory into practice while we were also reviewing correspondence, drafting replies, assessing possible research projects, making decisions about finances, and discussing future publication possibilities. It was all a breath of fresh air. It was also scary--always questioning motives and baring feelings.
Ironically, just as I became more wholly part of The Foundation's mission, its financial resources were greatly diminished. Therefore I had to seek additional employment elsewhere, drastically reducing my hours at TLF. A new office manager was hired, the original building could no longer be the home of The Foundation, and Dr. Syz began to take a less active role.
At the same time Alfred Galt published her first book; the late 1980's saw the first issue of our journal, Lifwynn Correspondence; and there was a newly developed Board of Directors, with Jack Wikse, the new Research Director, helping to bring about a conference on addiction, which was attended by leaders from various disciplines. In 1990 Dr. Syz stepped aside, and Alfreda Galt became president of The Lifwynn Foundation.
All this time, of course, research continued in the communal aspect of the work. Jack Wikse and his family had come to live on site at TLF, and there was considerable stress, as can be expected when a family shares quarters with other individuals in a very particular work/life setting. Even now it is difficult for me to address how "emotionally fraught" the climate was.
As I continued working at The Foundation--on a one-to-two-days-a-week basis--the stress and conflict increased, and I became discouraged. I even contemplated leaving, but something kept me there. Perhaps it was, in Burrow's vernacular, my "I"-persona reaction, my need to be conscientious, not to "give-up and give-in," or simply my ego-investment of time and energy over the years. But I really think--and feel--that it was something much deeper, a basic belief in the intrinsic value of the work--its explorations into who we really are and how we relate to each other, particularly the recognition of our mysterious oneness.
At the heart, for me, is our unity in diveristy. Which means the attempt to meet the enormous challenge of going forward in spite of the obvious differences found in each and every group. As I write this, I have in mind a statement recently made by one of the members of our social self-inquiry group: "We don't have to reach agreement in all areas in order to work together. Indeed, our disagreements are the material for our reasearch into human being."