The first time .. at APA in NYC in the fall of 1966, I was struck by his courage and lack of propriety. Here’s a person that is genuine, and not shy about stating his judgments. His lack of conformity was appealing to my tweed-jacketed – pipe smoking self. Shook up my professional persona, and motivated me to go to Esalen for his month-long in July, 1967.
A man of appetites. An old man who listened to his wants and was engaged with the world around him, and engaged with his own ideas. He walked the talk .. and his message was ‘be yourself”. Now if you had a mean streak, you could rationalize it, and distort Fritz’s approach, and do a kind of Gestalt approach that some might identify with Fritz.
He wasn’t mean. He was sure he was right, and he didn’t want to “waste his time” (I think he knew he wasn’t healthy) so if he thought you were more interested in playing games than in taking risks .. he’d brush you off. Not much time for compassion. But if he sensed you were serious and willing to go into the impasse, he was there for you.He could also take real pleasure in genuine changes that occurred.
The look in his eyes on his 75th birthday at Esalen. Surprise and softness. Boyish? He used to say to me “too much for a Jewish boy”, and in remembering this incident .. I connected the two. He was, I’m sure, surprised by his success occurring at the end of his life, although he rarely showed it.
I don’t think his success “went to his head” .. it went to all of him. By that I mean it enabled him to be even more fully himself. Now he always had an audience for his ideas; he always had others around him who would listen and respond. I believe that he was too engaged in his ongoing interaction with the world around him to spend time puffing up his ego.
I visited him at Lake Cowichan in the summer of 1969 and was certified by him at the time. That took all of five minutes of my working with a volunteer. Later in NYC that autumn of 1969, we discussed my visiting Lake Cowichan during the upcoming summer of 1970. I took a leaf out of his book of straight talk, and declared .. “I’m not going to go up there, unless I’m one of the group leaders”.
His response, in his heavy German accent was “Aren’t you being a little bit presumptuous”. I don’t remember my response, but I remember I was slated to go to Lake Cowichan in 1970 … and because of his death in March of 1970, instead I led the Gestalt month-long at Esalen.
There is a certain marked irony about Fritz and his life that I realized while musing about him. He was dedicated to being himself and to helping others be the same. But, he was such a strong personality; – he manifested so much of himself in such a dramatic and charismatic way, and was such a success in his last five years of life, that many of his talented followers tried to take on his traits and some of his ways of working. They became little Fritzes, and the way he practiced Gestalt was identified with Gestalt. So the apostle of differentiation and individuation was himself so much an individual, that he influenced others to be like him, rather than to be more like themselves.
A guru gives us himself, and then his system
A teacher gives us his subject and then ourselves
Fritz was both a teacher and a guru.
He gave his last workshop in NYC in Feb. of 1970 and it was a great one.. focused on contact and withdrawal. He was quite ill and his illness was noticeable. I took him up to his wife Laura’s apartment. One evening I visited him and brought him strawberries. He enjoyed them, and talked some of what he had not accomplished (hadn’t read all of Goethe). He was greedy to the end. There was always more to experience, to learn and to teach. His accomplishments continue to unfold, and keep pace with his dreams.