By Maria Gomori and first published in Shen in 2008. Maria is the world’s foremost practitioner of Satir family processes. Maria celebrated her 91st birthday this year and is leading The Journey to Self and Family Reconstruction in August. On August 16 2011 she will become a member of The Haven’s Emeritus Faculty.
For me, Haven has almost always been inseparable from Ben and Jock. I first met Ben in a Social Work Association meeting in 1974, where he was the invited speaker. Although as a busy Director of the Social Work department at the hospital, I had only planned to be there one hour, I was glued to my seat for the whole day. Afterward I asked him whether he would come back to my workplace, the St. Boniface General Hospital in Winnipeg to do a workshop. He agreed, saying he would return with his partner Jock.
When they arrived in 1975, I had just gotten out of hospital following a serious illness, but nothing would keep me from attending that workshop. I was very anxious to see what they would do with my staff. I hid myself well in the midst of the audience, and said nothing about my condition. I was alarmed at what I saw unfold. Coming from intensive training with Virginia Satir’s ‘soft’ approach, I was horrified as I watched them working with a member of my staff, who had agreed to have bodywork done as part of his dealing with some anger issues. To my great concern, he was screaming, and then they added insult to injury by sticking needles into him too. Their work appeared to me to be far too aggressive, and I began to wonder why I had invited them.
The next day I was assigned to drive them to the hospital. I was pleasant but didn’t plan on getting into a conversation of any depth with them, especially about myself. However, they suggested working with me that day, saying they had noticed I was very sick and thought I must be dying inside. I was surprised because I had said nothing about my state of health, nor that I was on heavy cortisone treatment, and was also very depressed. They insisted that they could help me, and I was equally certain that no one could. I was especially opposed to subjecting myself to that horrible bodywork I had seen the day before.
They asked what had horrified me so, and I told them that I would not undress, that I wouldn’t want to be touched, and that I wouldn’t want any needles. They assured me that all I would have to do was breathe. I thought that couldn’t do me any harm, so I finally agreed. In the process that followed, I found out the deep unconscious reason for my punishing myself to the point of near-death with colitis. The outcome was that my symptoms disappeared forever from my life. I know Ben and Jock saved my life. That experience connected me with them for a lifetime. I felt a deep connection with them as teachers and mentors.
After this, I was eager to understand how their process worked, and I began attending as many of their workshops as I could. This opened up for me an opportunity to learn a whole new approach which I discovered would complement what I had learned from Satir.
I attended their workshops at Cold Mountain, BC, and they often came to Winnipeg, my home town, to offer workshops with an expanding number of professionals and other people in the community. Through me they connected with Virginia Satir, and they invited her to do a workshop close to their location. Virginia loved Ben and Jock, and called them “my boys”. In the first year they owned Haven, I was there with Virginia doing her workshop, and she did workshops there twice a year until she died in 1988. Whenever she taught there, Ben and Jock always invited me as well. This contributed to my learning.
Haven became my second home. Since that first visit in 1983, I have been there at least two or three times every year, first attending Virginia’s and Ben and Jock’s workshops, and after Virginia’s death, leading Satir-based workshops there myself. I participated in eight New Horizons led by Ben and Jock, and all the Beyond New Horizons courses. I met people there who have become lifelong friends over these years. The special spiritual milieu of the Haven resonated with all my beliefs and hopes.
What Ben and Jock created at Haven is so special, nurturing, exciting, educational and human that, each time I go there, I feel renewed and re-energized. After my husband’s death, the Haven provided for me a community of support and love, especially with Ben and Jock’s ongoing support when I was very depressed.
I have witnessed over these years the gradual unfolding of Haven, both as a physical site and as its training programs developed. To begin with it was only a small place with a few older cabins and a small lodge. Ben and Jock were the only staff, doing the cooking, the serving, the teaching, the financing, the gardening, the administration and the planning. I recall Jock serving as Saturday night bartender for visitors from other parts of Gabriola Island who came to relax and dine.
When Kingfisher Building was being built, we were already living there. Walking back and forth between the lodge and Kingfisher was a precarious experience through mud and construction materials. Every time I came back it seemed a new building or room was in progress. Then came the swimming pool, the patio, the hot tub, the extending of the lodge, the Satir, Whitaker and Bugenthal rooms, and the Phoenix Auditorium. All these buildings were planned and designed by Ben and Jock, and built under their supervision at the same time as they were in charge of all the activities of Haven.
I was fortunate to find a professional learning home for myself, and to have an everyday personal connection with Ben and Jock. Their table in the dining room was always open to anyone who wanted to join, and there we had many exciting conversations as well as a lot of fun and laughter with them. Their being personal was not only in their teaching, but in their everyday contacts with those of us who came to Haven. This provided for me the opportunity to become more connected and to know them in a deeper, more personal way.
I wanted to share Haven with other people, and have strongly recommended its programs to many people with whom I have had contact over the years. Ben and Jock became role models for me because I saw that they live what they teach. At Haven there was a chance to live in their presence on a daily basis, in courses and outside of them.
The philosophy and concepts taught at Haven complemented and added to my learning from Virginia Satir and other existential teachers. Because of that synthesis, my teaching today combines what I learned from Come Alive, the Phase programs and New Horizons with all that I learned from my long association with Virginia. More important than what I learned was how I have changed with the influence of Ben and Jock.
It is almost impossible to describe adequately what I learned from Ben and Jock during my times with them at Haven and elsewhere. They would consistently use teasing to challenge me in relation to my Hungarian anger, my not being present, and my judgmental and opinionated attitudes. I wondered how they could know me better than I knew myself. The teasing continued at every mealtime too, or while traveling together, shaping my increasing awareness of myself, my presence, and my groundedness. Sometimes it was painful, but whenever they didn’t do it, I wondered if they still loved me! On another level, I have always known that they do, and for me this knowledge has brought me much fulfillment and enrichment.
I believe that Haven will continue to be a very special learning place for people, because the seeds that were sown in its early years are continuing to flourish. Those who trained there are continuing to develop unique learning experiences that will enrich participants of the future in valuing their path to greater humanness. This legacy means ever more in a world that is becoming increasingly challenging. At Haven, it is safe to be human. What greater gift can be contributed?