Welcome to this podcast discussion of the life and times of RD Laing. Dr. Laing was an iconoclastic 20th century psychiatrist who was a noted author, teacher, social critic, philosopher, poet, and jazz pianist. You are about to experience the first half of a lively discussion among three of his long-time students and colleagues as they recall and share intimate experiences of living alongside this remarkable man. Our three guests are Nita Gage, Fritjof Capra, and Michael Thompson. They are now masters of their own respective fields who are deeply connected with each other over decades shared in their extended Laing community. I regard these inspiring people as first-generation legacy-carriers of Dr. Laing’s discoveries and teaching. I felt honored to join this dialogue since I also worked alongside Dr. Laing during the summers of 1985 and 1987 when he was a scholar-in-residence here in Boulder, CO. It was during these few months that I experienced his deeply humane and authentic way of being with patients—and those of us beside him—that he termed ‘co-presence’. Dr. Laing was keenly interested in joining Buddhist meditation with the psychotherapy encounter to make manifest the natural co-presence of both persons. The essential qualities of this co-presence include safety to be fully honest, complete freedom of experience, and non-transgression (meaning no harm to the other). Co-presence would turn out to be one of his final gifts as Dr. Laing passed away at age 62 in 1989.
This discussion begins with an exploration of what is important to know about RD Laing, which not only invokes his memory but also provides the viewer with direct glimpses of what it felt like to be with him. The participants then share a broad range of challenging experiences of learning with Dr. Laing and what their relationships with him were like. The question of Dr. Laing’s legacy and lasting influence is woven into this discussion. Dr. Laing’s charisma and cultural fame are fading with time. Yet his pioneering work with mindfulness that can charge the therapeutic encounter with authentic presence inspires many of us to continue that work.
There are far too many other dimensions to Dr. Laing’s philosophy, social criticism, and therapy approach to describe here. To learn more about Dr. Laing’s work, you can read two papers published in the Journal of Contemplative Psychotherapy, which are archived on the Windhorse Legacy Project website. Dr. Laing wrote: Hatred of Health, during his stay in Boulder (1987)
You can also click here to read a retrospective interview that Edward Podvoll, MD, gave “In Memoriam” that discusses Dr. Laing’s persona and contributions
We hope you are able to return, in the near future, to experience the second half of this provocative discussion. Thank you for your interest in the Windhorse Journal, and in promoting authentic relationship in all aspects of life.
Read the Transcript of this conversation here.
Fritjof Capra, Ph.D., is a scientist, educator, activist, and author of many international bestsellers that connect conceptual changes in science with broader changes in worldview and values in society.
A Vienna-born physicist and systems theorist, Capra first became popularly known for his book, The Tao of Physics, which explored the ways in which modern physics was changing our worldview from a mechanistic to a holistic and ecological one. Published in 1975, it is still in print in more than 40 editions worldwide and is referenced with the statue of Shiva in the courtyard of one of the world’s largest and most respected centers for scientific research: CERN, the Center for Research in Particle Physics in Geneva.
Over the past 30 years, Capra has been engaged in a systematic exploration of how other sciences and society are ushering in a similar shift in worldview, or paradigms, leading to a new vision of reality and a new understanding of the social implications of this cultural transformation.
His most recent book, The Systems View of Life (Cambridge University Press, 2014), presents a grand new synthesis of this work—integrating the biological, cognitive, social, and ecological dimensions of life into one unified vision. Several critics have suggested that The Systems View of Life, which Capra coauthored with Pier Luigi Luisi, Professor of Biology at the University of Rome, is destined to become another classic.
Capra is a founding director of the Berkeley-based Center for Ecoliteracy, which is dedicated to advancing ecology and systems thinking in primary and secondary education, and serves on the faculty of the Amana-Key executive education program in São Paulo, Brazil. He is a Fellow of Schumacher College, an international center for ecological studies in the UK, and serves on the Council of the Earth Charter Initiative.
He is the author of The Turning Point (1982), The Web of Life (1996), The Hidden Connections (2002), The Science of Leonardo (2007), and Learning from Leonardo (2013). He coauthored Green Politics (1984), Belonging to the Universe (1991), and EcoManagement (1993), and coedited Steering Business Toward Sustainability (1995). He also cowrote the screenplay for Mindwalk (1990), a film starring Liv Ullmann, Sam Waterston, and John Heard, created and directed by Bernt Capra.
The main focus of Capra’s environmental education and activism has been to help build and nurture sustainable communities. He believes that to do so, we can learn valuable lessons from the study of ecosystems, which are sustainable communities of plants, animals, and microorganisms.
He received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the University of Vienna in 1966 and spent 20 years doing research in theoretical high-energy physics, including at the University of Paris, the University of California at Santa Cruz, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Imperial College, University of London, and the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory at the University of California. He also taught at the University of California, Santa Cruz; the University of California, Berkeley; and San Francisco State University.
Capra has been the focus of more than 60 television interviews, documentaries, and talk shows in Europe, the United States, Brazil, Argentina, and Japan, and has been featured in major newspapers and magazines internationally. He was the first subject of the BBC’s documentary series, Beautiful Minds.
He holds an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Plymouth and is the recipient of many other awards, including the Gold Medal of the UK Systems Society, the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity from the Media Ecology Association, the Medal of the President of the Italian Republic, the Leonardo da Vinci Medallion of Honor from the University of Advancing Technology in Tempe, Arizona, the Bioneers Award, the New Dimensions Broadcaster Award, the American Book Award, and the Gold IndieFab Award from Foreword Reviews. Fritjof Capra lives in Berkeley with his wife and daughter.
Dr. Nita Gage has been teaching and facilitating shamanic and transformational retreats, classes and seminars in the US and Europe since 2001. She has a doctorate degree in shamanic psychospiritual psychology; a master’s in clinical psychology; is an internationally certified substance abuse counselor; and a certified Shamanic Breathwork™ facilitator. Nita co-founded the NeuroImaginal™ Institute, and is the Director of Healer Within Retreats in Molokai, Hawaii, and Chair of the Healer Within Retreats Committee of the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine.
Nita is the author of The Women in Storage Club, and How to Reimagine Your Life and has a new book coming out soon, Soul Whispering: The Art of Shamanic Energy Medicine. She also is a teacher for the Hoffman Institute.
Nita has worked extensively in hospital and medical settings and understands the unique stress and joys of medical professionals. She was Executive Director of the American Board of Holistic and Integrative Medicine and later of the Consortium for Integrative Medicine working with integrative physicians and practitioners nationally on policy, program design and public relations.
She trained originally with R.D. Laing and his associates at the Philadelphia Association from 1974-1980. She left London and returned to America in 1980 and pursued post-graduate education in psychology and psycho spiritual studies.
Nita has become involved with International Integrators because the organization’s mission resonates with her experience and reflects her passion for healing and transformative retreats.
Michael Guy Thompson, Ph.D. (born 1947), lived in Havana, Cuba until age 14 when he and his family returned to Tennessee, where he attended the Baylor School for Boys in Chattanooga. He subsequently served in the U. S. Army Security Agency in Vietnam and later in Washington, D. C. In 1973 he moved to London to work with R. D. Laing where he also trained as a psychoanalyst. In 1980 he returned to San Francisco where he founded Free Association, a psychoanalytic salon devoted to integrating phenomenology and psychoanalysis.
He subsequently joined the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California in San Francisco where he is currently a Personal and Supervising Analyst and Faculty member. Dr. Thompson has been active in the psychoanalytic community since returning to California in 1980 and has presented his ideas at numerous professional conferences over the past three decades. He is a past President of the International Federation for Psychoanalytic Education (IFPE), and subsequently the Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology (NCSPP).
Dr. Thompson also serves on the editorial boards of many professional journals, including Psychoanalytic Psychology, the Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, the Journal of European Psychoanalysis, and The Journal of the Society for Existential Analysis. He is the author of more than 100 journal articles, book chapters, and book reviews on phenomenology, psychoanalysis and schizophrenia, as well as five books: THE DEATH OF DESIRE (1985), THE TRUTH ABOUT FREUD’S TECHNIQUE (1994), THE ETHIC OF HONESTY (2004), THE LEGACY OF R.D. LAING (2015), and a revised and expanded edition of THE DEATH OF DESIRE: AN EXISTENTIAL STUDY IN SANITY AND MADNESS (2016), published by Routledge. He is a popular speaker and has lectured extensively throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, Spain, and Australia over the past thirty years. Dr. Thompson is a member of varied psychoanalytic organizations, including the International Psychoanalytic Association, the College of Psychoanalysts (UK), and the Philadelphia Association, London. He practices psychoanalysis in San Francisco and lives in Marin County, California.
Jeffrey Fortuna, M.A., L.P.C., received his MA in Contemplative Psychotherapy at Naropa University in 1980, and served on the Naropa faculty until 1989. In 1981, he co-founded the first Windhorse center, Maitri Psychological Services in Boulder, CO. From 1989 to 1992, Mr. Fortuna founded and directed a Windhorse group in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In 1992, he co-founded Windhorse Associates, Inc., and served as Executive/Clinical Director. In 2002, Jeff returned to Boulder as a co-director of Windhorse Community Services,Inc. He retired from his co-director role in 2013, yet continues to serve as a senior clinician and educator. He has taught widely, and written a book chapter and journal papers in the area of Windhorse treatment.
Windhorse Community Services is committed to deep listening and learning from marginalized individuals and groups to create an inclusive, healthy environment with compassion as a basis. We respect the diversity of people with all mental states of mind, race, nationality, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual preference, and all religious and spiritual paths.
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I really appreciated this journal entry, as it focused more on the man than the myth. It was really interesting to learn about R.D. Laing’s personal relationships with each speaker and the ways that could be supportive and challenging. It is a very interesting time that he was in that has had a huge impact socially and on our foundational perspectives of psychology and mental health. This podcast made me think of how influential a charismatic personality can be at the right time when external and internal events coalesce into a moment, a movement that can really influence change in the world.