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The Elmwood Group for Human Ecology

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By Douglas Mynett

I was somewhat dismayed when I was asked to write a brief report on my work as founder/chairman/teacher of the Elmwood Group for Human Ecology, established in 1954 and still functioning. How was I to convey in about 500 words a realistic picture of events in the following 40 years involved in teaching in so complex an area of human experience?

Obviously a historical resume is impractical and a full theoretical exposition impossible. I must, therefore, rely on a few snapshots of theory and practice in an attempt to convey something of the flavour of the work.

I came to see that there was a need to restate the ancient Eastern idiom into Western thought and practice. This led to a decision to teach by workshop method rather than by lecture.

Ecology is an established subsection of Biology which studies the evolution of natural environments and the interactions of the various species of vegetable, animal and human life-forms found in such environments. Human Ecology is a much later development of a specialized study centred upon mankind, working outwards to follow its interactions with the physical environment, and is about how mankind adapts to the constraints of the physical environment and modifies it to meet its goals.

In our group we extend the scope of the term “environment” to include the traditional view that mankind lives in three environments: physical, mental/cultural and spiritual. However, as the physical aspects are already extensively covered and understood, we concentrate on the less well understood aspects, known as mind and spirit. Hence the first three postulates upon which the framework of theory and practice are based are:

  1. Infinite Beingness1 is the sole absolute.
  2. The primary attributes of beingness are awareness and causativeness.
  3. The primary activity of beingness is the creation and organisation of energies.

I was astonished to discover in later years that the events in the story of Creation in the Bible, Old Testament, book of Genesis, chapters 1 and 2, follow this sequence.

My endeavour was to develop practical methods of enabling ordinary people to experience directly the reality of these postulates through learning and applying the techniques I devised in individual and group training workshops. The emphasis has always been on application of the individual’s discoveries to daily life on earth. As a result self-sufficiency is developed by members, making them independent of either myself or the group.

Within the limits set for this report, I can only close with a few examples of the outcome of this training.

In 1962 I was approached by two self-employed teachers of mentally and emotionally disturbed children to help them start their own school for “emotionally disturbed” children, based on the courses they had taken with me on Communication, Learning, Control and Perseverance. This gave rise to a recognised school called “The Link”, to which local authorities still send children who do not respond to other methods.

On one occasion, a housewife member of the group asked me for a book to read when going on holiday. On the spur of the moment I gave her a copy of the Chinese “Tao Te Ching” (circa 500 B.C.), although she had never heard of Taoism, nor any other Oriental philosophy or religion. When she came back after her fortnight with her family, she came round to me and excitedly waved the book at me and cried “This is what we do, isn’t it?”

An architect member of the group, employed in the Local Authority Housing Estate design department, of Camberwell Borough Council, introduced the, then, revolutionary principle of consulting intending tenants of the proposed estate as to their wishes for the provision in the design of facilities they thought essential. These were incorporated, and his article in “The Architect” journal describing his experiences and their outcome in the estate, aroused great interest, and changes of approach, elsewhere, from the usual “take it or leave it” attitudes current then.

In 1990 I demonstrated my meditation method to the assembled Abbot, monks and nuns at the Buddhist Monastery at Chithurst. Asked for reports on their experience with it, one senior monk said, “I have had this kind of experience before, but never so directly nor so simply.” In general it was accepted as a true expression of the spirit of the Buddha’s teachings. Others among those present at the demonstration have told me since that they use it during their daily meditation practices.

The same meditation technique is used in the schools in their morning assemblies. Recently one child in the school, aged 11, was particularly disruptive in class. No one liked teaching where he was present. However his dance and movement teacher, during his weekly lesson, took him through a simplified version of this meditation method. He loved it. Next week he rushed up to his trainer, bursting with pride. “Miss”, he said, “I did it at home all by myself and it worked!” Since, he has ceased to be disruptive. The youngest child practising at home is four years old, with his parents’ guidance, naturally.

Thus I have no new truths to reveal; only a simple method of revealing them.

Notes

  1. “Infinite Beingness” may be equated with terms such as “The Ground”, “Tao”, “The Source”, “The Ineffable”, “Logos.” It was selected because it resonates with the familiar term “Human Being.”

Comments

A deeply realized spirituality shone from Doug's being giving life to his words and nurtering the spirit of those open to it. His legacy lives on in the hearts and lives of those who were fortunate enough to know him and who can pass it on to others.

Patricia Garbett

The following letter was sent to me. Patricia Richfield on the 8 May 1999 Dear Pat, I was very interested to read your letter and to think over what you presented so deeply and so clearly. In matters like this, since at the moment we have no means of verifying any of the speculations about life after physical death, we are in the position of St Paul, expressed as “Now we look into a glass darkly, but then face to face.” On these grounds, I copy the approach handed down in the scriptures of Buddhism and Christianity, among others, as for instance expressed by Jesus “Sufficient unto this day is the evil thereof. Sell all you have and come and follow me”. Of course, I don’t press the last part. Who am I to tell others what to do? The most I dare to is to invite people to take a chance on doing what I have found profitable and to check what I have to say against their own experience and common sense, as so strongly emphasised in the teaching of the Buddha. I have noted that there is only one thing we humans can be absolutely sure of and that is, death of the body awaits every one of us, we know not how and when. We talk of the tragedy of people ‘losing’ their lives, particularly when babies and vivacious youths are concerned. It strikes one that “our” lives are not something we have, as those two customary words imply. I would suggest rather that “life has us” – poor life! It seems mostly that life gets a poor deal at present, considering the millions of living things being abused and slaughtered daily during this last century or two under the guise of the “wonder of science”. I am reminded of the words from the Psalm in the Old Testament “when I survey the wonders of the works of Thy Hands what is man that thou art mindful of him?” There have been better days, it seems, before scientists and exploiters of science lent a helping hand. Coming back to your admirable expositions and the possibilities of post death conditions, I am greatly impressed by the plausibility of your suggestions, without being able to, or even daring to, offer better alternatives. Rather I am led to suggest that you have already given the answer to your question as expressed in the second and third paragraphs beginning with “When thinking is ended …” maybe your own experience is more deserving of being trusted than any reasoned speculation you, I or anybody else can put forward. I bow before the great Presence. With deep respect and love, Doug.

Anonymous

2 Oct 1997 Dear Pat, As promised, I am sending you a copy of that passage from the book I read to you over the phone. Interestingly, I was working with someone today with op proc and it was obvious that energies were running off thick and fast because the huge amount of yawning, eyes dropping despite efforts to keep them open and a kind of half sleep occurring, which I call “doping off”, because the person knows he is feeling heavy and sleepy, but is not asleep. The difference between dope off and sleep is, in the last, one loses consciousness whereas, in the first, consciousness is still there one knows one feels dozy, although the body tends to flop, like feeling asleep. The chin tends to fall onto the chest or flop back on the top of the arm chair. But for the back of the chair the whole body would flop to a horizontal position, as in bed in sleep. Anther sign of consciousness is that the head tends to jerk off to vertical and/or the body also, like when one slips, and one jerks to full sight, etc etc., and awareness of one’s surroundings, and upright body. End of lecture! One thing one learns from these occurrences is simply that spiritual progress is not all strawberries and cream to the accompaniment of sweet-sounding harps. Lots of love Doug. P.S. I hope what you have heard and will not read will encourage you to plod on, alone as you are, and really stuck into with full intention the use of op proc and bb.

Anonymous

8 April 1999 Dear Pat, Here is the writing I mentioned during our telephone conversation. I think I made it clear my hopes and desires then, so I will rush this letter off without further ado. I did so enjoy your company. Deepest love, Doug. The Elmwood Group for Human Ecology I was somewhat dismayed when I was asked to write a brief report on my work as founder/chairman/teacher of the Elmwood Group for Human Ecology, established in 1954 and still functioning. How was I to convey a realistic picture of events in the following 40 years involved in teaching theory and training people in practice in groups and, privately as individuals, in so complex an area of human experience? Obviously, a historical resume is impractical and a full theoretical exposition impossible. I must, therefore, rely on the few snapshots of theory and practice in the attempt to convey something of the “the splendour of Asia” – since re-published in Nelson Classics a “A Life of the Buddha” – when I was 18, in 1936, initiated one of those transcendental illumination into his person and teaching which has dominated the rest of my life. Scantly though the extracts from the teachings were, I just recognised them and was carried into a state of bliss and security which remains with me now. In the following 18 years, I came to see that there was a need to restate the ancient idiom into western thought and practice. This led to a decision to teach by a workshop method rather than lecture and always define my use of words to convey the trechnical sense they were being adapted to – vide Sir Isaac Newton: “when a scientist talks of “space” he does not mean what the common person means”. The use of “Human Ecology” rather than” Buddhism” reflects the reality of those early years that only a small minority of people were aware of the existence of Buddhism, whereas one of the earliest books on Human Ecology – by Sir George Stapleton in 1964. Until then the name of the group was simply The ” Elmwood Group”. The addition of “Human Ecology” was eagerly adopted as depicting accurately our field of study in a more understandable form and more readily explainable in a few words. Ecology is an established sub-section of biology which studies the evolution of natural environments and the interactions of the various species of vegetable, animal and human life-forms found in such environments. Human ecology is a much later development of a specialised study centered upon mankind working outwards to follow its interactions with the and how mankind adapts to the constraints of the physical environment. In our group we extend the scope of the term “environment” to include the traditional view that mankind lives in three environments: physical, mental/cultural/and spiritual. However, as the physical aspects are already extensively covered and understood, we concentrate on the less well understood aspects, known as mind and spirit. Hence the first three postulates upon which the framework of theory and practice are based on: 1. Infinite beingness (1) is the sole absolute. 2. The primary attributes of beingness are awareness and causativeness. 3, the Primary activity of beingness if the creation and organisation of energies. I was astonished to discover, in later years, that the events in the story of creation, in the Bible Old Testament book of Genesis Chapters 1 and 2, follows this sequence. My endeavour was to develop practical methods of enabling ordinary people to experience directly the reality of these postulates through learning and applying the techniques I devised in individual and group training workshops. The emphasis has always been on application of the individuals’ discoveries to daily life on earth. As a result self-sufficiency is developed by members, making them independent of either myself or the group. Within the limits set for this report I can only close with a few examples of the outcome of this training. In 1962 I was approached by two self-employed teachers of mentally and emotionally disturbed children to help them start their own school for “emotionally disturbed” children, based on the courses they had taken with me on Communication, Learning, Control.

Anonymous

Dear Pat, I am going to start off with the science criteria for accepting new data. 1: The new facts should not invalidate established proven truth. 2: The new data must explain existing data as well as take knowledge further. 3: New procedures must be capable of producing the predicted result when carried out by independent experiment which faithfully follows the stated instructions. 4: Where more than one explanation to account for the observed phenomena exists that which is simplest is preferred, providing it accounts for all the facts. (This is known as Occam’s Razor after the scientist who proposed it.) I will be interested to hear, when you have absorbed all that, whether you agree with my thinking that opening procedure satisfies these criteria. Next, I will write down a little parable I devised some 25 or so years ago which, I hope, conveys a basic point. Anyway, when you have read it, I will be grateful to hear your understanding of it so I can judge whether I really have conveyed its message. I am only too aware of the problem all symbols inherently suffer from, which is, that there is little guarantee that everybody will see the same meaning in it as everybody else. It is so even with words. I always remember being at exhibition of paintings by local artists o modern art. I was looking at one of them, when a woman and her teenage daughter approached it. The girl turned to her mother and said “Eeeh! Mum what is it, scrambled egg?!” I must say she had a point and gone one up on me, as well, because I could not make head or tail of it. After that I began to feel hungry and went home. A woodsman was busy near a path through a forest cropping fire wood, when he heard the sound of a galloping horse. He turned to see a rider urging the animal to further speed. He cried out to the rider, “friend, you are in a mighty hurry, what’s the rush?” The rider shouted back, as he sped past, “I am already at the city gates important for the horse to bring my body!” This brings me to the most important part of the letter, referring to your analogy at the end of your report on opening procedure. It is such a beautiful and urgent message and I feel I did not pay sufficient tribute to it when we were talking on the phone about the report. It is the crowning point of an already outstanding presentation of a personal experience; so direct, poignant and clearly pictured – on a level, in my estimation, with the great traditional works of art by the famous masters of painting. Congratulations again! I think I mentioned that I had shown it to another lady I was working with because her childhood experiences suffered from the inverse of yours, namely, she was an only child completely smothered by overindulgence by both mother and grandmother. She was feeling so hemmed in, within herself that she had found herself in a state, for many years, of struggling to breathe – always tight chested and panting for air and space. I was working with her to day after I received your letter and she said how much she was moved and helped by reading it. I have Photostatted a copy of your report and sent it off to the psychiatrist I mentioned and I am waiting for a response with interest. Another professional person in this field read it and asked to make a copy of it on her copier to send to an acquaintance she felt I could help with the opening procedure. So, you are already causing ripples in the stagnant pond! I do so appreciate your very effective support. With much love Doug.

Anonymous

10 Sept 66 Dear Pat, We have just come to the end of the second day of the retreat. Already I feel the benefit of it. More about it when we meet again. During these two days I have experienced a sense of your presence here with me. I feel sure you must have been thinking of me then. In a way, it makes me feel that this is not just my retreat but yours as well. Somehow, we seem to have been drawn together just about the proper time to re-establish the link between us. I hope you have been able to find the tape and the blockbuster useful and beneficial through using them regularly. I hope you have. It is the only way to acquire the full skill to use them to maximum affect. Also, I am dying to hear how you have got on with the latest one viz. being nothing etc. That will have to wait until I can either phone or meet with you. I must stop now because it is just before lights out. Love, bless you! Doug P.S. I havn’t pinched this envelope, a monk gave it to me!

Anonymous

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