Part 1 – meeting Heimler


About the Title

Taking the Tablets is the title given to a paper delivered to the 2nd International HSF Conference in Old Jordan’s, 1992. For want of a better title I share it as exemplifying much of my life’s relationship with John Heimler and HSF.

Before I Begin

How many defining moments are there in any given lifetime? I have never sat down and enumerated them; an interesting exercise to undertake one day maybe. I doubt they are more than a handful or so. For me, a first kiss that sealed a lifetime partnership would certainly be among them: one of those rapturous highs. But so too can the opposite figure: Like that event, now 45 years ago, when as a young minister of 30 or so, I floundered listening to the troubles of a married man. ‘Not waving but drowning’ would describe us both as in our different worlds we flayed around in choppy waters. Inadequacy is the word that springs to mind as I recall that time when this member of my congregation opened up to me about the difficulties he was facing. Beyond offering a sympathetic ear and compassionate heart I could give him nothing.

I was as confused and at sea and as out of my depth as he was. Had I dived in to attempt to rescue him we could both have drowned in a bewilderment of feeling and confusion. I scrambled to the shore and threw him a lifebelt leaving him to pull himself out as best he could.

To me this was not good enough. What use a ministry if that was all it could offer? Years previously as an Ordinand to the ministry I had received cursory guidance – all part of pastoral concerns. Later I had joined with fellow clergy in Clinical Theology which used Jesus Christ as the psychic ideal type for humanity. Neither of these equipped me sufficiently for that bewildering encounter.

As if in answer to a prayer, within a few months of this I attended a course on leadership and management run by Slough Technical College and designed especially for clergy. It was a godsend that led in turn to a course in counselling. At last I could really help him and others who, like him, found themselves writhing on a pin.

And that was my path into HSF. What was yours?


A night to remember

I was with my wife, Pam. We were on our way to Wales where next day I would be conducting the funeral of my grandfather.

But here we were in Slough, sitting at the feet of the great man himself, someone who in more ways than one would supplant the image of my recently deceased relative. My grandfather was revered, admired and respected. A professional artist, he had been to the front as a war artist in the First War and an Air Raid Warden in the Second; married three times and fathered 6 children. But who was he compared to this poet who had endured the Holocaust and emerged from Auschwitz, and who would also in his lifetime experience three marriages and fatherhood (albeit but 2 offspring)?

After 5 evening sessions learning the basics of Human Social Functioning, we were to meet on the 6th occasion its Founder, no less than Eugene (commonly known as John) Heimler himself.

Happily, I find what I had long forgotten: an account of that night written up in a publication about Heimler and BASF…[1]

“I am to be taking my grandfather’s funeral the next day. Unbeknown to me this is just half way through my 13 years as a pastoral minister. With my wife, travelling to the funeral in Wales, we stop off at Slough Technical College where I have been attending a Licence to Use Course on the Scale run by David Savill (who, in those early years, probably had a hand in nearly everyone’s training in this country). Professor Eugene Heimler is to address the class that has been learning his method.

He talks first about Calgary and Seattle and how the teaching of HSF was beginning in New Zealand and Germany. It sounds like an expanding world-wide movement.

Then he points out that at this level of learning we are not being trained in treatment, but given ideas about it. Treatment in any event is really self-treatment. Our task with a person will be:

“…to create a disciplined framework for a client to examine himself with what he has got – not with what we have got – and in this to use both conscious and subconscious material.”

Provided we go along with this idea of self-healing, the person will have the urge to act as a result of his self-recognition. The impact of this will come later – in his living.

He also talks about satisfaction and frustration from the past carrying their patterns in the present, about “normal” balances between the two, and the use of the past (good or bad) by a person, and how one person can select the bad from the past and another the good:

“So the past is affected by the present – how we see it – and this will depend on events in the present.”

In the questions and answers that follow, Heimler claims that honest answers will be given in the Scale provided it is presented properly. Usually this will take place after an initial interview whereby some relationship has been set up. If it is eyewash, it is to himself not to another, so who is eye-washed? There is a question of seeing straight – for it is possible to lie unconsciously to oneself. But this does not deny the fact that the person can derive a genuine satisfaction as shown by the answers. And this can be as true of a man who imagines that he is Napoleon as anyone else.

Finally there are thoughts on the Scale as a sharing mechanism, its real value being in the spirit of the thing – and a hint that there is a danger if it is not used properly. A note in parenthesis states: “…but no real elucidation of what this means”. As time passes, this warning message will recur repeatedly – yet never to be substantiated in concrete terms.

It is my notes that tell me all this; my memory simply records a rather smartly dressed, fairly large and rotund a figure, with a curious streak of blond in his dark hair, all adding up to a powerful presence.

What others made of that evening I have little idea. Pam’s experience and my own differed somewhat and over the years I have had to acknowledge that in many ways hers was the more accurate estimate of this survivor of the Camps which would somewhat temper my initial idolisation of this hero figure.

But that night in December 1970 I bathed in his light, thankful for the gifts he had brought me; gifts which would run as a thread throughout the rest of my life.


[1] “Fragmenta Vitae – John Heimler & The British Lecturers in HSF “ – In Distillations collection 1992

June 2014
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Steve Regis