By Bill Hale, Jeff Nichols, and Celia Coates
My attention was caught years ago by a friend’s explanation of the purpose for introducing speakers before they address an audience. He said an introduction was more than an opening ritual of praise, it was about offering information that allows us to decide whether the speaker is someone we want to listen to. Although there have already been posts in WINN about Elmer Green, his work will be a central feature in the months ahead and he needs a fuller introduction now.
There were many people who learned from Elmer during the years he and his wife Alyce studied the ability of people to change their own physiology using biofeedback and then, later, in the years when he was involved with teaching and writing about states of consciousness and subtle energies. WINN will be including their experiences beginning this week with Bill Hale and Jeff Nichols who will lead with stories about what made Elmer someone they wanted to listen to. They will tell us something about who he was and what he knew.
Bill Hale begins with a story he calls A Setting-Out-From-Port Date:
In the early fall of 1957, Elmer and Alyce spent a few weeks preparing their sailboat, the Daphne, for a voyage to the Canary Islands from the English port of Falmouth, ultimately sailing on to Florida. Docked beside them was another family who had been in port for months trying unsuccessfully to leave on a lengthy voyage. After weeks of preparation, the family and their boat would be ready to leave, and then a storm would occur and undo part of their work so that they had to start over again.
After becoming aware of this cycle of events, Elmer said that what they needed was a setting out from port date. He explained that they should choose a date, complete the necessary preparations, and then leave on that date regardless of whether there was a storm or not.
The family followed Elmer’s advice. As it happened, the weather was good when their departure day dawned and they set sail, relieved and happy to finally be under way.
In life we can set intentions and be open to the events that come along, or we can stay anchored in anxious caution. In his book, THE OZAWKIE BOOK OF THE DEAD, Elmer wrote this about their sailing trip on the Daphne,
“From the time we started out from Minneapolis, our life was a series of positive synchronicities, at least for Alyce and me. When we didn’t know which way to turn in New York City, where we planned to embark on the Ile de France for Plymouth, England, someone knocked on the car window and gave me directions. And once when the radiator boiled over in stalled traffic by the Holland Tunnel, and I had to stop and raise the hood in six lanes of cars, someone from somewhere appeared with a water pail and filled it. Later, when I drove our old Hudson onto the dock by the Ile de France to unload crates from a U-Haul trailer, which we’d pulled from California, the dock foreman, when he heard we were planning to sail back on our own, came up and asked if he could buy our car. How fortunate!”
Bill Hale was a research subject in the Green’s brainwave biofeedback studies at the Menninger Foundation while he was a college student. He found his own experiences mind-expanding and also saw that biofeedback had a lot of useful clinical applications, so he set an intention that during or after medical school he would spend time in further training with the Greens. He also realized in talking with them that they, “know a lot more than they say” about subjects beyond biofeedback such as meditation and yoga, subjects that also interested Bill. From the first meetings he observed clues in their offices about the things they understood. When he met with Alyce, Bill noticed artifacts from India on her desk that he thought were intriguing. On top of one of the bookshelves in Elmer’s office he saw 15 or more volumes by Aurobindo with titles that included yoga or yogi.
When he later met with Alyce to discuss becoming a clinical trainee at the biofeedback center, a tall man with a Native American choker around his neck walked in and spoke briefly with her. After he left, Alyce said, “I should have introduced you to my son, Doug Boyd.” Bill knew Doug Boyd as the author of ROLLING THUNDER: A Personal Exploration Into the Secret Healing Powers of An American Indian Medicine Man, but he had not known he was part of Alyce and Elmer’s family. Boyd’s work was also supported by the Menninger Foundation. Studying with Elmer and Alyce combined pioneering but practical, down-to-earth research work with far reaching explorations into non-ordinary aspects of life, an approach that kept Bill involved for more than 40 years.
Jeff Nichols first met Elmer Green as he was finishing medical school in 1976. Jeff had become interested in the Human Potential Movement with its focus on positive potential rather than on pathology. Jeff spent some time studying with teachers at the Esalen Institute which had been founded in 1962 as a retreat center with a focus on the mind-body connection and the nature of human consciousness. When he returned to Kansas, he wanted to continue what he’d been learning in California. After he heard of the trip the Greens made to India to validate the unusual abilities of yogis using modern scientific instruments, Jeff volunteered at the Biofeedback Center where Elmer was continuing to validate what yogis could do under more controlled conditions.
He was impressed with Elmer and Alyce because they were showing that ordinary people could change their physiology with intention as the yogis did. He learned later that their long-term goal was to show that intention changes the world around us as well as the world inside us. Biofeedback involved training people to develop their awareness and pointing them in the right direction to master their physical responses, opening the way and shortening the time it took to learn some yogic skills and expand their potential abilities.
After Jeff worked as a volunteer for some time, he undertook further brainwave biofeedback training. He attended clinical meetings that included Elmer and Alyce and was very impressed with their breadth of knowledge. Elmer had the great gift of being able to take esoteric information and talk about it both in scientific terms and in common language. He could talk to both psychiatrists and lay people about “volitional control of internal states” in a way that many people could understand and accept. The focus was on physiological feedback in general not just brainwave biofeedback, and they developed the axiom that, “any physiological variable that can be measured and fed back in real time can be controlled volitionally.”
As Jeff saw the couple, he thought of Elmer as the mind, while Alyce was the heart. She understood that the “unconditional positive regard” taught by Carl Rogers was love, and love could help people improve clinically. Alyce worked with Jeff’s mother who had had rheumatoid arthritis for many years and was treated with cortico-steroids that caused other problems. As she aged, she developed a thinning of the tissues so that when she somehow punctured the skin on her ankle, it wouldn’t heal. Her ability to move was affected.
Alyce taught her to use visualization, an additional way for the body and mind to communicate with each other. Jeff’s mother was a painter with good visualizing skills. (She gave Alyce one of her paintings which was hung in the hallway where you entered the Green’s house.) Encouraged by Alyce, she began to visualize herself dancing, going out the door and then over the hill next to the house they lived in. There she would meet and talk with a being she called “the nut-brown lady.” They would dance together in this way pretty much every day, for about six months. Over time, her wound did heal and she regained some of her mobility which was quite remarkable – no other treatment had worked.
It would be impossible to introduce Elmer without introducing Alyce. Throughout their years at Menninger, Elmer and Alyce did their foundational work as a couple, advancing our understanding of human potential and human consciousness. Elmer then cared for Alyce for years as she traveled through Alzheimer’s which allowed her to teach him about that state of consciousness. After her death, Elmer continued on, leaving the focus on biofeedback behind and moving on to teach lessons learned from the masters of ancient wisdom, lessons that will be in future WINN posts.
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William Hale, M.D., practices psychiatry in Lawrence, Kansas. He was a student of Elmer Green for 44 years. He teaches courses in mindfulness-based stress reduction and works with leaders in Ottawa, Kansas to cultivate a mindful city. He studied Ayurvedic medicine in India.
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeff Nichols, M.D., is a retired physician who specialized in alternative and complementary medicine. He worked in the Voluntary Controls program at the Menninger clinic from 1977 until 1994.
He can be contacted at email@example.com
The image that heads this post is from consciousnessandbiofeedback.org