Tributes: Paul Rebillot. May 19th 1931 – February 11th 2010

Editorial note: The American psychotherapist Paul Rebillot first visited Ireland in the 1980’s at the invitation of the Irish Foundation for Human Development and from 1991 until he retired in 2008 he led one or two workshops here every year. From 1999 to 2003 Paul ran an Advanced Training program in Ireland. Paul’s way of working was unique. At base he was a Gestalt psychotherapist but his Gestalt practice was enhanced and taken to a new level by the wide range of influences that he brought to bear on it – many of them coming from his background as an academic, writer, actor, producer, director and musician. : Paul Rebillot’s article ‘The Power of Story and Myth – The Genesis of an Approach to Healing’ is republished in this issue of Inside Out.

Paul Rebillot first came to Ireland in the autumn of 1982 with his partner Stanford Eugene Cates. They came at the invitation of Paddy Walley who was the first person in Ireland to bring Americans over to introduce the work of the Human Potential Movement to Ireland. At that first workshop held in the Peace and Reconciliation Centre in Glencree, there were thirty participants who were to experience Paul’s creative genius and the ritual structures he began to develop in 1973 with ‘The Hero’s Journey’. Nuala Ahern, who was to later become the Green Party MEP was on that workshop and remembers Paul as a lovely man whose work was beautifully simple and transformative, being distilled from so much knowledge of theatre and therapy. In those early days Paul was already emphasising ‘transformation through ritual enactment’ to develop personal growth.

In March 1984, Alison Hunter and Una Maguire attended a month’s training with Stan Grof at Esalen, Big Sur, California on his breathwork techniques. Here they met Paul Rebillot who came to give a day’s work on the Hero’s Journey, skimming the surface as it usually took a week! From this meeting Alison, who founded Amethyst in 1982, invited Paul and Stanford over to Amethyst, where, in October 1986, they ran the workshop ‘Death and Resurrection’.

It was at a time when therapy training centres were beginning to be set up in Ireland and there was much to be discussed. It was a privilege that Paul and Stanford stayed with us and Paul was such amazing company; interesting, funny and caring, amongst his many other qualities. One incident really stays in my memory when we all went out to dinner in the Guinea Pig in Dalkey. They both had not one plate, but two plates each of oysters – the laughter, fun and gaiety was unrivalled as they slipped the oysters down their throats! Coming from California they were desperate for seafood and certainly enjoyed their dinner that night.

No-one could fail to love Paul and his zest for life and living- and his enthusiasm to help others to transform and enrich their lives. His grief when Stanford died in 1988 was unbearable for him but he was able to allow himself time to grieve before continuing his work.

I found his work fascinating and integrative, simple and creative, from a mind that really had integrated his own life experiences. Being involved as a psychotherapist and regression psychotherapist myself it was good to see Paul assist people through deep work, but not in a heavy psychotherapeutic way. My admiration of him was that he had done the work on himself. He experienced his own spiritual crisis at the beginning of the seventies and knew what people themselves were experiencing in their lives. He developed his work on ‘The Hero’ and facing the ‘Demon conflict’ in order for others to experience the process of integration. It was authentic and genuine, and the safety was that he had been through the experience himself. No-one who has not experienced their own work in this way can do this with others – and I really admired Paul for being such a great teacher whose skills developed from his wealth of knowledge that emerged from his own life experiences.

Being a great teaching for me, it gave me confidence also to go forward and use my own life experiences in developing workshops with others. Unfortunately after these early days of contact I was not in the country when Paul was here, but I always knew when he was. When I was in San Francisco, he was in Los Angeles or Europe. We were not meant to meet again but did speak from time to time on the telephone. Paul’s philosophy was that if the call comes from inside, the way opens in front of us – and that call gives people the opportunity to listen deeply to find the truth of their own essence in their unfolding. Paul will be greatly missed but he had the wisdom to pass his work onto his students and graduates who now continue his work with responsibility but a sense of pride and humility that they were trained by Paul Rebillot. May he rest in peace.

Shirley Ward is an international workshop leader, psychotherapist and trainer. She was a founder member of IAHIP in 1992 and lives and works in Amethyst, Killaloe, Co. Clare.

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I first met Paul Rebillot in 1986 in a French Chateau.  With his partner Stanford Cates he was conducting the therapeutic structure that he called Death and Resurrection in which I was a participant. I had heard of his classic rite of passage structure The Hero’s Journey with which he had already visited Ireland and I, on a career break and looking for adventure, found myself in France asking Paul if he would take me on as an apprentice. Stanford had been taught in San Francisco by an Irish nun, and as a result had a soft spot for all things Irish, so with Stanford on-side I managed to join a small group of apprentices who were being trained by Paul. Then followed one of the most significant and life-changing years of my life as I travelled around Europe apprenticed to one of the masters of psychotherapeutic structures.

In his creative genius Paul wove together a variety of influences – his intimate  knowledge and experience of the theatre, his experience of Gestalt therapy,  his understanding and love of myth and the work of Joseph Campbell, his love of music, his understanding of the body and movement, his talent as an actor and his wide interests – to produce works which opened the door for us to heal and to live more fully in body, mind, heart and soul. His work was extraordinarily liberating, imaginative and energetic.

At first I thought Paul was some kind of magician, not seeing the hard work in the craft of creating his structures, but enjoying the work of art that I had stepped into. As I got to know the structures more intimately – The Lover’s Journey, The Demon Should, The Dream Tarot, to name but a few – I began to appreciate how they worked. They addressed all the various dimensions of being human: the physical, the emotional, the intellectual and the spiritual. Each structure, complete in itself, invited us to experience some aspect of being human in the here and now and to allow for the possibility of change which is, of course, one of the functions of artistic endeavour. As an artist Paul chose with care and meaning every movement, mood, story, connection and piece of music, so that they enhanced and challenged the here and now experience and invited us to imagine new possibilities for ourselves.

It is our good fortune in this country that Mary Mangan and Fergus Lalor undertook to organise and promote Paul’s work here for the last twenty years. As a result hundreds of people have experienced ‘the touch of the master’s hand’. I imagine that the therapeutic landscape of Ireland has been significantly marked by Paul Rebillot and his experiential workshops. Paul used to say that the Irish psyche was very available to his work – certainly the demand for places on his workshops was always very keen.

As much as I admired Paul’s creativity and therapeutic skill, it was Paul’s humanity that I remember most strongly, his compassion, his sensitivity, his availability. I was always amazed at the amount of  respect and trust he had for and in each individual, accepting where each one was at in relation to the workshop process. Race, nationality, age, sex – he celebrated the differing responses to his work, trusting in the integrity of the structure to enable each person find his or her own truth. Even in large groups he followed each person as they journeyed through the process, engaging one or other of us with an encouraging word or a humorous aside when we needed the contact, making sure each one had enough help and support to complete whatever work we were doing.

Paul’s gifts were many, his wonderfully resonant voice, his expressive eyes, his humour, his gift for story-telling, his strength and gentleness. I know that many of us were touched by his kindness and generosity. Even in advancing years and in failing health he was still present with full attention and all of his available energy, and still showed good humour, patience and care in his work.

As a teacher Paul was generous in passing on his life’s work, patient and encouraging to us his students – but also demanding high standards and attention to detail. Part of his legacy to us was to set up a branch of his School of Gestalt and Experiential Teaching in Ireland and graduates of the School continue to offer his workshops in Ireland.

The rest of Paul’s legacy in Ireland is difficult to quantify but there is no question but that there are very many people whose lives he touched, and who live a more integrated life as a result of the privilege of meeting him. For myself, I find it impossible to say how much he influenced my life. I can only wonder at my good fortune that a young man came to Paris with his bag on his back, like one of the strolling players, to ply his trade in Europe, to enchant us and to help us live more fully.

No doubt Paul is now fulfilling his myth and Dancing with the Gods

Claire Murray IAHIP is a psychotherapist and a trainer. She co-founded and co-directs the Flatstone Institute in Cork. Claire was the first Irish person to train with Paul Rebillot in Europe.

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With his piercingly intelligent blue eyes, his big-chested actor’s clarity and projection of voice, his empathetic chuckle, Paul Rebillot was not a man to be missed in a room. Such attributes might have led many to the seduction of ego-inflation. Paul was not such a man.  Indeed, he was ever alert to the urge in others to attribute to him a false persona of hero, guru, or enlightened one. Paul had found the mature balance between acknowledgement of his considerable gifts, even genius, and, yet, non-identification with them. He was aware of how others might come to adulate him and sought always to prevent such tendencies when he noticed them.

Paul’s gifts were many and he used these gifts for the benefit of the world. Born to parents of Polish and French background, his childhood games, he once recounted, often took him to the basement of the family home. Here he would play for hours with characters created from his own imagination. Seen retrospectively, these dramas in the basement were to symbolically foreshadow a life devoted to the dramas in the deeper human psyche.

Initially, this call to drama followed the ‘upper-world’ pathways in which Paul achieved all the ambitions for success and fame in his early years. By his mid-thirties, the sustenance that these achievements had brought had begun to wane. A life-crisis, described without reserve in his book ‘The Call to Adventure’, led him back again to the basement, this time, to the basement of his own psyche. Returning like Persephone to the upper world Paul, in the years that followed, was to reach understandings that would powerfully inform his later work. Among these were the nature of the archetypes, the role and purpose of mythology, the significance of the Gods and, for himself, a change of direction from theatre as entertainment to theatre as healing. That childhood creativity in the basement now flowered into an adult creativity in the cellar spaces of the collective and individual psyches.

Such work, in the hands of the untrained or the arrogant could lead to damage. That was why Paul insisted on rigorous training before any others could be licenced to conduct his creations. In Paul’s hands, however, these workshops, typically of seven days duration, appeared to move in an easy sequence, leading participants out of the world of daily concerns and into the land of the deeper self. His intention was not to invade but to lead to an encounter. Growth, he believed, came from encounters with unknown or partly known aspects of ourselves, the experiential recognition of these inner figures and the energetic release  ensuing from their acceptance. Many of these figures were archetypal in nature – the Gods of mythology – individually rendered in each human psyche. Paul’s work was concerned with contacting the personal in the universal.

Paul was born to Roman Catholic parents and his mother’s early ambition for him was that he should become a priest. Recalling that early ambition of hers and reflecting on the ‘road less travelled’ along which life guided him, Paul felt that he had, indeed, fulfilled his mother’s wishes for him. If priesthood is to be understood as the task of leading others to the recognition of their own divinity and the creation of ritual structures to support that recognition, then Paul was, indeed, a priest. And in the manner of many who are called to priesthood, Paul led an essentially nomadic life, travelling extensively to European countries, across his American homeland and even to the far East. Those of us who were blessed to have worked closely with him did, indeed, feel that sense of missionary intent in  him. Most importantly, he brought that sense of priesthood to all his workshops – seating each one, usually of seven days duration, in a spiritual context supported by and symbolised by the lighting of the seven-day candle to which a vestal was assigned each morning and which was not extinguished until the final closing moment of the workshop. Each day began and ended with a guided meditation of unusual beauty, a meditation which developed and evolved with the passing days and which embodied a central tenet of Paul’s teaching, that ‘one should always point to the new’.

Paul took his work very seriously, though not in an austere way. One of the joys of being around him was his engaging personality and lack of pretension. He was known, on occasion, to work well past midnight, even when in his seventies and even when an early start was scheduled for the following day. No day ended until he was sure that all participants had been fully cared for. At break times his engaging personality became even more so, telling riveting stories of life’s mishaps or, when prodded, telling jokes which he could deliver with all the actor’s gifts for facial expression, mimickry and gesture.

Paul was an artist. His art was, as in all forms of performance art, created in the moment.  His wonderful creations were not rigidly defined. What participants of Paul’s workshops could not have known was that Paul was constantly adapting and adjusting his processes in response to his intuition of what participants needed at any time. Honouring that fundamental tenet of ‘always pointing to the new’, a workshop day might involve drama, art, gestalt, dance, enactment, meditation, ritual story-telling, massage or other processes devised by his creative mind. Much of his work was supported by music which he had collected over a lifetime from all the world’s traditions.

Paul’s creative accomplishments were seminal in their originality, breadth, focus and outlook.  He created many workshop structures among which the best known are The Hero’s Journey, Death and Resurrection, Owning the Shadow, The Lover’s Journey and Dancing with the Gods. The challenge to continue his work in the manner he wished remains with those who have trained with him over many years and whom he has blessed and licenced to continue his work.

Whether as workshop participant, trainee or friend, those who encountered Paul knew that their lives had been graced. May Paul now know a grace beyond our imagining. Ar dheis Dé agus i gcuideachta anam a mháthar go raibh gean faoi leith aige uirthi go raibh sé. And, to repeat that goodnight wish in Dutch that he so often used at the end of a long workshop day, schlaf lekker, ‘sleep deliciously’.

John Culhane is the principal of a large second-level school in Munster. He is a graduate of Paul Rebillot’s Advanced Training course which ran in Ireland from 1998 to 2003.