Profile: Robert Waterman Founder Southwestern College

Arthur Panaro - April 3, 2013

"The mission of Southwestern College is Transforming Consciousness Through Education"

I first met Robert Waterman in his office at Southwestern College sometime in the year 1991. He had grown the college from its early days as Quimby Metaphysical Library in Alamogordo, New Mexico. One of the mottos of the college is “Loving is the experience of life. Life is the curriculum of living.” I am not sure that Waterman composed this, but it sounds like he did.

I had a question for him: “Would I study psychology and commit to a profession of giving therapy to others?” There was a half-formed and even feared question in my mind which I did not pose: “Does preparing to do therapy and counseling mean that I and my classmates would self-disclose and self-analyze?” My hunch was correct. At Southwestern College, classroom seats were set up in a circle for purposes of dialoguing and, for example, the psychopathology course included one paper regarding if and how we saw our own unwellness.

I had completed a course, “Foundations of Counseling”, at the University of New Mexico branch on the campus of Santa Fe Community College. Still I searched for schooling that would be innovative and newer than what I had been used to. I was seeking academics that would be self-reflective and experiential. I found these elements at Southwestern College: “Transforming Consciousness Through Education.”

This meeting with Waterman was happening in the midst of one of the most transformative (there's that word) venture in my life. Yes, I was right on schedule—the mid-life career change. I posed my question to him: “I am trying to figure what college will be right for me. . .” Among other things, he said: “Just look at where you keep showing up.” As a solution this sounded obvious. But then I realized that this was an astute and artless idea and very practical. I am reporting his reply because it has stayed in my mind since that day, and prefigured more such knowing encounters to come.

I left the interview less doubtful and enrolled in “Art for Personal Transformation” with Rosvita Botkin and “Psychodrama” with Kate Cook. These courses proved to be remarkably modern, creative and stimulating. By fall I was matriculated full time and graduated with an MA in Counseling in 1994. It worked out very well for me.

Here are more of the high moments I shared with Waterman, with some ideas that he sparked in me.

Los Dichos (Sayings) de Waterman

1. “When in doubt, assume you're right.” This sound presumptuous, but would be just the right thing for someone too agreeable, people-pleasing and self-effacing.

2. Unformed flashes of thought are essentially forms of the questions 'Who am I? What do I want?'

3. Chaos, when it comes around you, is trying to wake you up to a higher order of experience within yourself. That is it's role.

4. Two things needed for your righteous path: the fuel to get there and right intention. Life is here to remind us of what we want to resolve and to fulfill. Your life is resolved when you have the individual experience of universal love. Always ask love what to do no matter how many times you forget.

5. What is your spiritual exercise? Is it loving God or worrying? Is it complaining or appreciating? There is a whole collective of worry out there in the world and if your spiritual exercise is worry, God will unconditionally and lovingly give you all the worry you want. But if loving is your work-out program, God will point you toward your loving. Rather than eat of the worry, eat of the forgiveness and self-forgiveness. The banquet of goodness is set before you. Every scripture on the planet says so. All you need to do is attend.

6. People have not been, nor are they going to be perfect so that you don’t need to worry or complain. Forgive the transgressions of others, and those you have done against yourself. If you have not been entirely skillful with people, and if your intentions were not always quite fully from love, it was pretty close to love. The problems of others are not your problems. They are God's problems. So say to God, "God here are your problems. You solve them." Then after all the worry and complaining, the last thing to say is: "God bless you. I love you. Please forgive me. I forgive myself."

7. Two of Waterman's most potent formularies for self healing are: “I forgive myself for believing __________________ . I forgive myself for forgetting ___________.” (fill in the blanks)

8. Question to Waterman: “How do we get the way we are?” People told you things and you believed them, he answered. This left me somewhat dazed, but the simplicity and depth of it was stunning. Many times we carry negative messages about ourselves way longer than we need to and unconsciously to boot.

9. Question to Waterman: “How did the self-proclaimed, most high metaphysical structure (the Church) become so flawed?” They stopped moving from Spirit and went to power.

10. Once, I questioned Waterman regarding the mystery of “victims”. Why do people suffer at the hands of others? He responded with an idea that is nothing, if not a Zen koan. “There is victimization. There is no victim.”

I interpret Waterman as follows. First, “No victim” does not mean denying, minimizing or making light of what happened. By no means is it: “Oh, get over it," one of the worst things anybody would ever want to hear.

Rather “no victim” is an encouragement to live beyond the past event. That one sees one's self as a victim can arise from continuing to “hang out” in the mind with the trauma as one's identity (this happened to me . . .this is who I am)  searching, perhaps unproductively, for justice or revenge long after, in some cases, the perpetrator is untraceable or dead.

Yes, when the wrong-doers are addressable, do pursue redress of grievances, even by litigation when warranted. If therapy is indicated, the trauma may be single incident accident, act of nature, or assault and battery; or early childhood attachment dysregulation along with complex, cumulative trauma by care-givers.

The goal is healing and going forward in life as a “victor” as much as one can, and drop “victim." Freud put it this way, rather crisply : "...much will be gained if we succeed in transforming your hysterical misery into common unhappiness. With a mental life that has been restored to health, you will be better armed against that unhappiness.” ("Studies in Hysteria", translated and edited by James Strachey)

In “The Postwar Attitude Adjustment” by Jim Rendon (The New York Times Magazine 3/25/12), there is a marvelous account of “post-adversity growth.” This de-emphasizes “trauma” and “disorder.” Rendon et. al. collected the characteristics of veterans with severe injuries, many of whom transcended their war horrors

Watermen went on to say that victimhood is not the basis of one's importance. “It's not about you and your saga. It's about you and your relationship to God.”

11. In a Jungian moment, I once showed Waterman a still photo from the film “Andrei Rublev” by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. In the background of the picture, at the far end of a darkening hallway in a medieval monastery, is a penitent on his knees, reaching toward a monk in the foreground who has taken a severely rejecting stance. His comment was, “Is that you pleading with yourself?”

I've been around Zen enough to know when the sensei has wielded the “keisaku” (or encouragement stick, a flat wooden stick or slat used during meditation to remedy sleepiness or lapses of concentration).

Thank you, Robert Waterman, for some great moments and fond, humorous memories.

The mission of Southwestern College is Transforming Consciousness Through Education. Consciousness, as understood at Southwestern College, is the capacity and willingness to live life with intentionality and the highest possible level of awareness regarding our personal, social and spiritual purpose for being here. Higher consciousness or awareness creates a capacity for enhanced decision-making and resourcing in our lives, which in turn supports the over-arching aim of all helping profession activity—empowerment.”

The college's philosophy: "We hold that true agents of transformation will naturally embrace a commitment to transforming their own consciousness in order to help others. To that end, our first year curriculum is a deep journey into, and engagement of, the student’s authentic self and life path. The two-quarter sequence Psychology of Consciousness (a signature course at Southwestern) builds the experiential base and paradigm for engaging deeply the content of the core curriculum classes in a unique and profound way that develops transformational leaders.” (offering MA in Counseling and Art Therapy/Counseling)

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The Power of Nothing: Interview with a Modern Mystic by Kate Latimer
Santa Fe Monthly p 24  December 2008