My father, Manfred Halpern was born 90 years ago today, on Feb 1, 1924. He died on Jan 14, 2001, leaving a legacy of his work as a professor of transformation.
In honor of this guide, who has so much to offer the rapid changes of our time, I posted quotes and images from his theory all week on Facebook (several were shared multiple times, which he would have thought was neat) and taught a 90 minute session on his life and work this afternoon after the farmers market. A small handful of us spread out on the green space near the columns on the shore of Lake Merritt in Oakland, and got into some fascinating explorations of transformational relationships.
It was a profoundly heart opening experience to see the work come to life again amongst my cohort, and to see myself able to hold the balance between the shadows and complexities of the man as a husband and father with the insight and light that his work continues to bring. I welcome all ripples of understanding, justice, healing and transformation my father inspires.
I’ve included the quotes, photos, and a brief bio below. I don’t normally teach him directly, I just kinda live his teachings into my life and art. But I suppose you only get one posthumous 90th birthday celebration, and I think he would have appreciated this.
A brief dad bio runs like this: Manfred Halpern was born on Feb 1, 1924 in Mittweida, Germany, to Athiest Jewish parents with whom he escaped to New York in 1937, the same year a concentration camp opened in his hometown. He went back back to Germany as a US Battalion Scout in WWII, and ran all over the Middle East for the US State Dept in the ’50s trying to prevent the CIA from supporting coups. He escaped Washington for Princeton University and raised four kids, but by the late ’60s began birthing and teaching an overarching theory of transformation with which he wrangled the rest of his life. The ’70s brought the love of one of his grad students (my mother) and the ’80s brought me! He died in Jan 2001, surrounded by his family and his garden, but with his manuscript unpublished. The book, “Transforming the Personal, Political, Historical and Sacred in Theory and Practice” finally arrived in physical form in 2009.
“Transformation is a process of participating in creation so that we may give birth to something fundamentally new that is also fundamentally better. However committed we may be to preserving what we have inherited from the past, trying to solidify and preserve any particular human situation becomes always an ever more costly fantasy. Instead, we can nourish any experience which is already fruitful, loving, and just by asking and learning what is needed for its persistent renewal. We live in a cosmos of continuous creation.” “No grand strategy is relevant now. As we build affinity groups and new political networks, each unique person who hopes to become a full participant in transformation counts, and so do those who are simply baffled. We need to face each other as actual, unique persons and to help each other see ourselves also as manifestations of limiting stories which we still uncritically accept and enact. Even as our understanding of the nature and power of the underlying stories that move us grows, we need to respond to all where we are here and now. There is no other place or time to begin.”
“In transformative love we tune in to each other’s creative work, deeply caring about what emerges from each of us and keen to discover how we can – each in our unique way – support one another both critically and constructively. In transforming love we can discover the constraints of our present culture (or within each of the different cultures in which each of us grew up) and explore together how we can transform – and thus free and enrich – all four faces of our being. We also help each other discover and freely, creatively practice both the masculine and feminine in all the archetypal dramas which our current culture – under masculine domination – has shaped one-sidedly. Our bodily containers and personal uniqueness will continue to shape our performances, but we do not accept barriers to experience imposed by others or our own past.”
“Belief molds our practice and secures it against any fundamental questioning. Faith, by contrast, means freeing ourselves to risk trust in an experience during which, with care and compassion, we keep testing our hope, and understanding that we can participate in turning it into an experience of transformation. It is not a question of just taking a chance, or of converting and being saved, or of a revolution finally consolidated.”
“It is vital for each of us to contribute especially what our talent and need and understanding awaken and energize in us to do. We may well concentrate on creating new photographs or poems that open us to new visions and insights, composing a newly liberating musical rhythm, freeing ourselves of a relationship we discover had enchained us, tuning in more deeply on the sacred, or becoming a political activist on a particular issue. The question is not how big a change, but how fundamental a change. In the service of transformation we also need to understand and attend to our interconnections (or our still crucially missing gaps) with the stories of others. Otherwise our own contribution cannot make much of a difference to the quality of our shared lives.” “I am not a believer in any religious dogma. I find it equally impossible to bring myself to believe that human beings and their bodies have come into being as a result of random changes tested solely by the survival of the fittest. The human species has the capacity not only to choose between radically different ways of life, but also to participate in bringing new archetypal stories into being and others to their end, creating or destroying their concrete manifestations as well as their underlying structures. Bodily vessels, however, can create or destroy only according to already established structures and dynamics. Our body can reform itself in various modes, but like the butterfly, only according to already established stages. Yet, there are evolutionary exceptions. Whales decided to leave the land and live in the sea. Certain apes, but not others, decided to walk straight on their legs, as part of a new beginning. How can we – how did we – participate in fundamentally altering the interaction between the faces of our being and the archetypal structures and dynamics that shape our bodies? Our being’s greatest freedom and capacity stems from its ability to transform. We’d do well to tune into the experience of our body as a face of the sacred – as is our biosphere, as is everything that exists in the cosmos. The sacred is incomplete without such manifestations. Our biosphere, reaching from the depths of the earth and oceans to the outer reaches of the atmosphere, is the physical environment and interaction we share with all other living and inert entities on the earth. We can ignore it, or relate to only fragments of it, or try to dominate it. But our very capacity to breathe, to eat, to have room for being – to live – depends more and more upon our recognizing our responsibilities as partners within this ecology.”
“I have had this experience many times. My mind goes blank whenever I wait for the arrival of what moves on its own time beyond my control, for that is, symbolically, what slow elevators, municipal bus lines, and creative new visions have in common. Yet, though I have emptied myself, I am not nothing. Our conscious and conscientious breaking into emptiness – our capacity to say no, to understand why we say no, to turn our negation into actual practice, to be still – possesses an essential form. It exists as the middle passage between two stories. What is crucial is our arrival at the point where we know that we do not know. When we empty ourselves we need not lose the loving desire to transform. When Socrates says again and again “I am ignorant of everything except love” he knows that even at the moment when we and the sacred are silent, our being’s essential capacity for transformation remains.”
“Our task is not to capture the state, but to build linked communities that can substitute for the bureaucratic, hierarchic powers that be. That will take time, but surely not as many centuries as it took to develop the nation-state. Affinity groups constitute the most basic and most pervasive social tissue of a transforming society. People in small groups help each other most concretely, face to face, with sympathy and understanding to go through the experience of breaking and recreating to enrich each other’s lives. They interconnect with other such groups to constitute the nuclei of what we can and need to do together.
These are the people we feel closest to, with whom we live every day, with whom we share our lives. We experience affinity in part for reasons we cannot put entirely into words, in part because all of us in the group care deeply about a particular aspect or cross-section of life – feminism, art, ecology, racism, education, the poor. Many people are likely to belong to several, sharing different deep concerns with others. Springing from these affinity groups are various larger networks – crucially among them task forces which gather experts in a problem and those effected by the problem to work together toward solutions, as well as radically transformative political parties supported by membership dues and not by money from already powerful elites.”
“The most powerful authoritarian constraint in a democratic liberal society is the drama of capitalism. The reduction of all relationships to the struggle for power, the concern with competence over capacity, capitalism produces ever increasing fragmentations and inequalities, yet people in the service of incoherence seldom discuss justice. All power and all victories are temporary, competition for power and success constantly reopens. But when the powerful worry about risks and experience losses, they do not discuss the costs of this way of life or who bears the costs, and certainly never it’s archetypal dynamics. Not to discuss the underside in every sense of that term reflects more than prudence. To live in an emanational relationship to this drama, to treat this way of life as the only possibility, prevents us from analyzing its deepest shaping powers and diminishes our capacity to see as human beings those whom we have succeeded in pushing into the shadows of our stage.”
“Many of us may come to feel that all we know and cherish is being attacked when we start to see that the ways of life in which most of us have lived for almost all of history are by their very nature fragile (however successful our controls appear to work at the moment) and anxiety-generating (hence the continual emphasis on power and control). These ways constitute only arrested fragments of the core creative drama of life, they are fundamentally unstable, and from our present perspective what may have a fruitful capacity looks like a dire threat. A fruitful and reassuring new framework would be one that allows for increasing agency and attunement to the availabilities of wholeness at each moment. Luckily, every single reader has already lived long enough to be able to test this theory against their own experiences, generating the possibility of confidence and clarity with each attempt. It is this way we generate faith in an unknown future.”
“This work is addressed to the pregnant, to those wondering about the risks and joys of pregnancy, and to those in the process of giving birth. Anyone who reserves theory for the ears of the impregnators or midwives is not a true guide of transformation, but is likely striving to create a new elite. If we tell people exactly how to collaborate in new ways (or worse, coerce them) so that they strive for new forms of justice, love, and compassion without opening space together that yields links to their own deepest unique source of creative generative being, we deny them full participation in a transforming society. We cannot manufacture transformation. We can learn to tune into this nonlinear process at work as the pregnancy is still developing in the womb and to move caringly in the midst of each hope and pain even before there is any glimmer of an outcome. Outcomes may flutter forever in the future. Births emerge as an expression of the present.”