(1935 – 2021)
‘We are intricate beings living in an environment with nature and other beings, on a planet, in a universe which is a part of multiple universes and on and on… Seeing ourselves in this context of the larger picture broadens our understanding of who we are. The word Gestalt means “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. This implies that the whole has an essence, which we can sense and feel if we are tuned into it. Each being has an essence, each organization, group, family and environment as well. So often when we live in the fast lane, experiencing others as “labels”, understanding only in “sound bites”, we miss the essence of everything.
By understanding our essence, we become clearer about “the me who is aware”, who we are deep inside, under the layers of personality, education, training and socialization. Knowing, honoring and listening to this inner being is the most important thing we can do. And then many of our concerns will fall into place.
This holistic approach I follow implies “a way of life”, which I’ve often said is the case with Gestalt, which has similarities to indigenous ways and larger philosophical systems. Finding balance in the here and now, personally and in our families and organizations, helps keep us alive and healthy as we move forward during these unusual times.’
Cyndy Sheldon (https://www.cyndysheldon.com/)
With sorrow, I have to announce the death of Cyndy Sheldon on 11th May 2021, age 85. She had been ill with leukaemia for a while, but continued to teach till the very end using the internet technology to her advantage, as she observed in a letter to one of her close colleagues, Selma Ciornai, who was earlier her student and client: ‘I am very sick leukemia or related illness…. I’m ok leaving soon, and actually had the best class I’ve taught in years yesterday with one of my two zoom classes. I have found wonderful ways to work on zoom, which I thought was impossible;’ ([email protected]) During a few months prior to her death, she has recorded many interviews spreading the word of egalitarian relationship from gestalt therapy perspective and her beloved Gestalt Institute of San Francisco that she helped to set up – interviews continue to be available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/NqtelLcddMo,
https://youtu.be/YE0ipe1pDaU, https://youtu.be/9_fRRUyS9qw, and the interview with
Heather Anne Keyes for Humans of Gestalt, https://youtu.be/mnD1bylMF2Q.
I have not met Cyndy personally, but since reading two of her books, Gestalt as a Way of Life and Don’t Tell Me What To Do…Ask Me!, I have made a strong connection with her; both themes of egalitarian relationship and gestalt as a way of life spoke to my own sense of gestalt therapy; in fact she put in words what I was feeling all along. The last and very profound message was her recognition of the role that same-sex relationships played in making couple relating more egalitarian. I respect her statement enormously, as even nowadays there are only a very few authors who credit gays where credit’s due; and she was one of them!
Another thing that I respect Cyndy for was that even if “an OLD VOICE in Gestalt Therapy” as she used to call herself, she had remained interested in all the innovations that were happening around her, and that she didn’t keep it just to herself, but instead had a habit of saying it aloud, like in the message to the New Gestalt Voices, ‘I am an OLD VOICE in Gestalt Therapy, but am very interested in what you are doing. I’d love to be kept informed!’
As Michael Vincent Miller stated in his tribute for Gestalt News & Notes, ‘Cyndy Sheldon was a woman with a large and generous soul and thereby a woman thoroughly capable of loving others. It always mattered to her to give herself to an effort to bring out the best in the people she worked with, whether friends, patients, students, or colleagues. Because of these qualities she played an important role in people’s lives wherever she lived and worked. She certainly played a dramatic role in my life. When I first met Cyndy, she was still Cyndy Werthman, meaning that she was still married to my best friend at the time, Carl Werthman.
This was in Berkeley, California, where I was a graduate student in English at U.C. Berkeley, and Carl was on his way to teaching sociology at the same university. It was the 1960s, and Carl and I were both very involved in the politics of the student left on and off the campus fighting for civil rights and an end to the war in Vietnam. Cyndy was up to something quite different, I didn’t understand what exactly, until one day she said to me that I had to experience the work of this extraordinary man who was training her in an unusual form of psychotherapy. When Cyndy was excited by something, she wanted to share it. The extraordinary man turned to be Fritz Perls, and Cyndy’s training turned out to be taking place in a group of Northern California therapists that Perls was teaching both in San Francisco and Esalen. Somehow Cyndy managed to get permission for me to participate, which I did including a turn on the famous “hot seat.” And that was it for me. From that time forward I was headed for a different life than I had thus far envisioned. […] And that has been my career for more than forty years, thanks to Cyndy! Alas, Cyndy, I saw you very infrequently after you moved to Arizona and Washington, and I moved first to Boston and finally to New York – only here and there we met a few times at conferences. I think I never thanked you deeply enough to really let you know that you changed my life in such a fundamental way. Now I can only thank you by letting everyone else know who reads this and the other memorial writings telling the world what a significant and influential life you lived.’
(Michael Vincent Miller New York, NY and Santa Fe, NM)
So, who was Cyndy Sheldon? She was a social work graduate in Berkeley California, who was impacted by the 1960s students’ revolution and working with many young military men at the Navy Hospital during Vietnam war who became seriously disturbed. Later she trained in gestalt therapy with Fritz Perls and Jim Simkin, and at the suggestion of Perls, co-founded the Gestalt Institute of San Francisco in 1967, where she taught until 1990, She had extensive training in family and couples therapy, using a model developed amongst others by Virginia Satir. In the 1990s she was drawn to Arizona’s spiritual center, Sedona, and the Navajo Nation, where she worked at the Indian Health Center for over a decade. Here she helped bring Navajo culture back to the people through traditional wellness conferences, promoted the hiring of medicine men and women at the health centers, and created opportunities for Navajo elders to feel useful to one another and the younger generations. After moving to Washington she continued to teach Gestalt therapy in the US and abroad, which she had done altogether for almost 50 years. What an exceptional person she was! RIP
Cyndy’s virtual memorial service will be held on August 1, 2021. Please rsvp via email at [email protected] and a link and password for the virtual Memorial will be sent to you. An in-person gathering will also be held at a future date, to be determined.
The excerpts of the Michael Vincent Miller’s tribute was used with the author’s permission.