Article: James Bennett
How the Salisbury Centre Was Birthed
We are all more connected to each other and the world around us, beneath the appearance of things, than we are aware of with our conscious minds alone. Looking back 40 years this is what inescapably emerges as I consider how fortunate I was to find myself in Edinburgh in the early 1970’s. It is a reality most of us do not take enough time to recognize and acknowledge, so caught up do we become in the frantic life that surrounds us and inevitably pulls us in.
What follows is my personal account of how I came to be involved in the birthing of the Centre 40 years ago. I lay no claims that this is the definitive account. It is by its very nature subjective and memories are elusive, so if I have deleted or distorted certain facts, I am open to correction. In the interests of space, I am not able to acknowledge all the people, both living and no longer with us, who played a part in the Centre’s unfolding. We remember them with love and heartfelt gratitude. Also to keep this brief I stop my account before we actually move in, perhaps content for part 2!
In 1971, there was a sense in the imaginal air, at least in the circles I moved in, that Western Civilization as we had known it, would most likely come to an end. This apocalyptic atmosphere was in part the legacy of the Cold War and the Nuclear Age, and its counterpart: the hippie vision of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. It had probably been fueled by the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King in 1968, as well as the intensification of the war in Vietnam, not to mention the break-up of the Beatles in 1970, who for my generation had been the main troubadours if not the ringmasters of the 1960’s youth culture.
With the original promise of psychedelic drugs giving way to an understanding that such mind expanding agents might show a vision, but could not replace the day to day practice required to sustain a spiritual life, more and more people were turning to the mystical traditions of the world, as a way to assist in the birthing of the dawning age. This was before the term “New Age” was applied to what we felt we were participating in. It was in this context of open enquiry, urgency and exploration, that we found ourselves talking about centres of light and calm, oases of meditation and healing that would help guide us through the turbulent and disintegrative times ahead. Such existing centres that I knew about were all in the country, and there was a sense that such places would also be needed in the cities since, according to the myth of the time, these would be the first places to break down.
In the summer of 1971, not knowing what to do with the rest of my life and literally at a loose end, at the invitation of a couple called Helen and David Kidd, whom I met round a campfire at Glastonbury Fair in Somerset, I moved to Edinburgh on a whim to help Helen and Dave start a small so called “Seed Centre” in their flat. This was to be an independent offshoot of Muzz Murray’s Gandalf’s Garden in London, which he was closing down. At the time, I did not realize that this was in a way the prototype for the Salisbury Centre. We had daily meditations morning and evening and on Thursday evenings invited speakers would draw a number of people to the small flat on Dean Park Street in Stockbridge to listen to presentations on various esoteric topics.
I had already attended Sufi meetings with Pir Vilayat Khan and Reshad Field while still a student at Cambridge and now I continued going to Sufi meetings, led by Keith Farvis and Daena Turner, held at the Catholic chaplaincy in George Square. Through Helen and Dave I met a whole variety of remarkable people of differing ages, each involved in their own unique spiritual journey, and yet who shared a sense of “the unity of religious ideals” ( Hazrat Inayat Khan) –taking religion in this context to refer to its original meaning as ”reconnection to the Source of Being”. It was this group of people who would become the founding body of the Salisbury Centre, both its Trustees and its first and later residents, and its advisors and supporters. But a key person in the whole process had yet to appear.
When Helen Kidd became pregnant, it became clear to all of us that the time of the “Seed Centre” had come to an end, since she and Dave had a different kind of baby to attend to. I moved out and was unclear as to what I was going to do next. Two other members of the Sufi group, Daena Turner and Jill Evans (later McKay), whom I became friendly with, were also wondering what next and were interested in the possibility of a centre along with myself and other members of the Sufi group.
Daena, Jill and I would sit around and share our fantasies about what such a place would entail. These included a mixture of what today would be called a holistic health centre, a meditation centre, a crafts centre, a transpersonal psychotherapy centre, and a place for the study of the world’s mystery traditions (esoteric psychology and the Perennial Philosophy), and all of this happening in the context of an intentional community, whose focus was to be opening the heart and service to others and the world. No small task when you think about it! Somehow we were going to find time to train as Jungian analysts as well, and we happened to mention this to Ludi How, who suggested we meet an extraordinary woman she knew, Dr. Winifred Rushforth, an 84 year old psychoanalyst, who had had contact with Jung, ran dream analysis groups and would know about Jungian training.
This led to the fateful meeting with Winifred, who immediately invited us to the Sempervivum Easter School, in order to meet her friend and colleague Baroness Vera von der Heydt, who would tell us about Jungian training. As it happened the Baroness firmly admonished us with wise advice in hindsight “Go, fall in love many times and then, only then will you be ready to train as Jungian analysts”.
In the course of our contact with Winifred however, we shared our ideas about starting a centre, and she in her inimitable style was immediately enthusiastic, sensing I imagine that this was potentially the opportunity to continue the work she had started with the Davidson Clinic.
In 1967, she had resigned as its Director and this was essentially the end of its existence, although it continued to operate on a much reduced scale for several years. Winifred’s vision of the Centre was, if I recall correctly, strongly shaped by her wish to further the work of psychoanalysis, which she viewed through her uniquely transpersonal lens, not seeing analytical work as different from the journey back to the Source of Being and Creativity. Her vision also included dream groups, painting groups, weaving and pottery and daily meditation. She also wanted the Centre to serve and be a refuge for those suffering mental anguish.
With her many contacts among the citizenry of Edinburgh, Winifred immediately began looking for a premises in which to house our joint venture, confident that if we found somewhere suitable, the money for it would appear. Meanwhile a Trust had been formed to purchase a house and help develop the minimal legal and organizational structures to enable the endeavor to flourish. The original Trustees were Winifred, Ludi and Bill How, Anne Macaulay and the Reverend Peter Dewey. R. Ogilvie Crombie (ROC of Findhorn Garden fame) offered his wise advice and support.
When Winifred heard there was a house for sale on Salisbury Road, owned by a prominent member of the Synagogue next door, we went to see the place. By a strange coincidence, on the other side of the property was a house, since a pub, that used to be the Davidson Clinic in one of its incarnations and the Clinic had rented the studio at 2 Salisbury Road for its painting groups. When we saw the large studio room and the outbuildings that could easily house a pottery, we felt the house was perfect for our project, and the Trust put in a bid.
Our bid was turned down and hearing that the house was to be sold to someone else, we were gravely disappointed. Sometime later, much to our surprise, the house came back on the market and we were overjoyed. Meanwhile Winifred had been busy tapping her funding resources, which we had all been trying to do, but for her this was a game she was well used to and she was able to gather many promises of financial support, and checks started coming to us. There was some debate within the Trust as to whether or not there were enough funds to proceed, but eventually her optimistic outlook and persuasiveness won the day.
Looking back on these events, it seems apparent that Daena, Jill and I, who along with Patricia Cawley, were destined to become the first Residents of the Centre, were fortunate, in our early twenties and relatively inexperienced in the ways of the world, to have the Trustees to guide us through the process of acquiring a property and organizing the legal and practical backing that was needed to proceed.
However, we became the day-to-day operators of the place, and without our youthful enthusiasm and that of the other members of the Sufi group who pitched in to help, I doubt that the enterprise would have flourished successfully. I am struck by the observation that it was a highly unusual, cross generational collaboration and it worked surprisingly well, considering the cast of characters involved, our relative ages, and our differing agendas and personalities.
Perhaps it was precisely this that turned out to be its chief strength, although I suspect that it had more to do with the fact that whatever our differences we all met in the silent place of meditation, and through this something else was able to enter in and contextualize any conflict. We began each meditation with the dedication “Towards the One”, thereby affirming the Unity of Being that underlies the apparent separation that divides us from each other and the world around us. We were truly assisting in something that didn’t belong to any of us.
The name the Salisbury Centre was chosen after a long debate about competing possibilities. I believe it was Winifred who came up with the suggestion and in the end we all agreed that this name, on the face of it a somewhat bland and anonymous declaration of our presence in the City, was likely to attract the most people and offend no one, firmly placing our project as part of the landscape of Edinburgh.
Winifred added that Salisbury has an earlier form Salusburgh, from the Latin salus meaning health. Salus is the origin of our words salute and salutation, as in wishing someone health. Bury and burgh means hill or town, so Salisbury means literally the healthy hill or town, appropriate perhaps given its proximity to Arthur’s Seat. Winifred would often talk about how the word health comes from the same root as the words whole and holy. We also for whatever reasons resisted the impulse to identify ourselves in a more overt formal sense with our sister centre Swyre Farm / Beshara in the south. It was as if we sensed we were growing roots for the long haul and that the Centre had its own destiny to fulfill.
Some years later, and long after there were any overt signs that we had ever had a connection with Sufism, Pir Vilayat Khan, who for many of us had been our introduction to Sufi teachings, visited the Centre to give a talk. I was amazed and moved to hear him say while we were showing him the meditation area at the top of the house: “Ah, this is the Sufism my father taught”, referring to his father Hazrat Inayat Khan, who had brought the message of the essential Unity of all Religious forms to the West earlier in that century.
He appeared to be responding to some sense of presence in the room. On reflection all these years later, it seems to me that the Salisbury Centre has always remained true to the essential understanding that comes out of Sufism, which is that beyond all labels, forms and dogmas is a place deep in our hearts where we all meet.
We wanted the Centre to be open, a place that would honour the notion that there are many paths up the mountain, and where all seekers would be welcome without having narrow agendas laid on them, while acknowledging the ultimate Unity behind the search. When the American folk singer Woody Guthrie was asked in surveys what religion he identified with, he answered “All or nothing”, a sentiment that has much to commend it.
MEMBER OF THE FIRST COMMUNITY