Tributes to Lee Roloff
For a moment, it was if the clocks had suddenly stood still. Slowly, the news of the passing of Lee Roloff was true. There was no turning back. Suddenly, like the sluice gates on a dam wall, opening, I became a conduit for a flood of emotion-charged memories of a man of laughter, mischief, warmth, intellect, compassion, insight and above all … immense patience. Instead of the heaviness that is so often linked to sadness, I felt strangely lighter. This, even in death, was his gift – he gave people wings.
Lee Roloff was a friend, mentor, father and brother figure – all in one. A giant of a man – a poet – he believed in me. What more could anyone ask of an elder? Let this little story that follows confirm what I have just written:
In May 1987, I was being interviewed by him prior to being selected as a candidate for analytical training in Cape Town. The other selector and advisor was South Africa’s only qualified analyst, Vera Buhrman. He and Vera made a formidable team. She was not present at that interview. Vera, it seemed (and I think, rightly so) doubted my credentials. Lee thought otherwise. Instead, he informed me that my selection was conditional … that I should register at the same time to train as a psychiatrist. When I agreed, he looked me in the eye. There was a hint of mischief and then, in all seriousness he announced these unforgettable words: “Ian, for you the crucifixion is guaranteed … it is how you hang in there that counts!”
I must confess, I did not know what he meant at the time, but I heard the challenge and more importantly, I knew he was with me. Today, almost thirty years later, I know what he meant … and I am still hanging in. Without a personal crucifixion and without hanging in … there is no hope of a resurrection consciousness. It is what the individuation process is about.
As I write, I am filled with a deepened sense of gratitude for having known him and more, for his influence on me. He is gone, but he is very much with me.
In this light, I know, I speak for many.
Were you there when you were there? Psychology is the science of direct experience, and where we experience the psyche directly is through our dreams. Always do the dance of the early morning: be committed to your own dreams, to the completion of your own story. This is the way of mediating the messages of the psyche to the conscious world, and rounding out the limitedness of ego-consciousness. It is imperative to take time to mediate through journaling. The Opus is a work, an engagement with other, of making that which is unconscious conscious. Psyche is basically poetic. Listen for images when listening to dreams. Don’t ask what the dream means, ask where it goes. Listen to dreams as listening to a foreign language. The meaning of the dream is in you. Small details are important. Creativity is a rich form of mediating.
Fairy tales are dreams that have been scoured from personal contents. They show a path towards rounding out the personality, to becoming whole, undivided, indivisible. Individuation means not to be divided. Throughout our lives we experience moments of individuation. Finding your own story, helping another to find their story, is immensely healing.
The natural condition for the psyche is repleteness, connectedness. The most powerful aspect of our work is the restoration of memory, the telling or singing of our story. Without memory we lose our humanity. History is memory – if we have no history, then who are we? Trauma shatters memory. Memory is repleteness. A psychologically cauterized life is a life without repleteness. Analysis is repleteness.
Honor the gods: honor the power of the archetype
Know thyself : don’t identify with the gods/archetype.
Everything in moderation: hold yourself to your humanity.
The Opus works in sudden floods of projection. Do not judge each other, support each other as you each make your way towards wholeness.
In grateful memory of the fairy tale teaching module Lee Rolof and Barry Williams offered to the first group of candidates of SAAJA in 1987.
At the IAAP Congress in Cape Town in 2007 Lee celebrated his 80th birthday. That he would take on the long and stressful journey to South Africa showed his deep commitment and dedication towards SAAJA. He was part of the initiation of the training programme in the late 1980’s and I had my first ever interview with an analyst with him. Lee was a powerful figure – with his thick white hair, his solid physical stature and his sonorous voice he was a commanding presence – a father figure with whom one felt safe, understood and protected.
He became an important person to me since that time – in the beginning I remember communicating with him often in times of distress. When I visited him in Chicago in 1992 I brought him a watercolor painting of Table Mountain – he treasured this and whenever we emailed he would make reference to it. Thus there was a strong link.
Lee had a profound respect and love for Vera Bührmann – he saw in her the African mother; and one would surmise that he started becoming involved with SAAJA because of the esteem he had for Vera and her work.
Lee is now one of my ancestors – I am grateful for who he has been in my life, for his encouragement to me personally and for his devotion to us in South Africa. Since 2007 I have emailed Lee a few times during the year, and particularly in August on his birthday. He always replied with enthusiasm. This year I did not receive a reply, so I knew that there had been a change – I trust that he went in peace and that the greatness of his spirit will continue to live in all who have known him.
I was sorry to hear of Lee’s death. He was such a vital, alive human being and very present. I think it was he who asked the question “ but were you there when you were there” and that attests to the issue of being present, which is such a simple yet profound gift. I remember that I had a interview with him with a view to doing the training. I was so nervous that I spilt the coffee he had made me, and Lee just mopped it up. Towards the end of the interview he asked me if I had had any dreams recently. As it so happened, or in retrospect as one would expect, a few days before the interview I had had a very vivid dream which I have come to understand as portending a shift that was happening in me around the decision to train as an analyst. After hearing the dream before we looked at it in any detail Lee spontaneously burst out with. “ You know that dream rates a ten on the Richter scale of dreams”. I have never forgotten that, The profound sense of awe in another for what arose unbidden and unrecognised in me. Lee gave me that and I will always remember him for it
Lee Roloff joined the team of the embryonic Cape Of Good Hope Centre for Jungian Studies in Cape Town in the late 1980s. Those of us interested in Wilderness and Ecopsychology named him “Kermode” – referring to the white spirit bear of North American rainforests. Lee had an elemental presence, as when a bear emerges from the cover of the forest and, pausing briefly in the dappled light, looks you in the eye.
Lee joined us at the apex of the venture. It was an anxious period. It was time to birth the Centre and to ground the Jungian professional training programme. Lee’s bearlike, self-assured presence fortified the members of the steering committee. He calmed our fears of failure. There were great expectations. The country was on the brink of civil war. People cast about for signs of hope. Jung’s understanding of how the modern psycho-social-ecological catastrophe is located in the alienation of technological society from its roots in Nature offered an explanation and suggested a way forward. The Center’s public programme in those days filled the lecture theatre at the University of Cape Town to capacity, standing room only and seating on the aisles. Lee’s eloquence, profound knowledge and empathy with both the inner and the outer worlds captivated the audience.
Lee moderated the selection of the first group of candidates for clinical training in the professional program in 1987. Picking the first team is always a fraught process, for both the selection committee as well as for the candidates. Selection directly affects the lives and reputations of the applicants who take the risk of putting their names forward. Lee, in his role of objective, international consultant from the North, with teaching expertise, academic knowledge and containing presence, expedited this crucial task. Moreover, he brought to the first training module his seasoned supervisory experience based on a deep and articulate understanding of the clinical and sociopolitical applications of Jungian thought.
The bear symbolizes awakening, transformation and rebirth after the long, deep sleep at the very height of the winter of discontent. Ursa Major, the Great She Bear constellation in the night sky, guides the voyager through the dark and fearful Winter Solstice. The Pathfinder, navigating on the Great Bear and the Polar star, finds true North and charts the journey home. The Cape of Good Hope Centre for Jungian Studies was transformed into the Southern African Association of Jungian Analysts in 1992. The centre continues to offer a substantial community service to a country of much light and deep shadow some three decades after Lee Roloff picked the first batch of candidates in 1987. Lee himself, now departed as one of a diminishing circle of founding elders, never doubted this outcome. Lee’s contribution was substantial and those of us who had the privilege to know him will not forget his powerful presence.