It's Still Happening


Joe Sinclair

Dr Winifred Rushforth OBE died in 1983.  Her obituary reveals that she died at the age of 98.  This is almost a travesty.  She was, in fact, ageless.

I was astonished recently to discover in a group of at least a dozen participants at a personal growth workshop, that I was the only one to know of Winifred Rushforth.  Sic transit . . .   Nurturing Potential is a fitting vehicle through which to revive many of my own memories of Winifred, to remind others of what this remarkable woman achieved during her remarkable lifetime, and to introduce “newcomers” to some of her philosophical and sociological concepts.

This aim will be hard to achieve.  How does one convey, in words, the profound influence that she had on all who came in contact with her?  Born in 1885, she qualified as a medical doctor in Edinburgh in 1908 and then went as a medical missionary to India, where she worked as a surgeon and hospital administrator, and specialised in helping Indian women with health problems.

In 1929 she returned to Britain and, after a period of training at the Tavistock Clinic, became a practising psychiatrist in Edinburgh, where she founded the Davidson Clinic to bring family therapy to the community – an achievement that was recognised by the award of her OBE.

Her vision was always to help people achieve their true potential and to develop their true selves.  Amongst many who were deeply inspired by her insights was Charles, Prince of Wales who – at the suggestion of Sir Laurens van der Post - made a private visit to her in 1983, shortly before her death.  Thirteen years later he was to unveil a memorial to her in Edinburgh.  Entitled The Dreamer, this is a sculpture by Chris Hall which reflects that tireless and enigmatic woman’s interest in dream therapy.

In a postscript to her posthumously published autobiography Ten Decades of Happenings [1] the editor has written: “When Winifred died she was in the company of three close friends, one of whom subsequently remarked that she had been on “sparkling” form during her last morning, completely alert and enjoying life to the full.”  Her spirit clearly remained undimmed throughout her life.  “. . . this spirit will continue to burn in the psyches of many who in some way had the privilege of being in contact with a remarkable and truly loving lady.”

For many years Dr Rushforth was a popular TV and radio personality, discussing her work and telling Bible stories with psychological insight.  In what was conceivably her most popular book [2] , this amazing pioneer in the human potential and creative group movements explored the way the unconscious impinges on our everyday behaviour.  Here are some insights from that book.

“For we human beings also have, locked up in our individual psyche, energies awaiting release.  Within the last few decades, something very intimate and extremely relevant to our lives has come to light.  This is the fact demonstrated by Harold Burr of Yale Univesity that every cell of the human body has a charge of electro-magnetic force.  This means that you and I have in our bodies an immense storehouse of energy which we constantly employ and which we never cease to pour out into the environment.  Whither?  We can ask the question, but so far the answer can only be that we do not know to what infinity it is reaching.”

“A prescription against ageing given to me fifty years ago might be helpful.  ‘This year and each subsequent year attempt to achieve three things.  Make a new friend, acquire a new skill, learn a new language.’  Even if only one of these is acted on it will delay the onset of ageing.  You may notice they refer to heart, head and hand – friendship awakens love, language acquisition bestirs the mind, and even ageing hands can be used to weave or at least to spin the wool, to draw, or better still to paint or find other ways of making pictures, to write.  Suppose that today you begin to work at your autobiography – it will be surprisingly interesting.”

 And from Life’s Currency [3]

“We read that Moses was given a puzzling answer . . . “I am that I am”.  We may remember, however, that it was not given in English!  My orthodox Jewish friend tells me that in Hebrew the verb to be has a beauty and depth of significance that we totally miss in translation.  In the German language we get Ich bin and Ich werde.  The former is “here and now I am” – ego sum – but the latter is more, the dynamic something is becoming (happening), something is at work, and who knows what the outcome will be?”

“What do you want to do?  This question needs to be honoured all through our lives.  It cannot be the only guide but unless we ask it of ourselves and others, we miss the fun.  “I want” is the word of the instinctual life, of the libido, the psychic energy demanding fulfilment.  “You ought” becomes “I ought”, necessary controlling influence, but frustrating if allowed to be the only criterion of how we live.  The art of living must, I think, consist in finding the right balance between I want and I ought in our lives.  Tension is inevitable between them, but tension is creative.”

“Without the way there is no going.

Without the truth there is no knowing.

Without the life there is no living”


[1] Ten Decades of Happenings, Gateway Books, London, 1984

[2] Something is Happening, Turnstone Press, 1981, 2nd edition published by Gateway Books, 1983

[3] Life’s Currency, Time, Money & Energy, Gateway Books, Bath, 1983