Charlotte Selver
Charlotte Selver

A Glimpse of Wilder Years

Excerpts of an interview with Bill Littlewood from August 11, 2005.
By Stefan Laeng-Gilliatt
Bill Littlewood

Bill: After my first workshop with Charlotte at Esalen Institute I stayed on for another few weeks while Charles and Charlotte had gone on to Monhegan Island. I knew that and I decided when I left Esalen I would go to Monhegan.

I drove my truck from California to Maine and took the boat to Monhegan, where I stayed a month. And I can’t remember what happened exactly, except that I met a whole lot of the breathers [as students of Sensory Awareness were called on the island], and I was very much impressed by what I found. So I began to follow her around. In fact, I met her at Esalen again and she asked me, “Why don’t you come and study with me for nine months.” I said: “No, I won’t do that because you keep moving around all the time. If you stood still, I’d come.” Shortly thereafter she designed the first long-term study group and I was the first person to sign up for it. That was in 71, I think.

Stefan: But the long-term study group didn’t stay in one place. You had to travel.

Bill: That’s exactly it. There were seventeen of us signed up for the first long-term study group. We started out in Tepoztlan, south of Mexico City. We spent three months there, then went to Santa Barbara where we spent three months at La Casa de Maria. Then we had a break and then we were supposed to go to Monhegan. Well, in that time Charles and Charlotte had an automobile accident. They were in their van driving across the desert and they ran out of gas. So Charles said, “Well, I’ll hitchhike to town and get some gas.” So Charlotte sat in their VW van and waited on the side of the road while Charles went to get gas. But she was rear-ended and that’s when her hip* was broken.

So, they’re out in the middle of the desert in Nevada and I’m I’m driving in a van with Kate Skinner, who was also in the study group. We were in Portland, Oregon, visiting my son and his wife when Charles called us and asked if we could buy him a Volkswagen van to replace the damaged one. Charlotte was in the hospital right then getting her hip in Elko, Nevada.

We found a VW dealer in Portland, put him in touch with Charles, and they bought a van over the telephone. Kate and I drove it to Elko so that Charles could put the stuff that they had packed up in their other van into the new van. And then we drove on to Monhegan. Charlotte was flown to Monhegan and we joined back up with the group there. Of course, Charlotte was stuck in her daybed downstairs in their house, and various members of the group took to teaching the class. And in the evenings we would collect around Charlotte’s couch and she would talk and work with us us for an hour or two.

This was also the time when Charles was trying to finish his book. At La Casa de Maria I helped him pick out pictures and what not, and so Charlotte and Charles asked me if I would help with the editing, because Charles and Charlotte kept fighting over the book all the time. She’d object to what he wrote and he’d get mad; so they decided to put me in the middle. Charles would sit in the living room of their house on Monhegan while Charlotte was lying on the couch, and I was placed in an upstairs bedroom they weren’t using. Charles would write a chapter – he was under deadline pressure – this was his third deadline and he had to get it done. He would write a chapter and give it to Charlotte and she would read it and pencil in her comments. She would then pass it to me and I would read it and I would pencil my comments. Then she and I would get together, hackle out our differences and give the edited version back to Charles. This went on for a month or two. Finally, Charles got mad at me and told me that he didn’t want my help anymore because I was giving him a hard time. I said, fine, and he finished the book on his own. It took a great responsibility off my shoulder. But I got to read it before the end of the study group. And they went on and published it.

Stefan: Was Charlotte eventually able to get up and give the classes again?

Bill: Not then. She was still incapacitated while we were in the study group. I can’t remember when she was able to get up again but I remember them carrying her to the school house so that she could be in the class room.

Charlotte Selver being carried to class on Monhegan IslandStefan: Yeah. Yeah. I heard the story of her being carried on a door?

Bill: (Laughs). I don’t know it. I could believe it. (More laughter) I don’t know what they carried her on.

Stefan: So, would she then teach lying down or just watch?

Bill: No, she was just being present. She wasn’t teaching.

Stefan: And did Charles lead some of those classes?

Bill: No, we’d fired him in Mexico. Well, in Tepoztlan we got very upset with his teaching. They would alternate each day – we got angry. So we refused to have him teach. He made the best of it and he joined with the group of pupils. For the rest of the nine months Charlotte did all the teaching. He was a good pupil.

Stefan: But you also said that some of the students would lead classes when Charlotte couldn’t.
Bill: That was on Monhegan. Students did all the teaching on Monhegan. I didn’t do any of it, because I didn’t feel up to it. But some of the other ones did. Gary Sohns. What’s his name now?

Stefan: Seymour Carter.

Bill: Yes, Seymour and various other people gave classes.

* Help me out, old breathers: was it not the pelvis?



Charlotte Selver Oral History and Book Project
Pathways of Sensory Awareness LLC
PO Box 185, Hancock, NH 03449, USA / Tel.: (603) 525-7289