Transforming the way you live and work in the world
Home / GISC Blog / Individuals /



January 2018

October 2017

September 2017


Archive for the ‘Individuals’ Category

The questions of spring

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

By Gwynne Guzzeau, Executive Director

Walking in today, the crocus were cheering.  They started last week, but then we had a blizzard and 4+ inches of snow.  Even yesterday, we had snow in the morning.  But today, sunshine and sprouts of purple call out from the earth.  As I look closer, I notice my urge to pull away the old growth, the sticks, pine needles and dead leaves.  But the contrast of new and old is part of the beauty in this picture. 

And I wonder, how will I know what to leave in place or what to clear away?

These are the questions of spring.

The questions of new beginnings.

What will we let go of in our lives and in our organizations?  What will we hold onto? 

There are small and routine ways in which we hold on and let go every day.  As I arrive at GISC, I am letting go of the morning school bus routine with my son and preparing to begin new conversations in my role as ED.  Stepping out of my car and walking along the path are moments of transition and an invitation to notice whether I’m present or distracted, ready to arrive or holding on to a morning problem that has come and gone but still stirs within.

I wonder about you and how you know when to let go or hold on.  The ground of spring is fertile for these questions and our course, Next Phase, is an opportunity to reflect, discuss and experience new ways of holding on and letting go.   Perhaps you’ll join us for this conversation.

In the meantime, please let me know what works best for you when letting go. 

Let’s create a collective wisdom to share with each other, whatever the paths we are on at the moment, in life and in leadership.

Conversations with Sonia and Joe: Messing Up

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Conversations with Sonia and Joe

Over the past 30 years we have enjoyed many conversations around everyday experiences. Some of these conversations have been turned into articles around such topics as intimacy, contempt, love, commitment, power, surprise, jealousy, desire, ethics and optimism. Others sit half-finished in the back of a filing cabinet, while even more have never made it into writing, having instead faded into the air as our interest waned. Yet, no matter the outcome, these conversations have been immensely satisfying to us.

We would like to expand these conversations beyond the two of us by sharing some of them with you, and hearing back regarding your observations, thoughts, feelings and personal experiences. 

Please join the conversation by posting your comments below.  We would love to hear your thoughts.

Sonia March Nevis and Joseph Melnick

Messing Up

Even the best of us messes up often. To turn against ourselves after we mess up is rarely useful. A competent person knows that these things are ordinary and that the next day will bring new mess ups, but, every once in a while, we have a perfect day.

Joe:  I remember years ago you saying that it doesn’t do me any good to feel bad once I’ve messed up. If I wished to feel bad, I should have felt bad before I messed up, not after.

Sonia:  Yes, people turn on themselves rather than saying, “You know I was a jerk that time; I don’t know why I didn’t do that.” Anything that helps put it out, spit it out in an easy way. Knowing that it is a part of life—neither good nor bad.

Joe:  Yes, I can look at almost anything I’ve done and find a hundred ways that I could have done it better.

Sonia:  Yes, me too.

Joe:  We don’t appreciate the ordinariness of messing up.

Sonia:  I think that’s the right language. It’s a waste to put yourself down for almost any reason whatsoever. Now, of course, there are exceptions and extremes, but most people are talking about simple ordinary things. They forgot to do something, they were told not to do something and they are doing it anyway. Or they didn’t invite somebody to a party. We are full of that stuff all the time.

Joe:  Yes. I forgot their name and I feel so badly, or everyone is dressed a certain way and I’m not, or your zipper is open.

Sonia:  Or you fart. There’s always something.

Joe:  We learn to feel bad early. Maybe it’s a need to be perfect. To be more than who I am.

Sonia:  If there are any medals to be given, they should go to people who say, “Whoops, I’m sorry.”

Joe:  I remember when we were kids and we would say, “so sue me, or shoot me.” Kids have ways to brush it off because they mess up so often.

Sonia:  It is important to teach kids to learn to not feel too bad. It’s amazing how people can be humiliated over simple things—like mispronouncing my name.

Joe:  People will often collapse.

Sonia:  I allow my kids to feel bad over mistakes, like saying, “no, you did something wrong.” I think the goal is to not put it on ourselves or on others; to just put it out without judgment. The only way to get rid of it is to put it out in the air—not to take it in and not to blame others. We have to teach people that there is nobody walking around who’s perfect. There’s always someone better. That doesn’t make you bad.

Joe:  I remember working with a couple and I told her she was entitled to feel this bad [spreads his hands 6 inches], but not this bad [spreads his hands two feet]. She looked stunned. It’s as if she didn’t know that she had a choice. She had a choice of how bad to feel. I’ve sometimes asked people, “How long do you want to feel bad for?”

Sonia:  You can feel badly and hold it in or you can put it out. The other thing you can do is to apologize so you can join with someone.

Sonia:  I like that because it is a matter of acknowledging that most of life is still not this [spreads hands wide]. Many people feel terrible even though they have not done a terrible thing.

Joe:  But suppose there is not another person. l suppose I could apologize to myself.

Sonia:  I often laugh at myself.

Joe:  I remember what they do in a lot of parent-training courses. They tell you to tell your kid, “I’m not angry with you, I’m angry with your behavior—that you stole the milk.” I doubt kids believe that. I know two parents who, when their young kids misbehave, have them put their doll into “doll jail” for a time out.

Sonia:  The opposite is also true. We work with people who don’t feel bad when they should. They blame the others and, of course, these are the most difficult.

Joe:  Yes, these are the ones for whom life never changes. We have to learn to own our mistakes, but learn to carry them lightly.

Please leave your comments below.

What’s mud got to do with it?

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

By Gwynne Guzzeau, Executive Director

It’s overcast today.  The snow and ice from multiple storms has finally melted leaving the ground exposed once again.  Mary, our office manager, prefers the ice on her driveway this time of year, “It looks nicer than the wet dirt and gravel.”  If I wasn’t so worried about slipping on the ice, I’d agree with Mary, but I’ll take the mud for now along with the inconvenience it brings, sticking to my shoes and tracking after me whether wet or dry.

It wasn’t always this way.  When I was seven, mud was a projectile.  Easily shaped into balls that fit my small hands and launched over the six-foot stockade fence into the neighbors yard where kids we weren’t allowed to play with lived and launched their counterattack.

When I was twenty-seven, mud was a serious matter.  I was working on a 25,000-acre cattle ranch on the Crow Indian reservation in southeast Montana.  Dryhead was a fitting name for the ranch, except after heavy rains when the dirt turned a slick rusty brown at least three inches deep.  My job as a ranch hand included vacuuming the carpeted dining area in the cookhouse before and after each meal and cleaning the bathrooms where the linoleum floors invited a mud slide, even with paper laid down to absorb the wet dirt.

Now, I live on the marsh where the mud is black and you can sink to your knees if you stand in the wrong spot.  Mostly, it’s my dog who gets covered in the thick smelly stuff of the marsh.

But what’s mud got to do with it anyway?  As a leader in transition, as a coach and as a human being, there’s so much that I can’t see.  So I lean into the unknown, the uncertainty, and much like stepping on the soft wet earth — boundaries become blurred when my feet merge with the mud.

Mud demands that I pay attention to the ground, not just the figure I’ve decided to move towards.  In this way, the ground acts on me and my experience literally, not “only” in a Gestalt sense of the word “ground.”  

Last week, I asked a CCTP colleague in the UK what I should be reading in light of my new position, she responded:  “Poetry.  The answers to your leadership challenges won’t be found in a book.”

I know she’s right because I already have a poem posted on my office wall that captured my attention in the first few weeks on the job.  It’s called “Spirit of Place: Great Blue Heron” by William Stafford and the last line reads “…feet that go down in the mud where the truth is.”

Luckily though, for all you can’t see, mud is really good at leaving tracks.  And if it’s Meetinghouse mud that means that you’re lucky enough to be at GISC and you’ll probably be tracking it in with the rest of us….



Conversations with Sonia & Joe: Nobody Owns the Truth

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Conversations with Sonia and Joe


Over the past 30 years we have enjoyed many conversations around everyday experiences. Some of these conversations have been turned into articles around such topics as intimacy, contempt, love, commitment, power, surprise, jealousy, desire, ethics and optimism. Others sit half-finished in the back of a filing cabinet, while even more have never made it into writing, having instead faded into the air as our interest waned. Yet, no matter the outcome, these conversations have been immensely satisfying to us.


We would like to expand these conversations beyond the two of us by sharing some of them with you, and hearing back regarding your observations, thoughts, feelings and personal experiences. 


The following is the first in the series.  Please join the conversation by posting your comments below.  We would love to hear your thoughts.


Sonia March Nevis and Joseph Melnick



Nobody Owns the Truth


Nobody owns the truth. There are many ways to look at things since we all see things differently. A competent person is willing to talk to and listen to other people who are different from her.


Joe:  As I get older I get more and more amazed at how different people are.


Sonia:  The differences are certainly endless.


Joe:  Then what do you say to people who believe in “truth” and we don’t? Too often we struggle to connect with people who are eager to talk about their “truths” – often either politics or religion. It’s hard to know what to say.


Sonia:  I am thinking of clients who live with “have-to’s” that are truths for them. I sometimes work with women who have to take care of their old mother. A large number say, “I have to go every day or every few days.” They can’t go away for a vacation. I know that I have gotten some of these women to ease up on themselves and I know it is hard for them.


Joe:  It is like, “I’m a bad person if I don’t do this.” So what would you say to me if I said, “I can’t stand going to see my mother every day. I have to go”?


Sonia:  I would say, “You are not a ‘bad person.’ Your mother might have tried her best for you. Now you have to think of yourself. Do you decide that you are doing right, or doing wrong?’”


Joe:  I think that these people who live a life of “have-to’s” are in a daze. They have lousy habits. We “have to” get them to shift the habit or change the context…like, why not send a card?


Sonia:  Oddly I am thinking of a woman who could not get her mother off her mind. She had to visit her all the time. I suggested that she send cards. She is feeling relieved. Whether it will hold or not, I don’t know.  The thing of turning on yourself is a big issue.


Joe:  We’re back to different truths and beliefs.


Sonia:  The word believe—we often hear many “hard-to-believe stories” from clients. They wish us to say, “I believe you.” I can usually say, “I believe you right now.” Sometimes it is easy to say, “I believe you.” On the other hand, when it goes over a certain boundary I no longer say that. What do you say?


Joe:  I say, “I believe that you believe.”


Sonia:  If someone says I don’t like this fish I can believe them.


Joe:  Yes, that’s easy. It’s the separation of beliefs from truths that is important. 



Let us hear from you!  We invite and encourage your response.  Please join the conversation by submitting your comments in the “Leave a Reply” box (or “no comments” link) below.  




Quiet but not empty

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

By Gwynne Guzzeau, Executive Director

It’s quiet again.  An hour ago the last participant in the second week of the CDPCC program  left the building to catch a flight back to Scotland, his colleagues in the CDPCC are on their respective roads home  — north to Canada, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire; south to New York, and west to California.  One Cape-based participant left early for a business trip to the Middle East where he’ll be applying his newly-tuned coaching skills to work on a consulting project.  Our Director of Operations & Communications, Laurie Fitzpatrick, is among the CDPCC participants who’ve been laughing, learning and practicing for the past five days so she’s headed home too.  Now, it’s the hum of the dishwasher, Kemi Morrison, our Communications Assistant, and me. 


It’s quiet here, but it’s not empty.  The Edwin and Sonia Nevis Meetinghouse holds the values of optimism, generosity, integrity and trust that greet each of us when we walk into the building, regardless of who sits in this chair “on the back porch.”   And, I imagine, each of you leaves this Meetinghouse with the experience of this space set-up anew or for the first time, inside of you.  In that way, the work we do together when we gather here truly does transform the way we live and work in the world.


So as I introduce myself to you from my new seat as Executive Director, I want you to know something about how I got here:  I invested in myself, again and again. 


I followed the simple guidance I learned from Sonia Nevis, Nancy Hardaway and Deb Stewart, in my first workshop at GISC in 2007.  I expanded my awareness of my resources to include time and energy, not just money.  Then I started to keep a mental checkbook for my time and energy.  This framing of my resources helped me maintain resiliency in the early months of my law practice when cash flow came in fits and starts.  The money may not have been there, but I was “rich” with time and energy to spend on developing marketing collateral or networking. 


What about you?  Have you checked the balance in your time and energy checkbooks, not just your finances?


As the new year begins, I wonder, how will you use your resources of time, energy and money to invest in yourself?  Perhaps you will join me in small experiment or “let’s try” such as walking each day at lunchtime…


Or maybe you too will invest time and money in a coach to support you during a personal or career transition.


Like the participants who left this afternoon, after investing their time, energy and money into their personal and professional development, I hope you hold close to the optimism, generosity, integrity and trust GISC offers and that you use the power of your learning, your work, to find new ways to invest in yourself this year.


It’s dark now, the dishwasher is done, Kemi’s gone and it’s time to go home to my 11 year old son.  I’ll write again soon.


In the meantime, feel free to join this conversation and post a comment here or on LinkedIn or Facebook.


GISC names Gwynne Guzzeau as Executive Director

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Gestalt International Study Center (GISC), an internationally-recognized organization based in Wellfleet, MA, names Gwynne Guzzeau, MS, JD, as Executive Director effective January 1, 2014.  Guzzeau, a long-time Orleans resident, community leader, and attorney in private practice, has been affiliated with GISC for a number of years as a faculty member and Professional Associate.  She succeeds Mary Anne Walk, who will become Chief Relations Officer working under Gwynne’s leadership on business development and continuing as faculty.


In welcoming her successor Walk states, “As a GISC-certified coach, lawyer, educator, and community leader, Gwynne brings experience, energy, and creative thinking to GISC as the organization begins its next phase of transformation.”


“This is an exciting time to join GISC,” says Guzzeau.  “I look forward to leading and moving forward as we continue to deliver high-impact training, consulting, and coaching and remain innovative in our response to the development needs of our global clients. The Center’s success to-date is evidence that our programs can transform the way people live and work in the world.  GISC provides rigorous training and support that allows participants to gain immediate experience and apply their learning.  I look forward to advancing our vision in service to professionals, leaders and organizations seeking to increase their impact in the world.”


Guzzeau’s career spans several industries, allowing her to bring broad experience and value to GISC.  She has worked in education, law, small business and held public office.  She holds a JD from Georgetown University Law Center, a Master of Science in Education from Wheelock College Graduate School, and a BA, cum laude from Wellesley College. 


GISC is a nonprofit educational organization engaged in personal, professional, and organizational development.  GISC is located in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod and offers training at its Wellfleet training center, in live-online programs, and at locations around the world.


Transforming the way you live and work in the world

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013


As part of the GISC community, you are important in carrying our vision throughout the world. This is also the time of year we ask for your financial support—but first, let us share with you what is going on at GISC.

There is an enormous need for our programs and services. Therefore our business model has changed to accommodate this need and financially stabilize the Center. This past year our primary focus has been to:

  • Customize programs and deliver them to businesses at their premises.
  • Launch live online programs for those who cannot join us on the Cape.
  • Eliminate the programs that have gone through their life cycle.
  • Recruit a diverse participant group for the programs on the Cape.
  • Deliver new training for psychotherapists to address their growing needs.

You, our donors, join with us in a set of shared values: Optimism, Generosity, Integrity, and Trust. Your generous contributions support the Nevis Scholarship Fund; the Maintenance Fund; our General Fund, our Community Outreach Programs; and our socially committed initiatives in healthcare, education and psychotherapy.

Each of these endeavors is pursued to transform the way you live and work in the world by providing tools to spark extraordinary change in leaders, organizations, practitioners, psychotherapists and individuals.

We hope you will join us this year by giving what you can and we hope you can give generously from your heart. Any gift of more than $125 begins or renews your annual GISC membership, which includes a subscription to the Gestalt Review and a discount on program tuition and our bookstore items.

Whatever your financial capacity, please help us continue to make GISC experiences available to a wide range of people throughout the world. We promise to use your contributions wisely and in the manner you so designate. Your generosity and support are very much appreciated.

With all best wishes,


Sonia Nevis, Co-founder

Jamie Stewart, Chairman of the Board

Mary Anne Walk, Executive Director


For easy online donation, please click here.



Our Days Go By So Quickly – What Can We Do About That?

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

By Sonia Nevis

Recently I have realized that I am 86 years old, and there is nothing I can do about it,  since each day that passes us is lost forever.

I take short walks, love my work, cherish my clients and have wonderful friends. I have loving children- I hope you can see how lucky I am.

Yet I wake up each day- sad that yet another day has gone.

Up to now I thought there was not much more I could do -but now I feel as though my life has a long carpet to walk on:  it lives on.

I have begun to see that all lost days are alive.

The experiences and memories of the life that we have lived and are living, as well as the fiction we have read and the images we have seen in the theater and the films, all contribute to the richness of our being.

Once we understand how much we hold within our hearts, we easily turn them into stories – stories which will live long beyond us.

Realizing this has shifted the way I feel, and how I am looking at my life. I’m amazed at how it comforts me.

But what matters the most is how much I can still do in this difficult world:

·      I want to turn my interest to even more people I have never met and talk to them.  That might be one of the roads to peace.

·      I will keep paying attention to my generosity.  There is so much needed that I can be giving.

I hope my long carpet stays very long. I will keep enjoying my life and doing all the things that I love.

I hope you all join me.




Why write a book about Gestalt leadership in fiction form?

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

By Nancy Hardaway


What does fiction and Gestalt have in common?


People have asked me why did I write my book The Awareness Paradigm in fiction, when I wanted to teach leadership theory and behavior.   Why write about Cesar and Fletcher, Mark and Redley?  Why write about their coach, Julia? It was a way of “showing, not telling.” A way of creating some of the feel and touch of a GISC program.


Whether as student or teacher, my richest learning opportunities contain only small bits of talking at, and lots of opportunity to experience new things through exercises and practicum groups.  Where I learn not only from different faculty with varied styles that I resonate more or less to, but also from participants, hearing their stories and sharing my own.  And… I have a bit of fun!


Further, I know that we rarely learn from being exposed to something once (okay, maybe being burned would be an exception).  We need to engage with it, chew on it, see it again in a different light or a different context, try it, hear it again, etc.


For us, Gestalt learning occurs not just by doing but through reflection, as primary a tool as didactic, experience and practice.   With schedules so rushed, many leaders come to leadership training and are both discomforted and refreshed by the time set aside for reflection.  Research shows it is a primary skill of highly successful leaders.


In a recent Harvard Alumni Magazine, I just read about a task force called the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching (HILT).  At a recent HILT symposium, psychologists and educators talked about new research on cognition and learning.


They emphasized the importance of learning how to think, and of practice and cumulative engagement (successive relearning of foundational knowledge).   One academic who studies strategies that promote durable learning said that students need to learn how to learn.   A professor from Harvard Business School explained that they no longer find its case method – talking about what to do – as useful as actually doing.  So Harvard is finally figuring out what Gestalt faculty have always known.


How could I create some facsimile of the Gestalt learning experience to teach Gestalt concepts in a book?  Experiences.  Connection.  Practice, repetition, reflection.  Fun. How could I create that support which is an important piece of leadership training? I first sought out support for myself as writer, from Joe Melnick – who asked me questions, and kept my going when I flagged.


I thought briefly about writing a book of theory with lots of exercises to try, but I was intrigued by the idea of stories. After all, down through the ages, people have learned through stories, connecting with the characters and internalizing the lessons.  We learn best when our whole brain is involved – intellect and emotion.


Most importantly, leadership happens not in a vacuum, but only in relation to others, and our growth as leaders happens in the way we relate to ourselves, so I needed a vehicle to demonstrate the space within and the space between us.


I also knew the characters would have to learn as we all do, incrementally and with fits and starts, defaulting back to old behaviors under stress.  This is especially true for adult learners who have fixed patterns that have been reinforced for years.  They get excited about something new at a program and then are return home to be bombarded with emails and crises and catch-up, and the new learning tends to slip away.  That’s why coaching and ongoing reinforcement is so useful, and why leadership training has far more ROI when that occurs.


I envisioned leaders with unique styles and challenges from different organizations, coming together to solve a common problem.  Those first wisps of characters came to life in a role play for which I recruited students in the first GISC coaching program. Although their efforts took just over an hour, that experience allowed me to interact with the characters and see them interacting with one another. They jumped off the page after that, diverging wildly from the participants who played them.   A surprise character came in and the story started to have the page turning qualities of a mystery – a bit of fun!


Just as I sometimes forget about reflection for myself, and often have to remind my leader clients to include it in their days, I almost forgot about including reflection for the reader, but it happened by accident.  Once the book was designed, there ended up being some blank pages because publishing convention calls for chapters to start on the right facing page.  I decided to take those randomly spaced blank left pages and use them as reflection points for the reader.   On Joe’s urging, I also added an appendix with a chapter by chapter summary of the plot and primary lessons so a reader or team could go back and reflect alone or together, as well as an appendix of theory for the layman (a bit of didactic, if you will).


There’s no way a simple book could possibly replicate the richness of a Gestalt program, but hopefully, this book will reinforce that richness for those who’ve taken a program, and introduce Gestalt learning and experience to those who haven’t.


The Awareness Paradigm: A Story of Leadership Success is available in GISC’s online bookstore and at your favorite online book retailers.


Nancy Hardaway, MEd,  is a member of the GISC faculty and internationally known leadership consultant, combining her experience as a serial entrepreneur and corporate executive with an avid curiosity in human behavior and neuroscience.  A former journalist, banker, and CEO, she is a certified leadership coach and holds degrees from Tufts University and Harvard University.  Follow Nancy on the Listening 2 Leaders blog.



Spring is trying hard to get here

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

By Sonia Nevis


While I was waiting for the warmth of Spring, a friend sent me a letter about a magazine that she has been reading. She was sure I would like the magazine a lot and she was right.

The magazine is the Sun and it has published 448 issues (P.O. Box 5837, Harlan, IA, 51593).  What I liked about it is that it has an eccentric point of view and it often upsets comfortable ways of established thinking.


Reading it in my cozy chair, I began to have images of my early life.  One of my favorite habits had been to sit alone in a restaurant and pretend to be reading a book while I listened to all the conversations around me.  Real conversations.  Where else would I have learned so much?


These are some of the things I heard that I never would have known:


1.     You really didn’t even leave him a note?

2.     How could you not even leave a note?

3.     Oh, come on, I was twenty-five.  I was a baby.


4.     He broke up with me in Prospect Park. Took me there so he could do it in public.

5.     In public?


6.     Hey, I spent four days on a camping trip in a tent.

7.     Oh, Jesus, a tent.


8.     No, it was great, then he totally disappeared.


9.     Excuse me, I’m sorry but I am trying to read.


10.  I know that look on his face.  I’m going to pretend I’m not judging him.


This is the way I learned how to listen, for many a year.  I liked being able to take in what people talked about and how they talked to each other.


In my home or in my school I learned much less than what I learned for so many years just drinking in what I saw and what I heard.


I counted up 53 things that people said to each other that I just read in the Sun.  I enjoyed reading them all and I’m writing this to you so that you know what I mean by “learning.”  But, truly, what I wish the most is that I could listen to all of you and drink in and learn from you.


Take good care of yourself and of each other.






Also, thanks so much, my friend, for having found this magazine.  I am enjoying it so much. That you thought to send it to me, somehow knowing that listening is what made me who I am, has touched my heart.


Gestalt International Study Center
P.O. Box 515, South Wellfleet, MA 02663
Phone: +1 555 123 4567