Ralph: I am on the phone with Richard Merbler, who is one of the top rolfers in the world today. I had the good luck of meeting him while living in Dallas. I had been injured by getting hit by an elevator door. Richard was very effective in helping to decrease the pain that I had. Can you go ahead and explain a little bit about what rolfing is?
Richard Merbler: Rolfing is the type of work that was developed by a woman named Dr. Ida Rolf about 50 years ago in her search for health, after being told she had spinal arthritis and that she’d be stuck in a wheelchair by the time she was 40. She was a very determined woman and decided to continue to investigate.
Richard Merbler: She realized that by manipulating connective tissue, otherwise called soft tissue or myofascia, which covers every structure in the body, muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, and nerves, that you can actually sculpt the body and change the body from it’s old beat up patterns and begin to actually balance and integrate its structure. It’s all working together so that health is at an optimum.
Ralph: You’ve helped a lot of people that were hopeless cases haven’t you?
Richard Merbler: It seems that it’s fairly effective in a lot of ways. And, the sort of things that have people show up at the door and have tried everything else, and nothing else helped, just somehow seems to work. I think because it’s looking at more of the origin of the problem rather than trying to stick a Band-Aid on it.
Ralph: What is the dream or vision that sets the course of your life?
Richard Merbler: Yes it’s essential. That’s one of the essences that you really need to focus on and you begin to develop a dream and a vision, otherwise you tend to keep doing the same things everyday and there is no sense of advancement or not to have any goals causes one to just sort of wander through the day.
Richard Merbler: No matter how much money you are making, if you don’t have a sense of what’s really important to you I guess so many people will get caught up in things that will give them pleasure; not that that’s a bad thing but if that’s all you are doing is continually just feeding your desires.
Richard Merbler: I’ve certainly met people who have told me that after they’ve made millions of dollars and they reached the point that they could just not do anything that after a year or two they realized that that’s kind of boring and that leaved them feeling kind of empty. Unless there is some purpose in your life and some vision it certainly will encompass more than your own sphere & it will encompass others. That’s what probably gives you the courage to keep on going.
Ralph: What is your perspective on goodness, ethics and moral behavior?
That’s what seems to make our life worthwhile. Without any type of moral behavior, our lives seem to be sort of chaotic. There seems to be a lack of focus. People not only seem to wander but maybe they begin to get involved with a lot of other things that become fairly negative because there seems to be more self-involvement or you begin to do things simply because you want to do it or because you want to indulge yourself in any sort of whim that seem to surface.
Ralph: What place does the power of prayer have in your life?
Richard Merbler: It’s something I have to do everyday. I think by doing that it helps me realize one that I’m not alone & two that my life as important as it may be to me is probably sort of insignificant in the greater scope of things. It helps me to make this connection to God, something that’s greater than me. In that sense it helps me deal with anything else that’s going on in my life. Whatever is bothering me I realize that it’s just my problem & in that sense it’s a little problem.
Ralph: What principles are you willing to sacrifice your life for?
Richard Merbler: That’s what it’s all about. That’s where it starts. It’s one thing to do something because you are going to get a lot of attention and somebody’s going to pin a metal on you. But it’s another thing to continue to do routine things that actually seem to be pretty boring if you have to do it on a regular basis. But in fact actually is something that’s very integral to a part of the family functioning well.
Richard Merbler: So when I was a kid and doing simple things like taking out the trash. Well, you know when your folks are working hard & they are tired at the end of the day, I think anything that I could do to help them, although that wasn’t necessarily my intention at the time, but it was something I could do. As an 8 yr. old kid there was not a lot of things I could do but that was something I could do.
Richard Merbler: Things like scrubbing the floor for my mother whose knees hurt, it was easy for me to get on my knees when I was 15 or 18 yrs. old & scrub and wax the kitchen floor. To me it was not a large accomplishment or anything that was really important but for her it was huge gift because this was something that she really wanted to get done.
Richard Merbler: If she had done it herself she’d be out of commission for a couple of days. So often times it’s the little bitty things that to yourself are not real significant but yet to others maybe it makes a big difference in their life & in others lives.
Ralph Is it useful to take a positive view of setbacks, misfortunes and mistakes?
Richard Merbler: Yes. Sometimes that’s easy to say and sometimes hard to do. Especially when you get stuck in certain routines and you do the same things over and over again. To do something for several years realizing that at the end of that period, things will change. But it’s hard enough for especially kids to work on a goal that they have to work with for a couple of weeks or even a few days but to realize that you’ve got to make some sacrifices right now and possibly in a few years or a decade things will change; that’s not always easy to keep a positive attitude.
Richard Merbler: That’s probably why it’s important to be involved in some kind of church life or some kind of spiritual life. Otherwise when you are just surrounded with a lot of secular things in your life it doesn’t tend to lift you up very much. It doesn’t give a lot of positive feedback.
Ralph: Do you think that the media, the movies and the radio focus too much on negative things that create fear?
Richard Merbler: Well fear sells a lot. You know we do a lot of things, as I talked to somebody one time and they were talking about the stock market & they said, “well you know the stock market is either driven by greed or by fear.” I think everybody in advertising has realized that fear will sell a lot. And certainly politicians realize that if you make your voters afraid of your opponent then maybe they’ll vote for you.
Ralph: Do you maintain your sense of humor in the face of difficult situations or serious problems?
Richard Merbler: I try to. I immediately think of the time when I was in a car accident a few years ago & this was maybe the 3rd or 4th when somebody had run into me over a period of 6 or 7 years. Every time I would get into an accident I would realize that it would interfere and disrupt my work for maybe the next 6 months or a year.
Richard Merbler: And that I would be having to deal with a certain amount of pain. That would be a difficult thing to work through. Then my wife would try to lighten up the situation & sometimes made me realize that when we were kids & our parents would say something like, “well look on the bright side.”
Richard Merbler: I began to realize that there’s a time and a place to say something like that. There are other times when you really just have to let people be in their nasty little miserable state and work through that for a while or at least get used to that.
Richard Merbler: Then after a week or two then try to pull them up. Sometimes you can do that faster than others. That’s when timing is everything and to be able to say the right thing at thre right moment is really a gift.
Ralph: Do you think it takes courage to pursue new ideas?
Richard Merbler: Yes, it does. It’s scary because it’s going to create a change and change is not always the sort of thing that creates comfort in our life. It often creates a sense of confusion. Certainly in my work as a rolfer when people come in and there is no clear one thing to start with I’ve learned to try to be ok with being confused in a sense of just keeping my focus open. And trying not to get too caught up in the fact that I think I know what I need to do or that I don’t know what I need to do and just listen.
Ralph: When people come for rolfing don’t they have a certain amount of fear? Because when you do work on them and change their posturing everything seems to change, their emotions, their thought patterns, etc. Do people have a hard time making that choice to change?
Richard Merbler: Some people probably are reluctant to go in that direction. I think that’s probably why some people get a lot more out of it than others. Some people seem to almost embrace change and other people almost cower away from it. Even if they are in pain and the idea of change, the one aspect of it is it could maybe release their pain. But in an odd way it’s almost as if they’re thinking unconsciously that at least I’m familiar with my pain. Even if it hurts it’s my pain. The idea of not having pain, that means that well then you have the responsibility to do other things because you won’t have pain to fall back on and use that as an excuse.
Ralph: Were you willing to experience discomfort in the pursuit of your dream? I know you always had the dream of being one of the best rolfers in the world. Did it take a lot of willingness and discomfort to get to the level of skill you are at now?
Richard Merbler: Well, for me everything that I did with that was pretty exciting. To realize that changes happening for me almost gave me more energy than anything else. Although I’m sure there are different aspects of the work that I’m still not very good at and probably because of that I will deny that I have a problem with it.
Richard Merbler: I think part of the problem that I’m facing and others as well is really recognizing what areas are weak in our lives and what areas we need to work with. Typically people will tend to continue to work on things that they are good at. If something needs to be done that they are not good at we tend to just neglect that.
Richard Merbler: So I guess part of the challenge is to be ok with not being perfect and then to be ok with doing things that you are not very good at, at all. With realization that you might not be very good at it but if you work with it then little by little you’ll continue to get better. It’s the same thing that I learned when I was studying guitar.
Richard Merbler: You pick the guitar up and you try to play a song and you realize that you are really bad and other people are really good & the only way to get better is to practice. But when you practice other people will hear you play & they’ll hear that you’re not very good. The older you get the more difficult that becomes because as we get older we naturally want to feel that we’re accomplished at whatever we’re trying to do, kind of a Catch-22.
Ralph: How were you able to overcome your doubts and fears?
Richard Merbler: Well, I think the doubts and fears are something that I don’t know that I’ve ever overcome to the sense that they are not existent. But I think that I’m ok with having doubts and fears. Doubting in a sense keeps me a little more humble. And realizing that no matter how much I think I might know about something that I never really understand it all.
Richard Merbler: Often times I don’t even understand most of what there is to work with. So in that sense I think the doubts and fears, you know as a classical guitarist, this idea of fear was certainly apparent when I would walk out on a stage & sit down to perform.
Richard Merbler: Initially there is a great deal of anxiety and fear wherein that you are going to screw up in front of everybody and just be a fool. After a while you begin to utilize that fear and anxiety to simply give your performance a little more energy. After you’ve done it a few times you begin to basically become more comfortable with the fact that there is that chance of messing up. That’s not a bad thing. Life is not perfectly safe.
Richard Merbler: It’s times like that I think there is a lot of anxiety but as soon as you pass through it it’s very exhilarating. Whether it’s walking out on a concert stage or whether it’s canoeing down the rapids or skiing down the mountain or involved in any type of activity in which in a sense you are putting something on the line & you’re putting something that you value at risk.
Richard Merbler: Maybe sometimes it doesn’t always come out so good but when you keep doing it, you begin to almost become comfortable with the fear. Or at least the fear doesn’t immobilize you. Some people will almost be paralyzed with fear and not be able to move.
Richard Merbler: You can almost use fear to create action. I can think of in sports if you are afraid of being hurt by somebody whose really big and you are carrying the ball perhaps that will get you to run faster. So I think fear can be a very mobilizing factor. Fear is not a bad thing. We just have to realize that we are afraid because often times, and I know in the past, people would talk to me about fear and I’d say, “well you know I’m not afraid of anything.” I think that’s typically the response or the awareness that people have is that there’s this sense of denial that we aren’t afraid of everything.
Richard Merbler: And actually dwell on the idea of what we might be afraid of is maybe not very comfortable at first but I think that after a while it’s a very health thing to do because once you begin to realize what you are afraid of or what kind of things create fear in your life then that’s a huge step.
Richard Merbler: Then the next thing to do is to try to do something to counteract that to understand your fear. That’s half the battle. Realizing what you are afraid of. Mostly they say we are afraid of the unknown.
Ralph: Do you readily forgive those who upset, offend and oppose you? How important is forgiveness to you?
Richard Merbler: Everyday when I say a prayer the first thing I pray for is unconditional forgiveness. Sometimes I really dwell on that and I begin to realize the huge magnitude of that statement. It’s not an easy thing to do. But I think when there’s this sense of anger about something that’s been done to us or around us or some situation that we are upset about.
Richard Merbler: It doesn’t do any good to carry that anger. It’s actually probably one of the reasons people get sick is because it begins to eat on us like a cancer. It was one of the things that Christ was always preaching is the ability to forgive others.
Richard Merbler: It was something he certainly showed by example. It’s not easy. Sometimes it’s not going to come around very fast. It may take a couple of years to begin to be able to forgive a particular action but at least it’s something that it’s important to be able to be aware of.
Ralph: Do you experience service to others as a source of joy?
Richard Merbler: Yes I really do. Certainly in the last five to six years when I was teaching Sunday school class and working with junior high and high school students when I thought the class was incredibly disruptive & how dare they talk and act like a couple of crazy kids when I was trying to teach the class. Still there was a sense that every once in a while somebody would get it. That would always keep me going. And just the opportunity to do something like that is really an honor.
Ralph: When was the lowest point in your life and how did you change your life path to one of victory over the obstacles you were facing at that time?
Richard Merbler: Probably the lowest point in our life was when our baby died about nine years ago. She had Down’s Syndrome and had a lot of health problems and after 10 months had to have open heart surgery & died a week later. The amount of grief and sorrow that we experienced was tremendous, almost overwhelming.
Richard Merbler: It just kind of took our breath away. It took our energy away and it was just all you could do was to get out of bed in the morning. I remember, that was in September that she died, and probably about 7 or 8 months later, it was in the summer time & my wife & daughter were involved in a church musical. They were going to a lot of rehearsals.
Richard Merbler: I’d come home from work & everybody would be gone. They did that for about six weeks & by the end of that period I had come home to maybe an empty house for so, so long that one night I came home & was just extremely depressed.
Richard Merbler: The idea of suicide entered my mind. And you know I was lucky enough to not give in to that desire. And I just went about my business for the rest of the afternoon & ended up going to the musical my wife & daughter were in and my parents were there. My spirit just went through a complete reversal.
Richard Merbler: I went from being overwhelmed with grief to feeling a sense of joy and lightness as if I was able to just let my troubles to be taken over by other people in my life & realize that, no matter how much grief I had. I think turning my focus away from my own problems and seeing what was around me.
Richard Merbler: I think that also since this performance was in our church there was just a sense of the Holy Spirit there that sort of lifted me up. Like I said I went from being really down to being filled with joy & a sense of lightness in my heart. That was a beautiful experience.
Ralph: Do you think a lot of people fall into that trap? Just thinking about themselves over & over again & what’s going on in their lives & just don’t see any way out because they are not focusing on other people or doing things for other people. Do you think that’s true?
Richard Merbler: Yes. I’ve certainly experienced that a lot. I know another time when I was going through a divorce & I was going to school & working at the same time. My job was an orderly at the emergency room at a county hospital up in Denton Texas. Every once in a while I’d get kind of down on things & feel bad because I was living in a rather run down house.
Richard Merbler: It was rather cheap and affordable but certainly nothing that was enjoyable. But going to work and trying to help people and seeing folks who were literally dealing with life & death certainly put my little problems in prospective. I would come home from work exhausted and at the same time sort of feeling as if I really didn’t have any problems compared to what I was dealing with at work and what I saw other people were dealing with.
Richard Merbler: So the idea of letting your focus go away from yourself and giving yourself to others not only helps other people but as the old saying goes “it’s better to give than to receive”. I think that’s probably part of the essence behind that saying because you do help yourself a lot when you are giving to others, because you are letting go of your own problems when you do that.
Ralph: How important was it to believe your dreams and that they would eventually become reality?
Richard Merbler: I continue to find that to be true. Every time I really focused on something that was important to me no matter how unattainable it seemed to be it will always come about to happen. I think part of that was that you make that your focus and you look at it on a daily basis or maybe even several times a day.
Richard Merbler: One example of that was that in the process of becoming a rolfer as I went through the selection process and admission process and had to write a series of essay questions over things that I didn’t understand.
Richard Merbler: They were topics which I thought certainly a rolfer would be able to discuss but sense I wasn’t a rolfer why were they asking me to discuss these things which I didn’t understand. It was a series of questions which I looked at for a long time. And the more I looked at it I became more and more frustrated.
Richard Merbler: Finally I decided I would just make a copy of this list of topics and tape it to my car on the dash board and the mirror in the bathroom and at work & I would just look at it. If I didn’t know what it meant then that’s ok but I’d just let it be there.
Richard Merbler: I did that for a couple of years. Finally one day I looked at it and it made sense to me. I finally understood what they were getting me to do. I could have gone the short route and asked them to send me examples of what other people had written on these topics. But maybe I’m stubborn and I wanted to figure it out on my own.
Richard Merbler: But that sort of thing has continued to happen and every time I really get focused on trying to accomplish something, it has come about
Ralph: What is your definition of heroism?
Richard Merbler: My definition of heroism is someone who is able to give of themselves in a very selfless manner. In that respect it covers a lot of territory. I think often times when we think of a hero it’s someone who has given their life to save others. But I think in reality it’s people in everyday life that we meet that are able to just give of themselves without expecting anything in return & trying to help others, simply because they realize that people need help. And they have the ability to do it & they make an effort to do so.
Ralph: Did you ever create a secret hero in your mind that helped you deal with life’s difficulties?
Richard Merbler: Not really. I think I had enough real heroes in my life just in my own family with my folks who seemed to give a lot. I think between immediate family & extended family with relatives I saw a lot of people doing things for others & it sort of ingrained that idea that that’s what you do when you have the gifts & talent to do things to help others, if you’ve got the time & ability to so. Do it.
Ralph: Who are the HEROES in your life now?
When I looked at that question and tried to list them, it’s a vast array of people who’ve come across my path. It’s from my parents to relatives I’ve greatly admired and saw them struggle with difficulties in life for their health. With teachers that would say just the right thing and give me a spark that every once in a while even now 30 or 40 years later I’ll think about and it will kind of lift me up.
Richard Merbler: Friends that I’ve made over the last many years and people that I’ve seen struggle with really difficult situations and continue to keep trying to work. In that sense I’ve really been blessed because it’s hard to think of any part of my life where I don’t have just a vast number of heroes. The list is endless.
Ralph: Who do you feel are the real heroes in our society today that are not getting the recognition and rewards they deserve?
Richard Merbler: Probably teachers, people working in hospitals, volunteers, people involved in church and centers dealing with the homeless and the poor and the hungry. People who are basically doing the grunt work. Soldiers on the line in Iraq.
Richard Merbler: Lot’s of folks that are really giving everything they can. They do it simply because they know they should. They aren’t making any money and they certainly not being famous and nobody’s naming a tennis shoe after them. But they do it because they’ve got the ability and I guess they feel in their heart that that’s what needs to be done so they do it.
Ralph: Why are HEROES so important in the lives of young people?
Richard Merbler: Gosh without a hero or a role model what are you going to do? I guess you can end up living your life as you would see it in the movies or the tv screen but sometimes those types of heroes are shallow and maybe to a certain extent misguided. So without some real heroes in your life people who have a sense of integrity & righteousness, I think kids are lost. That’s an essential part to being a kid is to have a hero.
Ralph: What are the things parents can do that will help their children realize they too can be HEROES and make a positive impact on the lives of others?
Richard Merbler: Probably the most important thing is to just spend more time with them. To go do things with them. Whether they are going on trips or going on a hike or just working around the house. Whether they get involved in community projects in helping others. Like with our church they’ll go down to Mexico and help the people build a mission or help repair their homes.
Richard Merbler: When you are together and working on a project like that I think that gives you the opportunity to then begin to share some of your experiences & also listen to what’s going on with others. So that’s when parents can maybe begin to develop a little bit better relationship with the kids. It’s something that takes a lot of effort. You can’t just say I’m going to do it then have it happen.
Ralph: How does it feel to be recognized as an health HERO?
Richard Merbler: Pretty exciting. It makes me feel pretty good.
Ralph: Why do you think you were selected for this unique honor?
Richard Merbler: I guess because the work that I do is very valuable and it’s fairly unique & requires a certain amount of hard work. It’s not an easy thing to do.
Ralph: How are you making the world a better place?
Richard Merbler: I think the first thing that I do to make the world a better place is to try to make myself be the best person I can be. I think by doing that just my example if nothing else often times people will say a lot of things, but it depends on what they do.
Richard Merbler: If you could do things and live your life in a certain way I think more than anything else that is a great gift to others. It gives them maybe the inspiration to try to do those type of things in their life that are difficult but they know they should do them.
Ralph: Do you have any good solutions to the problems facing society, especially racism, child and spousal abuse and violence among young people?
Richard Merbler: All I can say to that is you know we’ve been talking about giving of ourselves to the community in a sense to make yourself available to other people. I think in so doing that in itself because you are making one on one connection rather than making large statements in some type of media, because often that becomes impersonal.
Richard Merbler: It really doesn’t touch people in their heart. I think if you can make a connection with others on this one to one connection and to share with them your values; and things that are important and how you’ve struggled with life. And everybody thinks that their problems are unique and they are the only ones that are experiencing this type of dilemma, once they realize that this is a fairly common routine that everyone tends to go through and experience in their life.
Richard Merbler: I think when you give the people an opportunity to get to share that with you, I think that all these other problems begin to break down. You cannot hate someone that you know and somebody that has helped you all of a sudden. It doesn’t matter what color they are. Like with the Olympics when people get out and they compete with each other & they begin to sit down and have dinner with each other.
Richard Merbler: Suddenly it doesn’t matter what country or what or what language or what color your skin is. Because you begin to see what’s in the other person’s heart. Once you make that connection then a lot of the other biases about things that you were afraid of because you didn’t understand it, because you didn’t know and just fear of the unknown. Once you begin to understand then the fear begins to dissolve.
Ralph: If you had three wishes for your life and the world, that would instantly come true, what would they be?
Richard Merbler: Wouldn’t that be great? Gosh suddenly my mind is just a blank. That’s an overwhelming question. I know when I’ve looked at that in the past I had a fairly quick reply and now I think my old replies or answers were really a lot of hogwash. One wish is peace. Maybe the 2nd good wish would be for the Second Coming of Christ.
Richard Merbler: When I talk to other people about that and all the things that they seem to focus on are the things that are supposed to happen before Christ comes, which is not going to be pleasant. They sort of want to put that off further and further. I sort of like to get it over with.
Ralph: What do you think about the In Search Of Heroes Program and its impact on youth, parents and business people?
Richard Merbler: I think it’s a great idea. The idea of being able to help people in the community who are in need of help and blending professionals with kids who are at a very impressionable age and can maybe really can gain some kind of an inspiration. Or begin to realize that the problems they experience are not that overwhelming.
Richard Merbler: And people that maybe since the beginning of time have faced begin to realize that ‘oh well if they can do it then maybe I can do it.’ Hopefully that’s what this program will do is maybe be able to give these people the ability and the energy to do something with their life. I look at everybody as being a very precious seed in this world. If we can just nurture that seed the best we can I think things will be great.
Ralph: Do you think kids look at the examples of their parents more than just listening to their words?
Richard Merbler: I think the words are pretty shallow and meaningless and empty unless they are backed up by some kind of substantial action. Unless some kind of action is taken then whatever it is that people say it’s not that important. Maybe, in fact, they laugh at it because people are saying one thing and they are doing something else.
Ralph: Do you have any advice for young people in parting?
Richard Merbler: Everything I think of right now seems kind of silly. The idea of trying to do the best you can in school and help the people in your immediate family and your community, and to ask for their help when you are having a problem with things. Basically sit down and talk with people that are bothering you and about the things you are afraid of, about the things you are unhappy about and to pray.
My first career was teaching and performing classical guitar. I received my master’s degree in guitar performance in 1980 from SMU and taught in the junior colleges for 13 years. I developed a problem with my left ring finger and subsequently received a few Rolfing® Structural Integration sessions, which resolved the problem of a pinched nerve in my wrist and I felt great.
A year later I lifted my wife’s grandmother out of her wheelchair and hurt my back. This time I went through a full series of Rolfing (10-12 sessions). Not only was my back better and moving easier, I started to feel alive for the first time in years. It was like the difference between driving a dependable 15 year-old car versus driving a brand new Jaguar.
Yes, that’s what I mean by ‘alive’. I felt like I had just won the lottery. I watched my wife and daughter go through the process of Rolfing and I watched the changes in their bodies and noticed how the dynamics in our home changed — we had a house full of lively people! I knew I had to find out what Rolfing was all about and began my studies in 1990.
During my college career I worked in Emergency Room at Denton County Hospital as an orderly and was fascinated by what I saw. The idea of studying medicine was planted, but I wanted to see what I could do with the guitar and was attracted to the creative arts. I found that in rolfing I could combine my love of art with the study of the human body. There are many dimensions to Rolfing and as you begin to move toward a more integrated structure many doors begin to open. We have these words — body, mind and spirit. We think they are separate parts of our being, but through rolfing we begin to realize it is all of us — our totality. When you begin to improve one aspect of your being, everything else is free to jump onboard!
Being a Rolfer is an exciting journey. Years ago when I asked my Rolfer if I had the potential to become a Rolfer, he replied, “I don’t know, but going through the process is worth the price of admission.” I wasn’t sure I wanted to invest $25,000 to simply experience the process, but in retrospect
he was right. I got just what I needed