The Psychoanalytic Mystic
is one of the latest book by Mike Eigen.
I have got the kind permission of the Author and of the Publisher - Free Association Books (London) - to reprint here the Introduction. Thanks a lot to FAB and my special gratitude to Mike for this exciting book and for giving us the privilege of having a part of it on our site!
People can purchase the book from FAB by post (57 Warren Street, London W1P 5PA), by telephone (0171 388 3182), by fax (0171 388 3187) or by e-mail. The book can also be purchased from Karnac Books.
[Silvio A. Merciai]
What is a psychoanalytic mystic? Psychoanalysis and mysticism appear to be mutually exclusive. Analysis sticks pins in mystical bubbles. It traces in mysticism outlines of infantile ego states and early feelings clustering around mother-father images. It hopes to free humanity from mysticism by promoting the evolution of analytic consciousness. Many analysts believe mixing mysticism and psychoanalysis dilutes, even undermines, the latter. In this vein, Freud saw dependency on religion as one of humankindís greatest obstacles to maturation.
Still, life is not neat, and, logically consistent or not, many analysts are deeply mystical, or have a foot in mystical experience, or are friendly towards mysticism. For me, there are moments when psychoanalysis is a form of prayer. There is, too, a meditative dimension in psychoanalytic work. Psychoanalytical-mystical openness to the unknown overlap. Analytic workers, not religious in the literal sense, may be touched by intimations of something sacred in the work.
My own development has been helter-skelter. Iíve been speaking with God since I was a little boy, and if Wordsworth is right, living in God even earlier. I canít say that God hasnít answered. The Jewish God is quite a conversationlist. Torah says God speaks the world into being, so an awful lot of God talk is going on. I imagine my being a writer has a little to do with my Godís verbal prowess.
But what if God breathes the world into being? Ruach Elohim - the breath of God, the breath of Life, the Holy Spirit. I suppose a dedicated verbalist (psychoanalysis, the talking cure?) could argue that breath was created so words would be possible. But suppose God breathed a long time before He felt like speaking? Perhaps God knew that once He spoke, especially after we came along, it would be difficult to have any peace. I think God was loathe to open his mouth lest the beauty and power of His words eclipse the bliss of breathing. For many, it is easier to be awed by the fireworks of words, than cradled and sprung by breath.
Before words and the creation of our world, souls probably breathed freely together. Of course, one shouldnít blame everything on words. Animals fight, eat each other. But words ignite fires teeth and claws canít. Myriad creative-destructive fires. Wars of words, wills, territories conflagarate. What would a world without words be like?
It would be a world without a digestive system as we know it. We speak through our mouths, not noses. Speaking is weighted by a background of finding (the right word, prey, food), biting, chewing, swallowing, absorbing. Disgestion-respiration follow an in-out mode. Starving-suffocation are primal dreads.
Ought we assume that God found the right Word, and this is the right World? Or are there worlds that flow with words in-out of God, akin to black hole-radiant light? Do worlds-words get mixed, so we sometimes feel in the wrong world, say the wrong thing as creative-destructive God partners? Do we say our worlds, live our words? Arenít worlds incessantly coming-going with breathing? If we sat minding our breathing all day, weíd fight a lot less. Almost as soon as we start speaking, we start fighting. The Tree of Knowledge is a Tree of Words or, at least, associates food with language. But we canít breathe and talk our lives away, although we may try, and sometimes succeed.
There are times when it is easier to find the Tree of Life through breathing, but neither breath nor word are guarantees. Both can be wonderful channels or insidious traps. Life is everywhere and anything can tap it. Even tripping on oneís shoelaces can quicken the spirit, although tripping too often may stifle it. "Holy, Holy, Holy - the whole earth is filled with His glory!" Words like this express the flame that sends chills and thrills through all tendrils. The last psalms are shouts of joy, banging on drums and cymbals, blowing horns, dancing ecstatically. The shofar is a wake up call, "soul clap hands", "spirit ditty of no tone" - all tones. How much can one wake up in a lifetime?
There is an awful story in the Torah of a man stoned to death for gathering sticks on the sabbath. The story, first of all, shows how religion, mysticism, and violence go together. Not just the violent, temper tantrum, paranoid-schizoid, infantile Jewish God (a volcano God, Freud (1939) writes). My Buddhist patients - pacifists, breathers, mindful and empty - are no strangers to controlling rages (Chapter 10). Christian violence is well known. We dread irruptions from Moslem volcanos, worried that patriot-terrorists will use nuclear weapons. To be fair, it is difficult to distinguish violence associated with race, nationalism, and social-economic conditions from mystical violence, although these mesh in brutal ways.
There are ways to rationalize the stoning of the wood gatherer. He was closer to the moment God gave Moses the Torah: transgression magnifies as a function of illumination. But the story - without minimizing its ghastliness - also has relevance for the letter-spirit distinction. The man was at a point when sabbath illumination ought to have been the light lived. Why was he seeking a lesser light (a kind of death, stoning oneself, turning self to stone)) instead of living the greater one?
The story cuts two ways. Mystical illumination and the facts of life need to learn how to live together. Body needs warmth, spirit illumination. Why pit one against the other? To be sure, daily chores and cares can swallow the spirit. But they can enrich it, and vice versa. The struggle to find the right mix at a given time, for a given person, is very much a living issue. Spirit can annihilate or inspire everyday life, as the latter can nourish or suffocate spirit.
There are mysticisms of emptiness and fullness, difference and union, transcendence and immanence. One meets the Superpersonal beyond opposites or opens to the void and formless infinite. There are mystical moments of shattering and wholeness - many kinds of shattering, many kinds of wholeness. In moments of illumination, not only oneís flaws stand out, oneís virtues become a hindrance (Chapters 4, 6). Prophets attack our evil ways, but inspire us to new heights, new visions of God, new relationships to ourselves and one another.
In light of the richess of mystical experiencing, psychoanalytic focus on the "oceanic" aspect seems almost shallow. Nevertheless, Freudís writings are rich with implications for mystical experiencing. We know from his letters to Fliess (Masson, 1985) how superstitious he could be. Like Einstein, he refers to the Almighty in informal ways, and uses mystical imagery to portray creative processes. He even wrote Fliess, in passing, that psychoanalysis was akin to the ancient mystery rites. Freud wrote more books on religion than any other subject except sexuality. In Chapter 1, I explore some of the treasures in Freudís writings on religion and mystical experience.
In Chapter 1, I also introduce the main psychoanalytic authors I use as lenses to bring out interfaces of psychoanalytic and mystical experience: Milner, Winnicott, Bion and Lacan. There are other authors I could have used, who form the background of my work, in particular, Kohut, Jung, and W. Reich. But I picked those I am most intimate with, who I read the most, and who take me places clinically and personally I need to go at this time in my life.
It is difficult to overestimate the role played by Marion Milner who, in her quiet, unassuming way, helped develop the climate for spontaneous interpenetration of psychoanalytic and mystical life. She naturally uses mystical language to portray and amplify psychoanalytic processes, and the latter to probe, cleanse, and open mystical experiencing. In her work, the pregnant void, emptiness, creative chaos, the deep unconscious, and I-yet-not-I experience are central.
At the same time, she is true to the hard facts of life, the play of illusion-disillusion, embodiment. She is a visionary spokesperson for imaginative perception (even wrote that perception is a form of imagination), ever digging into ways we communicate with ourselves and each other through mystical, bodily depths. There is no contradiction between transcendence and embodiment in her work, where surface-depth of bodily experience has its own kind of transcendence. She is a special kind of body mystic, and a hallowing of sensory-feeling life runs through her work.
Milner is virtually unique in psychoanalysis in viewing symbolic expression as a kind of ebullient overflow, expressive of the orgasmic joy of creative experiencing (1957, 1987; Eigen, 1993, pp. xxi-xxiii, 157-176). To be sure, creative experiencing has many phases, agonizing, depressive, dead, empty, as well as thrilling and high. Milner explores ways our symbolizing capacity expresses phases of creative processes (see, too, her analysandís, Ehrenzweigís, 1971, wonderfully suggestive explorations of this theme). Most analysts link the emergence of symbolization with loss. Milner includes this but does not make plenitude a second class citizen.
While I do not write about Milner after the first chapter, her work remains a background support. For example, there is an implicit connection between the use I make of Lacanís jouissance (Chapters 7-9) and Milnerís linking of symbolic life with an orgasmic sense of generativity. For Lacan, the symbolic capacity functions, in part, as witness, interrogator, interlocutor to our ruptured, grandiose condition (e.g., it illuminates megalomanic "solutions" to wounded fusion). Through the symbol we agonizingly reflect the fissure in the real that symbolic capacity institutes. Lacan, in grand French tradition, like Moliere, develops a dramatic critique of the ego.
As his work develops, jouissance and the real enter the foreground (Lacan, 1977, 1978). To undo the gap or absence that is part of symbolic mediation is madness. One accesses jouissance (orgasmic pleasure-bliss-ecstasy) through convolutions of a Moebius strip/booelean ring unconscious mind, in which primary repression and castration are constitutive structures. The very fact of symbolization is already a kind of castration at the heart of the real. No matter how joyous our joy, it is through a glass darkly.
No mystic would say otherwise. Nonetheless, mystical ecstasy carries very real authority which canít be dismissed as merely mad. It can obliterate structures and limits in destructive ways but, also, shine through them. It can appreciate structures at hand, without being oppressed by them, without giving them the last or only word. And if it is mad, it is a madness that makes life worthwhile.
One senses currents of jouissance in the twists and turns of daily life. It is part of the juiciness of life. Jouissance is the under-and-overside of the skin of the ego. One can more or less focus on it, magnify it. It can seize attention, overflow, carry one to beautiful/horrible places. One tries to filter it through desires.
Lacan claims to be anti-mystical. Psychoanalysis, unlike mysticism, does not claim direct contact with reality. Psychoanalysis is indirect, mediate, inferential. Yet the jouissance of psychoanalysis exerts special appeal. Isnít psychoanalytic jouissance especially tantalizing in face of (because of?) all its proposed asceticism?
Winnicott (1958, 1974, 1971, 1989) spent a good part of his professional life writing about the sense of aliveness-deadness - what conditions enliven-deaden self. Iíve detailed evolution of his extraordinary developmental-clinical account elsewhere (Eigen, 1986, 1996; also, Phllips, 1988). His work resonates with a sense of the sacred. He wrote of a sacred core of personality, the incommunicado self. The distinction between true-false self was real for him. He criticized deadening and degrading aspects of compliance and conformity associated with false self, and appreciated ways that chaos and madness contributed to true self aliveness. He experienced the latter as part of inspiration in sessions, writing, living. He so valued the sense of aliveness, he prayed, ĎOh God! May I be alive when I die."
Winnicott did not need an other world mysticism. The real of this world was more than enough. Yet he did not want to be confined by common sense, although the latter served as ballast. He needed to let go structures, dip into formlessness, let something emerge from elsewhere, nowhere. For Winnicott, emptying-opening let something real happen. Emptiness-openness was a method for courting spontaneity.
Thus the real was not entirely or simply the three dimensional material world, no matter how important the latter. The real was associated with playing, chaos, destruction and surviving destruction, madness. Near the end of his life, Winnicott linked what is most real with a private madness one can only partly touch (1989, pp. 119-129). Too much "sanity" kills spontaneity. A touch of madness adds taste to reality.
A muted sacramental current runs through Winnicottís work. One senses the sanctity of individual personality, reverence for the vital spark. Consubstantiation is used as an example of how self paradoxically spans dimensions. The spark of life leaps between self and other, dies out when it is localized. Aliveness wanes when confined to merely inner. Reality ceases to be real when confined to merely outer. Religion in the sense of "ties between" (neither here nor there but here-and-there-and-between) becomes a defining ingredient of the real.
The realness of living becomes a value in its own right. In Chapter 2, I use Winnicott and the biblical Jacob to express an evolving sense of life which meets special difficulties in our day. Winnicottís depiction of a besieged "innate democratic factor" presents a special challenge and stimulus to faith in living and adds to what it means to be alive. It interweaves with aspects of Winnicottís work that enrich our sense of personal freedom.
For Bion (1965, 1970), truth may nourish and lies poison, but truth, also, is explosive. Like God, it can shatter personality if one sees it. Bion likens the sense of truth to a big bang at the origin of personality. To tame it is to lose it, but living its shock waves is impossible. He likens illumination to Messiah rupturing Establishment. We may not know what to do with the mystic-genius aspect of self, but without it life would be less inspired-inspiring.
Like Winnicott, Bion begins by exploring deadening aspects and ends by appreciating enlivening aspects of madness. He overlaps with Milner and Winnicott by linking the "void and formless infinite" with psychoanalytic openness. He characterizes the psychoanalytic attitude as being without memory, expectation, desire or understanding. As his work evolved, he placed more importance on faith than knowledge, although both felt confining. Bion refused to be boxed in by capacities he used. He kept straining at limits of the equipment he had (Chapter 3).
Like Winnicott, to the end of his life he kept going further, shaking off crust like a cat shaking off water. Here is a quotation from the Epilogue of one of his last works:
"All my life I have been imprisoned, frustrated, dogged
common-sense, reason, memories, desires and - greatest bug-bear
of all - understanding and being understood. This is my attempt
to express my rebellion, to say ĎGood-byeí to all that...I cannot
claim to have succeeded. All these will, I fear, be seen to have
left their traces...hidden within these words; even sanity, like
Ďcheerfulnessí, will creep in...Wishing you all a Happy Lunacy
and a Relativistic Fission." (1991, p. 578)
Bion uses many images and expressions from religious and mystical life to portray psychoanalytic processes. But he does more. He filters mysticism through psychoanalysis and psychoanalysis through mysticism. Psychoanalysis may be a special discipline imposed on life, but it is worse than nothing if it does not express and further life. Psychoanalysis is "a stripe on the tiger", a part of larger reality, O, that remains unknown, perhaps unknowable. Yet unknowable O is our home. We may not know O, we can only be O. We are O, parts of O. Even if we try to get outside O, there is nowhere outside to get. We are something we canít know.
Bion suggests that so-called "resistance" in psychoanalysis, is resistance to O (Chapter 4). The impact of reality - our mutual realness - carries a certain shock. We resist the shocks we canít escape, O-jolts that shake but make us more real. We incessantly impact on each other, sending emotional ripples through our beings. One of our tasks is to help build equipment to process mutual impacts, to be able to live what we create together. To some extent, a psychoanalyst must be a connoisseur of impacts. Shocks have different tastes. Some we get used to. But there will always be enough new shocks to broaden and shift what is possible to experience.
A link between mysticism and madness emerges in the convergence of Winnicottís, Bionís and Lacanís writings on the theme of precocity, prematurity, insufficiency (Chapter 5). Winnicott writes of unimaginable agonies that mark us before we can sustain, process or even experience them. We do not know what they are. They occur before we have frames of reference for them (if we ever do). Yet these unthinkable, unknown, perhaps unknowable agonies exert a pull. They leave intimations of breakdown at the origin of personality, agonizing breakdowns that occur when personality is beginning to form.
Our personality goes on forming and does not break as fully as at the beginning. But partial breakdowns occur and we fear worse ones. Intimations of breakdowns that occurred when personality was forming haunt us, adding to fear of breakdown now. In therapy, we reach towards the originary breakdown, a state of affairs Winnicott calls x (1989, p. 128). We go through useable doses of x and get the feel of what it is like to come through difficulties that seemed insurmountable. This is less a specific cognitive-behavioral skill (although the latter may be included), than increased flexibility-plasticity of capacity to experience life. We develop a gift for spontaneous recovery from states we were certain would derail us and ruin our chance at living.
Still, madness x is inexhaustible. The sense of totally cataclysmic events happening to personality as it was starting to form never fully leaves. Neither self nor helpers can save one from early breakdowns one goes through, although quality of support in the aftermath makes a difference. The atmospheric tone surrounding breakdown can drive one further down, or lift one through (Eigen, 1992).
Bion emphasizes insufficiency of psychic equipment in a more pervasive way. All through our lives we are challenged by impacts we canít process. We scare ourselves by imaginings which magnify dreads beyond comprehension. Yet our imaginal capacity is real and nourishes growth, as well as threatens it. Our very capacity to experience (think, feel, imagine, sense) can be too much. We do not know what to do with the range, color, intensity available. We translate bits of it into art, poetry, drama, mystical vision, intersubjective know-how. But it also produces wars and threat of greater wars - between individuals, groups, nations. We injure ourselves and each other in both crude and ingenious ways.
Our problem is not just malignant attitudes, bad as these are. But malignancy often works overtime to mask intolerance of embryonic states. So many fetal/embryonic elements of personality get rushed, blotted out, passed over, pushed aside by exigencies of living. We ignore or kill off a lot to develop a self that makes a go of it. Sometimes selection processes work decently and areas of personality we develop serve their purpose. But our attitude to what fails to develop, or what asks for development, can be critical to our overall quality of awareness or larger sense of self. If we fail to find kindly ways of relating to embryonic/fetal aspects (including aspects that sacrificed themselves so we might live), the selves we use to stake our claim to existence can run away with our lives.
When embryonic/fetal elements stir, one dreads rumblings will turn into earthquakes. It is not only a matter of built up structures threatened with collapse, significant as this is. It is, also, that one does not know what the stirrings are or what to do with them. Plates beneath our personal landscape shift before equipment to work with the change evolves. Shifts happen and we have to grow with, through, into, around them. Anxiety about collapse diverts one from deeper, perplexing quandries: what is stirring, what can I do, if anything, to midwife or catch up to it, how can I tell if it deserves a chance at living, how can I become the kind of person to give it a chance or give myself a chance to evolve with it? Here faith may be more important than mastery, although everything we are plays a role in what we can be.
Everything we arenít/are are twins needing room. There is more than we can use or fathom in both directions. Part of the sense of mystery comes from being perpetually embryonic. Many feel that learning how to do things, becoming a scientist, takes mystery away. My own sense is that mystery motivates and nourishes science. Without a sense of mystery, science would dry up - even though science, partly, stimulates its own growth, feeds itself. Discovery deepens mystery. At present, science has never been more exciting, nor mystery deeper. If mystery ends, so will we. Mystery is the core of consciousness, while we know around and through it. Mystery-knowing permeate each other in every pore of existence.
Lacan suggests that we imagine ourselves more whole than we feel as embodied beings. This is made possible by an assymetry between what we do and see. As babies, for example (all through life, really), we see others doing what we canít, and may imagine ourselves as complete and able as they seem to be. In important ways, image takes precedent over body, or, at least, moulds, blurs, exploits body sensations-feelings. We lose touch with our body selves, or, rather, slant potential body experiencing through desires that live through images. We become "masters" of imaginal trophies - capturing desire with desire, playing off variants of wholeness-abjection. As symbolic capacity evolves (and we with it), we become more conscious of disproportions between feelings-images and mutually exploitative scenarios. We somewhat catch on to ourselves.
From Lacanís point of view, mystical feeling is an imaginary way to feel more whole. Mystical feeling feeds psychosis and perversion, undoing or distorting the framework of psychic life. To some extent, neurosis tames mystical feeling with its structures and symptoms (hysterical affect-obsessive/paranoid thinking), using fantasy conflicts as defenses. Yet the neuroticís distorted grip on reality, a reality manquť tinged with fear of reality, a kind of anti-reality, provides a bulwark against the onslaught of mystical states.
Still, beyond the equation of mysticism with madness, there is the life of the unconscious subject, giving birth to revelation-response, "pulsations from the slit", the living word, the drive towards truth, bringing silence to the brink of new possibilities, new worlds of meaning. It is not exhausted by calling it a language machine. Mechanistic explanations fall short. No matter how much we learn about it or use it or are used by it, there is a residue, a surplus, an intrigue about the unconscious subject, its determination to be free, to surprise, to excite, to shift and combine perspectives, to be somewhere else.
Whether or not Lacan would agree, there is a kind of mystical feeling connected with the unconscious subject, at least with some of its workings some of the time. It may or may not be associated with some version of God or sunyata (Lacan sprinkles references to Buddhism in his work). It may not have religious content in the old-fashioned sense. But it does carry a sense of mystery, the thrill of unknowing, shivers of awakening. It does have a sense of taking us deeper into life, opening existence.
Winnicott, Bion and Lacan overlap in emphasizing insufficiency in face of who we are and what we go through. Winnicott emphasizes unprocessable agony, a sense of agony beyond what we can experience, an agony that drives us mad. Bion emphasizes shattering, explosive force, whether evil force destroying existence, or force of terrifying truth. Lacan emphasizes inability and fragmentation we fill with imaginary wholeness. In each case, mystical feeling interlaces with insufficiency-excess.
Mystical feeling often is aroused by a smaller psychic grouping encountering a larger, more powerful grouping outside its boundaries. The first reaction of biblical prophets encountering God may range from fear-terror to awe-dread. Freud (Chapter 1) notes that mystical feeling is aroused by egoís apprehension of id. Political leaders appeal to nations as larger wholes individuals mystically unite with and give themselves to.
At first glimpse, it seems that Freudís association of religion with infantile dependency is right - at least has areas of validity. We fill incapacity with mysticism associated with dependency. Yet even at this level, incapacity goes beyond dependency. Bion calls attention to mystical feeling associated with shattering of dependency (Chapters 3-6). It is precisely where controlling dependency breaks down that mystical awareness heightens. Bionís work includes Lacanís vision of mysticism covering inadequacy, but opens, also, a very real sense of mystical awareness evolving where spurious wholeness breaks down - and keeps breaking down.
Bion pays homage to the mysticism of old - the Changeless Eternal Infinite, the all potential formless Void, O itself. But he also opens to a mysticism of changing moments, a dynamic, restless O. We meet O not simply as peace, but turbulence, even catastrophe. We can not keep up with incessantly evolving O. We work with premonitions. And since we are O, part of O, we work through premonitions of ourselves.
Bionís is a kind of kaleidoscopic mysticism, fidelity to shifts in the O-kaleidoscope. Faith keeps us open to shifts in O, even if we canít handle them. If we stay open to impact as best we can, something gets through. We can and do change, even if we do not know what is happening to us. We get ideas about changes that happened to us after we realize that something made a difference and we are not the same. This is somewhat in line with the Hindu idea that the present is the past, dreaming is the present, inner void the future.
Sometimes we feel an impact without knowing what it is. We learn more about it as time goes on. At the moment we know only the jolt and sense something significant. Sometimes we learn of an impact by living its results. Events unfold in ways that lead us back to an impact we failed to notice or give its due. Somewhere Eddington may have said about the universe, "Something unknown is doing we donít know what." We are that unknowable something, as much of it as we can take.
But what if O or part of O is mad or partly mad? Winnicott, in sync with Bion, finds the stamp of madness running through our personal universe as one of its poles. We dip in and out of a madness we only partly know. It may obliterate and deaden us or help make us feel more alive and real. The impact of ungraspable madness that moulds, attracts, eludes, obliterates-enlivens - colors our sense of mystery, contributes background intensity, tones mystical feeling.
Disintegration is real. There are times environmental impingement breaks us down. We disintegrate under traumatic impacts and need recovery time. Sometimes we recover in deformed ways. We harden and refuse to disintegrate, or partially harden around pockets of disintegration. We learn to face the world without going under much of the time. Nevertheless, disintegration leaves traces. Our own personality threatens us. We covertly fear ourselves and a world that provokes disintegration or can not stop it. We fear life that has horror of disintegration built into it. We know we are the kind of beings who can disintegrate. We step between disintegraton threats like children stepping between cracks in the sidewalk, hoping to avoid fault lines of personality.
At the same time, joy is real. Coming through terror of disintegration can bring joy. So can love and beauty. There are joys of triumph, success, power - mastery joys. Cruel and mean joys. There is mad joy - heart bursting with joy. We are transported, brought to new places by joy. We bathe in streams of heavenly delights.
Often our emotions confuse us. Disintegration dread fuses with ecstatic surrender.
Increasingly violent movies portraying instant disintegration of bodies (or worlds) provide a spurious sense of mastery of dread. At the same time, they enable masses of people to taste the pleasures of disintegration by proxy, thrills of power and helplessness, tinged with a covert mystical charge. Panoramic, kaleidoscopic vistas add a dash of Infinity to the brew. It is as if we are trying to explode our sense of mystery, reduce it to rubble, to nothing, to both experience and null it at the same time.
What odd creatures we are, who try to master mystery by blowing it up. Perhaps not so strange, after all, when weíre told we live in a world that had a violent beginning and will have a violent ending, not a universe beginning with word or breath. But biblical reality was violent too. We worship a God who loves and destroys, creates good and evil, is compassionate and angry, merciful and severe. We try to separate and divide these poles to gain some clarity, but often canít tell one from the other. Satan is luminous, God dark, as well as the reverse. We move between positions in which Satan is part of God, God part of Satan, desperately playing off one against the other. In so many ways, we begin to acknowledge obliteration as a way of relating to and apprehending reality.
Childhood books puzzle through emotional nuclei, shifting mixtures of might-fright, glad-bad-mad-sad, changing space-time realities, sizes, love-power paradoxes, paying homage to our capacity to go through so many states, to be mysterious to ourselves, to live in a dumbfounding cosmos. "Who am I?" asks Alice - and in writing this I wrote Alive. So much of childhood upbringing involves lies of mercy, reassuring young ones that life isnít what they think it is - but as adults they must find out it is. The chaos we climb out of as children, we nurture as adults.
Joyous, fearful, rageful, sorrowful beings. Emotions span inner-outer realities and spotlight, find, generate, weave together, break apart worlds. Mysticisms reflect the variable intensity of emotional life. There are mysticisms that go beyond emotions or take us into and through emotions, use emotions to take us beyond ourselves. There are mysticisms of emotion and no-emotion, self and no-self, filled-empty, everything-nothing, good-evil. Mysticisms combine and use ingredients of personality (eg., self-other, body-mind-spirit, top-bottom, in-out) every which way. In an earlier book (1993), I explored "free floating ideal feeling", a beatific sense that could attach itself to many kinds of objects and events. We are used to opposing mystical states and everyday life. But our emotional life combines mystical feeling and practical living in better-worse ways.
Mystical feeling is not limited to what we think is good and valuable. We need, first of all, to acknowledge it is there, whatever it is, a real force or forces, working in ways we barely sense.
Science is making inroads on the physiology and neurochemistry of mystical feeling. The limbic system is a seat of mysticism and emotionality. (Joseph, 1996, pp. 268-319). The broca area may carry the voice of God (Jaynes, 1976). The autonomic system plays a role in mediating fear of God, holy wrath, sense of oneness (viz., adrenal rush in addictions, heightened states). Ideas of God and spirituality, involving symbolization, need complex cortical mediation.
Perhaps physiological and chemical know-how will someday control or regulate mystical affect. Certainly, pharmacological regulation of depression, obsessive thinking, eating disorders, and hyperactivity has demonstrated power and value, as well as raised questions about abuse. It is likely even more sophisticated advances in chemical thought-affect regulation will occur. Freud (1940) envisioned a time when neurology would replace psychoanalysis - psychoanalysis was possible or necessary only because the neurology that would make it superfluous had not yet developed.
On the other hand, Freud felt there would always be interest in consciousness for its own sake. In principle, it is difficult to envision such total control of physiology that exploration of experience becomes irrelevant. Access to physiology is through experience.
I donít think we can count on knowledge of physical processes alone to do our thinking-feeling for us. Knowledge of brain processes is not the same as joy of learning. Who we are, how we study, what we study, what we make of it - questions of value, selection, interest, tone, quality, use - such questions require something other than scientific analysis, although the latter contributes.
Our view of science is as crucial as its effects on our view of ourselves. We are, after all, people making use of science, and what kind of people we are affects quality of use. There is humanitarian, compassionate use of science, but also scientific - or pseudo-scientific - fascism. When I presented the case of Lucy (Chapter 11) to scientific audiences, groups were split between those genuinely interested in processes that might be at work, and those who were furious that the patient was not medicated. The enraged (no exaggeration) ones were not slowed down by the fact that Lucy did not want medication, that she did not want anything (including me) to come between her and her wretched self.
Why did Lucy come for help, if she did not want "help"? What was she looking for - waiting for? She didnít know herself - yet had an inchoate sense of it. It took years of my being a background presence, lurking, bouncing back and forth, before she made the contact with life she needed. It couldnít be rushed. The most frightening depression-deprivation became a way of filtering reality for years, until the tide turned, and living became possible. Access to what Lucy really felt, or imagined she felt was crucial. No substitute for this kind of intensity was possible. The result was a profound mystical-practical affirmation of a kind only those who brave this kind of suffering cherish.
Something similar occurred with Dolores (Chapter 5), whom I depict as a kind of "body soul" mystic. She was at the mercy of sensory-feeling bombardments for which she needed to find filters. Her managed care program demanded that she see a psychiatrist for medication, although she did not want to. She was a naked and raw sensitivity who went through agonizing upheavals with friends and myself. But the idea of using medication to make things manageable seemed foreign to her nature (although she saw it help some of her own patients). There was nothing for us to do but keep on working with the emotional fields we generated. We were filters, channels for one another, faulty, messy, leaky, usually inadequate. While we were together, we were all we had. The states we went through had infinite value for their own sake. Sometimes they were "helpful", sometimes "harmful". But they made us keenly appreciative of what kinds of beings we were.
Reading and sex are not things we know about but things we do. The pleasures and freedom that go with reading are not duplicated by knowing about the physiology of reading. While learning how to control the chemistry underlying reading has uses, the worlds, ideas, feelings that reading generates are irreplaceable. Of course, there neednít be conflict between knowledge and experience - they feed each other. They are trees in the same garden - what nourishes the garden, nourishes them. One of the best kept secrets about thinking is how ecstatic it is.
Drugs and mysticism have a long history together (in our day, LSD mystics, for example), showing a close connection between chemistry and consciousness. It is easy to imagine science and mysticism sharing interpenetratng areas. Some feel it already is happening. Others believe the idea misguided, that science and mysticism necessarily exclude each other.
I can only speak from my own experience, my life, my truth. Both psychoanalysis and mystical states have had enormous impacts on me. Theyíve had enriching and destructive impacts. Both add meaning to my life, enrich experience, provide challenges. They interpenetrate each other. They are not separable realities, but part of one reality, what I describe as "paradoxical monism" (Chapters 2, 10). We speak of parts of people, parts of self, and separate disciplines. There is a reality of parts, and each part opens vistas and connections with other parts. We access eternity through our grains of sand, the grain of sand, the snowflake we are. Still, my life is my life. And noone can live it for me. I am not just a bunch of separate parts but a living being, reality alive, a secret, a mystery, an intimation, just plain me. Like you.
There are a lot of people today who, like myself, dip in and out of many things. There is so much available. As I describe in Chapter 10, my interest in Buddhism began more than forty years ago. Except for intermittent and relatively brief periods, Iíve never been a disciplined "practitioner". But Buddhism has had enormous impact on my life, my lifeís "practice", my living. I sporadically dip into Hindu writings and practices and have enjoyed exposures to several Hindu and Buddhist teachers. I still benefit from these contacts. Taoism is important to me and I feel close to aspects of Sufi.
When I was a young man, I considered Catholicism, and for a time took instruction, which illness prevented me from completing. I went through quite some crises with Mother Church, but this was not to be my overt path. Truths I found through my encounter with Catholocism are very much part of me. Nothing one goes through in a deep way is wasted.
Judaism provided a powerful point of access to Divinity after my fatherís death. The moment of his death was a turning point. He held on several weeks, apparently unconscious for days. At last his local rabbi returned from vacation and visited and chanted, the Shma, the priestly blessing, parts of Adon Olam ("Into His hand I shall entrust my spirit...the Lord is with me, I shall not fear."). When the rabbi left, my mother, sister and I knew my father was gone, peacefully, as the last notes faded. The words formed in my mind, "The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lives."
I studied Judaism and aspects of kabbalah for several years afterwards. Bion spontaneously spoke to me about the kabbalahís importance for him nearly a decade earlier (Chapter 3; and Eigen, 1993, pp. 260, 272). This aspect of my development, also, was anticipated in a paper on faith (1993, pp. 109-138), taking off from the biblical challenge to love your God, with all your heart, soul, might. This all your heart, soul, might, mind - all of you, good and evil aspects, all - there is no more passionate calling.
At this moment, Iím no longer literally observant, but a patchwork blend. A deep feeling runs through the patches, something all tributaries link up with. All the gateways, avenues of access - Something pours through them all. There is a fidelity to this sacred something, the very mystery of who we are. For many, traditional religious forms can not contain or do justice to the mystery we are part of, although they try. They provide hints. Hints come from many sources. There are so many of us now immersed in and uplifted by a diversity of hints. Parocchial arrogance - religious or psychoanalytic - is out of order. Mutual permeability, creative combinatons, the generative unborn canít be absorbed or channeled by overly rigid postures. We are very much in process of discovering the what, how and who of experience, learning new abcís, mixtures of new-old canís-caníts regarding the immensity of what we are given, find, and create.
We are far from free of the mirrorís other sides, our ghastly, nasty selves, the monsters in our dreams as well as waking lives - ourselves, each other, our worlds, our universe. More and more, as best we can, through our selfish selves and with our selfish selves as partners, may we reach out-in a little, and a little more, and keep on helping ourselves and each other, to the extent we are able, which may be more than we imagine. In Chapter 12, I try to sketch something of the way we shift and stretch, to grow with new conditions, but, also, to evolve with demands made on us by pressing inner dynamics, our own personal thorns, and the often furious suffering of others. One would think there is nothing new in suffering, but we manage to invent twists and turns that exploit this capacity, and call for creative gestures that sometimes border on the wondrous.
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