Pretty much it has begun, the quick acceleration of warmth as the earth returns in northeast, america back to a rich moist soil that holds all the possibilities of a mustard seed. The ground loosens and the tiny shoots of fern begin to twist themselves into recognizable plants. The violets and the jumping-jacks and the methyl and the flowering trees and shrubs turn my world into the new hope that seems so much more difficult to find in mid-winter.
Sometime I can not believe that my world is colored with purple and yellow trees. That there is as much pink and budding red as there is this minty-yellow. I think of my world as primarily green, but in spring it is a profusion of pastels that makes me think that god is an impressionist.
I love to think of the season unfolding to where I would like to walk in the woods, remove my shoes and socks and dangle my bare feet in the water, sitting on a rock besides the lake that has become my home. Spring is invigorating this year. At least in part, spring looks so good because winter was so dark. It was a painful winter, filled with trauma, heartbreak and the added cold hard fact that aging is just not the retirement party that it was cracked up to be. And death by any other name is, indeed, still death.
Although I felt a tremendous amount of growth in my artistic nature, I seemed to remain in conflict about incorporating my professional life with my newly found desire to write and paint and play with much looser concepts than research psychoanalysis had provided for the middle chunk of my productive years. I was in my early forties when I first discovered psychoanalysis and the academic world that came along with that discovery. I felt like I had found my talent. I was a restorative artist and the patients and clients coming in through the doors of my practice were the canvases that the universe had provided for me to restore and bring back to their own original glory.
And as much as I enjoyed the process–it was all too outcome oriented. Despite the fact that the here and now was the venue in which the analysis took place and the couch and the consulting room were studios of a sort; I was conflicted when the method failed to produce the exit from narcissism that I was so desperately looking for.
The apprentice model that psychoanalysis promotes, although disguised in an academic rubric, was what attracted me to the profession. Deeply felt, intimate relationships with analysts, supervisors and colleagues were a parallel process to the intimacy being developed in the consultation room. And despite the appearance of rules, there really were none, which was a second very appealing dimension to the study of modern psychoanalysis.
Oh the basic ethical concerns were there–no touching, no acting out in the session, no actions were to be tolerated and the mantra of “say everything” was the chant that ruled all concerns when a case was presented to an analytic consultant. There almost was not a wrong way to do it. It is as if the major definition of psychoanalysis was to thine own self be true. Supervision was a location in time and space where the training analyst learned that the countertransferences of his most intimate self were to become the interventions that the analysand would most benefit from.
In other words, being real–that is, allowing the responses to the patient to come from a real location in the analyst, was the work of the apprentice. Although, in training one hardly ever came away from discussing a case without finding some new, previously unthought of intervention; the process of consultation and supervision had no punitive aspect to it. It was learning, or re learning if you will, how to use the feelings induced by the patient in the therapist to move the patient to a new set of understandings…The parallel process of analytic supervision and the psychoanalysis happening in the consultation room became inseparable. This not only provided a guidance for the analyst in training, it also created an atmosphere in which a more scientifically based research could be conducted.
I remember when I first caught on to the statement that every psychoanalysis is a research project. It was enlightening. I thought that for the first time in my many years of counseling, I had finally found the boiling point. There was a scientific rigor being applied to the art of modern psychoanalysis. I was comforted by that in as much as I began to be able to rely on a power greater than myself for providing guidance and direction in a process that was so firmly grounded in there being no rules expect the basic mantra of saying everything.
My business card read, specializing in the treatment of narcissistic neurosis. I loved that I specialized in treating the most difficult cases; and as a result, and over time, my practice was populated by a group of people struggling to understand the deeply embedded resistances that they each had to experiencing a more qualitied life. And as the many treatment responses began to converge toward health and well-being, I found myself more and more comfortable with the work that I was doing and in time actually felt how lucky I was to be being paid for a profession that did not feel like work, but rather felt like an art form, a dance between two people that were each looking for the same exit from narcissism.
However, and this seems to be the central theme of my research lately, I still find the exit from narcissism to be the most allusive aspect of analysis. I have been thinking that there needs to be a movement that somehow attaches spiritual principles to analytic principles. I am finding that both creative and spiritual endeavors seem to quiet the ego, much like we might expect Zen Buddhism to quiet the mind. And in my interviews with people who are engaged in spiritual and creative practices, it seems that the resulting quieting that comes along with a focused attention on creativity is very much the same results that a psychoanalysis is after.
My interest lies in the outcome that an exit from narcissism requires an exit from the ego. The egoic aspect of who we are, essentially the persona, the person that we most think ourselves to be is a grown condition that happens as the organism grows into adulthood, however long that may take. We tend to think of emotional growth as almost stopping at the same time that physical growth stops. That is, we begin to think of our persona to be our person-hood. In fact who we consider ourselves to be is only a small part of our mental life. But because it is such a central aspect of us, we can virtually eliminate the search for any other aspect of ourselves and we tend to think of ourselves as the thinking, feeling, aspect of us. We think therefore we are is the most common way of grappling with the question, “Who Am I?”
In fact many people would be satisfied with the most common answer which is giving their first names as the answer to the question. So, case closed, I am Al. You are Bob, or Jane or Larry. The first name is most closely associated with the egoic part of who we are. But if we scratch the surface as most analyst would do, we reveal that under the most obvious, conscious answer there lies another dimension to person-hood that is more difficult to locate, but essentially as much a part of us as is the ego. It is that dimension, perhaps the forth dimension, where we find a more quiet version of us. Through-out time there have been mystics and philosophers and poets and buddhist who have discovered that if the egoic mind is made to be quiet, one can see a glimpse of a place, a subjective place inside the arena of the mental apparatus that can actually watch the egoic mind at work, or at play as the case may be.
This location from which we are able to watch ourselves is the location that we get to when we are engrossed in a task so throughly that time seems to stand still. It is that location inside the mind that can become so absorbed in a cello sonata that it seems as if the cello is being heard from within instead of being heard with the ears. It is the location from which I write when I say about my writing that it feels like taking dictation. There appears to be a proliferation of writing and lectures on this topic of awakening to the fact that we have a conscious capacity to visualize ourselves.
What is that part of our mind that can watch us from within. I know that it is not the place where the ever present voice is echoing every chance it gets. It is not the chronic chatter behind the mind that reminds us of every little flaw that we see in ourselves or others. Actually, if you concentrate for a moment, you can see that background noise chattering away and you see it from such a perspective that you instantly know that it is not the total of you. Awakening to the perspective that you are able to see your mind thinking is a clear indication that there is more to us than the thinking part or the feeling part of us.
As we learn to detach from our ideas and our thoughts and our feelings, we can begin to relax in this wider meadow of the mind. We can sit back and not feel the urgency that the ego calls for and instead we are able to experience ourselves having the thought or the feeling and let that thought or feeling softly glide past like a cloud on a spring day.
I guess I would say that the opposite of narcissism might be called well-being, or being well. In narcissism we are chronically tossed around by valued outcomes that we perceive with utter urgency. In the state of well-being we are more firmly rooted in the process of life and not so invested in the outcome.
I wonder as I write about this, if there is actually a time in life when well-being becomes more attractive because we have traveled through the valued out comes and have found so many of them to be missing the target. It is perhaps a stage in life that allows for the exit from narcissism rather than any particular enlightenment causing the desire for a more spiritually based existence. But regardless of how or when it happens, the actual awakening to the knowledge that we have more choices than those which are proposed by the persona, the ego; it remains a miracle of sorts when one discovers that the angst is not a given, it actually was a choice all along.
The ego in its most regressed state–the state of narcissistic injury, is dark to the other side of the mind. The egoic aspect of us has the capacity to high-jack our total self and then promote the the entire self as if it is only the ego. In other words the ego promotes itself as being the entirely of the person rather than simply the persona of the person. Under that condition, the person is unable to see the types of solutions that might be available through the more awakened consciousness. Instead it believes that the ideas, thought and feelings are the totality and from that totality an out come must be generated.
This is a very different perspective than say, making a decision to show up for life with joy rather than expecting that certain events will cause joy. When aiming for events to be the catalyst for joy, we frequently are left achieving the event, but disappointed that the event did not bring the promised joy. “OH, I would be so happy if…, Oh I will be so happy when…..
The spiritual perspective and the creative perspective asks of us that we bring joy to the event. It is this reversal in expectation that allows us to spend more and more time outside of the confines of the ego enjoying the vast meadow of consciousness that happens in the eternal now.
“When the April wind wakes the call for the soil, I hold the plough as my only hold upon
the earth, and, as I follow through the fresh and fragrant furrow, I am planted with every
foot-step, growing, budding, blooming into a spirit of spring.”
– Dallas Lore Sharp, 1870-1929