Gradiva

Professor Freud, among his multitude of articles in his 23 volume opus, wrote a piece about a man’s delusion that became attached to a statue in Pompey.  Freud follows the protagonist through his internally tortured delusion until he meets a woman while obsessively visiting Pompey.

The article shows Freud’s versatility, in as much as the piece is really a critique of a piece of literature.  He follows the protagonist, Norman Rhienhold, in much the same way that he would analyze a patient.  Psychoanalysis as an applied theory has frequently been used in the study of literature. 

The watercolor that accompanies this post came from my unconscious.  It was not until it was done that I recognized the man in the park looking at the statue was Norman from the short story of Gradiva.Image

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Gratitude, and the ego as a seed in the soul

Gratitude and greed occupy the same space in the psychic apparatus.  If the container is filled with greed or envy there is no room for gratitude.  If the container is filled with gratitude there is no room for greed or envy…It is that simple.  It is a law of physics.  Two piece of matter can not occupy the same space and by extension it appears that two pieces of information can not occupy the same psychic space.  The Greek word  “Psyche” is our word “Soul”.   Contrary to what many think, Freud dedicated his life to the study of Man’s soul.  In this later part of my life, as I begin to have time to open my self to newer 21st century models of mental conditions, I find that the earlier wisdom acquired in the study & practice of modern psychoanalysis have bearing, if not direct implications on these principles.

Our souls are the most important part of us while we are alive and living in form. The soul of man gives us our humanity at the only place where it touches our divinity.  Through religion we have learned to associate the term soul with that part of us that will transcend life and perhaps attains a life everlasting.  But for my purpose in this essay I will use the more generic aspect of the word.  I mean by the soul of man, the very essence of man.  I mean to refer to the totality of the experience of man. My soul is my experience of me at exactly the psychic location where it touches my connection with the cosmic.

Our experience known as the soul is often not experienced directly.  Rather it points to as a location or a phenomenon that is concerned with as Bruno Bettelheim say, ” not just man’s body — but most of all with the dark world of the unconscious which forms such a large part of living man — or, to put it in classical terms, with the unknown netherworld in which, according to ancient myths the souls of men [and women] dwell.”

As human beings we experience ourselves first and foremost by identifying with the part of the psychic apparatus know as the “ego.”  The ego of the human mind  is not directly connected to the soul.  The ego is detached from the field of consciousness that is our more profound existence or experience of being.  The ego, although not discoverable in time and space as a physical entity is a construct that we use to explain a host of primary  and secondary functions of the brain.  We can not open the brain and locate the ego.  The ego, like the soul does not exist in form.

The ego ought not have a bad wrap.  It is a cluster of functions which contribute to our essential humanness.  For example, language is thought to be the highest function of the ego.  The ego is responsible for our being able to develop language. The ego is also responsible for other functions such as perception and motility.  It is a cluster of brain functions rather than a specific location.  And as such remains an important aspect of our ability to function in civilization and society.  Some say it is actually the aspect of man directly responsible for his ability to build civilization and culture.  But again, it is important that we see it for what it is, not a location in the brain as much as the name given to a cluster of functions.

In my ramblings about psychoanalysis and man’s soul, i seem to find myself always contending with a duality.  As much as I acknowledge the oneness of the mind/body matrix, it seems that in experience I am always struggling with a concept that can only be explained by forming comparisons of by juxtaposing one experience against another.

Even in the concept of greed vs gratitude it seems that the experience of one is felt to be one thing and the experience of the other quite another thing.  However, if I were only concerned about the comparisons of two things it would seem logical, (they are different because they are different).  But, what  I am trying to understand  is if the experience of one comes from a different place than the experience of the other.

I have rambled or, if you wish, free associated, to this notion of duality in our experience of ourselves in many of my writings through the years.  I keep doing so because i have experience in me what I would like to call, an exit from narcissism. In my years of practicing my own brand of dynamic psychoanalysis, I have run up against classical conditions in this science that seem to take over the definition and attempt to make it fit the science rather than pursue what appears to me the more logical approach which is to follow the experience into a phenomena that is no longer science, but is nevertheless a direct outgrowth of the science and may point to a newer model or theory of human existence.  And although not science, nonetheless an important dimension of humanness that can only be arrived at with subjective conclusions. The scientific “objective” can only go so far in helping us to understand our humanity.  Poetry, music, & our relation to nature and to animals, for example,  point to a subjective awareness that provides a profound acquaintance with the subjective that can not be quantified objectively.

As I ponder gratitude, I am aware that the very experience of gratitude fills my consciousness with a sense of expansion, with a feeling that is both grand and humbling at the same time.  Gratitude is connected not only with me experiencing myself but with me experiencing a wider sense of connectedness that includes a feeling of well-being and a feeling of inter being with all of creation.  To put it more simply gratitude is a sensation that consequenses a feeling of totality and oneness and well being all laced with that kind of giddiness that one feels as a joyful child.  By comparison greed feels very intra- psychic. I shrink to greed, not expand to it.  Greed is small minded.  Greed worms it way through me and settles into a corner of my life and i experience it as an undigested piece of toxic lead.  I think about it and i can experience the thought as mental, as a calculation, perhaps even as a manipulation of truth.

But, the profound difference is not in the verbal attributes that i can ascribe to the difference between gratitude and greed, but rather in the felt location from which each experience comes.  I want to give one more example of the experience of the objective vs the experience of the subjective:

Charlotte, my youngest granddaughter,  is falling asleep in my arms… That is an objective statement of a experience I might be having in a given moment.

However, the experience of having my beautiful, angelic, sweet and loving granddaughter in my arms being so comfortable that she is soothing herself to sleep, is a subjective experience that comes from an entirely different location in my experience.  And no amount of objective verbal data or description can convey the experience.  In other words my human experience in that moment can not be objectified.  It is as if my soul, the aspect of me that is closest to the divine is activated and a flood of emotions and sensations converge on me and provide me with a feeling not representable through the ego.

As I write my free associations, I am conscious of my intention.  I am hopeful to find a verbal way of describing the long, slow and at times painful way for an adult to emerge from the condition of narcissism.  Having spent the bulk of my career specializing in the treatment of narcissistic disorders, I am interested in the specific manner in which one can successfully emerge from this human condition.

As I begin to write more seriously about this topic, I keep on returning to Freud’s works and specifically to his treatment of the psyche in his writings.  Of great concern is the notion that Freud meant for the entire backdrop of his science to be understood as an ego growing in a field of consciousness that he understood to be the soul of man.  But when his translations to english took on a more generic term than “soul” Freud did little to challenge this mistranslation.

As a result we have been seeing the ego as a mental construct that was to have some kind of physical, brain-like antecedent. When we attempt to locate the ego in the brain, of course, there is no such organ.  But if instead we were to consider the ego as an outgrowth of the soul, then the entire apparatus of the ego could be worked with as a metaphor for a seed found in a large, wild, field of cosmic consciousness that every human being has access to.  This line of thinking has many possible ramifications including its intersection with eastern philosophy.

reflections on Tolle & Freud: a basic review

Despite a multitude of efforts on my part, my day to day sanity remains fragile.  I wake up in the morning needing to ask myself what it was that just last night seemed to make so much sense.  I rub my eyes with my fist and slowly the glimpse returns: What is my relationship to the current moment?  What is my relationship to Life?

If I were to ask about how I felt about what was happening in the current moment, I might feel very different.  After all anything can be happening in the moment and we have so little to do about that particular destiny.  I am tired, I don’t want to get up, I don’t feel like going to work, I don’t want to get out of bed?  I feel miserable.  I can’t wait until I do not have to do this crap anymore.  Tomorrow the moment will be better and tomorrow I will be able to have a better relationship with Life .

But the question, “What is my relationship to the current moment?”  Well, that bring about another aspect of consciousness.  My relationship to what is happening at any given moment is different than the content of the moment.  What is my relationship to the idea that I am tired, what is my relationship to the idea in my mind that I do not feel like getting out of bed?  These questions remove the immediacy of the response or the immediacy of my reaction to what is happening in the moment.  This slight variation in perception allows me to have distance from my reactivity which in turn allows me to experience the moment instead of experiencing what i am thinking of the moment.

Eckhart Tolle tells us that we ought to be experiencing the moment rather than identifying with the thought that we are having about the moment.  I am on my third re reading of his New Earth and it remains difficult for me to experience the Now as emphatically as he would have us do.  In truth, I find the intellectual or the mental activity of locating the now to be relatively easy; but it is attempting to remain in the location of the Now, the present moment, that I find hard to accomplish. I think that I have arrived at a place in meditation or in contemplation that allows me to experience the moment, but the stringing of the moments together is elusive.  Nonetheless, the portal that the moment gives us remains the most profound way that I know of experiencing the consciousness of life..

Consciousness as opposed to egoic consciousness is a more stable way of extinguishing an inflamed ego.  Egoic consciousness is concerned exclusively with time and as such the feeling of fullness or the experience of enough is not available.  Feeding the ego as a way of emerging from narcissism just does not work.  The idea that we are aiming for an egoic sense of adequacy or self esteem within the ego has always left me embracing concepts such a grandiosity, arrogance and even greed.  It is as if I was chasing after a healthy ego as a way to unseat a dysfunctional ego, but even a healthy ego only gave me a bigger more inflated sense of egoic self when what I was needing was to emerge from the ego and stand in the wider field of consciousness and observe my ego.

It is only through emerging from the ego that we can establish for ourselves a sense or inter-being.  By that I mean a feeling of belonging to a universal consciousness that is interwoven with threads from the natural world.  We can experience a feeling of connectedness with atoms and molecules that were once part of a sun or particle in some cosmic explosion.

Self-importance diminishes in the face of belonging to a universal cosmic event that is really not governed by “clock” time.

And, when self-importance no longer becomes important to us, we are able to focus on the elements of compassion and empathy that give us a feeling of being united in our suffering and engaged with each other in joy.

The idea of ego binds us to a mental construct of ourself as solitary in the world.  The history of the study of the ego began formally as a science with Freud over a hundred years ago.  His contribution to the understanding of the human condition is probably second to none in the western world.  Yet, there probably has not been many men who have been as misunderstood as he has been.

If we were to compare Freud’s idea of the ego with Tolle’s idea of the ego we would find, I think,  similarity in understanding the function of this mental apparatus.  Freud would go on to devoting 23 volumes of brilliant observations discussing the intricacies of this invisible organ.  Tolle will simply acknowledge that it is there to be observed and proceeds immediately to discuss methods for helping us to disentangle ourselves from the grip that it has on us through the narration that it produces.

The value that the ego has to an individual organism and the value that it has had on the evolution of our specie is nearly incalculable.  At the same time it has produced a situation in which the more primitive instincts have been regulated to a corner of consciousness that finding our instincts requires setting aside the very ego that has produced all the knowledge that man has acquired about himself and the environment.

Science and knowledge belong to the realm of the ego.  Art and spirituality exist as products of our instincts and as such may not pass through the realm of the ego.  It is not that they can not work together.  Indeed, I think that we work best in all circumstances when a fusion of the right brain and the left brain work in tandem.  It is just that in order to contact or make know our instincts we must exit the ego. An instinct is a phenomena of consciousness that implies depth while the thought processes of the ego seem to require breadth.  We speak of the breadth of ones knowledge and the depth of ones instincts or wisdom.  Although these are only metaphors for the types of consciousness, I think they imply or at least point to the fact that these two values of human existence are not discovered in the same way.