Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Winter Moods

Winter Morning

whiter than white
dressed drab boughs
pitch-green pine
bowing beneath the weight
piled upon them
a colorless gray sky
seals silent tracks
through doorways of surrender

After the Storm

After the Storm

 in the silent dead of winter
 sun breaks the ice gray sky
 and each twig of the apple tree
 blooms with light

Saturday, June 28, 2014

a meditation on weeding


As trite as it may be to use gardening as a metaphor for living, I find myself while on my knees in my garden pulling out weeds doing just that.

The dictionary defines a weed as “a valueless plant growing wild, especially one that grows on cultivated land… any undesirable or troublesome plant…that grows profusely where it is not wanted.”

What makes a plant or a thought or a behavior desirable? And what does weeding out what is troublesome entail?

I follow the word cultivate — to till, to refine, to promote growth and nurture — from the root kwel: to revolve, move around, dwell; to the Latin colere, to cultivate, inhabit, to the Greek and Sanskrit, circle, wheel. Which takes me to a garden or a life that is worked and cared for. Carl Jung wrote that the circle and the wheel were symbols for the transcendent Self, what he also called “the ordering principle.” Which brings us around to a cultivated consciousness.

Jung spoke of differentiated feeling, a fine-tuned judgment call that translates into living one’s values.

When is a weed a wildflower? Desirable. Or an invasive strangling vine? Unwanted. How much is in the eyes of the beholder?

How do we weed out our demons? And we all have them. Things we work on.

It’s those “weeds” with the roots that go so far down and back, that return year after year, which insist that we go deeper into our selves into the untilled ground of our being, that ask more from us and lead us back to our humanity.

However we make room for and express our uniqueness, however wild or staid, let us treasure the flowers.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Shades of Crazy


“And you know that she’s half crazy and that’s why you want to be there,” has always been my favorite line from Leonard Cohen’s song Suzanne.

In An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison, inside Styron’s Darkness Visible, threaded through many of Kim Chernin’s autobiographical books — one of my favorites A Different Kind of Listening: My Psychoanalysis and Its Shadow not to mention Carl Jung’s The Red Book, the psychological sufferings of the authors are revealed. What kind of writer dares to shine a light into the darker corners of what we call crazy and brave the critques that come from owning that personal space?

Inside the frame of mental illness, between the covers of the DSM, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, that tome of dis/ease that is constantly updated with its differential diagnoses and complications, we find every hue of madness. Neuroscience and psychopharmacology have great merit, and a medical model can offer hope to those who suffer from intolerable affect which may perpetuate trauma or usurp the life force in futility. But we must take care around the dangers of drawing lines between us and them.

Which relates to why it takes courage to own and share the darker, wilder shades of our lives.

Creative fire, spiritual descent and opening, and hard-won lessons in love travel through the door of madness. Jung stressed consciousness, and he introduced the method that he named active imagination, a conscious effort by the ego (our oh so limited consciousness and sense of ourselves) to engage and relate to the mysterious realm of the unconscious. More than a conversation with demons or dream figures or painting a scene that illuminates other worlds, active imagination, also named by Jung the transcendent function, holds the tension of crazy and sane. It bears it. Works it. Owns it.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

On Compassion



Kuan Yin is the shortened form of Guan Shi Yin, which means "Observing the Sounds of the World."
I keep in my office a white porcelain statue of Kuan Yin, the Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion, the goddess of mercy. When I was a child my mother often placed this same statue beside one of her spare and elegant flower arrangements on our dining room table. In my memoir and in my life going forward I attribute the essence of Kuan Yin’s mercy to the final peace brokered between my mother and me, though through my childhood and even into my adult years she and I were both short on compassion for each other. Now, long since her passing, my empathy for the challenges she faced as a woman, as a mother and as a human being lives on.
The dictionary defines compassion as "the deep feeling of sharing the suffering of another in the inclination to give aid or support, or show mercy." Rooted in the latin com, with, and pati, to suffer, along with the root pei, to hurt, compassion shares its origins with the words passion, possible, passive, and patient. Compassion implies a submission to co-suffering. It evokes strong feeling and hope.
In Kuan Yin we feel the feminine element, the archetypal good mother attending to the sufferings of her child. This goddess embraces the spirit of the lotus, the flowering of enlightenment that emerges from the mud.

From The Teaching of Buddha; A Compendium of Many Scriptures Translated from the Japanese I read “The spirit of Buddha is a great compassion and love to save all people by any and all means. ‘Your suffering is my suffering and your happiness is my happiness,’ said Buddha, and he does not forget that spirit for a single moment, for it is the self-nature of Buddhahood to be compassionate.”
Compassion is a relational concept. Self compassion, compassion directed toward a part or parts of oneself, is subjectively interactive. Within each of us are those sufferers and witnesses who share in our sufferings and seek to alleviate them.
Flowery and obvious words. What human heart turns away from another's suffering without sympathy and a desire to help? Is not compassion one of the pillars of the psychotherapy profession?

Our compassion is challenged when the sufferer is our torturer, where meekness and forgiveness pave the road to understanding.

Though you don't see much written about compassion in Jungian psychology, is it not the Self, that experience of Christ-consciousness or the Buddha-nature, that intangible knowledge of wholeness in individuation that extends this spirit of mercy to all?

Observing the sounds of the world, what kind of listening is that?


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Perspective and the art of living

I am taking a drawing class. I have drawn and painted from as far back as I can remember; dreams, gardens, faces, trees of every season—for the most part unaware of what I was doing, outside of knowing it was not art.

Our first lesson was on perspective, a technique for creating the illusion of depth and spatial relationships on a flat surface. Our teacher introduced the terms horizon line and vanishing point, showing us how through determining our viewpoint, eye level on the paper, the angles of everything we represent can fall in place.

The drawing exercises I have been doing got me thinking about the word perspective, from the Latin perspicere, to look closely at, to see through.

In drawing what we see depends on from where we look. What is above the horizon line reveals the bottom of an object, what is below the horizon line reveals the top. What is to the right reveals the left and so on. If we sit on the grass we see a tree through a child’s eyes.  

A memoir offers the reader the author’s perspective on parts of her story. Like a drawing, it is a line in the sand.

As we move through life our horizons, our vanishing points may shift, and with them our perspectives, though a bowl of lemons remains a bowl of lemons, and an experience of love, what about that? Does that remain etched in the heart? No matter how or when we look at it.

We may look at a dream or into a dream. We may speak of illusions. And suffer them.

What we see looking inward and looking outward, the relationships of things and situations, whether in a dream, in a drawing, in a memoir, or in myriad forms of relationship, speaks to who we are. Our perspectives on life, measured, shifting, emotional, offer us mirrors that reflect our souls. Or so it seems to me.

From what perspective do you see things? And there are so many.

(I will be away for a few weeks and will return to this blog once I am back.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Incest Taboo - in therapy and in life


In my story of how after nine months of some pretty intense psychotherapy my patient and I decided to end our therapeutic relationship for a more emotionally and spiritually honest coupling that leveled the playing field I break a taboo. Even in its telling. The publication of my account of what it has been like for my husband and me to live with this history for twenty-four years has elicited the predicted ire and scorn from parts of the psychological community.

The evolution of a therapy relationship into an intimate relationship is a highly charged topic. It unearths an archetype, threatening the cornerstone of psychotherapy from back in the day of Freud and Jung. The incest taboo. This taboo lies at the core of the transference phenomenon, where the conscious and unconscious of both therapist and patient meet and mix in ways not dissimilar to the ways we all relate to one another, but with the exception that in therapy it is the therapist’s responsibility to do whatever she can do to bring consciousness into the resulting stew of projection and projective identification better known as human relationship. Which is a very long-winded way of saying the buck stops at the therapist’s door. And it is, I believe, every therapists' conscious desire to do no harm.

The bottom-line here points to what in psychotherapy is imaged as the inner or interior child of the patient. It is the patient’s child-self that must be protected at all cost. The two-year rule found in many psychological ethics codes, which mandates a two-year waiting period between the termination of therapy and the beginning of a sexually intimate relationship, is primarily designed to keep the former patient’s child-self safe from any sexual exploitation. An inarguable intention.

Let me be perfectly clear. I am not, nor have I ever been, an advocate of converting therapy relationships into sexual relationships. Though I have dared to reveal intimate details of my history in an effort to show how the broken pieces of my psyche fit into the puzzle of my husband’s psyche in a way that brought us together, there is nothing cavalier in that telling.

I say in my memoir,

To my mind the move from analysis to a romantic partnership was necessarily daunting and those who made it blithely were fools, or worse. But to declare that a union forged along the seam of transference was sure to fail would be a poor prognosis for most relationships—so much of attraction being born of projection.

I do agree there must be rules to protect the vulnerable. But there will be exceptions to any rule. And those stories have a right to be heard.

And the forbidden, I believe, must be continually revisioned and renamed. What exactly are we talking about? What anathema? What map locates love, need, desire, and abuse? And where are the wise counselors able to fine tune the mapmaking?

There needs to be clarity in language, certainly in psychology. Is there really no difference between incest committed between adults and children in families and the incestuous pulls in therapy and in life?

From the start, my husband maintained that I reminded him of his mother. Only in the best sense, he would say. His mother, who had her demons, was one of the most generous, funny, salt of the earth, intelligent women I’d ever met. In fact, I experienced her in many ways as the mother I’d never had, and my mother-in-law and I became close friends. Sweet, some might say.

Others could argue my vulnerable husband was seduced by his therapist mother, and make a case against our relationship, a relationship in which we have been mostly happy together for twenty-four years, calling it pathological, exploitive, inappropriate, and some do.

My memoirs are my reflections on the mysteries of my life. My story is my personal truth. I have not offered it as a collective model.

Deeper conversations about psychological ethics and codes of conduct, about the transferences and countertransferences in therapy, about morality, and the regulation of love and the regulation of sex, and the rational and irrational forces that affect individuation, and about whether those countless couples who live in hiding because their love for each other began in a therapy relationship should be judged as criminal or immoral or insane, these conversations, it seems to me, are waiting to be had.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Out on a limb



Why invite a stranger, or for that matter a friend, into the written labyrinth of your story? Why undress the question ‘who am I?’ in public view?

Unlike the streaming of a journal, a memoir is more like a pond. Elliptical. Still. Final. Like a book of photographs, a memoir captures not the day to day facts but the images of a life. Writes, film writer, Robert Mckee in his book “STORY, Substance, Structure, Style, and The Principles of Screenwriting,” the truth of the story, “is located behind, beyond, inside, below the surface of things, holding reality together or tearing it apart, and cannot be directly observed.”

In the writing of my memoir, I set out to follow James Baldwin’s standard of relentlessly forcing from one’s experience, “the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give.” My intention was to bear my soul. To tell my truth.

But to be a psychoanalyst who is married to a former patient and to tell that story not as an apology, nor even as a minimalist, but as a love story and a celebration complete with all the mutual madness and trauma and need that was located “behind, beyond, inside, below the surface…” leaves one, to say the least, out on a limb.

When you finish and publish a memoir you don’t finish your life. You do learn new things about yourself and about others. Though I have been brought to my knees, not for a second do I regret writing this book. I am learning more about trust and truth. About fear and courage and how much I have of both. When you put a memoir out into the world it is not yours anymore. It becomes a mirror for the projections of others. But it is not that simple.

To write one’s truth in the silent morning does not prepare one to bear the protest from those pushed too far in it’s telling.

Breaking the rules, said Herbie Hancock in one of his recent Harvard Norton Series lectures on “The Ethics of Jazz”, is something we associate with individuals who have taken the collective to another level. He noted Martin Luther King, Mandela, Rosa Parks, Harvey Milk, Miles Davis as individuals who have pushed others into a consciousness of something outside their comfort zone. To those unseen others who have broken rules not to harm but to remain true to their highest moral authority he offered encouragement.

Hancock referred to breaking the rules responsibly. Jung would add, out of “the torment of ethical decision.” With as much consciousness as one can bear.

When you put a memoir out into the world it becomes your mirror. You get to see where your courage fails you.

In the nakedness of vulnerability, stripped of persona, where we are all simply human beings trying to do our best, Herbie Hancock, a great human being, reminds me, “You do not need to like everyone, but you do need to love them.”


Where do you find your moral authority? And why?