Yesterday Will wrote about change -- in particular, the biggest change of all, death. Actually, I suppose death would have to be tied with birth. And maybe the birth of your first child at 49. And then maybe throw a great dane puppy into the mix. Add a little type I diabetes that is diagnosed the same month your son is conceived....
By the way, thank you Will for bobstituting yesterday. Will actually proposed some other ideas for how I might take the day off as needed. For example -- I think this would be interesting -- someone could interview me. Or, one Raccoon could interview another Raccoon of his or her choice in some depth. I personally think that would be quite interesting. For example, imagine, say, Dilys interviewing Will, or vice versa.... I think I'd pay for that....
One reason I don't generally just post an oldie is that there is something about producing a post out of thin air that makes it feel as if it's connected to the cosmic weather pattern of the moment, even if the topic of the post has nothing explicitly to do with current events. Hard to explain, but there's a certain kind of energy behind or under or around it. Perhaps it's like how some wine experts can supposedly tell what year a wine was produced and what part of the country the grapes came from. Maybe someone with extremely advanced coonscent could smell one of my posts and name the day it was hatched.
There are two things I wanted to write about, but I have no idea if all hell will break loose around here before I can get into them in any depth. So I'll just start, and see how far we can get.
At the moment, I only have two words that kept rattling around my brain after reading Will's post yesterday. One of them was depth. The other was change. We take both of these words for granted, in a classic case of what Bion called "saturation." That is, we don't actually have any idea what these words really mean, but if we keep using a word long enough, then we convince ourselves that we do.
It's very much like money in that way. Obviously we use money all the time, but who ever stops to think about what it actually is? As soon as you do think about it, it becomes a little absurd. Look at a dollar. What is that? Yes, it symbolizes something, but what? And since it symbolizes something, can I exchange it for what it symbolizes -- for the reality underneath the symbol? No, not since the gold standard was abolished. Even then, what is a piece of gold, anyway? Ultimately, I suppose we could say a dollar is like a little ladle with which we can dip into a vast ocean called "wealth." Whatever that is.
In my book, I wrote about how this problem is especially pertinent when we discuss God and religion. But then again, probably no more problematic than when we discuss philosophy, or relationships, or art, or anything that is both real and above the material plane. Frankly, it's amazing that we can communicate at all, especially when we are talking about highly abstract and sense-distant subjects. With regard to spirituality, the idea is to be able to cash in religious words for the experience they symbolize or "store," not to get hung up on the abstract symbol. A symbol is a bridge between one domain and another.
Returning to the poor cognitively diminished atheists and their complaint that I literally make no sense. This is actually quite fascinating, because what they are actually saying -- obviously -- is "I don't understand you." But instead of trying to do so, they childishly foreclose the transitional space in which such understanding could occur by insisting that there is no understanding to be had. This solves their problem, but only in a spurious way that makes growth an impossibility.
This is a fine example of Bion's oft-repeated point that the answer is the disease that kills curioisity (and obviously, many religious people are as bad as atheists in this regard -- they are simply mirror images of each other). This concept is central to psychoanalysis, although different analysts understand it in different ways. But all analysts are familiar with the fact that ninety percent of the battle in therapy is creating the conditions under which understanding, change and growth may take place. You could tell the patient many important things on their very first session, but they would be of no use to them. And if you used highly technical clinical language, they'd say -- just like the atheist -- that you make no sense at all and never come back (except the atheists keep coming back).
As always, "self-satisfaction" and "growth" are inversely related. A rock-bottom prerequisite for gaining anything from therapy is the understanding that, in the deepest sense, you are and always will be an irreducible mystery to yourself (I believe this is because we are created and not the creator of ourselves, but that's the topic for another post). The people who know themselves the least are generally the ones who don't even think about it. But no amount of psychotherapy will ever result in absolute knowledge of the self, the cosmic interior.
Therapy actually aims at two rather different and not necessarily related ends, one "negative," one "positive." In fact, as you grow in therapy, one part of yourself should become less mysterious, while another part becomes even more mysterious.
It reminds me of one of the last works of fiction I read some 20 years ago, called "Little Big." I don't remember anything else about it except that it proposed an ontology that consisted of a series of concentric circles. The purpose of life is to journey closer to the center. But unlike a series of euclidean circles, which become smaller as you approach the center, these circles become wider and more expansive until you reach the center, which is infinite -- furthermore, it is the infinite ground of all the surrounding spaces -- or "realms," "principalities," "domains," etc.
That is not an imaginary world. Rather, it is this world.
Anyway, the "negative" aspect of psychoanalysis involves understanding and transcending those aspects of the self that cause one to be "stuck," so to speak -- which interfere with growth (another word that is fraught with implications). These often fall under the heading of "mind parasites" as outlined in my book. Especially during our first few years of life, we internalize various things from the (largely) parental environment that become "hardwired" in, since our brain is developing at the same time these experiences are occurring. Therefore, more than at any other age, experiences are converted to "background objects" (or subjective alter egos) that are etched into our neurology.
Freud's classic description of the purpose of psychoanalysis still holds, which is to work, love, and play. To the extent that your mind parasites are limiting you, it is likely to manifest in one of these areas: the ability to be productive in a meaningful and pro-social manner; the ability to find fulfillment in enduring intimate relationships; and the ability to be freely spontaneous and creative. Besides rhythm, who could ask for anything more?
The second aspect of therapy is more "positive," and in my opinion -- and the opinion of Bion, at least implicitly -- verges on the religious and the mystical. For it has to do with maintaining a harmonious dialectic between the two utterly different modes of being that constitute the human subject. Again, different psychoanalysts use different words to describe these different parts: you could say ego and unconscious; or like the Jungians, ego and Self; or Being and knowing; or symmetrical and asymmetrical consciousness; or the Dreamer Who Dreams the Dream and the one who is involved in it.
Following Bion, I simply chose to use the abstract symbol O for the ultimate unknowable reality underlying both the internal and external world. You might think of it as an existential "place marker," in that it signifies something that obviously exists -- must exist -- but which we can never, ever contain, describe, or completely circumnavelgaze. This is the inexhaustible ground of existence, which is not a riddle to be solved but a mystery to be played with and enjoyed. It tosses up various ideologies and philosophies -- various -isms and wasms -- out of its depths, and, like the ocean, washes them all aside with the passage of time. Today's cutting edge philosophy will be swept away in the cosmic tide, just like all its predecessors -- unless the philosophy specifically begins with O as its ultimate ground and final term.
Which is one reason why proper theism is so much more infinitely deep than atheism. If one of our atheist friends were here, I might like to ask him: do you consider atheism deep? Never mind true or false, but deep. If he says no, then he is dismissed. We have made our point about their radical disconnect from O for the purposes of assuaging cognitive and existential anxiety.
But supposing he says, "yes. To me, atheism is very deep stuff, protean in its implications, so deep I can hardly stand it!" The first thing I would want to do is define our terms. For what does the atheist mean by "deep?" Is this a "fact," an objective thing that can be located in the external world? And is there in fact any correlation between "deep" and "true?"
I don't mean for this to sound grandiose (for one thing, anyone can do it), but often I get into a sort of "prophetic" or "oracular" mode, in which Proclamations just come to me with a kind of certainty. Sometimes I don't even understand them myself at first, but I've come to trust the process. I'm not saying that my "prophecies" are always true -- that's for others to decide anyway. But what I'm saying is that this is an example of a kind of knowing that far exceeds what my little ego is capable of. Clearly, if I am right, it is simply what I call in the book O-->(k) -- or, as alluded to above, a product of the dynamic reconciliation of our little local self and our BIG NONLOCAL SELF. Living at the shoreline between these two diverse modes of being is where it all happens, baby. It is where I always try to be. Frankly, everything else is a slightly wearisome distraction at this point in my life.
Anyway, a phrase might pop into my head that feels very "certain" -- or is endowed with the "spirit of certainty," so to speak -- even though it's not any kind of emprical or mathematical certainty, like 2 + 2 = 4. For example, I -- or it -- might declare, "soul is the dimension of depth in all things."
Hmm. Okay. Nice platitude. Have you considered writing greeting cards? But what does it mean? Obviously it cannot be proven in the usual way. Should we even take it seriously? Or just put the card back in the rack?
Yes, I think the former, because this petrified bobservation is full of implicit meaning that cannot be explained in any other way.
Damn, baby is stirring. Totally breaks the mood. Where did O go?
I wanted to make a point about revelation in the context we have been discussing. Clearly, the atheist cannot know -- experientially, I mean -- what it means to dwell in revelation, to unceasingly meditate upon it in such a way that it generates a kind of knowledge that percolates up from deep within the self. How and why does this happen?
Because, in my opinion, revelation is as close as we can get to an "objectification of O." I realize that some Christians are uncomfortable with this, but I do not reduce revelation solely to the Bible or to Christ -- the latter being another objectification of O, by the way. I won't get into the other revelations that I consider divinely authorized objectifications of O, but that's not important anyway. The point is to engage in the ceaselessly generative process of interior engagement with the sacred forms of revelation -- which we "light up" from within, and which in turn light us from within. The purpose is to change us. In depth. In turn, this "deep change" is sufficient proof of the reality of God. Whatever that is.