Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Psychoanalyst as Shaman

One of Freud's basic psychoanalytic strategies is to hide his face and act as a blank screen. This self-effacing performance encourages the patient to initiate and dominate the stage, to transfer his or her emotional attachments onto Freud in a first step toward working through childhood complexes. The analyst sits quietly, watches the play, while being in his mind also a co-actor. The analytic psychodrama leaves Freud's image an enigma, because within the walls of his office he surrenders his identity to the phantoms that haunt his patients continually attending to the form of the moment of communication while bearing in mind the whole session as it echoes and repeats the form of the patient's life drama—-

Transference to a shaman is an ancient, worldwide technique of healing, widely studied by anthropologists and scholars of the history of religion. Shamanism preceded psychoanalysis and will survive it; it is the purest form of dynamic psychiatry.

Freud might have founded psychoanalysis, but he did so, consciously or not, on much older foundations laid by practicing shamans throughout the world and over the millenia.

We are concerned here, in particular, at this moment in our journey, with the individuals who have been referred to as “lightening conductors of common anxiety”—medicine men, sorcerers, shamans—who articulate a personal reformulation through the role of healer and who seek, by the alleviation of group anxiety, their own sense of identity and security.

To both the analyst and the Shaman metaphor is essential. The shaman conveys metaphors addressed to the spirit world through drumming, chants, dance, myths, drama, or more appropriately, psychodrama and by means of this fills the void wrought in the texture of existence by the incomprehensible experience of suffering. He serves as the link that connects mystery to mystery, the known with the unknown and straight away, that is to say, out of himself, the shaman creates a metaphorical bridge between the everyday human world and the realm of the ineffable, the unconscious, or, in his subjective belief, the supernatural, and like Persephone he inhabits both worlds. He must experience the alien within himself as a prerequisite for interpreting and conferring significance upon the suffering of those who consult him for help against illness or misfortune.

The personal experience of the alien, which resembles a mental disorder, is a major source of the apparent effectiveness of his form of psychotherapy, as it encourages the development of a greater than normal psychological sensitivity for his ever-renewed attempts to heal himself and his culture mates.

To put it in a nutshell: The shaman, the man of magic so singularly capable of suffering, is ill for conventional reasons and in a conventional way; his conflicts are simply unusually intense; he is like everyone else, only more so.

Monday, October 29, 2007

All Things Wished For, But Denied

Thou art my soul, though life is vain, Thou art my hope, thou art my pain, Thou art my world of joy and gladness, My heaven above my realm of sadness; Thou art my night of dream and sleep, My day when into song I leap. Thou art my rest from tears and laughter, Thou art the heaven I wait here-after. Since thou this love hast given to me, The world a place of light must be, And as on wings my soul must soar, My own, my love for evermore! Thou art my soul, though life is vain, Thou art my hope, thou art my pain, Thou art my world of joy and gladness, My heaven above, my realm of sadness, My own, my love for ever-more!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The View from the Tower

Today I am perched somewhat precariously on a high tower. It is my refuge, my retreat. From my height -- on a cold winter's day -- I inhale the chilled but bracing air that surrounds me. From my bird's eye view above the city, I observe the hubbub below, which enlivens my day.

My tower provides sanctuary and protection. I have removed myself from ordinary life. It is a precious and solitary moment. I am by myself and beside myself in my exhilaration. I stand like a puppeteer above his puppets, and in my imagination I manipulate the people I see below me, like a puppet master who animates the passive instruments under his control. I stand alone and disturb the people below me, or so I fancy.

Words, words, words . . . on some days, I have the gift . . . I can make love out of words as a potter makes cups out of clay, love that overthrows empires, love that binds two hearts together come hellfire and brimstone . . . I can cause a riot in a nunnery -- a disturbance not to be dismissed . . . but on other days . . . I feel that I have lost my gift. It's as if my quill had broken. As if the organ of the imagination has dried up. As if the proud tower of my narrative talents has collapsed. Nothing comes. And my spirits suffer.

I live to observe and to express. My capacity for vigilant scrutiny and my talent for words, for felicitous locution, enlarge my inner repository of sensual experience and permit me to make that repository accessible to my audience.Whether my published communications unite me with others or disturb the equilibrium of their world, my own inner states are transformed thereby.

Today I am in a reflective mood. I've been thinking about desolation and transformation. I have been thinking about my current condition: my lone battle with the people, the critics, in my environment and beyond. I think about my loneliness, which rises to the level of despair at times, but, fortunately does not defeat me. I revel in my lonely struggle. I revel in my ability to disturb my immediate environment and the world beyond my imagination. I view my isolation and my defiance as virtues, the tests and marks of a higher morality.

My emotional inertness pains me, but my capacity to endure my suffering and my ability to transform my distress by means of expression, by means of words, emboldens my spirit. Something in my past must have disposed me to suffering, but at the same time prepared me to endure that very torment.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A State of Alienation

I was a hypersensitive, imaginative, lively and extremely headstrong child, and proved to be a constant source of despair and annoyance to my parents and my teachers. School held as little attraction for me as it did for any incorrigible. Hardly had the fourth year of high school begun before I became delinquent and was almost dismissed.

College and law school were meant to end the morbid estheticism into which I had allowed myself to drift. I hoped thereby to become an established, respected member of society. This hope was never realized. Except for the first few years, my law school education did not alleviate my feeling that life is essentially meaningless, nor could my idyllic retreat into academia long contain my inherent restlessness. By 1984, upon completion of my LL.M. program at American University, the life in the law had lost any meaning at all. It had become quite apparent to me that I could not be both a creative dreamer and a "solid citizen," a Phantasiemensch and a Burger, as the Germans would put it.

I am but a gifted misfit. My life has long been restive and discontented. I am unable to bear a comfortable, established mode of existence for any period of time. My life is grim and I live in endless mental agony.

I live the life of a romantic vagabond, forever exhausted and distraught in my quest for solitude. Before life can ever become meaningful for me, I must find and come to terms with myself. I am forever taking painful stock of myself and devote myself assiduously to solitary pleasures. I live like a hermit in my emotional and financial poverty and for years now, I have rarely left my apartment for more than routine outings.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Writer's Divided Self

We writers live in the limbo between expression and communication. And we do not need theology or metaphysics to remind us that as writers we cannot avoid the effort, or the temptation, to serve two masters—ourselves, what is within us, and our reader, our conjectural clients outside.

I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men's lives; some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me. Perhaps these pages are more particularly addressed to poor students. As for the rest of my readers, they will accept such portions as apply to them. I trust that none will stretch the seams in putting on the coat, for it may do good service to whom it fits.

By an ironic twist in the history of western literature, in this very age of unprecedented temptations to literary populism, an age of the sovereign and increasingly demanding public, there developed a fertile new sense of Personal Conscience. The private consciousness took on a new life and became a wondrous new literary resource. In modern transformation, conscience, an ancient laboratory of theological hairsplitting and a modern arena of ephemeral public taste, became inward, experimental, and biographical.But infinitely more.—

As prophet and pundit, as devilish, dangerous, a rebel, and yet also a martyr and sacrifice, the writer has become the bad conscience of our whole era, .and in so doing indeed he has come perilously close to defining the modern antihero who rejects received tenets of behaviour and stays true to his individuality in an always alien society.

To think of the writer as conscience of the world is only to recognize that the writer, as we shall see, is inevitably a divided self, condemned at the same time to express and to communicate, to speak for the writer and speak to others.

The orator yields to the inspiration of a transient occasion, and speaks to the mob before him, to those who can hear him; but the writer, whose more equable life is his occasion, and who would be distracted by the event and the crowd which inspire the orator, speaks to the intellect and heart of mankind, to all in any age who can understand him.Western literature offers us countless different ways in which authors have dealt with this divided self. I will provide only a sample from some of my favorite writers that may suggest the perils that beset writers who pretend to be the world's arbiters.

Like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Hermann Hesse—one of my favorites—embodied those divisions of his age which have left their mark on our culture. In a manner unique among writers, he wove his immediate experiences into his books to portray many of the dilemmas and historic crises of his time. It was this finely tuned interaction between his psychological conflict and historical events that was to make him a poet of crisis. Hesse's stories—like the dreams he collected in special notebooks—are told from both conscious and unconscious experience and therefore reveal and conceal events, encounters, and feelings from himself, his friends, his public.

The way Hesse lived and wrote about his life, constantly aware of his conflicting impulses as part of the tension of his art, made this revelation and concealment permeate all his writings. He made himself into an example for his readers, just as Rousseau, by no means a stranger to the art of disclosure and concealment, had presented himself in his Confessions. With its "pole" and "counterpole," Hesse's work became an ongoing act of instruction even as it took the shape of a continuous novel.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Who Am I? What Is So Special About Me?

If the truth be told I am not suited for the practicalities of life; my mind floats in otherworldly dreams, more preoccupied with the potential of the spirit than with everyday vicissitudes. I love language, books, and music, and the most splendid moments of my uneventful existence have been the few operas I have attended, or the books I have perused in isolation from my fellows. I treasure every detail of the times I have spent in isolation. As I read I imagine every sentence, every page and every chapter as a mirror of my life, my passions and my afflictions. I take refuge in this extravagant, romantic atmosphere whenever I feel weighed down by the vulgarity of life.

I am an artist, really. Or at least I am an individual with an artistic temperament. My moments of highest joy are those I have spent alone. And that is the triumph and tragedy of my existence. Despite the gratifications afforded by my splendid isolation I still long for the Other in my loneliness: the Other who might complete me. Failing to find that Other I live in perpetual disillusion and frustration.

I am a rebel individualist divorced from established dogma and institutions, a lonely incorrigible seeker of new norms. For me life presents itself as a struggle for individualism; I experience my life at times as humorously petulant and at other times as a mystically yearning estrangement from the world and the times. I sometimes feel, in my grandiose moments, that I belong to the highest and purest spiritual aspirations and labors of our epoch.

My spiritual and emotional struggles can be traced to my alienation from my family in childhood. The roots of my estrangement from established institutions and settled norms began in the peculiarities of my early family life. Like most parents mine were no help with the new problems of puberty to which no reference was ever made. All they did was take endless trouble in supporting my hopeless attempts to deny reality and to continue dwelling in a childhood world that was becoming more and more unreal. I have no idea whether parents can be of help, and I do not blame mine. It was my own affair to come to terms with myself and to find my own way, and like most well-brought up children, I managed badly. My parents seemed wedded to some vague suggestions of old-world, Victorian morality with its belief in the inherent sinfulness of man, in the necessity of breaking the will of the individual, and with its uncompromising renunciation of all that is of this world. My family was the first of many social structures which were to rouse the rebel in me.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Distant Clock Tower

A clock tower strikes eight times in the distance.

I stood in the shadow of an arcade quietly contemplating the clock tower, the low balcony and the tiny square. No one else was there, and it seemed as though time had stopped. Then a cat appeared and walked slowly and deliberately towards the balcony; it then stopped and lay down beneath it. A few moments later, I heard the sound of footsteps and a man already advanced in years emerged from one of the narrow streets and came into the square; his presence there seemed to increase the stasis of the scene, and he stood out alone against his surroundings, seemingly isolated from them.

A person in old age knows no one. He talks to people, but he does not know them. His life is scattered in fragments of conversation, forgotten by fragments of people. His life is divided into hasty episodes, witnessed by few.

The man, with his hands in his overcoat pockets, was disconnected from everything, standing apart from his own landscape. He was the very image of the forlorn; he represented the persona and its fear of death. He was like a scrap from the morning newspaper which by noon was already out of date.

What a cruel practical joke old Nature played when she flung so many scattered fragments, so many contradictory elements together, and left the man face to face with the perplexing callousness of the universe.

Life is full of hope, of brutality, misery, sickness and death; nevertheless, it has completeness, a satisfaction and an emotional beauty which is unfathomable. Life is a vessel of sadness, but it is noble to live life, and without time there is no life.

But if these contradictions are improbable to us, they are not to the Indians.The ironic philosopher reflects with a smile the wisdom of the East, of India, as revealed in the Sacred Texts.

It is written: Our original teacher Shakyamuni Buddha spoke the Diamond Sutra in Sravasti. As Subhuti raised questions, the Buddha very compassionately explained for him. Subhuti attained enlightenment on hearing the teaching, and asked Buddha to give the teaching a name according to which later people could absorb and hold it. Therefore the sutra says, "The Buddha told Subhuti, 'This sutra is named Diamond Prajnaparamita, and you should uphold it by this name.'"The "diamond prajnaparamita" spoken of by the Realized One takes its name from a metaphor for the truth. What does it mean?

Diamond is extremely sharp by nature and can break through all sorts of things. But though diamond is extremely hard, horn can break it. Diamond stands for buddha-nature, horn stands for afflictions. Hard as diamond is, horn can break it; stable though the buddha-nature is, afflictions can derange it. Even though afflictions may be intractable, prajna knowledge can destroy them; even though horn may be hard, fine steel can break it. Those who realize this principle clearly see essential nature.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

No Sex Please, We're Indian

How strange his life had been, he thought. He had wandered along strange paths. As a boy I was occupied with the gods and sacrifices, as a youth with asceticism, with thinking, and meditation. I was in search of Brahman and revered the eternal Atman. As a young man I was attracted to expiation. I lived in the woods, suffered heat and cold. I learned to fast, I learned to conquer my body. I then discovered with wonder the teachings of the great Buddha. I felt knowledge and the unity of the world circulate in me like my own blood, but I also felt compelled to leave the Buddha and the great knowledge. I went and learned the pleasures of love from Kamala and business from Kamaswami. I hoarded money, I squandered money, I acquired a taste for rich food, I learned to stimulate my senses.

I was also having trouble with the so-called parietal rules at my university which said that a woman must leave a student's room by 10 P.M. Every second that I was not studying, I spent at a local women's college, meeting women. This was a paradox that was becoming more and more pronounced in my character. While I still considered myself a spiritual person, I was becoming increasingly obsessed—an even stronger word would not be out of place—with sex. I saw it everywhere. I wanted it. I thought about it all the time. No woman seemed safe from my predations. I look back at it with horror. I had absolutely no understanding of what I was doing.

—I was afraid of myself, I was fleeing from myself.

One evening I was invited to meet an older (perhaps forty-five) professor of Indian philosophy who was visiting from India. She had something of a following in India and was even considered a kind of guru. Somehow the discussion turned to spiritual matters. This woman said she had never felt sexual desire in her life because her mind was filled with spiritual thoughts. There was simply no room. As the guests were leaving her apartment, she asked me to stay a little bit, as there was something she wanted to tell me.

When we were alone she said: "You looked as though you did not believe what I was saying. Is that true?"
"Well, actually I don't, no," I replied.
"You don't believe I am free of sexual desire?"
"I will prove it to you. Touch my breasts."
I did as I was told.
"See, I feel nothing. Now touch my thighs."
I did as I was told.
"Again, nothing. Even if you enter me with your penis, I will feel nothing. Do you believe me?"
I did.
"See, I feel nothing. The whole time this is going on I am thinking only about the higher self, the atman."

To whom else should one offer sacrifices, to whom else should one pay honor, but to Him, Atman, the Only One? And where was Atman to be found, where did He dwell, where did His eternal heart beat, if not within the Self, in the innermost, in the eternal which each person carried within him? But where was this Self, this innermost?

Where was it? Where was it?

It is not surprising that the very word for asceticism, tapas, is insidiously related, tied to, and involved with a word commonly associated with seemingly opposite things—with virility, with sexual prowess, especially with increased potency (evidence for this is found not only in the Sanskrit texts, but in the observations of many travelers in India). The myths of Siva show such connections in detail. It is not surprising that the concern with incontinence would lead to fantasies about the powers inherent in semen; we can see this attested to in the ancient stories containing oral pregnancy fantasies (a ubiquitous theme in the Mahabharata: e.g., Kasyapa, Rsyasrnga's father, lost his semen at the sight of Urvasi, and it was swallowed by a female antelope who subsequently gave birth to Rsyasrnga—hence his name "Antelope-Horned").These sexual fantasies of immense prowess are of course only the other side of the coin from constant fears of sexual depletion. Such concerns, universal and timeless, are particularly well documented in the case of the Indian villager.

‘The Victors’ Have you heard about it?

The sketch of ‘The Victors’ Wagner's projected music drama on a Buddhist theme pictures Ananda, a disciple of Buddha, hospitably given water by a maiden Prakriti.The Buddha warns Ananda not to speak with women; if he must speak to one to keep his eyes on the ground; and if he must look, "Then beware Ananda, beware."Prakriti falls deeply in love and seeks out Gotama, The Buddha, beneath a tree at the city gate to ask permission for union with Ananda. The Buddha reveals her identity in a former incarnation as an overproud girl who scorned the love of an unfortunate, an arrogant act she must now expiate by experiencing the torture of unsatisfied passion. Only by sharing Ananda's vow of chastity may she stay at his side. Grasping his condition of salvation, she joyfully agrees, and Ananda receives as his sister one who has risen to his own level of self-denial.

So what is it that Gotama, The Buddha, says? He says:One must find the source within one’s own Self, one must possess it.Everything else was seeking—a detour, error.In the figure of the maiden, who was one day to become Kundry in Parsifal, Wagner sought finally to resolve his concern with the realm of unbridled sexual fantasy.These were Wagner’s thoughts; this was his thirst, his sorrow.

Wagner saw resignation as the only solution to his infatuation for Mathilde Wesendonk the object of his ill-starred adoration.

I have no inclination any more, no will!—Would there were an end to it, an end!—

He wished passionately for oblivion, to be at rest, to be dead. "The Victors" was a product of this frame of mind.

When the Self was conquered and dead, when all passions and desire were silent, then the last must awaken, the innermost of Being that is no longer Self—the great secret.The ascetic theme of "The Victors" sustained Wagner and Mathilde in a state of exaltation after Wagner’s first wife Minna had put an end to what was evidently the less abstemious phase of their affair.

Wagner wrote that at this particular epoch of his life he had one single goal—to become empty, to become empty of thirst, desire, dreams, pleasure and sorrow—to let the Self die. No longer to be Self, to experience the peace of an emptied heart, to experience pure thought—that was his goal.

It had been more than a little characteristic of the conflict between asceticism and world-devouring hunger that made up the drama of his nature.

I believe that the concern voiced ubiquitously by the ascetic in Indian literature—‘seeing the world and the human self in one great all including vision,’ in sum, the search for mystical experiences; as if only the ecstatic stillness of trance-states could fill the void of a happiness never experienced—is an oblique reference to a sad past. The apparent reliving of a lost past in terms of grasping at the illusion of ecstasy can only represent a falsification of memory for the purpose of defence. And the dry, brittle memories of an emotionally arid childhood are as fearsome as those of more openly violent abuse.

Gradually it has become clear to me that all ascetics must have suffered from harsh and unloving parents in their childhood. I should add, however, that most analysts would disagree, and would qualify this by saying that often the harsh treatment was only imagined—often as retaliation for imagined evil in the little child himself, for his own destructive fantasies vis-a-vis his parents and siblings.

It seems to me that all ascetics suffered massive traumas in their childhood in one of three ways: they were sexually seduced, or they were the object of overt or covert aggression, or they lost those closest to them early in their lives. Their lives were pervaded with sadness; their rituals, their obsessive gestures of every kind, are an attempt to recapture the lost childhood they never had. It is not surprising to find that all addicts have suffered such loss.

At a later date I would gradually be persuaded that devastating loss in childhood figured as a probable genesis of my own disorder. Psychoanalytic studies of addiction have enabled us to see "addictive" features in many areas seemingly unrelated to pure drug or alcohol addiction. Compulsive sexuality can serve as an addiction, as can the practices of asceticism.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Philosopher in the Distant Solitude of the Woods

Thoreau required of any writer a simple and sincere account of his life, and no doubt if Friedrich Nietzsche had been able to write straightforwardly of the ugly growths and parasitic creepers infecting the dense forest of his relationship with his mentor Richard Wagner, All Too Human would not have been written or would have been very different.

I should not forget that during my last winter at the pond there was a serious but welcome visitor, a gentle, perceptive soul who would have been an ideal companion in the woods, a young man named Friedrich Nietzsche who at one time came through the village, through snow and rain and darkness, till he saw my lamp through the trees, and shared with me some long winter evenings. One of the last of the philosophers--one of my Waldensian friends.

At that time I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond.

Now I conserve pathologically precise memories of my encounters in that by now remote world: well, . . . I had last seen him a weedy youth, timid and deferential, much given to clicking of heels and bowing. Now in stalked a wiry, tough man with a masterful air whose first act was to deposit on the table a draft copy of a book with the marks of a great destiny, a collection of aphorisms that bears the title Human, All-Too-Human.

I asked him if he would like me to contribute to this book. If he would, he should tell me a story and, if he would allow me to make a suggestion, it should be our kind of story, in which you thrash about in the dark for a week or a month, it seems that it will be dark forever, and you feel like throwing it all up and changing your trade; then in the dark you espy a glimmer, proceed groping in that direction, and the light grows, and finally order follows chaos.

The young man stood in silence. He would never reply.

I wish I could say that I had supplied him with ideas as much as with support. All that was futile. We can understand one another; but each of us is able to interpret himself to himself alone.

He embraced me then. "Good luck, good luck." I never saw him again.

There was nothing we could do but part, because neither of us had anything to give the other and neither of us could be fair to the other.

He never said just how he went about creating a new personality, but it was a difficult process.

Today I know that it is a hopeless task to try to dress a man in words, make him live again on the printed page, especially a man like my dear young friend. He was not the sort of person you can tell stories about, nor to whom one erects monuments--he who laughed at all monuments: he lived completely in his deeds, which were nothing less than the adventures of an unworldly young recluse and when they were over nothing of him remains nothing but words, precisely.

I kept Prof. Nietzsche's book on my table through the summer, though I looked at a page or two only now and then.

One thing more, which I might later forget:I finally left the distant solitude of the woods, where I was living quietly and peacefully. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Nightmare

Several nights ago I had a terrible yet poignant dream whose themes of unsatisfiable yearning (symbolized by unquenchable thirst) and frustrated hopes still linger in my mind.

The Dream of the Deathbed

It is a hot August day, and I lay in a small room in a hospital fighting for what remains of my life. A sheet covers the lower half of my naked body, with its swollen abdomen; above it, my chest and thin arms. A tube is inserted in my nose; a second tube leads from my side into a glass jar at the foot of the bed; both are removing the wastes my body can no longer eliminate. The gallons of iced apple juice I gulp down to moisten my cracked lips and dry throat reach only the stomach and flow into the jar. Nothing moves past the stomach level, below which there are intestinal obstructions, and because my body absorbs little, whether I drink, suck lemons, or rub ice on my lips, my thirst is unslakable.

Compulsively I keep flexing my long fingers, rippling them as though playing an instrument. Whenever the powerful sedatives pumped into my body threaten to overwhelm me I wrench myself up into consciousness, forcing myself to activity. At times I extend an arm at full length, shake my fist and shout, "Gary Freedman, you have so much to do!"

I say, "I want to yell, can I yell?" And then I shout, "Yell!"-- prolonging the word interminably like a fire siren. Those who hear it forgive its theatricality because it is evident there is something penultimate in this howl.

I put into words what I think is the reason for waging my nightmare battle: "I may fool you all . . . you know, I may live. . . . Then perhaps Gary Freedman will do something to redeem the last 15 wasted years."

It becomes a matter of utmost significance to me to know what time it is, and repeatedly I ask; once, after I am told, I say, "Why don't they tell me the time, why do they keep it from me? Why do they do this to a man's courage?" It is as though I am counting the minutes that are still mine.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Silence of the Night

It is now early evening on this snowy December day. The storm has all but passed. The stir is over. I step forth once again to peer outside my window. I strain to make the far-off images beyond my windowpane yield a cue to the events that may come in the days ahead. Night and its murk transfix and pin me, as I stare through thousands of stars. I cherish this moment, this rigorous conception of a snowy winter evening, and I consent to play my part therein as spectator.

But another play is running at this moment, so, for the present, I seek a premature release. And yet, the order of the acts has been schemed and plotted, and nothing can avert the final curtain's fall. The January thaw will soon take off the polish of the snow's crust. I bow with grace to natural law. I stand alone. All else is swamped in fuzzy dissolution. To live life to the end, while peering back to the path one has already traversed, is not a childish task.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Remembrance of Things Past: A Winter's Tale

Day dawn.—

I am rather depressed. I go to the basement and open my trunk. The basement is in my mountain home; after a long, harsh December, deep in the trunk, when I reach for mementos of past pains and pleasures, I still feel the cold of winter's first day.

The past is a quiet place where change occurs in increments of glacial slowness; it is a perpetually verdant landscape. You can go there and find that nothing much has happened since your last visit.

In probing my childhood (which is the next best to probing one's eternity) I see the awakening of consciousness as a series of spaced flashes, with the intervals between them gradually diminishing until bright blocks of perception are formed, affording memory a slippery hold.

But what is the past? Could it be, the firmness of the past is just illusion? Is there any reason to trust a man in his late fifties, who speaks of his "child's memory" as if it existed, unintruded upon by intervening experience, like an old movie reel, waiting only for a projector? Nobody can really say for sure, because nobody really knows.

Speaking personally, I find that my early childhood memories are planted, first and foremost, in exact snapshots of my photographic memory and in the feelings imprinted in them, and the physical sensations. Then comes memory of being able to hear, and things I heard, then things I thought, and last of all, memory of things I said.Images and symbolic constructs of the past are imprinted in me, almost in the manner of genetic information to become galvanized into what will later be a cinematic re-presentation.

The first pictures surface one by one, like upbeats, flashes of light, with no discernible connection, but sharp and clear. Just pictures, almost no thoughts attached:

It must have been Riga, in winter. The city moat was frozen over. I'm sitting all bundled up with someone on a sled, and we're running smoothly over the ice as if we're on a street. Other sleds overtake us, and people on skates. Everyone's laughing, looking happy. On both sides tree branches are bright and heavy with snow. They bend over the ice; we travel through and under them like through a silver tunnel. I remember going in one end and coming out the other. I think I'm floating. I'm happy. But this picture is quickly scared off by other ones, dark and suffocating, which push into my brain and won't let go. They're like a wall of solid black between me and the sparkling and the sun.

I fight against my depression. I am not well, but I am not mad. I’m after something. Memory, yes. A reel. More than just time. I summon up remembrance of things past. But more than just time.


A walk in the bright sunshine at noon was a great help to me; from the top of the hill I was enraptured by the ring of snow-capped mountains, which suggested to me a mysterious, unmoving dance. Absorbed long in watching the picture, my spirit heard the music which higher beings reproduce for us in sounds. — The transience of all individual existence, the eternity of the whole, was reflected to me in the blue mirror of the lake.

When one has passed through a narrow gorge and has suddenly arrived at a summit, after which the ways part and the richest prospect opens in different directions, one may linger for a moment and consider which way one should turn first.

My deep inner strength restored, I summoned the Friend from his work and together we wandered up the hill; the magnificent view of mountains looked like a spectral shadow. Fresh snow had fallen, and this partly concealed the crevasses, so that we could not make out the most dangerous places. Here my guide had to take the lead and reconnoiter the paths. At last we reached the opening of the pass leading out to the shallow valley to which a precipitous slope of ice and snow had led us.

We stand among dark boulders, taller than we, that came to rest here 20,000 years ago when the glacier melted and retreated north.

That which has driven me to the steep summit, now holds me spellbound at the abyss's edge: I now felt that strange and mysterious sensation which is awakened in the mind when looking down from lofty hilltops, and now I was able to do so without any feeling of nervousness, having fortunately hardened myself to that kind of sublime contemplation. I wholly forgot who I was, and where I was.

I am at peace at the edge of the abyss.

Friday, October 05, 2007

A Winter Solstice: An Old Master, His Young Disciple and The Darkest Evening of the Year

(This post is dedicated to Brad M. Dolinsky, MD, a giant of a man, and a rising star in the medical profession).

Arrival of Professor Nietzsche's book. I looked at it, turned over idly pages of it with curiosity. It was eloquent, vibrating with eloquence, but too high-strung, I think. What of it, though?

On January 2, 1872, Friedrich Nietzsche sent Richard Wagner an uncut advance copy of his book, now entitled The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, as a "token of goodwill and friendship." Many of the ideas to which Wagner had undoubtedly given livelier expression in conversation with Nietzsche than in his essays on art . . . recurred in an intensified and spiritualized form in Nietzsche's sublime prose.

Let's see how it begins. I suppose . . . I could paraphrase. No, no; wait! He can say in his own words, much better, what I as his ambassador in my enthusiasm might only hint at:

It was in dreams, says Lucretius, that the glorious divine figures first appeared to the souls of men; in dreams the great shaper beheld the splendid bodies of superhuman beings; and the Hellenic poet, if questioned about the mysteries of poetic inspiration, would likewise have suggested dreams and he might have given an explanation like that of Hans Sachs in the Meistersinger . . .

“This is the book I have been longing for,” says Richard—

Opening a path for yourself, with a paper-knife in the barrier of strange pages of virgin manuscript becomes linked with the thoughts of how much the word contains and conceals: you cut your way through your reading as if through a dense forest.

Where now?

Drove into town, home with Richard, through fog, darkness, and snow. We both felt dazed, contemplating that whiteness as if each of us were hypnotized looking fixedly at blank manuscript pages. I at last, a blanket to my chin, thought of the times when I lived here against all the rules like a dream figure, and when this landscape seemed so appropriate.

Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.

My little horse must think it queer to stop without a farmhouse near between the woods and frozen lake the darkest evening of the year. He gives his harness bells a shake to ask if there is some mistake. The only other sound's the sweep of easy wind and downy flake. The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.

What does it mean? Why this:

In the middle of the journey, in long winter nights, we find ourselves in dark woods where the right path seems lost. But even so melancholy a poet saw for a prophetic moment that at the end of the confusion in the rosy light of morning there is sometimes a clearing in whose sunlight things appear more distinct and precious than ever before. Can you conceive what new and vital power I draw from living in the wilderness?

Returning home I felt as if I had come out of a bleak, harsh woods into a cozy lair.

—In the evening read more of Nietzsche's book, which gives Richard ever-increasing satisfaction, but we wonder where the public for it will be found.

On my way upstairs to bed I stopped to sit on my spiral staircase and reflect, reflect, until the mildness of my thoughts lulls and calms me; and then from downstairs I hear music: I was lost, so to speak, in the milky way. Only within. Inside the brain. An indescribable impression— All my senses now want to sink into slumber. Winter’s revenant invites you into it, and there you lie while the bleached sheet of snow accumulating just beyond the window pane translates you to an angel in a solitary bed.

In the meantime Richard comes up and shows me a really beautiful letter, a poem in itself, which he has written to the professor telling him what he thinks of the book and its author.

Yes. This. Here.


In your rural letter box I leave this note without a stamp to tell you, My friend! Never have I read anything more beautiful than your book! You thought it out excellently! How splendid it all is! An amazing tour de force. No rule seemed to fit it, and yet there was no fault in it.— Whether or not one enjoys such a technique as you have achieved is a matter of taste on which disagreement or argument is futile, but to subject that technique to the standards of some other technique seems to me to be little short of absurd.

I am writing to you quickly now because reading it has left me so inordinately excited that I must first await the return of reason before reading it properly.

And it is partly to compel myself, in forma pauperis, to say as much I write you this. Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-law, but always meeting ourselves.

You’re a giant of a man, and our meeting calls to mind an Allegory of two stars’ having coalesced a couple of stars which came together in constellation as never before, while the other stars all look’d on in amazement, and did not know what next.

What more remains? We were born one for another and are certain to do fine things together.
—There's nothing more I can say. Be thanked. I now depart a debtor.

Your friend,

Richard Wagner

Nietzsche's first book was a vivid visual poem, a creative condensation of life, death, and immortality.

Nietzsche had, in fact, become a second Joseph: a man famous in the Bible as an interpreter of dreams. Joseph who was becoming daily more conscious of his own powers, more convinced of his mission pieced Pharaoh's dreams together exactly as they had visited Pharaoh in the night, and the king was greatly amazed. Joseph was able to accomplish this feat, because he had dreamed the same dream as Pharaoh, at the same time as he.

Pharaoh was, of course, the Master who stood for a great deal that the younger man, longing to do immortal work, was beginning to envisage as his own special world.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

How I Long To Die! To Lose Myself In Oblivion!

In every garment, I suppose I'm bound to feel the misery of earth's constricted life. I am too old for mere amusement and still too young to be without desire. What has the world to offer me?

You must renounce! Renounce your wishes! This is the never-ending litany which every man hears ringing in his ears, which every hour hoarsely tolls throughout the livelong day.

I awake with horror in the morning, and bitter tears well up in me when I must face each day that in its course cannot fulfill a single wish, not one!

The very intimations of delight are shattered by the carpings of the day which foil the inventions of my eager soul with a thousand grimaces of life. And when night begins to fall I timidly recline upon my cot, and even then I seek in vain for rest; savage dreams come on to terrorize.

The god that lives within my bosom can deeply stir my inmost core; enthroned above my human powers, He cannot move a single outward thing. And so, to be is nothing but a burden; my life is odious and I long to die.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Solitary Life

From my youth upwards my spirit walked not with the souls of men, nor looked upon the earth with human eyes; the thirst of their ambition was not mine, the aim of their existence was not mine; my joys, my griefs, my passions, and my powers made me a stranger; though I wore the form, I had no sympathy with breathing flesh, nor midst the creatures of clay that girded me was there anyone with whom I identified.

I said with men, and with the thoughts of men, I held but slight communion; but instead, my joy was in the wilderness, to breathe the difficult air of the iced mountain’s top, where the birds dare not build, nor insect’s wing flit over the herbless granite; or to plunge into the torrent, and to roll along over the swift whirl of the new breaking wave of river-stream, or ocean, in their flow.

In these my early strength exulted; or to follow through the night the moving moon, the stars and their development; or catch the dazzling lightnings till my eyes grew dim; or to look, listening, on the scattered leaves, while Autumn winds were at their evening song.

These were my pastimes, and to be alone; for if the beings, of whom I was one,— hating to be so,—crossed me in my path, I felt myself degraded back to them, and was all clay again. And then I dived, in my lone wanderings, to the caves of death, searching its cause in its effect; and drew from withered bones, and skulls, and heaped up dust, conclusions most forbidden.

Then I passed the nights of years in sciences, untaught save in the old time; and with time and toil, and terrible ordeal, and such penance as in itself has power upon the air and spirits that do compass air and earth, Space, and the peopled infinite, I made my eyes familiar with eternity, such as, before me, did the seekers of ancient wisdom, and those who from out of their humble dwellings raised civilizations most mighty.

And with my knowledge grew the thirst of knowledge, and the power and joy of this most bright intelligence, until now.

And now, at this moment, I dwell alone in my afflictions and as well as in my joys.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

You Get What You Pay For

Well, it happened. My therapist terminated me. She said she doesn't want to see me anymore. Apparently I hurt her feelings. I told her that I did not respect her opinions and that I did not consider her to be an expert. She took particular offense to my statement that I did not consider her to be an expert. "You don't think I'm an expert?" "No, I don't." "Well, in that case," she said, "don't bother coming here anymore."

But it's true. I don't value her as a therapist. She treated me like an automaton the entire time I'd been seeing her, since May 2, 2003. She told me what to think, what to feel, what to say in different situations, what I should not have said in different situations, and even how to act. She calls her therapy "cognitive-behavioral therapy." I think she's just an autocrat who uses the label cognitive therapist to rationalize her authoritarianism.

She would negate everything I felt. She even claimed, on occasion, that I didn't even believe the things I was telling her--in effect, calling me a liar. Well, I know when I'm lying, and I can tell you that I was not lying about the things she said I was lying about.

She allowed me no opportunity to express myself: to explore my thoughts and feelings. "What do you think I am," she said on one occasion, "a friend who you can talk to, someone you would talk to over a cup of coffee?" Well, in some sense isn't that what therapists are -- or should be?

She would intrude on my narrative to issue her inane and authoritarian directives. "Don't think that. Don't feel that!" Well, I happen to be an independent-minded person. I think what I think. I feel what I feel. I don't have control over what I think and feel. And I'll be damned if I will allow someone who I don't even respect to try to manipulate my thoughts and feelings. I felt like a puppet and she was the puppet-master. An uncooperative puppet, to be sure.

But you get what you pay for. I am a patient at a public mental health clinic in the District of Columbia. Treatment is provided free of charge.

What I can't understand is her background. She has a phenomenal resume. She has a Ph.D. in psychology from New York University. She claims she was a star pupil, in fact. She also later served on the faculty at NYU. She was a therapist at Bellevue Hospital in New York. She has worked in forensics at Ryker's Island in New York. She has published numerous papers, and was even invited to deliver a paper before the New York Academy of Sciences. Can all these people be wrong about her? Is it possible that she is not only competent but also, perhaps, brilliant in her field?

All I can say is that she left me feeling frustrated and very distressed. Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm the only person who was dissatisfied with her. She claims all her other patients value her a great deal.

The fact is, however, I myself am somewhat of an expert in psychotherapy. I've been in therapy for many years now, twenty-eight to be exact. I've seen many therapists: psychiatrists and psychologists. I've had brilliant therapists in the past, people I valued. One of my psychiatrists was a graduate of Columbia, another a graduate of Harvard, and yet another had a degree from The University of Pennsylvania. I can judge a competent and brilliant therapist when I see one. Believe me, my therapist (or former therapist) -- The Mad Monk, as I call her -- had none of the qualities I valued in other therapists.

Then there's the objective fact that my condition worsened dramatically while I was seeing The Mad Monk.

On March 16, 2004 I was banned from group therapy, sponsored by the DC Department of Mental Health because I experienced a hysterical outburst. Security guards had to be summoned and I was assessed by a psychiatrist for involuntary commitment to a mental hospital. It was determined that I did not present a danger to myself or others and I was allowed to go home.

On March 17, 2004 my then treating psychiatrist diagnosed me with paranoid schizophrenia, and later recommended that I admit myself to a hospital. She advised her colleagues that she was afraid to be alone with me, and her subsequent meetings with me were held with other persons present. A staff person recommended that I admit myself to The Washington Hospital Center. On March 17, 2004 The Mad Monk herself wrote in my treatment plan that I suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

On April 21, 2004 I was banned from my local library for a period of six months because of conduct that the branch librarian deemed inappropriate and suggestive of serious mental illness. The Metro DC Police were summoned, who reviewed with me the procedures for having myself admitted to a hospital. The police reviewed with me the advisability of admitting myself to Georgetown University Hospital. The police further stated that they was concerned about my future behavior and potential for violence.

On October 12, 2004 ten Metro DC Police officers and four FBI agents - would you believe it? - were sent to my home because of a letter I had written that was deemed by the police to be a product of severe mental illness. The police transported me in handcuffs to DC General Hospital for an emergency forensic psychiatric evaluation. I was assessed by a psychiatrist at DC General who determined that my case did not warrant a hospital admission.

I mean this is some pretty heavy stuff. I just didn't have problems like this before I started seeing The Mad Monk in May 2003.Like I say, the therapy was free. Proving once again, you get what you pay for!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Chilled and Alone on a Long Autumn Night

Autumn mists drift in blue over the lake;
All the grass is covered with hoarfrost;
One would think an artist had scattered jade-dust
Over the delicate blossoms.

The flowers' sweet scent is gone;
A cold wind bends their stems.
Soon the withered golden leaves
Of the lotus blossoms will float by on the water.

My heart is weary.
My little lamp
Has sputtered out, it summons me to sleep.
I come to you, dear resting place!

Yes, give me rest, I need to be refreshed.
I weep much in my loneliness.
The autumn in my heart endures too long.
Sun of love, will you never shine again
Gently to dry my bitter tears?