Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Unconscious and Compassion for Self and for Others

From the beginning this post is going to trip lightly off the page.  Let's not get too bogged down in terminology, Freudian, Jungian, Kleinian, Lacanian or otherwise.  Sometimes we begin to trip ourselves up, and, I believe, this was far from the aim of Freud and his followers and even those who later diverged from him and his tenets.  All these great scholars were great human beings who sought to heal both themselves and others.  After all that's what therapy means namely healing and psychotherapy consequently the healing of the soul.

My Basic Starting Point:

My basic starting point with respect to life, and especially with respect to the mental life of my psyche is that I am in awe of its mystery and its working.  I have long been in awe of how we learn both the facts we need to survive in the modern world and society today and the wisdom we need to grow in appreciation of self and others.  I have also long realised that I am no repository of "the truth" or "truths"; I simply do not have all the answers. In fact I have very few.  However, I do learn all the facts I need with the help of others, and in like manner I garner the wisdom necessary to survive this life with their assistance also.  Hence, my approach has always been basically Socratic.  I first admit that I am ignorant of a certain fact and proceed from there to gain the truth of it as it were.

Some other necessary Presuppositions:

(a) In the field of therapy it has long been an accepted fact, and is almost axiomatic to state that the client or patient who knows exactly what is wrong with him or her is the most unlikely one to improve in knowing themselves or in solving as best they can the problem or problems that perturb and disturb them.  I think, it was Professor Eugene Gendlin from whom I first learned this interesting fact.  Nothing could be further from the truth for those of us who come with an open mind to therapy and who wish to allow the relationship with our therapist bring many of our repressed fears, guilt and anxieties to the fore or to the conscious mind.  I have already adverted to the fact the Freud described psychoanalysis as the process by which the unconscious is made conscious

(b) In all of this I find that an attitude of compassion is very necessary for me.  I believe strongly that I must exercise an attitude of compassion for my Self, for the wounded little boy in me.  When doing my daily meditations I often do my own visualisations based on parenting the hurt child within me.  This has been a powerful tool in getting to know and love and be compassionate for my inner being.  I am at present writing a second book of meditations and this is one of the visualisations I have written for that book.

(c) I, like many other kindred spirits, engage in what is commonly termed "soul work."  For me this soul work entails (i) writing poetry, (ii) writing a journal, (iii) keeping a dream journal - which I have been doing for more than ten years now, (iv) attending self-development, mental health and other psychology courses, (v) doing group therapy which I was engaged in for some five years or so, (v) doing daily meditation, (vi) writing this blog, (vii) reading self-help, popular psychology and more academic psychology books.  These are the ways I do soul work.  There are, of course, many other ways:- all types of art from painting to sculpture; hill walking, mountain climbing, being out in nature, going on retreats, listening to meditative music; engaged in complementary therapies like Reiki, Indian Head Message, Acupuncture etc.

(d)  A priest friend of mine used always say something to this effect: "Jesus came not alone to comfort the disturbed, but to disturb the comfortable."  I feel the same can be said of the good therapist.  When I get disturbed or anxious or uptight I can be sure that there is some unconscious material being stirred up, some repressed wish or desire, some old mental wound or injury, a repressed guilt or fear.  This is no harm, I find.  In fact, I believe it really sorts the men from the boys and the women from the girls.  It is at these times, especially, that I may most attention to my dreams because they often bring with them clear messages from the unconscious - clear indications of what those repressed fears and guilt may be.  I find when I get disturbed I attempt to go deeper and ask the question, "Why has this or that comment perturbed me?  Why did that behaviour by me or another make me uncomfortable?  Why was I uncomfortable reading this or that report? All these questions when slept on and reflected on in a slow methodic gentle and compassionate way will yield much gold in terms of insight into one's very innermost Self.

(e) Both Freud and Jung were very well read in all aspects of culture and they and their followers were to deeply appreciate the power of myth both in ancient and even in modern society.  The myths for Jung contained many archetypal images which cropped up in dreams.  Of these same dreams, Freud was to say that they are "the royal road to the unconscious."


I will finish this post with a few quotes as is my wont:

The unconscious sends all sorts of...images up into the mind...not only jewels but dangerous jinn...But they are fiendishly fascinating too, for they carry keys that open the whole realm of the desired and feared adventure of the discovery of the self.    (Joseph Campbell, quoted in Michael Kahn's book, Basic Freud: Psychoanalytic Thought for the 21st Century, ix)

By exploring and understanding the origins and potency of the forces that reside in the depths of the soul we not only become much better able to cope with them, but also gain a much deeper and more compassionate understanding of our fellow man. (ibid., xii)

The above photograph I took again of the Atlantic, but this time off the coast of Kerry at Dún Caoin

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