Saturday, September 21, 2013

Our thinking

Imagine a seven-year-old girl bike riding on a beautiful day, at one with the world, at one with meaning. She brakes and pauses in thought: “What’s the purpose of this? Is this good enough? Isn’t there something useful I should be doing?” Or, channeling Sartre and Shakespeare, “This riding, signifying nothing.” Imagine a thirty-something man playing in a softball game on his company’s team. He catches a fly ball and in a flash of sun and memory is given, in hand, a shard of his lost childhood. He falls suffocated by feeling, thoughts vanquished, his entire life drowning in the fiery rainbow of emotion.

We recognize the zombie absurdity of a child mediating her world through thought. It kills life, putting her in a prison of herself. We dread the absurdity of a grown man living incandescent feeling unmediated by thought. Tears in a hurricane, a blind and backboneless creature. Thinking! It is power and control – distance, yet that touches; lucidity and godlike ownership in and of itself. But how can it be that, if it serves to distance us, protect us from the truth, from our feeling experience?

My work has shown me, almost as if I were watching a scene of horror, the translucent blindness of thought.

A thirty-something young man has known all his life that he wants to be a graphic artist like his father. When finally, a father himself and unemployed, he is admitted to college on financial aid, he finds he can’t open the books, makes other plans and does other things, plays complex fantasy games with his old high school buddies. “I know I want to be a graphic artist,” he says. “Am I just lazy?” My questions to him:

            What do you mean, you “know”?
            What does “lazy” mean?
            Who are you asking?

There is an old Robert Heinlein science fiction story, climax of which had a married couple driving their automobile through a landscape that was being apocalyptically remade by God: He was starting over, they were saved. They looked out the car’s windows and saw a typical day with sun and trees and the familiar scape. But then, against His injunction, the woman rolled down the passenger window and saw the reality: flung in chaos, the churning and chewed-up material of their world. Our thought, for most of us, is the transparent window through which we see deception. We roll down the window to the chaos of feeling. We fall into it, down and down the taproot of our history. In this history are the true feeling-reasons for who we are, what we do. We do something sacred or profane: the cause is the viscera, the volcanic churning deep in our earth.

“I’m a lover,” a man says. It is not true: You are a needer.

“I hate people,” a teenager says. Untrue. You need them and are burnt to near-death by it.

A recent college graduate says: “I’m a very cerebral guy.” He lives with his toxic botch mother, is a servant of his mother and sister. He is enamored of Jungian archetypes. His thinking is vital, and it races like smoke around the rape and humiliation of his soul, the entrapment of his body. Will Jung save him?

An unhappy wife, who finds her husband “unpleasant, irresponsible, immature, cold to me,” says “I love him for loving me the way he does.” What you call love is . . . I don’t know. Feel the feeling. It will be complex: twisting, starving, dying that never stops, touch, insanity, lost youth. These are our feelings, not – as I say in sessions – the “name brand” ones like happy, sad, angry, afraid.

How do thinking and feeling become a paradox? Where thought is blind and primitive feeling is sight? A simple account would be that we feel what we are and think what we want to be. Human beings are gyroscopic: forcibly upright as our roots twist, our foundation tilts. One loses a leg and holds himself up by a prosthetic, doesn’t founder and die. One loses mother’s love that makes life and growth possible and holds herself up by hopeful thought, by redefining need as love, by redefining life as striving. Thinking becomes our new truth, our prosthetic.

Though Sartre believed that we are “condemned to be free,” I think it’s less debatable that we are condemned to be adult, to look at the world and oneself through the window of thought. We cannot return to the child’s union of feeling and experience where we see and smell and touch the flowers and “not have to count them.” But we may, at times, ride our bike on a beautiful day, one with feeling, in silence.

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.