Sunday, June 12, 2016

A little exploring: Meaning and importance

I’m wondering lately if love is, in its bare essence, only the bed and the mother for a child to rest in. Certainly it feels like more than that, but I think that is its meaning. Why shouldn’t our feelings be as absurd and misinformed as anything else in the universe? The material world’s nature, and the fact of it itself, are absurd. Do we really believe a “big bang” produced infinity and eternity and an endless number of the minutest possible particles? Particles of what? Why does a human being feel a need to accomplish something in order to feel good about himself? That is, why shouldn’t it be enough just to exist? Can a person have an individual meaning outside of her society’s and time’s influence? Why should we allow them to have such power? What if we each conceived our own definition of success? Or what if we could eliminate the idea of success? Does a dying person become a child again, wanting to simply feel the wonder of the world, of existence? How can that seem an end in itself – for him or her – yet a far-from-sufficient end for a child?

I’m wondering lately if we’re most alive when we’re most unconscious, when we feel that something is important and it is important because we feel it, not because we know it, not because in nature it is true. Feeling is our birthright; we are sick (depressed, traumatized) when we don’t have it. But in health, feeling gives us truths that cannot be proved: “traveling to see new things is important,” “this music is important,” “Shakespeare is important,” “baseball is important,” “political debate is valuable,” “charity is important,” “beauty is necessary.” If we were to deconstruct what is “important,” we would feel terrible – alone, devastated with nothing. And would probably have to convince ourselves that this is a higher state of being, as the Buddhists delusionally do. Why would universal unimportance feel terrible? Because we would be without the bed and the mother, without love.

With my own dysthymic nature, I am happier holding my wife’s hand, happier sitting in a café with a cup of coffee, having an email exchange with an old client or friend, writing, than I am doing any activity in the world – vacationing, swimming, playing a game, going to the theatre or party or museum. This is bent wrong, but it comes from some of the earliest seeds and injuries planted in me. My emotional life is so colored, so privately defined. Does that mean that every feeling I have is primarily idiosyncratic, lost and stuck in me (as it were), and that I must therefore see the world in a perfectly individual way? Yes, and it is the same for everybody. What would happen if we didn’t lose that uniqueness? If we weren’t bludgeoned by consensus and given the standard few words for emotions early in our life?

Though no one hears it, I apply all these questions to every client I see. Each person sits both on their rippling surface and embedded in the floor of their ocean. Each one lives in fantasy that must be validated, though it comes from their bent earliest seeds. In a way, you could say our deepest is our shallowest, our healthiest is our sickest, if we’re lucky enough to be both emotional and delusional: Salman Rushdie is struck by an image in his mind, very poignant: a man lies dead on the ground, the murderer standing over him holds a knife, the murdered man’s daughter is inside a nearby house, and from that image the author retraces a six-hundred-page novel. A pretty simple emotion – revenge – is the story’s theme, and in the complex made-up weave all is important.*

Finally, it’s interesting that people ask and will probably always ask, What is the meaning of life? Some, like Chaim Potok in The Chosen, say we have to create our meaning (making us God’s equal: It’s valid or good or important because we will it). Some say “there is no purpose.” Woody Allen ( describes the meaninglessness of everything while noting that “you can’t actually live your life like that.” He believes – very erroneously, I’m sure – that it is the artist’s job to give us a reason to go on. The “answer” will be forever obscure, which makes the psychotherapist’s job easy: We support the client’s sense of meaning, or have him question it if it hurts, or we share our religion of Cognitive Therapy, where “feeling good” comes from the therapist’s delusion about rationality. We can do anything, because there are no answers.

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* National Public Radio (NPR) this morning had a story on the opera-tization of Salman Rushdie’s novel, Shalimar the Clown. The author described this origin of his story.

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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.