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Conversations with Michael Eigen

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These lively conversations provide a unique insight into the mind of one of the most original psychoanalysts of our century. The various subjects covered here spread over a wide range of interest, which Michael Eigen talks about with a rich and almost ecstatic flow. He analyzes the madness and psychopathy of our society, and tells us of work with clients and himself. Topics expand to include spirituality, meetings with British and French analysts, psychoanalytic writing, work with trauma and many other areas that go with being alive today and and with the difficulties we share in constituting ourselves as fully human beings. This book provides a wonderful introduction to his writings and for Eigen readers it is a delightfulnand challenging filling out og nuances of his life and work.

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CHAPTER ONE: Thoughts

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God

A ner: In The Psychoanalytic Mystic, you wrote that therapy is holy and that there are moments when psychoanalysis is a form of prayer. To most analysts these sentences might seem strange. Segregation between these two worlds—spiritualism and psychoanalysis—is the normative analytic stance. What personal experiences have led you to think that way?

Mike: For me these two worlds coincide. The first session I did as a therapist was like breathing fresh air. I felt like a fish in water. Finally, something natural, a fit, and a medium I could be in. It was a blessing after trying so many things—something that felt just right. I was nearly thirty and had worked as a therapist with children at camps, schools and treatment centres in my mid-twenties. That's part of what got me interested in going more deeply into the therapy field.

I worked at other jobs too, too many to mention. Office work, restaurants, playing in bands, teaching. While teaching at a school for disturbed children, an incident occurred that made me determined to be my own boss. A boy brought in pheasants as gifts from a hunting trip with his father. My supervisor, the head teacher, lectured him about the evil of killing animals and wouldn't accept the gift. I piped up and said to the boy, “Hey, that's great, John. I'd love one.” This boy's dad never did anything with him. How great they went hunting, did something together. The boy came in proud and generous and got shot down, shamed. My supervisor went on harping about how bad it was to gratuitously take life. I knew, in an instant, my days in institutional settings were numbered. Soon afterwards, I began graduate school to start work on my doctorate, to work towards greater freedom.

 

CHAPTER TWO: Life

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A ner: One of the most interesting things in your writings is how the erotic experience and the intellectual experience collide.

Mike: When I was younger, sexual experience was a spiritual experience, and spiritual experience was very passionate. When I was a sophomore in college, I met Socrates, the first person who used the word Truth that I believed. Within a few months of opening to the thrill of Truth through Socrates, I had sexual intercourse for the first time. I still meditate on the link between meeting Socrates and making love, love of Truth and Eros, capacities that keep interweaving.

There were differences between them but there were also big areas of overlap. There were periods in my life when there was conflict between them. I went through Augustinian struggles, flesh against spirit, civil war. Why wasn't I more spiritual? What's all this attachment to the realm of the flesh, the sensuous? The truth was I never had a sexual relationship I didn't love. Sex brought me closer to God, opened my heart. I saw God when I had sex. It just happened.

 

CHAPTER THREE: Supervision

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First supervision: love affair

A ner: Rahel is a married woman, age forty-five. She is a mother to three children from her second marriage. Rahel is in therapy for five years. She comes twice a week on a regular basis. Rahel first came to therapy, seven years ago, because she felt depressed. She cried a lot, felt miserable and barely functioned in her work as a secretary. Rahel also suffered from a compulsion to wash her hands, put them under the tap for several minutes, especially before cooking or after washing the house with detergents. She feared that residues of detergents remaining on her hands might mix with cooked food and poison her family.

Mike: How long has Rahel been married?

Aner: Rahel married when she was twenty-three. She is a small woman. She has a child look. It is hard to believe that she is forty-five. Rahel suffered many catastrophes. Her mother died from a car accident when she was nine. She was sent abroad and was raised by her uncle until the age of seventeen. She returned to Israel when her father had a stroke. Her father died three years later. Before his death Rahel had to take care of him. For years she felt guilty because of her parents’ deaths. She was in the kitchen with her mother a few days before the car accident. Rahel's mother was cooking and washing the dishes in the kitchen. Suddenly an unpleasant thought “jumped” into Rahel's mind: how great it would be if she could replace her mother in the kitchen. After her mother's death she thought her private thought might have caused the death. She was tormented by guilt feelings. Her memories of her mother are ambivalent. Her mother was not warm or affectionate.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Afterword

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Michael Eigen

Afterwords also are forewords. Like an actor coming on stage to speak with the audience after the show is over. A certain intimacy is struck, now comes the lowdown, a special sharing, just between us, no more curtains. Actor as magician with a wondrous trick: there is no other side of the curtain. That a curtain existed a few moments ago fades into imagination. And now we speak.

But if there is a stage, there is a show. Even if we change places, drama continues. You will be where I am and I will be where you are. A thrilling intensity. It happens all the time. In the theatre of a book it is baffling to think that only one person, the reader, is in the room.

Is it silly to say the movement of life never stops? No, it's not silly. It's wonderful. More wonderful as old age presses towards fulfilment and release. More profound as time becomes scarce. There is no more waiting. This is it. Now or never. But you discover before going over the great falls that you can't stop waiting. No matter how fast the momentum, you wait for the next moment, the not yet about to be. It is like this to the last breath.

 

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