Feeling Matters

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As long as feelings are second-class citizens, people will be second class citizens. Experience is an endangered species. An important function of psychotherapy is to make time for experiencing.Psychic taste buds really exist and rarely rest. They feed us each other, gauge states of being, states of spirit. We taste each other's feelings and intentions. An important aim of this book is to build psychic taste buds, not put them down or pretend they don't exist.A positive feeling runs through this book, a love of life, an affirmation. Yet we discover many feel they do not have an impact. A sense of helplessness and impotence in face of awesome forces seems to be increasing. Health is a broad term with many dark threads. A creeping annihilating sense varies from pockets we try not to notice to soul murder that must be addressed. Yet individuals do try, in their private struggles and in the larger social sphere. We see in the depths of private lives forces that get magnified in the larger world, and in our secret beings we find magnified hints of forces that go undetected in the social sphere. Social reform is not enough without working on oneself. Feelings matter in private life and in the public sphere. Failure to do justice to living experience, in families, business or governance, is to fail to do justice to life.

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CHAPTER ONE. Yosemite God

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Yosemite silenced me. Words dissolved. A wordless world for millions of years. What can speaking do? Tears, awe, like so many other people before me. Mammoth rocks, mammoth stars. God’s beauty. The soul of the rock says, “Come closer.”

A sign says, “Here is where Theodore Roosevelt camped with John Muir, spoke good forest talk, and left Roosevelt inspired to conserve remnants of nature’s forests and wilderness.”

So this is what words can do - inspire great thoughts, feelings, actions. In people so different as Theodore Roosevelt and myself, words can and do make a difference.

What I put into my writings, my books: words that echo the silence, the wind and water - the spirit that hovers, runs through, uplifts, dashes down.

Not God as signifier for inbuilt, unknown intelligence. But God that gives birth to religions. Religions that reveal and obscure. Religions that botch it but provide hints, openings, pointers, God-prints. I would not go so far as to say that religions are God fossils in which God is embedded without life. Religions can and do help implant God in us, awaken us, get us going to some extent, in some ways. Are they necessary? Can’t Yosemite do it alone? Doesn’t Yosemite ignite the God sense all by itself? Doesn’t Yosemite ignite God? Surely, God, too, must be awed, dumbfounded, amazed, moved, swept away, by forms creation takes.

 

CHAPTER TWO. Tiny Quivers

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Kathryn asked if I trained with “X-School” because I used the word contact at our last meeting. At that meeting she was warm and weepy and somewhat fearful. Inner tremolo, body quivering, a tiny bit open.

Open vs. closed was a theme of the last session. Kathryn spoke tearfully about losing her analyst, who stopped treatment to have a baby. After having her baby, the woman decided to take an indefinite break from practice. Two months, four months, six months – now a year, no end in sight. Kathryn was at a loss. Her analyst was very special.

She consulted several therapists in the interim. They were helpful but did not possess that special something – a tone, quality of being that made Kathryn feel seen and heard through and through. The consultants understood this or that and struck a balance between support and challenge. Kathryn could get along with them. But that special something was missing. Kathryn felt the limits of the treatment as it happened, hitting the other’s sharp places, having to pull back into herself, show only certain areas. The people she met were good at what they did but somehow missed the whole person.

 

CHAPTER THREE. Words

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When I speak I am conscious of my words taking aim. I’m aiming at an enemy. I can’t tell you how much this hurts me. When I was a child I stuttered and I knew why. I knew my words were pellets to sink into others and explode or poison. Once inside the other, they knew what to do. A wounding intent was buried in their essence.”

This is the third time Harry said this to me in the past two weeks. I do not feel his words exploding, poisoning. Perhaps I will. Maybe they will sneak up on me and go off without warning when I step on one, a mine going off when a thought or feeling brushes it.

Harry is affable. I am attentive. I believe mines are there. I believe he is tortured by a hostile mind. I understand what he says but do not feel it. We have been together half a year and are still getting the feel of what it is like to be together.

I ask, “Do other words carry other feelings?” I am thinking of words of joy or beauty.

“I’m not talking about that,” Harry says. “That is not what I’m trying to get across to you. I must make you know that I’m a killer. Words kill. I must tell you this because I must kill you.

 

CHAPTER FOUR. Trauma Clots

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Arnie lived a full life at the edge of depression. He was born in the south, warm weather, warm water. He feels that the women who cared for him, along with his mother, over-fulfilled him. They gave him too much of everything: beach, swimming, boating, fishing, endless play, lots of attention, paradise. This, he claims, is the first bane of his life, things came too easy. He was not prepared for what lay ahead. He wonders, too, about sexual molestation, vague images, sensations, a woman mouthing his penis, a man doing something, wanting to do something, sensations in the background of his feeling self.

When he was ten his father took the family to live in a “bad” neighborhood in a northern city. Tough kids, fights, struggle for survival. Arnie didn’t know what hit him, yet the challenge excited him, his first true test beyond mama’s care. He suspected his easy life was illusory. Now he had a chance to taste the truth of pushing against one’s limits, the limits of the world.

Arnie relished exercising his powers but there were flickers of sadness. He missed southern ease, the caring rhythms that once fed him. New pleasures, new injuries. Sadness stayed and there was no way of knowing the turns sadness would take over time.

 

CHAPTER FIVE. Election Rape

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You will think I’m paranoid but I can’t help putting together the way Bush stole the election and 9/11.” Carla was referring to the presidential election year 2000. “They bullied, lied, cheated on every level. Blocking voters from voting: getting voters off the lists, creating obstacles getting to polls, creating problems at the polls, bad ballot forms, bad ballot counts, discrediting credentials ... Bullying. Baker’s face bore a hole through me. I had nightmares about his face and Pataki shouting at vote counters in Florida. No wonder I was turned off by politics when I was a teen.

“I feel raped by the Supreme Court! What do kids learn from the Supreme Court? They learn to do anything to win, screw others to get power. Lie and cheat and bully. Not only is being a rapist OK, it’s mandatory. It’s part of what one does to win. May the best rapist win. At Bush’s inauguration the streets were lined with the violated.

“They bombed us with the election, then 9/11 came. I thought: violence to violence, mirror images, violence trapped in a magnification lens. Monster, monster on the wall, who’s the evilest of all? There is a grotesque mirror in the soul and once you fall in you can not get out of it.

 

CHAPTER SIX. Healing Longing

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Sad girl, lonely, living by herself at the moment. She had to wait three weeks to see me and called five times after making the appointment. I didn’t think she’d show up.

And here she was. I think, “My God, she got here!”

It’s hard to hear. There are a lot of street noises and she speaks quietly. I move my chair a little closer. Her face is pasty, pressed in, sensitive. I’m tempted to say embryonic but that is too hasty. The pressed in quality, not pinched exactly, exercises me. I wait on it.

She loves her previous therapist, a woman she saw over ten years. Her therapist left to become a mother. She said she’d practice again in a few months, which became half a year, a year, longer. Eventually, it was obvious her therapist was working, but not with her.

Annette’s calls, hundreds eventually, went unanswered. The few times she got through, her therapist hung up on her. Once, before hanging up, she told Annette directly and coldly, “I gave you someone’s name. Call her.”

I felt pained for Annette, worried and stymied. What to think? What to believe? Thoughts ran through my mind - was Annette too much for a new mother? Too needy, too many calls, threats? Things change when you have a baby. When I became a father, I slept in sessions, dropped things, came up with odd ideas. I felt I was fuller, caring. Fatherhood brought me to new places, including an insistent sense that we were all parents and children to one another. But I was also out of it much of the time.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN. Alone Points

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I am not an emotional sea for everyone. There are people who find me remote. A woman I love very much says, “You were good when I first came to you. You showed feeling as long as I idealized you. Now that I’m myself, you’re less there. I need you to share more. You helped me get better and now can’t take it.”

I am silent. I feel terrible. I wish I could say what I feel. I don’t know what I feel. I tell her I feel terrible that I can’t do better, she has surpassed me in interactive aliveness, she is ahead of me. This confession of insufficiency maddens her more. “You’re copping out,” Jena tells me. “Yo u ‘re making excuses. Come out of your shell and open up.”

I’m in a state I often get in. Vague, mute intensities drifting randomly, threads and cracks without clear location. Words form: “mucoid densities in viscous fields”. That is what I stare at. I can’t get out of it. Silenced by trauma, unborn, gelatinous, encased. Her therapist.

Jena tries to shake me up, treat me like a person. She feels I’m negative, ungiving, something she long experienced with men. She feels my disability is motivated, masking fear and hatred or a need to be patronizing and maintain supremacy by inaccessibility. A hostile withdrawal so chronic and impacted I scarcely notice it except as a sense of suffocation pressuring me into wanting to be.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT. Filling Up with Rage

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M“ aybe anger works better, bites off little bits of rage,” says Don. He is a rage addict trying to modulate his rage. He has hit on the idea of turning rage into anger. He has a vision of rage as amorphous material, fiery silly putty, with anger a tiny bucket drawn from a great rage reservoir. Perhaps anger can leech rage and channel it.

Sounds good, makes sense. I don’t buy it. Maybe some day, some way. Now it sounds like evasion, postponement, a wish. I’m sympathetic to wishes. It means Don is not happy with the way he is. He wants to be better. A wish can set a direction, propel one towards a goal. By itself it is helpless, even cruel, masking a great distance between who one is and who one would like to be, and lack of power to get from here to there.

Don makes a case for anger. “Anger reshapes rage, bends it into something workable. Rage is all-consuming. Anger leaves room in the margins.”

“I worry you are slipping rage in the back door, disguising it as anger,” I say, feeling guilty for not seeing progress in moving from rage to anger. Experience with rage addiction teaches me to wait and see. Rage is cunning. It finds ways to justify itself, often with twisted, hair-raising accuracy. It gravitates to faults in others and the structure of things, leeches on to other emotions, finds ways of being right, then fires. Anger can be a Trojan horse for rage.

 

CHAPTER NINE. Boxes of Madness

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There are many threads in psychoanalysis and madness is a privileged one. Freud’s structural concepts are imbued with portrayals of madness. Id as a seething cauldron of excitations, no no in the unconscious, opposites meld, reverse, are indistinguishable, the law of contradiction and common sense do not hold. Ego as hallucinatory organ, idealizing-denigrating (over-underestimating), projecting, identifying, denying, splitting, disintegrating; a double agent, developing anti-hallucinogenic properties and perceptual, reflective sanity. A sanity often soaked with madness that seeps through personal and world events. A superego concerned with morals, turning moralistic, overly self-critical, punishing, cancerously destructive, devouring reality with hate-filled ideals. Freud takes us to places where madness stains psyche. Capacities that try to set things right are not exempt. Psychoanalysis can lay no special claim on sanity but joins the struggle, replacing obsession with sin by analysis of madness, opening possibility for further ethical development (Eigen, 1986: Chapter 1).

 

CHAPTER TEN. The Annihilated Self

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We dream of fear of dying, corpses, threatening figures. Corpses come to life, creaking, trying to move with rusty hinges. Dead spots. Killers and rapists threaten to overpower us in dreams. Fear of being overpowered permeates psychic life.

I don’t think any of us survive infancy or childhood fully alive. What lives survives on graves of self that didn’t make it. We leave a lot behind to be what we are now, to be what we can be.

We cover not only nakedness but annihilation. We try to look better than we are, more alive, more appealing. We try to mask a sense of an annihilated self with signs of life.

***

Marlene speaks about someone who wears tons of make-up to hide her scary, broken face. Emboldened by their contact and driven by need, this person comes in one day without make-up and shows herself as she is. Chilling, bloodcurdling, necessary. She shows her ravaged self to the one person who can take it. No, incorrect. Mar-lene may not be able to take it. She shows herself whether or not Marlene can take it. That is closer. To risk in therapy what no one can take. The human race has not evolved capacity to take what it does to itself, the pain people inflict on each other. In therapy one risks what is too much for another, too much for oneself. One risks what no one can take or may ever be able to take. That enters the room and is shared, whether or not anyone can take it.

 

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