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CHAPTER THREE Attention and the soul: the scientist versus the poet

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CHAPTER THREE

Attention and the soul: the scientist versus the poet

Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?

—Oscar Wilde, 1905, De Profundis

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.

If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

—The Gospel according to Thomas

It is creative apperception more than anything else that makes the individual feel that life is worth living.

—Winnicott, 1991, p. 65

O

nce she was a child and never imagined that the magic could end. But, the science project began aged fifteen as a bull-like effort of will, forcing herself to engage with the rebarbative, abstract, impersonal detail of chemistry, physics, and maths. Brenda was slapping herself awake out of the misty gaze of childhood, the romantic dreamer in a treetop, in ecstatic merger with the natural environment.

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B E YO N D T H E F R U S T R AT E D S E L F

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CHAPTER ON EHow attachment styles are mirrored in energy regulation patterns

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CHAPTER ONE

How attachment styles are mirrored in energy regulation patterns

A

t the beginning of a long period of therapy, Brenda’s therapist experiences her as very polite, distant, self-analytical, and unemotional—apart from her eviscerating embarrassment about self-revelation and her crippling guilt about being in therapy at all when “there are so many people out there with real problems”. She distrusts warmth or compassion—what she spittingly labels as pity but is exquisitely sensitive to a therapist’s attunement and understanding.

The slightest hint of not being heard or seen accurately or of unempathic analysis or rigidity sends her into retreat. Her presenting issue was lack of meaning in her life, and it was clear that she believed that she could analyse herself out of the problem if she—or her therapist— thought hard enough. The fact that she had been trying to figure out the point of life since her teens and still hadn’t by the age of thirty-eight caused her despair. But it has never occurred to her that there was any other approach to the problem than through thinking. She worked in IT and was quite good at it but found it soul-destroying and didn’t know how long she could continue to make herself do it; she wanted to return to college to study philosophy, anthropology, or English literature.

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CHAPTER FOUR Boundaries and contact: outer and inner distortions

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CHAPTER FOUR

Boundaries and contact: outer and inner distortions

So far as the anxieties of the outer life penetrate into it, and the inconsistently-minded, unknown, unloved or hostile society is allowed … to cross the threshold, it ceases to be home; it is then only a part of that outer world which you have roofed over and lighted fire in.

—John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies, 1865

In Seville, Brenda sees behind the student tapas bars and tourist sites the fires of the Inquisition. Looking at Italian Renaissance art, she cannot avoid the blood, terror, and torture amid which it was painted. She is in confluence with suffering. Mary Oliver, like many poets, has thin boundaries against the world. She describes giving to a child beggar in

Jakarta: the look of cunning she received back she carries “like a bead of acid”—in my mind, the acid used in etching to carve lines into metal

(“Acid”, 1992). In another shocking poem (“Rage”, 1992), she evokes the sex abuser at the moment when, in his dreams, his armouring against empathy collapses. Even he, Oliver imagines, is tormented by what he has done to the child who, stunted, “will never come to leaf”. In these examples, we see how open boundaries permit us to feel the pain of

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CHAPTER SIX Competitiveness as the struggle for recognition and respect

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CHAPTER SIX

Competitiveness as the struggle for recognition and respect

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

—Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach”, 1867

Out there, under the shining vault of heaven,

Men tell each other: ‘Man, be thyself!’

But in here, among us trolls, we say: ‘Man, be thyself—and to Hell with the rest of the world!’

—Ibsen, Peer Gynt, trans. M. Meyer, 1994, p. 65

The political and the personal—Brenda’s story

In all of us, the personal and the political are intertwined: individual and social change may support or may undermine each other. In

Brenda’s case, her self-esteem was, in her youth, crippled because of the denigration of women in her family and the wider Irish society; later, the success of the feminist movement was vital in supporting her personal work towards developing self-worth. Our current climate of

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CHAPTER TEN Achieving well-being: play and spiritual practice as transformational hubs

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CHAPTER TEN

Achieving well-being: play and spiritual practice as transformational hubs

Empty are the words of that philosopher who offers no therapy for human suffering.

—Epicurus, in Long & Sedley, 1987

Primary needs and transformation

Brenda is frustrated in her quest for happiness and well-being largely because, as a consequence of her avoidant/dismissing attachment, she lives too much in the narrow, arid, impersonal, unnourished, and sticky left hemisphere of the brain. In the last chapter we saw how complex systems are non-linear: a small input leads to a disproportionate effect.

In Brenda’s case, what kind of input could help her emerge from her rigid and frustrating states of mind? What we are looking for is, as it were, Brenda’s psychic hub—more specifically, for what Bollas called a transformational object that would trigger this hub. According to him, mother is first experienced as a source of alteration in self states.

This experience is retained unconsciously in the adult, “who relives it through his adamant quest for a transformational object: a new partner,

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