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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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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 FIVE Time, space, and silence: regaining our capacity to experience

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CHAPTER FIVE

Time, space, and silence: regaining our capacity to experience

The time–space–silence continuum

In childhood, at her grandmother’s house, there was an infinity of time, space, and silence. The hours and the days stretched expansively ahead, not empty but without the impingements of struggling, clashing egos. The men on the farm seemed to work without an inner battle between what they wanted and what they should or had to do. It was midsummer, so the hay was cut, dried, and stacked in the barn or in hay cocks or ricks in the fields. It was late summer, so the combine harvester appeared and the barley was cut and threshed and the baled straw was brought in. It was morning, so the hens and pigs, dogs and cats were fed and the hens were let out into the comparatively fox-free safety of the daylight hours. It was midday, so the cattle were counted and the men came in for dinner. It was evening, so the animals were fed again and the hens locked up for the night. The rhythms of the day and the season determined what one did so that few existential decisions had to be made. Furthermore, in her memory, there was no jostling for dominance: every man had his place and all were valued and accepted in their differences. Just as the time and space were not empty but felt infinite, so the silence was not absolute but felt abundant. In reality, the

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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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CHAPTER NINE Integration: perspectives from complexity theory and neuroscience

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CHAPTER NINE

Integration: perspectives from complexity theory and neuroscience

S

o far, we have gained some insight into Brenda’s attachment style and how this manifests in the way in which she manages her energy, so that her inner charge is constantly fighting with her muscular armouring. The blockage in her energy flow impacts on her capacity to cathect—or alternatively, to be bored. Her over-focused attention and energy affects her receptiveness to experience, which leads to her craving more soulful living, along with more time, space, and silence. Brenda’s anxious attachment also generates poor selfesteem, which causes her to obsess about competitiveness and power and her place in the pecking order. Her avoidant style means that she is understandably resistant to feeling her hurt and humiliation. She keeps the world at bay and takes in little. Consequently, Brenda has a poor “memory”—though in reality she hasn’t taken in things in the first place—and her life narrative is patchy and lacks cohesion. When she experiences judgement or disrespect from another, she simply cuts them out of her life, while she keeps people she loves at arm’s length to protect her fragile boundaries. She is resistant to digesting her past, but is driven by dreams of a better future. As a result, she changes career, partner, and home at regular intervals, and refuses—indeed panics in the face of—commitment to anyone or anything. All of this change and

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