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CHAPTER TWO On the birth of experience

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On the birth of experience

he mystery of dreams is deeply connected with the birth of experience. We have an urge to know what dreams mean but often take for granted the field of perception that make dreams possible. Could dreams exist without the seamless perceptual world that seems effortlessly given to us? Dreams make use of the objects of daily life, sky, earth, water, mountains, people, dramas, and, above all, emotions that populate our objects, fear, dread, desire, care, reaching for fulfilment, loss. I say reaching for fulfilment for, I suspect, more dreams abort fulfilment than achieve it. Dreams often express fragmentary states, aborted states, states that break off before a successful end. As if dreams attempt to communicate something unsatisfactory about our fragmentary lives.

One can also posit the opposite, that the perception of our world we take for granted depends on unconscious dream-work. Freud writes that experience of the external world is made possible by projection of internal space. If what he calls “the it” (das Es) is the primary psychical reality and ego and superego develop from it, these structures require “space”. This view posits the first space as internal psychical space out of contact with external reality that plays a role in structuring growing experience of externality. If the “it” helps to

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5. Feeling normal

Michael Eigen Karnac Books ePub

“TW “Tormal is what is there”, writes Winnicott (1989, p. 270) I ^L I of the baby at the beginning of life. “The baby tends to JL ^1 assume that what is there is normal/’ A deformed baby or child may not experience deformity for some time. It may have a more or less prolonged period before awareness of deformity sets in (and this is so whether deformity resides in self or in the parents). Eventually, the baby or child makes comparisons or reads itself through the eyes of others who see deformity. It begins to feel the impact of attitudes towards deformity (especially, at first, the attitudes of loved ones and care-takers) and feels the gap between inner self and external standards.

Thus Winnicott posits a period of feeling normal prior to an awareness of deformity, a “primary normalcy” (my term) subject to “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. For Winnicott, the sense of primary normalcy is contingent on being met by parental acceptance and love without sanctions. Winnicott even suggests that primary, unconditional love is expressed physiologically through the care the foetus receives in the womb. He posits a link between how the new-born is held by the emotional life of the parents and the support and acceptance that pervade the womb before birth. Emotional and somatic living are interwoven from the outset.

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Chapter Nine - Jumping in

Michael Eigen Karnac Books ePub

Jan Niemira (JN): Should we just jump in?


Michael Eigen (ME): Yes.

JN: What do you recall as most valuable about your training experience? Do you remember learning something that struck you as particularly important? Did anything strike you as unimportant? And is there anything you've had to unlearn?

ME: I had a lot of supervision and control work, yet the most important thing was being left alone to do what came out of me with patients. When I wasn't interfered with too much, I could learn how to be with people.

I should make special mention of New Hope Guild, a private clinic in Brooklyn, New York, where I worked for many years. Not only did it give me a chance to become myself, but I met my wife there! Every week the head of the clinic, Sherman Schachter, had clinical meetings with the staff. These weekly meetings on clinical issues were important for many reasons. It gave us all a chance to hear something about what other therapists were doing and exchange feedback in an open atmosphere. I learnt a lot about complexities of dependence. The atmosphere was one of being devoted to the patient, supporting the therapist–patient relationship. There were plenty of patients waiting to be seen with all kinds of problems: masochism, acting out, anxiety, depression, paranoia, and what they called chronic schizophrenia. Character disorder was a popular category. This usually meant people so wounded and damaged they would need help possibly all life long: deep, supportive help, a kind of help, so to speak, deeper than analysis.

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Appendix 5: Bion’s Grid

Michael Eigen Karnac Books ePub

Figure 1. Bion’s Grid.

When Bion was in New York (1978), he placed little emphasis on the grid. His main emphasis was on the living session. In experiential terms, he felt the lived session was in row C, dream thoughts, dreams, and myths. If you were D through F, the chances were you were not in the session, not in the felt moment. At most, the grid was for between session reflection about the emotional experience of the lived session, a way of taking a session apart and re-situating it along a number of dimensions that might improve discernment of processes. He wrote of it as a kind of psychic exercise, keeping alpha function alive and in repair, keeping intuition alive.

As he spoke, I wondered if he was consigning the grid to a kind of scrap heap, much the same as Husserl did with his early attempts to mathematise consciousness. Husserl decided that a mathematics of consciousness was not possible (at least from his horizon) and turned full attention to delineating structures of experience and came to be known as the “father of twentieth century phenomenology”.

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18. Boa and Flowers

Michael Eigen Karnac Books ePub

Within minutes of entering my office Janice told me that analysis had destroyed her. She did not actually tell me, but cried, shouted, screamed at me. Not simply a cry, shout, scream from the heart, the kind that elicits a saving response. Her tone accused, nagged, threatened, demanded. She knew what she wanted, she knew what had gone wrong, she knew what she needed.

"It’s the simplest thing in the world," she said. "I need good parenting. Will you give it to me? Can you give it to me? Will you do it?"

Here was a moment of raw appeal. "Yes," I felt. Who could deny the need for good parenting? She was right, and my innermost being responded, but I could not suppress a "but." This "but" was our undoing.

"I don’t want analysis shit," she told me. "That’s what killed me. I was alive. I know what it’s like to be alive. She (Janice’s analyst for eight years] told me I was acting out, that my style of being alive was self-destructive. She tried to analyze me away. Analysis killed my soul. Now I’m a total mess. I can’t feel anything. Nothing is alive for me. I’m a dead person, a nothing. She was jealous of my life. I went around with rich people, jet-setting, partying, terrific clothes—my element, not hers. She was down. She never lived. She couldn’t take life. She had no idea of what life could be. I was high on life, and she couldn’t stand it. Now I need love, the kind a baby gets, so I can come back, so I can be again—so I can have a self again. It’s the simplest thing in the world. Can you do it? I need to know. No ifs, ands, buts, maybes. Can you do it or not?"

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