The virgin executive

DESHeadshotBS-1I know I’ve left it late in the session – but I’ve got to start working on this dream with you …

Patient:      … it’s definitely part of the sequence.

Therapist:  We can always make a start. It’s important to capture the energy while it’s fresher; we can come back to it then.

[The therapist’s eyes close to listen.]

P:               I walk into this huge organic building. It’s like it’s made of pushed-up earth but it towers above me – not like a skyscraper – although it’s tall. I get this strange essence that it is alive. It has a heavy ring towards the top – like some form of viewing platform or an escape route. Before I enter the building I’m in a clearing. I don’t know if it’s some sort of jungle that I’ve walked through? Tall, overpowering grasses sway in the perfect temperature.

T:               Perfect temperature?

P:               Yeah, sunny but not hot; cool, not cold. Like those wonderful spring days when the world hints at what summer will bring. That first day when you slip off your winter clothes. You feel the world on your skin after all that insulation.

T:               Le Sacre du printemps?

P:               Sacred spring?

T:               Yes.

P:               There’s an air of real danger outside. I can hear an old woman’s voice that carries across the clearing. She is singing a song I know. I can’t sing it though; I know that I mustn’t sing the words.

T:               What might happen if you did?

P:               I don’t know … but, as always, there’s something very dangerous about stepping into the building. I can see the vestibule is open. It’s not very big. I’m a bit concerned I could get stuck if I start to walk in. It’s like that claustrophobic feeling I had when I went caving as a teenager. Then I realise something bad will only happen if I step in knowing the words. I try not to hear the song; I cover my ears. I try not to sing the words in my head. I know the song foretells the future and the future that waits in the building could change my life in big ways. My heart’s beating really heavily; I feel drenched in sweat. I’m just about to turn back as a group of young women flock around me and push me through the entranceway. The instant I’m inside the building, the women fall to the floor.

[There is a long silence. The therapist doesn’t move. The sound of water being gulped and swallowed invades the space.]

T:               Are the women dressed or naked this time?

P:               Bound in cheesecloth. Full-length dresses. Like they’re in some sort of shroud. I run my hand over one of them expecting warmth, a subtle smoothness beneath the material, but I realise she’s made of sand or perhaps salt. I can’t swallow.

[A glass chinks just before the gulping sound enters the room again.]

P:               I look round the white inner space. All the people have divided into two separate groups.

T:               Are they doing anything? Saying anything?

P:               They form up a procession that leads out of the space. They pass some sort of holy metal object or relic along the line and I’m forced to follow it right out of the building.

T:               Atmosphere?

P:               It’s incredibly powerful … spiritual. I’m laid to the ground by the procession. I feel very free. When I look up there is a sage woman looking at me. She rests her hands on my head and then, with an opening of hands, I’m thrown high into the air, floating on a passage of energy.

T:               Any other signs or symbols from the dream series?

P:               Just those obvious recurring ones …

[The patient pauses.]

P:               When I look down the young women have begun to draw circles on the ground. I can see one particular fire-haired woman. She gets lost in the action and is suddenly abandoned in the main circle.

T:               Do you know what’s about to happen at that point when you’re in the dream?

P:               I do. I know exactly what’s going to happen next. But I wake up before she starts to dance.

T:               You want to see it?

P:               No, I don’t want to see her die this time.

T:               Not even for the elements – the soil, the flame, the drops of water or the breeze?

P:               No, not to appease the gods. It’s changing. For once, in the dream, I realise I want my life. I don’t want to be reborn a young woman, no renaissance life. I want to be anima rising. To use my life.

[Her eyes move towards the clock. He smiles at her warmly.]

T:               Well, the outline’s told. I think we can pick up on it next session. Perhaps we can reflect on the sand/salt women and the change to the sacrificial dance?

Duncan suggests …

Reading Man and His Symbols by C G Jung, since knowing when things are a sign and when they are a symbol of something else is one of the most import things we can learn.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Duncan E. Stafford 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

 

Life is like …

3monkeyGlennLife is unlike the life your parents prepared you for; they too were unprepared. The best a parent can teach a child is there’s no preparation for life …

Life is like the life your parents wanted for you, only not in the way they intended.

Life is unlike the strange men you were told never to talk to, unless you are a strange man, in which case talking to yourself is obligatory.

Life is like an encounter with a stranger; always welcome people introducing you to yourself.

Life is unlike everything you ever wanted but we’re afraid to ask.

Life is like everything you ever wanted without freedom from wanting.

Life is unlike similes and metaphors; life is a metaphor. You are a metaphor.

Life is like incorrect grammar, unless you believe in grammar, in which case you’ll struggle with breaking the rules and it’ll always feel like someone’s looking over your shoulder.

Life is unlike a fork in the road; rather, you’ll see yourselves walking beside you on parallel roads, in parallel lives.

Life is like your parallel lives; be glad you’ll never meet yourself.

Life is unlike the lives of people passing by as you sit watching from a park bench telling yourself the story of their lives.

Life is like children off playing in the fields for the day; they’ve no concept of time and are blissfully unaware of the trouble they’ll be in when they’re home late.

Life is unlike money: having more doesn’t make you happier; that’ll depend on how you came by it.

Life is like money: you’ll try to save, spend, squander, borrow, take and give it away. In the end it only buys more of the same.

Life is unlike the life you think you should’ve had; it’s the ‘shoulds’ that get in the way – unless, of course, you’ve convinced yourself they are the life you want.

Life is like listening to the dawn chorus at 4am: you long for sleep, even though you’ve never heard anything more beautiful.

Life is unlike anything else. One life cannot be compared to another; life is a false equivalence.

Life is like every other life on the planet.

Life is unlike a fairground ride; you’re told to hold on tight even though it makes not a blind bit of difference.

Life is like a travelling circus; you fear it’ll take you away, and you’re scared it won’t.

Life is unlike conversations about life; talking about it can be painful and pleasurable, and yet it’s no substitute. Psychotherapy is conversations about life; it makes pseudo-experts of us all.

Life is like being carried away in conversation: you don’t know where you’re going, or what word will come next. The ‘right’ words usually come; be patient, for the ‘wrong’ words will find their way.

Life is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before; no wonder it passes you by as you wait for it to begin.

Life is like dreaming you’re awake; if you’re lucky, you’ll wake up and realise you’re dreaming.

Life is unlike a container of assorted confectionary – it really isn’t.

Life is like a wheelbarrow full of orphaned baby orang-utans.

Life is unlike infinity; you can always find a bit of spare time.

Life is like a pain in the neck; if you stop interfering it’ll usually sort itself out and you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.

Life is unlike your life story – all the right words in the wrong places, and all the wrong words in the right places.

Life is like an actor who fears forgetting their lines only to realise it’s all ad lib.

Life is unlike the centre of the universe unless it’s spinning off its axis.

Life is like it might never happen, unless it already has, in which case you might have missed it, only you can’t be sure. In time the feeling of missing out shapes what is absent, such that the feeling becomes indistinguishable from the thing itself.

Life is unlike a riddle; people can’t help you solve it, but they might distract you for a while.

Life is like coming out to yourself and, if it isn’t, it’ll be more like a closet.

Life is unlike the running out of time and more or less like a running out on time; abandon all concept of time. There’s enough to get to the end.

Life is like every book, film and play you never read, saw or went to.

Life is unlike the infinite promise of youth; you only realise it once you’ve let your self go.

Life is like the taking of prisoners – unless you give your self up.

Life is unlike a sandwich-filler; your life is a sandwich-filler – sandwiched as it is between birth and death. Confusing the two will hamper your sandwich.

Life is like it never happened.

 

Glenn suggests …

There’s no answer to life, since it’s not a question.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Glenn Nicholls 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

Much love, your brother …

Portrait_002My younger sibling would be turning 50 this year. I wonder what would have been explored in the last half century had that sibling survived?

I think of what pleasures and pains would have been created if I had always had the youngster beneath me in the family. I wonder how my own life experience would have been altered by being the big brother?

As a four year-old, my rather large bedroom in the eaves of the house I grew up in was ready to be divided for the coming of the newest member of our household. I clearly remember how my parents began to manipulate my thinking in preparation for the commencement of the building works. It was ‘going to be fun’ having a smaller room. I’d ‘get to choose my own bedspread’ – I’d even be allowed one that represented the cockpit of a racing car, if I’d ‘just give up [my] protests, see sense and take a positive view’. Of course, being four, I didn’t really understand what was going on and I certainly didn’t understand why my older sister was getting to keep a room of her own with all of her stuff and things in it. There would be no consequence of reduced space for her. I was very resistant and, although I say it myself, rightly so!

Skip forward a few months and a different message was circulating in my life. Unseen, but not unfelt by me, my mother had lost the baby that was due in the family. Suddenly my peace was being shattered by another direct assault on my space: apparently there was someone already in existence who might be coming to share my room. The audacity! An adopted child – whatever that meant. We were now expecting a cuckoo!

As it happens, the cuckoo-child never arrived. But as time followed on I was next introduced to the idea of emigration to Australia, where we would all ‘get new lives’.

The changes seemed to mount and I really didn’t like all of this unsettled social soup that we were living in. Most noticeably, my mother’s health began to deteriorate – her body quietly rejecting something. Loss in her was transformed into chronic painful illness. By the time a full seven years had passed from the loss of the child we were finally moving – but it wasn’t across the globe. Leading up to this move, the basement of our house, which my ‘aunt’ lived in, was converted into a self-contained flat. A new bathroom was created on the ground floor, and then the three upper floors that had been my family home were split  to form yet more self-contained properties. My ‘aunt’, a casualty of this change, moved out. It was a personal loss.

On the day before the morning I started secondary school we moved to a small house away from my friends. It seemed that for seven years one loss became another. Loss transformed until it couldn’t be clearly seen what was actually missing anymore.

Imaginations and dreams gave way to decomposition as I watched my father retreat into what I would later realise was depression. My once-safe comforting mother had, by then, almost totally dissolved into pain and anger. When both my parents were in their final phases of life I dared to fully and directly bring up the loss of the youngest member of our family – but it was ‘too late’, too hidden, ‘hardly remembered’ they said. My child that had sought the adult answers continued to be denied the required explanations, but therapy helped give the events a narrative by which to understand the family loss, pain, anxiety and depression.

Having permanently returned to my home city this year, the ‘golden’ anniversary of all that loss, I allow myself to wonder what different path there might have been if that younger sibling of mine had made it though. RIP Little One.

Much love,

Your brother

Duncan challenges you to …

… reach out to a sibling whatever your shared history.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Duncan E. Stafford 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

How to spend a penny

On a morning train from Cambridge to London a woman looks up from her paperback offering me a smile as I sit opposite her. I take out my laptop to begin writing a blog about art in the consulting room …

An older couple join us. Before sitting down the man picks up a penny from the floor, places it on the table and declares, ‘Look dear, good fortune; I’ll be lucky all day.’

‘Ooh, don’t spend it all at once!’ is his wife’s scripted reply. They’re sharing their ritualised interaction with the woman and me – drawing us both into a performative intimacy peculiar to passengers sharing confined space on a train journey. We duly return their smiles. It would be ungenerous not joining in with their warm banal exchange. They have, after all, tried to establish civility between strangers pushed together around a small table.

Back to my blog, and I’m struggling with my thoughts about the intangible heart of the piece. My eyes dart back to the penny. A playful voice in my head says, ‘Pick it up; put it in your pocket.’ A flash of excitement – thoughts rush in and the moment is gone. The voice rebukes, ‘Why didn’t you pick it up?’ The subversiveness of the creative act would now feel contrived; this is a familiar double-bind. Second thoughts come wanting to know why and what I’d be doing, their intrusiveness inhibiting any spontaneity.

The man is now engrossed in his crossword, his wife and the lone woman are reading paperbacks. The now-neglected penny has been spent as a cheap catalyst for social bonding. And yet it’s somehow become a talisman for my stuckness and creativity. I can tell I’m not yet done with it.

A few minutes from King’s Cross the man looks up from his paper and says to his wife, ‘I’m stuck, I can’t finish it.’

‘That’s not like you.’ His wife’s tone is consoling. ‘Maybe it’s a particularly difficult one today?’

Immediately a voice from a dark corner of my mind blurts out, ‘Perhaps it’s early-onset!’

I scan the husband and wife, ‘Phew, I didn’t say that out loud.’ A rush of energy rises up into my chest; the unspoken thought has mobilised me and my eyes dart back to the coin. I see my hand reach out, pick up the penny and pop it into my pocket, ‘Wow! Look what I’ve found; now that’s a sign of good luck!’ I sense three pairs of eyes fixing on me.

The lone traveller shoots daggers at me, her silent expression speaks volumes. Her cold gaze reassures me of my transgression. She is perhaps outraged by my behaviour, her discomfort conceivably much to do with her apparent inability to speak. She’s unwittingly let herself become a passive bystander, but to what? What has she just witnessed?

The couple look perplexed and smile nervously to one another. Then looking at the man I add, ‘So that’s you and me – we’re both lucky today.’ This seems to ease the couple’s tension. They let out a stilted laugh, and still the lone woman remains stony faced. I’ll not speak to her – I don’t want to rob her of her experience.

‘Do you want the penny back?’ My question takes me by surprise; I’m aware the man still hasn’t made eye contact with me. I hope my question doesn’t dissipate the charge around the table.

‘No it’s okay,’ he utters, directing his words to the table where the penny had been.

‘I won’t give it back anyway!’ With this comment I feel playful and ridiculous. It reassures me I’m not trying to repair something. To do so would belittle us both, and it would detract from the charge. It struck me that I hadn’t actually offered to give his coin back; rather I wanted to gauge the impact it’d had on him. It’s as though my mind hadn’t yet caught up with the act. The energy I felt was like a wave that swept before me, or perhaps I was swept away with it.

Although arguably I’d just robbed a senior citizen on a train in broad daylight, all of us were the richer for it. With a penny that hadn’t belonged to me a multiplication miracle had occurred, ‘loaves and fishes’; a single coin had multiplied in value and was shared among everyone.

For the rest of the journey the couple reminisced about decimalisation. I tuned out of their conversation and wondered what sort of currency the penny had turned into? It’d done more than just break the constraints of a contrived social interaction. It was the simple alchemy of play that had transformed scripted civility into something else entirely, and had, for a brief moment, made a penny priceless.

 

Glenn recommends …

… (not) knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Glenn Nicholls 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

Religion of the undead

3monkeyGlenn‘You said your last therapist thought you’re mad.’

‘Yes,’ Daniel replies.

‘How so?’ I ask.

With a heaviness Daniel replies, ‘Umm … You know what zombies are?’ His eyes are intense.

‘I’ve seen zombie films,’ I retort. I don’t think this is the answer Daniel wants.

Daniel continues, ‘Zombies are brain dead; they feed on the living.’ He scans my reaction, then continues.

‘Have you seen Romero’s Dawn of the Dead? These people barricade themselves into a shopping mall, then zombies break in and wander around the shops; the survivors have to pretend to be zombies – it’s the way people have become.’

‘It’s a comment on consumerism?’ I ask.

Daniel looks disappointed. ‘It’s a metaphor, not a comment.’

‘So you’re saying some people are zombies?’ I clarify.

‘You read Nietzsche right?’ Daniel asks. I nod. ‘People’ve become Nietzsche’s last man; they seek only comfort, they don’t think, they dislike and fear the “other” unless they’re subjugated, kept behind a big wall, or Brexited away … This is what zombie films are about. No one’s immune. Christians think they are; they don’t realise they’re already zombies. Christianity is the religion of the undead.’

‘Say more,’ I urge.

Daniel sits forward. ‘Nietzsche understood Christianity wouldn’t die with the death of God; instead it would flourish, because, at it’s heart, it’s nihilistic. It can’t affirm life because it devalues it; it values only a belief in an afterlife. And so it breeds ressentiment towards life.’

Daniel pauses for a moment, then continues, ‘You’re thinking “He’s mad” aren’t you?’

‘Yes I am. You are mad. You’ve come in here and said “People are zombies”, “Christians are the undead” just as Nietzsche’s mad man entered the market declaring “God is dead”. You’re doing just the same. By your own point of reference, and Nietzsche’s, you’re mad.’

‘Huh. Yes I suppose so. But do you think I’m mad?’ Daniel insists.

‘Not in the clinical DSM 5 sense, but yes, in an informal sense, the way most of us are.’

‘So you agree that Christians are zombies, nihilists?’ Daniel asks.

‘Well I don’t know about zombies … but yes they’re nihilistic. Though I wouldn’t include Jesus in that. I agree with Nietzsche about Jesus, he described him as “the first and last Christian”. So Jesus is the exception that proves the rule.’

‘Hmm interesting,’ Daniel ponders, ‘Do you think Jesus was mad?’

‘How could he not be? Though I think he knew he was. Knowing how mad you are makes all the difference,’ I reply.

‘Do you think Richard Dawkins is mad?’ Daniel asks.

‘You tell me.’

‘Yes in a sense; when he attacks religious people it’s clear he doesn’t see how much in common he has with them; he wants to convert them. He picked up on this idea about memes, and said that religion was a sort of meme or virus. That’s similar to what I’m saying, though people seem to think Dawkins is brilliant. He thinks he has the cure; he doesn’t see how he’s just spreading a different strain of the same virus.’

‘You’re quite invested in what people think of you,’ I reply.

‘Aren’t you?’ Asks Daniel.

‘Yes to some degree; mostly not. Being yourself inevitably invites criticism. It’s a small price.’

‘You’re not mad,’ Daniel concludes, ‘You’re a bit odd, but you’re not mad.’

‘I am mad.’ I point at the space on the sofa next to where Daniel is sitting. ‘Three months ago I worked with a talking chimpanzee. She sat right there.’

Daniel looks at me as though seeing me for the first time.

‘Look, there on the rug, that’s a squashed mango stain – she dropped fruit peel and skins on the floor and stepped on them when she got up.’ Looking at Daniel I add, ‘If that’s true – and it is true – tell me I’m not mad.’

Daniel blinks twice, blurts out a high-pitch laugh and says, ‘You’re nuts! … So tell me about the chimpanzee, did you cure her?’

Daniel is humouring me; he doesn’t believe what I’ve said.

‘No, I don’t cure chimpanzees, or humans. Both are terminal conditions; there’s no cure. She did appreciate the fruit though … And our work together isn’t finished.’

Daniel looks up at the wall. ‘You should have one of those signs – you know: “You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps”.’

‘I might do that.’ I smile, ‘You’re a sensitive man Daniel. You’re creative and you care deeply. I see it’s a struggle to express that. We can explore anything you want. How does that sound?’

Daniel solemnly nods his approval.

‘But if you eat fruit in this room you can use the bin like a normal person.’

Glenn recommends …

… reading his earlier blog Chimpanzee on the couch; it might help you make more sense of this one.

All rights reserved © Copyright Glenn Nicholls 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.