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.

Dachaigh is where the heart is

Portrait_002I remember sitting down in my analyst’s office for my first session and thinking ‘I’ve come home’. It was during a time when I was actually very homesick.

It wasn’t just that much of my family and many friends still lived in my birth city; it was that I craved the geography, architecture and personality of my home. I missed the friendly nature of the people I grew up around, and I longed to hear the burred Rs of the accent that had once been my own and the dialect and colloquial phrases I had once used, but that, now, no one around me understood.

Of course the home of the therapy chair was an internal home. My therapist was rather reminiscent of my beloved and by then long dead uncle, George, and in that positive transference, therapy home was giving good soil to grow from.

Therapy home was the space of the Jungian analysis.

As young as 4 years old I had many philosophical and existential questions to ask: ‘If there is a God who lives in heaven above [the spiritual home for Christians, the then-predominant religious dogma of mid-century Britain], then why, since we’ve just started landing on the moon, don’t we go through heaven on the way?’ I’d lie awake at night trying to fathom out what was at the end of infinity (an experience where there is no home – as there is no destination to arrive at – at the end of space or time), and then, after my pet dog died within months of George, I worried about death and worried even more about why I couldn’t remember what it was like before I was born (before there was a place to exist and experience as home).

I was in my early 30s when I finally sat down to begin my process of individuation in Jungian analysis. I knew that the adult versions of my early childhood questions would have to find answers. In the space (my therapy home) the existential questions needed exploration as urgently as the troubles of belonging.

Now, more than two decades later, I sit with people on the same journey for home. The search presents itself in myriad forms. The presenting condition defines the terms of the search but the location of the internal and external home are at the definition of the voyager. I have often felt the greatest of satisfactions for the people I’ve worked with in helping them on the quest across the psychological and physical seas to their home.

My journey home that began in therapy more than twenty years ago was a great struggle to reach at the internal level, but I did, after many years of twice-weekly searching, find a place of comfort, knowledge and some sense of peace. However, the process of needing to return to the physical home has remained, calling stubbornly and loudly across those decades. I wrote about my dream diary in an earlier blog post (‘You know the answer’) and so I’m aware that my deeper self, my unconscious, has been demanding this move for the last few years.

Attached to my window is a very special piece of glass. I’m looking at it as I write. The sun shining through it casts a sublime cobalt blue shadow on the top of my desk. It is the cobalt blue glass that Bristol is famous for. Etched into the glass is the word ‘dachaigh’ – Scots Gaelic for ‘home’. And so the glass tile is my personal symbol for home, since combining dachaigh from the Scots half of my family with the blue glass of my birthplace brings those parts of me together.

So now my house is sold and the people I work with in my practice have been informed of my impending move. Many of those who work with me in my physical consulting room will exchange that home for one in the virtual world of internet-based therapy.

And with regards to this site, a new home for old friendships (with the other two men of the blog, my dear colleagues and friends Jim and Glenn) I realise some of the ways in which the 21st century alters our experience of home. The main home for the friendship of three men with a blog will convert to these posts – our shared place for reading, writing, conversing and sharing. This blog connects me to that home.

This site is formed from part of my journey, as it so deeply reminds me that home is a community … dachaigh really is where the heart is.

 Duncan suggests …

… listening to In Praise of home by Rura

 

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.

The source of the Nile

3monkeyGlenn‘So why are you living on a boat on the Nile?’ I ask.

‘Like everyone else here, I’m looking for the source,’ she laughs. I smile.

‘I value the solitude, the heat and being independent. Now though I mostly feel lonely; all I have for company are mosquitos. It’s self-enforced exile. I can’t forgive and can’t be forgiven.’

‘So you punish yourself in exile. How long will you do that for?’ I ask.

‘There’s no way back; I’ll probably be eaten by a crocodile and no one would ever know.’

Her head swivels around as she takes in her dimly lit cabin. It’s tiny, a few brilliant shards of sunlight pierce the darkness through a hatch behind her. I think of mummies cocooned in tombs.

‘Is there anything else keeping you there?’

‘No, apart from my boat, nothing.’

‘What’s your boat called?’

She looks embarrassed. ‘Dignity. You know, like the song …’ – she sings – ‘… a ship called dignity’.

‘I know that song.’ I reply.

‘The man in the song is a street cleaner. He wants to get away. He saves his money for a boat he’s going to call Dignity.’

‘It doesn’t sound like the right name for your boat.’

‘Uh, how so?’ she asks.

‘A ship called Guilty seems more apt.’ I’d not really seen the link before between dignity and guilt; they’re quite similar … I begin floating away on my thoughts.

She interrupts my thinking, I’m back with her again, ‘I see what you mean but you don’t know what I’ve done.’

‘You could tell me.’

‘You’d hate me.’

‘It must be awful for all your care to be taken up with what other people think of you.’

She looks away. ‘Like a ship’s captain I’ll probably go down with this bloody boat.’

‘That’s up to you. Forgiveness, no forgiveness; either way it’s up to you.’

‘Okay I’ll tell you.’ She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath. I feel like a priest in a confession booth – the computer screen in place of the lattice opening both separating and connecting us.

‘I allowed my husband, my ex-husband, to do things, terrible things, to our son.’ Her breathing stops for a moment. Apart from the hum of my monitor there’s silence.

The cabin looks to be closing in on her. Rather than lighting her way out, the sunlight is a chink in her self-created cell.

‘Where were you when he did these things?’

Tears start rolling down her cheeks. ‘At church, for Sunday evening prayers.’

I feel sick.

‘Did you ever tell the priest?’

‘I think he knew. He’d see my son in the morning at Sunday School. He would go on about forgiveness. I don’t think he believed what he was saying, maybe he did, in any case what the hell does the Church know about abuse or forgiveness.’

I wonder if she’ll ever have any peace. With this thought my peace is gone and I feel priestly again. I can feel the tension mounting in the ether somewhere between her cabin on the Nile and my home in Cambridge.

‘So, what do you think?’

‘About what?’ I reply.

‘About what I’ve done, what I failed to do as a mother? What else?’

‘It is awful and yes it’s hateful. Did you know at the time?’

‘No, not consciously, I knew something was wrong … You think what I did was unforgivable, I can tell?’

‘You want to know if I forgive you?’

‘You wouldn’t tell me honestly.’

‘You don’t know, you’ve not asked. I don’t think you want to know.’

‘You’re avoiding the question.’

‘You haven’t asked the question.’

‘I know what you’d say: “I’ve got to forgive myself first”, blah, blah, blah; that’s a dodge too. What I’ve done is unforgiveable, that’s it. Anyway what’s your problem with forgiveness?’

‘It’s self-absorbed. It has nothing to do with your son. Besides that it won’t free you.’

‘Wow! You really don’t like me very much do you?’

I smile. She replies, ‘Okay, now you’re going to tell me that it’s not important whether you like me or not. Come on, really?’

She’s right, it’s an uncomfortable question, I can’t avoid it; ‘I don’t forgive you; your son won’t forgive you. You’ll never forgive yourself, your ex-husband, the priest or the Church. And you’ll never forgive God.’ I give these words time to penetrate her cell.

I add, ‘You don’t need forgiveness; it’s about finding a way to live with the pain.’

She looks sad, then a smile, ‘The priest won’t like that.’ Then letting out a deep breath, her voice now coming from her diaphragm, ‘If that were true I could come back to England. I’d have to sell the boat first.’

‘Maybe you could give it to the priest for dispensation?’ We laugh.

‘You could just leave it behind.’

Glenn recommends …

The Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche

 

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.

Chimpanzee on the couch

3monkeyGlenn

The chimpanzee shot past me straight upstairs to the kitchen. Thudding and banging she emerges hobbling down the stairs laden with fruit clutched in her hands and feet, and tucked under her chin. I follow her into my consulting room. Perched on the edge of the sofa, only the sound of her slurping and sucking breaks the silence. We sit watching each other as a small pile of fruit skins form a pyramid on the wooden floor. I imagine them going into the bin.

‘You looked surprised; am I the first chimpanzee you’ve had? I bet you’ve never heard a chimpanzee speak before?’

I’m the one unable to speak.

‘I’m guessing you don’t speak in my tongue, so let’s stick with English.’

She’s teasing me? ‘Okay,’ I smile and blink.

‘This is talking therapy right? It’ll be odd if we didn’t talk.’

‘So what do you want to talk about?’ I say as though I’m used to conversing with chimpanzees.

‘The zoo psychologist referred me; she says I’m depressed, but that’s not why I’m here.’ She interrupts herself, ‘This is confidential isn’t it?’ Her look is so intense that I freeze for a moment. I’m trying to imagine describing this session to my supervisor. I want to stay with this image.

‘Yes.’

‘Good. Um, I don’t mind if you write about me in your blog.’

‘You’re concerned about confidentiality and yet you’re happy for me to write about our session.’

‘Well no one will believe you’ve worked with a speaking chimpanzee! They’ll assume it’s a metaphor, a literary device or something. So you can if you want to.’

‘Thank you. So you’re depressed and that’s not why you’re here …’

‘Well of course I’m depressed – I live in a zoo. There’d be something seriously wrong with me if I weren’t, right?’ She pauses; I can’t tell if she wants a reply.

‘I’ve heard that psychotherapy is primarily about listening.’

‘And the psychologist doesn’t listen to you?’

‘No, actually I’ve never spoken to her – well, not in English. I’ve nothing to say to her. I’ve never heard her say anything remotely interesting or insightful.’

Again she pauses as though awaiting a response.

‘In my experience people don’t listen. Have you seen the BBC programme Dynasties with David Attenborough?’

‘No.’

‘They followed a group of chimpanzees around for over two years then edited hundreds of hours of footage down into just one hour. David is this old alpha-male who has somehow held off challengers and remained at the top to keep his exclusive mating rights, though they didn’t show any of that. Actually he didn’t really seem to do very much. It does show him enjoying exclusive rights to narration.

‘Anyway humans love drama; with all their resources and all that film of chimpanzees they managed to shape a human drama and then, with no sense of irony or shame, present it as chimpanzee behaviour – it was genius.’

I’m trying not to imagine David Attenborough asserting his exclusive mating rights.

‘So people come to talk to you, you listen for maybe hundreds of hours, and then you make up stories, create drama? Or is that what you cure them from?’

‘There is no cure.’

‘I’ve seen it on your website: you work with addictions – sex, alcohol, drugs, spiritual addiction – but you don’t mention addiction to drama?’

‘Well people don’t see it as an addiction.’

‘So you help them become better addicts?’ For the first time she looks puzzled.

‘Ha! I suppose so. Once their stories have been listened to they can get beyond them.’

‘And then what?’

‘They become chimpanzees.’

‘Whaoo-ooh!’ her laughter reverberates around the room. ‘You know that’s not all there is to being a chimpanzee …’

Our conversation meanders until ‘our time is up’. As we move towards the front door she asks: ‘Will you dramatise this is your blog?’

‘I get the impression you want me to?’

‘Maybe it’s the only way I can tell if you’ve listened to me.’

‘Oh, so you’re testing me.’

I flash her a sad smile, her face is inscrutable; I’ve not seen this expression before. I imagine she’s reflecting back my smile, though less apologetically and perhaps more pitying.

‘How would you write it?’ I ask.

‘I wouldn’t. I’ve better things to do.’

‘And I’ve nothing better to do?’

‘Maybe you have, but then you are only human.’

‘You do know there’s no such thing as a chimpanzee, don’t you?’

‘Yes,’ I reply.

Standing to her full height she looks intensely into my eyes and says, ‘Thank you for the fruit.’ In the next moment she is across the road, up a tree and swinging over the fence.

Glenn suggests …

… stocking up on fruit if you work with chimpanzees.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Glenn Nicholls 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

Easier done than said

Jimblog1Silence is the natural part of speech that never lets you down.

If at your initial meeting the counsellor looks even more miserable than you, don’t go back.

Laughing and weeping and sighing – it’s what humans do best, in no particular order.

I lie in order to bring myself roughly into being and only then can I begin to speak the truth.

To make yourself out to be happier than you are is to be happier than you think.

It goes without saying. Of course I’m happiest when I forget all about being happy.

Common sense would suggest that common sense is a good thing.

Your particular suffering is always somehow perfectly unspeakable.

Who exactly is insisting that you live your life the way you are living it now?

That unusual word you use, that odd turn of phrase, that untamed metaphor – there’s your magic.

When your therapist tells you a slightly different story about you as if you didn’t already secretly know it …

Lighten up and get over yourself – the best advice I’ve ever given to me and ignored.

It can feel great to play it but don’t let your therapy become merely a language game.

My opinions strike me as provisional no matter how long I spend forming them.

A smart thought rarely dispels a bad mood but running on the spot for a minute or two will do the trick.

Know your profound emptiness amidst abundance and nothing is ever lost to you.

Not just clearing my throat. Sometimes in a session my body sings and I can barely utter a word.

If you find some other people wonderful why not let yourself be just as wonderful to others?

Saying nothing much to your therapist is only human after all.

Your first solo act of responsibility as a little child was to talk candidly to yourself.

Soulfulness seems to become deepened by the mundane as much as by specialities.

When you pay your therapist you are instructing them to look after their own mental health.

It helps us to understand each other better by looking like we could.

The power of then. The past isn’t happening now so let’s get going before it restarts.

In another life I’m still dreaming of this one.

It could be scarily liberating to realise that hardly anyone knows anything about your existence.

That subtle and penetrating insight you had yesterday – where is it hiding out now?

Profoundly therapeutic dialogue can’t help but generate moments of divine silliness.

Your life may be no more or less painful than anybody else’s but you’re the only one who can live it.

To heal means to become whole, so get ready for a mighty slow-motion internal explosion.

Reassuring to know your inner child is always listening intently to you talking away like an adult.

Every gleaming sentence is a spell cast in the hope of teasing out the next crappy one.

What’s almost true is more exciting than what’s totally true.

Perhaps nobody ever truly empathises with another person without making bland assumptions.

Partiality. You’re talking to me as if I know you, when all I have is my version of your version of you.

To listen to counsellors and therapists having a discussion you’d think they were in love with suffering.

He could see my puzzlement and smiled at me like I knew what he meant, then suddenly I did know.

In good therapy, when two people talk and one is a therapist, both become therapists.

Jim recommends …

… Presley, E. (1960). ‘It’s Now Or Never.’

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Jim Holloway 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.