The psychoanalyst and paediatrician D W Winnicott wrote about what he called ‘transitional experiencing’ in early infancy and how in this experience the self and the other (meaning something or someone outside of the baby) are neither one, nor two, but somehow together make up an interpenetrating field. He situates this sort of experience between the early emergence of consciousness and the infant’s growing awareness that there are others or someone else outside of him or herself.
Winnicott understood that there was a paradox in the concept of transitional objects and phenomena which is: ‘The baby creates the object, but the object was there waiting to be created.’ Here, he is, for example, thinking of the breast which nourishes the baby and appears as the baby’s hunger is becoming increasingly uncomfortable.
For Winnicott there could never be an answer to the question to the baby: ‘did you create that or did you find it?’ Clearly Winnicott was looking at the earliest establishment of trust and faith and the associated beginnings of a sense of self and sense of another through consistent and kind early feeding and reassuring handling.
He writes about the meaning of the transitional object which he calls a first ‘not-me’ possession and the beginnings of the baby’s blurring distinction between something or someone who is different but sometimes the same…. sometimes is experienced as inside them and sometimes as outside. He sees also that this experiencing is essentially creative and developing and can lay the basis for later beliefs and faith. The other or as he calls it ‘object’ is meaningful but not yet experienced as wholly other.
Is it too far-fetched to think that perhaps in meditation and contemplation some sort of reverse creative process can sometimes take place. Initially God is right outside – an exterior object and distinguished from the person looking towards God, perhaps as in church services worshipped and revered. Here Jesus Christ is other, up on the cross or someone whose deeds are told and talked about.
However in meditation there is the awakening and attention to the inner world and to finding the inner experience of God. Looking at an icon can sometimes be helpful or as in my case a now rather faded postcard from a ceiling painting of Christ the Pantocrator. As I meditate if I look at the card it is clearly outside of me but if I can let go of too much conceptual thought and indeed lower my gaze or shut my eyes then the image or the experience of the image is internalised… perhaps especially if I am repeating a word or a mantra.
This may still be dualistic, or, as is sometimes suggested both dualistic and non-dualistic…so rather than either/ or it can be both/ and. Perhaps this neither one thing or another is then a bit like the baby’s transitional experiencing.
Indeed there may be a transitional space reached in deep contemplation where the distinction becomes blurred so there is a sense of the ‘me/not me’ which can then settle to interpenetration so there is no distinction left. This is the vertical consciousness where the ego lets go sufficiently to allow an inner space to emerge – being emptied of ‘me’ and filled by Christ. At that moment have I created this experience or have I been found?