Monthly Archives: December 2017

When T/truth becomes blurred

Much as we may feel we are able to discern the truth and authenticity it can sometimes become blurred through our own desires and perceptions. If we are looking rather more to our own needs then we are not so clearly attuned to the emotional truths of situations. It can only be when we are able to stand back or detach ourselves that there can be some independence to the truth.

If we are presented with some truth outside of ourselves we can see that truth is in itself true – it cannot be regulated, but sadly it is our human nature to adjust oneself to requirements that truth discloses and so sometimes adjust the truth.

One example from the external world: The gospels are clear about what needs to be done about compassion and caring for those who have very little, but it’s sometimes really hard to hear it:

‘They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’  …. As I cross the road to avoid the Big Issue seller I am turning away and I know it…but perhaps I don’t have the right change. If I give a voucher for food to a homeless person I can feel pleased with myself, but deep down I know it’s only 50p …but if everyone gave 50p… or if I gave to everyone I’d have nothing myself…why don’t the rich give more…it’s the government’s fault…and so the thinking helps me rationalise and turn away.

I’m seeking to influence the truth in what one might call ego desirable directions. The gospel is counter cultural but I know where I feel safe…So the ultimate reality is cut down to ego size…the truth is blurred and so diminished. Although I know it I shall go on doing it because often truth demands a complete reorientation and that might/would be too much.

If it happens in the external world then does the same thing happen in the inner world? Does faith in the truth, in ultimate reality, in O, in the Divine – how much is that adjusted by my expectations, projections and so on, so that what I might experience becomes diluted and blurred. After all, it might otherwise completely reorient me and then where would I be…

It is all a struggle not only to know but in some way be one’s true self, to take up the journey with all that one is and may become, and to encounter through oneself the Ground of one’s being. The undertaking itself involves one in continuous re-creation.

So looking to the New Year:

“And now let us believe in a long year that is given to us, new, untouched, full of things that have never been, full of work that has never been done, full of tasks, claims, and demands; and let us see that we learn to take it without letting fall too much of what it has to bestow upon those who demand of it necessary, serious, and great things.” 
Rainer Maria RilkeLetters of Rainer Maria Rilke, 1892-1910

Communion with ‘O’

Part of the developing trust and faith in the advent of truth and ultimate reality is built on our experiences, and so we construct our trust through glimpses and intimations of emotional truth but with the awareness that we might also be wrong. Our intentions to meditate and discover truth about ourselves is done in faith, and with some trust that we might be able occasionally to connect with what is beyond our representations.

It has been said that communion with O is an imaginative adventure, not something to be taken for granted. This realization keeps us honest but also gives us the added energy to continue our searching or as Michael Eigen calls it, ‘inspired groping’.

If we already know what we are going to find in ourselves and in the transitional experiencing in contemplation then the space is already saturated and there is no room for anything else to emerge. Sometimes anxiety leads to controlling the space or determining what will or won’t take place; there is then no open waiting – no opening to experience and no possibility of something happening.

It seems that being open is about being vulnerable and the setting down of the ego-self. To try to control where truth will lead is to put oneself above truth, and so this shuts out any potential opening to what may be happening and can be experienced.

This is of course standard teaching in meditation although it doesn’t make it any the less difficult. Wilfred Bion is saying the same sort of thing about opening to emotional truth in a therapeutic setting where from the position of the therapist he sees the intention to attend and perceive rather than remember and know or impose is the more fruitful attitude for creative unfolding. Faith in O means, ‘one does not hold on to either what one knows or one’s formulations, but is more deeply anchored (better, freely floating) in hopeful contact with the thing itself.’

To return to Thomas Merton who, just before he left for his Asian journey, spoke to a monk at Redwoods Abbey in California. The monk had asked Merton about dualism in intercessionary prayer. Merton in response had said: ‘We are not rainmakers, but Christians. In our dealings with God he is free and so are we… You have to see your will and God’s will dualistically for a long time … until you see it’s not there. Don’t consider dualistic prayer on a lower level. ..There are no levels. Any moment you can break through to the underlying unity which is God’s gift in Christ. In the end, Praise praises. Thanksgiving gives thanks. Jesus prays. Openness is all.’

Happy Christmas!

The Advent of ‘O’

If we are searching for God and truth then we must have some sort of faith that something might be found otherwise we would not continue – and of course times of doubt alternate with faith. What is the point of contemplation? Is there any truth in what I think I may believe?

But our faith in something important happening when we meditate is a faith in reaching out towards the unknowable and this faith is what sustains the attention that allows a space for truth to emerge. Our attention in itself does make a difference and in how we feel about ourselves. That is why the intention of what we are doing is as important as what we do.

Michael Eigen writes about the faith needed in searching for emotional truth: ‘For better or worse, the individual who addresses this issue cannot be the same, in the long run, as one who does not.’

It is this faith that is the condition that makes both contemplation and the searching for emotional truth in psychoanalytic work possible. It is not the knowing about something but rather the being it… who we really are. So we can read about contemplation and entering the space of that experience in the same way as we might we told by an analyst or therapist about ourselves. But nothing much will really happen unless we can experience the actual truth of our emotional reality. Wilfred Bion put it like this: ‘One cannot know O, one must be it’. And ‘no psycho-analytic discovery is possible without recognition of its existence, at-one-ment with it and evolution.’

The advent of O, the ultimate reality, is something inherently intangible, invisible or ineffable…in other words we cannot just know about it, after all consciousness sees and hears but cannot be seen or heard. ‘It cannot be “known” but it can “become”.  Bion sounds mystical when he writes that O emerges from darkness and formlessness when it has evolved to a point where it can be known but only through knowledge gained by experience… in other words if we have the experience we can then struggle to frame this verbally and know it.

This is so like Thomas Merton who of course wrote a great deal and for a monk talked a great deal but who always understood that what matters is not what you say or think; life is not a matter of concepts and words. It is not a question of talking or reasoning yourself into being at-one with God.

Life is opening yourself to experience – first to this experience and to that; and finally to Experience Itself. William Shannon puts it like this, ‘For him [Merton], God was the burning mystery of reality. God was the great experience beyond all experiences.’

The advent of truth

The psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion distinguished between what was sham and what was truth, in that truth commanded our respect while the sham does not. The sham or the lie needed a self-glorifying individual who needs an audience to prop themselves up.

Bion thought that what emerged eventually in psychoanalysis was that which had true value as distinct from deceptive appearance and ‘O’ was the term that Bion designated for the truth which he saw as ultimate in nature as it was not contingent on anything else…so ultimate reality.

Some therapists turned away from what they saw as his quasi mystical thinking and certainly those with a scientific attitude disapproved. Clearly Bion’s emphasis on finding the ‘truth’ has not much to do with current therapeutic methods where there is a focus on cost effectiveness and shortness of treatment, but … I think there is something very similar here to what can happen in meditation and contemplative prayer when the aim is to awaken to reality – to what actually is – the truth of the present moment.

Very like Thomas Merton and other meditators and mystics Bion was committed to the view that there is an absolute truth which can never be known directly. He says: ‘The religious mystics have probably approximated most closely to expressions of experience of it.’ Again ‘it’ here is ‘ultimate reality’.

It sounds a bit similar to the unnamed author of The Cloud of Unknowing who urges the reader to set aside clear ideas and definite wishes in order to attend in perfect mindfulness to the God who is not seen and not known.  It is such experiences that are called mystical where there is close, even if not direct contact with ultimate reality – a contact that is psychic and not sensual. In other words it is experienced in the psyche/mind/soul and not usually in the body.

Interestingly Bion focussed attention on those defences which we put up against entering such an experience – a defence which we have individually and certainly collectively in most churches and institutions (including psychotherapy trainings) and also culturally. Like those who practice contemplative prayer the encouragement is to be open to what might happen.

For the contemplative the experience is possible in silent relationship with God, though meditation can often be really powerful in a group that is silently meditating together. For the person in analysis the pathway is in relationship with another – the analyst. Psychoanalysis attempts to open both participants to the mystical experience and as Joan and Neville Symington conclude: ‘Bion’s thinking is geared to facilitating mystical experience’.

It doesn’t matter how the truth is uttered or experienced, or who utters or experiences it, it’s almost as if it – the truth – ultimate reality is there waiting to be discovered:

‘Bion’s attitude to truth was similar to that of the Buddha, who said on his deathbed that his teachings should not be believed because he taught them but should instead be tested against experience. The individual’s role is to be the vehicle of truth.’

Epiphanies and Incarnations

It’s the season to think about advent which in Latin means coming or arrival. It has also been pointed out that the Latin word ‘adventus’ comes from the verb ‘advenio’ which can also mean develop, emerge and arise; ‘adventus’ can refer to an invasion, a ripening and emergence and appearance.

Traditionally it is a season of preparation and penitence, a waiting for birth. In the Christian faith there is waiting for the incarnation…the emergence of the Divine into conscious life. However I want to keep in mind the connections with psychotherapy and psychoanalytic work.

A great deal of psychoanalytic work takes place in the equivalence of advent. There is a lot of waiting for insight and epiphanies, for breakthroughs and for realisation.

It could be seen that psychotherapy is primarily located on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday – the trauma has happened and underground in the unconscious there is a reassembling taking place ready for resurrection. However I also like the analogy with advent … a longer process, a bit like long term therapy… Sometimes the same interpretations and the same stories are told and retold, but there is a development, a deepening towards the light and the truth. It might feel as if there is nothing much happening but trust is slowly growing in the dark and there is a looking toward the light.

Suddenly light can dawn and we can say either as patient or analyst or both:  ‘I get it, now I see it. It had been there all along and then I felt it, I saw it, I experienced it.’ ‘Six years into the analysis I suddenly understand something.’ But what is the ‘it’ that has suddenly emerged into the light. It could be a realisation or a grief that was too much to bear, or an insight into the true self. ‘It’ will be a psychic reality which you cannot see, or touch or smell or taste but you know it as truth at that moment of advent.

You cannot know psychic reality but at that moment you become it. William Johnston gives the example from St John of the Cross the Spanish mystic who used the term connaturality which Johnston explains like this: ‘You are the log soaked in water; and the fire of love is engaged in burning out the smoke and the dirt. But when this smoke clears away the log catches fire and becomes a living flame of love.’

Joan and Neville Symington in their book on the psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion see this spiritual example as similar to what might happen in analysis where primitive and basic feelings are stimulated in both the analyst and the patient: ‘these fundamental characteristics, love, hate, dread, are sharpened to a point where the participating pair may feel them to be almost unbearable.’ It is in situations like this where Bion steps away from therapeutic orthodoxy and says that what emerges is not just another psychic reality but what he termed O which he defines as ultimate reality, godhead, the truth, the infinite or the thing-in-itself.

It is the advent of truth.