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.