The heart of the personal 4

Harry Guntrip understood that this ‘something’ called ‘religious experience has always existed and been expressed artistically and poetically through emotionally meaningful symbols. It belongs to the ‘personal’ side of living and in the same way psychoanalytic therapy also works through the interpretation of symbolized experiences of personal relationships.

Guntrip also gives an interesting slant on both religion – (perhaps here it is more appropriate to use the word spirituality a word not so in vogue in 1968) and psychotherapy as standing for a freedom and a person’s right not to be manipulated. This is in contrast to technology which he sees as the way material science is transformed into a social structure of living – again it is worth noting how much that has increased since the late 60s when Guntrip was writing.

Ideally both spirituality and therapy provide a setting for each of us to find out own proper mature selfhood. Guntrip thought that the psychotherapist seeks to create for a ‘person’ a situation of secure understanding relationship in which the person can grow at their own pace, out of all that has frightened them. In the end despite everything the reality of the person to be a ‘unique’ individual always reasserts itself.

Guntrip who understood from his own early life how destructive isolation is, gives some examples of dreams from those who feared an impersonal world and felt they could not survive in an impersonal or loveless environment.

In one a woman dreams:

I was alone on an empty seashore and terrified. Then I saw your house up the beach, but the tide had come in round me and I was cut off and panicked. But then I saw a boat tied to your gate and thought calmly “It’s all right. I can’t get to him but he can get to me!”

In another a man dreams:

I was hiding in a dugout. There was a vast nuclear explosion. Later I crept out and found everything destroyed. I was utterly alone and frozen with fear.

The same patient had a further dream where he tried to cut all feeling out and have a purely intellectual relationship with the world – what Guntrip calls a perfect schizoid dream. The man is back in the dugout, hiding from the outer world under a mechanical turret. It had two periscopes for eyes, two slits and a tape recorder for ears, and a hole for a mouth through which he transmitted messages to the world outside. Cut off from healthy emotional relationships, a prisoner inside himself, Guntrip writes that this man functioned as a bit of machinery for purely intellectual communication through scientific instruments which protected him from living contacts.

Guntrip uses this example to protest about what happens if we try to substitute science for religion. Religion or spirituality is then a way of experiencing the universe that does not condemn us all to meaningless schizoid isolation, but instead relates us to a personal heart of reality that we refer to by the indefinable term ‘God,’ experienced but not explained, the ‘ultimate indefinable mystery’.