Self isolation and isolation

I find myself returning often to the work of Donald Winnicott. He died in 1971 but many of his papers have a timeless quality to them – perhaps because he is often writing about the unconscious.

His paper on ‘Communicating and not communicating’ begins with his stating the right not to communicate – his analysis of this is that there are various frightening fantasies attached to trying to communicate and one is the ‘fantasy of being found’. This he links to the fear of being infinitely exploited, or being eaten up and taken over. He links this non-communicating self later to the personal core of the self that is a true isolate. Perhaps this is a bit like the true self discussed by Merton where the inner core is the essence of the divine – God.

The communication that occurs with the world that comes from the false self, I guess this links here with Jung’s persona, can sometimes not feel real. The less of the true self that is present in the persona the more false it is, ‘it is not a true communication because it does not involve the core of the self, that which could be called a true self.’

Winnicott cites the artist where two trends are often easily seen to co-exist – the urgent need to communicate alongside the still more urgent need not to be found. The non-communicating self is an ‘inside’ experience – internal. Winnicott sees mystics as withdrawing into a personal, inner world. He sees this as a retreat to a position where the mystic can communicate secretly with subjective objects and phenomena, he writes, ‘the loss of contact with the world of shared reality being counterbalanced by a gain in terms of feeling real’. So as in contemplative prayer when we follow Jesus’ instructions: ‘when you praygo into your room, close the door and pray to your Father’. This isn’t just a literal instruction about finding a prayer room, but also a metaphorical space inside us – in our inner world where the door is shut against the external, and in that inner space we can pray and play with subjective objects – our experience of Christ and God and the phenomena of the Holy Spirit.

Winnicott sees that if we are healthy we do communicate and enjoy communicating, but it is also true that ‘each individual is an isolate, permanently non-communicating, permanently unknown, in fact unfound’ and yet I would add known and found only in God.