Both sureness and non-certainty


Wilfred Bion described “O” as “the unknowable and the unreachable ultimate truth”.

Sureness, can sometimes carry what Patrick Casement calls a ‘curse of certainty’, because being so sure of something always inevitably leads to divisions and conflict – between differing sets of sureness. Perhaps, instead, there can be a holding of two positions – being sure and also the non-certainty that continues questioning. This can be seen as similar to preserving the status quo as demanded by faith, but also holding the prophetic function which is to challenge what appears set.

Here again is the tension of holding the opposites, and from within this tension Casement suggests we can find an aliveness in truth, ‘that is not yet entangled by the deadening that follows from any attempt at grasping it.’ Some claims of sureness and being certain are in the end suffocating in the sense of closing down vulnerability and openness and the chance of something new emerging. If we think we have found truth we are deluding ourselves, as whatever we think we are finding can only be an approximation, and limited by the way we or others have been thinking. Letting go of certainty opens us to a deeper level of awareness, and potentially to truth.

It was the extraordinary psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion who used the letter ‘O’ to delineate the unknowable and unreachable, ultimate and absolute truth – and when it is personified it is called God. For Bion this is about transformation, and to allow real transformation to happen we have to let go – or what has been described as disciplined abandonment of our expectations, our wishes, our understanding, sense impressions and even our memory. There has to be space for transformation.

On letting go of ‘sureness’, Casement comments that some of the most productive times in his life emerged from the lowest of times, times when he had no option other than to let go. He was influenced greatly by Harry Williams’* idea of breakdown as breakthrough, and when Casement himself had a similar breakdown and was retained as an inpatient he wrote to Williams who had been his theology tutor who replied rather beautifully:

‘The Good Friday experience can go on for a long time, and it can feel as if it will go on forever. But believe me, Patrick, in time you will come through to your own Easter day. And things will not be the same as before’.

Casement adds and ‘how right he was.’ This is the death into life sequence which Casement calls a resurrection principle. Here the death is of what was previously thought as essential to well-being or fundamental to how we think. Casement had two further experiences like this: once when in hospital for five months being treated for cancer and facing death as a real possibility, and again some years later when he was confined to bed with a cracked vertebra.

‘I believe that good can emerge from even the worst experiences. But can we dare to be open to that possibility? Or might we find that we are being left too alone with unmanageable trauma? Let us pray that we may never be left totally unsupported with what we cannot manage alone.’

* I’ve written about Harry Williams in earlier posts including: July 27 2019, September 21 2018, November 30 2016, April 28 April 2018 and August 3 2016.








See posts in 2018 and 2019