Down Stream

Each of us also inherits a second-hand social universe –

an organizing principle,                                         I didn’t know the

architectural design,                                    question before I                       

elemental philosophy,                                  learned the answer.

if you will – which

imperceptibly becomes yet another part of the total life-map.

In truth though, what you see

Is not what you get.


Sooner or later, that social universe –  

                  is going to break

                  under data-strain

 Then what will remain?





                        exploding –



~ Martin Bell, 1983, Sweeping Meditations #12 & 17


Earlier this week, I don’t know why, I woke up with the sudden certainty that Row Row Row Your Boat was a song about death.

I didn’t do any research, and still haven’t. I didn’t hunt down its origins or its permutations. Who cares? I just knew, that even if it wasn’t intended to be a song about death, and even if no one else in the world thought that it was or someone  could summon definitive proof that it was in fact, merely a song about boat rowing – I still would believe, utterly and forever, that row row row your boat, whatever it was meant to be, was also, simultaneously a song about death.

I mean, Ring Around The Rosey has that disturbing bit about ashes and “we all fall down!” And then there’s Rock A Bye Baby with its broken bough and fallen cradle. And so many of our lullabyes which we sung innocently to our children, as nonsensical clusters of unexamined word and rhyme, when you look closely are  haunting/soothing as we take on the role of psychopomp, luring our wide awake children, like the Pied Pieper humming a seductive tune,  over the cliff of consciousness down to the land of Morpheus.

So: yes, I’m sure that all these things are silly little transliterations over hundreds of years, and there is no determining what they originally were intended to mean or why. But can’t we also ask ourselves why these words, and images and variations stuck around, and why we keep singing them to our children, who, until very recently, were far far more likely to die in early childhood, and how terrified to our bones we are that even now, even with all our “affordable” health care and medical technology they still may not outlive us?

Constantly and everywhere as individuals we think we are doing one thing when we are also doing the opposite. We think we are being kind when we are actually being undermining or causing offense. We meant it as a joke and are shocked when the brunt experiences it as an act of hostility. Our conscious intentions are easily and often conscripted by an unacknowledged, un-conscious agenda which will have its way with us when it is activated and or when we have set our consciousness in opposition to it. Our unconscious will out, whether in dreams, or by acting out, or often by creating symbols which seem to contain both what we wish for: a loving, forgiving God, and what we most fear: a murderous, wrathful destructive deity – now molded together into a crucified human son of God who contains all of our ambivalence and terror and forgives us all our sins.

Or by singing haunting lullabies, or teaching our children creepy nursery rhymes.

So, imagine Charon, the ferryman guiding souls across the river Styx, leading his passengers in song as he rows:

Row row row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily merrily merrily merrily…

We sing in it a round, in sequence – groups together, one after another, one group finishing before the next, until the last group sings the  last line all alone.

Life is but a dream.

Life is a but dream which we will one day  wake from.  We might as well go merrily. 

No one gets to sleep forever, even if some of us are permitted take longer naps than others.

“Myth is society’s dream” said Joseph Campbell, talking to Bill Moyers.
We dream to allow content which is necessary but also threatening to our conscious functioning to pass into our awareness in way that are palatable. 

Religion and myth and fairy tales and nursery rhymes are the dreams of cultures, generations and societies.

And we don’t often know why we are collectively doing something, or what story we have written together and taken in as truth, we just know that it how it has always been done, or that is what everyone else is doing.

It almost seems as if these images had just lived, and as if their living existence had simply been accepted without question and without reflection, as much as everyone decorates Christmas trees or hides Easter eggs without ever knowing what these customs mean. The fact is that archetypal images are so packed with meaning in themselves that people never think of asking what they really do mean.  ~ C. G. Jung, Vol. 9, Part 1, paragraph 22, Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

And this morning I had another thought that asserted itself in the space between dreaming and waking: That as our generational and social universe begins to buckle under extraordinary data-strain – as we tell ourselves millions and millions of stories and create hundreds of thousands of myths every day – many based in the realities of news-stories, events which begin as actual, witness-able events but which then become instantly told and retold and repackaged and re-edited and curated like a giant game of telephone (or more properly a game of internet) – we are all co-producing myths (and half-myths and incomplete myths – myths which split our ambivalences rather than contain them) at lightening speed and immeasurable volume. Collectively, culturally, societally, we are dreaming more and faster than ever before.  We are in the center of a veritable hurricane of societal dreaming and myth-making. If myths are society’s dreams then humanity is in the deepest, thickest, fastest REM state is has ever been in.

And we don’t really know what we are collectively dreaming, or why, or what dream we are caught up in or how long it will last before we are plunged into reacting to the next upswelling myth or when one myth begins and another one ends. We are just moving through a flood of myths and images and symbolizations, deciding some are real and some are true and some are right or wrong, that some activate our fear and others activate our self-righteous outrage and some make us sad, and some drive us into ill-considered action, and that some are good dreams and others are nightmares.

We forget that collectively we are sleeping and that we are dreaming. And we have no idea why we hide Easter eggs to begin with or why we are rowing our boats, merrily merrily as fast as we can down the rushing rapids of partially digested incomplete, unprocessed collective myth.

We are so busy making and responding to symbolic content wrapped and plastered all over current events that we have no idea that we are producing and reacting to symbols, and we aren’t even all that curious about it.

In reality, however, he has merely discovered that up till then he has never thought about his images at all. ~ C. G. Jung, Vol. 9, Part 1, paragraph 22, Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

And every once in a while, I try to unpack a symbol that I see racing past me in the flotsam, and try to pause for a moment to examine it and wonder about it – and sadly, more often than not, when I do that it is absorbed into yet another myth, a politicizing dream, a dream that says this is a stance which includes or excludes my dreaming and I object to it being examined or reframed at all. And I’m sure this same thing happens to others who become curious about all the symbolic content flying past in this not so gentle stream.

And when we wake? What, if anything at all exists underneath all of this collective dreaming and myth-making?

Then what will remain?





                        exploding –


Nothing else.

Merrily merrily merrily merrily, Merrily merrily merrily merrily, 

Life is but a dream. 

Merrily merrily merrily merrily, 

Life is but a dream.

Life is but a dream.

One Large Bottle


This didn’t really feel like a What a Shrink Thinks post somehow – more about writing itself than about psychotherapy – of course, as with everything, that gets all tangled up together.   I sent it out from my other site:  Subtext Consultations – and rebloged it here for those who may be interested.

Originally posted on SubText :

I’ve been thinking about writing, about being a writer, about writing books, about how and why people write – the professional and psychological functions and processes of writing – and how each writer I’ve met or listened to or worked with writes for different reasons, is immersed in different processes.

Some experience themselves as servants to a sacred Oracle. Others write purely out of their daydreams with little insight or awareness of how the story is connected to their own lives and history. Some write to keep themselves alive. Others feel driven by a need to share their story with an audience. Some write for a living, even if it is a sparse living. Some write as a method of self-regulation, self-exploration, self-help. Some are driven by deep narcissistic injury. Some write to reach others, to persuade, to change the world.

Here is the story of the first book I…

View original 1,452 more words

The Point

Shooting with a LEICA is like a long tender kiss, like firing an automatic pistol, like an hour on the analyst’s couch. – Henri  Cartier-Bresson

Maybe being an analyst is like shooting with a LEICA. Analysis has to shoot the truth, and open fire upon dearly held illusions. Love sometimes means engaging in aggressive assertive disruptive acts for the sake of the relationship, for another’s sake, for your own sake.

In session I notice that I’m pointing. The knuckles toward the ceiling, my thumb and three fingers curled under my palm, my index finger  out – jabbing, poking pecking at the resistance, at the defense, at the cherished illusion that has come between my client and me.  I am trying to perforate, to jab a hole in the obstacle between us, or maybe to insert a new reality into the closed off soul in front of me.

Our illusions can entrap and isolate us. We can live whole lives sidestepping the complex truths of who we are, and how we feel, and the impact we have had on others. We can construct false and comforting narratives that soothe ourselves and placate those we love. We can erect firewalls and moats. We can abscess an infection rather than tend to it. We can project distortions onto each other to avoid our own broken and fucked up bits. We can pretend that life is stable and manageable, rather than encounter  the inherent insecurities of living. 

And we lie.

And we can become lost in the lies that others tell us. We can spin status-quo justifying narratives. We can pretend we are okay when we aren’t. We can scream and aggress to divert from our shame and fear. We can cry and collapse instead of taking responsibility. We can shirk and ignore challenges that we should face and we can fling ourselves wildly at self-sabotaging risks. We can make problems that rightfully belong to others all about ourselves. We convince ourselves that we are the problem when it is outside of us, and we can blame others when the fault is ours. We can believe things that aren’t true, and we can convince others to join us in our false beliefs.

And sometimes all this needs to be pointed out.

Usually, it is better for this to be a gentle process. Our illusions and false beliefs exist for a reason, even the most destructive ones. Shame or dominance will only  make them more entrenched. You should never strip away a defense without knowing what it is defending against, without understanding its original purpose, what might get  much much worse if the security operation was not activated. Symptoms are sometimes the best available solution to an intractable illness- and to remove a mild symptom can allow a disease to cause greater harm.

So usually, the process of dissembling an illusion should be a slow, respectful cautious incremental process.

But there are times when the stakes are too high, or it has gone on way too long, when the costs are too great, and you’ve tried every subtle sensitive approach imaginable over months or years and both of you have had just about enough and its time for shit to get real. And often, it is seeing my own finger unfurled that points out  this moment. The finger in front of me is ready to puncture the illusion before I have consciously registered that it is time.

Sometimes an hour on an analyst’s couch is like being shot with an automatic pistol. Sometimes looking at a stark reality in black and white is like a long tender kiss.

Love is feral. It is not always civilized, subtle or domesticated. It summons us to wild spaces and demands that we look at our most uncivilized selves, or reveal them to another.

Sometimes our defenses need to be cracked. Sometimes our illusions need to be destroyed. Sometimes old covenants need to be broken for new ones to emerge. And sometimes we do this out of love, and for love’s sake.

Sometimes the most loving gesture is also the most violent: to show someone the truth as you see it. To demand that they encounter you, or encounter themselves or the effect they are having on others.

(These are often all the same thing).

And sometimes – disappointing, upsetting, frustrating, annoying or enraging the other is really just disrupting the illusion they have created that tells them that the status quo is sustainable. Sometimes the people we love are living in a dream about who they are or who we are – and attacking this illusion is really an invitation to leave their illusion behind and join hands with you in reality. An urgent, frightening invitation.

Authenticity is a wilderness. Reality is feral and untamable.

Sometimes, being an analyst for an hour is like letting other’s take stark, unflattering black and white photographs of you and holding them up for you to examine. Sometimes being an analyst is like being shot with an automatic weapon – absorbing aggressions that you did not instill or create but that you are called upon to survive and accept as your client’s reality, as the truth of where your relationship and alliance actually stands or fails. Sometimes being an analyst is like being surrounded and filled with a warm, dizzying tenderness.

(These are often all the same thing,  and all of these things can be love, even if it doesn’t feel like love at all.)

Sometimes when you feel you are being attacked you are actually being loved, wildly and more authentically than anyone has had the courage to love you before. Sometimes we need to point harsh truths out to each other for love’s sake.

And love can be an hour on an analyst’s couch facing realities that are too stark to encounter alone, that can be as terrifying as a gun shot, as tender as a kiss, as clear and focused as photograph.

Casting Shadows

You can’t shine a light in one corner with out the other three corners becoming darker.

Who said that? Jung maybe? Or some Jungian? I have no idea – but we’ll go with that… it sounds Jungian enough.

And nothing makes this clearer to me than when I am pressed into large groups of psychotherapists, social workers and psychologists.  Nothing makes me want to leave my profession more than listening to other members of my profession. 

And being terrified that I am hearing myself.

I am usually either lured in by the wish to hear a specific author speak on their area of expertise, or forced (grousing the entire time) by professional mandate to maintain licensure or certification.

And if I can just sit quietly and read a book, or listen to music or embroider before the presentation begins – if I can close out the chit chat, and the jockeying for status and position, if I can just ignore all the narcissistic injuries and the needs and the hungers that seem to be pouring out of all these well-scrubbed people in glasses, with their expensive sweaters and sensible shoes, if I can just get to the part where there is a teacher who is going to talk – and who might even say a lot that is useless for me- but who will hopefully leave me with one or two gems – just a single lovely, good, and useful idea, one new thought, one interesting insight into one case – I will be good. It will all be worth it. If I can just toss up my filter to screen out everyone around me except the person far away on the podium…

But sometimes I can’t. Sometimes my filter is down, or I forgot my knitting bag, or my phone battery is on 12 percent. Sometimes the presenter wants us to break into small groups, or introduce ourselves to our neighbors on either side, or worse: wants to lead us in an exercise.


Then it is inescapable and I see the marks that this profession has left on all of us, the starvation to share our perceptions, to have our work acknowledged. I hear how needy and hungry it makes all of us. How all our profound insight can leave us blinded to each other and ourselves outside of the consultation room. Used to hiding behind our professional persona we are too accustomed to our utterings being treated as the Words of the Gods and are annoyed and agitated when they are not greeted as sacred pearls of wisdom by our peers. In love with our clients, enthralled with their growth, and drunk with the fantasy that we have done something “right” to facilitate their transformation, we overshare uninteresting self-congratulatory details of our client’s therapeutic successes – like way too many baby pictures –  patting ourselves loudly on the back because  as private practitioners it is unlikely that anyone else will. We forget to seek out what may be actually useful or universal in the story we are telling. We forget that those around us are contending with the exact same starvation we are and may not want to feed us. At all. 

Spending our days on the wrong side of our client’s projections – we cannot bear to be mis-perceived, or understood in inexact ways. Or invisible.

Heads nod. Tongues click. Brows are empathically furrowed as case material is laid out. Hands shoot up in the comments and questions portion of the presentation. Points are made. Exceptions are taken. Opinions are expressed. Expertise is demonstrated.

And disagreed with.

“In my experience…”

“But don’t you think….”

“I’ve found that when….”

“I worked with a similar population and one of the things I found to be very effective was…”

Yet somehow nothing at all is being said.

No one says:

“This work is lonely sometimes, do you find that too?”

“This client scared the shit out of me for a long time and I didn’t know what to do- I felt really lost – but then one day they started opening up, started trusting me, started feeling better and I was so relieved…”

“Sometimes I want to be an expert and I feel frustrated when my clients don’t respond to my years of professional experience and training – and then I remember that I am a broken fallible human being too – and it is so much more reliving when I quit thinking of myself as my ‘role’.”

“I don’t know what the fuck I am doing half the time – that is what intuitive work feels like – like wandering in the dark together until we stumble onto something that feels helpful – but it is hard to feel so lost so much of the time with clients who feel lost too.”

“I worry that my world view, or my methodologies are becoming outdated – in the face of new realities how much are my perspectives as a professional at mid-life or beyond really worth? I want to stay open to this world that is moving so fast, but I worry that I am falling behind…”

“I want to be seen as smart and perceptive. I want to say things that my peers and clients will value. I want my career to keep building – I’ve been feeling stuck lately, like I may have hit the top of my capacities”

“I want to appear to be healthier and more appreciative than the rest of the people in this room, so I want to personally thank you for a wonderful presentation that I’m sure spoke to every single person here.”

“What have you accomplished? Is it more than I have accomplished? Should I walk away from this brief interaction feeling superior or inadequate?”

No one says anything like this at all. But I can’t stop hearing it.

No one speaks from their own wound. It isn’t safe enough and we don’t know each other. We speak only from inside our suit of armor and the noise we emit echoes and clangs and deafens.

Our profession casts a dark and reaching shadow, one that can wreak havoc with other’s lives, often claims to accomplish more than it can and regularly appropriates the healing processes of others as our own property.

We are all so aggressively empathetic and such competitively good listeners.

But, I hope,  more of us are in touch with our own woundedness when we are safe in the confines of our own workspace, in brokered relationships with clients that feel safe with us, and with whom we have earned some degree of safety for ourselves.

However we talk, or fail to talk about the work in public, in enforced mandatory community – I hope we are able to tell ourselves more humbling and humiliating truths about our work and our professions in private, and in the safe supervisory and peer relationships that we have built as way stations for ourselves on this lonely path.

And as much as I hate it when my filter is down and I am surrounded by darkeness on at least three sides:  Later I will gather myself and hope that somewhere, it may mean that others are shining a very bright light in their own small corner of the universe.

Ronald, Donald, Carl and Fred

It’s you I like,

It’s not the things you wear,

It’s not the way you do your hair–

But it’s you I like.

The way you are right now,

The way down deep inside you–

Not the things that hide you,

Not your toys–

They’re just beside you.

 But it’s you I like–

Every part of you,

Your skin, your eyes, your feelings

Whether old or new.

I hope that you’ll remember

Even when you’re feeling blue

That it’s you I like, 

It’s you yourself, 

It’s you, it’s you I like.

 It’s You I Like

~ By Fred M. Rogers © 1970

I’ve been re-reading a lot of Ronald Fairbairn’s works  lately. An object relational psychoanalyst- writing through the 1950’s – a man who worked with abused children, “shell-shocked” war vets and introverts. He was number one on my theorist hit parade for many years, but dropped off of my radar after reading and re-re-reading him – I  must have decided that I’d digested his message completely (foolish of me)  – and incorporated him into my infrastructure.

I didn’t forget  his amazing contributions to psychoanalytic thought: His most seminal contribution is a construct known as ‘The Moral Defense” : the way children, especially abused or neglected children but also all children,  find their parent’s destructive aspects so intolerable – while they remain so  dependent and for years beyond  – that they take the burden of their parents’  badness onto themselves. Maintaining primal attachments at the greatest cost by talking to themselves in the parents’ bad  voice,  believing that if only they were “good” inside or at least better Mommy or Daddy would love them more, or at all.

I didn’t forget his ideas or even forget to give him credit for his perceptions. I forgot him. I forgot his writers voice, the way that he never stopped advocating for “unanalyzable” clients in the face of the traditional Freudian analysts who had historically rejected anyone who has sustained a real psychological injury, or blamed them for manufacturing their own ills. I forgot his loyalty to sexually abused children and adults, and his belief in them and in their stories of trauma. I forgot that he thought  mandating clients to lie down on the couch to be coercive, and potentially retraumatizing, and really just  a way to protect  analysts from the clients’ relational hunger and legitimate needs.  I forgot his unceasing willingness to stay near his clients – to let them look him in the eyes and to look back – as they talked about their most personal private thoughts and beliefs – about their bodies, about sex, about defecation, about God. I forgot how his belief that clients come to therapy to seek salvation –  forgiveness for their sins and freedom from the demons that haunted them – meant that he was committed to seeing them as loveable in the face of their darkest deeds and secrets, how it meant that he would try never to flinch in the face of their most traumatic memories, and how he would allow himself to be hated, to withstand the full force of his clients hate, so the hatred could be released and modulated.

I missed Fairbairn, as a voice, as a teacher, a role-model, a surrogate.

I realize that when I’ve described myself in the past as a theory-wonk, that is not exactly true: I am really just a theorist-wonk, a psychoanalytic groupie. A goofy geeked-out fan-girl, nothing more.

As a young child I was crazily devoted to Fred Rodgers. (If you don’t know who he is, or if you do you should really read this. Really. Do it. I re-read it all the time.)  I kept my secret devotion hidden well into upper elementary school and beyond. I had his song books and read his gentle lyrics over and over basking in their paternal kindness. By junior high I had transferred my crushing to Carl Sagan, to Walt Whitman. By high school, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, T. S. Eliot. By college: Ibsen, Checkov, Kant, Hegel, Keirkeggard, Buber, Freud.   Graduate school led me to Fairbain and Winnicott, and Kohut.

I realize that one of the reasons that I don’t read as much fiction as I should is that I don’t want to read about imaginary character’s relationships to each other – I want to be in imaginary relationship to the philosopher without a fictional middle-man separating us.

Fred Rodgers would sit down and break the fourth wall of my television screen to show me new things, to tell me about something he learned that day, or something he had thought about. To tell me that he liked me just for being me, to tell me what might come next, or not to be afraid of having “scary bad wishes” because wishes don’t make things come true. He spoke directly to me, giving me guidance that led me through the spiritual thickets of my childhood.

Post-graduate studies brought me many more such guides -Searles, Sullivan, Guggenbuhl-Craig, and most influentially, Jung.

There are women too, a good handful:  Mahler, Miller, VonFranz, Anna Freud,  Klein, Bebee, Ornstien, Stevens Sullivan, – but clearly these imaginal compensatory relationships skew toward my daddy-issues more than my mother-complex.

I read and re-read and revisit these men’s and women’s words over and over – grateful for their mentorship, for the kindness and generosity in their voices, for their willingness to speak their thoughts  out directly, unfiltered. To hear of their patience, and their warmth, their limitations, their forgiveness of themselves and others, their willingness to press or even fight against the prevailing models to be sure that the  client population they served would be considered, to hear them talk of “real relationships” and “life-long self-object needs” – to watch them debate respectfully and civilly even when they disagree vehemently or hold personal dislikes or even hatreds. To watch them battle against practices that they believed re-traumatized or damaged or omitted too many. They are all limited, bound by their histories, pathologies, narcissisms and their own era, but their commitment to psychoanalytic love, love with out using the word, still shines through their jargon and their own woundedness.

To hope to be as brave and clear, committed and creative in my own small way.

To try to give of myself as generously – and not only to my clients – but to offer my own voice – to break through that fourth wall  and talk through the screen to anyone who needs to feel forgivable and worthy of patience, and deserving of kindness.

To say, as all these guides have said in their own language, through their own filter and stance – as Fred Rodgers said to me through the TV screen (as I try to repeat each day in session after session)  over and over, each week, without fail:

“There is no one in the world just like you. And I like you just the way you are.”


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