Quality of Attention

We often know when we are being looked at, even from behind. This has been proved repeatedly in mass experiments; and it’s something we each have felt. It doesn’t happen always, but the statistics are indisputable. We often know when we are being watched.

What is the quality that distinguishes the times that we do, from those where we don’t (know that we are being observed)?  Intensity surely is partly responsible. There is a difference between a casual glance and a powerful gaze. We need then to beware an intensity that intrudes, that breaks into privacy. I also believe that the type of focus is important. If you like, the intention or quality, of attention. There is a difference between a young man’s gaze at a girl, a boxer’s focus on his opponent,  and a mother’s rapt enwrapping of her infant. (Winnicott’s “maternal reverie”).

Lord, grace  this day with your restful gaze. Let me look at those around me unintrusively, respecting silence and privacy – but with something of the lilt of your enfolding joy.

What is clear, at least to me, is that living is  meeting. Thinking, no matter how clever, is futile if there is no engagement. (When all is done and all is said/ that all takes place inside my head). Attention, the meeting of minds and souls, is the stuff of life. Martin Buber (Ich und Du) distinguishes engagement of I-It (Ich-Es) from I-Thou (Ich-Du), and more – he invites us again and again to live by whole-hearted meeting rather than by withdrawal behind a barricade of ideas. He calls this living the “speaking” of the primary word I-Thou, rather than the emptiness of the primary word I-It.

“To be sure, many a man who is satisfied with the experience and use of the world of things has raised over about himself a structure of ideas, in which he finds refuge and repose from the oncome of nothingness. On the threshold he lays aside his inauspicious everyday dress, wraps himself in pure linen, and regales himself with the spectacle of primal bein, or of necessary being; but his life has no part in it. To proclaim his ways may even fill him with well-being.

But mankind of mere IT this is imagined, postulated, and propagated by such a man has nothing in common with a living mankind where THOU may truly be spoken. The noblest fiction is a fetish, the loftiest fictitious sentiment is depraved. Ideas are no more enthroned above our heads than Resident in them; they wander amongst us – and accost us. The man who leaves the primary word unspoken is to be pitied; but the man who addresses instead these ideas with an abstraction or a password, as if it were their name, is contemptible”

Lord, you are present when I I address all that I meet as Thou. This day,  let me speak the primary word I-Thou in all of my looking.

 

 

 

 

Why do we try to destroy God?

Donald Winnicott (paediatrician and psychoanalyst) studied the development of the Self within the child. He found that an infant is reliant on a “good-enough” mother (he was writing in the ’40’s, ’50s and ’60’s) to reveal to the infant that their feelings are real. Initially an infant believes he/she is omnipotent. He/she does not know there is a Not-Me. The reality of the loving mother as an “external object” is established by her survival of the child’s attempt to destroy her – and doing this whilst continuing to love. It is a parent’s fundamental role in allowing their child to develop a sense of the their reality in relation to all-else that they provide a “holding” environment within which the child can develop.

God, of course, is the archetype of parent. So, perhaps it is necessary for-human kind that we try to destroy God, and it is  in the ever-loving survival of our destruction – that we finally perceive His (or Her) loving reality?

In Winnicott’s words..

“The self is first made real through recognition, the object is first made real through aggressive destruction; and this of course, makes experience of the object feel real to the self. The object is placed outside omnipotent control by being destroyed while, in fact surviving the destruction”. In an illustrative dialogue about the process “The subject says to the object: ‘I have destroyed you’, and the object is there to receive the communication. From now on the subject says: ‘Hullo, object!’ ‘ I destroyed you.’ ‘ I love you. You have value for me because of your survival of my destruction of you. While I am loving you I am all the time destroying you in (unconscious) fantasy’ ” (The Use of an Object and Relating through Identifications 1969).

Shall I say that, for a child to be brought up so that he can discover the deepest part of his nature, someone has to be defied, and even at times hated, without there being a danger of a complete break in the relationship” (Home Again 1945).

 

Duality, Love and Evolution

We think in terms of opposing forces, opposites. Duality flows  from the fact of boundary created as we separate from the whole of existence – initially physically at birth, and then psychically in infancy. This schism has been expressed in many ways, often as opposing forces.For instance – good / evil ;life / death; aggressive / erotic ; Me / Not Me ; extrovert / introvert. I believe that the point of duality is in our response to it. There is a fundamental difference in outcome between choice between, and integration of – opposites.

Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein conceived of opposing Life and Death instincts. However surely a “Death” instinct is incompatible with evolution, what purpose is served by a “Death” instinct? More natural is Donald Winnicott’s expression of an Aggressive component, born of opposition and an Erotic component, born of complementarity – the birth of these components arising as an infant realises that there is a Me and a Not-Me. Carl Jung conceived of the struggle to integrate opposing forces. Many of us are familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality typing that arises from Jung with its 4 dimensions –  Extrovert-Introvert; Thinking-Feeling; Sensing-Intuition; and Judging-Perceiving. From the dawn of our species we have observed the difference between Light and Dark and described our nature as Good or Evil. Martin Buber gives us the double-dual-whammy of I-Thou way of being “over against” I-It.

“There is, Buber shows, a radical difference between man’s attitude to other men and his attitude to things. The attitude to other men is a relation between persons, to things it is a connexion with objects. ..These two attitudes represent the basic twofold situation of human life, the former constitutes the world of THOU and the latter the world of IT” Ronald Gregor Smith, translator of Ich Und Du

It appears then that fundamental to our reaction to the fact of our existence; woven into the fabric of our way of thinking and being, is duality – expressed as an opposition of forces.

What then is our response? Is it passive as in choice or balance or active – as in process or integration? Admitting polarity in all things – what should be our reaction. Do we choose – for instance between Good or Evil? Should we seek balance between different drives into a kind of dynamic equilibrium – for instance striving to be at the centre point of extroversion and introversion? Is reality in fact a process budding eternally at the very boundary that arises out of duality – life within Winnicott’s Transitional Space or Whitehead’s point of prehension? Or is it there a further truth behind this duality – the point being what arises out of unification of opposites ? After all paraphrasing Beethoven – there cannot be loud without soft, it is in contrast that music arises.

Perhaps its personal taste. If so then, at least for me, integration of duality is our purpose, and one which is unceasing because there is a counterveiling force of differentiation. There is a flow of existence which is driven by splitting and unification, birth and death. Duality is dynamic not static and the fundamental creative contrast is actually that of differentiation and integration. Freud’s Life/Death instincts replaced by Integration/Differentiation forces. This isn’t an original thought, and it’s not mine. It is inherent in the world-view of eastern tradition (Yin-Yang etc) and possibly our western ancestors (see Wisdom of the Wyrd, Brian Bates). It was  one of Carl Jung’s fundamental insights – “Much of Carl Jung’s writings are linked by the theme that mental illness is characterized by disunity of the personality, whilst mental health is manifested by unity” (Jung: Selected Writings, Anthony Storr).

If then we conceive of a schism-powered flow, what is the destination and what is the fundamental motive impulse? Well there you have Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the fundamental duality being spirit and material – an inner and outer. For him underlying existence is the force of Love, which powers evolution. An evolution conceived as complexification through spheres of the physical, chemical, biological to that of ideas – until we become conscious of God that is Love that is all. “There is a duality of material and spiritual, which he calls the “without” and “within”. He traces the development of the “within”, an evolution of consciousness. He names man as a stage in that process associated with the phase-shift from the evolution of biology to the evolution of ideas”.

In Teilhard de Chardin’s words:

“If there were no internal propensity to unite, even at a prodigiously rudimentary level — indeed in the molecule itself — it would be physically impossible for love to appear higher up, with us, in hominized form. . . . Driven by the forces of love, the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come into being.”

Humanity reduced to pixels

As many images have been captured in the past 6 months, as have been taken in the history of humanity to-date (paintings, drawings, films, photos etc).

Donald Winnicott proposed that the mother establishes the sense of reality, of existence, in her infant by adapting herself to his internal world of sensation, and by acting as a mirror; reflecting back through her face – the baby’s internal sensations. (‘The Mirror-Role of Mother and Family in Child Development 1967).

On the other hand – Jacques Lacan  observed (Le stade du Miroir 1949) that “when a child looks in the mirror he sees a unified image of his own disarray”. An actual mirror – presenting back to us, as it does, a unified visual image of ourselves – is a challenge. We don’t feel ourselves to be one single unified being as represented by the image.

The point is that our sense of Self has throughout millions of years of evolution been established by social reflection – first of our interior sensation in the face of our mother and then others. The actual visible reflection of our image is an entirely new challenge to the richness of who we really are or can be.

What then is the impact of so many images, captured  by all of our mobile phones and then “tagged” and replayed to us constantly?

The self that is created in a social mirror -our sense of who we are as a sum of how we are perceived by those around – must surely be entirely different from a simple visual image. The image of our face has no bearing on the image of our person – in all its multiple facets. Is this not Lacan’s point from his 1949 paper? Now, however, we are deluged with this visual imagery – and increasingly also confronted with our ageing – because we have the record of our image from the past. Does this mean that we now construct our sense of self from the outside in – from multiple images back to who we are inside? Is this not a recipe for a plague of narcissim; and does the impact of the photograph not only steal from our other senses – but also usurp our very being?

Lacan and Winnicott were writing in the age before Facebook, YouTube,  Pinterest and the mobile phone. Is anyone investigating the change to our species of this aspect of our technological – “progress”?

As Adam Phillips puts it, the maternal mirroring process that creates the Self that is each of us…

“He (an infant) can only discover what he feels by seeing it reflected back. If the infant is seen in a way that makes him feel he exists, in a way that confirms him”

What impoverishment to have this reduced to the pixels on an iPhone..

The Psychopathology of Everyday Nationalism

Considered and thought provoking article from Jock Encombe…psychologist and psychotherapist living in Edinburgh in these interesting times..

“In his groundbreaking 1901 book ‘The Psychopathology of Everyday Life’, Freud introduced the world to the ways in which the unconscious intrudes upon our superficially rational lives.  100 years on his ideas are now embedded in how we try to understand reality.  It is curious, therefore, that there has been so little examination of the nationalistic psychology that underpins the Yes campaign.  There are perhaps two main reasons for this. Firstly the very use of the word ‘Yes’ has given it the advantage of positive unconscious bias.  A No vote really does feel more negative.  And secondly, ably served by its deniable cybernat shock troops, the Yes campaign has played a skillful and aggressive hand in accusing Better Together supporters of various thought crimes.  Not believing in Scotland or the Scottish people. Not having ‘Scottish’ left of centre values.  Not believing in social justice.  Being in effect bourgeois, fearful and selfish.  There have even been SNP posters that suggest voting for Better Together equals supporting child poverty. The result of this is a powerful combination of intimidation and sentimentality that has made many Better Together supporters nervous about putting their heads above the parapet.

Psychotherapy teaches us that when people are attracted to visions of a perfect future and then become aggressive towards people who do not buy into their fantasy, they are in denial about some aspect of themselves.  So what, therefore, might a psychological understanding of the appeal of Scottish nationalism look like?

From a broad historical perspective there are many episodes in Scottish history that have inflicted trauma on our collective psyche: The Jacobite rebellion. The Darien Venture. The Act of Union. The clearances.  The impact of rapid, massive industrialisation and de-industrialisation (much more than any other European country experienced). The sectarianism that continues to scar the West of Scotland. The humiliating collapse of our banking industry.

When a patient comes to therapy with a similar personal history, an underlying pattern of narcissism and magical thinking is often revealed as the psychological process by which they have learnt to cope with their experiences.   The process works by seeking to avoid unbearable feelings of worthlessness by either angrily projecting them onto others (‘You don’t believe in Scotland’), or by escaping into grandiose fantasies of wholeness and perfection (‘Independence will make us the wealthiest small country in the world’).   While providing temporary relief, however, magical thinking is ultimately doomed to fail.  The return to reality is always painful and often destructive.  Furthermore it is a pattern of behaviour which, if the underlying psychological hard work of acquiring self-knowledge is not undertaken, is destined to repeat itself.  It is perhaps worth noting that middle-aged men seem particularly vulnerable to these kinds of behaviour.

The cataclysmic collapse of RBS – which ensnared many of its employees and shareholders in its inflated vision of world domination – is a vivid example of the dangers of narcissism that has led to shame and economic misery for millions of people.  It is interesting to note that George Mathewson, the former Chairman of RBS who notoriously recruited Fred Goodwin as his successor, has long been a Yes supporter.  While Alex Salmond was of course also employed there as an economist in the 1980s.  Another interesting parallel is between Goodwin’s ‘Make it Happen’ slogan and Salmond’s similarly vague and aspirational ‘this is our moment’ language.

While imaginative fantasy can have a psychopathological dimension it is of course also the raw material of creative work. This explains the appeal of independence to many of Scotland’s artists.  Imagination alone, however, will not provide the economic stability or jobs without which any kind of sustainable, agreeable national life is possible. Or without which child poverty has any chance of being alleviated.  We should not forget, either, that many of the least attractive nationalistic figures in history were skilful weavers of propaganda and romance.  Or that dangerous ideologies have always found artistic support. The quasi-racist attack by Alasdair Gray on Vicky Featherstone, the English founder of the National Theatre of Scotland, is one example of this.  There is a tone of romantic totalitarianism to much of the Yes language, a kind of hectoring misty-eyed kitsch that needs challenging.  As Milan Kundera observed in ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’:

 “Kitsch is the aesthetic ideal of all politicians and all political parties and movements… In the realm of totalitarian kitsch all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions. It follows, then, that the true opponent of totalitarian kitsch is the person who asks questions.”

The great British psychotherapist Donald Winnicott believed that to live happily and well we need sufficient psychological maturity to accept the messy ‘good enough’ nature of relationships and life. The Union is by no means perfect but it is certainly good enough – and with the enhancements of further devolution is likely to get better.  Writing in the 1930s Winnicott also believed that such a realistic and mature approach to life, in time, would always overcome the seductive pull of nationalistic and totalitarian ideologies.

Being part of something that provides security and stability, for all its imperfections, is surely a wiser choice than gambling on an outcome that carries such a high risk of division and regret?

For the sake of balance it is necessary to concede that some aspects of the psychology of Better Together can also be legitimately criticised.  As can the negativity of some of its campaign tactics.  But the need for balance should not obscure the central point that, in Orwell’s words, “Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception” – or that many of the SNP’s tactics have created a climate of fear and deception in Scotland.

Beyond the macro-economic arguments there are important questions to be answered about some of the SNP Government’s other activities:  The frightening centralisation and undemocratic arming of our police force. The politicisation of our Civil Service. The harrying of business leaders and other public figures who oppose independence.  What we need now, therefore, is less sentimentality and more clear thinking.  All of us who have a vote, or the opportunity to influence people who have one, need to ensure that realism and generosity of spirit prevail over illusion and intimidation.”

Jock Encombe is a psychologist and psychotherapist based in Edinburgh. The views in this article do not represent those of any organisation with which he is associated.

Donald Winnicott, being and doing..

I was introduced to him last night. Someone to rank with Jung, Pauli, Buber and Teildhard de Chardin…

Wikipedia entry on his view on “being”

“One of the elements Winnicott considered could be lost in childhood was what he called the sense of being. “For Winnicott, the sense of being is primary, the sense of doing an outgrowth of it…Premature development of the ego-function means doing too much, being too little”:[21] a false sense of self. The “capacity to ‘be’, to feel alive…the baby’s lifeline, what Winnicott calls its ‘going on being'” was essential if a person was not to be “caught up in a false self and a compulsive cycle of ‘doing’ to conceal the absence of ‘being'”.[22] One antidote to the potential loss of being was the child’s capacity for playE