CPPNJ - The Center for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy of New Jersey

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What's a Lunar eclipse have to do with psychoanalysis anyway?

I keep thinking about the recent full lunar eclipse that occurred at the same time as the winter solstice. This one was especially noteworthy because it was the first time since 1638 that such a confluence of events occurred (that’s 372 years ago!) What I keep thinking about doesn’t have to do with the astronomical factors involved in such an event nor with how beautiful the moon looks cast in an eerie shade of orange. What I keep thinking about is the terror such an event caused in the hearts of our ancestors all those many eons ago. Even more I think about all those poor women who lost their lives as they were offered up for sacrifice in order to appease what was believed to be an angry god. It’s amazing how our ancestors’ lack of knowledge as to what caused this event didn’t keep them from “knowing” how to fix it!

Apparently no one was sitting around at night, seeing this phenomena unfold, saying to themselves and others,

“Hey, look at that! I wonder what’s going on? Everyone ok? Anyone hurt? No? Good, let’s keep an eye on this and see what happens.”

Rather, I imagine what was thought was something like,

“Hey, look at that! I don’t know why that’s happening and worse yet, it seems to be happening outside of my control. That makes me feel small and vulnerable and that makes me anxious! In order to make myself feel better, I’m going to make up a story about why this is happening. Of course, since I’m making this up, it will consist primarily of projections of my own internal world. I know; this will be about having done something to piss off my parents, better known as the ruling gods. (Given that I’m working on getting to the depressive position I will try to make amends but I can’t help but also express my hostility.) I’ve got it; the gods want us to offer them sacrifices of young innocent women, yeah, I’m sure that’s what gods like! “ And so, into the fire those women went giving the gods what they wanted, at least according to the men in charge.

The importance psychoanalysis places on the power of the internal narrative--that’s what keeps occurring to me as I think about the lunar eclipse. How attached, how enamored we become of our story, the one we told ourselves in order to survive what we couldn’t understand or control. How well it serves our anxieties and how poorly it serves our ability to be in the present moment. For the last several days I have found myself listening to my patients struggle with their internal voices, conflicts, and longings. I hear my own drama calling out to me as I move through my day.

When I think of the olden days, I picture tapping those ancients on the shoulder and telling them that it’s safe. They haven’t done anything wrong. They don’t have to “pay” for their misdeeds. The universe doesn’t keep score.

Then I wish I knew the magic words to tell my patients (and myself). I want to tell them that their life is in the present. That yes, we are vulnerable in that present to things we don’t want or control but that we fare so much better when we don’t make up stories or give ourselves things to do that create the illusion that we are protected. I would like them to know that we can be anxious or sad or frustrated and remain thoughtful, curious and still. And that although it is a flawed present, incapable of righting the wrongs done to them, although it is limited in providing them with the antidotes to their early pain, capable of even more disappointments and things that can’t be controlled, it is nowhere as painful, anxiety-producing and limiting as an endless search for what is no longer available.

In the end, I realize that the tap on my patients’ shoulder can’t be so much in what I tell them, as much as in how I am with them. I can invite them into a world that doesn’t shame them for their fears and longings; where there are no forces that need to see pain as proof of one’s devotion We can sit together and observe when it is that their moon disappears, noting, but not necessarily acting on the commands embedded within their ancient story and hoping that in my joining them on their journey we will write a new and more fruitful story, one more firmly rooted in the present. My hope is that we will keep the casualties to a minimum.

By Irwin Badin

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