Intensity on Fire

The thirty something year-old man on the couch speaks intensely about a recent argument with a friend. If this were another moment, I might recognize the intensity as my own. As if out of nowhere, an image that I seem unprepared for comes to me, which in itself shouldn’t surprise me, but does. I imagine my patient at home writing a letter – another part of me interrupts and wonders why it isn’t an email – and as I read the sentences that appear on the paper, I realize he’s writing to me. These images seem to communicate more than words can formulate, and experience in this chair behind the couch has taught me to wait for images to speak to me in their own time. The session started fifteen minutes ago, and I try to remember whether he was this intense when he entered the room. Don’t try to remember, I say to myself. Listen and imagine. Don’t try to think or remember. They’ll happen on their own. I hear more words from the couch, and I wonder whether the intensity I’ve heard in his voice might be own: “I got to my feet and left the room. I couldn’t take any more.” What was the argument with his friend about? The image of him writing me a letter returns, and I realize I don’t know what to do with it. Inner words speak to my uncertainty: Let the image speak to you. As the patient continues speaking, a new image of him and his letter to me arrive: he takes a lighter from his pant pocket and lights the page on fire. My own intensity has become undeniable. I glance at the clock. We’ve spent less than thirty minutes together. Minutes matter much less than our words and images, and again I imagine him burning the letter he was writing me. Somehow, fire and speech become connected. Together, they seem to say that the room is full of emotion, which is a good thing in a session.


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