I imagine that a fictitious event happens when I enter my psychoanalyst’s office this afternoon. Once I’ve crossed the threshold of her consulting room, she asks whether we might try something different today. “I’ll lie on the couch and you sit in my chair.” Moments later, I hear her say from the couch: “Now tell me what’s on my mind.”
Maybe I can read minds in my imagination. I’m comfortable in her chair. The view of the room is expansive from here. I never thought I’d sit behind a psychoanalytic couch.
Silence from the couch seems to suggest that she’s waiting for me to speak about her mind. I was about to write “speak her mind.” Is that what telepathy means? Thinking someone else’s thoughts as if they were one’s own?
This must be a dream. Can a dream be about two minds? A possible response to my own question comes to me: what you have imagined is not fictitious. It’s your mind.
Letters by Freud written over a hundred years ago are important to me, to my imagination, to my mind, to my writing. I’ve felt this since 2007, when I bought my first volume of his correspondence in Madrid, in Spanish translation.
Another, seemingly unrelated book found me on May 2, 2016, in Elliott Bay Book Company here in Seattle (there are advantages to writing the date of purchase on the flyleaf). In the Mind Fields: Exploring the New Science of Neuropsychoanalysis by Casey Schwartz felt good in my hands. I walked home on that warm midday in early May feeling that part of my mental and emotional and writing futures was within my grasp. What awaited me were the experiences of discovery themselves.
At around the same time I discovered a video on YouTube, a lecture by the neuropsychologist and psychoanalyst Mark Solms, who is an important part of Schwartz’s book, on the brain in psychoanalysis (these words come to me now), and as months passed, I wondered why I kept watching the video of him speaking at this event in New York sponsored by the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis (NPAP) over and over. At the beginning of his talk, Solms said that he was going to speak about something simple. Then I heard him say that his talk was called “A neuropsychoanalytic perspective on the talking cure (which is psychoanalysis).” During the following several minutes, what I heard was simple in a complicated way. Solms seemed to be wondering aloud about what happens inside the two human beings in a consulting room. He used the term communication. As he continued talking, it became clearer to me that he was referring to what happens in the two brains of the two people in the room. Rudimentary communication starts inside our brains. I have written these last several sentences while watching his talk once more. Feeling states become means of communication. “Emotions are a perceptual modality.” These were Solms’s words in his talk. The two human beings in a psychotherapist’s office react to each other in their brains, in their minds, with feelings, which can lead to thought. Words become proof that feeling action has happened in our brains and minds. The final words of his talk were: “The talking is about feelings.”
I’m wondering what all of this has to do with letters Freud wrote in the early 1900s. Freud’s mind interests me. His brain interests me. What kinds of feelings do I imagine in him while he wrote his letters to colleagues and friends? I feel as if I’ve been drinking coffee all day. In reality, I finished my morning mug of coffee at around 7 am. I’m excited that after more than a decade of reading from around a dozen volumes of Freud correspondences that I’ve finally found an imaginative focus: what I imagine he was feeling while he wrote his letters late at night, after a long day of work. And somehow, from these imaginings, I have faith that images and ideas will come to me here at my desk as I become anxious about writing words on paper.
I imagined that the six digits had escaped from my mind. Thought would have allowed me to realize that I’d forgotten them. I needed them to reappear in 120 seconds. In two minutes I would be standing before the keypad alongside the door that clients and their families used to enter the building. I didn’t think of myself as a client. Neither did my psychoanalyst. I was a patient or an analysand. Most of the people I saw in the waiting area were children and their parents. My psychoanalyst was also a child therapist. I was seconds away from the building when the six digits returned. It was as if my mind had returned.
I was alone in the waiting area for the two minutes I waited before the light alongside my analyst’s name on the wall switched off and I walked up a flight of stairs. As if out of nowhere, it came to me that my psychoanalyst’s couch might be the only one in the building. I was a stranger here. I didn’t belong. Hundreds of fifty-minute hours on the couch had changed my mind in some way. I felt it. The sentences about being a stranger and not belonging were related to what was happening in my own mind, right now, as I sat waiting.
I didn’t wait long. As Freud said in different words, it is impossible to understand what psychoanalysis is about unless you’re in the room. I had read about psychoanalysis for years before my initial fifty minutes on the couch. I could attempt to describe today’s session in words, but my inner experiences on the couch were before or beyond words. Things happened. Insights and understandings sometimes came to me. After some sessions, I wished that I’d said something more or different or nothing at all, moments of inner experience which I would hopefully reflect on. I forgot the six-digit entry code today before remembering it. We spoke about this while I was on the couch. Tomorrow something else will happen. And I’ll still feel like a stranger in here.
An experience is in search of me. Last night I dreamed that I had my car washed. In reality, I don’t own a car. I also dreamed that I sat on the ground in a forest, in a meditative position, watching a tree grow. I felt it growing. I don’t want to drive again, which is strange to see in writing, although I haven’t sat in the driver’s seat since 2002, the year I moved from Seattle to Madrid. I’m afraid to count the years between then and now. The counting happens on its own. A tree grows on its own. I don’t control my mind. I experience it. What might it mean to me to be in the driver’s seat of my own inner experiences?
I imagine the opening sentence in the paragraph above appearing and disappearing on the surface of my mind, as if I were meditating in a forest and observing a tree experience its own natural process of growth. I pause before writing the next sentence. Silence becomes the pause, before noise in my mind returns and the pen moves again. Trees belong in a forest. My imagination has made the impossible possible: I sit on the ground, and the growth of a tree becomes a moment to moment visible experience.
More words that feel strange to see in writing come to me: this experience is experiencing me. I am being experienced by life in the forest. The mind is a miraculous place.
Once the images and words started arriving, I couldn’t stop writing. The sentences that were becoming a text felt autonomous. I knew where I was in the external world. I sat here every afternoon while I wrote. What I was experiencing in my imagination was old in a new sort of way. It was the late 1950s or early 1960s. My grandfather, an architect, was on his knees. The image didn’t make sense. He wasn’t religious. The word prayer remained, as if it were waiting for me to use it in a sentence, which I now have. I realized why my grandfather was on his knees: he was trying to stand up. He was alone in the drafting room, or so I thought. These sentences confused me as I wrote them, and I thought: the writer in me needs confusion. Prayer and confusion seemed connected in my mind as I imagined my grandfather the architect glance at the psychoanalyst who appeared as if out of nowhere. A couch also appeared. Psychoanalysis was a popular form of psychotherapy in this country back then, I thought. I stopped writing for a moment. I wished that my grandfather had experienced psychotherapy. Perhaps he would have behaved differently toward me. These sentences have treated me well. I have had faith in them. My grandfather designed buildings. Something has been created here in my mind. I was about to write: here on the page. I have faith in my mind, in my imagination, where everything is possible.
This is an impossible task. How can I know what happens in each of our minds during the fifty minutes we spend together? I can’t. So why try? I don’t have time to do this. Who has enough time to do anything well these days? This question frustrates me. It seems intended to move me away from imaginative thought. I’m seated at my desk. I need imaginative help. Seven hours have passed since I left my psychoanalyst’s office. I’ve started typing on my laptop. Some sort of departure from normal cognitive activity seems to be preparing itself in my mind. I’m imagining that today’s fifty minutes in my psychoanalyst’s consulting room have created the possibility for imaginative thought that now depends on the writer in me to bring it to fruition. A thought comes to me: I can limit my imaginative inquiry to what happens in my own mind. This was not the sentence I’d intended to write. Remain in the present. What’s happening in your mind right now? I need your help. This isn’t the dialogue I’d planned on recording here, which seems to have become the story of my writing life. Surprises determine the experience. Reality is often different than I imagined it would be. Writing these sentences feels like an impossible task. I’m without control, which is how I felt this morning on my psychoanalyst’s couch. I wish I could know what happens in my mind and in other minds, as if the contents were knowable. What is knowable in the mind? Perhaps this kind of uncertainty helps me write every day.
There’s no room for me in here. I don’t spend time at construction sites. Or maybe I do, if I consider my mind under construction.
I’m inside a room that appears to be a bedroom. My clothes are scattered around the room. A room can be a personal space, like the one where I’m writing these sentences. I must pick up all of my clothes NOW. Disorder must become order. How can I create order in a space that is under construction? Perhaps I unconsciously ask myself this question about my own mind. Maybe I’m unable to imagine my mind as an organized space. I’ve been reading about the brain during the last few days. Stuttering is related to the brain. I haven’t stuttered much in years, yet I will probably always be a stutterer. Am I associating my inner life with my brain? I picture myself walking around this room picking up socks, shirts, jeans, underwear, shorts, and then, in a moment of panic, I realize that there are no drawers here. I will have to create some. Build seems the more appropriate verb, but who is in charge here? I’m listening to the images and words that come to me. In other words, “I” don’t create them. Is it too easy to say that everything in my mind originates in the unconscious? Brain comes to mind again. I had severe cognitive deficits as a child. I can’t remember if “cognitive deficits” was the phrase used back then. I couldn’t think abstractly. Teachers said that my concrete thinking was extreme. My brain and my mind must have been sites where construction had yet to begin. I have changed over time. Both my brain and my mind are probably different structures today than they were forty, thirty, twenty, and ten years ago. Maybe this room that is my mind will always be under construction.