Eleven minutes passed without my eyes leaving the words. The number eleven came to me first. I could’ve imagined any number of minutes that the letter and I communicated with each other. I have no idea for how many minutes or seconds I was able to read this letter written one hundred and seven years ago without averting my eyes from the text. Perhaps the colleague of Sigmund Freud who wrote it would’ve been pleased to know that more than a century later someone would refer to these paragraphs of his personal correspondence as a text. I imagine that I’ve been studying it as a source of a writer’s subjective reality on the page. I probably could’ve chosen any one of the hundreds of books on the shelves in this room and found the same kind of material. So why have I spent x number of minutes with sentences that I imagine Ernest Jones wrote late one night before going to bed? He was around thirty years old and would live for another forty-eight years or so. A thought comes to me: when he died, in 1958, psychoanalysis was alive and well. When he wrote this letter to Freud, in 1910, he was just starting to work as a psychoanalyst, or so I imagine. He hadn’t yet experienced psychoanalysis on the couch himself, which he would a few years later. This has been a new kind of reading and writing experience for me. Hopefully the letter will let me know when it’s done with me.
I just took a hardcover from one of the shelves a few steps from where I’m seated, opened it, and was surprised by what I saw on the flyleaf: I bought it one year ago today. In a way, that day feels like yesterday. In another way, it feels like many years ago. Much can change in a person’s life in a year. Over a beer or glass of wine, one might talk about what one has done or experienced in the last twelve months. If I were the one speaking, I would probably focus on things that have happened outside of my own mind. But for me, the last ten or twelve months have been all about mind experience. That’s interesting: the book I just took from the shelves is entitled, In the Mind Fields: Exploring the New Science of Neuropsychoanalysis, by Casey Schwartz. I believe a year ago today was a sunny day in Seattle. While I was out during lunchtime running errands, I decided to spend a few minutes in my favorite bookstore. The moment I was inside the store, my body knew where I wanted to go. I felt as if I had the shelves to myself. There appeared to be few people, and all of me seemed focused on what I was experiencing. The place could’ve been filled with people and I would’ve felt alone in the building. The psychology section on the second floor was familiar to me, and I could probably have found it blindfolded that afternoon. A book was waiting for me, and my body made sure the hardcover and I met. Looking back on last May, I read several books on psychoanalysis, then in June I started to search for a psychoanalyst, and in mid July I found myself on the couch for the first time. What I remember most clearly about the book I walked home with that day was the author’s ability to immerse herself in what she was writing about. She dedicated several years of her life to the project. I remember what happened later on during May 2 of last year, when I prepared myself coffee and read the first several chapters of In the Mind Fields: there were a series of moments in which I felt alive, completely present, as if all of me were experiencing the book. I must have been yearning for meaningful inner experience, which has not been lacking in my life since I started to speak on the couch.
My imagination wouldn’t leave the words on the page. I read one sentence, two sentences, and I was far away, in my mind, both times. Reading each sentence became an imaginative experience. As I read the first sentence, I found myself on a small island in a Norwegian fjord. As I read the second one, I imagined myself on another island, in the San Juan Islands, grasping a tree during a storm. The sentences themselves were written by Carl Jung over a hundred years ago, in which he said that fantasies were important, and that historically they’ve been an integral part of how the human mind has worked. I enjoyed experiencing that the words left the page. I became a creative reader. I was studying Jung’s words, and my imagination seemed to study me, as if it were creating mysteries about me in my mind. It’s a collaborative effort, mind and imagination together, an inner voice said. Aren’t they the same thing, I imagined myself asking this inner voice. You’re learning, it responded.
I didn’t usually associate my daily reading with the future. Welcome to the microscopic level of reading, I said to myself as I stood up and left my desk to pour myself more coffee. I was angry and I wished I knew why. Above, I wrote the word microstructure before replacing it with microscopic. In my mind and on the screen, I replaced a noun with an adjective. A noun identifies someone or something. An adjective typically modifies a noun or a pronoun. I returned to my desk with a cup full of caffeine, and before I could sit down, a disturbing thought came to me: I’m not angry: I’m afraid. The book before me on the desk wasn’t light reading. And I was at the beginning of the introduction. I found myself reading much faster than I’d planned on, as if something inside of me were pushing me forward, and I wondered toward what. Remembering the words microstructure and microscopic, I realized I wasn’t interested in structure; I wanted to study minute details. Slow down, I said to myself. The introduction was to Jung’s The Red Book, written by Sonu Shamdasani. As a reader of Jung for over twenty years, much of what I read was familiar to me. Yet, with each page that I read, I also realized that I’d seldom focused on any of this information about Jung’s work. I’d avoided doing so. This last thought was unwelcome, and I wanted to blame the strong coffee. But I knew this kind of detailed reading wouldn’t be easy. I was moving into my own reading future.
Frustration on Friday night became anticipation on Saturday morning. Anticipation of what, I wondered. Reading the letters of early psychoanalysts was helping me to focus on the uncanny in everyday life. I didn’t use that word often, although the reality behind it, the unusual, the mysterious, felt true in my own daily existence. Perhaps mindfulness helped to explain things. Whenever I focused on moment-to-moment activity in my mind, I often realized that things happened on their own, without the help of conscious thought. In other words, when I paid attention to things it became clear that I had little control over what happened next. These sentences seemed to move me far away from the psychoanalytic correspondence I’d read before seven this morning. I had to be somewhere at nine, so I had coffee prepared by six. As if by accident, last night I’d started to read Bloomsbury/Freud: The Letters of James and Alix Strachey 1924–1925, and I read more letters from 1924 this morning. Once I’d finished the coffee and was preparing breakfast, I wondered why this hardcover had remained untouched on the shelf for four years (I’d written the date on which I’d bought it on the flyleaf). It was as if unconsciously I’d been avoiding the psychoanalytic world of the 1920s. Another book came to mind, which included James Strachey’s paper “The Nature of the Therapeutic Action of Psychoanalysis.” I’d also been avoiding that book and Strachey’s paper, which had come to mind in recent days. I had a good memory of reading it one Friday night years ago, but whenever the memory came to me it was replaced by a thought or an image. This morning I also reread parts of the introduction to Bloomsbury/Freud. The lives of James and Alix Strachey became more real to me, as did the lives of other psychoanalysts such as D.W. Winnicott, Franz Alexander, and Otto Fenichel. I had one of Winnicott’s books, and at most I’d read two or three pages of it. Saturday morning wouldn’t last forever, there were tasks to be done, and after this thought I realized that perhaps I was anticipating what another day on earth would be like. Each day was as important and as mysterious as the one before.
I’ve bought lots of books lately. This hasn’t happened to me in a while, which is a telling way of describing the experience. Buying a book is an experience for me, which seems to tell me that unconsciously I’m thinking about my future, since each book I read often influences what happens in my life. Books are like dreams in that way. Whenever I spend time with dream images, unusual things happen in my daily life. It’s such a subjective experience that it’s hard to describe. Two days ago I bought my last book, and when I walked with it toward the cash register I felt as if I were taking a risk. It’s been a while since I’ve felt that way with a book. This same hardcover had caught my attention for the first time the previous week at University Bookstore, when this latest book-buying binge of mine had probably started. Now, at The Elliott Bay Book Company, I knew I wanted to spend time with these pages, with this author, from whom I suspected I would learn painful lessons. Fortunately, those weren’t the words that came to mind. So I walked home with In the Mind Fields: Exploring the New Science of Neuropsychoanalysis. Casey Schwartz has worked as a science writer, which reminded me that I’d trained to be a journalist in undergraduate school, and her passion for this subject reminded me of my own passions. She’d thought she’d wanted to become a psychologist, and this reminded me that I’d trained to be a psychotherapist and then dedicated myself to writing. She was much younger than me, I didn’t want to know by how much, and the sadness I felt about missed opportunities was real. It is real. I seem to be thinking about continuity in one’s life, the importance of allowing one’s passions to shape one’s future. I’ve enjoyed reading In the Mind Fields, and I sense that this book and I will become even closer over time.