Reading As Emotional Practice Before Writing

The moment I’m seated at my desk, I glance at the time on my laptop. I know it won’t take me long to forget when I started. Time and silence become one in my mind. I imagine and remember what I experienced during the opening thirty or sixty seconds of yesterday’s session on my psychoanalyst’s couch: deafening silence. Outer silence became inner noise, and I felt an overwhelming need to end it. Two softcovers await me alongside my laptop. Both of them seemed to insist on remaining in my hands a few minutes ago when I browsed through books on my shelves. I decide to read some paragraphs of each and write down anything that comes to mind before starting to type on my laptop.

Twenty or thirty minutes later I’m disorientated. What comes to mind are two minutes and twenty-five seconds of a video of professional basketball star Stephen Curry practicing his 3-point shot, which I watched last night. I watched it several times. Each time I noticed things that I hadn’t been aware of the previous time, for instance that he missed two shots in a row and then another couple of times he missed once and then made the next shot. Details became increasingly important as I spent more time with those two hundred forty-five seconds of basketball video. Reading is my practice before I start writing (I also read in between writing sentences). The team had just finished its practice the day before a game, and the video was of Curry shooting 3s from various places on the court. My mind has experienced its own kind of practice as I’ve been reading and rereading paragraphs by two contemporary psychoanalysts, Michael Eigen and Thomas Ogden. I wonder what kind of reading experience might be equivalent to Curry practicing his 3-point shot. Before glancing at Eigen’s The Psychoanalytic Mystic and Ogden’s This Art of Psychoanalysis: Dreaming Undreamt Dreams and Interrupted Cries, I remind myself that both reading and writing are emotional experiences. I picture the two of them seated across from each other. It’s unclear where this conversation happens. Eigen is in his eighties. How old is Ogden? A minute later I discover online that he’s seventy-one.

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I have yet to start writing. Maybe I need some more reading practice first. Too much noise fills my head. Somehow, at the start of yesterday’s psychoanalytic session, I was able to tolerate outer silence that seemed to intensify inner noise. I remember the conversation between the two psychoanalysts that I have yet to imagine. Perhaps I’ve had enough emotional preparation and I can start writing at any moment. Then something unexpected happens. I come across a newspaper interview with Ogden online and learn that he not only writes on psychoanalysis. He also writes fiction.  The first thought that comes to me after I finish reading the interview is: I must buy his novels now! I take a couple of deep breaths. The moment to start typing seems to have arrived. I’m ready for more intense inner experiences, thanks to my emotional reading and remembering.

 

 

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Inner and Outer Reality

Uncertainty might be minutes or hours away. I’ll know when I walk through the door in my mind. I thought it would be easier to arrive home in my imagination. I’m in no hurry this afternoon, or that’s what I keep repeating to myself. It’s three o’clock. It’s 3:15. At 3:30 I wonder how much longer I’m willing to wait. I’m seated at my desk, checking my email. I walk to the kitchen. It’s too soon to prepare my afternoon cup of coffee. Too soon? It’s 3:40 pm. I would prepare it if I were certain that I’ll be writing on paper or on my laptop in fifteen minutes. A walk to the park three blocks away is another possibility. In an instant I realize that it doesn’t matter what I do outside of my mind. The moment has arrived, whether or not I’m willing to admit it, to be in my mind. I return to my desk, and as soon as I’m seated I’m also, in my imagination, a few miles away on my psychoanalyst’s couch.

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The clock on the windowsill reads 10:02 am. I walked up four flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator. The images that come to mind as I reread the two previous sentences, of the clock on the windowsill beyond the couch in my psychoanalyst’s office, and of me walking up four flights of stairs, could be part of reality, except for the fact that my analyst’s office is on the second floor, not on the fourth. What I imagine next seems more plausible in a dream than in reality: I get up off the couch, walk to the window, and glance at the Olympic Mountains in the distance while my psychoanalyst, seated behind the couch, remains silent. The remaining forty-six or forty-seven minutes feel like an eternity. Years of psychotherapy as a client, and my experiences while training to be a psychotherapist, have taught me that fifty minutes can pass as if they were a handful of seconds. I wish I could stay on this couch, and my analyst remain in her chair, forever. All of these words are in my head. The word uncertainty returns. What am I afraid of? I glance at my laptop screen: 4:05 pm. I imagine preparing coffee as I continue writing about what could happen in my mind while I lie on the couch and wonder what might happen a second or minute from now. As I stand up and walk away from the desk and head toward the kitchen, I hear myself say: imagining coffee won’t put caffeine in my system.

Writing Home

(This is not intended to be fiction, to the degree that I’m capable of it)

I’m lying on my psychoanalyst’s couch in my mind. I feel safe in this room. The view of the Olympic Mountains from the couch reminds me of the home where I grew up, in this same city, where my parents no longer live, where the future has begun a new past, without me. My own secrets have been revealed to me on this couch, the real one, in reality, which sounds as mysterious as this experience in my mind, which has yet to end. In any given session, I start speaking, then interrupt myself when my own spontaneity makes me anxious, and on good days, when I allow images and words in my mind to be creative with me, my spontaneous speaking returns, and sometimes along with it, discoveries happen.

I’m in the fourth floor office in a way that would be impossible during an actual session. In reality, I’m seated at the round table at home where I do most of my writing (occasionally I leave home with a notepad and walk until images and ideas tell me to stop and write them down), in the room where I read, drink coffee, and take books from the shelves and either hold them or read sentences, paragraphs, or pages when my own sentences refuse to appear on the page. Yet I feel as if I were on the couch.

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The opening sentence of the previous paragraph – I’m in this office in a way that would be impossible in reality – confuses me. I picture myself sitting up on the couch, getting to my feet, and walking out the door, not in anger or frustration, but in fear. I’m afraid of discovering things about myself. Imagining the view of the Olympic Mountains from the dining room of the house where I grew up eating meals and where now another family enjoys meals feels calming from the couch where I find myself in my imagination. I feel free, on the couch in my mind, to experience confusion and then understanding, as if anxiety and calmness were in dialogue with each other inside of me.

I have written these paragraphs with my real voice, or perhaps my fictitious voice has discovered new ways to convince me that reality has always been my writing home.

In Red

I thought that writing in my journal would relax me. Then I wrote the first sentence: I slept in the garage and parked the car in my bedroom. The words were on paper when I stood up and moved away from the desk, as if the paper could hurt me. My reaction surprised me almost as much as the sentence. I sat back down. I chose another pen, this one blue. The black ones would remain untouched for a while. Two sentences wrote themselves, and the first one seemed to anticipate the second one: I covered my chest with my hands. I left her office to use the restroom moments after I realized that I might speak about my fear that this therapy was a waste of time. Another sentence appeared and disappeared before I could write it down.

Seconds or minutes later I wrote that stuttering would make it impossible to say: I will write this sentence. I felt that I wrote the words too fast. I was afraid of making a mistake. I thought I made a grammatical error.

I closed my journal. This craziness had to end. I needed it to stop. It was hard to write when I wasn’t in control of what I was doing. But I hadn’t finished. I chose a red colored pen to remind myself that I was in control. The images of me sleeping in the garage and of the car in the bedroom returned. They no longer felt threatening. Maybe they could help me relax. Therapy also helped me to experience my emotions without becoming overwhelmed. Writing in my journal seemed to be a way of bringing everything together in my mind. In red.

Meditative Explorations

The psychoanalyst and I were in the same room together. We were a few feet from each other. How about in our minds? To write such speculative sentences, I imagined myself in two mental positions simultaneously: lying on the couch and standing, seated, or moving about the room, observing what happened moment to moment both inside each of the two participants and between them emotionally. I was invisible, or so I thought. It was hard to imagine myself standing still, even when I couldn’t be seen, which probably helped me become a particular kind of observer. I’d never been both speaker and observer before. And me and myself weren’t alone in the room. This was his office. The psychoanalyst was seated behind the couch. The couch was for both analyst and analysand (or patient). They were trying to reach, or so I imagined, particular states of mind. Maybe writing about what felt like potential meditative moments was disorientating me, which was not an uncommon experience for the me lying on the couch.

Perhaps all three of us were invisible to our own inner selves to some extent. The third participant, the observing me, must have been present for a reason. I, the hidden observer, wondered whether it was a hidden reason. Nothing remains hidden for long, I wrote on a notepad and with a pen that suddenly appeared in my hands. The three of us were together in this space for fifty minutes. I had conflicting feelings about the reality that they couldn’t see me. Maybe they sensed my presence. The sudden silence between them made me anxious. Then, from the couch, I heard sentences that seemed to originate from somewhere else. At first I couldn’t understand his words (and in an imaginative way they were also my own), as if he spoke in a foreign language I knew nothing about. Seated behind him, the analyst moved in his chair.

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I’d thought I could see inside their minds. Perhaps I could if I knew what I was looking for, if I had more experience with meditative states of mind. The words from the couch became clearer to me. “Last night I dreamed I was exploring inside your mind. Obstacles appeared everywhere, and I realized that these obstacles were words, images, thoughts, and feelings. The word fear said something to me before the dream ended.” Then silence filled the room. Spoken words were replaced by inner words, inside both of them. Many of the unspoken words and sentences inside both minds seemed disconnected from each other. Yet, as I continued observing, connections appeared, which didn’t yet seem to be thoughts. Perhaps they were pre-thoughts. It was as if each of the two visible participants was speaking inside of himself spontaneously. Fear also seemed present. I wondered whether the fear was connected to the reality that they shared this physical and psychic space, in which case the fear would have belonged to both of them. I realized that I was waiting for either one of them to speak. Both of them were speaking inside of me. These were unexpected moments. Then the thought came to me: all three of us were in meditative states of mind.

Alive Enough

I hadn’t read in a coffee shop in years. On good days when I read at home, pen in hand, the page before me and the immediate experience of my mind became the world itself. I didn’t expect to have a mystical experience while drinking drip coffee. The two words, mystical and experience, appeared together more than once on the page I was reading. The following sentence seemed to write itself in my journal, which was open before me on the round table: I needed to become one with something. It had been a difficult day so far. This last sentence seemed to suggest that I didn’t want to be the subject of my own experiences. An unwelcome sentence insisted that I record it on paper before drinking more of my drip coffee: I don’t feel alive enough. To do what, I wondered. To be myself was the answer.

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Several hours had passed since the event that I was attempting to forget. Nothing had happened. Maybe that was the event. We were in the same room together, for moments that I feared would never end. Why was she waiting to see a psychotherapist? I didn’t sit down. I would be gone in a minute, walking up the flight of stairs to my psychoanalyst’s office. These would be our moments together. How many years had passed since the last time we’d spoken? She had witnessed me trying to be myself, if such a thing were possible in a psychotherapist’s office. I reminded myself that I was in a coffee shop. I didn’t seem interested in forgetting. Why wouldn’t I want to remember our years of working together? We did make eye contact. We said hello. There wasn’t time for more. The book was in my hands. There was too much noise around me. I realized why I hadn’t read in a coffee shop in years. I was returning to the present. I drank more of my drip coffee. That morning, before I left the waiting area and walked up a flight of stairs to the second floor, I told her, in a low voice as if we were in a library or a church, that I would always be thankful for the time I spent in her office. It might have been one of the first places where I really felt alive. We hugged before each of us left the waiting area in silence.

In Her Own Time

Too much was happening in the opening minutes. This sentence sounded as if I were describing a basketball game, and images appeared of Michael Jordan making shot after shot in a game from the late 1990s, which I’d watched fragments of the night before on YouTube. Love, hate, trust, suspicion, they were all here, in or between her words. This wasn’t the first time while listening to Jane that I’d imagined basketball players running up and down the court. An unwelcome thought came to me: she could probably play such a high-tempo game much better than I could. I was much older than her, and although I was in good shape, I doubted I had her stamina. Jane was in a difficult situation. Dreadful risk came to mind. There could be painful consequences. Or she could do nothing. In external reality, I reminded myself. There was much inner action in the form of constant conflict.

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The dilemma she faced involved both her future and the future of our work together. She spoke about transitions and the nature of change, and I thought: she’s being too abstract. I listened, both to her and to the movement of my own conflicts. I didn’t want her to move away. I hoped she would follow her own desire. Jane seemed to be searching for the language of her future. She wanted to become a psychotherapist, like me, but not like me. She wasn’t interested in psychoanalysis. She said it had no future. A few minutes later, I heard her utter the words love and hate. The context in which she said these words disappeared from my mind for a long moment. Then I remembered that she’d been talking about her parents. I sensed that she was anxious about what I might be thinking. Did she want me to speak? Another unwelcome thought came to me: I preferred a slow future. Jane might be interested to know what kinds of thoughts appeared in my mind. This was her treatment. Perhaps my thoughts could affect the movements of the hour. She could move as slow or as fast as she wanted. I was here to listen and to speak when it felt right to do so. Trust was an essential part of the psychotherapeutic process. Seated in my chair behind the couch, I needed to trust my intuition. Faith and trust were part of this process. Didn’t Jane need to do the same on the couch? This work was full of risks, for both of us. I imagined that images and words came to her during sessions that could impact her life in many ways. Without warning, she became silent. I had no idea what was happening. Why couldn’t she be more like Michael Jordan on the basketball court and move without a pause? Something would happen. Transition and change happened in their own time. And this was her time.