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.
Multiple images come to mind at once. The elderly woman in front of me in line at the coffee shop can’t be whom I think she is. She turns her head to one side, and the following words seem to take control of my body: It’s Helen! The years count themselves: our six and a half years of Jungian psychotherapy ended seventeen years ago this month, a few days before I moved from Seattle to Madrid. Seven years later I returned to her office twice, the first time to say hello, and the second time I’m unsure why since I was still living in Madrid and not consciously interested in more psychotherapy. These sentences feel as if they might become part of the beginning of a narrative.
The coffee shop where this imaginary encounter occurs is four blocks from where I’m seated, in my office at home. Helen is around the same age as my parents. I forget how I know that. She helped me to begin changing my life in my late twenties and early thirties. Around a year ago I discovered online that she has retired. It is hard for me to picture her outside of her office. To me she was her work. Why am I afraid to finish my own sentence? Her healing work. She helped me start the lifelong process of healing myself.
Things could have ended better between us. When I moved to Madrid with Javier at age 34, I had only recently started listening to my intuition. Dreams suggested that our work had continued for too long.
Present, past, and future feel as if they’re speaking to me at once in these images and memories. I don’t frequent coffee shops anymore. The one where I imagine encountering Helen has always felt welcoming to me. Maybe my imagination has become a more welcoming place for my own inner experiences. Helen also helped me to discover my own imagination. I had never recorded my dreams before. This sort of writing could only have happened in my dreams. Now I can write like this awake.
“Why am I here?” The seventy-one year-old psychoanalyst asks as he finds himself in an office he’s never set foot in before. “And where am I? My next patient arrives in eight minutes.” The suddenness of his appearance here might be responsible for his not realizing that no one else is in the room to hear him. Seconds later the Jungian psychoanalyst who listens to clients for hours a day in this space walks through the door. “You’re a year older than me,” the Jungian says as he walks toward his chair. “I feel as if I’m in a dream,” says the psychoanalyst who has published ten books on his work with patients on the couch. “I do too,” the seventy year-old Jungian responds as he sits down. The psychoanalyst who has his patients lie on the couch remains on his feet and appears uncertain what to do. The Jungian stands up. “Can you help me with something?” He walks a few feet to the bookcases that line one wall. “Why don’t we move the books around, put them on other shelves, find new homes for them?” The psychoanalyst glances around the room. Perhaps he hopes to see a couch where he can lie down and be able to think about the question that has been posed to him. He imagines the mind as a home full of rooms, many of which remain unknown to the owner. The owner needs to know his or her home better. I need to know my mind better. Seconds become minutes and soon the two psychotherapists are focused on finding books new homes on different shelves. The experience seems to cause the psychoanalyst to forget that he has no idea where he is. As if he were thinking this, he says to the Jungian: “I know where I am. I am in my own mind.”
I pictured myself alone in the room. Then my former Jungian psychotherapist appeared behind me. I imagined that she put her coffee cup down and walked a few feet to her desk to find a pad of graph paper, which I remembered her using one day over twenty years ago, when I spontaneously decided to spend one of our sessions of psychotherapy at the sandtray she had in an adjoining room. An image of my hands in the sand preceded the following thought: I can create magic here.
Many more sentences remain to be written. I imagine that my former therapist no longer has an office where she sees clients. In fact, I read online last year that she was retired, which remains hard for me to believe. Her work seemed to be her life.
The series of images at the sandtray weren’t finished with me. I started creating forms in the sand. I had yet to touch any of the miniature objects and figures on the shelves. A river came alive in my imagination. Then this image in my mind became reality in the sand. My hands wanted objects to hold.
No objects outside of my imagination were interested in me. I jumped into the river and touched the bottom, where I encountered a cross that seemed to be waiting for me. Together we returned to the surface. I felt like a spiritual fisherman, and I said this aloud to the woman whom I thought was standing behind me. “I’m here,” I imagined my former Jungian therapist responding, as I turned around and realized I was alone in the room.
It feels good to know that the final sentence has been written. Writing is my life.
For a moment I glimpsed truth inside. Then I turned the page. These 202 pages weren’t alone on my desk. Minutes ago another book from the bookshelves found its way into my hands and then here alongside my laptop, where it was waiting its turn. Both books were connected to events in the external world that I had just decided to attend. Tonight was a Friday. Both psychological talks would happen on Fridays next month. The second book was longer than the first (480 pages, excluding the Bibliography and the Index). Both Fridays were a few weeks away, psychological talks two weekends in a row. The speaker on the first Friday was a psychoanalyst who had recently published a novel about a seventy-something year-old’s experiences on the couch, while the second speaker was a Jungian psychotherapist who’d written a book on his experiences reading all eighteen volumes of Carl Jung’s Collected Works. As a therapist myself, accustomed to imagining the minds of others, I wondered why I decided to attend both lectures without involving thought in my decision. There was truth in the image of me seated across from the author of the 202-page book, as if we were in therapy together. Or perhaps no truth would come to me in the image. He was the psychoanalyst and novelist whom I would hear speak next month. The other book I’d taken from the shelves, nearly 500 pages of text, was Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy, which I imagined that the second speaker, the Jungian therapist, whose talk I would also attend next month, had read and found truth in it. I was recording all of this on paper before it could disappear. Truth wasn’t in an image or in a book. Truth was in me. It’s in me now, as I write this sentence. In the image, the author and I spoke, not as therapist and client, but as colleagues and as writers, about what mattered most to us. Truth will come to me, regardless of whether or not I turn pages or am ready for it. Then the moment will be over, and I’ll have to be ready for when another one appears.
The image of the black hardcover in my client’s hands is so real that I stop typing and glance around the room. He’s reading the book in the waiting room, and this sentence feels as real as the image. Our session starts in five minutes. He’s having an important reading experience. There’s such certainty in these words in my head. It’s a thick volume. The title comes to me. I haven’t read it. I haven’t read any of Carl Jung’s books. I get to my feet. What am I doing? It’s as if my body moves me toward the door, toward the waiting room, toward the unknown. I stop. Words don’t have to tell me that I’m not thinking. All of this exists only in my head. The silence in the room helps me realize that this is not the state of mind I need to be in when the client enters the room. Suddenly I can’t remember the name of the book I imagine the client reading in a chair on the other side of the door. I glance at my watch. Four minutes remain before I open the door. I’m having an important experience, full of uncertainty. Reading can be an intense experience. Three minutes remain. So can writing. I realize that I have a sentence to finish writing. It can wait. Whatever is happening inside of me can’t.
I wasn’t accustomed to hurrying to my chair when a client entered the room. As I watched him move from the door to the chair opposite mine, which was his chair from 5:30 to 6:20 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I thought: he’s running. As a former runner, I wanted to move as fast as possible when I saw someone else do so. Then the thought above seemed to complete itself: maybe both of us were running from something. This sentence reminded me that I felt as if I had too much to do today. I was a psychoanalytic psychotherapist. I was training to become a psychoanalyst. Another client would sit across from me before the end of my workday. And then I hoped to read and write, perhaps for an hour, maybe more, maybe less, before heading home. Listening to my own words, I seemed anxious about another person facing me. I needed to be alone. I was tired. I was excited about all of the ideas in my head that I imagined writing on paper. My narrator was a psychoanalyst. He was writing a paper on knowledge and the state of mind of not knowing, which would be published in a psychoanalytic journal. Perhaps my client was in a hurry to recount a dream. A sentence came to me that I imagined writing in a journal that appeared in my hands: All of this is a dream. For me, being with a client involved a sort of dreaming while awake. I never knew what would happen next. Neither of us in the room did. Or so I dreamed.