Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Die before you die

Spinoza wrote:
"A free man thinks of nothing less than of death; and his wisdom is a meditation not on death but on life". (Ethics, IV, proposition 67) Yet while I meditate on life, say holding a newborn baby or gazing at the full moon or into my lovers' eyes, I ache. My joy is cradled in a heart that is breaking, like laughter in bruised ribs, and it hurts to know that the seed of life is also the birth of death, and that I’ll eventually be separated from everything and everyone I love.

Most people try not to think about that or, when they are faced with death or loss in their lives, respond by defending against distress, investing energy into overcoming it as an obstacle to their well-being. The psychotherapeutic environment is useful in that regard. By providing the scaffolding necessary for restoration or renovation, it enables the self to buttress itself against situational distress, promoting healing enough to move on.

But the truth is: we all move on to dying eventually, and the root of distress is fundamentally existential, not psychological. It is because we are human beings, not because I am this or that person in this or that situation, that I suffer.

Psychotherapy does not deal with human suffering as an existential reality. Spirituality does, or tries to. (So does philosophy, though some would argue that conceptual thought is existentially challenged.) It is not that psychotherapy and spirituality (or philosophy) are incompatible, but they do have different goals and move in different directions. Psychotherapy moves in the direction of the historical self, the hero of my life story whose goal is self-preservation. Spirituality moves in the direction of what eludes the narrative but, paradoxically, survives the story: the unborn self or, perhaps, the self that is “reborn” and enjoys Spinoza's meditation sub specie aeternitatis.

Spiritual teachers will tell you that you cannot will this rebirth but, yet, you have to die, allowing the process of dying itself to transform you like saprotrophs transform decaying material into fertile soil. Conditions must be right, but otherwise, you just sit there…

Monday, September 20, 2010

Who am I
Drops from the tree
Like an apple
Or a tear from the eye
Round and clear
But still
Holding the querent
Until it bursts
The heart that wants to see
And cries out while dying
Fists clenched in a dumb roar
Against the sky
The echo of whose call
Across the canyon
Its empty husk
On the calloused ground
Beneath its feet