Who's OnlineWe have 142 guests online
StatisticsMembers : 3117
Content : 790
Web Links : 166
Content View Hits : 1614816
|Reverie: Between Thought and Prayer|
|Congresses - 2004 Barcelona|
|Written by Marilyn Mathew|
“… We fashion clay into a pitcher, but its use comes from the void within.
The importance of containing boundaries is evident – the clay of the pitcher, the walls of the house, the frame of analysis. The void within is a potential space (Winnicott, 1971) for inspiration and thought. By opening the ‘doors and windows’ in the perimeters of our psychic boundaries, reverie allows the soul to travel between thought and prayer; beyond our known selves, to experience ‘what is not’.
Taken from the French verb ‘to dream’, we usually think of a ‘reverie’ as a day-dream. How do we find ourselves in a state of reverie? Perhaps I began by thinking about something or someone, staring out of a window.
I am ‘looking’ … but imperceptibly, vision shifts … until I am not ‘seeing’ at all. Minutes tick by; concentration fading like colours at dusk. Before long I am lost in a void of time and space; utterly elsewhere, utterly entranced.
Why, when I return from reverie, do I find so often I have been gazing out through a window? Is it possible that, coincidentally, a window has swung open in my mind allowing psyche access from one world to another?
I am going to reflect on four aspects of ‘reverie’: infant observation, maternal/analytic reverie, paternal/supervisory reverie and archetypal reverie to demonstrate the usefulness of the void within and the perceptive function of emptiness in the windows of our mind.
‘Maternal reverie’ describes the enigmatic way a mother holds her baby in mind, a concept Bion (Bion 1962) extended beyond the mother-child relationship in his concept of ‘container-contained’. Babies seek to replace the original containment and connection of womb and umbilical cord with their mother’s body, mind, and eye- to-eye contact. Visual connection anchors, focuses, penetrates and searches, transporting us both out into the sunlight of the material world and back into the shadow-world of insight and imagination.
Beatrice is two weeks old:
It can be daunting to be held in the unblinking gaze of a tiny baby. Beatrice spent most of this observation seeking direct eye contact with her mother, but Katie found it hard, breaking off almost as though coming up for air by glancing out of the window or introducing a toy between them.
Here is two-week-old Bobby. Grandma hands him back to his reluctant mother, Sally. He contracts his body as Sally tells him she can’t possibly feed him again, she’s so tired (Sally has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). She says how much better Daddy is at this:
Again and again as he grew up, the observer witnessed Bobby losing himself in the light through the window. It seemed to happen when his mother was unavailable – not necessarily physically, but mentally. Katie sometimes found the intensity of little Beatrice’s gaze hard to bear and both children, like many others observed, turned away at times towards the light of the window.
Observers have described moments of intimacy when a mother meets her child’s gaze as ‘magical’ or ‘spiritual’. But when the windows of their mother’s soul are closed to them, a child may look beyond the human realm. Esther Bick (Bick, 1968, p. 484) wrote about adhesive identification and second skin formation:
Perhaps moments of early failure that stretch de-integrative endurance (Fordham, 1979) produce more than a defensive manoeuvre. In leaping mentally beyond the experienced relationships of their known worlds, for example from eye contact with their mother to the light through a window, perhaps they are also creating and/or discovering psyche’s archetypal process and space for reverie.
When he was just over one year old, Sally was very unwell and Bobby was cared for by his father. In this observation Bobby had played angrily with a toy telephone and then flung earth around outside. Now it was bath time:
Bobby’s observer experienced him in this moment as “a little Buddha who had disappeared, entranced, within himself”.
Beatrice is nearly two and in previous weeks the observer had been preparing her for the ending of the observation:
Beatrice’s observer described that moment as “beautiful, peaceful, almost mystical … the most precious in the whole experience of observing”.
The moments when Bobby watched the water trickling through his fingers and Beatrice stared faraway out of the French window were numinous for both observers, but what was going on in the children? Both seemed lost in reverie. Both may have been contemplating loss (of mother or observer) but the air was spiritual. I wonder about the containing power of the observer’s reverie but I also wonder if these children have developed a capacity for reverie themselves. Have they found the exterior/interior gaze that opens windows in the meniscus of the self, breaking into the empty circle of Bion’s “O” (Bion, 1965), to access an anima mundi?
Prayer before Birth
Coming now to the process of maternal/analytic reverie in the consulting room, I am going to describe a fragment of my work with Jane.
We had become aware that, possibly at birth, Jane had protectively withdrawn an essential part of herself into a self-enclosing psychic “womb”. Her fourth pregnancy seemed to have activated the possibility of giving birth to this incubated part of herself, but she was she was terrified that this tiny baby self would meet the same disastrous lack of maternal empathy that it had done originally.
Six months previously I had heard a beautiful poem by Louis MacNeice called “Prayer Before Birth” for the first time. I had meant to search it out but it had fallen from my mind. Then one weekend, an urgent thought came from out of the blue and began to niggle ferociously. There was no peace until I ransacked my bookshelves, eventually finding the poem in a scruffy paperback. Marking the page with a train ticket, I took it into my consulting room, and left it on the bookcase behind my chair – where I forgot about it again.
A few days later, Jane began telling me about her childhood love of poetry, and the profound sadness that her mother found it meaningless. Jane had won countless medals in competitions, reciting hundreds of poems.
“Was there ever one poem that meant more than any other?” I asked.
“Yes”, she replied instantly, “there’s a wonderful poem by Louis MacNeice called ‘Prayer Before Birth’, I wish I could remember how it goes”.
I reached behind me, handing her the battered paperback. She opened it where it was marked. The third verse reads:
I am not yet born; provide me
This experience came from the other side of the rainbow, bringing immense meaning, transforming our analytic relationship.
We could call this unconscious communication “participation mystique”, projective identification (Klein, 1946), or synchronicity (Jung, CW 8). Perhaps it demonstrates the usefulness of the window in the mind that can unlock between self and other and make use of the void within, the “what is not”.
If “maternal reverie”(Bion, 1962) is kindled in the one-to-one relationship of analyst-analysand, perhaps the process of supervision triggers an extra layer of “paternal reverie”.
Peter was in touch with his worst nightmares. They were breaking through into his waking states and I was very concerned, very alert to his need for my whole attention. At this point I had arranged three months supervision with a male analyst and I decided to talk about my work with Peter. This decision, I think, played an essential part in what was to unfold.
Peter experienced himself as the man in his dreams who had been skinned alive in an acid bath and whose body was lying on my couch. The quality was hallucinogenic. In that moment there was no “as if” and I was faced with an untouchable man in unbearable agony.
As Peter’s experience of nigredo deepened into mortificatio, I felt as though a rip-tide was wrenching us apart. Peter then contracted ‘flu and for the first time was so ill that he could not attend his sessions for a whole week. He sank below the horizon and I felt he was – perhaps of necessity – somewhere I was denied access. I had no choice but to wait for his return.
When Peter did return, it was as if from the grave: pale and shaky, but out of the underworld, bringing a dream:
The next week, as planned, my supervision ended.
Who was my “husband” in the dream? Part of Peter? Undoubtedly. An aspect of myself? Possibly. Or perhaps an indication that Peter had benefited from my supervisor’s encircling “paternal reverie”?
So far I have described a process of reverie between inside and outside, you and me in maternal and paternal reverie. Sometimes, however, the windows of the self’s perimeter are blown in by the massive archetypal forces operating between I and Thou:
Linda had two numinous dreams:
A kind old couple have carefully swept up all the stray pink rose petals from their cottage garden, but Linda finds a single petal they have missed and becomes terribly upset. The old couple are concerned but don’t know how on earth to comfort her – it seems like the end of the world. Linda’s desperate sobs echo out across space until someone she’d never heard of called Sophia hears them. When Sophia arrives from the farthest edge of the universe she puts her arm around Linda’s shoulders. Linda finds herself becoming smaller and smaller, younger and younger, until she is a tiny baby rocked in the woman’s arms.
Linda’s kind internal parental couple could not manage her psychic pain. She had to send her silent screams out of the garden to the very edge of the psychic cosmos to summon Sophia, the archetypal figure of spiritual wisdom. (Jung, CW 11)
A dream like this illustrates the power of the Transcendent Function (Jung, CW 8) and describes the archetypal Self storming the horizons of our mind, challenging us to think about the notion of God.
As I was finishing writing this, Catherine, a talented musician, found herself at the end of her tether. We had worked hard on the terrified baby needs that had crippled her love life, bringing them gradually into our relationship, but there was still a long way to go.
Then, one weekend, the latest most hopeful relationship seemed to be heading for the rocks. Catherine didn’t believe in God but, almost experimentally, decided to pray. She sent her prayer for help out into the void, expecting nothing. Twenty seconds later, to her amazement, back came a response from out of the blue, (a “blue” which James Hillman (Hillman, 1981) reminds us “sponsors reverie” and “calls the mythic imagination to its farthest reaches”)
The answer to her prayer came from the other side of the rainbow, straight to the heart; beyond word or image: an immediate, complete and peaceful wholeness which has endured.
Reverie is the void within. The process of reverie dims daylight, and turns the soul’s mirror to glass. Moving between thought and prayer, reverie extends psyche’s vision beyond the doors and windows of our minds into the cathedrals of our souls.
“Thus we gain benefit from what is and usefulness from what is not”.