Mystical Therapists, Wild Thoughts, and Getting Married: Mr Eigen meets Mr Bion.
What happens when two world famous and "mystical" psychoanalysts meet each other in a hotel room? Silence? Clever sounding showing off? Quite the opposite! These analysts are all about real human contact.
Michael Eigen is a fascinating psychotherapist and writer. He writes from a place deep in himself, as if he's in a trance. He thinks of psychotherapy as requiring "faith", even likening it to a type of prayer. Given that many analysts are atheists, this is more ununusual than it sounds! He has written many books and even spoken about why he went into analysis
"My younger brother was killed by a truck when was almost 11 and I was 21. My mother never really fully recovered and to say I felt guilty doesn't even come close. I suspect I became an analyst partly to bring my brother back to life. This is one reason why I have been attracted to the impossible and worked so long with patients who had been given up on by others - the psychotic..., the unwanted, undeveloped, malignant, recalcitrant or otherwise maimed self...and the dead" (Eigen 1988, p. 81)
In her book on "Wounded Healers" Sharon Farber quotes from his work to show how Mr Eigen has transformed his own chronic feelings of aloness and woundedness into a deeper connection with the tapestry of life.
"Nowadays more and more people come in and actually say they don't feel alive...I remember certain people I've met in my life, like Winnicott, Allen Ginsberg or the rebbe Menachem Schneerson. When I was with them it felt ok to be the sort of person I am. With them it was sort of ok to be off the map, beyond the map; it was ok for there to be in life such a person as a I was. In that passage, then, I was trying to encode, for whomever it might reach, something like a message in a bottle. Floating on the sea, it might reach some people, who would hear the message that it was ok for them to be the sort of alone person that they are. And by some miracle, by making room for such a message, some of these people, through the course of years have tapestried out. They've found themselves situated in a larger tapestry that makes room for the sort of beings they were and are, whereas earlier there didn't seem to be any space for them.
(Eigen 1997, pp 99-101)
After years of reciting permutations of my traumatic upbringing, i began to lose interest in how hurt I was. The wound that never heals meets the fire that never goes out in never-ending ways. I became less interested in my past than in getting on with my life...As time went on, I got more interested in what went on in therapy for its own sake, as a process of soul making. Therapy is not only a soul search light. Interactions between patient and therapist actually create being and new nuances of being.
(Eigen 1998, p. 84).
Mr Eigen is now 83 and not really travelling. But he's still as a sharp as a pin, and reflecting on his fascinating life. I was very interested to hear about his experience of therapy with Wilfred Bion (a pioneering British analyst who had also been a tank commander during WW2.) Wilfred Bion was famous for saying that therapists should be able to enter a state of reverie, so that they can pick up the communications of their patients. He also argued that the therapist shouldn't really concern themselves with the previous session; rather they should clear their minds so that the patient can start afresh each time, and so new thoughts can enter. Famously he said that the therapist should be "without memory or desire." The idea is that the therapist shouldn't force the patient down a path about what they think is going on; rather they should create a space that allows the patient to free to generate their own ideas.
Nevertheless, in practice, Wilfred Bion operated rather differently. His actual clinical practice allowed him to express what Michael Eigen calls "Crazy wisdom", or "Wild thoughts" Such mystical thoughts seemed to bubble out of nowhere, but had a deep insight, getting to the very heart of the patients troubles. Bion, over just a couple of remarkable sessions, told Eigen to give up analysis and get married! He also shared his view that analysis was similiar to the study of the Kabbalah (A Jewish mystical text). This is rather different to what one might expect from a man who wrote about the importance of proceeding without memory or desire. But Bion also argued that an analyst should work from their own being in a fashion that was unique to them. Bion expressed "wild thoughts", and, in fact, Eigen did go onto get married and many years letter write and lecture on the Kabbalah.
Here is a wonderful clip where Eigen reminsces about his meeting with Bion.