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Shameless self publicising

I’m sure there’s a neater way of doing this-but I don’t know of any other way to reach those of you who so kindly follow my “Epiphanies@ blog. Thank you very much. And, as they say, if you liked “Epiphanies” you might also enjoy my other blog Wilderness Notes  on  https://wildernessnotes.wordpress.com

End of self publicising!!

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Borderline States, Psychosis, Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, Ways of Being

Smoke filled rooms

IMG_0252I was privileged enough to be able to see the recent production of The Crucible at the Old Vic. The cast received a standing ovation. Many of us were in tears. John Proctor’s final “This is my name” speech was heartrending. The play, for the few who don’t know it, is set in Salem,Massachusetts in the 1600’s. in a small Puritan community .It centres around charges of Witchcraft made by a group of young servant girls. These charges become a full-scale witch hunt with many local people being found guilty of witchcraft for which the penalty was hanging. Arthur Miller, the playwright, wrote in the 1950’s to comment on the McCarthy witch hunts in America. The play is about power, impotence, fear, suspicion, envy and a host of other elements.

The central character is John Proctor, a married man who has had sex with his servant, Abigail Williams. As a consequence of this his wife, Elizabeth sacks her. Abigail wants revenge on the Proctor’s and uses charges of witchcraft to destroy John and Elizabeth-along with many other people in the community. What begins as a “small” act of spite takes on a momentum of its own which drags the servant girls along behind it. The consequences are awful.

The play is both personal and political; inner and outer. As  Jean-Marie Bonnet comments in her paper,  Society vs.The individual in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible  “We then may wonder whether the play is about an individual’s discovery of his true self or about a whole community getting out of hand.” It seems to me that this distinction is unhelpful. Freud mooted the idea that the individual psyche is made up of three parts-  the Id, the Ego and the Super Ego. The Id he saw as the utterly amoral infant part. “I want. Now.”  The Super Ego as the Judge.  “Guilty as charged. On all counts.” The Ego as the Adult, trying to keep the peace between the warring factions of Id and Super Ego. On this model we could see the psyche as a community, each part with its own agenda. (The same drives are also at work in any group. Be it family, organisation or nation.) “The Crucible ” takes these drives and explores what happens when there is an in balance.

The Old Vic’s production was set in a smoke-filled room. Nothing was entirely clear. (It was also performed in the round, thus making the audience part of the play and so reminding us that the play’s themes involve Us-not just Them.)

John Proctor knows he has done wrong. That his liaison with Abigail was wrong-on many levels. Forgiveness seems hard to find. ).He feels constantly judged and condemned by his wife. He feels unable to go to church for fear of what would be said to him. He feels accused by Abigail for not intervening when she is sacked. (All of which epitomise the Freudian Super Ego.  “The guilty man is found ‘Guilty as charged.’ “

The smoke seemed to epitomise the blurred nature of everything. John’s wife confesses that she, too, had a part to play in his infidelity. Abigail’s motives are thoroughly confused-power and revenge both contribute. The Rev.Hale, their pastor, is a weak man who despises his congregation.  Many of the rest of the community use the charge of witchcraft to settle old scores-but do so clandestinely. (They also operate out of smoke-filled rooms-albeit internal ones.) The witch finders who are drafted in become the community’s super-ego. Condemning others with terrifying efficiency whilst being blind to their own terror of their shadow side .(One wonders what it is that ISIS are so terrified by that they act out so ruthlessly?)

John Proctor stands as Salem’s Everyman. He lives within a number of communities .He has his internal community of Id ,Ego and Super Ego. He lives within a marriage that is governed by the same drives-albeit in different combinations. These relationships are bound within a small community governed by their internal energies. And so on. What is clear is how destructive these drives become when not checked. Id and Super Ego are not good rulers. Both are utterly amoral, interested only in their personal survival.

The death of John Proctor is the death of all Salem. It stands for all that happens when we can no longer bear ourselves. For when we forget that our greatest vulnerability is also our greatest strength. Our humanity.

 

 

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Aylesbury, Borderline States, Counselling, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, Spirituality, The Inner World, Ways of Being

Who lives here 4- The future

If the last blog was the most difficult on e to write, this one feels much easier .It is the future. Which is unknown and unknowable. I can hope for a certain kind of future. I can save money. plan for old age. My children’s university fees. I can think about what I might cook for dinner tonight. But none of these is certain. My children might not go to university. We might go out to dinner. The banks could fail and my money disappear. My future is beyond my control. Aylesbury, or any other town, is not the same place as it was 50 years ago. Which does raise the obvious question about what defines Identity? Aylesbury hasn’t moved from being in Bucks. But all that is needed is for a bureaucracy to decide that it makes sense  for belong to another county for convenience and I am no longer in my home county. (The house where I spent my teenage years is about a mile from the border of Middlesex-on the Bucks side. I looked for an address in this area in a Bucks A to Z and could not find the street. I eventually found it in a Middlesex A to Z. I was furious! How dare “they” change my history. I grew up in Bucks, not Middlesex. Someone had re-written my past. Without my permission. )

This rewriting of history comes up time and again in therapy. A patient remembers a childhood incident in a certain way. Their parents have a completely different version of the same event. Whose version is “true”? A patient recalls one version of their mother. On closer inspection this is an internal mother who is not the same as the flesh and blood mother. (The internal mother is far more powerful than the flesh and blood one.) The work in therapy has been to understand how the historical events shape the present. Which in turn shapes the future. My patient who felt abandoned at an early age has gone on to make relationships with men who in their turn abandon her. Her future will, hopefully, be different as a consequence of coming into therapy.

What have these  musings to do with a picture of Aylesbury’s new theatre? The theatre is the place of magic. Make believe. Fantasy. Dreams. Anything becomes possible here. I can relive my teenage years with a tribute band. I can be moved by a play about Argentina. I can hear a piece by Beethoven and go where his music takes me. All without leaving Aylesbury! Prospero, in The Tempest, comments that “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” My future is such stuff as dreams are made on. As is my past and my present.

I began this series of blogs by asking “Who  lives here?” I could have asked “Whose town is it anyway?” One answer is that it is the Past’s; the Present’s and the Future’s. Every time i leave my house I encounter each of these elements. My patients do the same. Each meeting they bring their past, present and future selves- sometimes consciously, often unconsciously. As Aylesbury belongs to all its elements, so do our inner towns. All of which are “such stuff as dreams are made on.”

The link is to one version of Prospero’s speech. Enjoy-as they say.

http://youtu.be/ot3LYupdTOQaylesbury_theatre_jpeg

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Aylesbury, Counselling, Madness, Mindfullness, Reflective Practice, Spirituality, The Inner World

Who lives here 3 : The present

In some ways this is the most difficult piece of this series. The past and future seem to be easy to write about. Somehow writing about Now feels hard. If I write about Now other people can recognise it. My friends know the current me. They were at the party I might describe. Or were in the car with me yesterday. They were probably not around 40 years ago. And may not be around in the future. So writing about the present feels more risky. The image I’ve chosen proclaims that Aylesbury is linked with a town in France, Bourg-en-Bresse, situated near Lyon. We  are also twinned with towns in Poland, Germany and Turkey. I wonder what benefits any of us receive from this arrangement? But the point for me is that Aylesbury is connected to foreign parts. No matter how tenuously, we have these links.Although one doesn’t have to look far to encounter the “foreign”. As with most English towns there are any number of languages spoken other than English. And each language has its own links to somewhere other than Aylesbury. Two streets away I can find shops catering for the Polish community. Two more streets and the staff are Indian, talking to each other in Urdu or Hindi and to their customers in English. All this in the Here and Now. I am surrounded by the Other.

The same holds true in the inner world. there, too, I am surrounded by the Other. By parts of myself that speak a different language to the rest of me.If I’m driving and somebody cuts me up, a “foreign” part of me emerges. If someone takes to long in a supermarket queue, a “foreign” part of me emerges.My dreams reveal “foreign” aspects of myself. Except,of course, they are not foreign. They are an integral part of the community that is Terry Burridge. As is the me who is a teacher. The me who is a counsellor. The me who is a husband. These all make up the present Terry Burridge.

Many years ago I did my best to be a devout Evangelical Christian. (I was good at it! I needed to be. I had no other identity.) One of the unhelpful aspects of this way of thinking was that it saw one’s  “foreign” parts as sinful. Aspects that should be fought against and over which one should exercise constant vigilance. What did not happen was much attempt to get to know these “foreigners”. To learn their language and understand their view of things. (This ,of course,takes into the world of -ism’s. Racism.Sexism. And the like. We fear what we do not understand. And from fear can come a wish to destroy what we do not comprehend.) I remember several conversations with staff at Broadmoor. I wondered how they felt about working with patients who had committed some unspeakable acts  .The reply was always along the lines of “We’re not here to judge them. We’re here to help them.” They did just that. And the patents eventually had a chance at a new life. They were fully ware of their foreign parts. But had learned to make peace with them.

To return to the title of this blog. “Who lives here? The present.” It’s been hard work writing this piece. Which might be why it’s taken me longer than usual to post it. I normally write on a Sunday evening.It might also be that so much of my clinical work is about the past in the present. The future in the present .And, even, the present in the present. Sometimes.

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Aylesbury, Counselling, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, The Inner World, Ways of Being

Who lives here 2 : The past

This is a building in town that is being refurbished. It used to house an electrical goods store- T.V.s, mainly. In that incarnation it was thoroughly 2014. Big windows, displaying 90″ plasma TV’s that probably ran half a dozen household appliances whilst simultaneously recording 15 separate channels. The earlier store looks a more modest place, dating back to the 1960’s. when life was simpler or so we tell ourselves. Wikipedia observes that the 1960’s were hallowed by some  as a time of revolution in “social norms, cooking, music, drugs, dress, sexuality, formality and schooling” . For others the 60’s were a decade of  ” irresponsible excess, flamboyance, and the decay of social order.” One man’s golden age was another’s nightmare. I grew up in the 60’s and thoroughly enjoyed the sense of freedom and optimism. They shaped the way I think and work today. I tend to think that the 1960’s were only last year. Or perhaps four years ago. Certainly not 50 years ago. My inner world is not an accurate historian!

As a therapist I constantly see what Michael Jacobs has called the presenting past. A patient comes to see me and tells me how happy their childhood was. Yes, some difficult times but mostly a time of fun and pleasure with loving parents. I listen and ask a couple of questions, often about their marriage or their work. Suddenly tears form and painful memories surface. Childhood becomes a more complex story. Less idyllic. More shades and shadows. The past gets revisited and retold. Like the change of use for 1 Temple Street .The current facade hid a humbler version of itself. The large TV’s bespeak a different age. Different lifestyles. Not necessarily better or happier. But one reflecting current mores. No doubt the earlier shop was also built on a past version of the town which we no longer see. Except that in Aylesbury, one does see the past preserved. There remains a small part with houses dating back to 1600’s with all their quirky construction built for a different age.

 

This is what one sees in clinical work. A past is uncovered that served the needs of a different psychical time. The structures that a 10-year-old child puts in place are different to those of her adult self. Yet they still shape the present as seen in career choices. Or relationships. Or child rearing. The many facets that make up a life. The woman who is a “ball breaker”. The man who always wants to please people and covets approval. The company man who must have a Rolex to prove to himself how successful he has been. The individual who is terrified of doing something that they choose, not that has been chosen by someone else. These ways of Being all have their roots in early relationships .A mother who was seen as weak leads a  daughter to identify with a tough father. “Women are wimps. Men have all the fun.” This gets played out in terms of being known as the proverbial “ball breaker” or super bitch. It defends against vulnerability. Pleasing people is admirable but as a permanent way of life, it becomes exhausting. It also serves to deflect any possible “rebellion” or “naughtiness”. these behaviours running the risk of parental disapproval and censure. Which is unthinkable. Literally. A facade is built that covers up earlier structures. But under pressure these early structures break through the current frontage in the form of cracks, instabilities, gaps etc. The work of therapy is to look at these “breakdowns” and see why the current facade is showing signs of wear and tear. And how we understand the original structure. Why is there a door here? What can we see from that window? Where might those steps take us? Then we can see how the earlier structure fits with the current one. And make some decisions about what to keep hidden and what to reveal. It’s a slow but fascinating process. Therapy as archaeology. photo

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