A chickpea in a pot leaps from the flame,
out from the boiling water,
Crying, "Why do you set fire to me?
You chose me, bought me, brought me home for this?"
The cook hits it with her spoon into the pot.
"No! Boil nicely, don't jump away from the one who makes the fire.
I don't boil you out of hatred.
Through boiling you may grow flavorful, nourishing,
and united with vital human spirit.
Sometimes, I feel like the chickpea and sometimes I feel like the cook. I remembered this poem while sitting with a client who had just discovered something precious about themselves. They were hesitant at first, unsure how to proceed with the startling news that life was suddenly good. I could feel the resistance to naming the shy joy for fear of having it be tarnished, destroyed, stolen. We know those stories, the familial envies that steal the gold from the child, the parental curses of either of too much love and protection against the cruel and scary world, or of not enough protection against the true perpetrators of atrocities. And we know that they came to this moment after months and months of suffering and tears, of sitting in the pot and trying to escape -until suddenly the full flavor of their life burst forth.
Those of us work in this field sit in the soup of pain and despair, in the mixture of the conscious and unconscious forces that impel, compel, distort and reveal the contours of a soul. Our work is to give name to what is what and whose work it is to carry the moral responsibility of becoming whole. We discern: This is yours, this is not yours. This is a choice, this is a compulsion to repeat the trauma. This is the voice of the negative father, or the generative mother. This is the working out of the orphan field.
We look for the underlying patterns that constrain belief and behavior, and as Shakespeare wrote in Midsummer’s Night Dream, we look to provide “a local habitation and a name” to the demons and angels that accompany us throughout our lives. As part of our work, we often use the spoon or we turn up the heat and sometimes we just sit in it.
This is not easy, but not necessarily because we are called to witness and hold tremendous suffering. The difficulty is that we have to know that we are in the soup as well. We cannot live with the illusion that we are immune or separate from the encounter – that we are somehow apart and observe or empathize while remaining unscathed. Our own stories, fallibilities, imperfections, sufferings, madnesses are part of the pot stirred up by the unseen cook. Many of us know the language of this: transference, countertransference, the intersubjective field, projective identification. These theoretical terms serve to contain our experience with another human being and serve as guides. Are we acting out their father/mother/brother/sister? Are we suddenly angry, overwhelmed, do we get too involved in getting them in or out of relationships? The self monitoring and questioning goes on.
And here is a little rub, because the forces we are engaged with are so powerful, that sometimes we get fooled. The water boils and we get cooked too! Thank goodness for our colleagues, mentors and supervisors who help us out, hold us as we hold our clients and patients. It is humbling and profound to recognize that we are all sometimes the chickpea and sometimes the cook and that there is a fire that transforms us.
Possession? Yes, Please!
In the world of analysts, depth psychologists, therapists and all who are interested in the workings of Psyche, the word possession is bandied about. It refers to the overcoming of the ego stance by the archetypal content, i.e., the complex. The definition of a complex is, ‘a quanta of energy organized around a particular theme’. It looks something like this: you’re at the office and the boss tells you to redo the last memo. Suddenly, the rage rises, the heat suffuses the body, the head starts fuming silently: I knew it! She never appreciates anything I do, it’s never good enough. I’m tired of always having to blah blah blah. The ego is gone, the complex (whether mother or father) has occluded the ego’s ability to perceive reality. You are back at the moment when either mom or dad or some other authority figure shamed you for not doing whatever it was perfectly. Any variation of that theme suffices to understand possession.
That is the one aspect of possession that gives therapists material to work with and explore. However, that is a one-sided approach to the reality of the Psyche, which contains all possibilities in each archetype. You can be possessed by the Wicked Witch of the West, or by Glinda the Good Witch!!! We tend not to pay too much attention to the positive and generative aspects of what is also a complex.
A month or so ago, I became a grandmother for the third time and had the occasion to be able to be home with the new parents their first couple of days at home. I understood deeply the need for the new parents to be cared for as much as the new baby needed care: food, comfort, ease. I was able to cook, hold, soothe, stay up the night with both baby and mother and found myself embedded in the old story. I was in the Mother, the generative life giving and life sustaining matrix of existence. That energy carried me for two days of doing what needed to be done: cooking, cleaning, laundry, store runs.
And then it was time for me to go home. I had been possessed by the Mother, flowing effortlessly into doing and being, carried on energy that was no longer mine at this time of my life. I hadn’t been without sleep for two days in decades! But in the middle of the night, sitting with the mother and the baby, I was not tired, irate or bothered. But it was time to go home.
Like the endings of fairy tales that break the spell of the story to allow us to re-enter the world, I had to do something to break the power of the Mother. Otherwise, I would continue to nurture and protect and care for anything that looked like it needed care. A leaf hanging on a tree, a squirrel looking for nuts, anything with big eyes could engage the mothering. So, on my way home, I stopped at the mall and bought myself a new iPhone. I had to interrupt the maternal possession with Logos, with the analytical, outer world of phones and lines and bills and decisions. While we cannot live completely in the archetypal world, we can take dips in the generative possessions and access the energy, power and wisdom available there.
Dr. Silvia Behrend is a Certified Pattern Analyst, educator and mentor