February 22, 2012

Academic spaces, defences, relationships

This week, as I was reading Lionel Corbett's The Religious Function of the Psyche, I found myself thinking about how I still feel driven to respond “academically” to these readings; that even though I "know" that the response of each of my human dimensions is valid—that, indeed, psyche can and will respond using a host of channels including the mind, the body, the heart, the vital energy, the spirit—somehow, subconsciously, I have still been ranking the academic response above other responses. Of course, there are times when an academic question is present foremost and most insistently before me. But when, as in this week’s reading, what snags my attention is the personal, I find myself hesitating to pick up that thread. I suppose the risk feels too great to the self: it would need to reveal too much of itself in a setting that, according to conventional accounts, is mostly not conducive to confessions or a subjective mediation. Can a pedagogical space hold—provide a container for—the self as it is being transformed, and its narratives of transformation? If so, are there limits to be observed, and how are those limits determined—who determines them?

And then: how much of my questioning points to—uncovers—a “defence” as defined by Heinz Kohut: the nub where my personal self is feeling endangered?  

My attention repeatedly got drawn to Corbett’s contention that intense affect always has a transpersonal origin, and that the intersubjective psychic field created between the two (or more) persons relating is both personal and transpersonal. I started thinking about my previous intimate relationships and the difficulties I faced during them: although viewing these relationships as a point of growth, to the extent that I cannot imagine who I would be today had I not gone through these encounters and experiences, I have also, somewhere, held myself responsible for getting into these relationships and staying in them, and for the choices I made during them. There is a sense of guilt and shame.

The transpersonal perspective changes what I am looking at. In this light, my relationships become numinous experiences, chosen by Self to help me meet and heal unmet selfobject needs, so that it can incarnate. I cannot choose my path of individuation: my personal self cannot. It is the ego, the narcissistic self, which regards certain experiences on its path of individuation with guilt and shame, wanting to control what it experiences and how, how it grows and heals, based on a certain notion it has of its own identity! The ego resists letting go at every stage—isn’t it incredible—forgetting or ignoring (too optimistically) that it is the Self that is actually in charge. But the Self knows this tendency of the personality, and, as Corbett puts it: “Areas of fragility within the personality are essential aspects of religious experience” (37).