Thursday, February 11, 2010

from Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart

by Mark Epstein

As a student of human neurosis, Freud was familiar with the mind's tendency to interfere with its own satisfaction. In his own way he understood something of what the Buddha explained to Angulimala. In his descriptions of the obsessional character, for example, he gave great credence to the power of the mind to interrupt the flow of gratifying experience. He called this a psychological defense and gave it the name isolating. Speaking primarily in sexual terms, Freud described how the thinking mind interferes with experience and removes the possibility of successful contact. Erotic experience depends on the ego's striving to become one with that which it desires, Freud recognized, but this is also a potent source of anxiety. We fear that which we most desire, the falling away of self that accompanies a powerful connection. In a moment of successful contact...there is a brief but exuberant unity, a touching or a connection in which we forget ourselves and are enriched. Our selves are reconfigured in this process. But Freud was witness to how people restrict this capacity by holding themselves back. It is as if we have a "taboo on touching," he said. (57-58)

Once Freud figured out that the purpose of so much of our thinking is to isolate us from the flow of gratifying experience, he began to see this dynamic in many of his friends and patients. Much of the liberating promise of early psychoanalysis stemmed from its attempts to cure this isolating tendency of the human mind. But scattered within Freud's writings we find references to his frustrations in actually effecting the kinds of changes he was reaching for. He thought deeply about the reasons for the self-imposed isolation of the thinking mind but had difficulty translating his insights into a method of change. While his insights were revelatory, he did not have the method of the Buddha within his grasp. (61)

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