July 05, 2006
INSECT DREAMS II
Last week we talked about the three levels of experience that we all have: the experience of who we are, the experience of who we aspire to be and the experience of how others see us. My point was that when there is a big difference between all those levels of experience that this can mean trouble for us emotionally. The critical piece is how we experience ourselves, which, of course, is not sealed off from what we aspire to be and how others see us.
Among the many pieces of literature that address this dimension of human life there is a contemporary novel by the expert in group therapy Irvin Yalom called the Shopenhauer Cure. In it, a therapist who has but a year to live seeks to salvage one of his toughest clients, Philip Slate, someone who was totally obsessed with sex and seeking release with women on the one hand, while longing desperately to live a life of the mind absorbed with the great thinkers and writers and their ideas.
When Julius, the therapist, finds Philip, the former client has actually cured himself of his sexual obsessions and he has done so by using the 19th century philosopher Shopenhauer, a thinker known for his isolation, pessimism and crotchety attitude toward all relationships and human feelings. Philip has found meaning and solace in this curmudgeonly thinker.
But what's the relevance to our theme here? Well, Julius contrives to get Philip to join his group, his last group as he moves toward death. In that experience, he endeavors to help Philip get beyond the pretences to meaning that he asserts he finds in the abstract, sometime misanthropic concepts of Shopenhauer.
The philosopher seems to have helped Philip address the three dimensions I noted at the outset: he discounts the views of others, so he is not weighed down by their criticisms; he has given up on all his aspirations except to lead an isolated life of preoccupation with the realm of ideas and this has led him away from his sexual obsession. However, the most intimate level, that of how he sees himself is hazy and not well defined.
He claims he has found peace and equilibrium with Shopenhauer and through him with the Greek philosophers. As the therapy progresses, however, Julius is able to get him to interact with the other members of the group and slowly cracks appear in the armor of his Buddha-like passivity and self control. The most dramatic climax comes when he finally relents and admits that his philosophical pretensions have only built a wall between him and his own self-perceptions. At bottom, he dreads that he is unlovable and has the qualities of an insect, that is, he is alien to himself and to others with no redeeming features. These are the insect dreams of Philip. When he uncovers his deepest beliefs about himself, he is positioned to release them and see himself in more compassionate, realistic terms. This leads to a real "cure," not a false "Shopenhauer cure."
What is key is the ability to let go of the sense of there being something fundamentally wrong with himself, a lesson that is not only transformational for the character in this novel, but of enormous importance for each and every one of you, my friends. Let me know what you think!
Frank Mosca Ph.D. is a life coach and marital counselor with a practice in Hampton Bays and Garden City. His "putting minds in motion" seminars are designed to help people regain a vision of happiness and potential, relevant to people of all ages. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org