Posts Tagged ‘meaning’

sacred listening

it’s the strangest thing —
the psychotherapist’s fee
just doesn’t add up
— the transaction is suspect
All hail, meaningless money!

I enjoyed writing this poem. It was quite problematic cramming so many thoughts into a short space. I dreamed of a turd that had been deposited on the floor and it was my job to clean it up. Awake, I thought of yesterday at work when we received some training about charitable fundraising. It was quite interesting and the trainer is a likeable guy. But I wondered this morning after the dream, whether a fundraiser’s job is basically to pick up shit (money) deposited by charitable donors. The symbolic equivalence of money and shit was just about the first idea I ever absorbed from psychoanalysis, at quite a young age, perhaps twelve, from my father’s patient explanation. He himself was merely interested in the idea, rather than being totally sold on it (or on psychoanalysis in general). He later became progressively more and more hostile to the whole notion of psychotherapy, as my mother became more and more committed to it. The practice of paying someone to listen to you, is really very challenging indeed, at some level of the mind. I am curious, indeed desperate, to think it through properly, but I can’t. No-one has ever solved it. Why do we baulk so badly at the thought of money changing hands in exchange for listening? Should we trust that instinct? I tend to think it’s just the edge of a much larger issue, which is whether money itself makes any sense at all. On the whole I believe it doesn’t, and that the future of humanity lies in the direction of abolishing money. Looked at from that perspective, the jarring effect of the idea of paying somebody to listen to you, actually arises not from the fact that the listening isn’t worth the money — nor from the fact that listening is sacred and ought not to be tainted by being exchanged for money — but from a misguided investment in the idea of money as a meaningful signifier of value. The contradiction actually at the root of that jarring effect, is that a therapist helps you find meaning, while money is inherently meaningless.


all meaning is relative

map of Africa —
meaningless because drawn by
white men — a sense of
futility attaches
— and yet the borders remain

I spent a couple of hours last night writing a talk in which I say that, even though schizophrenia doesn’t exist, we might as well work with it — i.e. both with the word itself and with the people who think it refers to an actually-existing disease of the brain. I’m happy enough that my dream last night of a map of Africa — must relate to this idea of working with what already exists (whether linguistic terminology like schizophrenia or the random territorial borders of Africa) no matter how brazenly unjust the system of oppression embodied in the existing structures. And yet, and yet, and yet. It’s all too easy somehow. In the dream, I was shamefully ignorant of where on the map to locate a certain African country. Surely the true message of my dream is to do with my own ignorance. What I’m getting at is that it’s too easy to be right — about Africa or about psychiatry. In the dream I felt personally challenged by my own ignorance, whereas in the poem I am basically lecturing the reader from a position of superior knowledge and insight — whether as to the invalidity of psychiatry/imperialism, or whether as to the wisdom and inevitability of having to work within the existing system. To have moved like that from the personal to the pontifical is a serious loss and a serious failure.


I have not even
begun to scratch the surface
of wondering how
to venerate our Mother
Earth — before I must leave her

Sometimes at night we grapple with huge issues in our dreams, while other times it’s a struggle to believe the dream has any meaning at all. The huge dreams are more of a problem in that they induce such an uncomfortable feeling as though my waking conscious life is somehow impoverished by comparison. The momentousness fades so quickly — and yet it’s a quality which belongs well and truly in the real world — in fact it derives from it. Can’t get my head round that. In my dream last night, I found myself handling coins and witnessing the beginning of the end of money. All across the world, people were waking up to the meaninglessness of the coins and the meaninglessness of owning them. My work was done and I suddenly felt myself propelled upwards towards the stratosphere as though I were leaving the earth. But then I remembered Liz and wanted desperately to remain with her on earth. And with that I woke.


there’s a truth buried
in psychoanalysis —
to do with piecing
together the stories of
our own lives from shreds of dream

To treat dreams as shreds of evidence leading to a more complete narrative of our own lives — can be very difficult indeed — not only the effort of the venture itself, but also keeping alive the belief that it’s a worthwhile, viable, meaningful project at all. Part of me considers it the highest value in this life I am ever likely to encounter. Another part of me scoffs at the notion of any ‘High Value’. And another again is unbelievably disillusioned with the cultishness of the whole psychotherapy industry. Confused? Me too.

This morning it’s back to work after the UK August Bank Holiday yesterday. The temptation for me, waking up this morning, was to ignore those shreds of dream and let them sink back into oblivion as I myself rose from bed. I clung onto just two images: a tube journey where I felt uncertain which platform went in which direction. And the feeling (in the dream) of lying on my stomach and feeling my erect penis between me and the bed. Gradually, as I persevered with trying to write a poem, several other forgotten dreams from last night came back to me. But what on earth do they “mean”? What, oh what, oh what?


it would be better
left completely alone — why
attempt any kind
of illumination, when
the darkness is so easy?

Back to the theme of my own total inadequacy. I am kicking against the self-imposed duty of examining my dreams each morning and extracting a poem from them. I had two dreams. In one I was in bed with my sister; in the other I had designs on another man’s wife. I don’t know how to make incest and adultery palatable or even meaningful.


the secret meaning
of the knife has been revealed
only to me — now
all words fail and I simply
point to the bed where it lies

In my mind, ‘where it lies’ wants to become ‘where she lies’. I began writing my poem on the assumption that the knife symbolises manhood, but this seems in question now. What if the knife is a woman? In the dream I was attempting to explain the meaning of the knife to a woman. The meaning of the knife was revealed to me by virtue of where it was positioned — on display in a shop window — but then by the time I was trying to expound its meaning, it seemed to be lying on a kind of bed or couch in the middle of a large open plan living space. One of the most breathtakingly beautiful dreams I ever had was of postage stamps whose artwork showed birds. They were on display in a shop window (in the dream) in Scotland. They were a red colour with incredible depth — different hues of red. At that time in my life, I associated ‘Scotland’ with the Queen Mother, who I thought of as being halfway to a goddess. Even now, I might find it difficult to identify a gender symbol more polarised towards the feminine than the Queen Mother. About six months after the dream, I was convicted for criminal damage after launching a brick through a shop window (and phoning the police myself). I think this is relevant, since the knife symbol does contain danger inherently (echoed in my associations with ‘shop window’). Given the potential for so much over-analysis, the poem at least portrays last night’s dream in relatively simple terms.


words get in the way
of their own meaning, words turn
within their own skin
to mean the opposite — God
knows where they are taking us

One of my grandfathers had an Italian surname, and I dreamed there was some complex mystery where the true family name was in fact a different Italian name altogether. There was also a synagogue, apparently the focus for some kind of recognition that nobody can mount an event quite like the Jews. Passers by were congregating round the synagogue just for the sake of getting a flavour of the sense of occasion. Awake, I can see that I seem to have dreamed about two different cultures with a strong history of believing in their own superiority: Italian and Jewish. This appears to link up with what I wrote yesterday about our arrogance, believing in free speech as an absolute value simply because it happens to be a value of ours. I’m still recovering from being interviewed yesterday I think. Words really are such scary things when a TV camera is trained on you!