Friday, July 02, 2010

A Poetic Break 1

Flitting to and fro on the net these holiday times my eyes landed on the following article from 2007 which refers to Italy (one of my favourite places in the world) and to an author I much admire, D. H. Lawrence. The article may be found at this link here: Tide of Cement - Sunday Times.  Like many English authors he, too, fell under the spell of "il bel paese."  Such spell-binding was of the nature of what we Gaels call "geasa" or bonds one can only break under the fear of death. This article broaches the topic of progress versus vandalism.  Now this is also a topic more anguished over in Ireland I feel, but I could be wrong in that contention.  Anyway the article is all about progress and about the price we pay for such progress - the loss of past glory, of splendid views, of old ways, of old landmarks, maybe even ancient graves etc.

I've got to admit that I have mixed feelings about this debate, and find it hard to come down solidly on either side of the argument.  The poor, or the peasants (in the pure meaning of that term as country people not in its pejorative sense as country bumkins or "culchees" as we call them here in  Ireland) as they are referred to in the above linked article are mainly concerned with progressing their lot from a subsistence survival on the land, or even a comfortable existence from such fertile soil to one of more success in life and who can grumble with them.  If they pour cement on what to the "better-off" and often outside commentator deems to be pure heritage they are accused of being vandals prey to the consumerist ideology. If they pour concrete on what the outsider commentator or more learned insider consider to be pure and simple country beauty that is thus rendered into something horrid and ugly they are accused of being people with little or no values other than the lure if filthy lucre.

I find it hard to blame the man or woman, and there are many of them, who earn their living by the sweat of their brow as I, too, come from a peasant background in the true meaning of that term.  It is hard to survive on fresh air, or even on the beauty of the countryside.  In the end of the day that will not put bread or milk or cheese or wine on the table.  It is hard also to deny the rights of the poorer amongst us to a better lot in life. 

Now, I am fully aware of the opposite point of view in this debate.  That is why I am loathe to come down too firmly on one side or other of this debate.  I have written much in this blog over the years about the myth of indefinite progress, or indeed that so called progress is per se a goal to be sought in the first place at all.  Such blind belief in progress for progress sake has led the human family into the worst of wars and the worse of heinous crimes against its own very members.  Myths are very good in their own way, but not if followed blindly.  That is why there is a whole body of myths which give balance to one another, and in so doing present us with a more balanced ancient psychology than would appear in any one myth taken on its own.  Truths must balance each other out - not one blown out of all proportion at the expense of another truth here or there.

Anyway, the whole question of progress versus vandalism, or of progress versus protection of old values or even the green values of Mother Earth, Gaia herself, is a thorny debate not easily adjudicated upon.  However, like all good debates, it is one we must continue with in conscience so as to work out a balanced view which will be for the better good of the majority of us living on this beautiful, if at times sad, little planet, that blue dot with self-conscious and self-aware beings seeminly cruising alone through vast and infinite space.  This debate is a serious one when the very survival of our planet indeed may be at stake if either the myth of interminable progress proceeds along the course it is going in certain quarters, or if sheer greed of tsunami proportions among certain nations or sections of certain nations hurtle us to our destruction as a species.

Apologies for such a tortuous introduction to a beautiful poem I found on Italy by D.H. Lawrence.  This poem, to my mind at least, plumbs some of the depths of the questions raised in the above prolegomenon.  The poem is called Cypresses (Fiesole). It’s also easy to see, given the sheer earthiness of this ancient race, why D.H.Lawrence was so taken by the Etruscans, though the highly emotional judgements that he makes in his very readable book “Etruscan Places” are much at variance with what we now know of the historical reality.  The following blog The Etruscan Experience by Neil Moore gives an interesting and erudite, though always immediately understandable, insight into the ancient Etruscans: The Etruscan Experience.    Anyway, the cypresses are a beautiful tree, dearly beloved by Vincent van Gogh himself.  Here is the poem.  It contains many, many memorable and beautiful lines:

Cypresses (Fiesole)

Tuscan cypresses,
What is it?

Folded in like a dark thought,
For which the language is lost,
Tuscan cypresses,
Is there a great secret?
Are our words no good?

........

And, how I admire your fedelity,
Dark cypresses!

........

Among the sinuous, flame-tall cypresses
That swayed their length of darkness all around
Etruscan-dusky, wavering men of old Etruria:
Naked except for fanciful long shoes,
Going with insidious, half-smiling quietness
And some of Africa's imperturbable sang-froid
About a forgotten business.

What businmess, then?
Nay, tongues are dead and words are hollow as hollow seed-pods,
Having shed their sound and finished all their echoing
Etruscan syllables,
That had the telling.
Yet more I see you darkly concentrate,
Tuscan cypresses,
On one old thought:
On one slim imperishable thought, while you remain,
Etruscan cypresses;
Dusky, slim-marrow thought of slender, flickering men of Etruria,
Whom Rome called vicious.

........

Were they then vicious, the slender, tender-footed
Long-nosed men of Etruria?
Or was their way only evasive and different,
Dark, like cypress trees in a wind?

They are dead with all their vices,And all that is left
Is the shadowy monomania of some cypresses
And tombs.

.........
For oh, I know, in the dust where we have buried
The silenced races and all their abominations,

We have buried so much of the delicate magic of life.
There in the deeps

That churn the frankincense and ooze the myrrh,
Cypress shadowy,
Such an aroma of lost human life!

They say the fit survive,
But I invoke the spirits of the lost.
Those that have not survived, the darkly lost,
To bring their meaning back into life again,
Which they have taken away
And wrapped inviolable in soft-cypress trees,
Etruscan cypresses.

Evil, what is evil?
There is only one evil, to deny life
As Rome denied Etruria
And mechanical America Montezuma still.
This poem is, as you can see, rather long, and it really got the better of me while typing it - that's why I left out some lines.  It's just that I have not got the time or the energy to put them in though I hope I have put in the more important ones.  I love this poem for the strength of its feelings, for its passion for a forgotten race, for its inevitability of language, for its deep insight into the nature of mortality, for its questioning sense, for its questioning the accepted views of the ancient Romans. for its wishing to speak for silenced tongues, for the vanquished and the lost, which our whole dream world prepares us for, the inevitable kingdom of silent dreamless death.  Is that it?  Is that what it is all about?  Surely there is no more.? But the fact that we have lived and loved and dreamed and suffered and thought great and little, and sad and happy thoughts is enough.  As Shakespeare says, "The rest is silence."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Amazing May 24

In the last chapter of this little classic The Discovery of Being, Rollo May spends some time on therapeutic technique which he is quick to point out does rate among the highest concerns for existential analysts or therapists. Existential therapy is always a way of understanding human existence first and foremost and hence it is a little low on techniques. Yes, they do use some techniques, but they are always secondary to the primacy of the lived experience of and the lived encounter with the patient. Anyway, most of the other types of therapies make up for this lack. For the existential therapist, technique must always follow understanding, and hence no technique is used just for its own sake. However, May does make some points with respect to techniques, though once again his philosophy keeps breaking in. Therefore, what follows is not very practical on the one hand; however, it is infinitely wise on the other. What we need to do is to reflect on, meditate on and contemplate the following points. If we do so we shall indeed be more whole as individuals, truer and more authentic human beings who truly own our own existence in a committed and decisive manner –and all of this is central to the existential project we call life.


(i) There is a wide variability among existential therapists with respect to technique used. However, once again, May is at pains to insist that existential therapists have a definite reason for using any particular technique with a given patient. Therefore, existential therapy is distinguished by a sense of reality and concreteness.

(ii) Psychological dynamisms always take their meaning from the existential situation of the patient’s own immediate life. In this regard, he mentions the methods of such therapists as van den Berg, Frankl, Boss, and especially the work of one of my favourite psychiatrists R.J. Laing. May also reminds us that the existential therapist will always have in mind the question: What keeps the patient from accepting in freedom his potentialities? Hence whatever technique or approach used will be very much secondary to that.

(iii) Also existential therapists see such dynamisms as transference, resistance and repression very much as ontological concerns. The person in front of the therapist is a human being with all that this entails.

(iv) A big emphasis that May points out in existential therapy is that of Presence. This is an interesting word for this writer here. Having been involved in education now for some thirty years I have always found that a good teacher is one who has real presence in a class. Likewise, I have found the same with my experience of nurses, doctors and psychiatrist. The really good ones have a presence. I’m not so sure whether this is the same presence that May refers to here. However, he does go on to describe what he means by presence with respect to existential therapy: “By this we mean the relationship of the therapist and patient is taken as a real one, the therapist being not merely a shadowy reflector but an alive human being who happens, at that hour, to be concerned not with his own problems, but with understanding and experiencing as far as possible the being of the patient.”(Op. cit., p. 157). On reflection, I believe that the presence I referred to immediately above corresponds quite well to what May has in mind. Truth for the existentialist is always about relationship and it is the therapeutic relationship that counts. He paraphrases Jaspers who bemoans the missed opportunities and missed understanding on the part of a therapist who is lacking a “full human presence.” (Quoted ibid.,157)

(v) Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, according to May, always used to say, “The patient needs an experience, not an explanation.” Once again, this is essentially about Presence.

(vi) Rolla May makes an interesting point about Carl Rogers and states that the latter in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua wrote what approximates to a very existential document. This is not surprising as there are some existential elements in the Rogerian approach where he puts the central emphasis on the relationship between the therapist and patient. There are essential differences between the two approaches with the Rogerian being far shorter in duration than the existential approach. This distinction seems clear to this writer as the existential approach is a depth psychology approach and all depth approaches need time to unravel at least some of the unconscious material. May, who is a thorough existentialist, finds fault with Rogers as being “at times naively optimistic” while the existential approach must, of its very nature, be oriented more to the tragic crises of life. However, he is at one with Rogers in much of what he writes, viz., the basic idea that therapy is “a process of becoming” for the patient.

(vii) However, May points out very importantly that while techniques or methods are always secondary to the lived encounter with the patient that a therapist’s training must be thorough and exacting as he does need to be an expert in his field.

(viii) May argues that the existential therapist does the same thing with the structure of human existence as Freud did with the structure of the unconscious. The human being in Alexander Pope’s famous phrase is “the proper study of man.” It is in this broad sense that human existence has to become a subject of scientific concern.

(ix) May’s philosophical background is broad, and it is no wonder that he sees the existential therapist’s job as being a “midwife” in the Socratic sense in “bringing to birth” the being of the patient or client before him.

(x) The therapist must always be alert to whatever in him might block bringing forth full presence as we have described above. (This is common to all mainline therapies!)

(xi) The goal of the therapeutic process is that the patient experiences his existence as real. “The therapist’s function is to be there (with the entire connotation of Dasein), present in the relationship, while the patient finds and learns to live out his own Eigenwelt.” (Ibid., p.163)

(xii) May also has some insights into the idea or even obsession (my term) with curing in the modern world. I have heard it said quite often in spiritual workshops that there is no such thing as curing per se and that a more holistic term to use is that of healing. Indeed many more rounded spiritual therapists emphasize this fact, that one might not be cured physically, but one may certainly be healed spiritually. Personally, I believe this is a point that modern people need very much to take on board. May says that therapy is way more fundamental that bringing about a cure. Rather it is about getting under all the surface issues and going further and further down to help the person experience his existence in itself. To cure in the sense of the distraught patient coming in search of one is, in May’s existential philosophy, a denial of Dasein, a denial of reality, a denial of existence as experienced by the patient. There is a lot in this last sentence to reflect upon, to meditate upon and to contemplate, but it is worth it because May’s approach offers not alone great peace of mind, but a depth of truth that is liberating to our very soul or being.

(xiii) And so we come to other existential concerns which provide a background, even much of the foundation to existential therapy – concepts of being an authentic being, experiencing one’s existence as real, fulfilling one’s inner potential, doing one’s truth in action (Kierkegaard) being enabled to decide to take action, finding freedom in that action. In this sense, decision is a deeper thing than just a regular old daily choice. In fact, it is very much more – it is truly a decisive attitude towards existence. Interestingly, and I have found this true several times in my own life, that my dreams have confirmed what I did in action or in decisive moments already in waking life. May confirms this fact here in this little book. And so here is what he says: “When a person lacks commitment, for example, his dreams may be staid, flat, impoverished. But when he does assume a decisive orientation towards himself and his life, his dreams often takes over the creative process of exploring, molding (sic), forming himself in relation to the future...” (Ibid., 167)

(xiv) The importance of Death: May argues, and it is so true, that death in any of its aspects makes of the present hour something of absolute value. He quotes a student who said to him once: “I know only two things – one, that I will be dead someday, two, that I am not dead now. The only question is what I shall do between these two points.” (Quoted ibid., p.169)

And so, my friends, we have come to an end of our reflections on this book. Future posts will happen when I’ve either been inspired by another book or have decided to blog my more casual thoughts upon my everyday living. Until then, ponder some of the foregoing truths.


Above a picture I took of my sandalled feet today sulla spiaggia di San Andrea degli Apostoli qui in Calabria dove sono in vancanza ed anche dove scrivo questi piccoli posti!  These are my pilgrim feet!!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Amazing May 23

Transcending the Immediate Situation


This is a short but important chapter in May’s little classic called The Discovery of Being (Norton, NY, 1981). As readers of this blog will know its author suffers from endogenous depression with which he has been diagnosed for some twelve years. At the beginning, before the proper or appropriate medication was found, I suffered two bad episodes of depression, both of which lasted for some twelve weeks. What helped me immensely during the second episode which happened roughly a year after the first was the fact that I was aware that I had previously come through the hell of despair and had survived. What helped me here was that I was able to transcend, or literally go beyond the present experience of despair and realise that it too would come to an end just like the previous episode.

May paraphrases the neurosurgeon and psychiatrist, Kurt Goldstein who was working with severely brain-damaged soldiers and gives as good a description as is possible of what transcendence means:

Goldstein holds that the distinctive capacity of the normal human being is precisely this capacity to abstract, to use symbols, to orient oneself beyond the immediate limits of the given time and space, to think in terms of “the possible.” The injured or ill patients were characterized by loss of range of possibility. Their world space was shrunk, their time curtailed, and they suffered a consequent loss of freedom. (Ibid., p. 145)

The normal human being can transcend his present situation in all kinds of ways. He can transcend the present moment in time by either bringing back images and memories from the past, or by dreaming about what he/she can do in the future. Transcendence allows us not to be shackled to the present. It also, I should imagine, allows us to use our creativity and imagination, because if we are shackled to the present we could not write poetry or novels or create art of any quality. I should imagine that a brain injured person could do some very basic writing or art, but not anything of substance that we’d associate with pure art, pure music or pure literature.

Then think of those survivors of concentration camps of all types, Nazi, Stalinist or the prison on Robin Island where Nelson Mandela languished for years on end. Without the ability to transcend their situation those few survivors simply would not have come through their horrific experience. They were able to go beyond the bounds of their present situation and imagine that another situation was possible, that not alone things could get better, but that things in all probability would get better.

May reminds us that such transcendence is also exemplified in the human being’s unique capacity to think and talk in symbols. By typing these very words here and now, I am able to transcend the book I am reading, by interpreting all the ciphers and symbols on the page, seeing them as words which carry meaning, put those words together into sentences with more meaning, build sentences into paragraphs with main ideas and then reach forward to a world of complex ideas, assimilate all that, then evaluate it for my present purposes, link it with my own ideas and experiences and re-mould the whole into the present post in this blog. I have been enabled to do this by being able to engage in transcendence.

Again one needs to be able to transcend one’s immediate situation if one is to reach out and relate to others, to engage in human or social relations, to become a living part of a vibrant community. Indeed May gives us a lovely insight into conscience by once again elucidating its etymological roots for us. He tells us that conscience means “to know with,” to have built up this knowledge of behaviour from others in the greater community.

Telling the truth and telling lies are both examples of being able to transcend or go beyond oneself. This is what Nietzsche meant when he described man as “the animal who can make promises.” (Quoted ibid., p. 146). An individual is aware that he has given his word and can see himself as the one who makes an agreement. In the same way Sartre writes that dishonesty is a uniquely human behaviour: “The lie is a behaviour of transcendence.”(Quoted ibid., p. 146)

Now, we again come to one of May’s favourite words, i.e., ontological. The capacity for transcendence is not a quality to be listed among other qualities. Rather it is given in the very nature of being. It is part of being human – it’s an ontological reality.

Man is the being who is able to self-transcend, or to put it differently, he is able to transcend himself. May once again gives us very interesting throw-away remarks, often related to etymology and language structure. Here he informs us that it is very interesting to note how often the prefix “re-“ appears in English, which shows this self-reflection of man: re-turn, re-sponsible, re-collect, re-member, re-late, re-view etc. This is the capacity he has to come back to himself after transcending himself.

Indeed, self-consciousness implies self-transcendence. Here, I feel, we need to hear the very words May writes for the sake of clarity:

It will have become apparent to many readers that the capacity to transcend the immediate situation uniquely presupposes Eigenwelt – that is the mode of behaviour in which the person sees himself as subject and object at once. The capacity to transcend the situation is an inseparable part of self-awareness, for it is obvious that the mere awareness of oneself as a being in the world implies the capacity to stand outside and look at oneself and the situation and to assess and guide by an infinite variety of possibilities. (Ibid., p. 147)

The capacity to see oneself as subject and object at once is a wonderful and, indeed, complicated process. The split between the two wrought by Descartes, but built greatly upon by legions of philosophers, scientists and scholars over the last 400 years, has led to much mental suffering in the form of various neuroses. We have also seen that May would see the task of psychotherapy as not alone essaying a healing of the split but actually going down under the subject-object split and working from there. This leads to a great irony, or even irony of ironies, which can be expressed succinctly in the words of Lawrence Kubie:

It may be accurate to say, therefore, that the neurotic process is the price that we pay for our most precious human heritage, namely our ability to represent experience and communicate our thoughts by means of symbols. (Quoted p. 148)

Again, interestingly, May seems to suggest that Kierkegaard puts imagination on a par with transcendence and perhaps suggests that they are virtually the same reality. I’m not too sure about this and May’s intent is not that clear here. If I am ever to pick up Kierkegaard, it would be a train of thought worth pursuing.

 
Above another picture I took at Franco's restaurant, Le Due Cassette, last week.  He has loads of old bits and pieces belonging to the country life here in Calabria!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Amazing May 22

The Special Nature of Time


Existential analysts, May maintains also have a distinctive approach to time. They believe that such profound human experiences as anxiety, depression and joy occur more in the dimension of time than in that of space. Obviously, there are experiences that are timeless like religious experiences (if you are a believer), peak moment experiences (Peter Berger et al), or what James Joyce and indeed others spoke of as epiphany experiences – obviously these by definition are beyond time. However, it is to the experiences of anxiety, guilt and depression – experiences that are very much rooted in time – that our man May speaks of in this chapter.



Here, once again, what is important is the existential experience of time for the patient. May begins by citing a case from the psychiatrist Eugene Minkowski – a case from 1922 – where this latter medical consultant was treating a patient who presented with a depressive psychosis plus delusions of persecution. Minkowski was employed as this patient’s personal physician, and indeed lived with him for some two months. Hence, his observations are worthy of note. He noted that the patient had no idea of past and future and could not link the present with either past or future. His sense of time was that he was locked in an eternal present where things neither got better nor worse, but stayed depressingly and desperately the same. In Minkowski’s own words the fault lay thus:

This carry-over from past to present and present into the future was completely lacking in him... This reasoning... indicated a profound disorder in his general attitude to the future; that time which we normally integrate into a progressive whole was here split into isolated fragments. (Quoted op. cit., p134)

Each day for this patient was an isolated unit in time with no past and no future. Sometimes, May tells us, that in his therapeutic practice, he noticed that some patients got much better when they could be taught to focus on some point in the future when they would be outside their anxiety or depression. The essence of severe anxiety and depression is that it engulfs our whole selves, and it begins to feel as Minkowski puts it “universal.”

Our Existence Emerges

Our existence emerges over time. It is always in a sense a becoming. Therefore, it is never to be defined at static points. Other psychologists and psychiatrists, whom May quotes, like Mowrer and Liddell have noted the importance of what they term “time-binding” in the development of the psyche or the personality. By “time-binding,” they mean the ability to bring the past into the present and the present into the future in a total overall pattern or “causal nexus.” (Quoted ibid., p. 136)

Let us listen to the words of Rollo May at this juncture here:

This capacity to transcend the immediate boundaries of time, to see one’s experiences self-consciously in the light of the distant past and the future, to act and react in these dimensions, to learn from the past of a thousand years ago and to mold (sic) the long-term future is the unique characteristic of human existence. (Ibid., p. 136)

Aristotle was responsible for giving us in the West a practically spatial understanding of time where it counts out the minute changes in various things. This is alright, May argues for the Umwelt perspective on the world, but not from the perspective of Mitwelt where inter-relationships are involved. Quantitative time has little to do with love and other such deep feelings. Certainly the Eigenwelt perspective has absolutely nothing to do with Aristotle’s clock time. Insights occur instantaneously and cannot be registered on a clock. That is the very essence of self-awareness, self-consciousness and insights – they are instantaneous, immediate.

Severe depression and anxiety totally upset the patient’s relationship with time. In fact they actually blot out time. Again, following Minkowski, May argues that it may be the patient’s disturbance in relation to time, or his inability to “have” a future, that gives rise to his anxiety and depression in the first place.

Personality linked to Future Trajectory

May makes an interesting point about the human personality, that is, that it is by its very nature future-oriented. Here are his words:

Personality can be understood only as we see it on a trajectory toward its future; a man can understand himself only as he projects himself forward. This is a corollary to the fact that the person is always becoming, always emerging into the future. (Ibid., p. 139)

Existentialists and existential therapists do not neglect the past; rather they hold that it, like the present, can only be understood in relationship to the future

Alfred Adler had an interesting insight into the past. According to May he saw the human memory was really a creative process. He argued that we remembered only what had significance or importance for our “style of life,” and that the whole form of memory was, therefore, a mirror of the individual’s style of life. Strange as it may seem, what an individual seeks to become determines what he remembers from his/her past. In an equally peculiar way, then, the future determines the past.

May sounds an interesting warning note at this juncture in his classic by stating that all any type of therapy can do for an individual is help remove the blocks which are preventing the person from acting, thinking and loving. Obviously it cannot do any of the acting, thinking or loving for him/her.

Beyond Time: The Timeless Moments

I have alluded to these above. May returns to them once again and gives us more angles on the process of insight or the process of illumination or, if you like the Joycean experience of epiphany. He recalls Kierkegaard’s engaging term “augenblick” which literally means the “blinking of an eye” and this, he recalls, is generally translated as “the pregnant moment.” That’s where the person suddenly grasps the meaning of something important, but this is never solely an intellectual act. It may be a deeper personal decision, an inspiration coming from a dream, a poem, a chance occurrence. Some authors refer to these experiences as “aha” moments. Another way of putting this would be by stating that this person has had an experience of heightened awareness. I referred already to Peter Berger’s idea of peak experiences. The existential theologian Paul Tillich called it a moment when eternity touches time, what he elsewhere terms a “kairos moment.”


Above I have placed a piucture I took of a very young oak sapling which we grew from an acorn at school!

Amazing May 21

Now we are not beings cut off in our own little worlds. Our world overlaps with that of others. And further, and perhaps as importantly we are beings in the world. May now goes on to explore that particular phenomenon. Our learned author points out: “For being together means being together in the same world; and knowing means knowing in the context of the same world” (Op. cit., p. 117)


Once again, what’s needed is an approach to therapy (and indeed to life) which undercuts the “cancer” of the subject-object divide. Being in the world really, truly and authentically is a difficult task for modern humankind as he has lost his traditional sense of community. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and the existentialists who followed them continually pointed out that there were two major sources of modern humankind’s anxiety and despair, viz., (i) loss of a sense of being and (ii) loss of his world. So we are estranged firstly from ourselves, then from each other and also from our world. Within this last world, one could, of course, talk at length about our estrangement from Mother Earth or from Gaia our very home, of which we are a living part, except that we deny this fact, indeed suppress it.

Hence, major problems presented to therapists of all kinds today are those of persons who show a sort of schizoid nature, that is these people present as detached, unrelated, lacking in affect, tending toward depersonalization, and covering up their problems by means of intellectualization. These types of people relate in a detached and impersonalized way and express themselves technically rather than with the gut and the feelings.

Therefore, we have a deep alienation that affects the human being in him or herself (intrapsychic – my term, not May’s. He prefers the term Eigenwelt), from one another (interpsychic – again my term. May prefers the term Mitwelt) and from the world (geopsychic – again my term. Again May prefers the term Umwelt). This particular experience of isolation May calls, “epistemological loneliness,” that is alienation “which is the ultimate consequence of four centuries of the outworking of the separation of man as subject from the objective world.” (ibid., p.120) Once again, the whipping boy here is our old when René Descartes.

In short, all existential analysts hold that the person and his world are a unitary, structural whole and the phrase “being in the world” expresses precisely that. In a sense, then, the world as such is “the structure of meaningful relationships in which a person exists and in the design of which he participates.” (ibid., pp. 122-123)

The Three Modes of World

These are the three modes or simultaneous aspects of the world which each of us lives out of as it were. Let’s start with

The Umwelt

This means literally the “world around,” that is the biological world, or, if you like, what we call today by the name “environment.” For all animals, among which we are numbered, this world includes biological needs, drives and instincts. This is the world of natural law. There is no self-consciousness in this world at all. It is as it were, “the thrown world” or the world of “Dasein.” It is the alien world into which we are all hurled or thrown at birth and in which we must all survive. Now obviously, while Umwelt is very important and written of at length b y the existential analysts, it is very much just one third of humankind’s simultaneous modes of being as it were. May argues that it is in this connection that “the existential analysts are more empirical – that is, more respectful of the actual human phenomena – than the mechanists or positivists or behaviourists.” (Ibid., p. 127)

The Mitwelt

This means literally the “with world,” or in other words the world of other beings with whom or amongst whom I live, the world of my fellows. This world is the one of interrelationships with human beings. Essentially one becomes aware of the Mitwelt when one observes the differences between a herd of animals and a group of human beings living in community. Strictly speaking animals have an environment and human beings have a world. This world implies a structure of meaning which is itself designed by the interrelationships of the persons within it. The categories “adjustment” and “adaptation” fit neatly under the heading of Umwelt, but not under this heading of Mitwelt. The only category that fits neatly under our heading Mitwelt is the term relationship. The adjustments happen at both sides of the relationship – I adjust to another and he or she adjusts to me. The other is never an object. Then, May comes up which the following insightful sentence which he italicizes for emphasis: “The essence of a relationship is that in an encounter both persons are changed.” (Ibid., p. 128)

The Eigenwelt

This means literally “own world,” the world of relationship to oneself. May points out that it is the Eigenwelt which is the mode of being which is least adequately dealt with in modern psychology and in depth psychology. Indeed, he maintained it is almost ignored, and remember he was writing this book in 1981. I don’t know whether things have changed that much since. Now, our author hastens to add that it would be wrong to equate the Eigenwelt as merely a subjective, inner experience. It is so much more: it is, in fact, the basis on which we see the real world and the very basis on which we relate. May then gives us a wonderful insight from the writer Suzuki who points out that in Eastern languages adjectives always carry in their meaning a certain “for-me-ness.” That is to say, “this flower is beautiful” means “for me this flower is beautiful.” Leaving Eigenwelt out of things leads to a very arid intellectualism in the West

Now the above three worlds always intersect and always exist simultaneously. They are inextricably interrelated and always condition each other. I live in Umwelt, Mitwelt and Eigenwelt simultaneously. They are not three different worlds, but three simultaneous modes of being in the world. Ludwig Binswanger has pointed out that classical psychoanalysis only dealt with the Umwelt.

As regards love May points out that the interpersonal schools of psychoanalysis or psychotherapy, like those of Sullivan and Fromm, are naturally at home with Mitwelt. Yet he warms that without an adequate understanding of Umwelt, love becomes empty of vitality, and without Eigenwelt it lacks power and capacity to fructify itself.

Real existential Love (My phrase and its possible inappropriateness is all mine!)

May points out that in any case Eigenwelt cannot be omitted in any understanding of love:

Nietzsche and Kierkegaard continually insisted that to love presupposes that one has already become “the true individual,” “the Solitary One,” “the one who has comprehended the deep secret that also in loving another person one must be sufficient onto oneself.” (Ibid., p.131)

Lack of a sense of the Tragedic in life

May argues that there is a lack of a sense of tragedy in the USA, and once again remember that he was writing this little book in 1981. He points out that it takes an awareness of living simultaneously by the three modes of being for a sense of tragedy to exist. This is surely a great argument for the need of good theatre, and indeed, the USA has produced many masters in this field: Eugene O’Neill and, of course, the great Henry Miller to name but two who spring automatically to mind. It would seem that much healing of society can be done by producing and attending good theatre. The Dramatic arts, like all arts, must take a bow! We can only forget you at peril to our very own souls!


Above a picture of some ancient water jars I took at Franco's restaurant, Le Due Cassette last week!