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Human weather: Destruction, Suffering & God
by David Sparenberg
2009-09-09 08:50:16
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Emotional Storm
Written by Michael Eigen
2005, Wesleyan University Press

There are two things that should be said about this author at the beginning of any informed discussion: first, he is brilliant, secondly, he is genuine.  Michael Eigen is actually Dr. Eigen, a New York psychologist and psychoanalyst.  Yet there is no pretense in his presence and Mike Eigen is first and always a reflective, intelligent, vulnerable human being engaging, struggling with and speaking to and about life.  Not shallow life or life superficially dressed up as a conversation piece, but honestly and nakedly with and about the depths and dynamics of human life—positive, negative and potential.  He does so profoundly and his profundity has an immediate, albeit non-aggressive, simplicity which may well be indicative of genius.  His speaking is jargon free, unlike many, and his words convey the presence of one who is in perpetual dialogue; of one who does not escape from, attempt to reduce, deny or obscure the dimensions, dynamics or even dangers of what is humanly real.  One who invites others to him to share in his ongoing, wrestling openness.

In fact, being present through words with Michael Eigen reminds me of a remark penned by the late great Shakespeare critic G. Wilson Knight.  In his THE WHEEL OF FIRE (Routledge) pages 294-295, Knight writes: “The poet makes his dramatic person aware of the deepest channels of his own being.  In a sense, we can say that the persons of dramatic poetry at its intensest  are always made to do this: they utter, not those thoughts of which humanity is normally aware, but the springs of action, the deep floods of passion, the essence of human reality—all which the normal self-consciousness of individuality tends to blur and veil.”

I find the same true of the reflective writing of Michael Eigen, to which the title of his book under review, EMOTIONAL STORM, bears witness.  But far more convincing than my commentary is to listen to the author’s voice directly.  To this I now turn and invite my reader.  I am honored to introduce to you, for the first time or in reunion, Dr. Michael Eigen.

Let us start with a few short samples here of the Eigen basic theme, the Eigen approach and level of engagement, the Eigen process, even the way of dialogue with life of Michael Eigen as he is found present in his words:

p.9 “The kind of ‘read’ I hope for, the kind of writing I do, is a kind of ‘training’ or invitation to stay with experience without pressing the eject button too quickly.  Somewhat analogous is the ability of animals to ‘smell’ or sense danger and nourishment, we have a latent capacity to evolve psychic taste buds.  At this point in our history it is critical to develop our ability to taste storm nuances before they flame and learn how to communicate within the storm’s heat.”

p.12 “We fear dying when we come more alive as well as the reverse: infusions of aliveness or deadness can be threatening.  The rise or fall of energy can appear as killers in dreams and spill into the outside world.  Separation between dreaming activity and reality is not what we once thought it to be.

“A psychoanalyst’s hope: if we can work with our night killers, maybe our day killers will diminish.  The fact that killing threatens us day and night says something about the sort of beings we are.  Whatever or whoever else we are, we have a psyche that kills, and we need to study and oppose it.  We need to struggle with ourselves and see what more we can do with our makeup.  A new dimension of struggle perhaps, becoming better dreamworkers, better processors of affect and emotional storm.”

p40: “We are junctures of shalom (peace) and rage, and much else that adds plasticity, variety.  We are, too, an embryonic being with alternative possibilities.”

Eigen even mentions Shakespeare within the context of viewing the paradoxical dynamics of human functions, interactions and potentials, as here on page 42: “There would be no Shakespeare without abiding injury.  Shakespeare’s is the art of depicting injury and vicissitudes of tormenting emotional storm.  Shakespeare functions as part of a human digestive system, a tendril of emotional sensitivity fused with intellectual acuity, passing permutations of wounds and wounding activities through literary alpha functions, mixing dreams, hallucinations, and analysis.  Art, writing, mysticism, even forms of political and scientific mastication: parts of mind’s attempt to digest, elaborate, discover what is possible.”

p.177 “Destruction and the turn away from destruction—has been a nearly ubiquitous theme in myth and literature…. (Example p. 178) The Bible oscillates between dialogue and destruction.  If the former cannot stop destruction, it may at least lessen it.

(Because…And here we touch on a developing theme of an ethic of discovery and betterment through psyche-wrestling, through opposing oneself for the sake of growth and otherness.) “To struggle with oneself with all one’s might and come down on the side of caring for the life of others… To protect the sanctity of the others, the right of the others to live, to live fully—a necessary, if difficult or even impossible, striving, let alone achievement.  To grapple with destructive tendencies, one’s own and others, is an ever necessary beginning.”

p.181 “Meditation on what it means to suffer human personality is part of lifelong stretching processes.  Hopefully better balances of flexibility, resilience and persistence will lessen the horrors we perpetuate.  But if the Bible teaches us anything, it is that we ought not minimize the difficulties of living together.  It we cannot resolve them, if we are not up to grappling with them, we still can grow by living through them.”

All sorts of subtexts are communicated in these selected words—a life’s worth of values and challenges: patience, tolerance, mindfulness, reverence for life and discipline, and a passionate-compassionate determination to abide within whatever is given, even as an agent of change, whether the given is resistive and threatening or creatively responsible.

Summing up, in a chapter entitled “Guilt,” Mike Eigen speaks of God and that category of human suffering which is the nexus of transformative, if not also transcendent, dialogue.

p.193 “We express God a little like we express pain.  We might have less doubt about pain.  But when suffering brings us to God, doubt is not what we are about.  Nor are be about bludgeoning others with God, forcing our God on others.  We are with God with our suffering….

“A result of reaching God through suffering is renewed struggle with self.  Suffering shows us something wrong with ourselves, a way of being, a propensity we are guilty about.  We are suffering, in part, because we are guilty about our way of life.  We live from a place where there is a connection between suffering and ethics.”

So then to close here, on page 194 a deeply personal note is sounded and experiential lesson shared: “At this point, I do not want to speak about useless suffering, suffering that is a by-product of illness or exploitation of power.  There is a lot of meaningless suffering that is part and parcel of what life does to us and what we do to each other.  My wish is to paint a picture of an amazing fact of suffering—at least for some people, some of the time.  My aim is not to celebrate suffering but to bear witness to a possibility.

“Suffering opens worlds.  Not always, not with all people.  But frequently enough to warrant appreciative regard.  There have been times when suffering compelled my attention, sucked my mind into it so totally that I almost blanked out, perhaps did blank out, and what a moment earlier had been acute emotional pain turned into: (1) beatific, radiant light; (2) more variegated emotional fields with bright and light spots of shifting density-diffusion; (3) appreciative apprehension of the miracle of feelings and the magical transformations they undergo; (4) an ethical commitment to bettering life, living better, or, at least, sharing appreciation for our amazing experiential reality.”

When all else is said and done, this then is the essence of Michael Eigen’s testimony and the core of his book EMOTIONAL STORM: an inviting discourse on the “amazing experiential reality” of the human condition—not in philosophical abstraction, but up close and personal.

Memorial Day, May 26, 2008

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Emanuel Paparella2009-09-09 12:49:00
“…an inviting discourse on the ‘amazing experiential reality’ of the human condition—not in philosophical abstraction, but up close and personal.”

That’s quite a statement! Indeed, one can read the life of any saint, a St. Francis of Assisi let’s say, (and there is at least one for every day of the calendar) and soon come to the realization that one is not dealing with philosophical abstractions but with the existential human condition producing what Kierkegaard calls “the existential dread,” the dread of having to choose one's destiny. A saint is in fact a sort of mirror that allows us to know our own human nature a bit better: what is normal and what is distorted beyond recognition in it. There are thousands and thousands of saints to choose from for our emulation and inspiration who lived under various historical and existential circumstances. Emulation was originally the very idea of assigning a saint’s name at an infant’s baptism; something that is all but lost today when quite often Christian parents, so called, don’t even bother to baptize their offspring, if they even bother to produce an offspring. Such a consideration by itself ought to give pause to those who deal in shallow biased caricatures of religion in general and the Church in particular and misguidedly advocate their demise in the name of a pseudo- enlightenment.

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