Gratitude and greed occupy the same space in the psychic apparatus. If the container is filled with greed or envy there is no room for gratitude. If the container is filled with gratitude there is no room for greed or envy…It is that simple. It is a law of physics. Two piece of matter can not occupy the same space and by extension it appears that two pieces of information can not occupy the same psychic space. The Greek word ”Psyche” is our word “Soul”. Contrary to what many think, Freud dedicated his life to the study of Man’s soul.
Our souls are the most important part of us while we are alive and living in form. The soul of man gives us our humanity at the only place where it touches our divinity. Through religion we have learned to associate the term soul with that part of us that will transcend life and perhaps attains a life everlasting. But for my purpose in this essay I will use the more generic aspect of the word. I mean by the soul of man, the very essence of man. I mean to refer to the totality of the experience of man. My soul is my experience of me at exactly the psychic location where it touches my connection with the universal consciousness.
Bruno Bettelheim who wrote extensively about Freud and Psychoanalysis say, ” not just man’s body — but most of all with the dark world of the unconscious which forms such a large part of living man — or, to put it in classical terms, with the unknown netherworld in which, according to ancient myths the souls of men [and women] dwell.”
As human beings we experience ourselves first and foremost by identifying with the part of the psychic apparatus know as the “ego.” The ego of the human mind is not directly connected to the soul. The ego is detached from the field of consciousness that is our more profound existence or experience of being. The ego, although not discoverable in time and space as a physical entity is a construct that we use to explain a host of primary and secondary functions of the brain. We can not open the brain and locate the ego. The ego, like the soul does not exist in form.
The ego ought not have a bad reputation. It is a cluster of functions which contribute to our essential humanness. For example, language is thought to be the highest function of the ego. The ego is responsible for our being able to develop language. The ego is also responsible for other functions such as perception and motility. It is a cluster of brain functions rather than a specific location. And as such remains an important aspect of our ability to function in civilization and society. Some say it is actually the aspect of man directly responsible for his ability to build civilization and culture. But again, it is important that we see it for what it is, not a location in the brain as much as the name given to a cluster of functions.
In my ramblings about psychoanalysis and man’s soul, I seem to find myself always contending with a duality. As much as I acknowledge the oneness of the mind/body matrix, it seems that in experience I am always struggling with a concept that can only be explained by forming comparisons of by juxtaposing one experience against another.
Even in the concept of greed vs gratitude it seems that the experience of one is felt to be one thing and the experience of the other quite another thing. However, if I were only concerned about the comparisons of two things it would seem logical, (they are different because they are different). But, what I am trying to understand is if the experience of one comes from a different place than the experience of the other.
I have rambled or, if you wish, free associated, to this notion of duality in our experience of ourselves in many of my writings through the years. I keep doing so because I have experience in me what I would like to call, an exit from narcissism. In my years of practicing my own brand of dynamic psychoanalysis, I have run up against classical conditions in this science that seem to take over the definition and attempt to make it fit the science rather than pursue what appears to me the more logical approach which is to follow the experience into a phenomena that is no longer science, but is nevertheless a direct outgrowth of the science and may point to a newer model or theory of human existence. And although not science, nonetheless an important dimension of humanness that can only be arrived at with subjective conclusions. The scientific “objective” can only go so far in helping us to understand our humanity. Poetry, music, and our relation to nature and to animals, for example, point to a subjective awareness that provides a profound acquaintance with the subjective that can not be quantified objectively.
As I ponder gratitude, I am aware that the very experience of gratitude fills my consciousness with a sense of expansion, with a feeling that is both grand and humbling at the same time. Gratitude is connected not only with me experiencing myself but with me experiencing a wider sense of connectedness that includes a feeling of well-being and a feeling of inter being with all of creation. To put it more simply gratitude is a sensation that consequenses a feeling of totality and oneness and well being all laced with that kind of giddiness that one feels as a joyful child. By comparison greed feels very intra-psychic. I shrink to greed, not expand to it. Greed is small minded. Greed worms it way through me and settles into a corner of my life and I experience it as an undigested piece of toxic lead. I think about it and I can experience the thought as mental, as a calculation, perhaps even as a manipulation of truth.
But, the profound difference is not in the verbal attributes that i can ascribe to the difference between gratitude and greed, but rather in the felt location from which each experience comes. I want to give one more example of the experience of the objective vs the experience of the subjective:
Charlotte, my youngest granddaughter, is falling asleep in my arms… That is an objective statement of a experience I might be having in a given moment. However, the experience of having my beautiful, angelic, sweet and loving granddaughter in my arms being so comfortable that she is soothing herself to sleep, is a subjective experience that comes from an entirely different location in my experience. And no amount of objective verbal data or description can convey the experience. In other words my human experience in that moment can not be objectified. It is as if my soul, the aspect of me that is closest to the divine is activated and a flood of emotions and sensations converge on me and provide me with a feeling not representable through the ego.
As I write my free associations, I am conscious of my intention. I am hopeful to find a verbal way of describing the long, slow and at times painful way for an adult to emerge from the condition of narcissism. Having spent the bulk of my career specializing in the treatment of narcissistic disorders, I am interested in the specific manner in which one can successfully emerge from this human condition.
As I continue to write more frequently about this topic, I keep on returning to Freud’s works and specifically to his treatment of the psyche in his writings. Of great concern is the notion that Freud meant for the entire backdrop of his science to be understood as an ego growing in a field of consciousness that he understood to be the soul of man. But when his translations to english took on a more generic term than “soul” Freud did little to challenge this mistranslation.
As a result we have been seeing the ego as a mental construct that was to have some kind of physical, brain-like antecedent. When we attempt to locate the ego in the brain, of course, there is no such organ. But if instead we were to consider the ego as an outgrowth of the soul, then the entire apparatus of the ego could be worked with as a metaphor for a seed found in a large, wild, field of cosmic consciousness that every human being has access to. This line of thinking has many possible ramifications including its intersection with eastern philosophy.