|Anxiety Couples Therapy Alan Sroufe Brain Science David Schnarch Mindfulness Etienne Wenger Trauma Clinical Mastery Couples Attachment Mind/Body Mary Jo Barrett Community of Excellence The Future of Psychotherapy William Doherty Ethics Future of Psychotherapy Wendy Behary Diets Narcissistic Clients CE Comments Clinical Excellence Great Attachment Debate Challenging Cases Symposium 2012 Linda Bacon Attachment Theory Gender Issues Men in Therapy|
|Point of View - Page 2|
RH: I had a dream last night after preparing for this meeting. I'd picked up my infant son from a babysitter and was walking him down the street, and a jet plane that was flying a couple miles away crashed—a horrible explosion. I left the stroller for a second and went to get a better view of the plane crash, and when I came back to the stroller, he was gone.
YALOM: A very frightening dream.
RH: It was frightening. In other dreams, I've been on the plane when it was crashing, but in this one, I was watching it and then my son was missing. Someone had snatched him.
YALOM: And then you woke up.
RH: I wasn't aware that I was afraid of that—that my child could be taken away or snatched or killed or something like that.
YALOM: But part of you was aware of it.
RH: Yeah, sure. My unconscious was very much aware of it.
YALOM: It's a telling dream, I think. It seems to me it's a dream about the precariousness of life. We do what we can, but we can't protect against death; we can't reverse time in any way.
RH: There's an interesting quote from Thomas Hardy: "If a way to the better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst." That jumped out at me as a rationale for really taking a good look at death.
YALOM: Right, we're staring at the sun—it's just that the underparts of us are doing it, as your dream indicated. How can you not know about death?
RH: "Some refuse the loan of life to avoid the debt of death." That seems to be a central theme in your book. Could you expand on that a little bit?
YALOM: Well, there's this idea that, at one level, we move out into life, we begin to individuate, and then we become frightened at the isolation we feel. So we shrink back into the mass, shrink back into merging with others, and then we've lost our self. It's the idea that we're not really going to take it upon ourselves to really engage in life—we play it safe. We're frightened, so we don't really take advantage of what we could do in life.
I had a meeting with a friend who called me, whom I had not seen in 60 years. He went to look for deeper issues in life. He went to India, and was a meditation teacher, and played music in all parts of the world, without any sort of safety net or anything. He'd just go down to the musician's union and get a gig, or sign with a band for a week or two, or a month, and constantly be out there. I was really aware that I've lived a much safer life than that. Even though I feel like I've been daring in my intellectual ventures, in the real world, I've been a professor at Stanford. I've had tenure right along, and so it's been a safe type of life for me—without having to be really exposed to things. I almost missed that a little bit; almost feel I've been too sheltered to really know what all this precariousness of life is like.
RH: Does death raise any anxiety for you anymore, or have you become accustomed to it?
YALOM: Every once in a while, your barriers break down. You get back to this certain gasp, because there's no way to reverse time. Death can't not raise anxiety, but that anxiety is definitely within manageable limits, let me put it that way.
RH: So with a person like my grandmother, who's tied up her loose ends—that feels OK? And now you—you're starting a new novel; you're not stopping work, of course.
YALOM: I carry on a small practice; I see one or two patients every afternoon, sometimes three. But I write most of the day, and it seems pointless not to do this because I've gotten to be pretty adept at it, and I enjoy it very much.
RH: Just a few minutes ago, as I was eating lunch down at the corner with my wife and 4-month-old son, and an elderly couple was sitting a couple tables away. As they were leaving, the wife passed by and said, "Oh, what an adorable baby, he's so wonderful! I could just sit and look at him all day." And she's got a smile and a little sadness in her eyes. And her husband kind of tugs at her arm and says, "Come on, honey. We can't have any more of those"—with a little smile on his face, but a little truth in the joke. And I saw a bit of death anxiety in that.
YALOM: Oh, I think so. They may have lost a child too. It sounds a little bit like it. They're certainly aware of their stage in life, longing to be able to get back.
Ryan Howes, Ph.D., is a psychologist, writer, musician, and clinical professor at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology in Pasadena, California. He blogs "In Therapy" for Psychology Today. Contact: email@example.com; website: www.ryanhowes.net. Tell us what you think about this article by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at www.psychotherapynetworker.org. Log in and you'll find the comment section on every page of the online Magazine section.