A chickpea in a pot leaps from the flame,
Sometimes, I feel like the chickpea and sometimes I feel like the cook. I remembered this poem while sitting with a client who had just discovered something precious about themselves. They were hesitant at first, unsure how to proceed with the startling news that life was suddenly good. I could feel the resistance to naming the shy joy for fear of having it be tarnished, destroyed, stolen. We know those stories, the familial envies that steal the gold from the child, the parental curses of either of too much love and protection against the cruel and scary world, or of not enough protection against the true perpetrators of atrocities. And we know that they came to this moment after months and months of suffering and tears, of sitting in the pot and trying to escape -until suddenly the full flavor of their life burst forth.
Those of us work in this field sit in the soup of pain and despair, in the mixture of the conscious and unconscious forces that impel, compel, distort and reveal the contours of a soul. Our work is to give name to what is what and whose work it is to carry the moral responsibility of becoming whole. We discern: This is yours, this is not yours. This is a choice, this is a compulsion to repeat the trauma. This is the voice of the negative father, or the generative mother. This is the working out of the orphan field.
We look for the underlying patterns that constrain belief and behavior, and as Shakespeare wrote in Midsummer’s Night Dream, we look to provide “a local habitation and a name” to the demons and angels that accompany us throughout our lives. As part of our work, we often use the spoon or we turn up the heat and sometimes we just sit in it.
This is not easy, but not necessarily because we are called to witness and hold tremendous suffering. The difficulty is that we have to know that we are in the soup as well. We cannot live with the illusion that we are immune or separate from the encounter – that we are somehow apart and observe or empathize while remaining unscathed. Our own stories, fallibilities, imperfections, sufferings, madnesses are part of the pot stirred up by the unseen cook. Many of us know the language of this: transference, countertransference, the intersubjective field, projective identification. These theoretical terms serve to contain our experience with another human being and serve as guides. Are we acting out their father/mother/brother/sister? Are we suddenly angry, overwhelmed, do we get too involved in getting them in or out of relationships? The self monitoring and questioning goes on.
And here is a little rub, because the forces we are engaged with are so powerful, that sometimes we get fooled. The water boils and we get cooked too! Thank goodness for our colleagues, mentors and supervisors who help us out, hold us as we hold our clients and patients. It is humbling and profound to recognize that we are all sometimes the chickpea and sometimes the cook and that there is a fire that transforms us.