In and Out the Labyrinth of the Mind (A Personal Note on Gestalt Therapy’s Impact)

 

The most tremendous voyages are sometimes taken without moving from the spot.
—Henry Miller, The World of Sex

 

THE GESTALT MARATHON is an indoor, static marathon, with all its participants inside a large, conducive room weary and confounded from the in-depth processes, emotional exercises, experimentations, and self-encounters and discoveries yet equipped with an awareness so sharp it cuts deep through the surface of their perceived experience and evokes rich and different perspectives from within—perspectives that are at least insightful, freeing, and integrative, if not directly curative.

`           Awareness per se, by and in itself, can be curative. (Perls)

In August 2009, after two days of intensive self-awareness activities, I have stepped upon this new ground where I have made contact with myself and understood “awareness” not just in its psychical nature but also in its biological, instinctive sense (as an élan vital that encompasses not just humans but all of life). “Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in us. Everything else about us is dead machinery” (Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions).

Though abstract—and sometimes abstruse, elusive, and ineffable—awareness also seemed like a state of matter, at least to me: I have my hands on it, uncomprehendingly feeling its fluctuations, its rising and falling (a lifeline), and its pulsing, as though a heart, from the deepest trenches of my skull-sized ocean.

Franz Kafka spoke of literature “as an axe with which we chop at the frozen seas inside us.” The same thing can be said of the Gestalt marathon. With all the compression and pressure already inside the participants—their lifelong suppressed issues and traumas remaining incessantly percussive via neuroses—the release is akin to an eruption of a dormant volcano that has long forgotten about its own existence but suddenly awakens from this amnesia of living.

The Gestalt marathon offered me a chance to let my deep-seated feelings burst and tear down my prison and chains, albeit not permanently. When I found out that, by theory and experience, there’s a rhythmic relationship (contact and withdrawal) even to such things like freedom and captivity, I started building another prison, this time, of my own choosing: it is an inner world where I can give my thoughts free rein without extrinsic influences and only led by pure impulses bubbling from the well that is my soul (my organism). I believe that opposites complement one another, as in the principles of Taoism of light and darkness. Truth is that nature is cyclic, inevitable, and necessary.

The walls of this prison mirror my solitude, but this voyage of the mind arrives at a fecundity of potentials that is seeking to be drawn into life and to participate in reality. It’s like slipping into a dream and waking up with Samuel Coleridge’s flower in hand.

What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
You dreamed
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in you hand
Ah, what then? (Coleridge)

Conversely (this time, the flower is from the outside), at moments of selfless subjectivity, which I soon learn from Gestalt therapy, I take note of how an external stimulus passes “through my senses and into my mind” and watch the whole course of this awareness continuum bifurcating through the labyrinth, along with its curious loops and random turns and associations. This is why time passes inside the mind differently (in our heads lies a “battleground of invisible forces”).

We are aware of the age-old adage of the “mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.” The mind is the center where we process what our senses gathered. The Gestalt marathon freed my mind—and thus freed me from it—and attuned me well with my senses. An awareness that is not just run by the brain but also by the pleading of the guts has been born. (The finish line of the marathon is integration: the mind-and-body split made whole.)

The “frozen seas” are chopped down; the seas become an ocean. My awareness circles above like a bird. But all of life follows the rhythm of life. Parts of my ocean will, in its own time, freeze. However, that’s not a bad thing; it has to happen so I can rest on top the labyrinths.

Koryu, look. The birds are going back north.
I wonder who said that birds are free?
Though they fly in the sky freely,
If they had no place to arrive or branches to rest on,
They might even regret having wings.
What is true freedom?
It is, perhaps, having a place to go back to. (Koumyou Sanzo)

Book Nook: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: On “Burning” Books

2c8fbe5e4422715ae29c6caef51be045“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

FAHRENHEIT 451 (1952) opens with this frightening line. Ray Bradbury writes of a dystopian future where books are burned along with the homes where they are hidden. Here, the firemen’s job is to start fires instead of putting them out. The masses are addicted to watching and discussing TV shows flashing from their “four-walled televisors” and are oblivious or indifferent regarding the imminent genesis of a nuclear war—about their world being “swept with confused alarms and struggle and flight / where ignorant armies clash by night” (Arnold, Dover Beach).

Hitherto, Bradbury’s prophetic legacy remains resonant—even almost solid and identical—in its unnerving resemblances and implications to this modern era of rapid technological progress but with the most of humanity still mindless of its repercussions. Take for example the irony of their ignorance: with tons of information bombarded and crammed into people’s heads, only a little time is now left for quiet introspection and skepticism. People are “[rushed] quickly to conclusions [their] minds [haven’t] time to protest” and thus learning only a little, which is “a dangerous thing” (Pope, An Essay on Criticism).

Due to the ubiquity of the Internet, the endless blabber flooding the social media, and the online articles abominably compressed for quick, shallow reading, elements essential to critical thinking—such as “the quality of information,” the patience and “the leisure to digest it,” and “the [carrying] out [of] actions based on the interaction of the previous two”—are inanely abandoned.

History does not lack but rather possess an almost plethoric memory that bears the perversities of obliterating books, libraries, and whole nations. During the Nazi regime, a bonfire for thousands of books was set in the streets of Berlin, Germany. “Where one burns books, one will soon burn people” (Heine). The first Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang also commanded the rigorous abolition of the all chronicles written before his reign and the burying of their scholars because he wanted history to begin with him. The ancient library of Alexandria, a house of incalculable scrolls, suffered from fires throughout the centuries.

Destroying books is the prime symbol of censorship and oppression of thought. But “you don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture,” says Bradbury. “Just get people to stop reading them.” In Fahrenheit 451, we must note that before the government decreed the burning of books, it was the public who first turned away from reading.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page Book Nook: January 18, 2016)

On Constant Book Circulation


We should read to give our souls a chance to luxuriate.
Henry Miller

 

THE ARGENTINE WRITER Jorge Luis Borges, who is also a hedonistic reader, has “always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” (In his short story “The Library of Babel,” Borges conceives the universe as an infinite Library.)

According to Henry Miller, an expatriate American writer whose libertine spirit broke literary conventions, “a book lying idle on a shelf is wasted ammunition. Like money, books must be kept in constant circulation… When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a Russian novelist immortalized for his unflinching analysis of the human psyche, “[viewed reading as] an important occupation.”

For someone like me who doesn’t own an “infinite library” and who has been unfortunately traumatized after listing the unreturned books my friends borrowed for too long a time that it’s almost a Herculean task to borrow them back, the idea of “my books spending leisure time with [other people]” has become repulsive. Well, that’s an obvious exaggeration; however, it gets my point across clearly.

So in lieu of my neurosis and contempt for the business of lending books, I figured that the occupation of writing succinct book reviews and recommendations suffices as a practice of constant book circulation:

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Borges’s Ficciones (1962) is an erudite collection of short fictions written by gargantuan hands of imagination: a literal endless labyrinth of books, an obscure group of geniuses conceiving a whole universe, an author who attempts to “rewrite” Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote word for word, a dreamer who was dreamt in return, a paraplegic whose perfect memory was a “long metaphor for insomnia,” an imaginary argument posing that history imitates literature, a scholarly commentary on an nonexistent book, and more stories that blur the distinction between fact and fiction.

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Tropic of Cancer (1934), Miller’s notorious autobiographical novel, was banned for thirty years following its publication due to its explicit language and themes—thus immediately emerging as a cult figure. Miller, a penniless and starving young writer, recounts the joy, freedom, and misery of his Bohemian life in the seedy depths of Paris. His surrealistic prose sketches, existential reflections, social criticisms, and unrestrained stream of digressions and free associations introduced a new form of genre where memoir and fiction were intertwined into one rope. Miller fought against censorship and defended the freedom to read. Tropic of Cancer is one of the books responsible for the “free speech that we now take for granted in literature.”

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Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866)—a masterpiece and antecedent of psychologically driven novels—is about a delirious, intelligent young man whose logic concluded into the cold-blooded murder of an old, abusive landlady, with him vindicating that he is obligated and permitted to transgress from human laws for the greater good.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page: January 3, 2016)

 

Book Nook: The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

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“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.”

J. D. SALINGER’S magnum opus, The Catcher in the Rye (1951), was a landmark novel in the 20th-century American literature and was listed as one of the best English-language novels of the century. Hailed as that “rare miracle of fiction…[where] a human being has been created out of ink, paper, and the imagination,” this mock-autobiographical story—narrated by a cynical, sardonic, cuss-tongued, yet sensitive and grieving seventeen-year-old Holden Caulfield as he spends his days in a mental asylum—has captivated the imagination of many and sold more than 60 million copies, and continues to sell 250 thousand copies a year.

In the vernacular of his time (the 1940s), which Salinger delivered in an incredible capture of language, Holden tells us “about this madman stuff that happened to [him] around last Christmas just before [he] got pretty run-down” when he went to New York the night following his expulsion from Pency Prep.

The Catcher in the Rye is the mouthpiece of Holden’s rebellion—the launch of his antipathies toward the “phoniness” of adulthood. In the character of Holden, Salinger molded an archetype of “teenage angst and alienation,” almost like a younger-sibling incarnate of the disturbed unnamed narrator in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground.

(Mark David Chapman, the man who shot John Lennon, said, “Because Lennon was a phony.” His response letter composed only of one line: “Read The Catcher in the Rye.”)

World War II created Salinger: the soldier was “the ghost in the machine of all the stories.” Salinger carried chapters of The Catcher in the Rye to help him survive and wrote amid the war. The pages landed on the shores of D-Day, hid in the trenches, and witnessed the atrocities of the concentration camps, all of which were funneled into the novel.

Due to unwanted fame, Salinger went reclusive, and the public invaded him throughout his life.

Though remaining unpublished from 1965 until his death in 2010, he wrote prolifically. In the bunker where he installed himself was a safe full of manuscripts; this was said to contain the complete chronicles of the Caulfield and Glass families, other novels, short stories, and a Vedanta manual. Claims hold that Salinger “left instructions authorizing a specific timetable” that these works be published between 2015 and 2020.

Despite having only a few visible works in his oeuvre, Salinger was a literary giant as The Catcher in the Rye resonates through generations of teenagers caught between childhood and adulthood.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page Book Nook: December 13, 2015)

Book Nook: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

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I wanted to destroy something beautiful I’d never have. Burn the Amazon rain forests. Pump chlorofluorocarbons straight up to gobble the ozone. Open the dump valves on supertankers and uncap offshore oil wells. I wanted to kill all the fish I couldn’t afford to eat, and smother the French beaches I’d never see.

I wanted the whole world to hit bottom.

Pounding that kid, I really wanted to put a bullet between the eyes of every endangered panda that wouldn’t screw to save its species and every whale or dolphin that gave up and ran itself aground.

UPON WINNING the Oregon Book Award for best novel and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, Chuck Palahniuk’s visionary debut novel, Fight Club, was shot to the veins of mainstream fiction. Following the success of its 1999 film adaptation directed by David Fincher, Fight Club gained cult classic status and has become a disturbingly accurate interpretation of our modern world.

The unnamed male narrator, suffering from a long streak of insomnia, finds cure by attending cancer support groups. But when Marla Singer—a sallow, heavy-smoking nihilist—enters the evening meetings and mirrors his own fraud, his insomnia returns, so he confronts Singer to split schedules with him.

On the night when his condominium mysteriously blows up, he calls Tyler Durden, whom he had previously met—under strange circumstances—on a beach. They agree to meet at a bar, where, after drinking, Durden asks him a favor, “I want you to hit me as hard as you can.”

The narrator swings the punch that cradled Fight Club into the world. Shortly, a multitude of men with white-collar jobs join them. Every weekend, in the parking lots and basements of bars, they hold these late-hour no-holds-barred-and-barefisted fights that “go on as long as they have to.”

These one-on-one melees curiously evoke psychotherapeutic effects—resembling that of enlightenment—within the men: they are reborn from their entombed lives.

Fight Club soon evolves into Project Mayhem, an anarchic army led by Durden, who seeks to fulfill his visions of global enlightenment through organized chaos, public unrest, and demolition.

Fight Club is a social satire on the dehumanizing effects of consumerism: alienation brought by chronic materialism, illusory comforts, overindulgence, and career and lifestyle obsessions fueled by advertising. “The modern world is for business—not for the people,” as what the great psychoanalyst Carl Jung said.

“It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything.” Skillfully fusing Zen elements with Durden’s extremist ideologies, Palahniuk has written a provocative expression of metaphysical rebellion. The collective revolt against the existential vacuum is Durden’s nucleus and what draws men toward him.

Fight Club’s noir ambience and the solid economy of its prose are reminiscent of Albert Camus’s The Stranger, but with the sharp nonlinear narration executing its plot; also inheriting Kurt Vonnegut’s dark humor, Chuck Palahniuk is among today’s distinct and intriguing voices.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page Book Nook: December 27, 2015)

Book Nook: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

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Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh. The trombones crunched redgold under my bed, and behind my gulliver the trumpets three-wise silverflamed, and there by the door the timps rolling through my guts and out again crunched like candy thunder. Oh, it was wonder of wonders. And then, a bird of like rarest spun heavenmetal, or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now, came the violin solo above all the other strings, and those strings were like a cage of silk round my bed. Then flute and oboe bored, like worms of like platinum, into the thick thick toffee gold and silver. I was in such bliss, my brothers.

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1962), Anthony Burgess’s most famous work, suffered from notoriety and controversy when Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation (1971) shocked its audience as it seemed to have glorified violence. The film received critical acclaim and gained cult following. Clockwork Orange was then linked to increasing crime rates and was banned. This “misunderstanding” caused by the film made Burgess disown the book, with him saying that he should have not written it because of the dangers of misinterpretation. Though chosen by TIME magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels, Burgess dismissed Clockwork Orange as a minor work undeserving of its fame, which all the while overshadowed his other major works.

Inspired by the juvenile delinquency of the early 1960s, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and with the rise of the sci-fi genre, the prolific British author Anthony Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange, a short, transgressive dystopian satire. It was narrated in “Nadsat” language—an imaginary teenage slang invented by Burgess from his studies of Russian—by the Beethoven-loving young thug Alex. Along with his three “droogs”—that is, Pete, Georgie, Dim—the fifteen-year-old Alex leads a life of violence—stealing, beating people, raping, and committing murder with gleeful countenance—until he gets arrested and sentenced fourteen years in prison.

Two years later, still desperate to get out and blind to the repercussions, he was selected to be a test subject for the “Ludovico’s technique,” a Pavlovian conditioning treatment for criminals, and was promised to be released from prison in a fortnight. Afterward, Alex is conditioned to feel sick, paralyzed, and dying whenever he thinks of anything evil. The novel continues with Alex being freed but now deprived of free will.

(In the US edition, the last chapter, which the editors thought unnecessary, is omitted against Burgess’s will.)

Through extreme violence and depravity, Burgess probes the ancient and imperishable philosophical problems of free will, moral choice, and the grinding entities of good and evil in the battleground of man’s heart: “Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness?”

Both a linguist and a musical composer, Burgess has flawlessly orchestrated the linguistic feats in A Clockwork Orange, a reminiscent of what James Joyce did on Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. With his unorthodox mastery of language, Burgess has innovated literature and was called as one of the few and inimitable literary geniuses of all time.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page Book Nook: November 15, 2015)

Book Nook: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

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“I’m scared of him, and that’s why I know him. If you’re scared of someone you hate him but you can’t stop thinking about him. You kid yourself he’s all right really, an’ then when you see him again; it’s like asthma an’ you can’t breathe…”

LORD OF THE FLIES, written by the Nobel laureate William Golding, is a frightening and influential work of fiction. The macabre maestro Stephen King wrote in his introduction to the book, “Flies always represented what novels are for…not just entertainment, but life and death… The writer’s imagination becomes the reader’s reality.”

First published in 1954, Lord of the Flies is an allegory of man’s descent from cultured, rational thinking to primitive, bloodthirsty savagery. The story took place at the dawn of an atomic war. A plane was shot down, and it crashed on an uninhabited tropical island. The survivors, all schoolboys, were scattered around until the loud, deep blasts from a conch called them together.

Led by Ralph, whom they later voted as chief (unanimously because he had the conch), they formed an assembly and discussed on what to do in the island, how to survive and get rescued. But “the delight of a realized ambition” overcame them—the freedom of having “no grownups” around. This sudden liberation from adult supervision made it difficult for their chief to manage the group, and even himself.

Days of blistering heat and cool, dark nights passed; the boys went on with their daily tasks: playing, building shelters, hunting, keeping fire. Then the littluns (little ones) experienced terrors from imaginary monsters and nightmares the island evoked at night. There’s a “beast” out there, but the biguns (big ones), though anxious, said there was none and even sought out to kill it.

Turmoil stemmed from juvenile misunderstandings. Jack (the head of the “hunters”) grew vehement toward Ralph’s leadership. Thus disorder broke out, splitting the boys into two groups, which soon led to brutality and Ralph’s weeping for the “end of innocence.”

Lord of the Flies’s theme is an attempt “to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature.” The story is an experiment—a group of schoolboys stranded in an island without the guidance of adults—and what’s exposed is the basic wildness lurking within man’s heart, a dormant savagery awakened by the warm spilling of blood; this is what the Freudians call Id, the perpetually repressed “anarchic, amoral” unconscious drive.

Cunningly crafted by the author, the title Lord of the Flies is a translation of the Greek Beelzebub, a name for the devil.

With its dense naturalistic imagery and layers of symbolisms, Lord of the Flies is a masterwork, a modern classic, though an infinitely cynical portrayal of human condition.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page Book Nook: October 25, 2015)