I began to register that for the past decade, teachers of our youngest children had been telling me about this diminishing world of inner emotion. Decades ago, psychologist Selma Faiberg in her seminal work The Magic Years, wrote about the vital importance of an almost otherworldly childhood era – between toddlerhood and early elementary school – filled with rich fantasy and imagination, unrestrained by time pressures or the constraints of everyday reality. I realized that magic was being assaulted in children of all ages, seeking to keep up with a world based on instant interaction. (I am convinced that one of the little discussed reasons for the Harry Potter phenomenon is that J.K. Rowling tapped into this yearning in children, who had been made to leave behind their magic much too early in life). With little room for cumbersome emotion or playful fantasy or idiosyncratic passion they had better learn to move fast and to “Live Free or Die Tryin,” as the older kids might put it.
Why is the inner world of magic, play, and emotion so important? An internal world hits the “pause” button. It stops action and slows down time just long enough to nurture reflection and protect genuine passion. Connecting to one’s inner self helps a child learn to handle the ups and down of everyday life (a lot of conflict can happen during recess) through creative play, rather than instant acting-out. It helps a child learn empathy through the use of role-play and imaginative games (remember dolls and puppets?), rather than the lightning-sharp repartee of social cruelty. It helps a child regulate anxiety, anger, and frustration through a focus on passionate pursuits. Mastery of some interest, whether it’s comic books, guitar, or dance, requires kids to put off immediate gratification, and helps them deal with envy and a fear of failing. Without these skills, children tend toward explosions of raw, unprocessed emotion. An inner life also provides ballast, a strong sense of self that helps navigate the unfettered rush of the here and now.
Ron Taffel – Childhood Unbound p.49
The flip side of the new freedoms was a new anxiety. It was infused by endless access, early decisions about high-risk behavior, the ability to do “whatever” without concerns about being seen, and by the overwhelming reach of technology and the warp-speed of life itself. The free-est generation began to shimmer with neon-bright anxiety. This was different than internal neurotic anxiety, by which I mean symptomatic, psychological conflict, thought to be the result of guilt between “right” and “wrong,” the struggle between “id” and “superego,” and the fear that “bad” thoughts meant being a bad person. In children this anxiety can lead to a raging battle between pleasing parents and pleasing oneself, and even to feeling personal responsibility for the very lives, health, and well-being of one’s parents. This type of internal conflict had been the bread and butter of psychoanalysis during the time of the greatest generation and its boomer children.
No, by the second millennium, the kids of older boomers and post-boomers were suffering from a different breed of anxiety, generated by real-life forces: intense social, academic, and techno-driven pressures.
Ron Taffel – Childhood Unbound p.42
In his work, moment after moment, an analyst lives intimately with the human passions. Lust, greed, envy, hate – the seven deadly sins and more; love, charity, faith – the heavenly virtues and all the beatitudes; these assail him endlessly. While he is not to be caught up in the emotional tempest that storms about him unremittingly, it is in such an atmosphere that he must exist. One consequence of this incessant exposure must be satiety, a feeling of fullness, of overripeness, the defense against which is the antagonistic feeling of monotony. Only a “surprise,” only a sudden, unpredictable event, can restore to the analyst who has reached the satiation point that quickening of interest, of zest, necessary to refresh his senses and render him once more sensitive in the way he must be if he is to perform efficiently. Fortunately, such “surprises” are not lacking.
By confinement, I refer to the actual physical fact of enforced immobility that is the condition of work for people such as I. Everything we do takes place in the consulting room. Activity, movement, is denied to us. The great dramas of which we partake, the tremendous conflicts, the shattering experiences – these come to us, come to the rooms in which we sit and listen. Eternally, we are spectators – rather, auditors. Sometimes, it cannot be denied, one chafes against the sheer physical constriction of such a life; one longs for movement; one becomes physically restless, hungering for the air of the outdoors, for the vigorous employment of the limbs and for the distant use of eyes against horizons rather than walls. Finally, one tires of words, words, words. The long vacations habitual with analysts are one antidote, and it is to be observed how they drift to the mountains and the sea in an annual effort to feed their appetites for mobility and space.
Robert M. Lindner – The Fifty Minute Hour p.277
There is an old Hasidic story of a rabbi who had a conversation with the Lord about Heaven and Hell. “I will show you Hell,” said the Lord, and led the rabbi into a room containing a group of famished, desperate people sitting around a large, circular table. In the center of the table rested an enormous pot of stew, more than enough for everyone. The smell of the stew was delicious and made the rabbi’s mouth water. Yet no one ate. Each diner at the table held a very long-handled spoon – long enough to reach the pot and scoop up a spoonful of stew, but too long to get the food into one’s mouth. The rabbi saw that their suffering was indeed terrible and bowed his head in compassion. “Now I will show you Heaven,” said the Lord, and they entered another room, identical to the first – same large, round table, same enormous pot of stew, same long-handled spoons. Yet there was gaiety in the air: everyone appeared well nourished, plump, and exuberant. The rabbi could not understand and looked to the Lord. “It is simple,” said the Lord, “but it requires a certain skill. You see, the people in this room have learned to feed each other!”
Irvin D. Yalom – The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy p.13
To turn a nation, linked largely by common lineage and descent, into a people with distinctive mores and a defined way of life, the Israelites must share not merely a set of ancestors but also a people-making history. Specifically, they must be collectively transformed by a special set of shared political and cultural experiences. They must first experience enslavement and loss of all worldly power. They must then be emancipated and liberated against all odds, yet in a manner that obliges the slaves to declare their willingness to be freed. And their former masters – the world’s greatest civilization – must be brought to bear witness to the superiority of the God of Israel and the insufficiency of relying solely on human wisdom and power.
Leon R. Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.663
The last chapter of Genesis begins with the burial of Jacob at Machpelah and ends with the mummification of Joseph in Egypt. The contrast between burial and embalming/mummification reveals a crucial difference between Israel and Egypt: the difference between the acceptance and the denial or defiance of death. Embalming the body is an attempt at human control after death. The putative beneficiary of the treatment is the deceased: embalming resists time and change, prevents decay, beautifies the body, and prepares for reanimation and continued life – not to say immortality. Burial accepts that we are “dust to dust.” It manifests a different attitude toward the body and its fragile beauty, toward time and finitude and memory, and toward the source of life and the (im)possibility of apotheosis. Burial, the Israelite way, lies between the extremes of revering the body and worshipping the dead, on the one hand, and condemning the body and ignoring the mortal remains, on the other. The way of Israel is the way of memory, keeping alive not the bodies of the dead but their ever-living legacy in relation to the ever-living God, who in the beginning created heaven and earth and made man alone in His own image, and who later summoned Father Abraham and his descendants to “walk before me and be wholehearted.”
Leon R. Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.658
Earlier we learned that the Egyptians abominate eating with the Hebrews (43:32), perhaps because they eat lamb. And much later, Moses will refuse Pharaoh’s permission to “sacrifice to your God in the land,” because “we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians [most likely, sheep] to the Lord our God; lo, if we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us?” (Exodus 8:21-22). The Egyptians abominate what the Hebrews eat, how they gain their livelihood from animals, and what they choose to sacrifice to their God. From extrabiblical sources, we learn that the Egyptians are well known for their worship of certain animals. Accordingly, they may regard the Israelite assumption of human superiority over the animal world as an abomination, a deep violation of Egyptian belief in the unity (or at least the interchangeability) of man, nature, and the divine. The Egyptians, on this interpretation, abominate those who make too much of the difference of man.
Abominable or loathsome are those sexual practices said to be characteristic of the land of Egypt behind and the land of Canaan before: incest (Leviticus 18:6-18), male homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13), and bestiality (Leviticus 18:23). Abominable too are child sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 12:31 and 18:9-10) and, most especially, idolatry (Deuteronomy 7:25-26), as well as the related practices of divination, soothsaying, augury, and sorcery (Deuteronomy 18:10-12). In short, abominable in Israel are those activities that deny or efface the fundamental distinctions of creation: child sacrifice, which make a child into an animal; bestiality, which makes an animal into a human being; homosexual sodomy, which makes a man into a woman; and idolatry, which makes an animal or a man or some other creature or object into a god. For the Israelite way, with its view that man – and man alone – carries the divine image, failure to see the superiority of man vis-à-vis the animals is necessarily connected with failure properly to apprehend that which is truly divine. Setting itself in direct opposition to Egyptian (and Canaanite) ways, Israel eventually will separate itself by loathing the chaos-inducing denial of the importance of separation itself.
Leon R. Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom p.625