The birth of experience goes on all life long. Giving birth to oneself involves many processes. The first chapter of this book expands on Eigen’s final talk on 'Psychoanalysis and Kabbalah' for the New York University Postdoctoral Contemplative Studies Project, and focuses in particular on an intertwining of beauty and destruction. Beauty is the heart of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, intricately linked both to other capacities and to catastrophic devastation. Interestingly, Bion also links faith and catastrophe, and writes of psychoanalytic 'beauty', thereby creating a rich dance of psychoanalysis with Kabbalah. Winnicott adds his own special touch, associating the fate of a vital spark with trauma as the personality begins to form, and with the work of spontaneous recovery that is a profound part both of living and of therapy sessions.
The second part of the book is new and focuses on birth processes at different ages and situations, exploring in detail how psychoanalysis interweaves with themes from life, clinical work, and Kabbalah. Failed birth processes are part of living but so is the need to 'midwife' existence. Eigen suggests that there may be some kind of “organ” that permeates, scans, and tastes shifting centers of experience, taking note of their fate and partnering their development - a kind of inner tuning sense in search of cultivation, spanning what we call conscious and unconscious life, mind and body, and testing the weather for favorable birth conditions. Often we do not know exactly what is happening or how, but sense something germinating. Domains open that are not confineable or restricted by the tools at hand - which is perhaps one reason why analysts are called toolmakers, as experience and the tools used to understand it become part of further birth processes. In this way, Eigen shows how the intimate fusion of psychological and spiritual currents generate new tastes of living.
Reviews and Endorsements:
‘In his latest remarkable book, Michael Eigen deals with the theme of beauty intertwining both psychoanalytic perspective and Jewish mysticism. He reminds us that towards the end of his life, Bion talked of the beauty of psychoanalysis. But in what sense can psychoanalysis be said to be beautiful? Eigen helps us to answer this question. Psychoanalysis aims at expanding our capacity to give a full meaning to experience, to live in a more intense and sensitive way. This is a recognition of the truth that beauty is at the heart of psychic growth and that the new emerging paradigm in psychoanalysis can be defined as “aesthetic”.
In fact, at the heart of both aesthetic experience and psychic growth is the capacity to create or receive a form to contain our anxiety – the capacity to tolerate the transience of all things. This acceptance of transience is intrinsic to our apprehension of beauty. “Beauty runs through life along with disaster,” notes Eigen, in an observation that recalls the beginning of Rilke’s first Duino Elegy, where the poet says that beauty is just the beginning of a terror we can still bear. What is extraordinary in this book is the author’s ability to make the reader not only know something more about life, beauty, and psychical suffering, but also to experience what it means by psychic growth, through a style of writing that is vitally alive and communicative.’
— Giuseppe Civitarese, MD, PhD, full member of the Italian Psychoanalytic Society and the International Psychoanalytical Association
‘In this exciting and inspiring book, Michael Eigen deals with the biggest riddle that the Kabbalah shares with psychoanalysis: how can we tolerate pain, destruction, and loss, whilst knowing that now, at this moment, in every moment, life begins anew? How can a person exposed to trauma feel the miracle of beauty, the thread of grace? The two parts of the book, “Beauty and Destruction” and “On the Birth of Experience”, explore core connections between psychoanalysis and Jewish myth, from the Biblical world and the sages, through to medieval Kabbalah and the Chassidic movement in the modern era. In this spiritual journey, we meet Moses and Rabbi Akiva, gain insights into the sephirothic Tree of Life, and witness the descent of the soul from the infinite Ein Sof to this broken world and the struggle for meaning. Reading this book takes us deep into worlds of inner life and simultaneously heightens our sense of who we are and can be.’
— Dr Ruth Kara-Ivanov Kaniel, Ben-Gurion University; Shalom Hartman Institute; and Tel Aviv Institute for Contemporary Psychoanalysis
About the Author:
Michael Eigen is a psychologist and psychoanalyst. He is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology in the Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis at New York University, and a Senior Member of the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis. He is the author of a number of books, including Toxic Nourishment, The Psychoanalytic Mystic, Feeling Matters and Flames from the Unconscious.