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Posts Tagged ‘Psychology’

Erik_Erikson“Erik Erikson” by ?Original uploader was Waveformula at en.wikipedia – http://www.wpclipart.com/famous/psychology/Erik_Erikson_2.png.htmlTransferred from en.wikipediaImage comes from WP Clipart[1] which ONLY features public domain images and provides extensive source information on their “Legal” page: [2]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Erik_Erikson.png#/media/File:Erik_Erikson.png

The great twentieth-century psychologist Erik Erikson once fittingly described the mother as a young child’s “first geography”:

[The child] may indulge in experimental excursions on her body and on the protrusions and orifices of her face (…) and the basic maps acquired in such interplay with the mother no doubt remain guides for the ego’s first orientation in the “world.”

(Erikson, p. 220)

So the early experience of the mother in a certain sense informs our view of the world — both as far as “mother earth” is concerned and in relation to our wider worldview — subsequently.  But it is not just a question of physical features.  We human beings are profoundly interpersonal creatures; and as infants, when we are totally dependent on our providers for our every need and extremely sensitive to our environmental influences, we absorb the emotional states of those closest to us.  This, like much of the infant’s experience at this basic formative stage, can have a far-reaching and long-lasting impact.

Now let’s imagine, from a Biblical perspective, the experience of the first human babies, whose whole existence early on subsisted in a loving and provident mother who, at the same time, bore within herself an unnameable sadness, a deep and incurable scar left by the memory of a primordial Fall from Grace — which Fall affects all the world, since it is mankind’s “stage.”

This broad psychological, emotional and spiritual inheritance, this great “genetic memory,” certainly finds its way into the psychology of humankind as a whole, and of each of us individually, in various ways.

Saint_Anne_with_the_Virgin“Angelos Akotanos – Saint Anne with the Virgin – 15th century” by Angelos Akotanos (attribution) – scan from A Guide to the Benaki Museum, by Angelos Delivorrias. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Angelos_Akotanos_-_Saint_Anne_with_the_Virgin_-_15th_century.jpg#/media/File:Angelos_Akotanos_-_Saint_Anne_with_the_Virgin_-_15th_century.jpg

Having gone from a natural to a Biblical perspective, let us now move from the broadly Biblical to the specifically Catholic.  I’d like to reflect a bit (speculatively, of course) on the infancy of the Blesséd Virgin Mary, whose “first geography” was her own mother, St. Anne.

A brief refresher on the Catholic understanding of Mary: She was by a special grace from God preserved from all sin, both Original and personal, from the moment of her conception.  Hence, she was outside the realm of Original Sin alluded to above.

St. Anne, however, was not.  She was most certainly a very holy woman, but she was not without the effects of sin…Original or personal.  She, unlike the child she bore, had a part in the sadness of our human condition.

Since Mary did not inherit Original Sin in the first place (unlike the rest of us), neither did its effects in her mother pass on to her (as it tends to do with the rest of us).  But Mary was not outside the realm of human sympathy.  This means that without any participation in the guilt of humanity, she would presumably have inherited and intuited from her mother a connection with human suffering, with the tragic “geography” of human existence, and from this a deep sense of compassion…

Madonna and Child“15th-century unknown painters – Madonna on a Crescent Moon in Hortus Conclusus – WGA23736” by Unknown Master, German (active 1450s in Cologne) – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:15th-century_unknown_painters_-_Madonna_on_a_Crescent_Moon_in_Hortus_Conclusus_-_WGA23736.jpg#/media/File:15th-century_unknown_painters_-_Madonna_on_a_Crescent_Moon_in_Hortus_Conclusus_-_WGA23736.jpg

…and this she would have given to her divine Son, Jesus Christ, in giving Him a human nature.  He, in turn, would subsume all this in His own flesh and lift it up in His Resurrection.

Christ's Wounds

“Caravaggio – The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” by Original uploader was Dante Alighieri at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Tm using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg#/media/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg

Mass-attending Catholics will recall this past Sunday’s Gospel, which recounts Our Lord’s post-Resurrection appearance to St. Thomas the Apostle:

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

(John 20: 27-28)

We’ve all been wounded in one way or another, and we all know woundedness in the depths of our being.  But the good news is that Christ’s own Wounds are not only sympathetic, but saving.  Hence we can say that the Apostle Thomas was the first to come into intimate physical contact with the new geography.

As you might have guessed, I do have more to say on this subject.  But it can wait 🙂

Images from Wikipedia

Reference

Erikson, E.H. (1963). Childhood and Society (2nd ed.). NY: Norton.

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Yeah I know, I’m a little late.  But this movie did win a Golden Globe, so hopefully someone will find it relevant.  As far as the plot goes, I think the trailer gives a sufficient background, so I won’t tire anyone by delving into it.

Gravity_Fetal_PositionMy focus is limited to Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), the medical engineer on her first space mission.  The almost-decisive moment in the film, for me, comes when she arrives at the abandoned Russian space station.  As soon as she reaches the safety of the station, she strips off her heavy space gear, curls up into a fetal position, and is momentarily at peace.

FreudSigmund Freud famously wrote about what he perceived to be the two basic human drives: Eros and Thanatos — the life-instinct and the death-instinct, respectively.

These drives, as Freud intended them to be understood, are not as clearly defined as they might seem.  Of the two, Thanatos is the drive closer to the fetal image.  It is the drive toward self-preservation, insulation, withdrawal, comfort…the cozy darkness of the womb.

Eros can be more accurately represented by a flower opening up to sunlight.  It is the drive toward opening oneself up, toward risk, toward adventure, toward expanding one’s horizons.

movies-gravity-sandra-bullock_1Stone’s journey into space strikes me as a form of Thanatos.  A short way into the film, we learn that she had a very young daughter who died.  She spent the rest of her time on earth burying herself in her work, and then outside of work she would just drive around in her car without any particular aim.  My assumption is that the space mission is the same “driving” she’s been doing since her daughter died, just taken all the way “out there.”

I’ve never been to outer space, but it does appear to have a certain womb-like quality with its darkness, silence, and solitude.  It’s the perfect place for someone to go if s/he is broken by grief and wants to get away from everything, including his/her own pain.

Tragedy, pain and trial can lead to various forms of Thanatos, including those that are more self-destructive.  But these can also be transformational and redemptive.  They can break us out of the false security of the ego, open us up to commiseration with others, and instill in us a sense of our dependence on a Higher Power.

In other words, we can respond to suffering Erotically (in the life-drive sense).  The greatest form of Eros, in my view, is prayer.  Far from curling up into a ball, we open ourselves up to the God who wants to speak to us when we pray.  But as with the flower opening itself up to the sun, this involves a certain self-forgetfulness and the acceptance of vulnerability.  And yet, that is where we find true and abiding peace.

Gravity_PrayerOur protagonist seems to gain a sense of this as she fights for her life 372 miles above the earth.  The life instinct wells up in her, and just when her survival seems to have become impossible, she turns to prayer — lamenting, at one point, that no one ever taught her how to pray.

*SPOILER ALERT*

In the end, Stone makes it back to earth in a capsule from an abandoned Chinese space station.  The shuttle lands in a lake; Stone climbs out of the shuttle, swims to shore, emerges from the water onto dry land, kisses the ground, and utters these words as a breath of fresh air: “Thank you.”

Gravity_GratitudeIt occurred to me that herein lies the key both to prayer and to peace in adversity: Gratitude.  As the toddler gains from his mother’s fundamental, assuring presence the confidence he needs to explore his environment, so the soul needs to learn to rest in God’s loving care and sustenance in order to venture out, boldly and freely, into the beautiful and unpredictable ocean of the Divine Life.

On that note, I present to you, in conclusion, the greatest act of prayer the world has ever seen:

Christ Crucified by VelazquezPhotos of Freud and Christ crucified obtained from Wikipedia; all other images obtained through a Google image search

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