“The force that drives the green fuse drives the flower” –
Merle Molofsky, NCPsyA, LP
SINGING INSIGHT IN THE KEY OF EPIPHANY
The process of becoming a psychoanalyst is a journey toward becoming and being, a journey toward going-on-being, an authentic self. While we learn, we internalize ideas, styles, and conscious/unconscious attitudes of those we learn from: our analyst(s), instructors, classmates, supervisors, people who have written books and papers – and others. We learn to remember and value everything that shaped our evolving awareness, the values and relationships that shaped our lives from childhood, and beyond. After we “officially” earn the title “psychoanalyst”, we remain students, continuing to learn as we work, supervise, teach, write – and live. Life is learning, and learning is life. To learn is to teach, and to teach is to learn.
The art of living and learning involves openness to experience, and, in particular, an openness to experiencing awakenings. The word epiphany comes from the Koine Greek, epiphaneia, which translates as “manifestation”, or “striking appearance”. An epiphany is an “aha!” moment, a moment of seeing something strikingly unusual that leads to a greater understanding of a larger principle, a greater picture. Thus an epiphany is an integrative experience. Because epiphany is so sudden, so personal, so unique a moment, it is an authentic experience.
Integration and authenticity are the essence of the psychoanalytic enterprise, and epiphany is the key. We can “sing insight in the key of epiphany”.
Epiphany is a defining moment. The richness of life, and the richness of the psychoanalytic process, is such that there will not be a one and only defining moment. There are myriad defining moments.
A keynote of defining moments is intensity.
In the mid 1970’s, when I was in my early 30’s, two friends kept recommending to me that I would benefit from experiencing psychoanalysis. Not psychotherapy. Not hypnosis. Not the various group experiences popular in that time, such as EST. Psychoanalysis. And so I began a personal psychoanalysis, which led me to enrolling in a psychoanalytic institute. By 1980 I was working clinically. So many moments in my life until then were ones of intensity, epiphany, preparing me for the intensity of psychoanalytic insight – and a host of defining moments.
One intense moment I remember is while in session with my analyst, I realized that all my “troublesome”, “unwelcome” emotions, indeed, every emotion, were useful in my clinical work – and in life. As feelings became useful to me, I could help others use their own feelings. I would like to explore the meaning, the potential, and ramifications of this moment.
Frequently analysts hear, while working with an analysand, plaintive queries and statements: “What am I supposed to do with this feeling?” “What good is feeling so much? It hurts!” “How do I make this feeling go away?” Actually, we can imagine an infinite regression of echoing feelings, an aural version of an infinite regression of mirrors, a resonating “How can I make this feeling go away – go away – go away – go away????” And, if the infinite regression of echoing feelings manifests as a regression in the transference, we hear, “Make this feeling go away – make this feeling go away – make this feeling go away!!!!” Embedded within the “Make this feeling go away!” is an even more plaintive, though tacit, wail, “Mommy, make it stop, make it stop, Mommy, make it stop!”
Most of us have a useful repertoire of responses to these sorts of plaintive questions. We may respond “educatively”, along the lines of “Your feelings are part of you”. We may elaborate further, “Your feelings are a useful part of you. Your feelings give you information about yourself, about yourself in the world.” We may further elaborate, “We can’t choose which feelings we get to feel. If we feel at all, we will feel comfortable and uncomfortable feelings. For instance, in order to be capable of feeling joy we also may have to feel sorrow”. Or – we may begin to explore further, asking, “What is wrong with feeling angry?” Or, “Can you tell me what you don’t like about feeling sad?”
To fully encounter another person’s range of feelings, we need to fully encounter our own. And thus, in my defining moment in my analyst’s office, when I accepted the full range of my feelings, I discovered my feelings were valuable to me, because they gave me information about myself in the world, and thus served to guide and protect me. To fully function in the world, we need to be guided by both intellect and emotion. To live authentically, we need to be able to integrate and use intellect and emotion.
Furthermore, in the knowledge that my feelings are useful to me, I discovered that I could dedicate that knowledge to the development and growth of another, to help another in her or his journey toward integration and authenticity.
Something I have learned: my epiphanies so often come from music. I am awakened to insight when I hear music. I hear an inner music, and in hearing that music, I awaken. I translate experience and meaning into musical sound, and into musical metaphor.
ATTUNING, REVERBERATING, RESONATING: THE MUSIC OF EMPATHY
Just as our “heartstrings” reverberate with another’s “heartstrings”, so our “aha” moments, our defining moments, are felt vibrations as well.
Our emotions can function like resonating strings in a musical instrument, such as a koto, sitar, or viola d’amore. Resonating, or sympathetic, strings are strings that are strung so close to one another that if one is struck, the other sounds, creating harmonic overtones, harmonic resonances. When we are attuned to our own feelings, we feel the feelings of others, we resonate with their feelings. And, because we accept our own feelings, we are open to accepting the feelings of others, and, because we are open to accepting the feelings of others, others can resonate with our acceptance of their feelings, and thus begin to accept their own feelings.
The experience of resonance with another’s feelings is a bodily experience. In music, sympathetic resonance involves vibration – a part of a musical instrument will vibrate in resonance with external vibrations. When we experience emotional sympathetic resonance, something within us vibrates. If we are finely attuned to our bodily responses, we actually may feel the “vibe”, a slight internal tremble. If we focus on where we feel the vibration, we may even be able to associate a particular organ with the emotion involved, and understand even more fully the depth of the feeling. A slight flutter along the front right of the torso, for instance, may indicate that the liver is in sympathetic resonance with the analysand’s anger.
According to Chinese medicine, each vital organ is associated with an emotion. The liver is considered the seat of anger, resentment, bitterness, and irascibility. Since the liver is essential to maintaining autoimmune functions, if the analysand is repressing anger, autoimmune functions may be suppressed, and somatizations may occur. Thus the analyst’s resonance, and attunement to one’s own physiological experience, may lead to interventions that may enable the analysand to recognize and express “forbidden feelings”, and perhaps even avert somatizations.
Just as our “heartstrings” reverberate with another’s “heartstrings”, so our “aha” moments, our defining moments, are felt vibrations as well. The Hindu concept of “wisdom rising” is an example of a bodily sense manifesting in an epiphany – what is the rising sensation? Epiphany can manifest as a perceived wave moving upward through the body. In a sense, the “wisdom rising” of an “aha” moment can be understood as a moment of oneness, in which the individual resonates with the universe.
The metaphor, and reality, of resonating strings, leads me to the “aha-ness” of musical moments in general. A talented analytic candidate, about to begin clinical work, came to me for supervision. She was a songwriter, immersed in the power of song, sensitive to the synergy of music and words. As she began clinical work, it was clear that she was readily empathic and attuned. Within a few weeks, she talked about her most recent session with a man with whom she felt out of touch. As she described her feelings about him, and her sense that she was failing to understand him, I had an “aha” moment that led to her own “aha”. Recognizing that all our talk was going nowhere, and remembering that she was a singer/songwriter, I said, “Is he a song? Can you sing a song that is who he is?” And she immediately began singing, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home”.
This memory caused me to feel a trembling chill in my lungs, just as I did those many years ago when I heard her sing the song that was the man she discovered she did understand. According to Chinese medicine, the lungs are the seat of grief, sadness, numbness, and depression. The words of the song, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”, readily convey grief and sorrow, a longing and loneliness that could lead to depression. The slow, meandering melody underscores those feelings. She realized that although she encountered a man who was very macho, big, blustery, even slightly scary, the song enabled her to realize that inwardly he was a scared, lonely, abandoned child, a “motherless child”.
In session with an analysand, she said she felt stuck, she knew there was something haunting her, something she needed to express, but she had no idea what it was. Her look of puzzlement segued into distress. We both were stuck – stuck in the “unthought known” (1987). Aha. I knew she was creative, artistic, musical – she loved to sing. I asked her, “Could you sing what you are feeling?” She lit up, and began to sing the Annie Lennox song, “Why”. As she lifted her voice into the melismatic chorus, “Tell me why”, recognition lit up her face. She was haunted by “why”, the “why” of everything that happened to her, and the rest of the chorus, “I think you don’t know what I feel, you don’t know what I feel”.
The “why” of the line “Tell me why” is drawn out in a melismatic wail. Melisma is the singing of a single syllable of a word in a progression of different notes, “why –i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i”. The effect is hypnagogic, trance-like, creating an altered state of consciousness.
In that particular session we explored her sense of never having understood the traumatic events of her life, why what had befallen her had happened, and why she had been so unresponded to throughout her life. “You don’t know what I feel.” Her sessions with me became an opportunity she seized on, an opportunity to feel, to know, that someone else could know what she feels. And, in time, more opportunities opened up, as she explored the manifold “Whys” of her life.
Aha. Music indeed evokes the unthought known, and invites the potential for knowing.
DISCOVERING LYRICS THROUGH MUSIC
Thus sometimes an “aha” moment during an analytic session comes through an associative process that is not immediately perceived as verbal. My experience in session with evenly hovering attention, with reverie, with what Bion recommends as listening without memory or desire or understanding, leads me to “hear” melodies when I am in session. I am familiar with a broad range of music, including Western Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical music; American folk music, including blues and Appalachian ballads; flamenco; Japanese music, including taiko, and koto and shakuhachi; music of the British Isles, particularly Irish music. I seldom just “hear” a melody. When I “hear” melodies, I remember lyrics.
I might hear a fragment of an American ballad, “I am a man of constant sorrow, I’ve seen trouble all my days.” The man I am working with might be staying on the surface, recounting office gossip, maintaining a pleasant demeanor, smiling. When I “hear” a line or two of a song fragment while trying to discover what the surface chatter means, I am alerted me to an underlying emotion that the person is trying to suppress. “Aha.” If I ask a question or two, a submerged feeling comes to the surface.
Or, a woman I’m working with is complaining bitterly about “men”. How “men” are shallow, unpredictable, untrustworthy. Have the men she has dated been so shallow, et cetera? No, she replies, she wouldn’t get that close with anyone, all her dates are variants of “speed dating”, one or two dates and then she cuts bait, she bails. And then a melody, a song fragment, arises – an American ballad, as sung by Joan Baez. “Don’t sing love songs, you’ll wake my mother, she’s lying here, right by my side, and, in her hand, a silver dagger, she says that I can’t be your bride.” Further lyrics lead me further along on the “aha” trail. “All men are false, says my mother, they’ll tell you wicked, loving lies, the very next evening they’ll court another, leave you alone to pine and sigh. My daddy is a handsome devil, he has a chain five miles long. And on every link a heart does dangle, of some poor maid he’s loved and wronged.” Aha. I realize I have to ask about her mother, her father, their relationship, her feelings about both of them.
In another instance, I might hear a snippet from a movie, “Night on Earth”, in which Wynona Rider says, “Men! Can’t live with them, can’t live without them, can’t shoot them, men!” Which itself is a variant on a theme, as the original quote is by Erasmus, “Women, can’t live with them, can’t live without them”. The person I am working with may not have been saying anything in the moment that evokes the despair of the “battle of the sexes”, but if I “hear” that quote as part of my associative process, sure enough, eventually the lament, in one form or another, shortly follows.
In working with a couple, when the wife complained about not receiving enough affection, and the husband grew restive and surly, I associated to an Otis Redding song, “hearing” the melody, and then I associated to a John Fogerty song, again, “hearing” the melody. First came the melodies, then the words. The Otis Redding song was “Try a Little Tenderness”. The John Fogerty song was “Bad Bad Boy”. When I paid attention to the seemingly distracting fragments of melody, I “tuned in” to the words. Of course, the wife craved affection, and my association led me to the realization that the husband needed to understand that indeed he had to “try a little tenderness”. Similarly, the husband felt chastised and criticized, and my association led me to realize that the wife needed to realize that her complaints sounded like parental attacks to the husband, and that while she pleaded for love, he heard “bad bad boy, shame on you”.
The “aha” reverberated further. The next session, I brought two CDs with me to my office, and played the two songs for the couple. I offered them a language in which they could understand each other, a code they could use that would communicate their emotional experience. She could ask for love by singing a line or two of “Try a Little Tenderness”, and he could ask for reassurance that she loved and valued him and didn’t think he was hopelessly unforgivable by singing a line or two of “Bad Bad Boy”. The music itself augments the words. Aha, music intensifies emotion! Aha, this is not an epiphanic discovery, we know that! Aha, yes it is, it is ephiphanic every time we use the intensity of word and music combined to communicate more deeply than we might have with words alone.
Alexander Stein (2007) addresses the relationship between music and memory, and emphasizes that the sound environment of early infancy has an important role in the human development. Therefore, music can evoke the sound world of early infancy, and the memory of the affects and experience of relationship forming during that crucial period. Stein makes a point of differentiating music from word, music from lyric, and asks, “What do memories sound like? What do feelings sound like?” Perhaps, in the “aha” moment of an analyst’s reverie of music that leads to words, the analyst is feeling the unconsciously communicated feeling of the analysand, the primary process, and then the lyrics, the words, are a secondary process elaboration, connecting the analysand’s affective memory with the analyst’s affective memory.
We all have the capacity to live in an ongoing unfolding series of ephiphanic moments. Our free associative processes are with us ever and anon, we perceive them, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. “Aha!” is the recognition that we reverberate with each other, and with the world. That “resonance’, that “reverberation”, underlies the philosophy embodied in “music of the spheres”, “Musica Universalis”, that the entire cosmos is proportioned mathematically, that the energies of the universe are mathematical, and have musical properties, are expressed musically. “As above, so below”, attributed to Hermes Trigmegistus, is an element in many philosophies. Our mind-bodies are tuning forks, attuned to the universe. Let’s listen to each other.
Bollas, C. The Shadow of the Object, Columbia University Press: New York, 1987.
Stein, A. “The sound of memory: Music and acoustic origins.” American Imago, 64: 59-85, 2007.
A version of this paper was presented at the IFPE 23rd Annual Interdisciplinary Conference, November 3, 2012.
If you would like to contact Merle Molofsky, her email is firstname.lastname@example.org