Between East and West:
"the Absence of Memory and Desire" and Counter-transference

M. Giampà, F. Fiorespino
(Translation: E. Luti)

Y si un sueno transforma
las grietas del muro en los sagrados rìos
de donde no se vuelve, una pelota salta
en el sol como el mundo, y es un dios màs real
que la salud quien suena los prodigios, los juegos.

Eliseo Diego, "L'Oscuro Splendore", 1974, p. 97.

"Having abandoned without exception all desires generated by projects, mastering, thanks to the mind, the flock of the senses, it is necessary to suspend, a little at a time, functioning by means of intelligence, sustained by determination. Fixing the mind in the Self, thinking about nothing."

Bhagavad Gita, Canto VI, 24-25

We are concerned with the absence of memory, desire and knowledge because it seems to us to be a pivot, a hinge, a meeting point of East and West, between two ways of using the mind. As Silvia Vegetti Finzi says in her History of Psychoanalysis, 1986, p. 352, "To wed mystical thought with the goals of scientific investigation, Bion proposes to locate psychoanalysis in an intermediate dimension between Western and Eastern culture, that overcomes the partiality and impotence of both."

Moreover, we agree with Donald Meltzer that Bion has built an almost philosophical system, where thought sits in Plato's cave in amazement, intent on grasping the noumena of the world. (Meltzer, 1982, vol III, p. 8) While this enchants and amazes us, it also makes us wary.

This technique, but how much better it is to call it "discipline" as Bion does, founds a new "psychoanalytic science", where the observing mind is inside the room where the analysis takes place in an altered state of consciousness (in that some of its peculiar functions are suspended). Having suspended memory, desire and knowledge, the exercise of the art of intuition is made possible, where intuition is the only tool that the psychoanalyst has with
which to lower himself into the mental space of the analysand, in absence of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste, the only tool possible to overcome the obstacle of sensoriality and to reach pure truth, or O. "Every session in which the psychoanalyst takes part must have no past and no future. . . The only important thing in each session is the unknown. We must not allow anything to distract us from the intuition of it... An evolution takes place in every session. From the dark and formless, something evolves." (Bion, 1992, p. 288)

Bionian listening requires a quiet and observant mind; quiet because free of the "restless monkey" of sensoriality, a mind which is thus in continuous becoming or expansion. It would seem that even the analysand should reach the same ability in unison with the analyst. Thus the Freudian dictates: to the patient not to censor the material, to the analyst concerning free-floating attention and abstinence, take on a different light and depth. But the same occurs for the concept of counter-transference. For Bion counter-transference not only is not necessary, but when it exists, it does so as the inability of separating from the memory of what we once desired or from the awareness of the stratagems needed to obtain it. Thus, for example, the psychoanalytic theories used in the session would be none other than one of these stratagems. Bion writes, "... as I understand it, the correct meaning of the term 'counter-transference' is that it is unconscious; and from the moment that it is unconscious the analyst does not know what it is. I must therefore tolerate this fact..." (Bion, 1984, p. 123).

In order to practice psychoanalysis under the best conditions, as we think Bion intends it, is it necessary to be able to tolerate the fear of the unknowable, thalamic terror, "the tiger", that is, to be able to experience a
deeply primitive psychic reality. Would this be the proto-mental? Would this be the beast we were and of which we bear the substantial traces? The discipline of absence of memory, etc. can unleash these forces and, if tolerated, passing through "patience" we can reach "security" in order to begin again at once to look for O.

Every analyst who has passed through his own personal analysis must be capable of not inhibiting in the session: "...the impulse to inhibit is fundamentally envy of the growth-stimulating objects. What is to be sought is an activity that is both the restoration of god (the Mother) and the evolution of god (the formless, infinite, ineffable, non-existent), which can be found only in the state in which there id NO memory, desire, understanding." (Bion, 1970, p. 129)

In reality, the act of faith in the absence of memory and desire leads to the mystical phase, to being at one with the analysand, with the various selves (see the characters in Memoire of the Future trilogy) and with the group (if the "public-ation" is working, and therefore the "Work group") but since reaching O is reaching god (Mother) and being in unison with the mother and perhaps with the entire universe, is it possible to be "become" a whole without becoming psychotic, confused and fusional! None of this is new to us, we have already learned it from the poets, artists and musicians and we continue to learn it from scientists with their unifying theories of living matter, but any one of us, any ordinary person, knows it because we have experienced it at least once in our lives, in viewing a landscape, hearing a symphony or in a deep emotional relationship.

What interests Bion is that one be 'mentally alive', both in analysis and outside of it. For Bion, certainly, the 'mentally alive' are 'geniuses' and 'mystics' in that they approach or are 'in unison' with 'absolute Truth',
'ultimate Reality', 'Divinity', the 'infinite' and the Kantian 'Thing-in-itself'.

Bion dies not distinguish the 'mystic' from the 'genius':

"The term 'genius' does not carry the associations I want, so I propose to use the term 'mystic', , leaving it to be supposed that the mystic has characteristics usually associated with genius and that the person represented by the term 'genius' or 'mystic' may with equal propriety be described by the term 'messiah'.
The mystic is both creative and destructive."
.(op. cit., p. 74)

Moreover he uses the term 'mystic' to describe exceptional individuals, such as scientists. (op. cit., p. 64)
It is interesting that the noun 'genius' derives from the Latin verb gignere, "to beget", deriving in turn from the Indo-European root gene. In Latin genius was a procreative divinity and later the inborn tutelary spirit of an individual. (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).

What does it mean to Bion to be 'mentally alive'?

It means being a Man of Achievement: "...I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." (Keats, quoted in Bion, 1970, p. 125.) Bion uses this quotation from the poet John Keats to say what are the characteristics that the analyst must posses. In the quotation, the poet is attributing these characteristics to the 'genius' Shakespeare!

St. John of the Cross, in his book Climbing Mount Carmel - Darkest Night writes that to reach ecstasy it is necessary to:

...unbind oneself from all that is temporal and, remaining in the most total nudity and freedom of the spirit, which is required for divine union... In this nudity, the spiritual soul finds its quiet and rest, because in not yearning for anything, nothing strains it upward and nothing oppresses it downward, because it is in the center of its humility. In fact when it yearns for something it strains in that very thing....We reach the high state of perfection
that we call the union of the soul with God through the passage of the night, the void, the unknown and infinity... we arrive at unison with God by coming out of all exterior things, all the appetites and imperfections of the sensitive part of man. This is the night of all man's senses... To enter into every nudity and void and poverty of all that there is in the world. Train the will in these. (John of the Cross, 1994, p. 49, translation ours

For Bion, the act of faith is the prototype of the personality of the mystic, which seems to be at the basis of the intuitive factor that consents one to tolerate the pathways of empty time that precede insight (Gaburri, Ferro in Semi, 1990, p. 367).

Bion the mystic writes that the analyst must not even desire the analysand's cure. It is thus possible to seek that vestige that Bion calls a "primordial 'thinking' that derives before birth itself (Bion, 1993, p. 242), "in search of intuitively 'seeing' what is invisible, hearing a 'roar' that is inaudible," (Bion, 1993, p. 223) in an atmosphere in which reality and hallucinations exist.

In this way "We bring to light certain elements of the past of the analysand, not because we think they have a particular value, but because it has no value for him to keep them in his baggage. If we bring them to the surface then he will be able to forget them. These memories, past or future, which he does not know, seem to have a great power; they are something that I would call weak ideas but strong emotions." (Bion, 1981, p. 135)

We can deduce from this quotation how important it is for the analyst to think the weak ideas behind strong emotions. Bion proposes an early stage of analysis which is an a posteriori reverie: to free the analysand as far as possible from his ghosts.

This bringing to light of elements from the past creates a continuous oscillation between PS---D. As soon as these strong emotions become more infrequent, the journey towards a strong "apparatus for thinking thoughts" begins. We believe that the concept of reverie is impregnated in orientalism ("Upa-ni-sad" means sitting down near to). This dialogue between a mother and a baby will be continued by the analyst in a mental
situation of dream-like memory ("the stuff analysis is made of" - Bion 1970, p. 70). This is the same dream-like memory that the mother must have with a baby. It is the same attitude that the yogi has toward his pupil. The yogi, like the mother, like the analyst, must help the disciple, baby, analysand to withstand the terror of new thought, new experience.

We believe similar thoughts can be found in Suzuki, considered an authority on Zen:

Nature is chaotic in that it is a breeding-ground of infinite possibilities: the consciousness that unfolds from this chaos is something superficial, that manages to touch only the fringes of reality. Our consciousness is nothing more than an insignificant island adrift in the Ocean that surrounds the earth, But only through this small fragment of earth can we look upon the immense extension of the unconscious itself... the unknown, meanwhile, enters into a relationship with our mind and, within these limits, the unknown and the mind must participate somehow in the same nature and maintain a mutual communication... Thus becoming conscious of the unconscious requires a certain training on the part of consciousness. ...
When the swordsman is facing his adversary he does not think of him, nor of himself, nor of the movements of his own sword. He simply is there with his sword, and, having forgotten every technique, actually follows only the dictates of the unconscious
. (Fromm et. al., 1968, p. 23)

Krishnamurti, master of Oriental meditation and contemporary of Bion writes in his Diary:

The true nature of thought is fragmentary and therefore lives in a fragmentary world, a world of discord and conflict. Even consciousness is fragmentary and however much it accumulates, layer upon layer, it remains fragmentary, broken in pieces. Thought can put together a thing called wholeness, and even this is a fragment. The exact meaning of "science" is "knowledge", and man hopes that, thanks to science, he will be transformed into a healthy and happy human being... You can know all this, but this knowledge brings no transformation in you. When you have this sense of wholeness, you will enter into a relationship with the universe... [man] does not see the tree and therefore cannot manage to see its labor. When he is forced to look, he reduces what he sees into pieces, something he calls analysis, or he does not want to see and resorts to flight. The miracle of transformation, the transformation of "what it is", is in the art of seeing. It is never "what it should be". There is a great mystery in the act of seeing. This requires care and attention, which is love... Meditation is emptying consciousness of its content. (Krishnamurti, 1983, p. 82).

Compare the above with what Bion writes in Clinical Seminars:

I myself thought of it in terms of attempting to abandon memory and desire, intending memory as a sort of past time and desire as a future time. In other words, beginning the session with the mind as much as possible a blank slate, something that cannot be realized completely, because there is always an enormous story between the moment of birth and the present moment (Bion, 1989, p. 231)

It is hard to avoid looking for a suggestive parallel between Bion's writings and mystical oriental techniques, even as far as the analyst's frame of mind is concerned, which Bion held must continue outside of the session. This tendency to look for parallels is also present in the work of Speziale-Bagliacca, who suggested analogies with Bion's thought in Zen and Taoism (Speziale-Bagliacca, 1984, p. 149-50)

Bion's writings seem to describe what the Hindus call maya (illusion, enchantment, the illusory appearance of the world): "Psychoanalysis would appear as an ephemeral phenomenon that points out forces on the surface of which the human race leaps, flames up and disappears in response to a gigantic reality which is not recognized... Psycho-analysis itself is only a stripe on the back of the tiger. In the end it might be possible to meet the Tiger - The Thing-in-itself - O" (Bion, 1993, p. 112) . "But this thing in itself is altered by being observed" (op. cit., p.214).

What does it mean from the point of view of 'common sense' that "the analyst has to become infinite by the suspension of memory, desire, understanding"? (Bion, 1970, p. 46). And furthermore, what does it mean
that "... There are real dangers associated with the appearance; this is why the procedure here adumbrated is advocated only for the psycho-analyst .." (Bion, 1970, p. 47n.) No other analyst had ever emphasized how important his personal analysis is for the analyst, and in fact the problem raised by Bion is not only that of being afraid to work badly with the patient and therefore to fail. The risk is that of going mad. "Analysis is one of those rare situations in which human beings can become involved in a frightening occupation without ever leaving their homes." (Bion, 1981, p. 105)

This fear extends to the entire species:

I think it may be erroneous to assume that because there is a past that seems to bear some resemblance to the present, the present therefore bears a resemblance to the future, which can be described in terms of the past. I can perfectly well see that there may be a crisis of development in which the human being is absolutely terrified by the fact that the future is unknown, cannot be known by himself at the present time and may only be known to certain people, described in terms of "genius" or "mystic", who have a peculiar relationship with reality. It is possible that the human being is indeed doomed to extinction because he is incapable of further development; some quite different species may be required to go on from the point that has been reached so far by the human animal, in the way that the saurians were replaced by the mammalians. However feeble embryonic mammals may have been, they were nevertheless superior to the saurians. (Bion, 1992, p. 373).

We begin to understand of what stuff this "tiger" is made and how it stalks, circling the couple of the analyst-analysand, just as it did in the Indian nights of the child Bion: how much fear, but also how much pleasure in experiencing the unknown, the unknowable, but also how much compassion for the tiger. (Bion 1986, p. 32)

From the Manichean world of Kleinian theory with its good objects on one side and bad objects on the other, in a mental space that is still, on the whole, subject to the architectonic laws of consciousness, with Bion we are flung into something ineffable and frighteningly unrecognizable which is to live with ourselves, as he says, but more precisely with our minds. To think of it makes ones head spin, but we know this vertigo because it has been described by mystics, poets and by the Oriental philosophers who have made it the foundation of their experience and knowledge.

Bion thus seems to propose one more Copernican revolution, displacing the attention of the function of a part of the mind (conflict for Freud and the object relation for Klein) to the self-observing mind. We think this is what he means by "mystic". As for him, he defined himself as a heretic, but he escaped the stake and perhaps this is an expression of his true creativity, what he calls the Messianic idea, an expression that causes no little embarrassment to us common people, and we may not be mistaken if we think he was being purposefully ironic and provocative in his choice of the 'propositions' he decided to feed us. (See "A Fable for our Times" in Bion, 1992, p. 327 ff.)

If we explore the ancient writings of Hinduism we can find more than a few striking parallels with Bion's thought. For example, the Bhagavad Gita, in Canto IV, 39: "Who has faith gathers knowledge, if he tends toward it and his sensitive faculties are mastered. Having obtained knowledge, he soon arrives at supreme peace."

Canto II, 55: "When one gives up all desires that trouble the heart and mind, o son of Prtha, when one is satisfied in oneself and by oneself, then one is what is called 'consolidated in wisdom'."

Canto III, 42: "It is said that the senses transcend sensible objects, that the mental faculty transcends the senses, that the intellectual faculty transcends the mental faculty. But he who is beyond the intellectual faculty, he is it."

"The control of thought (dharana), the capacity to direct and fix one's attention on a specific object; exclusive and total meditation (dhyana) on this object; the annulment of the separation between subject and object, 'immersion' in this condition, illumination (samadhi)... represent the truly mystical states near to illumination. The yogi who has reached samadhi experiences a state of going beyond the senses, false mental images, and above all, the duality between the subject and the universe, between mine and yours. The yogi puts himself outside his family, his caste, the concepts of good and evil, space and time, and beyond himself, since he has become one with the absolute spirit." (Garzanti: Enciclopedia delle Religioni, p. 454. Translation ours.)

We find the verses of the Bhagavad Gita and the last three stages of yoga (Raja yoga: dharana, dhiyana and samadhi) evoke the "act of faith" that for Bion "depends on a disciplined negation of memory and desire... It is necessary to inhibit dwelling on memories and desires, They are two facets of the same thing: both are composed of elements based on sense impressions; both imply the absence of immediate sensual satisfaction; one supposes a store of sensual objects, the memory being the container, and the other is a conjunction of sensually satisfying objects. (Bion, 1970, p. 41).

About two thousand years after the composition of the Bhagavad Gita, Gerald M. Edelman, neuroscientist and Nobel prize winner in physiology and medicine, states that:

In the modality of pure thought, the individual is so immersed in a particular state of concentration, inherent in the current thought project, to be "abstract" - unaware of time, space, himself and his own perceptive experience. We can say that, when he pursues these levels of abstraction and meaning, "thought is in no place," but it is only a metaphor to express the extent to which the individual is far from the awareness of other, parallel activities of the mind. (Edelman, 1993, p. 270)

We agree with A. Daniélou: "The truth is one. There is not an Eastern knowledge and a Western knowledge, a science that is in contrast to religion. These are but different forms of the same quest." According to René Guénon, "This would be nothing else but a restoration of what already existed before the modern deviation with the necessary adaptations to the conditions of another era... The East could rescue the West, provided it wants to be rescued: but not in order to impose extraneous conceptions on it, as some seem to fear, but to help it to find its own tradition again, of which it has lost the meaning." (Guénon, 1980, p. 228)

The Indian psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar points out the difference between the Socratic "know thyself" and the Indian (Atmanvidhi) "know thyself". The latter refers to a different Self from the Socratic Self ("where the definition of individual and identity depended on an active process of examination, classification and analysis of the 'events' and cases of ones own existence"). The Atmanvidhi is "a Self uncontaminated by time and space and, thus, without the historical dimension of individual life that is at the center of psychoanalysis and Western romantic literature." (Kakar, 1993, p. 15)

We hold that it is precisely with the discovery and use of the discipline of the "act of faith", the sources of which we like to think trace back to ancient India, that Bion invents a new psychoanalysis which "... must be considered as a term which ties a constant conjunction. But years will pass before it will be possible to understand what elements are conjoined and what conjunction means." (Bion, 1970. p. 68)

What he was surely aspiring to is that it was or that it become a "conjunction in expansion". (Bion, 1993, p. 182)

Apoteosis del papalote

Qué impulsa a los navìos sino el entusiasmo de aquel que
no vemos? Sino la furia, sino el coraje, sino la locura de
Aquel che no vemos!

Y qué abruma a los navìos sino la tristeza de aquel que no
Vemos? Sino il tedio, sino el desgano, sino el desvìo de aquel
que no vemos
Y qué alza sobre las palmas y sobre las torres (allà junto
a las mismas nubes!) la fràgil pompa del papalote, sino el
Buen humor de aquel que no vemos?

Sube entonces y gloriate, nonada, tù, despojo puro, victoria
y regalo del viento!


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