Last week, Daphne Merkin wrote an excellent personal essay, entitled “My Life in Therapy,” about her varied experiences as a patient within the therapeutic establishment (lasting over 40 years!), that appeared in The New York Times Magazine. The piece is entertaining, thoughtful, and, not surprisingly, painfully “self-aware.” From the piece:
I learned, that is, to construct an ongoing narrative of the self, composed of what the psychoanalyst Robert Stoller calls “microdots” (“the consciously experienced moments selected from the whole and arranged to present a point of view”), one that might have been more or less cohesive than my actual self but that at any rate was supposed to illuminate puzzling behavior and onerous symptoms—my behavior and my symptoms.
This makes me think of the Jack Kornfield line from one of his Tricycle interviews touching on Buddhism and psychotherapy: “Knowing the story doesn’t solve it.” [See the blog entry on those interviews here.] Merkin’s writing also is quite funny, reminiscent of the narrator of Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint (who she references in the article).
During this session the three of us decided that I would marry the man I had been dating on and off for the past six years, despite the fact that I had broken off my engagement to him months earlier. We discussed the matter of my newly pending marriage as if it were simply the practical solution to a neurotic issue, having little to do with the man in question and much to do with my abiding inability to make a decision. I remember distinctly that Dr. E. and my mother agreed that I was a very loyal person and that the chances of my getting divorced, no matter how tentative I might have felt about going ahead, were minuscule. (As it turned out, I divorced less than five years later.)
What I really want now is for Daphne Merkin to try her hand at meditation and then write about that experience. Would it be nearly as funny? Buddhists are always so earnest. For all the respect and appreciation I have for Buddhist writers and thinkers, I can’t think of a time I’ve sought out Buddhist sources when looking for a good hard laugh. Another question: is self-conscious and self-deprecating humor detrimental to the spiritual path? I’m never quite sure if certain humor falls into the category of right view or wrong view, but one thing is certain: a good joke can be the most joy-inducing, spiritually-reviving experience to be had, mystical even. And sometimes, even if the punch line cradles an obsessive self-image, you can lose yourself in the laughter.
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