Q&A and Reading with Michael Eigen
On Sunday, December 7th, at 3pm, Michael Eigen, renowned psychoanalyst, poet, and teacher, will discuss his latest book, Faith. Eigen is the author of of a number of books, including Toxic Nourishment, The Psychoanalytic Mystic, Feeling Matters and Flames from the Unconscious.
Eigen’s new book explores psychoanalytic faith and, more generally, the role of faith in the therapeutic process. In his earlier work, Eigen distinguished faith from beliefs used to organize it, the latter at once bringing people together and creating violent oppositions – belief as a defense against faith. In this new work, Eigen dives into faith experience itself and shares what he finds.
How did you come to write Faith?
I’ve been immersed in faith since childhood. Including magical and dreadful superstititons. But also moments of unimaginable beauty that opened what I’ve gradually come to call aspects of faith as the years went on. The first I remember was seeing the stars for the first time as my father carried me to the hospital for an appendix operation at night when I was two years old. The pouring of ineffable milk-like jewels down from the sky all around me, high above yet encompassing. Hearing a clarinet for the first time when I was seven, feeling my soul open, back tingle, tickles through the pores of my skin. A dimension of life you never expected and never forget. Kissing Laurel goodnight when I was 17 and dancing all the way home. Where do such feelings come from? And the famous invitation, challenge, order, discovery: love God with all your heart and soul and might. With all of you. A love that comes from nowhere and takes to possible dimensions of experiencing you could not have imagined.
When I became a psychotherapist I became aware of a link between faith and waiting and supporting another’s life. Many years later I found that Wilfred Bion called faith the psychoanalytic attitude and “described” it as being without memory, desire, expectation, understanding. Nameless faith that supports and opens. By faith I do not mean belief. People fight over the latter and often belief defends against faith. Faith is deeper, more permeating. I like thinking of it as a creative faith that works with and tries to face the vast pools of destructiveness that lace existence.
What are you currently reading?
The main thing I am reading (re-reading) now is Wilfred Bion’s A Memoir of the Future. It is a book I wanted to teach for many years. Now that I am moving towards my last years, I decided to gift myself and am teaching it. Along with it, I am getting much from the script written for an unfinished Bion movie made by Kumar Shahani in 1982-3, partly based on Memoir. I like reading it and comparing it to the scenes actually shot, letting them both take me where they will. It is a thrill.
Do you have a personal favorite book of all time? If so, can you share it and tell us why?
It’s really impossible to pick a favorite of all times, no? The psalms and prophets are up there. But I’ve got to say I love Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, ed. Burton Watson (Columbia University). I’ve been reading it for decades and take it with me when I travel. Whenever, wherever I dip in, it frees me, takes me into life, brings me close to something precious. I don’t know what would have happened to me without it.
Is there anything you are particularly looking forward to the publication of? Upcoming projects?
Right now I am delighted and awed to let people know about the three books of mine that came out this year. That is a one time happening. A Felt Sense, The Birth of Experience, Faith. Is this an end of life kind of stream? These are the last of twenty-four books that I’ve published, efforts to let the psyche speak. I think I want to enjoy this moment. But more are brewing, works on the body, time, evil, shame, “no,” creativity, and yes, love. When I started writing, I felt I would have been happy with one, maybe two books. I never expected what happened, keeps happening. Once you make contact, the psyche doesn’t stop.