Fritz on the Void

I’ve been reading Gestalt Therapy Verbatim by Fritz Perls.

I’m struck by the overlaps with my own book, The Naked Mystic (here in the US) and even more struck by the fact that these basic truths of human experience, often expressed in religious terms, surface again and again in all sorts of ways.

Fritz reminds me of Harvey. Here’s a sample of his thinking:

Now let me tell you something about how I see the structure of a neurosis. Of course I don’t know what the theory will be next because I’m always developing and simplifying what I’m doing more and more.

I now see the neurosis as consisting of five layers. The first layer is the cliché layer. If you meet somebody you exchange clichés – “Good morning,” handshake, and all of the meaningless tokens of meeting.      

Now behind the clichés, you find the second layer, what I call the Eric Berne or Sigmund Freud layer – the layer where we play games and roles – the very important person, the bully, the cry-baby, the nice little girl, the good boy – whatever roles we choose to play. So those are the superficial, social, as-if layers. We pretend to be better, tougher, weaker, more polite, etc., than we really feel. This is essentially where the psychoanalysts stay. They treat playing the child as a reality and call it infantilism and try to get all the details of this child-playing.      

Now, this synthetic layer has to be first worked through. I call it the synthetic layer because it fits very nicely into the dialectical thinking. If we translate the dialectic – thesis, antithesis, synthesis – into existence, we can say: existenceanti-existence, and synthetic  existence. Most of our life is a synthetic existence, a compromise between the anti-existence and existence. For instance, today I had the luck to meet somebody who has not this phony layer, who is an honest person, and relatively direct. But most of us put on a show which we are not, for which we don’t have our support, our strength, our genuine desire, our genuine talents.  

Now if we work through the role-playing layer, if we take away the roles, what do we experience then? Then we experience the anti-existence, we experience the nothingness, emptiness. This is the impasse that I talked about earlier, the feeling of being stuck and lost The impasse is marked by a phobic attitude—avoidance. We are phobic, we avoid suffering, especially the suffering of frustration. We are spoiled, and we don’t want to go through the hellgates of suffering: We stay immature, we go on manipulating the world, rather than to suffer the pains of growing up. This is the story. We rather suffer being self-conscious, being looked upon, than to realize our blindness and get our eyes again. And this is the great difficulty I see in self-therapy. There are many things one can do on one’s own, do one’s own therapy, but when one comes to the difficult parts, especially to the impasse, you become phobic, you get into a whirl, into a merry-go-round, and you are not willing to go through the pain of the impasse.      

Behind the impasse lies a very interesting layer, the death layer or implosive layer. This fourth layer appears either as death or as fear of death. The death layer has nothing to do with Freud’s death instinct. It only appears as death because of the paralysis of opposing forces. It is a kind of catatonic paralysis: we pull ourselves together, we contract and compress ourselves, we implode. Once we really get in contact with this deadness of the implosive layer, then something very interesting happens.   

The implosion becomes explosion. The death layer comes to life, and this explosion is the link-up with the authentic person who is capable of experiencing and expressing his emotions. There are four basic kinds of explosions from the death layer. There is the explosion of genuine grief if we work through a loss or death that has not been assimilated. There is the explosion into orgasm in sexually blocked people. There is the explosion into anger, and also the explosion into joy, laughter, joi de vivre. These explosions connect with the authentic personality, with the true self.

Frederick S. Perls in Gestalt Therapy Verbatim (Talk IV)

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