BALM IN GILEAD: Journey of a Healer

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I have this rear view visual of myself on a secluded white sand beach; the clear Caribbean Sea slowly extending the fringe of land & water 10 yards in front of my bamboo lounge chair, with a plush over sized beige beach towel overflowing from the sides, slowly swaying with the light bilateral breeze. A quaint end table is to my right, nestled next to my chair with a clear tall glass of water. An identical glass of rum punch sweats next to the glass alongside a wooden plate filled with seafood, fruit & vegetables. The one item, vying for space on the end table is the book in which I am writing about now: Balm in Gilead!

I was gifted this literary piece by my neighbor during my 3 year stint as a Harlem resident. She was moving to Oregon & remembered one of our brief talks about my love of reading, then handed me 20 of her favorites. I had not recognized this biography on my shelf until this month. The timing put me in a state of wonderment as the book lay in my hand after an extended conversation with 2 of my peers concerning the history of psychoanalysis & our take on intersectionality being [for the most part] unaddressed concerning race, class, religion & gender. Published a few years after my birth, I am appreciative that Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot put into words 4 generations of her family's history, & in particular the life of her mother Dr. Margaret Cornelia Morgan Lawrence, the first African-American psychoanalyst.

I do not find myself compelled towards leisurely reading biographies, but with my knowing that one of Dr. Lawrence's titles are "psychoanalyst" how could I not read? My intrigue w/Dr. Lawrence began before I even opened the book. Dr. Veronica Abney wrote a thorough 17 page paper, a sliver from her dissertation about Black Psychoanalyst in the United States, which I came across in May 2018. After scribbling down all of her references, Balm in Gilead was quickly on my "Must Read" list; adding to the synchronicity of the book waiting to be found in my very real bookshelf.

The Harvard educator, Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, was intentional about weaving in as many aspects of her mothers experiences as possible while also capturing the 2 year interviewing process that she conducted for the book; a process her mother deemed as being similar to a second analysis. I must say I was under the impression that her actual analysis at Columbia Univ. Center for Psychoanalytic Training & Research would pour through the pages in detail concerning its transformative impact on her life & career, this was a 5x/week analysis! Despite putting into words what the experience concretely & symbolically meant to Dr. Lawrence it was merely a morsel of her life story as a black woman born & raised in the deep south of Vicksburg Mississippi with a preoccupation to help "her people". Of all things to be preoccupied with, I can relate concerning an unyielding determination towards servicing my community, my family & myself. The aspect of service is on a continuum that I can trace back via 4 generations, while comprehending as Dr. Lawrence did so eloquently in the biography, the relevance of being able to integrate in ego strengths intergenerationally, not solely the trauma. 

One of the stark themes within Balm in Gilead was the consistency of racially influenced discriminatory foreboding that never left the text; keep in mind this is a successful & significant black woman from a successful & significant family who raised successful & significant children. There are no aspects of victimization or strife in the literary text, I go as far as to say I'm pretty certain that they'll be a movie made in her honor. The complexity of how and why she forged paths for future generations of women of color to succeed within directly working with other people of color was clearly no easy feat. I question now what success means, within the read pages and present day. When she was not discriminated against (overtly) due to her otherness pertaining to her skin color there were threads of sexism. When those 2 aspects were not explicitly named as being present she was still left to fend off her otherness as a southerner being educated at all white Ivy League Universities not too long after the end of Jim Crow Laws. I dare to ask how the hell she did it even though I read the book lol. 

I circle back to the theme of race, identity, family lineage & all that remains ineffable within the experience of people of color as it relates to current psychoanalytic theories that were comprised in their entirety by affluent white individuals, far removed from claiming their own racial otherness & privilege. That reality does not negate the importance & proven value of those theories whether a person identifies as being Classical Freudian, Kleinian to the bone, Jungian, or Rogerian (to name a few), but it highlights the [overall] resistance & blind spots of the white collective unconscious as it pertains to addressing racism. Marshall Mcluhan has a poignant quote that captures what I have just scribed, "One thing about which fish know exactly nothing is water, since they have no anti-environment which would enable them to perceive the element they live in". I have sat with that quote and allowed it to resonate juxtaposed with the current political climate in the United States. I ponder what role I am comfortable claiming as an activist. 

 

Dr. Lawrence, at the enamored age of 103, is still living. Not only is she the first black psychoanalyst, but a living breathing historical icon. I am drawn towards her being an iconic female (Oprah as well) from Mississippi, a state which currently has the largest black population in the US. She inspires me to write about race & identity, to write about the experience of the black person on the couch, the black person across from the couch, the black person being taught in institutions not originally designed with their growth in mind, & with my exact words within those experiences as both subjective & objective. I am also inspired to collect data within all in which I just described. I wrap my thoughts together with this abbreviated quote from Hattie McDaniel:

 

I sincerely hope that I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry

TELL MY HORSE

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On the heels of writing out my thoughts & experience reading PUSH I segue into the nonfiction literary work of Zora Neale Hurston, Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica. Often highlighted for her mastery in crafting “Their Eyes Were Watching God”; a fantastic read, which was written while she was in Haiti collecting folklore history for the book in which I am writing about now! I found solace in breathing in her art created from concrete exchanges that were had in the 1930’s spiraled with her lush vernacular. Zora as a novelist seduced my curiosity and Zora as an ethnographer & anthropologist played with my soul.

Tell My Horse follows her voyages to Jamaica and Haiti in an attempt to unmask the truths and intricacies amongst the accessible and nonaccessible populations within both societies. She starts in Jamaica and is unmoved at what is already known to her, the overt ways in which women were objectified and dismissed as unimportant layered with intense vicarious colorism that paraded itself around during her brief exposure to the culture in Jamaica. I would like to add that she was literally in the mountains, Accompong to be specific, during the 1930’s as an educated single black woman of “fair” skin, which is of utter importance pertaining to the access she was granted and denied based on the materials she was able to gift along with her aesthetic. I am reminded of a conversation I had recently in which I spoke about the importance of the aesthetic. The energy that a person, group or institute puts into their presentation, how they look and how they want others to take in the implicit messaging of their look. Why decorate your office the way you have it decorated, what are you communicating? And why? In those instances what a person is choosing not to communicate is also in the messaging. I digress. Zora balanced the realities of the secluded Maroon society from a place of truth & compassion. They were thriving based on their measurement of what thriving meant and she vacationed in their hospitality and simplistic daily rituals. I connected to Zora’s bravery while on a 5 day hog hunt in nature, uninhibited & unprepared lol. She literally threw herself into experiencing the rich culture in Jamaica rather than attempting to solely document what was being fed to her by others, and that continued and expanded as she floated her way into Haiti.

Zora’s historical accounts of the political upheaval and gruesome consequences of coup after coup in Haiti during the 1930’s ensued a reaction of humiliation and anger in me while reading; how dare she share the turmoil that went on “in my country” – it was jarring, brilliant and accurate. In fact the accuracy captivated me based on Zora’s otherness and non-identification within my cultural context. How did this stranger manage to not only get into the land, but within that entry become a willing and accepted participant rather than remain an observer – that is where the appreciation is derived from! I highlight the time period once again, 1930’s in the Caribbean; all within a little over a decade of when women were granted the right to vote in the United States. She expressively plopped herself into the culture of the other and within that difference embraced the similarities amongst children of the diaspora.

I can go into descriptive examples of how she was exposed to, initiated into and immersed in Voodoo while in Haiti pertaining to its mystical & cultural components but that would suck the novelty out of this piece of literary activism. She documented what she experienced while dissecting the frame in which Voodoo as a religion, Voodoo as a culture, and Voodoo as a symbolic metaphor is experienced within Haitian society. Absolutely breathtaking concerning the ways in which she integrated dignity into the negatively stigmatized practices that have been projected onto a way of life that has no origination in the western hemisphere. Voodoo, or rather Vodun in it's proper appropriation derived out of syncretism already present in the continent of Africa - so far removed from what we know now that the essence of its notoriety lies in its inaccessible aspects; hence its folklore designation as the "wonders" of its origin and magick tends to be passed through families as verbal secrets. Zora as the anthropologist shun light on the actual rituals and ceremonies in their primitive form and did not fall short of that which remained unknown, felt but unarticulated and various symbolism that threaded itself throughout her exploration. I stop myself here. Oh the parables that I could have jumped into from this tasty literary piece!

What a great read! Back to honoring my childhood entertainment, In Living Color...... this gets 2 snaps & a twist!

*Barracoon is due to be released this month via the ghost of the beloved Zora Neale Hurston

 

PUSH

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A [once] popular hashtag used in social media, #tbt to denote something from the past is my inspiration for this post. On this divergent Tuesday post mercury retrograde (we’re still in the “shadow” period) I pull on a recent reread of Push, after watching the movie Precious last night; written by the expressive Ramona Lofton aka Sapphire. What an alias to have & live up to! As an LGBTQ identified novelist and women of color, Sapphire utilizes her platform to bring attention to what has been kept invisible.

I originally read PUSH while in high school, during the era of Omar Tyree fictional novels flooding the lockers of my peers – and mine as well. I would scribble short stories in the empty pages of my brother’s unused 5 star notebooks and compare & contrast the narratives of my “make believe” characters & those in popular culture at the time. I dare say that PUSH exposed me to the raw rough reality of young black women in my age group, disengaged from services and love with trauma embedded in their everyday happenings. Disengaged from services, I’ll need to come back to that.

Sapphire left no stone unturned as she graphically described aspects of Precious’s life that were incomprehensible to my 16 year old mind. Teenage pregnancy, incestuous rape, HIV, illiteracy and a physically, emotionally abusive bully of a mother all wrapped into 140 pages. The phonetic language, inspired by Zora Neale Hurston, stunned me into racing through the pages. Reading the detailed graphic and metaphorically expressed experiences of Precious was humbling and similar to watching a scary movie while covering my eyes during the scary parts. This was a short reread, I devoured it this time around in 2 days. The artistic function of similes, spelling, grammar and the English language to fully encapsulate the personality of the protagonist was other worldly in its creativity. I highlight that to encourage the reading of the book before watching the movie because it’s the language that sets the stage in such a visceral way.

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I enjoyed this book and I also enjoyed meeting and talking to the author during her visit to Claremont McKenna Consortium back in 2010. Not only did she share insights into what inspired the creation of her novel, she also shared some poetry with me! I draw on her generosity in sharing herself with my own desires to share a bit of myself within this post. 

This read is real despite it being labeled fiction – and it’s a reminder of the privilege that those of us have who did not have to experience such laden trauma. Childhood trauma is emerging as a focal point in our society with pop culture assistance from philanthropists such as Oprah Winfrey, giving voice to the invisible pertaining to the impact of developmental trauma in children and ways in which it forges vulnerabilities that make them more susceptible to a number of things, such as mental illness and overall suffering.

Good read to have on the bookshelf.

The SCIENCE of the ART of Psychotherapy

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Where do I begin? I came across Dr. Allan N. Schore in the consulting room (figuratively) & quite rapidly found myself diving into his literary work. Carrying the alias of "the American Bowlby" my antennas were alert towards feeling out if there was merit to the designation. He did not disappoint, in fact I will even go as far as stating that this was a challenging read because of the redundancy yet it was during my "second lap" of reading his work that I was able to appreciate his precision towards language accurately depicting the content. 

Interpersonal neurobiology was dropped into my lap at a time when I had no recognized need and definitely no appreciation for it, while working as a clinical coordinator for the homeless outreach team in the Bronx. I absolutely loved the direct service work I was doing.... and it was while increasing my motivation towards understanding why the adults I worked with refused housing in the dead of winter that I was introduced to the work of Dr. Dan Siegel. Stay with me. The article touched on ways in which our brain processes subjective information, in particular within itself and with others. I paid very little attention to what I was reading, and recall being bored! I had my mind set on uncovering this phantasized secret anecdote that would enhance my skill sets towards getting the chronically street homeless adults to do what I wanted them to do! I was VERY GREEN at the time and had no comprehension of what burn out meant, for my clients or for myself.

Fast forward to 2017, I had a year filled with robust gratifying experiences. It was also when I purchased The Science of the Art of Psychotherapy, which further expanded my understanding of the ways in which parts and systems collude towards communicating within the human body; in conjunction to what I had learned within my herbal apprenticeship a year prior. Picture if you will the delight on my face as page after page validated and matched what I had spiritually been exposed to.... what a fulfilling dessert! I felt validated as a psychodynamically oriented clinician within each page that I turned in this book, as the explicit process of ways in which we communicate, attach and attune to another takes place; in a very Anglo Saxon scientific way. I say that as an acculturated Haitian American woman; Dr. Schore's utilization of neurobiology to give language to the intuitive, empathic, subjective right hemisphere that guides our unconscious processes was affirming based on my American education. He found a way to connect the dots in a linear manner. Within my culture and nuclear family we were taught very early in life that the brain is essentially numerous systems operating as one and in an even more exact manner, there's what we have access to (logic, critical thinking, ego) and what we have to will ourselves to bring into conscious awareness (memories, instincts, drives, the "unknown"). And within that, the integration of herbs/plants, crystals/gems & rituals in alignment with astronomy all play a part in accessing the "divine" right hemisphere while preoccupying the needs of the left hemisphere. Those teachings were en grained at an early age to be explored, accepted or rejected. Argumentum ad populum

The timing of this post comes 2 months after completing the book pertaining to the parallels within my life. As I expand my network, which invariably consists of other clinicians, I find myself impatient towards staying in conversation with those who are out of awareness as it pertains to their impact on the dyadic relationship in the consulting room. I am human, and what a journey it has been collecting the experiences, knowledge and language that encapsulates that which is the therapeutic relationship.      Dr. Allan N. Schore has done some truly groundbreaking work, and his psychoanalytical disposition is going to provide immense traction towards the masses having access to this information; oh the power of information! I highly recommend this as a reading to anyone who has the time and patience towards the scientific aspects of brain to brain communication and its impact on the therapeutic relationship.


"To dare to be aware of the facts of the universe in which we are existing calls for courage."

-Wilfred Bion

Assata: An Autobiography

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It's a rarity that I've had a book in my hand 2-3 chapters deep into it, to then come to the realization that not only have I read the book before but with that realization, committed to rereading it. Assata: An Autobiography was one of those books. I found myself drawn to her life, her story, her being right on the heels of co-planning my mothers birthday trip to Cuba. I fantasized about my feet following the rhythm of bata drums in unison with my shoulders & arms, mirroring my mothers energy in an open green meadow near the coastline; with the ebb & flow of all that is under, in, and above the waters of the Caribbean Sea. Would Assata be a bystander watching our white skirts twirl with the breeze? Would Assata offer us Saoco to keep our thirst at bay? Would Assata welcome us whole heartedly to the land that abundantly gave her warm refuge?

I did not enjoy reading her autobiography but it was a necessary read. The reality of the atrocities experienced by Assata were gripping pertaining to the incorrigible institutes that attempted to keep her body, mind and spirit captive. I reiterate that I did not enjoy reading her autobiography. The realities of the 60's & 70's that milked the essence of the black experience for those who  were "woke" & active participants in the progression of human rights for people of color was an experience that I preferred to dissociate from. I found myself irritable while crossing the pages in reference of her hospitalization after being shot in the stomach, agitated at my desire for her to have a fair trial while repeatedly under siege to an all white jury, and attached to my cognitive dissonance at the notion that this Queen was a victim in a land that gave zero fucks about her or her lineage. To be referred to and held in spirit as a Queen and for the subjective observer in me to objectively take in the ways in which she was disrespected over and over again was heart breaking. Yet, as a young black woman living in America, in the present, there isn't a choice in liking or accepting or integrating in parallels within her experience and mine. It just is. That's at the core of why I did not enjoy reading her autobiography. It was too real. In fact, during this reread I found myself inspired to write poetry in response to Assata's spirit pouring across the pages; in an attempt to sublimate the incited anger towards the privileged who get to read a work of this kind detached from the racial experience that one can only experience if they are a person of color.

Ms. Shakur put her humanness and dysfunctional beginnings front and center of her story pertaining to her upbringing, failures and family dynamics. She was no saint and at no point in the book did she attempt to present herself as anything less or more. There was no sugar coating, cherry on top or creme in the middle. Assata fully articulated an understanding of her value & worth to herself and it's incongruence with her value & worth as a black woman in America. 

My 1 criticism of this piece was her decision to not include how she actually escaped! At times I am nosy and at times I am simply curious! She not only deserves a round of applause but also recognition for being a true magician in her own rite. I hope that we cross paths in Cuba.

FAVORITE ASSATA SHAKUR QUOTES


“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them” 
“Before going back to college, i knew i didn't want to be an intellectual, spending my life in books and libraries without knowing what the hell is going on in the streets. Theory without practice is just as incomplete as practice without theory. The two have to go together.” 

Coasting in the Countertransference: Conflicts of Self Interest between Analyst and Patient

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This was a holiday goodie and I wrapped up my notes on this non-fiction literary work right at the cusp of 2017's last mercury retrograde & full moon. It matters to highlight this as my mind brings me full circle to the emergence of my curiosity towards analysis. Lets venture to the past..... not only was I mortified at the aspect of one submitting their mind to an attuned other, but also submitting oneself to different self states within an array of emotions and thoughts that [with most] would prefer to stay buried in the unconscious.  Yet I jumped into the abyss; it brings to mind the David Bowie scene in Labyrinth when he sang Within You. And yet, Dr. Hirsh catapults his intimate experiences front and center pertaining to that exact maze of understanding oneself as an analyst, supervisor & colleague. Kudos to analyst out there - there is nothing easy about the work that you do.

To get knee deep in "the shit" Dr. Hirsh unsheathes aspects of the profession that are cringe worthy and at the core, the humanness of the analyst! In my [Haitian] heritage it’s equivalent to shinning a spotlight on the mortality of a mambo or houngan, it’s already implied! Yet the implicit intimacy of the helper-helpee dyad does not call for the human attributes of the professional to rear an ugly head. Dr. Hirsh utilizes a variety of clinical examples to highlight his authentic self and ways in which striving for preferred relational configurations, emotional needs & finances seep into the work.

I related to the clinical examples in one form or another and gawked at the notion of parallels within the supervisory role (I took detailed notes in that specific area!) The self interest that was soapboxed rang no alarm,  despite being on the receiving end of the couch. As a psychotherapist with a curiosity towards contemporary psychoanalysis, and as a clinician practicing through relational and interpersonal foundational beliefs I truly believe that a vast majority of clients (I prefer to use the term client, as patient overtly implies sickness) know of the “self interest monster”, especially within pop cultures depiction of mental health professionals present day. With shows like Gypsy, In Treatment, Couples Therapy, & Iyanla Fix My Life individuals are getting a taste of therapy from their own couch before stepping into their 1st session. The times are changing, especially with an influx of millennials, people of color & 1st generation Americans experiencing an increase in access mixed with a decrease in stigma towards mental health services. 

Dr. Hirsh stepped forward with honest communication and laid the footwork for open discussion pertaining to why and how coasting bewitches both parties in the room; along with explaining the impact that choices therapists make (or choose not to) impact clients. In a field saturated by individuals who have devoted their time, energy & funds into knowing themselves, how can the aspect of self interest be so shocking to readers within the profession? Is it shocking? There’s a narcissistic air within the tone of the literature that is unyielding and captivating in its allure because of those 2 questions.

I enjoy reading the last page of a book and being disappointed that it has ended. There’s an insatiable desire to read more of Dr. Hirsh’s work while sitting in this one a bit longer. He will undoubtedly rest in my mind during moments of emotional withdrawal, pre-initiation of disequilibrium inducing anger in sessions and aha moments of profound insight at the curtail of an enactment. I am in awe at how delightful of a read this was.

*I shoot my thank you into the ether to Ms. Griffin for sharing.

Lilith's Brood

1 of my all-time favorites..... granted I have a loose scope of what gets tagged as a "favorite", but Lilith's Brood holds a special place on the list. This trilogy comprised of Dawn, Adulthood Rites & Imago turned me out to the evocative creativity of sci-fi. Reading her work is like diri kole ak pwa wouj ansanm ak poulet (my ideal Haitian comfort food); I draw in comparisons to food because of the reward & comfort that Octavia serves, it parallels indulgence. May she rest in continued peace.

The storyline is nothing short of mastery integrated in with divine ingenuity. Yes, divine ingenuity! My words can barely capture this Queen's artistry.

I desired my own Ooloi connection though my imagination was the victim of constraint in picturing the world Octavia created. Dawn alone, as 1/3 of this work, can be labeled a classic and I'm hopeful in dreaming that this piece of literature will find its way into classrooms. Octavia attempts to draw out the fantasy of a future utopia while avowing the human condition within that matrix. Even as genetic offspring of humans our innate behavior is as cyclical as the sky is blue.... is it blue?! 

Kudos to my friend, scientist, herbalist, artist, fellow alum & kindred spirit for putting me on (Tati your taste in novels is impeccable!)

My other reviews received 2 snaps & a twist, Lilith's Brood receives a full round of applause with a standing  ovation  :-)

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