Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Return from North Carolina

In his chapter on Lea's "make-over," Grant writes about ambivalent feelings that surfaced toward Lea on her return from North Carolina in the spring of 1968. He describes her returning vibrant and sexual, transformed from the essentially maternal figure that she had previously been. From the women came jealousy and envy; from the men, resentment. The reality was far more complex. I will focus here on one example but will write later of other components of the emotional and institutional milieu in which changes were taking place between Lea and the others.

Grant speaks of the experience of one member of Lea's second learning group, Hypno II. In a meeting of that group soon after her return, Lea asked peple to speak of their feelings about her having been away. The person Grant refers to felt then a surge of poweful rage toward Lea, occasioned by incidents of abandonment by his own mother when a small child but never emotionally experienced. Invited, he said what he was feeling though he was clearly terrified to do so. A few others brought forth similar feelings. Lea made no attempt to place these feelings in a context for them. Rather she simply said to the group as a whole, "Do you see what we're seeing here?" Frightened, others in the group turned on the speakers as pariah, accusing them of destructive intents. Lea didn't intervene or make any attempt to work with the material. Instead she ended the group session, leaving the speakers until the following week with the terrible burden of having been judged by Lea and the others as monsters. "The sense that we were left with was that what we were feeling was dark, very dark,a hatred of the matrix. We were seen as demonic. That week I was really scared and I hoped that by the time we met I wouldn't still have those feelings toward Lea. In the next group she asked us how we were now feeling. I said that I did still have a bit of that feelng toward her. Actually what was happening was that I had become quite self-destructive. I had turned against myself and was feeling quite physicaly ill. In the group people said all manner of things about me. Lea just sat there and said nothing. I don't know what the hell she was doing. There was no leadership. No distinction was made between the conscious and the unconscious. It was Kleinian in a way. I guess she saw us as the children wanting to kill the mother. The group stayed together until after Christmas but then it came apart. There was no longer the feeling that I had in her morning group that I had belonged to of her coming in and rolling up her sleeves and getting down to work."

On reflection the man with whom Grant spoke believed that Lea was on an unconscious level experiencing similar feelings and that he was picking them up and expressing them. Grant speaks wryly about the man's conclusion as a reversal of the classical "projective identification." Grant dismisses the idea that Lea could herself have been then subject to feelings of that kind. I have for some years subscribed to the idea that many things can be true at the same time. Undoubtedly Grant's interviewee was connecting with powerful reactions to abandonment by his mother. At the same time it is also true that Lea herself had an extremely wounded place of this kind and was now much closer to it. However, Lea had no context wherein she was willing or able to surrender herself and to get help. As a result there was a substantial change in Lea's (as Grant calls it) Kleinian style of working. Earlier Lea would use an upsurge of primitive material in a client as a fulcrum to deeper resolution. The longings, the terrible rages and terrors were all grist for the mill. Not only did she encourage clients to bring these feelings forward but she would deftly work to ensure the individual that these were but the cries of a small child, not an indication of evil or of an unworkable pathology. But struggling to manage and subdue her own troubles, Lea retreated from this position. She could pick up and identify fear and rage in clients and in groups but she wasn't able to work with them as she had formerly. The "Kleinian" approach became more one of identifying this layer of material than of working with it.

Lea began to speak of paranoia at some length, about those who were paranoid, ie, those who fomented internally with a desire to destroy the matrix, that is, Lea herself. The ironic piece here is that Lea had herself become "paranoid," that is to say, frightened of the power of feelings that her work had stirred in others. The identified "paranoid" others became for her a present day embodiment of the until then successfuly repressed terrors that she had held since a young child. It is likely that these terrors centred around her father as it was primarily men that Lea began to identify as paranoid. She declared herself no longer willing to work with them. The men who had worked with her as clients, as learners, and as colleagues on the development of the farm became divided into two groups: those who were with her, that is, who didn't challenge her centrality and those who held opinions contrary to her own.

I don't wish to imply that after this period Lea was incapable of doing deeper work with clients. In smaller group settings or with individuals she continued to do so. But something powerfully significant had happened to cause her to back away from areas where before she had courageously gone. From this period Lea gathered around her an entourage of women to travel with and care for her. One woman who was a part of this group for over a decade spoke of the way that as Lea's health deteriorated in the late 1970s, she could not bear to be alone. "That was already happening in 1968 though it wasn't as obvious. That's why she had the entourage. Sometimes late at night she would have someone massage her...It became obvious that she simply didn't want to be alone. She often slept with the light on." In groups also from 1967 Lea was rarely seen alone. Invariably she would bring someone with her, sometimes several people, people specially chosen to "assist" her, people who would never contradict or take an oppositional perspective from hers either in or out of the group. They would defend Lea and her positions in groups and in meetings.

In pointing to the Bigwin experience as central to the breakdown of Lea's defenses, I don't want to suggest that without Bigwin this would not have happened. I think that something of this nature was inevitable given the trajectory of Lea's situation and that of the existing community. But still, Bigwin was a large, identifiable turning point. The break-down of her defenses and the building of new ones with the resultant changes in Lea's relationships did not happen all at once. It was a process that was accelerated by Bigwin, coincident with her failing health, her need to take care of herself, and her desire for greater personal satisfaction. By the time Lea returned from North Carolina there were demonstrable changes. These cannot be attributed simply to the idea that Lea had made up her mind to take care of herself and to live differently. The changes went too deep for that conclusion. Many threads came together during this period: the breakdown of her physical and emotional defenses, her attraction to and involvement with Visvaldis, her guilt and worry about her children, and her desire to bring them into the communal fold in order to get help for them. These became central concerns for her that shaped much of her subsequent involvement with Therafields and with the directions that it took.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Brenda for this posting. And for the one about "Mildred". I was always judged one of the "paranoid" ones trying to destroy all Lea was building. I tried so hard to change but could never quiet the inner sense that something was not right. I was in a group with "Mildred" and was incredibly frightened by the duo of Lea and Visvaldis and the lack of boundaries, which years later I discovered revived for me the extraordinary lack of sexual boundaries in my own family. Suicide seemed the only way out. Thank heavens I was seen as such a pariah I was encouraged to move out of a housegroup. Eventually I encountered a therapist with very strong boundaries and, after over a decade of work, am now happier than I ever thought possible.