Bob Dylan is reported to have said: “Life isn’t about finding yourself, or finding anything. Life is about creating yourself, or creating things.” I take this to mean that Dylan did not see himself, or anyone, as having a preformed self that could be searched for and found, but that life is improvisational, the self emerges out of the flow of spontaneous, creative process.
The British psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott proposed a similar idea. He saw “true self” as a process, what he called “going on being”, not a crystallized object. What Winnicott called “false self” was a structure of self built out of reactivity, an effort to respond by compliance or resistance to other people, particularly early caregivers. The U.S. psychoanalyst Stephen Mitchell once commented that false self is inherently structure, while true self is inherently process. The Hindu/Buddhist idea of “ego” corresponds, in my view, to the notion of false self. Spiritual awakening depends on the surrender of ego, or false self, in favor of process, the flow of thoughts and feelings, as in meditation.
Emmanuel Ghent, another U.S. psychoanalyst, elaborated on the idea of surrender. He counterposed surrender to submission, the latter being inherently masochistic, a false self look-alike to surrender, which he thought of as surrender of false self, or ego. By linking false self to ego in the context of a purified notion of surrender, Ghent made a link between Winnicottian psychoanalysis and Hindu/Buddhist spirituality that begs to be elaborated further.
Ghent died in 2003. I am interested in developing the links he was in process of forming between psychoanalysis and Hindu/Buddhist spiritual philosophy and practice, two major trends in healing work going on around the world. For example, there is much in common between meditation and free association: an observer self watching, being mindful of, the flow of thoughts and feelings.
The deep roots of psychoanalysis in its history, particularly its roots in the work of its creative genius-founder, Sigmund Freud, is a great asset but also a liability as psychoanalysis seeks to re-make itself for new times and new cultural contexts. Meanwhile, Hindu/Buddhist spiritual philosophy and practice has awakened intense interest in much of the world. Ghent’s interests in Hinduism and Buddhism dovetailed with his interest in psychoanalysis, and Ghent and Mitchell were working together and separately on updating and expanding psychoanalysis. Let us pick up these threads and move ahead.
Please see my plans for a study group on these topics elsewhere on this website.