I wrote a post some time ago about this experience but I can't find it in my blog archive so if anyone remembers reading it, my apologies for repetition. I want to try to finish this before midnight so that it's still the 21st but if I can't manage it, there'll have to be a Part Three tomorrow.
The place where the event which changed my life happened was an unremarkable house in a forgettable semi-suburban area of North London. It took a train, a bus and a walk to get there, a journey I was to become very familiar with. This was the heyday of encounter groups (the de-privatisation of psychotherapy) and a steady stream of well-known group therapists flowed in and out of London from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Big Sur, New York, Amsterdam and further afield and the house I entered on that autumn evening was the venue where most of them came to do their thing. I was not particularly interested in that scene but picked up the centre's brochure to read while waiting for the Regression group to begin. The room was large, carpeted and completely bare apart from a circle of about fifteen floor cushions, all but two of which were occupied - one was for me and one, presumably, for the psychologist. My new friend B had already arrived and we said hello silently. The atmosphere was very quiet and rather tense. I was reading the brochure and when I looked up, suddenly the leader was there on his cushion. I hadn't heard him come in. We were all barefoot so maybe that was why.
Talk about a coup de foudre: a thunder clap deafening you while a bolt of lightning strikes you should not by any stretch of language be translated as 'love at first sight'. Lust is nearer the mark because it blinds you but, in this case, inextricably woven into love and childhood and your entire life history, ressembling one of those sundaes when the hot chocolate sauce and the strawberry syrup filigree their way into the vanilla ice cream and who can tell which is lust and which is love in that delicious and stomach-churning mess?
So there he was, on the cushion, legs crossed in casual approximation of the lotus position. Think Picasso mixed with Brando in Last Tango in Paris with a dollop of Sinatra in Las Vegas and maybe a dash of Al Pacino and you'll get some idea of what I saw in that coup de foudre moment though none of this is an accurate description. He also looked like my father who absolutely did not look like any of those men and anyway I was not in love with my father and Freud was wrong.
He asked us to say something about ourselves and why we had chosen to participate in this group. It took a while for my turn to come round and I sat there, panicking, unable to think of any words at all. Finally I managed to blurt out something like: I keep stopping myself from doing what I want to do. He said: Are you successful at this? Startled, I said: Yes, very successful. He smiled. The coup became even more foudroyant for me as the evening and the weekend progressed but there's only one part that I need to describe because it leads to the theme of this post.
The psychologist...let's call him Z...explained the structure of the work: each of us was to choose two people from the group who in some way, however distantly, reminded us of our parents. Then we were to re-enact a scene from our childhood which was significant for us and which encapsulated our rapport with father and mother; it could be without words and simply with body language. There was much more to it but I'm abbreviating because the clock above my desk says ten minutes to midnight. Five minutes to midnight.
Okay, it's midnight. So I'll finish this tomorrow. And there'll be a drawing as well.