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Down the Rabbit Hole
Paul Kiritsis, PsyD candidate, DPhil., MA (Psychology), MA (History)

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The Other Self: Listening and Learning from it

Paul Kiritsis - Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The interplay of the domineering husband and the shy and unobstrusive wife. Illustration by Christos Stamboulakis.

Sophie knew that the best brush stroke effects were often achieved when the painter worked without expectations. This was often accompanied by a state of complete relaxation that loosened up all those little muscles in the joints of the hand. She found that successfully attaining this condition enabled her to work with her eyes completely shut. These techniques had been used by the great Salvador Dali to paint surrealist dreamscapes like the melting clocks in his “Persistence of Memory “and the flower sprouting from Narcissus’s head in his “Metamorphosis of Narcissus.” Sophie loved Dali because she understood his careful selection of symbols, what they meant, and where they’d sprung from. They partook of an intuitive and codified form of knowing that transcended all times and cultures, and this led her to believe that both she and he been hewn from the same multifaceted substrate.

Most of the times she worked with earthy colours like browns, greens, and blues; she especially liked the vibrations of serenity and tranquillity that emanated from them. But lately the prevailing sentiments were of a scope and nature that severely limited their use. This offended her beyond imagining. At times, she wondered if it would be best to give up on her dream of becoming a self-employed painter. She definitely had the time and the talent for it. Thus far she had painted enough canvases to fill up that jewel-encrusted labyrinth known as the Louvre in Paris. In her livelier moments she had even dared to entertain the notion that they might be interested in purchasing some of her canvases. Deep down she didn’t think so though. What museum would want to display artwork on a single theme?

“Hey,” came a familiar voice from the doorway.

“Hi there Adam.”

“Can you at least look at me when I talk to you?”

“If it pleases you,” she said, turning to face him. “Should I assume we’re on talking terms now? Or does that all depend on which way the wind blows?”

“What’s gotten into you Sophie?”

“Red. Scarlet red.”

 “What?”

“I said red!”

“You’re not making much sense Sophie.”

“I make perfect sense to those that aren’t shallow. So many years have passed and yet you refuse to listen,” she said, bending over to pick up a paintbrush. “Where were you tonight anyway?”

“Drinking with the boys.”

 “Do you have any idea what time it is Adam?”

“No.”

“Five in the morning. The pub closes at midnight.”

 “Well I went to Johnny’s house afterwards. He’s having big problems with Lauren. She’s threatened to leave him and he needed my support.”

Sophie laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

“That’s hilarious. You, a marriage counsellor now? You’re the last person on the earth that should be counselling anyone about anything. Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately?”

“There’s nothing wrong with me,” he replied sternly.

“Whatever really,” she said.

Suddenly she felt the weight of his hand on her shoulder. “Why this attitude Sophie?” he asked.

“That’s an unusual surprise.”

“What is?” he asked.

“You touching me,” she said.

“You’re my wife Sophie.”

“The reality is that you tend to forget it Adam,” she said with a tint of irony in her voice. “Therein lays the tragedy of our situation.”

“Do you mind if I change the subject,” he said.

“That’s a first.”

“Sophie, you know I don’t have any objection to your artistic pursuits as long as they don’t get in the way of your other duties. You’ve really deserted them lately. I don’t have any clean and ironed shirts or trousers to wear to work in the morning. Dinner’s not ready when I come home at night. There’s a stack of electricity, gas, and water bills on the kitchen table waiting to be paid. Some look like they’re final notices. The house looks like a twister has gone through it. What’s going on with you?”  

“So that’s why you wanted to talk,” Sophia said, brushing red paint onto the canvas. “To be entirely honest with you I stopped caring when you did.”

He scowled. “What’s that mean?”

Sophie tried to blink back welling tears. ”You don’t care about us anymore Adam. You’ve changed. You’ve changed a lot. You’re no longer the man you once were.”     

Adam seemed genuinely surprised by her complaint. “Don’t I go to work to make a living so that we may survive? Don’t you get everything you want? I know you’re alone much of the time, but I well and truly compensate for that detriment by making your life as leisurely and pleasurable as possible. I can’t believe you’re complaining.”

“You just don’t get it, do you?” She jerked her shoulder away from his grasp. “I remember how open we used to be with one another. We used to share our problems and anxieties and combat them together. I know we’re different in a lot of ways but what made us so formidable was a shared understanding of our strengths and weaknesses as a couple. We used to work as a single unit, building a future together. Now we’re merely co-existing. I simply do my thing and you do yours. Occasionally we talk. We’re not a family anymore.”

“I still love you Sophie,” he said. “I love you lots.”

“You don’t know what love is Adam,” she sniffed. “Except when it’s self-love.”

“I love you,” he reiterated.

“As Narcissus loved Echo.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind.”  

“See what I mean?” he said. “You’re so damn cryptic. Why can’t you just talk simply like a man?”

“I don’t buy it,” she replied. “You might plead ignorance but you know exactly what I’m talking about.”

“I don’t.”

Sophie turned around to face him. “So how long you’ve been sleeping with her?”

“I’m not sleeping with anyone.”

“Oh Adam but you have been!” she snapped. “I had a private investigator follow you. You weren’t at the races last week. You were with her. In her house. In her bed.”

“No.”

“Denying it makes you look all even more pathetic,” she said. “You’ve become a pathological liar.”

Adam was now as red as a radish. “Why did you have someone follow me?”

“Because I don’t trust you,” she said. “You might be able to dupe everyone with your sugar-coated lies but that sort of façade is useless before a woman’s instinct. I knew you were cheating on me before I even hired the private investigator. How many times have we fucked since you started seeing her?”

Her vulgarity took him by surprise. He shrugged his shoulders.

‘Exactly,” she said. “None.”

“I’m really sorry babe,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean anything,” she said, pointing a finger at him. “I can’t believe you’re letting this drug-injecting whore with no fate under the sun ruin what we’ve built together. Why are you letting this happen? Is this what you want? I’ve stuck with you through thick and thin. It was I who nursed you back to health when you were sick with pneumonia. It was I who put your through university. It was I who believed in you when everyone else had lost faith in your will to escape the netherworld of crime and drugs. Have you forgotten already? It’s I who feeds you, clothes you, washes you, beds you, listens to you, pleases you, and loves you unconditionally. My, myself, and I Adam. And this is the lousy thanks I get. You’re one ungrateful rotten apple with worms in it at best.”

“Come on,” he said, grabbing her by the arms. “You don’t mean that.”

“I do.”

“We’ll work something out.”

“I’m afraid it’s gone beyond that now,” she said. “For months I’ve been trying to tell you that something’s wrong but you wouldn’t’ listen. Most of the time I feel like this invisible apparition floating around. You don’t see me at all. You don’t listen to me. There are things that need to be brought to the forefront and dealt with. You have failed to do that and you will suffer the consequences.”

His eyes widened. “What are you saying Sophie?”

“Why don’t you take a good look at what I’ve drawn,” she said.

“Why?”

“Just look at it Adam!”

“Okay,” he said, bending over to study the freshly-painted canvas. He stared at it for a while before blurting out, “It’s very beautiful but I don’t get it.”

“Nothing out of the ordinary there.”

“What is it?” he asked. “Tell me and stop being so mysterious.”

She urged him onto the stool on which she had sat to paint the image. “You need to feel the symbol. Don’t just look at it, feel it,” she said, gesturing towards the area of her heart.

“How can you feel an image Sophie?”

Her hand orbited about a male prisoner, the central image of the canvas. “This emaciated person incarcerated in a single cell on a windswept and barren island is you. You’re very haggard-looking, emaciated, pale, and psychologically withdrawn here. Years of solitary confinement have driven you mad and you talk to invisible roommates that aren’t physically present. There’s an hourglass beside you. All the grains have trickled through from the top to the lower glass bulb.”

“Indicating that?”

“It means that your time is up,” she said, peering into his eyes.

He snorted nervously. “Yeah, yeah.”

Her hand moved up to a small lighthouse at the northernmost point of the island. “When the pharos was functional there was always hope that a passing ship would notice your incarceration and come to your aid. There was hope of escape. Now the electricity powering the lamp has been exhausted, taking any flicker of hope with it. You are well and truly at the mercy of the ocean tides.”

“You’ve got a very vivid imagination. It’s so infuriating.”

“Here,” she said, indicating a piece of fertile mainland to the left, “is where you used to live before your imprisonment. “This was a place of lush vegetation, freshwater lakes and rivers, wild animals, plump fruit and produce, and everything needed to sustain you. The mainland is synonymous with freedom.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m in the picture.”

Adam’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t see you.”

“I’m the jungle Adam.”

Sophie watched him as his attention shifted towards two familiar entities depicted at the bottom of the sea. “Is that the sun and moon?”

“Yes.”

“Why are they black?”

“They’re black because they’ve drowned Adam.”

Adam looked perplexed. “Drowned?”

“They’re in a state of decomposition.”

A few seconds passed before something clicked inside Adam’s mental hardware. “Where are our children Sophie? Where are Helios and Selene?”

“In the bathtub.”

Adam’s mouth gaped open. “You didn’t…”

“I did.”

“Please not the kids,” he gasped, issuing a blood-curdling ululation as he bolted towards the bathroom.

“You fucked it up Adam!”

Sophie could seem him hunched over the bathtub, wracked by grief. Her propensity for savage violence shocked her but she’d been pushed so far beyond her limits that hurting him had become necessary. People that refuse to listen end up paying dearly for their sacrilege.

For a few minutes she just listened, something he was incapable of doing. Then she blocked her ears with cotton buds and proceeded to put the finishing touches to her latest masterpiece.  

 

So what symbolism lies behind this little melodrama? To put it simply the domineering husband is the contracted ego or “I” which experiences the phenomenal world through the five physical senses, the unobtrusive housewife is the intuitive inner centre of higher intelligence or self that is much more comprehensive than the former and comes to life when he is in abeyance, and the household is the individual mind. He is a bundle of biological and psychological impulses that each one of us recognizes as “me”; she, on the other hand, is some kind of ideal duplicate of ourselves that appears to be much shrewder, idealized, and individuated with our best interests at heart. For the most part our husbands are the mathematicians, scientists, and businessman who work to develop colourful social masks or personalities so that we may interact with one another and with society at large and our wives the artists who create these exquisite works to showcase our innate inclinations and a sentiment or two regarding our fundamental harmony with the universe.  So in essence we’re dual beings, comprised of two halves locked in a lifelong and immutable relationship with one another.

These two aspects of mind mirror the discipline of split-brain physiology where there is a dominant left hemisphere and a non-dominant right hemisphere; the first is masculine in its characteristics and prefers to process sensory information through more precise means like language and reason whilst the second is feminine and prefers an altogether more holistic, non-practical approach heeded by a subjective intuition independent of the five sensory modalities. He is a resident of the left hemisphere, she of the right. The commissure links them in a way that’s unevenly skewed. He’s a self-assured, confident, outspoken, and sometimes ignorant and smug little Yaldabaoth who can become enamoured of his own likeness and abilities. The world is his oyster. If it doesn’t bend to his will he’ll infect the household with doubts and miseries. His fancies and opinions can bring about his own undoing; on the odd occasion it stirs a level of disenchantment with the world that disengages the entire household from its foundations in fundamental harmony and plunges into a dark chaos where illness and uncertainty reign. Self-gratification and self-love are his forte. He thinks he’s the king of the castle.

When he’s home she doesn’t get to have much of a say in anything that matters. From what we know it appears as though she doesn’t mind this arrangement. She’ll potter around doing repetitive and boring old tasks; she’s an automaton that cooks, cleans, washes, irons, and arranges furniture around the house. There are many things to like about the unobtrusive and enigmatic housewife; she’s an adroit horticulturist and never lets the garden fall into disarray. Everyone admires an inherent love of cleanliness, neatness, and order. The creation of management plans to manage their income and budgeting are also left to her better judgement. She gets so much but gets so little credit for it. Most of the time he doesn’t even acknowledge her presence, let alone offer praise for her concerted efforts in keeping everything from falling into disarray. She doesn’t seem to mind though.  Despite his obvious depravities, his monocular visions, and his strangled senses, there are plenty of things to like about the arrangement. The level of intimacy and sex, for instance, are inconceivably satisfying.  Her foremost and most intimate concern relates to his being and level of self-awareness. If he’s true to his own nature and conscience and lives up to his innate potentials and talents she’ll leave him alone; if not she’ll send him to purgatory and back. She definitely has the means to achieve such feats.

Of course she’d prefer not to resort to savagery and crafty conspiracies that loosen boundaries between reality and fantasy, or introduce other levels of reality and subselves into his contracted, diluted, and oversimplified perception of the world. That is not her preferred method of dealing with her other half. All that she wants is for him to remain true to himself and build a better future for their children. On occasions that she does leave the house people frequently mistake her for a trophy housewife. Nothing could be further from the truth! One sees ample evidence of her intelligence, wisdom, and wittiness in symbolic gesticulations that draw outer elements and phenomena into theatrical configurations as to elicit meanings. In his absence she comes into her own, painting beautiful canvases and sculpting lifelike clay statues that reflect his current moods and intrinsic, natural tendencies. She’s a prolific worker, producing symbol-laden images at a rate that would evoke the envy of every manufacturer in the country. Sometimes she’ll manifest psychic powers and correctly predict the future. Her knowledge of history is truly remarkable. A primary consequence of expressing these transcendental gifts is that he’s made to look like a court jester. Luckily there isn’t an arrogant bone in her body. Her interests are benevolent and selfless; she just wants what’s best for him.

We all know that there’s a difference between the human brain and mind. What’s the difference? One is merely a facilitator of psychic impressions like emotions and thoughts and the other is them. If we were to employ a metaphor to describe the relationship we would say that the human brain is a generator of electricity whilst the mind is the electricity itself. The mind exists independent of the former’s aptitude to bring about the requisite neurochemical conditions for its transmission. Irrespective of whether or not there’s a sensory organ able to interpret cognitive activity we know it’s there. It exists. Its ability to mediate a wad of psychobiological impulses and run self-mediating diagnostic tests on them is probably the greatest miracle in the known universe. These tests are made possible by a dual nature reflecting a hierarchical order of being whereby all creation has emanated from a single source and is linked with everything else through an esoteric system of correspondences. The lifelong intercourse between inner mental processes and the phenomenal outer world and the former’s appropriation of the latter for the sake of providing universal insights about natural leanings and attitudes to an individual would be impossible had interlaced levels of creation not existed. Our psychic dowry is well known to our inner unconscious processes but not to us. It is there, waiting to take shape and become under the guidance of the introverted housewife, the other self. In learning how to listen to it we acquire freedom from perpetual vexations, disappointments, and enslavement to impulse. Pandemonium strikes when internal trends seeking to transmute the individual into a self-actualized diamond aren’t heeded to; when this happens the unconscious pours forth as a deluge of eerie and repressed images, visions, and reveries that can overwhelm, overrun and even possess the individual, leading to dissociative behaviours as well as the disintegration of mental and physical health.

Apparently helping oneself is as easy as all that; just listen to the unobtrusive housewife, that other self.                  

Comments
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