by Pat Colgan
What happens when we live in an economy rather than a state? What value has the non-contributory member within a system dominated by cash criteria? What questions arise when the money begins to run out and we are not yet fulfilled and happy? How do we get back to that original place from whence we started and get to discover it for the first time?
Possibly we are thrown back into a place where the survivors begin to take stock of where they are and where they need to be. Many of the stories we’ve been told and which have shaped our inner selves contain clues and echoes. From Faustus to Scéal Shéadna, from King Midas to Rumbletinskin, we have learnt the folly of giving too much of our real selves to satisfy our appetites. To adapt Hamlet’s reproach of Horatio, ‘there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our economy’. Deep down we do feel that there are things that money cannot buy.
Many observers identified an increase in greed among both the tigers and the cubs. This was epitomised by the new advertising catchcall, ‘because I’m worth it’! Perhaps this is just a modern adaptation of the earlier version. ’I’m alright, Jack, pull up the ladder’. It may just be another facet of the law of supply and demand, or leaving it all to market forces. Was that part of the illusion of the Tiger mentality? Did we come to believe that all things could be purchased or acquired? Did ‘I want it’ become ‘I need it’? Isn’t it interesting to see how the earlier acquisitive stage of childhood can be re-activated throughout the journey of living?
Celtic Tiger Ireland did not appeal to everybody. There was a sense that our new-found health and wealth was at best a mixed blessing. The needy and the marginalised seemed to become the unremembered or even the disappeared. Those people and agencies working with the vulnerable, the poor and the needy, felt that the most they were receiving were the crumbs from the rich man’s table. It began to seem that only the little people paid the bill for social services. Those who could, avoided taxes and service charges; those who couldn’t became a bit disillusioned. Social housing, carer’s allowances, run down community projects and dilapidated schools were airbrushed from the agenda. And the reputation of a welcoming nation for the needy and the refugee got tarnished when the ‘Black Babies’, for whom we gave our pennies in poorer times, actually began to arrive on our doorstep looking for a little of our new-found abundance.
Were we too young and inexperienced to handle the wealth? Did the materialism overwhelm us? Did we need more time and reflection to grow into those circumstances? Were we in an existential crisis or not? Where now stands the Celtic Tiger, and what did we learn from the distortions it brought? There is a great temptation to take a detour around the highly popular novel, The Life of Pi, and compare his tiger, Richard Parker, and our own Celtic Tiger. Resisting the temptation does not preclude us from analysing our own tiger. What would we readily identify as the pathology of our tiger?
Like all pathologies it presented us with a distorted picture of our world. From a society that had a living memory of unemployment, forced emigration, restricted education and a fairly straitened life-style this animal emerged with an amazing personality change. Did we enjoy the change? Be honest, it was a change for the better and a life of plenty was preferable to one of scarcity. Did we lose the run of ourselves? If we did, who could really blame us? From the back of the class to the top of the European ladder. From a people in need to a people living it up. Did we have doubts about where we were headed? With an inherited ingredient of Catholic jansenism or Protestant Puritanism, we were always going to look any gift- horse in the mouth. A decline and fall was inevitable anyway. That is part of the human condition. We are here to become somebody and that comes with effort and striving.
When do children have most need of parenting? Is it not when they are incapable of supplying their own needs? When do grown-ups experience a neediness within their lives? Is it not when they are striving with great difficulty to achieve what seems beyond their means? At what stage do we all feel the need to get some direction and some shape on the greater picture of our lives? Could it be that it is when we are at a low ebb, or walking in the shadow? When this seems as bad as it can get; or contrariwise when this feels as good as it is ever going to get?
Psychotherapy does not claim to remove all pain so that we can live happily ever after. Humans are far too complex to succumb to any easy fix. In the middle of a crisis, when the pain is almost unbearable, total peace and respite seem most desirable. To be in love with easeful death is one transitory illusion that tempts the anguished spirit. That is the illusion which has lured so many of our young people onto the rocks of despair. It is Hope which keeps us going when the extreme way-out of suicide beckons. Hope affirms the fact that life is for living. It lifts us once more onto our feet and energises us to continue the journey that has been laid out for us.
Fortunately there is always something beckoning in the distance to draw us ever onwards. The human condition has an unquenchable thirst for more and it is part of that process to keep walking on with hope in our hearts. It is also part of the process to journey through the valley of darkness. If this is beginning to sound familiar, it is because it runs so deeply within all of us. The Hebrew psalmist expressed it thus: “Though I should walk in death’s dark valley, I fear no evil with you by my side, Your shepherd’s staff to comfort me” (psalm 23). This is a particular motif within the lived experience of both the individual and the group. Neither money nor materialism can inoculate us against the shadow side of being human.
Is there a role for a psychotherapy with a soul within the emerging Ireland? Many therapists of the Integrative and Humanistic tradition work with clients within a paradigm that takes cognisance of three levels of the Unconscious: The Lower, The Middle and The Higher Unconscious. Psychosynthesis is one such approach that offers both individual psychotherapy and courses in personal development. Both Psychosynthesis and Transpersonal Theory operate within a context where people can take time to be still, reflect on the mystery of their lives and work through their issues. When Roberto Assagioli moved away from his psychoanalytic mentor, Sigmund Freud, it was in order to pursue the realm of the Higher Unconscious.
For Freud the realisation of the Ego from the repressions of the Id was the goal of human striving and achievement. Both Jung and Assagioli, in their separate ways, explored the highway to the Transpersonal and laid foundations for the structuring of a psychotherapy with a soul.
The journey of the self is one from potential to self-actualisation. Throughout the journey there is an evolutionary development with stages and halts. Our environment and our circumstances play their parts in the movement towards our destiny. We experience our selves and we are shaped both by our stories and the events we live through. If our psyches are blocked or traumatised we may need some help to understand where we are and how to proceed. Through our own reflection we can become attuned to the more hidden dimensions of our being. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail. There is an inexorability about the passage of our lives. We are born, we live and then we die. Occasionally we are aware of something more, often we even glimpse the more than. These epiphanies are variously called “spots in time’; moments of inspiration- grace transcendent tunes or transpersonal events. They are characterised by the common feature that they are gifted to us and cannot be imperated .
Like Adam Philips in his book, Promises Promises (Faber 2000), I am often seduced by the visionary insights of mysticism and poetry. Both mystic and poet seem to see beyond or beneath the skin of our lives and the horizons our dreams. They affirm the hunches that we have and the hopes we nurture through our experiential highs and lows. There is a point in time when honey does flow from the rock, when tears become diamonds and where pain begins to heal and the darkness turns to light. Such a transformation is contingent upon a vision and a way that looks beyond the level of the ego and the id. It is predicated upon the belief that there is a Greater Power and that the limits of the journey transcend the limits of unaided humanity. The therapeutic conversation and the healing dialogue are augmented by hope and grace. Both individually, and as a group, humankind is wounded and mortal. Those are the inevitable facts of life. Do we go gentle into that good night, or do we rage against the passing of the light? Or is there more?
If we were to see our Tiger as a phase of development, how would we characterise that phase? Does such a question make sense? Economic commentators had been predicting the demise of our Tiger and seem to equate the whole phenomenon with the story of Pharoah’s dream about the lean and fat cattle. Just to jog the memory, that was the dream that was interpreted by Joseph of the Amazing Technicolour Coat fame. The dream meant that Egypt would have seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine. According to the economic interpretation, we have had our plenty, squandered some of it, and now have to put up with the consequences. But if the Tiger was a phase, where was it directing us, or what were we to learn from it?
Perhaps it was a wake-up call, or a whiff of our own mortality. We nearly became a people of excess, and bingeing. Perhaps the greed and materialism was ‘the excess sugar of a diabetic culture’? The ‘I’m worth it’ didn’t look so attractive when the hangover kicked in. If we didn’t like what we saw in our children and the younger generation, perhaps we realised that they weren’t licking it from the ground. The reflection in the mirror showed us the real self behind the illusion. Were we beginning to hate ourselves?
We almost forgot that we are a community and not a mere economy. Do we need to be in therapy, or is there plenty we can consciously do that will face us in the right direction? If there is healing in telling our story and listening to the stories of those with whom we form the various communities that interconnect the fabric of what is Irish society, perhaps we have begun to return to the place from whence we set out. Perhaps we are making sense of the stories that shaped the Irish psyche. This is one possible way of viewing the benefits of both the Celtic Tiger and its Distortions.