Psychoanalyst Marion Milner describes her work as facilitating patients' "growth toward their own shape." I love this idea and it rings true to my own inner work. The shape inside me is something felt. It is not yet realized; it will never be fully realized. It is always emergent. It's about being alive.
I think of some of my patients at mid-life, patients whose shapes are shifting both psychologically and physically. One patient marveled as they saw the chambers of their heart beating during a recent ECG. Another patient paused to take-in their own strength and vitality - in the midst of ongoing treatment for metastatic cancer. As they near fifty, both of these patients contemplate questions of mortality, identity, and integrity.
To engage what arises from within and without is a kind of surrender - a surrender to the real. Rather than connoting defeat or sumbission, this kind of surrender suggests revolution. The kind of courageous and creative up-ending of what no longer works. In the words of analyst Emmanuel Ghent, this kind of surrender is a "quality of liberation and expansion of self."
When I was younger and imagined my own mid-life, I fantasized about wild success in my career. Instead, before I got past my first several years of work, I had undeniable feelings of restlessness and agitation, and unhappiness written on my face. I felt terrified and exposed.
A graduate degree, professional credentials, a secure income, and no lack of experience only left me feeling confined. I came to understand that the restriction I felt within my work signaled, in part, walls I'd erected within myself. I've discovered (and discover still), these walls cannot not withstand the foment of self-awakening. Fifteen years later, I now know how it feels to be more fully alive - to live into the shape of myself - and to join with patients as their own shapes emerge.