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Eigen, M. (2002). A Basic Rhythm. Psychoanal. Rev., 89(5):721-740.

(2002). Psychoanalytic Review, 89(5):721-740

A Basic Rhythm

Michael Eigen, Ph.D.

Rebirth images have a long history. Ancient mysteries focused on moving from “lower” to “higher” consciousness. Biblical rebirth images involved healing damage or cleansing corruption—the blind will see, the lame will walk, the burden of sin will be lifted. Rebirth images are associated with the wish to live forever but are not limited to the latter. They are connected with changing states of being, moods, feelings, and growth processes, referring, for example, to shifts between feeling dead and awakening to life.

Symbolic life is partly concerned with describing what its own activity feels like and discovering what it can do. Art, for example, disrupts itself in order to explore its processes and discover further possibilities. I have heard artists speak of killing their work (babies), repeatedly destroying what they do until what emerges feels closer to a birth they can say yes to. In such a process successive destructions and births fuse yet support and lend strength to what results.

The psyche generates rebirth images to help organize sensitivity. To speak of a new spirit, new person, new soul implies something wrong with the old one, perhaps a perennial insufficiency built into experience. We refer to someone “getting better” not just as a movement from illness to health but as part of a drive to surpass or transcend oneself, a never-ending birth. Disruption supersedes disruption as one keeps stretching. We want to be better, to go beyond or correct ourselves.

Rebirth images also track trauma. Sensitivity suffers wounds. We are very sensitive beings, more easily injured than we like to think. As Bion (1994) writes, “When two personalities meet, an emotional storm is created” (p. 321).

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