THE WOMB, THE TOMB AND THE SPIRIT Life beyond the body This chapter seeks to share some viewpoints on the relationship between birth and death which I developed as part of my personal journey towards creating some meaning in the face of a bereavement.1 The chapter began as two lectures given at the Boyesen Institute of Biodynamic Psychology in London, but it was written in a small German village; it was completed after a visit to Uberaba in Brazil. It seeks to throw a little fresh light on a journey that is longer than man.As the search for ever earlier levels of trauma is pushed backwards in time, from the age of four, to two, to before speech and before birth, to the third trimester, to implantation, to conception and perhaps to a previous life, it becomes clear that we are facing an infinite recess. There simply is not enough time in this life to work through the traumas of all the previous ones. I have the greatest respect for some of those who have directed us into ever deeper levels of regression, but I believe their reasoning is faulty. It is based on what Stanley Keleman calls the myth of the Garden of Eden. Return to the womb, to oceanic sensations, to a totipotent state of feeling, is ultimately a flight from death. What lies behind us in our history is a blaze of light accompanying embryogenesis,2 but we cannot recapture it by strategic regression to the bliss of an untraumatised foetal state.The way forward is a path inspired by hope and threatened by horror. Darkness threatens us on many sides, whether in
the form of old primal pains resurfacing, or the social convulsions erupting increasingly in many parts of the world in the last quarter of a century, or the fact that the clock at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists stands at four minutes to midnight.3Rebirthing, primal integration, bio-energetic work, are all helpful not because they take us back but insofar as, in spite of their rationale of reliving the past, they are able to move us forward and to progress.There are events that are so terrible that working them out cathartically is a gross inadequacy and reliving them could be to quadruple the agony. How does one help a woman whose son of thirteen was killed in a car accident to cathart her grief when she has been crying without relief for more than a year already? One cannot go back and recreate his life. Going forward for this woman involved heeding a signal sent to her in a dream. One night she could not sleep. She saw his coffin, but it was empty. ‘I know it’s empty’, she said, ‘because he’s not in it, he’s waving at me to tell me he’s all right.’ Refusing to acknowledge this signal sent to her in a dream had maintained this woman in a depression for twelve months. When she was able to accept her dream she was able to move beyond the grave of depression she had dug for herself and to begin to live again in spite of her tragedy.The movement of life follows the arrow of time; it is directional. The direction is forwards. But the arrow of time points towards finitude, towards death and towards nonexistence. Martin Heidegger defined life as a ‘being-towards-death’. The search for pleasure, social, sexual or foetal, may distract us from this realisation. The work of Reich founded the wave-like movements of protoplasm and affirmed the primacy of pleasure, but avoided the fact that the onward wave movement rolled inevitably towards shipwreck. The body of the amoeba alone is immortal.Regression therefore is an attempt ultimately to reconstitute oneself in a womb-like environment, to take on the protectedness of the foetal state.4 Progression is the thrust
from foetus to child to adult and onwards into a state culminating in death. Who wants to progress, though, if death is the final solution? In a nuclear age when mass extermination hangs over us all, it is understandable that regressive therapies and paranoid cults should mushroom and flourish. The way back is seen as the way forward and the way forward is seen as the way back.How would it seem, though, for a foetus poised before the transition out of the only known world of the womb? When I was in Iceland, in August 1981, I discovered the modern Icelandic play Yolk Life, written by Oddur Bjornsson.5 The stage is the womb. The dramatis personae are two foetal twins, non-identical, eight months after conception. The curtain opens on darkness. As it lightens electronic sound effects of abdominal rumbling noises are heard. The theatre of psycho-peristalsis begins. Oddur Bjornsson writes in his introduction:
At first sight the idea itself appears to be somewhat difficult to stage, but the play has been produced with considerable success. Two things appear to be most important in the play. They are partly mankind’s dependence on, and limitation by, his immediate environment, and partly the two opposing characters played off against each other. One of the twins is obviously a rationalist, although not completely lacking in imagination, an egoist who accepts his environment as being the only one he can come into contact with. The other twin, however, is more complex. He appears to be weak and dependent but possesses a certain intuition which requires expansion. After all he does have this strange feeling of a life after the embryo existence. Here is the final speech in the play by Foetus One.