I have a small, book-lined office above my treatment area where I often retreat to work on my charts, speak on the phone, read, write and, occasionally, nap. Very few people visit here, and its contents are completely my own responsibility.
A friend spoke to me recently of a large box he found in his father’s basement soon after his death. Carefully packed away were old light switches and wall sockets each identically marked, “Does not work.”
This story got me thinking about the objects that have accumulated in my office and what stories my own children might tell one day. As I look about, I notice that there are things in here that evoke in me memories and stories I would hate to forget. There’s a person there inside that item from some distant gift shop, an event remembered viscerally in a small trophy over there.
Other items are just knick knacks, and their presence creates in me nothing more that the urge to dust.
For lack of a better word, I separate the things in this room into those which are sacred and those which are not. I’m using here my dictionary’s fifth definition of the word; “regarded with reverence.” For my purposes the religious aspects of sacredness are not relevant.
Some things are easily understood in this way. Photos and books, crafts from children, letters and artwork often remain with people for years beyond their production, and grow more revered as time passes. It is possible, however, for something to grow less sacred as we ourselves change. This reveals the fact that the sacredness of any object is dependent upon the presence of something within us, something that we revere and which resonates with the object. Without this sympathetic vibration, any object, no matter how valuable or old or beautiful, either becomes nothing more than utilitarian or a dust collector. It isn’t bad, it’s just not sacred.
Consider the knowledge you’ve acquired as a therapist. As the years pass in the clinic, we are offered a wide variety of ideas and techniques. My personal experience has been that some of these stay with me while others are set aside. They might not disappear entirely, but I don’t mistake them for something I need or use. I rarely even dust them off.
Like the objects in my office, what I hang onto in my head or do with my hands is completely my responsibility. There is no doubt that some knowledge I once considered sacred is now much like some gaudy trinket any tourist might buy. I got it to show others where I’ve been, but beyond that it is of no use.
Other bits of knowledge have endured. I regard them with reverence and have watched them remain and deepen despite the challenges of the clinic. Sometimes all that I know and do seems to have no effect and still I cannot abandon what I feel is sacred. For me, these ideas simply make sense.
There is a difference between the journey of a tourist and that of a pilgrim. One fills their bag with remembrances, and the other seeks mainly to learn more about something they seem unable to resist. Perhaps you know of therapists whose vast array of technique and conflicting theory is a consequence of their inability to separate the sacred from that which is not. They’re tourists, not pilgrims. Without an internal reference point with which it might resonate (a distinct therapeutic philosophy, for instance) ideas and techniques pile higher and higher without order or hierarchy. When this happens, the therapeutic approach for difficult problems resembles a flea market of ideas, and white elephants of technique. I think you get my point.
I regularly scan the objects in my office, and I literally throw away that which no longer evokes a thought or sensation I’m fearful of losing. Sometimes this is easy, sometimes it’s not.
What remains here grows older along with me, and it helps me make sense of my life. I try to scan my mind similarly, and find that as the clutter is placed aside, what I truly want to know well remains easier to remember, and it never has a chance to get dusty.