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The Unknown: The profound link between mindfulness and psychoanalysis

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Many people will see mindfulness practice and psychoanalytic therapy as different and far apart.. The meeting between these two worlds can be represented as a meeting between hooded monks eating simple food in bowls and formally dressed Europeans conversing in cafes.

As in any situation where there is a lack of intimate knowledge - "from the inside" - of different worlds, perceptions of one world to the other, they could be generalized in a cartoonish way: sometimes idealizing, but often making what is different inferior and even ridiculous.

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The relationship between mindfulness and psychoanalysis

In extreme cases (which are not uncommon), "people from Mindfulness" can see psychoanalysis as a kind of intellectualization, and "psychoanalysts" can see the practice of mindfulness as a spiritual simplification that avoids the complexities of the psyche and of the life.

But in practice, the two modes (Mindfulness and psychoanalysis)

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try to hone care skills in order to reduce human suffering; skills that both practices strive to take to the highest and most professional level, what a work of art. In reality, the core of the therapeutic act, like the core of mindfulness practice, is associated to an attentive presence in an emerging space, whose contours of formation are unknown and uncontrollable.

It is a presence that strives to remain in permissive contact with the emerging space and allows it to naturally evolve and take on new forms, with its own rhythm, over and over again.

Mindfulness and psychoanalysis

This kind of attentive presence depends on the ability to be in contact with “the unknown”. If we cannot contain it (the unknown), we immediately categorize everything we find into preconceived categories. Instead of conceiving of what is happening now, we interpret it based on our prior expectations, opinions, and knowledge. In this case we cannot be in contact with the real present moment (without mediation) nor with the reality of the person we are dealing with. The new and singular of the present moment is there. enveloped by our preconceived ideas.

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The nature of the unknown

Only if we manage to meet the unknown can we confront the freshness of the new moment and the alterity of another person. Actually, our curiosity, our learning, our ability to adapt to new circumstances, and our ability to really know another person... everything depends on this stripped attention and this ability to be in contact with an element not-yet-known.

Wilfred Bion, one of the most innovative developers of Freud and Klein, psychoanalyst and multidisciplinary genius, introduced this kind of stripped attention to psychoanalysis. He emphasized that meeting the present moment without preconceptions is a central feature in the practice of psychotherapy. He further distinguished the different degrees of personality transformations and stated that therapists who are able to hold “the unknown” can facilitate deeper transformations.

Bion devoted many publications to this topic and developed original concepts to communicate his intent. He insisted that psychoanalysis has been inundated with theories and insights that could hamper the therapist's ability to see the patient as he is. The informed therapist, Bion asserted, could be so saturated with existing ideas as to lose the uniqueness of the real patient in the present moment.

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Another way of understanding therapy

According to Bion, each therapeutic session must be treated as a new, unknown and emerging unit. In one of his most cited articles, he wrote “Each session evolves. out of darkness and formlessness something evolves” [Wilfred Bion, Notes on Memory and Desire]. In this same article, he suggests that therapists attend to the patient "without memory or desire" and maintain direct contact with the unique impact of the present moment. Bion elaborated on this topic:

"Psychoanalytic 'observation' is not concerned with what has happened or what will happen but with what is happening... For the analyst each one of the sessions must lack history and future… The only important thing in any session is the unknown and nothing should prevent sense it". Wilfred Bion, Notes on Memory and Desire.

Bion entered, it can be said, the art of unknowing, into the world of psychotherapy. In other words, we can refer to Bion as the champion of the unknown in the discipline of psychotherapy. Among so many psychoanalytic insights, he attempted to generate a language that inherently points to and includes the unknown. The ability to be unsaturated and in contact with yet-not-known elements is a central key, according to Bion, to facilitate profound transformations in the patient's personality.

In short: keeping "the unknown" alive and present is an art form that is at the heart of any therapeutic endeavor and any moment of mindfulness. It reflects the ability to be in direct contact with the present reality and with the singularity of other human beings. Despite our natural tendency to categorize everything we encounter according to preconceived categories and existing knowledge, this art form allows us to absorb the freshness of the present moment and otherness of the other. Therefore, this form of art is located at the core of attention, learning and creativity processes; represents the profound link between mindfulness and psychoanalysis.
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