One amusement I have in my retirement years is to watch and listen as conversations unfold with people who know nothing about therapy or my five decade jaunt of listening as a psychotherapist.  As is my bent, I ask questions- not intrusive questions, deep linguistic questions, or emotional questions, but just normal everyday curiosity questions.

Interestingly, no one (yes “no one”) in this conservative community here in Colorado responds by asking curious questions of me. They appear quite willing to answer my questions as long as they do not pierce the common veil of polite suburban conversation.  

I confess: all the while I am observing and listening as a veteran of a half of century of therapy wars.  The rationalizations, feeling avoidances and self-justifications are familiar to me, even though, on these occasions I must strictly avoid my therapeutic reflexes and not go deep.

Lately, I entertain myself by simply watching and listening to the mental gyroscope that  keeps  people emotionally balanced. It’s like watching a skater on a spring pond who glides around avoiding thin ice while seeking to appear graceful.  It is fascinating how nimble the brain is as individuals artfully avoid emotional and cognitive pitfalls.  I also find it incredibly interesting how both past and present actions are woven into self-serving justifications.

The emotional avoidances are especially interesting. I can see the flash of scare, sadness, or anger pulse through as the Right Brain gets a nano-second impulse that is rapidly avoided. As for me, I have to bite my tongue to not ask “And what is that feeling about?” because, if I were to so inquire, that would be considered rude. Just the other day my wife and I were talking with a man who had a bursting wave of childlike feeling flood through his face and body. I said “Maybe we need a therapeutic moment here” and another couple watching the exchange agitated as if I had thrown ice water in their faces.  This caused me to retard my therapeutic reflex and go back to the avoidance patterns of suburban patter. (Yes, I hate it, but what is, is.)

Confined by the rigid steel fences of various Defense Mechanisms operative in the culture, I—like a prisoner in a People Zoo—must find amusement and mental peace in silent observation of the Mental Gyroscope. How interesting it is. And to think that it was the way of the world before Sigmund Freud learned to be quiet and observe the gamey machinations of the Unconscious in grown adults! But, I must cease historical reflections because the reality is that the Unconscious Game continues for everyone save for an extremely small fraction of one per cent—the aware folk who know emotions, are willing to be specific about their mental output, and have no qualms whatsoever of being transparently confessional. 

And so it goes. Maybe I should have never retired. It was great to be around real people.