We belong to the world and are of the world because our formative experience was one of relation and involvement – with the maternal body, and through it, with the world. It is from that primary relation that we derive our ability to love, to feel loved and to be with. But we don’t remember it. We don’t remember the oneness of the womb or our infantile intertwinning with our mother’s bodies because memories belong to subjects and this foundational love was laid down before we became identifiable subjects [bounded subjects before an objective world].
Memory is about parts, separated and put back together. Member, dismember, remember. It is the job of the subject to undertake that ‘recollection’ of discrete events and experiences and forge them into a coherent narrative. But the primary experience I am describing happens to a self that doesn’t have parts, in a world that is without separations.
But I think it is wrong to assume that because of this the experience of primary relation [love] is lost to us or that it belongs in an inaccessible past. I think that love lives within us still and becomes present in familiar experiences: being sick, wrapped in blankets on the coach, snug and warm on the cusp on sleep, family activities quietly taking place around you; lying, dreamily close to sleep in the shade of a tree while a friend or sibling entertains themselves nearby.
And unlike the Freudian psychoanalytic tradition, I don’t think we [necessarily] experience the return of primary love [what Lacan called the Real] as a traumatic event; an unwanted fracturing of the upright, autonomous, bounded, future-oriented subject. I do think that it unwinds our boundaries. It is always a form of letting go. But I think that, for the most part, we welcome it and cherish the absolution that it brings.
I’d like to explore these ideas in a small section of an interview I did with a Bondi surfer a few years ago. This is Craig.
You know I was talking before, the stress of life, things that you’ve got to deal with and you can come down to the beach and go out in the surf and as soon as you get a wave, it’s gone. It’s just out of your head and all you’re thinking about is surfing and being out there. And you get times when there are big lulls in the water and you are just floating in the water. It gives you that little bit of peace and time to think and you’ve got nothing else out there but time to think in between the waves. You get a bit of clarity out there. It’s like a bit of a meditation. You’re like at ease out there. Everything slows down and you get time to think.
I’ve seen guys who are just animals out of the water, just animals [laughs]. And they get out in the surf and they are just totally different people. They lose all that tension and whatever they want to do. It just makes everyone a bit more calm, you know. I think it’s like going back to how people were born in water and they used to give birth in water because it’s a natural feeing. We are all made of water. It’s like water is a relaxant to us. Like you can just go out there and lie on your back out there in the water, and just lie on your back and it’s like a great feeling, even just to lie in the water. Like the whole place is water isn’t it? The planet, we’re made of it, everything
People want to go and mediate, that’s like a meditation out there. Sometimes things from your past and things flash through your head, through your life and if it’s a good thought you’ll take that in and then remember it or take it up later on or something. You might be sitting out there and you have a flash back to when you were a kid or something. Things through your life go through your head. Probably things that didn’t mean anything to you at the time that mean something to you now. It’s like having a dream out there.
What interests me in these passages is the relationship between conscious memory and what Craig describes as his ‘floating feeling’. The floating feeling is clearly a form of ecological involvement – his being and the water and sky and currents are fully entwined. His insides and outsides are the insides and outsides of the world. In this state he is present to his primary connection with his mother’s love. His body is his mother’s body, the body of the planet. We are all made of water. The planet, we’re made of it, everything. I think that is why his reverie leads him to reflect on the practice of birthing into water. Isn’t he born of that same water?
Then Craig begins to describe the memories that come to him when he is out there floating in this dream-like state. He has a flash back to when he was a kid. He recalls happy events. Happy thoughts. Something has changed in Craig’s state. Time has shifted. Where previously it was an endless present, now there are temporal demarcations: past and present. Then, now and a projected time in the future when he may come back to these thoughts. These are obviously memories belonging to a subject. They sit, perhaps precariously, in a narrative that makes sense of where Craig has come from and who he is today. But I don’t think that these memories take Craig far from his unbounded state. In fact, I think they are in dialogue with it.
When Craig is out there in the water he has an experience of elemental connection which is also connection to primary love. To give expression to that experience, perhaps to express gratitude for it, he calls on what is closest to it: the conscious, remembered happy moments of his youth. He gives subjectivity to a subjectless love which allows him to recall and to name what is unnamed and unremembered: the love that is his mother and himself, being with and of each other.
The only way the Freudian tradition can understand Craig’s floating state and remembered childhood is as an undoing of subject born of an improper, infantile attachment to the mother. It is an entrapment in the past. An entrapment the subject must overcome in order to enter into maturity. But I would say that while we can enter into relation with primary love and experience it again through being with the world we are able to find stillness and space. As Craig shows us, far from being his undoing, it is these floating moments which give him a reprieve from the desirous projects of the ego and put things in perspective so he can face the day with grace. They are the foundation of his belonging.