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Mercy for the Greedy

     

Given the chance to live your life over again, would you do anything differently? People often come into therapy looking for a kind of mercy. Some feel they have made some awful mistakes, perhaps have a sense that they are bad in some way and look for an external authority to forgive and explain this. But understanding our own difficulties and shortcomings may lead to self recrimination. Shame can block forgiveness; self compassion can feel elusive. The origins of this inner sense of badness is not undone easily as the roots go way back to childhood and beyond. Awareness of these inner states of mind can be painful. Ideally therapists should have the sort of emotional intelligence that confers a sense of authority. In this way a therapist is able to use their own experiences in therapy or life to help the person navigate their own way through this process of self discovery. In other words, therapists who work at any depth should have acknowledged their own shadow and be able to use this in their work. Confession is therefore, an integral part of therapy or analysis.


     Ann Sexton was a confessional poet. She mined her own life for material for her poems which she called “Mercy for the Greedy”.

This is what poems are: with mercy for the greedy, they are the tongue’s wrangle, the world’s pottage, the rat’s star.

Peter Gabriel was inspired to write his haunting and timeless song “Mercy Street” after reading her poem called, “45 Mercy Street”. The poem was written shortly before Ann’s suicide and she was searching for her childhood home, perhaps looking back on her life to find the root of her troubles. Her past disturbed; she had extensive psychoanalysis and periods in hospital. Encouraged by her first analyst she began to write poetry. In many ways, her art kept her alive. She became an authority on her own suffering and was able to create from it. Gabriel’s song is a conversation with Ann’s poem. The following lines demonstrate the gift of dreaming and the creative power within our ‘mistakes’.


All of the buildings

All of the cars

Were once just a dream

In somebody's head


We often think that we only dream at night. The psychoanalyst Bion saw dreams as Unconscious Thinking, meaning we are actively dreaming all the time, even when awake.  As Thomas Ogden wrote, unconscious thinking is happening all the time, whether we are aware of it or not. It is like the stars that are there even when we can’t see them because of the brightness of the sun. If unconscious thinking influences our reality, becoming aware of this holds value. If we intentionally add mercy to the mix, we can potentially create a more satisfying life.


      Mercy is compassion or kindness from an authority. The religious or moral associations cannot be avoided. However, the original authority we require kindness or forgiveness from is our parents. Gabriel sings about Dreaming of mercy in your daddy's arms again. We travel from requiring kindness and compassion from an external source to becoming the author of our own compassion. This circular journey may often be a significant part of the therapeutic path. We are constantly negotiating the tension between selfishness and altruism. Often we get it wrong and have to learn from our mistakes the hard way. If we fail to give ourselves mercy we can find ourselves heaping on the self recriminations. We make choices without until later if they are the right or wrong choices. We can however, decide to show ourselves mercy either way rather than condemnation.


      Forgiveness unites and synthesises. It is often attributed to spirit but found in people. It is as if the gaze is turned from looking up at the stars to the eyes of another. When we see someone differently, they become another person. We become how we are seen to be. Mercy street can be heard as a command, if you ever get there it will allow you to be your true self. Embrace those mistakes, they come from your most creative parts!


Mercy Street


Looking down on empty streets

All she can see

Are the dreams all made solid

Are the dreams made real

All of the buildings

All of the cars

Were once just a dream

In somebody's head

She pictures the broken glass

Pictures the steam

She pictures a soul

With no leak at the seam

Let's take the boat out

Wait until darkness

Let's take the boat out

Wait until darkness comes

Nowhere in the corridors

Of pale green and gray

Nowhere in the suburbs

In the cold light of day

There in the midst of it

So alive and alone

Words support like bone

Dreaming of Mercy Street

Wear you're inside out

Dreaming of mercy

In your daddy's arms again

Dreaming of Mercy Street

I swear they moved that sign

Dreaming of mercy

In your daddy's arms

Pulling out the papers

From the drawers that slide smooth

Tugging at the darkness

Word upon word

Confessing all the secret things

In the warm velvet box

To the priest, he's the doctor

He can handle the shocks

Dreaming of the tenderness

The tremble in the hips

Of kissing Mary's lips

Dreaming of Mercy Street

Wear you're inside out

Dreaming of mercy

In your daddy's arms again

Dreaming of Mercy Street

I swear they moved that sign

Looking for mercy

In your daddy's arms

Mercy, mercy

Looking for Mercy Street

Looking for mercy

Mercy

Looking for mercy

Looking for mercy

Looking for mercy

Oh, looking for mercy

Looking for mercy

Anne, with her father

Is out in the boat

Riding the water

Riding the waves on the sea





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