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Books - The Knowledge of the Womb
Written by Athanassios Kafkalides   
Monday, 15 January 1996 00:00


History Male, 30 years' old, single, social worker. R12 asked to undergo Sessions because he wanted to understand the deeper motives of his obsessional - as he characterized it - homosexual behaviour.

Session 5 Perhaps because during the last Session I had regressed to foetal status, I found the question on my mind: "Where was I before I was conceived?" The answer came dramatically.

A door flew open suddenly somewhere and I stood before an ocean of silverwhite, soupy, silent, timeless liquid over which the sun appeared to have recently set, leaving behind it in the sky a pattern of reds and purples that hung in horizontal strips down to the horizon. The ocean was in constant motion, boiling and bubbling in a process of what I 'knew' to be destruction and resubstantiation. It looked like molten lava in a volcanic crater so vast that its bounds, except in one direction, the horizon, were invisible. And there it was not bounded by a rim, but by the horizon.

Though the ocean was boiling there was no steam and I felt no heat. I was overcome with awe at first - mixed fear and wonderment - and then I felt myself begin to melt. But it was no simple melting. I was separating into the various chemicals that composed me. Each chemical seemed to be related to a specific cloud in the glorious sunset over the lake. The clouds were, it seemed, pulling at these chemicals by some invisible process of attraction like magnetism.

Fear overcame wonderment. "Return at once to the present," I ordered myself. The door slammed noiselessly shut. The lake vanished. I was again in the room.

The vision had been so vivid, however, that for several moments I paid scant attention to my surroundings. The return to the womb of the previous Session paled into insignificance. That, I had been aware throughout, had been something happening in my own mind. This, I was convinced, was an experience external to me. I had been bodily transported to this magical lake which was somewhere in the objective world.

Beautiful as it was, however, I thanked God to be back in familiar surroundings. I touched the silken covering of the couch. I lovingly fondled the cushions and bolsters and looked around at the other furnishings: an escritoire, a book-case, beside it an easy-chair of wool and straw, portraits of Victorian gentlewomen frozen in the fashionably benign poses of their period which now seemed incongruous. Complicated coiffeurs, frills and flounces, from which the women stared philosophically into the middle distance, contrasted comically with their activities. One appeared to be ladlelling soup from a bowl to no one in particular, another stitched unseeingly at petit-point, and a third stabbed, equally unseeingly, at a heart-shaped fruit from which protruded the shaft of an arrow. Hanging by itself near the lightswitch was a print of a Renaissance Madonna and Child. I got up to inspect it at close range.

The Madonna gazed distantly down at her baby, her hands folded in prayer before her face. Christ, who lay before her, regarded her intently with all the knowledge and aggressiveness of a precocious puberty which, according to his age in the picture, he should have been far from possessing. The picture fascinated me because it seemed to express my own mother's relationship with me at that stage in my life.

I thoroughly disliked the Madonna and sympathized with Christ, whose message of altruistic, almost masochistic love and subsequent (what seemed to me now) deliberate choice of death on the cross, no longer surprised me. The only feature of the picture that I liked was the background of pale sky with its almost evanescent fluffs of cloud. They were nothing like the clouds on my lake, but their still timelessness could only have come from such a region. I named the painting according to what I knew the Virgin must be saying in her prayer: "Pater meus qui es in coelis et qui es meus filius" (Father who art in heaven and who art my son). My mother also had loved her father almost to distraction. I disliked the picture, but it made me understand something about myself; and though I recognized it for art and the crinolined ladies, its neighbours on the wall, for so much kitch, how I wished my mother had had in her even a modicum of their mundanity.

Looking away from the portrait, my eye again caught the furniture and I was overcome by a new quality I seemed to have acquired whilst gazing at the lake: an intimate - the most intimate possible - knowledge of everything that met my eye. I knew everything - the walls, the window-panes, the cushions and upholstery - better than I had ever known anyone or anything in my entire existence. I had somehow become part of the room, not something foreign to it that was free to walk in and out of it, to use the furniture or not to use it, as I chose. No, I was on their level.

I placed the palm of my hand flat on the wall and pushed, expecting my hand to penetrate it - not with a crash or a crunch - but with the greatest of ease as though the wall were made of mercury. No. As though my hand and the wall were both quicksilver and would merge together like one drop of mercury with another. I touched the upholstery and cushions. Nothing happened! My hand had become neither satin nor silk. Am I mad? This urgent feeling of belonging ... Belonging to what?

The answer was instantaneous: "To matter."

" Why? "

"You and all the things around you are material." "And my soul?"

"It is matter like the rest of you."

"Then why don't I merge with everything?"

"Because between you and other things there is a difference." "What difference?"

"A difference is time." "What of the future"

Instantly I was returned to the lake and its eternal sunset. Again I was melting, separating, as though several metals which were alloyed together were loosening their grip upon one another and somehow, perhaps through some magnetic attraction, were being drawn into the sunset over the lake, each metal merging with a strip of light specifically ordained for it.


"Yes, Nirvana. Pure matter."

"Beautiful. Terrifying. Suppose your mind gets stuck in this timeless region and you body stays in the present, they'll lock you up for madness. Return to the present! Return. Return."

I was back. After a moment I went to the lavatory. A feeling of immense age was upon me. I looked at myself in the mirror. No, I hadn't changed. My hair was ruffled, nothing more. No, perhaps because the light wasn't very bright, my hair did appear to have an ashy sheen to it. I reassured myself: "Take some vitamin B tomorrow and right now get some coffee."

The doctor's servant made me a double cup, but it wasn't really coffee I wanted; it was the sensation of being once again in the twentieth century, in the present. The lake and its atmosphere was something for Jules Verne and Hollywood. I could imagine the cinema posters: Jules Verne's immortal story, 'A Billion Years Ago', in Vista Vision, Panorama and Technicolor.

As I sat sipping the coffee and holding myself firmly to the present, a series of vivid mental pictures forced its way into my consciousness. I saw myself, always in the same position, on my back in a cradle, a tiny infant, looking up through a haze at two faces bent over me. I was screaming. I didn't hear screams, but I knew I was screaming. Hate ran through me, pure, blind hate for those two faces, the faces of my parents, and I clenched my baby fists and screamed, and screamed and screamed. The pictures stopped.

So I had been born over and over again, I told myself. Then, logically, men must have dug my grave again and again. But no pictures followed this thought.

The world is full of terrible hate, I thought. It is used to maim and destroy human material which nobody can replace; material that owes its existence to millions of years of evolution. We, the highest stage of organic matter, are only different from inorganic matter by the merest fraction of a fraction of the fractional.   What a tremendous privilege. Surely this infinitely small difference should be the reason for respecting humanity rather than be the pretext for grinding it back to dust. It should be the very reason to push humanity on its way, making the distance between it and inorganic matter even greater.

But I also understand this hate.   It comes of the dislike of being born, of a strong desire to return to the dust. Fear is at the bottom of it. Fear of new conditions. Yes, the Bible and Darwin both speak the truth about Man. God made Adam from dust, say the religious books. Darwin has it that between Adam and the dust there was a whole series of beings, the first one to appear from the dust being something like an amoeba.

Does it matter? The operative word is dust. Homo sapiens is simply a variation of the dust; a variation of pure matter; nothing more, but certainly nothing less. Yet, what a marvel of creation is a piece of rusty iron in a junk yard. An ant! A tadpole! A tree! But how we break and discard, and crush and kill and cut down! I felt immensely ashamed, but, at the same time, strangely relieved.

It was strange that I who have always held, and still hold - though now considerably modified - an implicit belief in God, should rejoice at the certain knowledge that I had returned with from my lake, that man's soul is a part of pure matter, like a chair or a table; a different quality of matter certainly, but nevertheless matter.

I didn't feel relieved of responsibility. Far from it. The knowledge made me, if anything, more responsible, but I was relieved of a tremendous burden of fear. There was, indeed, a new hope. I felt certain that we were part of a truly wonderful plan in which we could take part more fully if - and it is a big "if' - we were willing to do so.

This was the sum of my experience when I took the pill which the doctor gave me. My eye-sight seemed marvellously improved for I noticed the word 'Largactil' written on it in tiny capitals whilst I still held the pill at arm's length.


Our valuable member Athanassios Kafkalides has been with us since Sunday, 19 December 2010.

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