Letters to My Now Former Therapist

I just received an invoice for the session which you abruptly ended after smelling alcohol on me. Indeed, I was rather inebriated, but I recall you saying that you wouldn’t bill me. Could we talk about this in person the next time I’m there?

It seems petty for a patient (I know you don’t wish to pathologize the term “patient,” and kindly refer to me as your client, but I do think of myself as the former) to argue about what the terms of a terminated session were, especially when such terminus was a reasonable and professional response to a patient showing up drunk, but, again, I just want to clarify that the Manhattans I had prior to our session were, unbeknownst to me, made with Booker’s (which is 128.4 proof, 64.2% alcohol), and so, I was gravely on the “tipsier” side when I showed up to your office. When you gravely asked me if it might not be that effective to show up for therapy drunk, I knew it was a rhetorical admonishment, but now having had more hindsight, it seems that on some twisted level I wanted to make a display of the verity of my alcoholism, a palpable demonstration of my condition to thereby prove, by association, that all my other professed ailments were indeed true. I didn’t want you to think I was some fraud, but a uniquely sick and complicated patient whom you might jot curious notes in your notebook about, even on your days off, perhaps even becoming so obsessed with me that I interfere with your meditation. Now I feel a tad self-conscious since, were this one of our sessions, you would calmly point out how I have a lot of stuff going on in my head, “thoughts” as you say, and how the consumption of such aggregate thoughts I mistake for reality, and how this is keeping me from living in the present moment, which even semantically is the only moment there is, since one can only experience the past and future not as actual events but as memories and projections, respectively. And I know I’m not supposed to email you about my psychoanalysis, but you are evidently online right now.

I’m sorry for emailing you about matters beyond scheduling logistics. Indeed, let’s go over some of the points I raised in my last message at our next meeting.

This isn’t technically about my psychoanalysis, but broader philosophical quandary, to which I write to you not as a patient, but a friend. It’s telling how this issue about the invoice perfectly demonstrates the inherent contradiction of trying to live a spiritual existence in a material world, and by material I mean the monetary concerns at hand, namely, the invoice. “We are not rich by what we possess but by what we can do without,” said Kant. You can buy a lot of Jasmine tea balls with the money I rightfully owe you. I respect that. It’s quite a small miracle when they slowly unfurl, like a flower at dawn grasping at the new day, and not drowned at the bottom of one’s cup. I would not expect you to meditate or detach your way out of the drinking of premium tea, though sometimes I feel you expect, with the most professional intentions of course, a similar level of detached resolve from me. But: what if spirituality was the very thing to which you refer pejoratively as a “thought,” a construction of the mind? What if the contemplation of thought was the most egregious form of it? Trying not to think, I think, is a form of thinking. When you call my feelings a thought, I appreciate it conceptually, but it doesn’t absolve the former from being felt. It seems, to me at least, that the true present moment, not the one behind closed eyes, but the one in front of us in searing daylight, the one in which we are all condemned to profanely live, would totally be augmented by material bounties such as tea. Any reasonable person can see that.

Indeed, let me write you that check. And yes, duly noted: I will not email you about my psychoanalysis anymore. See you on Thursday.

I recall agreeing to never email you about things which would be better discussed at a session, but we’ve long established that I have avoidance issues, which is why I couldn’t tell you this in person: I don’t think I can see you anymore.

It’s nothing personal, but something odd and kind of liberating happened during our last session, while we were going through my mindfulness exercises. They always felt corny, but I did them anyways, out of a sincere hope that I could indeed, just for once, experience the present moment. Your evocations of sound passing along a river — as a passenger on a log, without conquest, or destination — were rather pleasant, but all I would ever hear was that noisy Vietnamese place below, all that Phở collectively slurped after the noodles a gone, a broth which is essentially made from nothing, but at the same everything, or at least something, and how all these nothings, somethings, and everythings are just blurry destinations whose comparisons with each other cause so much suffering in those who have something but want everything, or those who have nothing but want something, or those who have everything but feel nothing. So when you asked me to simply notice the sounds as some portal out of my head, it was actually a one-way ticket straight into my cranium, itself a kind of bowl tangled with an infinity of noodles. If finishing the noodles meant clearing my thoughts, I worked my way towards the bottom, as Narcissus looking for his reflection. One cannot drink the bowl. It’s always something.

I’m guessing no one ever told you this, but when you wear white socks with sandals, people think it’s funny sort of in a mean way, but instead of owning their derision, they call it a faux pas, thus absolving them of judgement. And all you were doing was being comfortable. The world has a way of taking a good thing — you in white socks and sandals, in an Office Depot chair pointing out my thoughts — and ruining it. I wish it weren’t that way, that the world outside your office was the place inside you, past your favorite llama wool sweater, into that anthropomorphized organ that always wished me well; that patiently listened to my lies; that handed me the tissue box whenever I couldn’t see; and tried, albeit in metaphysically ponderous ways, to help me see the way. I haven’t been meditating at all, kind of freaked myself out the last time I tried, felt myself tilting in either direction and had difficulty regaining a conceptual center; that is, the notion of myself at the center of myself. What was first vertigo morphed into this deep cosmic fear, or realization, that I was utterly alone. And not in some lonely single or pretentiously existential way, but that form itself did not exist beyond one’s perception of it, like an apple could only exist in the mind in the same way a perfect circle could, and that all this mindfucking of thought was, physically, just a series of biochemical reactions condemned to spark inside a brain, little fireworks of envy, anger, and sadness. Here I would have to open my eyes to realign my visual field with what I perceived to be a 90° line from my anus to the top of my head. This duality of a center, and a left and right on each side comforted me, that one side was contingent on the other. I’ve never liked turning off the television, and doing so with my head was far worse. The ether of darkness is actually a billion jiggly dark orange dots, the back of my eyelids being seen by my retina. It is impossible not to always be looking at something.

Remember that koan you told me about the young monk who places his sandals on his head and walks out after his master cuts his cat in two? I’m guessing you’re the master, I’m the young monk, and the cat is my attachment to the world. I’ve been noticing in Koans how all the masters are kind of dicks. They do this one grandiose thing and act like you’re the one being too attached to the world for having a normal reaction. You cut my cat in two and I’m supposed to put sandals on my head? I’d rather you cut my shoes in two and I’d hop home in one, with the cat on my head. I kept thinking about this when I got home, and started to wonder if you weren’t talking about Emma, if this wasn’t just some random Koan but a specific indictment. I’m sorry about Emma. We cried together on the way to the pound, she from inside a cardboard box, her little wet nose peeking out of the breath hole, me from inside a yellow cab, my wet nose leaking a liquified brain. The guy at the pound gave me the nastiest look when I returned her. I lowered my head, signed the paperwork, and got goosebumps in shame. Elyse loved her so much. Sometimes I pretend she’s still around.

The English title is a little off. Mumonkan literally means “no gate closed,” rendering them useless, if you consider that a gate is meant to keep something out, yet most people think the English translation “The Gateless Gate” means something more oblique, like a gate that leads you to some gateless void, a quiet place for a personalized epiphany. It would make sense that the title of a book of Koans is itself a Koan, a paradox, a negation of the very thing it presumes to be. So what are we supposed to do with a gateless gate? Go inside? Or have we been locked inside this entire time, and now we can leave? Is there even an inside, or does the gate just connect two points? Are my shoes on my feet or head? These are of course rhetorical questions. You are sitting at our computer in your white socks. Through the open window across the alley single men slurp Phở. You would always tell me that in Koans the question itself is the answer. Thank you, sir. Is this goodbye?

A Brief Catalogue of Minor Sex Scandals

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Torture Receipts

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