Snatches and Psychoanalysis: The Mental Life of Weightlifting

My favorite description of the Olympic lift called the "Snatch" is actually a doodle I saw floating around the realms of athletic social media. It looks like this:

Image from this hilarious and totally right-on blog post from CrossFit Regeneration:

Image from this hilarious and totally right-on blog post from CrossFit Regeneration:

What is this miracle, I have always wondered? I can get the set up, and I can get the completed lift, but what happens in between has always been a mystery to me. Suddenly I am flying and the bar magically lands, in position, overhead. 

Or, it doesn't, and I fall forward/backwards or otherwise miss the lift.

This feels so similar to the way I try to describe my work as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist. There is no clear way to describe what happens in session. We might be talking about heavy traffic on 80 and then suddenly the patient associates to feeling stuck in their office without being able to go on a bathroom break, which reminds them of the way their sister would stay in the bathroom for too long as a kid. The patient would have feelings of envy, shame, anger, and the physical sensation of holding something back- which would all connect with a feeling of limitation, stuckness, and having to conform to other people's needs and expectations.

It's like, I know where we started, and where we ended up, but I really can't explain how we got there. Such is the magic of the snatch, and of psychoanalysis.

When you're practicing the snatch, you have to be so entirely focused on all the things, and yet consciously tracking only one thing so you don't totally overwhelm yourself. For one person, that one thing might be quads fire!, and for another it might be punch up!. For yet another person, it might be focusing on a fixed point in front of you and let your body do the rest. You have to be so fully present, firm yet fluid, and yet detached in a sort of way that lets your mind quiet. In a perfect snatch, you've been able to trust your body enough to get the bar where it needs to be.

When you're practicing psychoanalysis, there is a similar experience of having to be in multiple places at once, yet focused intently on the patient's here-and-now experience. Wilfred Bion calls this "binocular focus," to be able to have your mind and soul in two (or more) places at once. You're focused on both the big picture and the minutiae; the patient's history and his current experience; his affect and his language; the content and the process. It feels like magic to me some of the time because it's difficult to concretize the method and experience. But deep attunement, "binocular focus," and believing in the magic of the heart and the language of the unconscious are all necessary to get where you need to go.

And, as in any sport, there will be moments where the "work" doesn't work. I've been weightlifting for nearly a decade, and in that time I have probably missed as many lifts as I've landed (maybe more, I don't know- hindsight is a bit fuzzy when it comes to failed lifts). I only can recall a few dozen times I've felt like I've made a perfect lift, and yeah, those moments have felt pretty amazing. But the real work is in my returning to the practice. I keep coming back. And that's the key to psychoanalysis, too: Keep coming back. Because the effects are cumulative, regenerative, and growthful, marked in retrospect like the rings on a tree.

Truth: I'm going to miss a few interpretations. I'm going to get it wrong sometimes. But if it feels tenable to keep trying, we will keep working on it.

So much of our lives are about concretizing our experience, making our lives fit into tidy boxes, and explaining things to each other. But in my experience, the only thing that's linear about the snatch is the beginning and end of each lift, just as the only thing linear about psychoanalysis is the beginning and the end of each hour. What's in the middle is where the real work happens. It's gritty, challenging, and full of inexplicable magic. In my opinion, staying present for the possibility and continuing to put in the work are two of the most beautiful things about being human. I love being able to experience that inexplicable, yet undeniable, magic, in connection with others, and through body, mind, heart and spirit.