My meeting with Irvin Yalom
Do I have dreams?
And one of my dreams came true.
I had a (zoom) meeting with Irvin Yalom.
Irvin Yalom has been my main (yes, indeed) inspiration for more than 40 years now, both, for my professional as well as for my private life. I read all his books, and every single one gave me hope, inspired me, uplifted me, sometimes brought me to tears, made me reflect, and always gave me a feeling that I am on the ‘right’ track.
A few years ago, I contacted him by mail to invite him as speaker for a conference. To my total surprise he answered immediately and personally. I had not expected that such could happen, because in my experience people ‘like him’, celebrities in my eyes, would not answer personally. He did. His answer was so friendly and beautiful, even though he explained that he would not be able to come.
I had a secret wish in my heart that one day I would be able to meet him and talk with him, but I thought that this would not happen, because of his age, because his wife had died recently and he would be in grief, because he might not do sessions anymore …
Then one day someone in the ‘Irvin Yalom Facebook group’ mentioned that he had a session with him on Zoom and how he experienced it.
That was the moment that I decided to give it a try.
I wrote him a mail.
Again, he answered immediately, saying that he would not do ongoing therapy anymore, but if I was ok with one session, that would be possible.
My heart jumped!
I was not looking for ongoing therapy with him, I just wanted to meet him personally once. Why?
I had a strong feeling, that meeting him, who I value so deeply, whose thinking and experience inspires me, would help me gain more clarity in an issue that I am busy with since a while. It is about relating and being open for a new love relationship in my life.
In the email he asked me what it was that I wanted to explore in the session, and I told him.
We settled a date and the payment, and I got very excited.
I was aware that my wish to talk with him could be coming from a ‘narcissistic’ place….
What did I feel during the meeting?
- Immediate connection
- Feeling safe
- Feeling understood
- Being taken seriously
- Being treated as an equal
- Being included, because he shared some of his story
- A wish to get closer
After I had written the above on the day after our meeting, it took me almost 4 weeks to continue writing about the meeting.
And that is very typical for me.
I start with great enthusiasm, and when it is getting to a point that I have to reveal some deeper thoughts or feelings or experiences, I have to take a break. Meanwhile I am still busy with the ‘theme’, but I cannot express my experiences and feelings in words. I first have to chew on them and somehow process them within myself, before I am able to share.
This comes from my childhood, I know, because at that time there was no one to share my inner world with, so I had to ‘work’ through everything all by myself. It has become a habit. Most of the time it works well for me.
After the session, I was busy for the whole month of December, leading groups on zoom every weekend.
I felt that the session had influenced me already in that I tried to get closer to the screen as to be able to see and perceive the participants better. I also gave even more attention to listening, even though I think of myself as being quite an attentive listener.
But there had been something in the quality of Irv’s listening that made me open up more than I thought I would.
I was frequently thinking of the session, and every time I felt the warmth I had felt in the connection between him and me.
I had read his memoirs ‘Becoming Myself’ already, just after they came out, but now I felt a strong wish to read them again.
And that came from one thing that he said in the session: ‘I feel that we are quite similar’. First, I thought that I had heard wrong. I felt flattered, of course, and I could not believe it. How could a man whom I admire so deeply, feel that we were similar?
I was searching for meaning in what he had said.
So, I started reading the memoirs, and I am three quarters through. And yes, I can see the similarities, and I feel even more connected.
Starting with the early, very traumatized childhood, the anxieties and fears, the sleeplessness at times, the dedication to reading, stories, studying. The hunger to learn and explore and understand more. The disappointment about the ‘classical’ approaches to therapy, the wish to connect with clients, to be ‘personal’, to involve oneself, reveal oneself, finding one’s own way in therapy, being an outsider in the mainstream therapeutic world. All of that I can relate to so strongly.
In our session Irv asked frequently how the process – which is our connection and discussion – is going, and I felt it was going well.
My initial issue – to inquire about my relational desires, soon was exceeded by several statements, actually one in particular, related to my sharing, that my husband had left me for another woman: He said something like: ‘If I imagine that my wife had left me for another man, that would have been more devastating than that she has died’. It struck me like thunder. Exactly that was – and still is – what I am feeling, but rarely allow myself to feel. We inquired this statement, and I could allow myself to surface this feeling of ‘not being worthy to stay with’, which is very painful indeed.
Right now, while I am writing about this, a thought surfaces, that this deep feeling of unworthiness, that someone would stay with me, might be the major reason for me to stay away from another intimate relationship in my life.
I can find all kinds of other reasons: I am too old, too busy, too engaged with my work, too particular, too much used to be by myself now….
But deep down, I am still having those desperate feelings that I must have had as a baby and small child, that I am not worthy to be paid attention to, not worthy to be held and loved unconditionally, not worthy to stay with.
Not worthy to spend time with, because there were so many siblings, younger than me, who needed more.
Thus, I learned very early to be self – sufficient and not to need anyone.
Irv asked me at the end of the session to write him an email after 4 or 5 weeks, sharing my experience of the session, and also, giving him feedback, because, he said, ‘ I still want to learn, even though I am old’.
My experience was that of spending an hour with an incredibly loving and attentive man, who gave me the feeling, that for this hour I am the most important person in the world for him. This in itself was the most nourishing and uplifting experience.
I needed nothing more than that, without having been aware that I needed exactly that.
As I mentioned in point 7 above: I wish I had the chance to meet Irv more often, not as a therapist, but as a friend, and share about life, thoughts, insight, fears, hopes…
Maybe that wish will not come true, but to express it, is very important for me.
To feel and express that I am worthy.
Thank you Irv, from the bottom of my heart, for an unforgettable and precious hour with you.
Photo: Copyright unknown, taken from internet