Years before I began to study psychoanalysis I discovered free association naturally. I used to think for hours, saying whatever comes to me. I still do. It’s become a big part of my life.
Free association, to me, is basically saying whatever comes to me, however ridiculous or stupid. I neither judge nor criticize what I say. I allow things to come out as they come out, not hindering them or modifying them in any way.
I tend to see a spectrum of free association:
- Mechanical free association. This is just saying whatever comes to you. At this point everything seems unconnected and jobbled. In a way, it’s a looking for an association.
- Working free association. This is where patterns of thought and themes are found.
- Inspirational free association. This is when the free association gets on a theme that is so powerful that it seems to flow out like a river. This is where some of the greatest fruit is reaped in this process.
Two selves are required to free associate: the free associating self and the observing self. Both must be developed. The free associating self can be difficult to develop and some people, I think, can’t develop it that well. To free associate means a letting go of restrictions we normally have for ourselves. The observing self is also difficult to develop. You have to watch what you do, almost as if you are a bystander. It seems that the free associating process is a continual working together of these two selves. The free associating self gets on a theme, the observing self notices the theme and it directs the free associating self to elaborate or go in a specific direction. It’s a continual passing from one self to the other.
In psychoanalysis free associating is used to find about personal problems. It primarily consists of saying emotions, thoughts, etc. But, for me, it goes way beyond that. It seems to me that there is a free association with almost all aspects of life. In fact, life is nothing but a continual free association.
Remember that free association is nothing but the bringing out of passion from within oneself. I sometimes speak of this as the ‘drawing out’. It can be thoughts, memories, emotions, desires, conflicts, experiencing, doing things, and just about anything that brings out a passion from within us. It’s characterized by a relaxing of constraints so that this passion can come out.
Almost any activity has, with it, some form of free associating:
– Peering into personal problems, as in psychoanalysis
– A self inquiry or self reflection
– General thinking about anything
– Doing some activity, like working in the garden or sports
– Life in general
I began to see that free association is a normal process of life. In addition, free associating is a big part in living and experiencing life. People do all sorts and forms of it.
One way to free associate is by experiencing things, often just going somewhere. Experiencing events is an externally induced free associating. In other words, we don’t initiate it, an external event or experience induces it. When this happens we allow ourselves to react to it. By doing this we open up a part of us inside – free associate – in response to the happening. Sometimes, I’ve found, this can be more penetrating than any thinking.
This suggests that free associating is a form of acting naturally. I believe it is.
Many times people free associate by putting themselves in an environment where they feel relaxed. This could be things like going out with friends, spending time with the family, sitting in the garden, doing a hobby, reading a book, and such. It’s often in such conditions that insight is often attained. Is it any wonder?
The lack of free association makes people feel constrained, stressed, wound up, and such. Boredom is often a result of a lack of free association in life. This shows that free association is good for health.
In some sense, living is nothing but a form of free associating, of allowing things to just come out unimpeded and natural. Just as in psychoanalysis, any free association can be healing and beneficial to ones growth.