Navigation Menu+

Pensieve: An Image for Writing and Healing

Posted on Nov 26, 2006 by

The end of a holiday weekend. Shirt-sleeve weather here. Garden weather. November light. I’ve been thinking some about containers. Pots. Bowls. Baskets. . . . If falling apart creates pieces—fragments—shards—then it stands to reason that we might sometimes need containers in which to place all of these pieces.

Week before last a young woman, a patient, was telling me that she wanted to find a place or a something in which she could put her stress and anxious thoughts. I asked her what this place or something might look like and her answer was immediate, spontaneous, the way images sometimes are: A PENSIEVE.

This is an image that I’ve seen emerge before, and one, that when I first came upon it, seemed to me a nearly perfect image for writing and healing.

For those not already familiar with the image, I’ll describe it briefly here. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth book in J.K. Rowling’s series, there’s a moment when Harry finds himself alone in headmaster Dumbledore’s office. Beckoned by a silvery light, he opens a cabinet, and discovers a stone basin filled with a silver and vapory substance. Harry peers deeply into the basin and then—in that moment—finds himself transported into another world—a scene from the past in which Dumbledore figures as one of the characters. When he returns, called back by Dumbledore’s voice, the headmaster proceeds to tell him that the basin is called a pensieve, a device useful when one’s thoughts become overcrowded or overwhelming. Dumbledore explains:

One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them in the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form.

I love this notion of siphoning. I also love the notion of having a place to put thoughts and feelings—and perhaps other kinds of fragments. A basin—and perhaps a beautiful basin—a basin with a touch of enchantment—when it feels, for instance, that the mind and/or body cannot hold another speck. Or when it feels that what remains (after breaking or loss) are all these pieces—fragments of things. The possibility, then, of placing some of these pieces into a basin. And the possibility of seeing links and patterns in such a basin—

A notebook as a basin?
A poem?