Monday, 20 June 2016

Spiegel im Spiegel

Wednesday is the final group therapy meeting of my Dialectic Behavioural Therapy (DBT). It has been a 52 week course of intensive introspection and skill building. Others may arrive bearing wrapped gifts or cupcakes, I want to bring something much more reflective of my experience.

It is by chance that just a few days ago I heard a radio performance of Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt. On this very first hearing I was taken aback by how similar this piece made me feel to how I felt whilst practising DBT mindfulness skills. It was immediately clear that I should perform this piece for my therapists and fellow group therapy members.

Spiegel im Spiegel is so named because of the infinite repetitions occurring when one places a mirror in a mirror, or Spiegel im Spiegel. These repetitions can be heard in the arpeggios performed by the piano over which the cello line plays repeated F major scales, the scales create long beautiful soothing melodies. Naturally, these melodies are essentially scales in contrary motion, a musical term meaning ‘mirrored’. As the piece continues they lengthen and lengthen. I understand this to symbolise the ever increasing images of the mirrors’ reflections. Pärt has cleverly created tension and release by choosing to commence or end the scales on notes other than the traditional tonic or 'do'. The cello melody commences on the supertonic ('re'), the second note of the scale,  this gives me the impression that the piece had started before the musicians had even arrived. Perhaps the composer wants to remind us that we exist in a tiny moment within an infinity?

This is precisely what I have done for the last twelve months. I have looked at myself in the mirror, again and again. I have become aware, through repetitive mindfulness activities, of every thought, physical sensation, emotion or urge. When the reflection within the reflection is examined and understood, the cause behind these thoughts, physical sensations, emotions and urges becomes clear, it's cathartic. With complete acceptance and/or willingness to change, I have been able to calm and validate myself. I have been able to see how normal it has been of me to do what I did in those challenging circumstances. Alas, my experience has been of much repetition. In these reflections I found beautiful soothing. One of the distress tolerance skills is to self soothe through the five senses. I use my ears to be soothed by music, my eyes to see the beautiful patterns the music makes on the page, I can smell the old aged wood of my cello and the rosin or tree sap on my bow. I feel the wood on my skin as the instrument vibrates with the resonance of sound. The dissonance and harmony comprise two opposing forces which can be simultaneously true, this is the dialectic. It's what suffering Borderline Personality Disorder is. It's wanting to live and die in the same moment; it's hating something because you love it so much; it's many strange things which I have learnt to radically accept.

F major is a beautiful choice of key. Before the common practise of equally tempering tuning in the late eighteenth century, key signatures would arouse desired emotions in the souls of audiences. So for the lessor musical scholars in my audience, what I am saying is that the note a composer chooses as his 'home' note can affect the emotion one feels in the music; depending of course how the musician chooses to tune his instrument. Temperament (are you seeing the emotional connection?) is a frightfully complicated mathematical phenomenon. Go and chat to Pythagorus, he can explain it so much better than I. F major is a key which evokes a pastoral setting, it places me in a forrest or upon a rolling hill. Mother nature is my God, it is the glory of natural instinct which tells a flower when to bloom or an animal to migrate. This for me is evidence enough of God's existence. My earlier religious experiences taught me to despise the word 'God', so mother nature she is for me. I guess this is all a long winded way to explain how F major places me in the midst of my higher power, in her greatest cathedral.

Learning to play Spiegel im Spiegel has required much skill in emotional regulation, the third of the quartet of skill groups one learns in DBT. Yet another dialectic, to remain detached from the emotion of the music in which I wish to swim. Maintenance of my rational brain, is a requisite of expert cello execution. In DBT language 'wise mind' is a place where the perfect balance of emotion and rational mind exist. This is where I must remain to affect the emotions of the listeners, yet maintain a high level of technical prowess.

I greatly hope this performance of Spiegel im Spiegel will bring great comfort, encourage further soul searching and celebrate the end of a truly remarkable year of therapy. Thank you Marsha Linehan, creator of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy.


  1. Beautiful words, Kate. Music is balm for the soul...xx

  2. Thank you Anonymous, it's so heartening to know others feel the same as me. Love to you.