And now for something completely different …

Question: Was Freud’s method of creating psychoanalysis a meditation of free-assocation?


As used by humanity for millennia, meditation has been a powerful tool and exercise.

It begins with a focused concentration on one object. That object can be something concrete like a leaf or something abstract like a relationship. The practitioner defines a boundary around an object and focuses his attention within those confines. When a person attains a certain level of focus on that object, there is a different and more rich understanding that begins to form.

To give several examples, when an athelete describes reaching the “zone” – she is meditating. If a student works at understanding something so greatly that he feels completely immersed in it, then he is also likely meditating. When a video game professional attains a certain mastery and flows with the game, she is meditating.

The level of information and understanding that is gained goes beyond the words of the text or the rules of the game. The benefits of the meditation eventually go beyond the mastery of a skill.

There have been certain types of meditations that have developed through the years. The above noted examples would be considered unstructured meditations. An example of one of the structured types is a meditation on the breath.

It is difficult to describe the benefits of meditating to someone who has not practiced it. But, in the examples of athleticism and academia, the benefits of a complete focus on a subject are at least partially apparent. Perhaps, the meditation on the breath is a bit more obscure, but its effects are most certainly there and can be truly beneficial to a person’s well being.

The point is that there are different types of meditation which largely depend upon the chosen objects of focus. Each type brings about insights and understandings that seem unique to the object. There may be a commonality eventually reached between all of these meditations, but regardless, the insights along the way seem to be different depending upon the object.

Free Association

A theory that I have been entertaining lately is that the development of psychoanalysis started with Freud’s use of a meditation with the chosen object being free association.

Psychoanalysis often mentions free association as a major factor of therapy. I have been told that Freud himself considered his most significant contribution was stressing the importance of associations.

Free association, as I have been able to understand it so far, is a combination of several things:

  • a postulate: Thoughts and emotions are not random. The connections between thoughts are considered assocations.
  • an action: Allow thoughts to come to mind with as little judgment or censorship as possible, i.e. allow any thought.
  • an action: Attempt to infer how the various thoughts are connected.

These three aspects done simultaneously consititute free assocation. It looks complex, and to some degree it is. But, once understood, it can become rather natural. At least some part of psychoanalytic therapy seems to involve the teaching of this technique.

As a person begins to master this meditation, one begins to learn certain things about the process of thought in general as well as things that are unique to the self.

Freud would learn from this meditation about himself and his patients and attempt to generalize the ideas to others. Likely, he came across a mix of concepts – some unique to Freud and some generalizable to humanity. These would need some separating. As he analyzed himself, it was difficult for him to know how to differentiate them.

His continued process of meditating – described as a self-analysis he continued for 30 minutes nightly throughout the end of his life – slowly presented various insights which he began to organize into his voluminous writings.

Meditation is a journey of sorts. There are evolutionary and revolutionary changes of thoughts and emotions that occur as one focuses. As Freud continued to learn and understand similarities and differences between himself and others, he continued to revise his theories. His seminal work on dream theory underwent something like eight revisions throughout his life.

Some ideas have been refuted throughout the years since his death, while others like the unconscious, resistance, and transference have remained largely the same.

Freud’s attempts to categorize and understand the human mind, as altered and amended as they presently are, may have originated from this meditative mind state. Had he continued living and processing his thoughts, he may have made changes to his theory similar to those others have made since. Or not. Who knows?