A 50-year-old man told this tale. I shared a 3 a.m. hot tub with him at Esalen, in Big Sur. He had just finished a five-day gestalt workshop and now I remember that he touched on the phrase “empty chair work,” in conversation. I’d heard it before because I’d done a little gestalt back in the day. Frankly, I was surprised the practice was still around.
A therapist of mine used to have an extra chair in her office that played an active role during our sessions. The idea was to project something onto it–a childhood nemesis, an old lover, a father long dead, even things like your job, your car, your depression, your cigarette habit–whatever was charged enough to engage. You’d begin a kind of dialogue, often bitter, that held the promise of catharsis. While suddenly notable, the gestaltian “empty chair” happens to be coincidental to the title of this work. But who knows? I’m not too proud to say it’s possible that the phrase and its metaphor crawled into my brain for a nap and woke up just as I was wondering what to call my book.