Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Psychotherapy and Renewal: Persephone’s Big Comeback

April 5th, 2011 · depth psychology, Jungian analysis, life passages, mythology, personal myth, personal story, psychological crisis, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, renewal, Self, soul, therapist, therapy, unconscious

Frederic Leighton – The Return of Persephone (1891).

There’s a lot of truth for psychotherapy in the Greek myth of Persephone and it’s all tied up with the yearly renewal of the seasons.  Persephone, a vegetation goddess, and the daughter of the harvest goddess Demeter, was kidnapped and ravished by Hades, the king of the Underworld, and taken to live in his realm.

Demeter, so distraught at her disappearance, refused to let crops or vegetation grow anymore until her daughter was returned.  The gods finally prevailed on Hades, who agreed to let her go.  However the all-wise Fates had decreed that anyone who consumed the food of the underworld was destined to stay there for eternity.  Alas, wiley Hades had persuaded Persephone to eat 3 puny pomegranite seeds.  And so Persephone must spend part of the year in the Underworld, a time of barreness, and vegetation would flourish again only when she was re-united every year with Demeter above ground.

This is quite a myth to explain the origin of the seasons.  Here in Canada, after the long barren winter, we all feel a little like I imagine Persephone would, as she was released from the earth. Released back into life!

The profound truth of the Persephone myth also conveys a deep meaning for our own psychological journey.

The Persephone myth conveys a natural movement in psychological life  For Persephone, it is only as she is detached from her familiar world, and descends to the Underworld that she can bring the blessing and the gift of the seasons, of new green life, and fertility.

My experience is that it is like that in the lives of my clients and in my own life, also.  Sometimes the encounter with life’s circumstances and with the unconscious can seem like a sudden plunge into darkness and descent into the underworld.  But the underworld has its own gifts that it brings.  Only those who can accept those gifts, and “eat the food of the underworld”, can bring the gift of life and fertility back to the “surface world” of their everyday lives.  In the encounter with the depths in ourselves, including our unconscious, we travel Persephone’s way, and return to our everyday life with the green lushness of  renewed outlook and vitality.

In the video below, the great Brazilian jazz stylist Antonio Carlos Jobim sings his wonderful song “The Waters of March” at the 1986 Montreal Jazz Festival.  Lush and full of feeling, this wonderful music captures the enormity of the renewal of Spring that we all sense at this time of year.  May we find that same sense of renewal through the encounter with our own deepest selves.

A stick, a stone, it’s the end of the road

It’s the rest of a stump, it’s a little alone

It’s a sliver of glass, it is life, it’s the sun…

…It’s a beam it’s a void, it’s a hunch, it’s a hope

And the river bank talks of the waters of March

It’s the end of the strain

The joy in your heart

Finding Renewal

Both Persephone’s descent into the underworld and the renewal of spring symbolize aspects of the psychotherapeutic process.  Often for renewal, it is important to enter into the depths, and to encounter the more hidden parts of our own existence, and our own experience of life.   The journey may well be demanding, and it is the role of the depth psychotherapist to guide the individual toward renewal, and the deep rewards of the journey.  There’s no better time to start than now.

As always, I welcome your inquiries and comments.

Wishing you the gifts of renewal on your journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT:  Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton (1830–1896).  This work is in the public domain.

VIDEO CREDIT  © 1986 Antonio Carlos Jobim and Koch International

© 2011 Brian Collinson

Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

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Psychotherapy, Jungian Analysis and Creativity

March 30th, 2011 · depth psychology, Jungian, Jungian analysis

Some fear that psychotherapy, even Jungian psychotherapy will lack creativity.  They envisage talking endlessly to a minimally responsive therapist who records everything, but shows little of his or her reaction.  They even fear that it will be overly rational, and distant from feeling.  But it doesn’t have to be so.  Proper therapeutic work can bring genuinely creative possibilities into being.

The Water of Life

Psychotherapy can enable encounters with enlivening, vital elements in the psyche.  Often, such contents emerge, and take us partially, or sometimes entirely by surprise.  They may take the form of things that we discover attract us, for reasons that we would find it hard to explain.  Or maybe there are things that we’ve yearned to try for much of our lives that suddenly become urgent.  Or else there are feelings that we discover ourselves feeling, that suddenly make us seem that much more alive.

The Spectrum of Aliveness

On the other hand, I’m not talking about that kind of ungrounded “being positive” prevalent in our time.  Often we find ourselves opening to a whole range of widened feeling possibilities.  Often this may mean both possibilities for feeling that move us towards new passions and joys, and also capacities for genuinely feeling the sorrows, angers and difficult emotions in our lives.  It seems almost to be a psychic law that, as the capacity to experience one of these things increases, so does the other.  An approach that is one-sided, that only offers joy and exhilaration would involve a fundamental denial of what it is to be human.  As we experience the whole spectrum of our feeling in more depth however, we feel more alive.

Opening; Emergence

The particular importance of the best psychotherapy involves opening those parts of the psyche that are poorly connected to, or disconnected from, consciousness.  There is a whole range of thought, feeling, intuition and sensation experience that is actually or potentially part of us.  From the perspective of consciousness, it might almost seem as if it were the experience of ‘somebody else”!  Yet it is that full spectrum of psychic content that carries the fullness of our life.  This is not to say that it is easy or effortless to let it emerge into consciousness, but the full impact is real.

Image and Possibility

To the best of my knowledge, it was American archetypal psychologist James Hillman who was the first to refer to “imaginal” reality.  Images and feelings that emerge from the unconscious levels of people, particularly people in psychotherapy, can have a compelling reality.  And they can reveal a great deal about the unique psyche of the individual.  As individuals creatively explore such psychic content, and take steps to bring its reality into their own lives, people start to flesh out new possibilities for their lives.

What Will Your Deepest Self Create?

The creative powers released in psychotherapy can be vast and compelling, and might not take the form and direction that the conscious mind would expect.  Have you had experiences of unexpected creativity coming to the fore from within yourself?  Or, the experience of having the unconscious mind solve something that the conscious mind could not?  A living, vital experience of psychotherapy can often bring an individual into contact with a creative wisdom that the person did not know that she or he had.

Wishing you creativity and vitality on your journey to wholeness,

To Main Website for Brian’s Practice

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PHOTO CREDIT:  © Jackq | Dreamstime.com

© 2011 Brian Collinson

Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

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Jungian Psychotherapy and Listening

February 23rd, 2011 · depth psychology, Jungian psychotherapy, listening, Psychotherapy, therapy

This is a brief post on a psychotherapy quotation on listening that I tweeted recently. It’s such a powerful statement, though, that I think it deserves its own blog post.

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force.

The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us,

Makes us unfold and expand.”

-Karl A. Menninger

Menninger was not a Jungian, but he was a very wise, astute therapist.  He knew the power of someone really genuinely listening, really genuinely getting what it is that we’re saying, taking it into the heart of who they are.  Listening is fundamental to all good therapy.  Really, it’s the key thing in meaningful human interaction of all kinds.

Listening represents the power of someone else taking our story seriously.  This can have particular power at the times when when we might find it extremely hard to give ourselves that gift of taking our own experience with the deepest seriousness.  This is profoundly true for people who have continually received the message in life that who they are in their individuality really is unimportant or negligible.

True, attentive listening amounts to someone’s acknowledgement of who we most fundamentally are.  It amounts to someone creating space in themselves for us to come in and occupy.  That can feel incredibly powerful, validating, healing.

How will we know genuine listening when we come across it?  How can we tell whether someone listening to us, or our own listening to someone else, has the characteristics of the real, powerful listening that makes a difference in peoples’ lives?

I think that an important element of the answer is found in the following quotation from C.G. Jung:

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.

Carl G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, 1933

When we are genuinely in interaction with another human being, we know it.  There is an aliveness, and a spontaneity.  Something is going on in the two people involved that comes from their depths — and both of them are being changed.  As Jung notes, this is true in any human interaction, including psychotherapy.  The idea of a therapist who is an immobile block of wood, who goes through the interaction with his or her client without that interaction having any effect on them — this is inhuman.  A real interaction with a therapist at a depth level is something that feels vital and alive.

Are You in Dialogue? Are You Getting Heard?

How is it in your life?   Are there relationships where you feel that you are genuinely heard, or is this something that you deeply crave in your life?

Do you believe that genuinely being listened to, and being heard can make a deep difference in an individual’s life?  Is this something that you have experienced yourself?  Sometimes psychotherapy is the first place in the life of an individual where he or she feels genuinely taken in, listened to — real.  Sometimes it can come as a real surprise to the individual to encounter this.

May your personal journey to wholeness be one in which you are listened to, and genuinely taken in, in a deeply human way,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT:     © Pavel Losevsky | Dreamstime.com

© 2011 Brian Collinson

Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

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Psychotherapy and Instinct: Saving Our Inner Sled Dogs

February 15th, 2011 · animal nature, body, depth psychology, instinct, therapy, unconscious

There’s a story that relates to instinct and psychotherapy, and involving dogs, that has recently come out of Whistler B.C., a town that hosted part of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.  It’s a very sad story of the alleged mass killing in April of last year of nearly 100 sled dogs[WARNING: linked article contains descriptions of graphic, horrific violence] by a sled dog operator in the tourism industry.  The alleged callousness and brutality with which the dogs were purportedly liquidated  when no longer economically useful has sent waves of horrified disgust through British Columbia and Canada. It raises issues about being connected with our own human instinct that are important in psychotherapy.

The Bond with Dogs

I think that Canadians, Alaskans and other northern people often share a very strong bond to the traditional sled dog, and a very visceral revulsion at the thought that someone would treat them poorly, let alone kill them in such an allegedly wanton manner.

In Canada, a sled dog is a highly symbollic creature.  Such dogs and their role go far back in our psyche, millenia prior to the time of history in this country, when the European was not even a dream in the minds of the First Nations people of the North.  It is said that humans would have never made it across the Bering Strait land bridge to North America in the ice age, had it not been for the sled dog.

Something Ancient in the Heart

Human connection with dogs is unbelievably ancient: dogs are the first animals that humans ever domesticated.  The bond that humans feel with dogs is indissoluble.  I often find it both amusing and deeply moving to watch my neighbours walk their dogs up and down our street.  This relationship with, say, Sandy, my neighbour’s toy poodle, is only the most recent expression of something ancient in the hearts of both dogs and people, that stretches back into the depths of the Paleolithic era.

What is it that connects humans so powerfully to dogs?  What makes us feel such horror that dogs, sled dogs, in particular, could be treated in this manner?

Dog as Instinctual, Affiliative Life

From a Jungian symbolic perspective, animals, and dogs in particular, often symbolize the bodily and instinctual dimensions of human life.  While psychologists once discounted human instinct, viewing us as beings who come into this world as a “blank slate”, science now knows much better, thanks to developments in fields like attachment theory and evolutionary psychology.

And so, when they appear in our dreams, for instance, dogs can often symbolize our instinctual side.  This may relate to the sexual side of our bodily nature, but it more often relates to the basic need for affiliation and companionship that humans share with dogs, and that we see mirrored in them.

A relationship with a dog can teach a human — and particularly a human child — profound things about what it is to be accepted and loved.  The relationship between a figure like a trapper or a hunter, who used to work for long periods in isolation, with only dogs for company would be even more profound, especially when survival might depend on the instinct and strength of those dogs.

Here are some scenes from the wonderful film The Last Trapper, that evoke the symbollic power of the dog / human connection:

What would it mean for a human being to turn his or her back on this, to kill dogs for no reason other than that they have gotten in the way of reaping economic rewards?  What has to happen inside us to make us so turn our back on our own instinctual life?

These are questions I’ll look at in my next post, “Saving Our Inner Sled Dogs, Part 2”.

How Do You Relate to Your Inner Dogs — Your Instinctual Side?

How do you relate to your own instinctual side?   Where do you experience your own instincts?  Do you believe that there is a dimension of human beings that embodies a wisdom that is something other than rational?  How you experienced that dimension?  I would welcome any of your comments or reflections.

Sometimes the journey of psychotherapy entails an individual returning to the sanity of their instinctual life.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

If you’d like to receive Vibrant Jung Thing regularly, please subscribe using the RSS feed in the upper right hand corner of this page.

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PHOTO CREDIT:     Creative Commons  Some rights reserved by ronnie44052

VIDEO CREDIT:     “The Last Trapper”, Nicolas Vanier, Director © Copyright Christal Films

© 2011 Brian Collinson

Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

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The Self as Hidden Treasure in Jungian Psychotherapy

January 27th, 2011 · alchemy, art, C. G. Jung, collective consciousness, depth psychology, False self, Identity, parent-child interactions, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, Relationships, religious symbolism, Self, self-knowledge, symbolism

Jungian psychotherapy and Jungian analysis put a high value on the uniqueness of the individual, and on the treasure that is the inmost Self.  Jungians see symbolic reflection of the motif of the Self as hidden treasure in many texts from the world’s artistic, religious, spiritual and philosophical traditions.  For instance, in the Gospel of Matthew, and also in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas, there is the famous parable comparing the “kingdom of Heaven” to a hidden treasure.  A Jungian psychological interpretation of this saying would portray the “kingdom of Heaven” as, broadly speaking, a symbol of the Self:

‘The kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field

which someone has found; He hides it again,

goes off in his joy, sells everything he owns and buys the field.

Matthew 13:44, The New Jerusalem Bible

The motif of the Self as hidden treasure also permeates alchemy, that esoteric pre-scientific approach to matter and the world, in which Jung took such an interest in the later part of his life.  The goal that the alchemists sought was not to create ordinary gold from lead, but to create something called “the philosophers’ stone”, an absolutely incorruptible and indestructible substance.

Jung acknowledges that, from a scientific point of view, the way the alchemists went after this goal made no sense, but what gripped him was the underlying symbolism.  Jung saw in the “philosophers’s stone” a potent symbol of the Self, in this case, hidden in matter and awaiting discovery, a treasure guarded in secrecy by the alchemists.  Jung believed that some of the later alchemists such as Gerhard Dorn came to realize that what they were seeking in their alchemical work was not a physical, but a psychological reality, and that it was that reality that the symbol of the philosphers’ stone or “son of the philosophers” as it was sometimes called was pointing.

The Core of the Self

At the base of all this symbolization there lies a profound and precious truth about human existence.  It is a truth about the nature of the human self.  At the core of each of us, there is that element in us, an awareness, that is unique and precious, that defines what we most fundamentally are.  Sometimes that is represented symbollically as a hidden treasure, sometimes as a gemstone, sometimes in a variety of other ways.

This is the core of ourselves, symbollically represented.  And there is a bit of a paradox about its nature.  Certainly, symbollically, it is often presented as something that is so precious because it is incorruptible, even indestructible.  Yet, there is a danger concerning the self to which symbol and myth point.  It seems that it is possible for us to lose this treasure, to have it taken away.  Somehow it needs to be guarded and treated with vigilance — like the individual in the parable who joyfully finds the treasure, but then hides it carefully again, until such time as he can go and buy the land in which it’s buried.

Self Protection, Self Possession

This issue of the core of the self, protecting it and keeping it, is one that I meet with on a very regular basis in psychotherapy practice.  It is something with which, in one way or another, very many people.  It is a sad truth that very many people have learned, one way or another, and very often early in life, that their self — their true uniqueness — can be stolen or devalued by others

Sometimes, people learn this lesson as a result of the guilting, shame or ridicule of those who are close to them.  Sometimes what happens really does look like a theft of the self: for instance, a young person will get the message very directly that a parent or other significant person cannot tolerate or deal with who the young person really is, and so that person (often unconsciously) manufactures a false self tp placate the other.  Sometimes a person will give themselves whole-heartedly in relationships — and then find her- or himself deeply betrayed.

Learning to Hide the Self Away

As a consequence, these people learn — sometimes unbelievably well — that the true self has to be hidden away, that they cannot dare reveal who they really are to the people closest to them.  It is then very easy for this lesson to get generalized out to take in the whole world.  It can be come a reflex to feel that nobody wants me, or wants to know who I really am.  Then the only way I get through life is to “keep my head down”, in despair, and just try and keep my joys, my needs — anything at all about me — from getting noticed, and that any encounter of another with me will only result in guilt, rejection and shame.

As is very often the case, it seems to me, when you are looking for someone to express some aspect of modern consciousness, you very often cannot do better than the Beatles.  Here they are, singing a song that is profoundly “on the money” about the need to hide the true self — “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away“.


Getting the Self Back

For such an individual, getting the self back, and spontaneously living out of it, is a key priority.  The reason for that is that, without that sense of acting and reacting out of our actual self, our life simply doesn’t feel real to us.

Psychotherapy with the right therapist may be an essential part of this self-recovery.  An effective psychotherapeutic approach will allow you to get at the deeper reasons for hiding the self.  Many of those reasons may reside in the unconscious, and it may be that only as a person uses the therapy as a “laboratory” for exploring him- or herself, that they can begin to develop a sense and a comfort for what it is to live out of the self.

Most people at one time or another have had to wrestle with the feeling that who and what they are is not acceptable to others.  Has that feeling ever been a part of your experience?  If you would be willing to share your experiences, either in a comment or an email, I would welcome the opportunity to share and dialogue with you.

Wishing you a fuller and fuller encounter with your deepest treasure, the Self, as you move forward on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT:     Rembrandt “Parable of the hidden treasure” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

MUSIC CREDIT:      © Lennon / McCartney, EMI Music, 1965

© 2011 Brian Collinson

Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

wealth

riches

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Jungian Psychotherapy, the Dream and the New Year

January 1st, 2011 · depth psychology, dreams, Identity, Individuation, inner life, life journey, Meaning, personal myth, personal story

Depth psychotherapy such as Jungian analysis knows that it’s not at all uncommon for the psyche to be particularly active with dreams at the end of the year, and at the beginning of a New Year.  Years are divisions of time which are artificially and, to some extent, arbitrarily created by humans.  Still they form important divisions in time, that the unconscious often seems to recognize in some form or other.  Individuals can sometimes have astonishing dreams at this time, or other experiences which show that the inner depths of the person are active, as we look forward into the open New Year, which waits like a newly painted room for each of us to fill it with our lives.

I think most of us find ourselves thinking about the year, and in a broader way, about our lives, at this time of year.  I certainly find myself thinking about what’s really important in my own life, what really matters to me as I move forward into the rest of my life.

Finite and Precious

Now that I’ve reached a certain age, each passing milestone, like the successive New Years, is a reminder that life is finite, and that it is precious,  SUch times are a confrontation with questions about what is truly meaningful in my life, and about the nature of my true identity.  As I think back over the year, and over all my years, I find myself asking, “Am I more aware of myself than I was?  Who am I, in the light of what I’ve experienced now?”

The Archetype of Renewal

However, there is even more than this.  As Stephenson Bond has shown in his book The Archetype of Renewal, the New Year’s season is deeply associated with the the archetypal theme of renewal, expressed through the mythological association of the New Year with the death and renewal of the King in traditions such as that of ancient Babylon.  As individuals, at the New Year are confronted with the problem of the death and renewal of our own conscious attitude, with the very deep level question of “What is meaningful for me now?” and “On what foundation can I base my life, as I move forward into it?”

Toward An Individual Foundation

There was a time when the answers to these questions were ready-made for many in our culture.  In our time, for many — and I certainly include myself in this number — pre-made answers of the kind afforded by organized religion or other social institutions will not suffice.  I need my own connection to realities that will sustain me through the journey of the rest of my life.  Often this individual foundation is only found through depth psychotherapy or Jungian analysis.  It’s always found through in-depth confrontation and exploration of the self.  As Jung himself put it:

All coercion ultimately proves to be nothing but an obstacle to the highest and most decisive experience of all, which is to be alone with [one’s] own self.  The patient must be thus alone if he is to find out what supports [one] when [one] can no longer support [oneself].  Only this experience can give [one] an indestructible foundation….  The way to the goal seems chaotic and interminable at first, and only gradually do the signs increase that it is leading anywhere.

C. G. Jung, Collected Works 12, Psychology and Alchemy , paras. 32-33

What Is the New Year Bringing to You?

Have you had a dream this New Year’s? Or another experience in which you really encountered yourself or the unconscious?   I’d be very interested in your experience and would really welcome your comments, either below, or via confidential email.

Wishing you a deep and lasting foundation on your personal journey to wholeness, and a very happy, prosperous and soulful New Year.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT:  © Melissa King | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Life Crisis, Meaning and Psychotherapy

December 9th, 2010 · analytical psychology, crisis, depression, depth psychology, Existential crisis, Individuation, spiritual crisis

When a psychotherapist, and especially a Jungian analyst uses the expressions “life crisis” and “meaning” today, he or she means something specific.  It’s something different from a “major crisis“, which might be some major change and disruption in a person’s life due to changes in external events or relationships.  A life crisis is a crisis about the roots of a person’s life.  Some people might call it a spiritual crisis or crisis of meaning, and others, an “existential” crisis.  The things that characterize such an event are often deep emotional distress accompanied by persistent questioning about whether life is meaningful.  A person may, at times, even look at his or her life and ask her- or himself questions like, “Is it worth it?  or “What’s the point?”  As such, it’s something very fundamental in a person’s life, and something that she or he simply cannot ignore.

A Life Crisis is About Meaning

It’s very easy for helping professionals to look at someone suffering from this kind of crisis, and to simply conclude that the individual is suffering from some variant of depression, or possibly that he or she is having a grief reaction.  And what makes it complex is that there may well be depression that the person is experiencing.  Or else, it may well be that the person’s life crisis has been triggered by a major grief event of one kind or another.  However, if the person is simply treated for the symptoms of the depression, rather than the root causes, it will not lead to a complete resolution.  Putting an individual who is suffering from this kind of life crisis on anti-depressants, for instance, might “take the bottom out” of the depression, so that the individual won’t feel quite as low.  But if the individual is not helped in a very personal way to find what is meaningful in his or her life, nothing fundamental will have changed.

Life Crises are Very Individual

People who are confronted with life crises have to be helped in a very individual way to discover meaning and value to their lives.  This can only someone who has the necessary skills and depth to help the suffering person find the very personal, individual resources within her- or himself to move back into a place where he or she can gratefully and passionately embrace his or own particular, individual life.  This is the particular kind of thing that a therapist with extensive training and personal experience in depth psychology and Jungian analysis can provide.

Have You Ever Experinced a Life Crisis?  Are You Facing One Now?

Although “life crisis” moments can often come at the middle of life or later, they can come at any point in life?  Have you ever had a crisis of meaning, when it “just didn’t feel worth it”?  It’s amazing how many famous and very gifted or capable people have been through this kind of experience.  If you’ve had a similar experience, and you were willing to talk or write about it, I’d welcome the chance to hear from you via  a comment or through a confidential email.

Wishing you meaning and vibrant inner life on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT: © Franz Pfluegl | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

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Stress, Power, Resilience and Myth, Part 3: In Myself

October 31st, 2010 · depth psychology, Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, personal myth, psychological crisis, resilience, Self, soul, therapy, wholeness

This is the third in my series of posts about resilience, and its role in the work of psychotherapy.  In my last post, I wrote about personal experiences through which I was changed, and, through which the issue of resilience really came home to roost in my life.  In this post, I would like to try and say something about the places in which I believe I really found some sources of resilience.  As I stressed before, this is not to say that what I will describe is exactly “the answer”, for anyone other than me.  The “answers” that any of us find are of necessity very individual, and if what I describe points anyone to move any further on their own individual path to being grounded in their own being, then I think that is all that I can hope to do.

Fortunately, Things Became Sufficiently Painful

When I left off my story, in my late 20s and early 30s, I was in the midst of making a lot of rash decisions, and taking a lot of risks.  My anger, pain and despair were very near the surface, and I was volatile in the extreme.  I do not believe that I was very easy on the people who were nearest to me at that time, and I was certainly “acting out” in some nasty ways.  Fortunately, in my late 20s, things became painful and difficult enough that I realized that I needed to reach out for some highly skilled help, and I got into therapy with someone who was very highly skilled, and who got what was at stake.  This was the first of a group of very good therapists, all of whom had a psychodynamic orientation, to whom I owe a very great debt, perhaps even my life.

Down Into Me

Through my 30s, much of my therapeutic work was involved with getting me out of my head, and down into my body and my emotions.   A lot of the work focussed on things that had occurred in my earlier life.  They also helped me  to understand what it is to feel your own life, in every sense of the word.  To be in your body.  To really feel your own emotions.  The work evolved in a more and more symbolic direction, and I was fortunate to have  therapists, in particular Jungian analysts, who were able to help me come to some deep insights into my own being from my own patterns of behaviour, and from my dreams.  They helped me greatly with the process of uncovering my own symbols, and my own personal myth.  They knew how to work with the symbols that emerged from my dreams, and could help me to see how they eloquently express the reality of my particular selfhood and life.  This is something very hard to espress in an intellectual way, but when it happens, it’s something you know.

Above All, They Really Listened

However, if I had to point to one single characteristic of this small group of therapists that helped me more than any other, it was this: they really, really knew how to listen.  And in addition, they really, really knew how to ask questions.  As I moved through my therapy, this intent listening — this belief of theirs that they had never heard my story from anyone before, and would never hear it from anyone again —  really helped me to grasp the real nature of my own story, and to come to an ever better understanding of who and what I really am.

Acceptance

My therapeutic journey has enabled me to find a kind of acceptance of my life.  An ability to feel that this life, as outwardly ordinary and unheroic as it may be, is unique, and that it is truly mine.  To feel that, even in my suffering, there is a kind of rightness to my life, a rightness to being here in this time and this way, and to being alive.  That my life is my life, me… and that I can accept that, and welcome it.  For me, this means feeling rooted in my life, much more solid in it, than I have ever felt.  Insofar as I can make any meaningful sense of psychologists’ use of the word “resilience”, this is it.

How Does All This Seem to You?

Are these experiences to which you can relate?  I would really welcome any comments that you might have.  Are reslience and feeling at home in your life things which concern you?  If so, I would really welcome hearing from you.

Wishing you all good things on your journey to wholeness, and to your self,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

 

PHOTO CREDIT: © Socrates | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

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Stress, Power, Resilience — and Myth, Part 2: Getting Real

October 25th, 2010 · Anxiety, depth psychology, Existential crisis, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Meaning, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, stress, therapy

Recently, I started a series of posts about the growth of resilience, which is a very key part of the work of psychotherapy.  I’d like to share a personal experience of mine through which I became changed, and, I believe, much more resilient.  It’s not that I’m trying to suggest that I’ve “got it all figured out”, or that this set of experiences gave me “the key to life” — mine or anybody else’s.  But I do believe that this was an experience that affected me deeply, that it cost me a great deal, and that I genuinely grew through it.

Resilience is directly connected to our convictions at the deepest level about our lives — our basic trust.  And sometimes life can shake what we believe about our own individual lives to the very core.  I had occasion to learn this in a period between my mid-20s and early 30s.

The Journey to Upside Down

At the time this experience occurred, I was a  highly religious person, in a liberal Christian tradition.  I had a very clear conception of my life: how things had unfolded according to plan, and how they would continue to do so into the future.  I was recently happily married, and my wife and I had a baby on the way.

Then the baby arrived, and we learned that he was born pretty close to about as deaf as a child can be.

Suddenly, everything that I thought I knew about my life was turned upside down.  Through this crisis, everything I had hitherto believed about the nature of God, the world, suffering, even evil, and what was meaningful in life was shaken to the core.

Now, I’m not foolish enough to think that having a deaf child is the worst that can happen to a person.  Far, far from it.  It can get unbelievably more painful and difficult than that, I well know.  Nonetheless, when this happened to me, I was completely devastated.  I literally did not know which way to turn, and, for a long time, I seriously doubted that I would ever be happy — or even ever smile — again.

Life Crisis

I also know that, as the years went by, I was also plunged into a more and more  profound crisis of faith and life — an existential crisis, as they say.  It was not so much a question of “why me?”  With the crisis around my son’s deafness, it was as if scales had fallen from my eyes, and I was finally seeing for the first time the depth of the suffering in the world.  In fact, I was seeing it very clearly and close up in the very people with whom I was working.  It was deeply apparent to me now how many people were struggling with so very much more than they knew how to handle, or felt that they could handle.  The question I found myself struggling with on the deepest level was much more, “How can there be a loving God, if this kind of thing happens to any one at all?”

By the time I was 30, I was completely shaken out of the very comfortable life path that I had seen mapped out for me.  Nothing was left of it.  It was apparent to me that life was never going to be possible with the old outlook I had once had.  At about that time, I made some very major changes in virtually every aspect of my life — faith, career, relationships — and moved in a new direction.

Rash, Raw, Risky … Lost

I didn’t know what was waiting for me, and I was making all kinds of rash decisions, without regard for the risks.  In many ways I was raw, and I wore my anger, my pain and my sense of betrayal on my sleeve, often for all to see.  My despair and cynicism were probably at their height at this point.

What I didn’t know, and couldn’t see, was that something was changing inside myself.  At the time, I could not have described to you what this change was, but it was real and it was deep.  It would take years for me to even begin to understand what was emerging in my life.  In my next blog post, Stress, Power, Resilience — and Myth, Part 3: A Story of My Own, I’ll attempt to share with you something of what that change really meant.

Have You Had This Kind of Experience?

I am sure that many of my readers have had to confront real adversity or real crisis in their own lives.  I would respectfully welcome any of your comments on what it was like to cope with such things.  How did such experiences change you?  As always, I gratefully welcome any of your reflections.

Wishing you peace and resilience on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Elena Ray | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Stress, Power, Resilience — and Myth, Part 1

October 10th, 2010 · Anxiety, Carl Jung, depth psychology, Hope, Meaning, mythology, Oakville, power, Psychology and Suburban Life, resilience, stress, trust, work

Some of the greatest stressors that people experience in the second decade of the 21st century stem from the things which people feel powerless to control.  At times, individuals can feel like life is a dice-roll.

I think that’s why a lot of people in Oakville are so happy about the cancellation of the Oakville Power plant.  Here in Oakville, the mood almost borders on euphoria.  It seems that the feelings are associated with a sense of release, though.  I think that this may be due to the fact that many in Oakville felt that the Power Plant was something close to an an inevitability because of the array of formidable powers (Ford, Trans-Canada and the Premier and Provincial Government) that apparently wanted to see it come to completion.  Fortunately, there were many in Oakville, in organizations like Citizens for Clean Air, who kept up a formidible fight.  And they succeeded, to their very great credit!

There are many things in the 2010s that can easily make people feel powerless.  Many of those things have to do with economics.  It is not that long since the 2008 market meltdown and the Great Recession which followed it, and the recovery which is underway can certainly seem precarious.  Many people have had to contend with job loss, and many more feel that their jobs–and the lives that they have built around those jobs–are precariously balanced.  To a lot of people, dreams that seemed readily attainable for their parents’ generation do not seem at all easily attainable for them.  And many worry about their children’s education and future — and their own later life.

In addition, the majority of us struggle, or have had to struggle with our own inner wounds.  For many people, there can be a strong sense that their experience growing up has not equipped them to feel strong and confident in meeting the challenges that they are facing in their lives.  It can be very hard to the people who feel that “something fundamental  was missing” in the kind of love and affirmation that they received from those who were supposed to love them.  For others, it can feel that events in their lives — loss of love, marital breakup, personal tragedy, trauma — have deprived them of the wherewithal to meet the challenges that life is putting in front of them.

What we each need to meet our lives is what psychologists increasingly refer to as resilience.  Simply put, resilience is the power to “roll with the punches” that life throws at us, and to “have the stamina to go the distance” in our lives, and to “hang in”.

What psychologists and sociologists have noticed in their study of the coping patterns of people, even people dealing with some of the most difficult situations imaginable, is that there are huge differences in how people respond, and whether they are able to cope and endure.  Even in appalling situations, there are some people who have the capacity to overcome their circumstances, and to find the courage to live meaningful and courageous lives.  Resiliency has been defined by psychiatrist Steven Wolin as:

the capacity to rise above adversity—sometimes the terrible adversity of outright violence, molestation or war—and forge lasting strengths in the struggle.

Clearly, we all need resilience.  But we have to be careful that the resilience that we seek is the real thing, not the fake kind.  I think most of us have had some experience with this less-than-authentic resilience.  The fake kind is kind found in the “you can do anything, rise above anything” variety of pep talk, that unfortunately is often found in self help literature.  Regrettably, it is also espoused by some psychologists and therapists.  This heroic version tends (consciously or unconsciously) to over-emphasize will power, and it papers over the cracks and the pain that often run unbelievably deeply in peoples’ lives.  This emphasis on “where there’s a will there’s a way” (a phrase Carl Jung hated) will not sustain when the chips are really down in life.

Mark Bolan’s Cosmic Dancer , which many of you may know from the movie Billy Elliot, itself an incredible celebration of resilience, uses the metaphor of dancing for resilience — “I was dancing when I was 12 / I danced myself right out of the womb / I danced my way into the tomb” :

So, how do we get to the real thing — to a resilience that is rooted in our own real lives?  This is a subject I’ll be pursuing in the next part of this series on “Stress, Power, Resilience — and Myth”.

What are your “impressions” on the whole subject of resilience?  What is it for you?  What is it rooted in?  I’d welcome any of your reflections.

I wish you every good thing as you make your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Lawrence Wee | Dreamstime.com

MUSIC CREDIT: Mark Bolan and T Rex performing “Cosmic Dancer” from the album “Electric Warrior” © 1971 Warner  This music is the property of Warner and is used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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