Journeying Toward Wholeness

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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)

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In January, with Mind, Body, and Instinct

January 20th, 2011 · archetypal experience, archetypes, body, Carl Jung, consciousness, cravings, dreams, inner life, instinct, Jungian analysis, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, seasonal affective disorder, self-knowledge, The Self, unconscious, wholeness

This blog post, on our January mind set, and on mind, body and instinct, continues my last post, although it might look quite different.  My immediately previous post was centered around two quotations that painted pictures of the conscious and unconscious brains in relation to each other.  This post is much more directly concerned with the subjective experience of mind, body and instinct.  I include another quotation from Jung, speaking on primal “instinctual” humans and modern “rational” humans.  Jung’s prime concern here is the loss of human connection with nature — primal, fundamental human nature.

The holidays are over; spring is a long time off.  In the post-December winter months, it’s often easy to fall into a kind of robotic “just-gotta-get-through-it” mental state.  In my personal experience, it’s altogether too easy to just go to a kind of  place where we’re mentally divorced from our feelings, and we just stoically keep answering the “call of duty”, withour regard for the instinctual human we all carry within, and his or her needs.

The Instinct-Rationality Divide

Primitive man was much more governed by his instincts than his “rational” modern descendents. who have learned to “control” themselves.  In this civilizing process, we have increasingly divided our consciousness from the deeper instinctive strata of the human psyche, and even ultimately from the somatic [body] basis of psychic phenomena.  Fortunately, we have not lost these basic instinctive strata; they remain part of the unconscious, even though they may express themselves only in the form of dream images.

Jung, C.G., ed.,  Man and His Symbols, (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964)

Modern humans can be very cut off from the instinctual basis of life, and even from being aware of our bodily existence.  In my experience, this can be particularly true when you’re bundled up, slogging down an ice-and-snow filled January street at -25 degrees with a high wind chill!

But, even so, as Jung was among the first to tell us, the instinctual side continues to function, along with the whole broad psychic processing of of inner and outer experience.  It’s always with us, and one important way to move closer to wholeness is to work actively to be aware of that.

Ways to Access the Instinctual Life Within You

Here are four questions to ask that can bring you nearer to the instincts and the life of your body.

1.  What is Your Body Telling You?

It is amazing the degree to which many modern people are completely oblivious to their bodies.  As a very simple step, what if you were to become aware of where in your body you carry tension, and when that tension appears?  If really thinking about this is something new to you, I think you would be amazed at the degree of awareness of your own psyche and your own instinctual self that can come to you through continually practicing this one simple step.

2.  Be Honest: How Do You Really Feel About That?

Of course, it’s just about the world’s oldest joke that therapists are always asking everyone, “Well, how do you really feel about that?”  But it can be so easy to drift into a place of non-awareness about your own feelings — particularly if you’re a personality type that leans heavily on thinking as opposed to feeling.  For such people (and I’m certainly a card carrying member of “Club Think”!) it can be a matter of great importance to be asking yourself continually, “Yes — but what am I feeling now?”

3.  What Do I Really Crave, Yearn for?  Why Do I Crave That?

Your cravings are important!  It may seem like a triviality in the midst of the great Project of Individuation to note that when I’m alone I experience a strong craving for Junior Mints, but don’t be too quick to assume that it’s irrelevant!  Try as much as you can to get into the question of “Yes, but why do I crave Junior Mints at such a time?”  Are they a distraction from the feelings, a self-medication?  Do they have symbollic importance in some ways — a connection with a happy, secure time in my life, for instance?  On the other hand, do the things I crave in some way or other symbollically embody spirit, or my deepest aspirations?

4.  What is Emerging in My Dreams?

And one very profound way in which instinctual life expresses itself is in dream images.  This is a big one for psychotherapists, and especially for Jungians, as we undergo a great deal of rigorous training in how to handle dream material.  I’ve written about this quite a bit, and you can expect me to write about it a lot more.  But we can certainly say here that the deepest aspects of ourselves, instinctual and otherwise, can be counted on to show up through our dreams — that aspect of ourselves that Jung sometimes referrd to as “The Two Million Year Old Man.”

What Are You Instinctually Disposed Towards?

Have you ever had times in your life where you have felt strongly that you were doing things by instinct? I’ve heard many stories that, for instance, mothers tell of getting through unbelievably difficult situations on the strength of their mothering instinct alone.   I’ve also heard of situations where something like raw instinct has led people at a certain point to make fundamental and life-changing decisions.  Indeed, I believe that I made such a change at one particular points in my life — that probably saved my life.  Has your instinct or your “animal side” ever moved you in directions that your intellect would have never thought of going?

I would be very interested to hear about your experiences: please leave a comment below, or if you prefer, send me an email!

Wishing you rich growth in your experience of all that you are, on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2011 Brian Collinson

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Consciousness, Unconscious Mind & Neuroscience

January 14th, 2011 · consciousness, neuroscience, unconscious, unconscious mind

This is a brief blog post on a couple of quotations relating to the whole mushrooming area of  the science of consciousness and the unconscious mind, as it is being approached within the rapidly expanding new experimental fields of neuroscience and cognitive science.  These fields are growing in a rapid new ways,  and shedding a great deal of new light on the view of the human psyche which CG Jung wrote about in his works.

One of these quotations I have already used in a comment on a previous blog post.  However, I feel that it is important enough that it should be featured in its own posting.  The other is a very complementary quotation from CG Jung.

“Most of Our Thought is Unconscious”

Here is the interesting neuroscience quotation.  It seems to me to be very challenging in what it suggests that modern neuroscience research is showing about the fundamental nature of the brain and the psyche:

Cognitive science…the scientific discipline that studies conceptual systems…has made startling discoveries.  It has discovered, first of all, that most of our thought is unconscious, not in the Freudian sense of being repressed, but in the sense that it operates beneath the level of cognitive awareness, inaccessible to consciousness, and operating too quickly to be focussed on…. To understand even the simplest utterance, we must perform… incredibly complex forms of thought automatically and without noticeable effort below the level of consciousness.  It is not merely that we occasionally do not notice these processes; rather, they are inaccessible to conscious awareness and control.

Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark,  Philosophy in the Flesh: the Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought, (New York: Basic Books, 1999) pp. 10-11

Jung: “Consciousness is Like a Surface or a Skin…”

There is very strong evidence that Jung anticipated these discoveries of neuroscience in the way that he conceived of the human psyche. In the 1930s, Jung had an intuition of the human psyche that now seems remarkably akin to the insights emerging from the frontiers of neuroscience:

 Consciousness is like a surface or a skin upon a vast unconscious area of unknown extent… we need a laboratory with very complicated apparatus in order to establish a picture of that world apart from our senses and apart from our psyche… very much the same with our unconscious — we ought to have a labouratory in which we could establish by objective methods how things really are when in an unconscious condition.

Jung, C.G.,  Hull, R.F.C., trans., ” Tavistock Lectures: Lecture 1″  in Collected Works, Vol. 18, (London: Routledge Kegan Paul, 1977) par. 11

Surprising as it would seem to observers in the 1930s, the understanding of consciousness and the unconscious mind which has started to emerge in cognitive science and neuroscience has many affinities with the conceptions of C.G. Jung.  As paradigms shift, in many ways, Jung’s understanding of the psyche and of what it is to be human seem to have grown in stature and explanatory power.

Are You Aware of Your Unconscious Mind?

Have you ever had experiences where you have become strongly aware of the existence of your unconscious mind?  Sometimes such experiences can be dreams, or they can be other psychological events in which you’re just very aware that something other than your everyday waking consci0us mind is at work.  I would be very interested to hear about your experiences: please leave a comment below, or if you prefer, send me an email!

Wishing you rich growth in your experience of all that you are, on your personal journey to wholeness,

 

PHOTO CREDIT:  © Oleg Nesterkin | Dreamstime.com

© 2011 Brian Collinson

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Twitter, Personal Growth, Self Discovery and Self Creation

January 7th, 2011 · Jungian, life transitions, personal growth, Psychotherapy

If you’re interested in quotations on Twitter that concern psychotherapy, Self and personal growth, as I tend to be, you start to notice a very interesting to-and-fro of ideas about what it is to grow as a person.  If you look closely, you can see that there is a deep division into two distinct camps on a very fundamental question concerning the nature of the Self.  We could call one school of thought the “Self Discovery” camp, and the other, the “Self Creation” camp.  They seem to have very contrasting ideas about the nature of growth and maturation as a person.

Self Discovery

One kind of Twitter person will emphasize the joys of the adventure of self discovery.  The implication here is that the self in some sense pre-exists, that the fundamental nature of an individual human being is there to be known, and that the business of a human is to explore and find what is already there.  “You can’t be something other than your true nature”, those who adhere to this view will tell you, “you must find out who you really are, and live in accord with that.”  For such people, any attempt to “create yourself” is doomed to failure.  A good example of this kind of approach was recently tweeted by OctavioTomas :

Self discovery is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Not easy facing the ‘man in the mirror’.

Self Creation

Another whole approach would emphasize that we actually create ourselves through the choices we make, the steps we take, and our will power.  A good example of this approach would be this quote tweeted recently by liveaquote:

We can change our lives. We can do, have, and be exactly what we wish..

For a person coming from this perspective, the self is pretty malleable, and it would certainly seem to be subject to the power of the will, to such an extent, in fact, that as individual persons we can “be exactly what we wish”.

These views don’t seem to be readily compatible.  So who’s right?  Well, as new developments in the emerging fields of neuroscience (as discussed by Lakoff and Johnson) and evolutionary psychology and psychiatry (as discussed by Stevens and Chance, among many others) are refuting the idea that human beings come into this world with no fundamental character.  Rather we have a nature that is already substantially determined.

This research supports what CG Jung continually stressed in his work in the first half of last century, that we do have a specific nature, and the task of psychological growth entails coming to the completest understanding that we can of what that nature imparted to us really is.  As Jung said vehemently on several occasions “man is not born a tabula rasa (blank slate)”.

So, does that settle it, that, as Popeye used to put it, “I yam what I yam“?

Detective and Gardener

Well, not exactly.  We do have a fixed nature with which we come into life, but that’s not the whole story.  For, once we get into our lives, we are continually confronted with all kinds of powerful influences on our development and our personality.  Our early experience in the family and in the institutions of early life can affect us profoundly.  We can find ourselves taken in directions deeply at odds with our true nature.  As an extreme example, consider what sometimes happens to extemely gifted, precocious children, where they are forced into molds or patterns that don’t represent who they really are.  There is a great deal of creativity and strength that is involved in finding our way back to our own true self nature, and bringing things out of the unconscious so that they no longer control us.  Much of this work is often done in the second half of life, and nowadays is often assisted by some form of depth psychotherapy, like Jungian analysis.

So there is both a process of self-discovery and a process of self-creation that is involved in personal growth.  There is also a third thing, which is perhaps the hardest for contemporary western people.  And that is the process of allowing our true selves to emerge, waiting on ourselves — almost tending ourselves.

What Is Growth Like for You?

Have you had experiences that you would describe as “experiences of self-discovery”?  Or, again as “experiences where I created or re-created (!) myself”?   How about experiences of watching yourself grow, and emerge?  I’d be very interested to hear from you about such experiences in your comments, either below, or via confidential email.

Wishing you the fullness of growth, and the depth of experience of yourself, on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT:  © Melissa King | Dreamstime.com

© 2011 Brian Collinson

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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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