Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

Three Truths about Mortality and Life Transitions

September 29th, 2013 · life, life transitions, Transitions

Our growing awareness of mortality in the second half of life can spur us to major life transitions.

life transitions

While some life transitions just occur to us, others require some element of decision.  Those are the ones that I want to reflect on in this post.

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The Shortness & Infinite Preciousness of Life

The issue of mortality came home to me this week in a vivid personal way, when, sadly, I learned of the death of a woman I know in her mid-50s.  I cannot, of course communicate any identifying details about this wonderful person, other than to describe her as an engaging, young-looking woman with a quick mind and vivid sense of humour, who apparently passed with incredible quickness.

Certainly, anyone who knew this competent, vivacious, woman, who apparently had so much ahead of her, must have been deeply shocked by this turn of events.

This is a difficult truth, but an incredibly important one: none of us knows how much time we actually have to live, and to become aware.  That makes each day, each new awareness, each new choice, infinitely precious.

There are Life Transitions We Need to Make Happen

In keeping with the theme of those life transitions that we have a role in bringing about, we need to ask some searching questions.

1.  Are there experiences that I need to have?  I don’t mean this in the sense of fulfilling some entertaining “bucket list” of diversion.  Rather, are there experiences that are soul work, that my inmost being cries out for?

2. Have I found people with whom I can connect in a meaningful way?  Are there people with whom I am truly at home?  Where in this world can I find a welcome?  And…

3. Perhaps most profoundly and fundamentally. are there ways in which I need to explore and be aware of myself?  To embark on a path of increasing self awareness — this can often be the profoundest life transition of all.

Go for Soul

For many, as life moves along its course, it becomes essential to have experience of the true depth of life within ourselves.

Here is a Zen Buddhist parable on mortality:

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger.  He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above.  Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!…

life transitions

The following recounting of a dream by C.G. Jung in Memories, Dreams, Reflections seems to me to sound many of these same themes, as does the accompanying song by, of all people, Jimmy Buffet:

Jungian therapy concerns itself with the key importance of life transitions, particularly in the second half of life, and emphasizes the need to pour ourselves fully into the things that want to draw us into life.

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© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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What’s So Special About the Second Half of Life? Pt 1

September 22nd, 2013 · second half of life

What is it that the second half of life brings to us, that makes us treat it as such a challenge and a gift?

second half of life

Some would say “nothing”.  But the reality of individuals’ experience in the second half of life shows us otherwise.

In the second half of life, the emphasis shifts from the interpersonal or external dimension to a conscious relationship with intrapsychic processes.”  -Andrew Samuels

This sounds great — but what does it actually mean?

Getting Down Beneath the Surface

In the first half of adulthood, externals occupy us pretty exclusively.  The challenges of getting out of the family of origin and out into the world, getting the education we need, finding appropriate work, perhaps marrying and having a family, and finding our way as a contributing member of the community — these are the themes of our lives.

In the second half of life, other considerations often come to the fore.  When Samuels talks about a “conscious relationship with intrapsychic processes”, he is referring to the ways in which we often become more sensitive and aware of the movement of our inner life, sometimes referred to as soul work — what is really going on within us.  Some people are initially disturbed by thinking about this, while others have an absolute need to do so.

Some of the key questions in the second half of life concern identity.  Who am I, really?  Externally-focussed answers to this question that seem deep enough, or individual enough, at age 20 or 30, for instance, may well no longer suffice at age 45, or age 60.

From Ego to Ego-Self Axis

This relates, I believe to what Samuels means when he says that, in the second half of life, dependence on the ego has to be replaced by relationship to the Self.  To find some connection to our deep identity as life progresses means to move beyond the way the ego consciously formulates or constructs a picture of who we are.  It means to be open to insight from the unconscious as to who we are at a much deeper level — to incorporate the elements of our nature that are seen in dreams, and revealed in those moments and experiences in our lives when the ego is not in full control.

It’s as if some parts of our personalities were actors, who had been waiting offstage throughout the entire first half of our lives, waiting for their cue…

second half of life

What parts of you, sure of their lines, and ready to take the stage, have been awaiting the spotlight?

 My Meaning and Values

second half of life

Samuels reminds us that dedication to outer success is often modified to include a concern for meaning and spiritual values, as we move through the second half of life.  The term “spiritual values” may be misleading here, if we take it as referring to religiosity or other-worldliness.  Rather this search for meaning in our lives particularly involves a move from transitory to more lasting concerns, and a move from the superficial to the complete person.

Living Who I Am

Ultimately what is involved is a higher degree of self-acceptance… a sense of life lived in accord with one’s potential.  As a quote I put on Twitter has it:

“Each of us has been offered a journey.  Each of us is responsible for the fullest possible expression of our individuation.” –James Hollis

Individual therapy in the second half of life can be a key step in taking up that offer.

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© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Crisis of Connection: Depth Psychotherapy & Eros, 1

September 13th, 2013 · depth, depth psychotherapy, Psychotherapy

Often, depth psychotherapy reveals the need for real feeling and relationship in an individual’s life, and highlights the crisis of connection that characterizes our lives now.

depth psychotherapy

It’s not the only factor, but technology highlights the fact that, in this culture, at this time, we have a big disconnection issue.

Technology and Connection: A Thumbnail Sketch

Recently, I sat in our biggest local shopping centre early on a Friday evening, having a coffee. I noticed a man who stood in front of a store, texting.  He remained there motionless, typing, for a very long time.  He seemed to be completely oblivious to anything in the world, other than what was appearing on his cell phone screen. Eventually a woman I assumed to be his partner came and stood beside him, but he just kept on texting endlessly, obliviously. Finally his whole family came to stand beside him, but he seemed completely shut off from them.  He just kept texting.  Eventually, after quite a while, he finished, and seemed to leave his trance and be aware of others, in particular, his family

A number of possible interpretations that could be put on these events.  But, to me, it seemed that this was a situation of someone so caught up in texting, that he was completely disconnected from the world around him — including the people who care about him.

The Siren Song of Connection

It’s a fact of importance for individual therapy that we are now continuously confronted with the immediacy of technology: smartphones, tablets, laptops — you name it.  This omnipresence of information devices highlights a stunning reality: in the 21st century, many of us are more connected to our machines than to the people in our lives.

Machines seem to promise connection, to make it omnipresent.  And they do deliver, for we can use them to convey any amount of information.  But what they are far less good at is bringing people into actual relationship.

depth psychotherapy

What Is It To Genuinely Connect?

To genuinely connect with another human being, in an in-depth way involves risk, vulnerability and imagination.  To genuinely connect, as in love or deep friendship, or even just really listening, is to be open to continually changing and adapting our understanding of the person to which we are connected.

The information era is a time of steadily escalating pressure to check out from genuine connection.  In my opinion, this is at the cost of much of our true human-ness.

Here are the words of the Jungian analyst Aldo Carotenuto, on the real nature of Eros, or connectedness:

 

Break Through

Connection involves breaking through in the outer world.  Reaching out to the other in the midst of all the priorities and demands that scream at us, to break through with

Genuine connection with another involves a real break through in the inner world, as well.  It requires an open-ness to letting the other be who they genuinely are, and a preparedness on my part to accept everything that my encounter with the other person brings up in me — even if it’s very unfamiliar.

The focus on finding the genuine connection that we truly need is often a key element of depth psychotherapy.

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© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

 

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4 Steps to PERFECT Misery Through Perfectionism: # 1

September 4th, 2013 · perfectionism

Perfectionism, a many-headed hydra, poisons the creativity, spontaneity and vitality of a huge, diverse range of persons.

perfectionism At the extreme end of this spectrum are people who might be suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, or similar afflictions.  But it is no less of an issue for a great many other people.  It can rob the most gifted and the most humble alike.  Generally, perfectionism has its roots in a complex. This post is a bit satirical.  It’s on how to be PERFECTLY miserable through perfectionism.  Or, if you don’t want to be… here’s some things to avoid like the plague!

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Rule of Perfectionist Misery #1:  “ABC — Always Be Comparing”

A keystone element of perfectionism is that it’s essential to keep measuring myself by the yardstick of others, if I’m to find any true worth. So, I can never just be intrinsically happy with what I’ve done or accomplished or am: the only time I can feel good about anything is when I’ve done as well as  anybody else has ever done.

Keep Compulsively Looking Over Your Shoulder…

…because that’s the best way to ensure that all your approval is external, and so to completely hand all judgment on your worth over to others.  As a way to live, this is hellish: as a form of self-inflicted torture, it’s exquisite.  The truly sad thing is that many are convinced that the only way to have any value in their own eyes is to get it from others. The true perfectionist lives in constant fear of disapproval. The key to real misery is to never ask myself how I feel about myself — how I really feel about me. If I just spend my whole life abjectly trying to achieve the hopeless and win the approval of the Inner Judge of my perfectionism complex– which may be rooted in conditionally approving figures from my past, generalized social values, or even a certain version of God — then I can have an endless supply of insecurity, self-hate and misery.  And who wouldn’t want that?

perfectionism

Never Look at Your Uniqueness

Another excellent way to hurt myself through perfectionism is to shun anything suggesting that my life might be different from the lives of others.  To insist that I must be measured precisely by the yardstick applied to everybody else, because there’s no real difference between people.   Seen this way, the fact that I don’t write poetry like Shakespeare means that I should never write poetry, because “I’m no good at it”; the fact that I don’t play basketball like Michael Jordan means that I should never pick up a ball. Related to this is making the choice to never listen to, or trust my own inner voice.

 Beyond the Tyranny of Perfectionism

It’s an excruciatingly painful thing to feel that I can never be enough for myself.

perfectionism

The journey to wholeness in depth psychotherapy is very often a healing of our capacity for compassion for ourselves. A healing of our capacity to genuinely value ourselves, and to respect the unique road that is our lives. If you suffer under the burden of perfectionism, I invite you to explore individual psychotherapy as a possible way to freedom.

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© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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