Journeying Toward Wholeness

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The Gift: Its Meaning in Life & Individual Therapy

December 23rd, 2013 · individual, individual therapy, therapy

In our culture, the Holidays are powerfully associated with receiving gifts: what does the experience of “gift” actually mean, in our lives — and in individual therapy?

individual therapy

You may be sceptical whether there is any significant link between receiving gifts and individual therapy: bear with me, reader, bear with me!  First, let’s ask: what do gifts mean in human life?

The Spiritual and Material Power of the Gift

Anthropology, the study of human roots, emphasizes that gift-giving is a near universal human characteristic, appearing among the vast majority of human cultures world-wide.  What is it that makes gift-giving so important, so special?

Marcel Mauss, the French anthropologist/sociologist observed that gifts are never truly free.  In the vast majority of cultural situations, giving of gifts is reciprocal.  Mauss became preoccupied with the question: “What power resides in the object given that causes its recipient to pay it back?” He concluded that the gift is more than it seems; that it is endowed with “spiritual mechanisms”, engaging the honour of both giver and receiver.

Gift-giving in most cultures is both a powerful spiritual and material act, because the giver does not merely give an object but also part of her- or himself.  As Mauss puts it “the objects are never completely separated from the persons who exchange them”, and the bond between giver and gift creates an obligation to reciprocate on part of the recipient. To not reciprocate means to lose honour and status, certainly, but in many cultures, failure to reciprocate would means to lose mana, one’s very spiritual power or essence.

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In our own culture and time, we can see the enormous importance and power of reciprocal gift-giving — especially during the holiday season.

Great Gifts that Cannot be Reciprocated

But what do we do with those great gifts that are not given to us by another person, in any normal sense of that word?

The season that we know as Christmas has been associated since the stone age with the return of the sun after the winter solstice.  Today, we can explain the fact that the days start to get longer again as a result of the operation of the laws of physics.  That was not apparent to the primal human societies of the stone age.  It must have been an incredible experience of wonder to those people to see the days gradually grow longer, and to realize that the world was not going to be plunged into an ever greater abyss of endless darkness.  To see the sun return in winter — even though the weather itself would still grow colder for a season — must have been an incredible source of hope for our ancestors.

What does one do, in response to that kind of gift, to the things that life just gives, that cannot be reciprocated?

Individual Therapy, Life and the Gift

We know a whole lot more about physics and astronomy now, but the essential nature of human life has not changed.  Whether I’m explicitly religious or not, I still stand before the great mysteries of life, and the many things that are inexplicable.  Human life still has the same fundamental character of an enormous gift.  To have my life and to be consciously aware: these are realities that I did not create, and even today, it’s awe-inspiring to receive these incredible gifts.

individual therapy

How can I reciprocate?  How can I give back to Life, the Gods, the Universe, the Ground of Being — however I conceive it?  Only by truly receiving the gift, by living to the full, by becoming as conscious as I possibly can.  To both be, and to receive, the gift of myself, and my individual unique life: this is the journey of life, and the journey of individual therapy.

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

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The Holiday Season, Belonging & Family Stress

December 15th, 2013 · family, family stress, stress

The holiday season activates a great deal of family stress for many individuals, especially around the issue of belonging.

family stress

Humans are a social species, and we have a fundamental need to not be isolated, to be “part of” important social groups.  But holidays can emphasize peoples’ experience of isolation, family stress and of not belonging.

The Holiday Season Spotlight

The holidays emphasize and re-emphasize  the issue of belonging.  We anticipate that the holidays will be a time of special connection with family and friends. Yet for many, finding that sense of belonging, especially relative to family, can be a difficult, sensitive matter.

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The holidays flood us with images of family togetherness — families frolicking in the snow, gathered around a turkey dinner, opening gifts under the Christmas tree.  These images clearly resonate with something deep within us, as advertisers well know.

But, for very many people, these images bring up the question, “Where do I really belong?”

The Roots of Family

There are deep instinctual foundations that all these images of holiday togetherness touch upon.  It is deeply and widely enough shared that Jungians speak of the existence of certain family archetypes.

Jung makes some very clear pronouncements about the psychological importance of the archetypes associated with family:

How is it then, you may ask, with the most ordinary everyday events, with immediate realities like husband, wife , father, mother, child? These ordinary everyday facts, which are eternally repeated, create the mightiest archetypes of all. The deposit of mankind’s whole ancestral experience–so rich in emotional imagery… has exalted this group of archetypes into the supreme regulating principles… in unconscious recognition of their tremendous psychic powers.

There is a part of us deep within the psyche that knows what it is that we want from family members, and how it is that we want to be valued and loved.  We also know, in a very deep way, when that love is not received in the way that we need it.

Family Stress and the Need to Belong

For many at the holidays, there is an awareness that family and others are not giving us the sense of belonging that we need, and this is a painful contributor to family stress.

family stressss

Perhaps the individual has had a life long awareness that he or she cannot receive what is needed from father or mother or family.  Perhaps this awareness has only grown as a part of adult experience.  It may also be that distance, or other factors such as physical or mental illness or family conflict have brought such awareness to the fore.

As the prominent evolutionary psychiatrists Anthony Stevens and John Price remind us, “loss of an attachment figure is associated with grief, despair, depression, and ultimately detachment.”

For many, an open acknowledgement and working through of the grief process around the loss of real or perceived family attachment and belonging can be essential to allow movement into the rest of an individual’s life.  A person may well need to free him- of herself from the ghost of family Christmases past and related family stress to a new sense of belonging with friends and other loved ones who accept and value them on a soul level.

family stress

Authenticity and Real Belonging

Individual psychotherapy may relieve family stress by assisting in the full realization of where one does belong, and with whom.  Above all, it rests on the understanding that the individual most fundamentally belongs to him- or herself, and has the fundamental right to live out his or her own destiny.

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

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Mandela, Hope & Lasting Help for Depression

December 9th, 2013 · depression, help for depression

Lasting help for depression is closely tied to hope, and symbols of hope are among our greatest treasures.

help for depression

This week saw the passing of Nelson Mandela, who was an incredible symbol of hope for much of the human race.  The unbelievable intensity of the gratitude to Mandela as a figure of reconciliation is a living testament of the power and vital necessity of hope for the human psyche.

Real Hope Is Not A Pep Talk

The world is full of voices telling us that positive thinking  can create life-changing results such as increased wealth, health, and happiness. Such messages abound.  But are they really sustaining?

Nelsen Mandela spent 27 years in prison on Robben Island and elsewhere.  Viktor Frankl, the famous existential psychiatrist endured the Dachau camp while virtually all of his family were murdered at Auschwitz.  Can we possibly think that mere positive thinking and the “law of attraction” allowed such individuals to endure?  Here is something much deeper in the person than mere positive thinking, or indeed, than thinking at all.

The Tune Without the Words

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
-Emily Dickenson

Dickenson’s words point us toward the true nature of hope, as that which “perches in the soul”, beyond the reach of reasoning, beyond the reach of language.  But if we are to experience help for depression from hope of this deep type, which comes from our depths — we have to know our own soul.

Experience

In Jung’s words, hope is one of

…[those] highest achievements of human endeavour… [which] are neither to be taught nor learned, neither given nor taken, neither withheld nor earned, since they come through experience….  Experiences cannot be made.  They happen — yet fortunately… we can draw closer to them….  

The way to experience… is anything but a clever trick: it is rather a venture which requires us to commit ourselves with our whole being.

Jung urges us to find hope by drawing closer to, and accepting our fundamental experiences, and, with them, our own nature and identity.

help for depression

Often the roots of depression can be found in our inability to accept our own experience, and our true selves.  Whether in childhood, or later life, the individual may internalize the message that his or her experience is unimportant, and that, in fact, he or she is really not important.  Such experience can lead to the death of hope.

Conversely genuine self acceptance is linked to the individual fostering basic trust in his or her life, to hope, and to our awareness of the existence of possibility.  As the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard put it:

If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible.  

Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating… as possibility!

 Hope and Lasting Help for Depression

help for depression

From a Jungian perspective, individual depth psychotherapy assists in the recovery of the natural and instinctive self, which is the natural source of our most basic sense of hope.   The journey of individual therapy toward this hope can be fundamental in bringing lasting help for depression.

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

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Merry Stuff-mas: Depth Psychotherapy, Being & Having

December 2nd, 2013 · depth, depth psychotherapy, Psychotherapy

Depth psychotherapy is deeply concerned with our real identity; one key dimension of  that identity is the distinction between being and having.

depth psychotherapy

The fascinating photo above was included in a flyer sent to my home just before Black Friday by a major wireless and internet services provider.

It shows a family moment of warm togetherness in some outdoor setting.  Four people and 3 electronic devices — 2 smartphones and a tablet — visible in the picture.  The people appear very connected, with laughter, smiles and lots of touch.  Apparently, wireless content is being shared between them, and, somehow, it’s the source of all this warmth, mirth and belonging.  The picture implies that if we get more wireless services, we’ll get more family connection.

Really?

 Fantasy Spells and Stuff

Actually, many experience wireless technology as alienating and isolating people, and as reducing conversation and interaction.  To go to a shopping mall or restaurant in 2013 is to see masses of people hunched over,  making love to their devices rather than interacting with others.

It’s striking how the above picture ties into our yearning for connection, belonging and participation in family in the fullest sense of the word.  It’s a wonderful fantasy of warmth and love, apparently associated with this technology — even though our real world experiences of it is often the exact opposite.

Our era bombards us with messages that more  — more stuff, the right kind of stuff — will solve the problems in our lives.  Particularly the problems of relationship, meaning and feeling secure in who we are.

Consumer goods get associated with fantasies, which advertising spreads through our whole society.  The promise is that, if only we own the product being sold, our lives will be more.

Archetypal Hijack

Advertising for “stuff” often taps archetypal themes.  Certainly, the above picture holds some of the most significant archetypes — Mother; Father; Family and Belonging, or attachment.

Archetypal themes exist in the human psyche and point us toward the things in human life that matter, and that are meaningful.  But the above advertisement implies that archetypally based needs can be met cheaply, and without really opening up or exploring our lives in any meaningful sense — by simply owning stuff.  To own the product is somehow to possess or live the fantasy associated with the product.

Depth psychotherapy

Being and Having

Our society is fundamentally confused about the distinction between being, or in other words having a life, and having possessions.  Advertising seduces us into fantasies associated with certain types of possessions.

As humanistic psychologist Erich Fromm put it:

 The difference between being and having is the difference between a society centered around persons and one centered around things.  Modern humanity cannot understand the spirit of a society that is not centered in property…

The being/having tension arises profoundly during the holidays.  Ostensibly, this season celebrates the transcendent values of several of the world’s great spiritual traditions.  Yet, in North American society, it often turns into a glorification of stuff, and of fantasies associated with owning the right stuff.  So, a season that should celebrate what is of deepest meaning in human life can often turn into a very degraded spectacle of the opposite.  Case in point: this now fairly famous video taken at a sale display of  televisions in a Wal-Mart on Black Friday:

Is this really what we’ve come to?  Apparently, the fantasy of “joy through stuff” isn’t quite working out for us.

Depth Psychotherapy and the Treasure of the Self

Depth psychotherapy focuses us on authentic connection with the archetypes, and on living them out for ourselves in our own real lives.  There’s nothing wrong with owning things, but ownership won’t make a meaningful human life.  Depth psychotherapy invites us on the journey to wholeness, and to the possession of the one thing that makes all the difference — our own authentic selves.

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

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