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7 Stress Management Tips That Take Soul Seriously, 1

November 30th, 2014 · Psychology and Suburban Life

At times like the Holidays, it’s common to see the appearance of lists of stress management tips.  And no wonder!  It’s a very demanding time.

stress management

Stress management tips often seek to help us “cope” with stress.  This post looks at stress from a depth psychotherapy or Jungian perspective.  It focuses a little more at human depth — what depth psychotherapists mean when they talk about “soul”.

The trouble with many “coping strategies” or “stress management tips” is that they don’t really deal with root issues.  They can feed a desire to keep doing exactly what we’re already doing, but just “turn the symptoms off” — the pressure, the anxiety, the depression.  Hopefully these tips go deeper.

 1. Minimize Mass Media and Social Media

Mass media can very easily be a source of stress.  The mass media often use peoples’ anxieties to induce viewership and buying behaviour.  Consider this little vignette as a prime example:

 

Clearly, it’s intended to be funny and “an exaggeration”, but what is this advertisement really telling us?  That we should be putting pressure on ourselves to “make the holidays special” — and the only way to do that is to spend.

The advertisement above is a mass media ad, but the same kind of messaging regularly permeates social media.

stress management tips

2. Don’t Let it be About Stuff

This is a truth about all of life, but it takes on particular importance at Holiday time.

A dominant message in our culture is that the only way to have a good or worthwhile life is through the accumulation of wealth.

Of course, there’s a natural human desire to “make the Holidays special”.  It’s a fundamental, even archetypal dimension of human experience to identify certain days as special, festive, even sacred time.  Yet, very many cultures are quite able to do that without the obsessive accumulation of gifts, decoration, food, entertainment — and debt — that our society now takes as the norm for the Holidays.

I think that we need to be honest and admit that in our culture, there is a very strong collective pressure and message: you are not being a good parent, friend or partner unless you have “the right” Christmas, “the right” gift and ‘the right” sort of holiday.

What about using the holidays — and our lives in general — to connect with ourselves, and with the people we love?

tips for stress management

3. Listen to Yourself

A key way to get beyond killing stress levels in general, and especially at the Holidays is to start to engage in discernment.  We need to get beyond the conscious and unconscious collective pressures and messages about what’s important, and listen to our deepest selves.  This isn’t easy: it’s time-consuming, requires careful attention to our inner life, and appropriate help, like depth psychotherapy.

Here are three key ways to do that.

Listen to your body.  We can be totally driven by stress, and yet be quite unconscious of it.  We can learn a lot about our stress from examining our bodies, and coming to understand the places that it shows up.  Do you have tight steely muscles in your neck, for instance?  That’s likely stress.  Can you determine what’s causing it?

Pay attention to your feelings.  This can be our emotional states, which we may not even be aware that we have (see “Listen to your body!”), but it can also be much subtler feeling states (“I like this; I don’t like that; this makes me feel like…”).  This stuff is often the very rich reality of ourselves.

Pay attention to your dreams.  You may need to get help with this, but there are many things you can notice from dream reality that relate to your stress level.

Depth psychotherapy offers much that’s relevant to stress management, but it’s rooted in insights about our real individual identity and the deeper self.

In Part 2, we’ll look at numbers 4 to 7 of our depth psychotherapy stress management tips.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © I See Modern Britain modified ; Dylan Tweney modified;  
VIDEO: © 2014 Target Brands, Inc. quoted for the fair use purpose of critical comment and inquiry
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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What Do You Want in Life? Finding Direction in Midlife Transition, 2

November 17th, 2014 · what do you want in life

In Part 1 of this post, we saw how discerning what we really want becomes much more individual in the second half of life; in this post we look more at what that might mean.

what do you want in life

Actualizing what we want, and living it out means being able to truly hold the tension between our desire, our yearning — our “call” even — and the concrete realities of our lives.

Stuck in the Archetype of the Puer Aeternis

A danger that befalls many is simply letting our yearning float above our lives, and never doing anything to make it actual.  Depth psychotherapists would call this a denial of soul.  We all know people in whose lives this dynamic is glaringly obvious.

Jung’s colleague von Franz has amply spelled out the dangers of this psychological state of subjection to the puer aeternis or “eternal child” mode of being.  At its best, this archetype of eternal youth can be the source of incredible art — think Mozart .  At its worst,  it can keep an individual hovering above the real substance of his or her life, perpetually refusing to be tied down.

Why We Need to Keep It Real

We can avoid the risk of actualizing the things that matter most to us, for reasons such as:

  • we fear it will create messy, complex situations in our lives;
  • we fear that life will make us pay dearly  for getting what we really want;
  • we’ve somehow absorbed the message that we don’t deserve to have this thing in our lives; or,
  • we fear that the real thing, once we get it, will be not quite as good as the way we’ve imagined it.

Although we don’t admit it to ourselves, it can be quite tempting to stay floating with the fantasy of what we want, rather than taking actual steps and sacrifices to bring it into being.

Leonard Cohen captures this state of the provisional life superbly in his song “Waiting for the Miracle“.  He shows the state of yearning, of going nowhere, and of the extraordinary cost when we allow what we want and need to hover provisionally “out there”, and never seize hold of it.

There is an aching poignancy to his words, reflecting both regret and yearning…

what do you want in life

What I Want, or What I Feel I Have to Settle For?

Once we try to seize hold of what we really desire, we most often have to reach some accommodation between our yearnings and the realities of the world.  It may well be that the things I desire are very difficult to bring about.  There may be financial, legal, or family reasons why what’s desired is hard to attain.  There may also be psychological issues, in that attaining this thing flies in the face of conventional morality, or requires us to face our own shadow, the part of ourselves that we do not wish to acknowledge or accept.

Also, desires that emerges might go in directions that just aren’t sanctioned by the collective or group to which we belong.  Example: a chartered accountant who takes pottery lessons may not always meet with approval or understanding from colleagues.

what do you want in life

Yet we can’t just throw up our hands and forget these yearnings. To do so might entail a terrible cost.  Often we have to move in the direction that life is beckoning, if we are to avoid a sense of flatness and sterility in our lives.

True Me

Who I truly am is linked to what I really want.  The question “What do you want in life?” is fundamentally a question about identity.

It’s not enough for soul to just fantasize about living the things that really matter to us, at that very individual level.  It has to be made real, incarnated, lived out.  The work of depth psychotherapy concerns overcoming the often very real barriers to living our own real life.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Shabbir Siraj modified ; Sergey Bestcenny modified;  waferboard
VIDEO: “Waiting for the Miracle” quoted for the fair use purpose of critical comment © 2013 SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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What Do You Want in Life? Finding Direction in Midlife Transition 1

November 10th, 2014 · what do you want in life

“What do you want in life?” is such a seemingly benign question, but to genuinely answer it is often one of the most important parts of the work of depth psychotherapy.

what do you want in life

We all assume that we know what it is that we want — but is it always so straightforward?

Shared Values in “the First Adulthood”

Knowing what you want may seem pretty straightforward in the first parf of adulthood (although this may be changing for millenials).  In what Jung calls the first adulthood, the adult part of our lives leading up to midlife, our society has tended to hold out collective values which many people buy into, and for which they strive.  Many people want some kind of post-secondary education.  They want a job that enables them to sustain themselves, and that garners a certain measure of respect in our society.  People have tended to want marriage, or at least intimate relationship, and many people are firmly convinced of the value of having a family.  These highly motivating values are widely shared.

 

The Challenge of Value in Midlife Transition and After

In the second half of life, the situation may well change dramatically.  For very many people, the situation becomes much less clear.  Individuals can often start to question whether what they’ve actually attained is really what they wanted for their lives.  The even more vital question of what I might want for my future gets highlighted by the fact of an often increased awareness of mortality.  At 20, I’m going to live forever.  At 40, 45, 50… I’m very aware that I don’t have infinite time, which makes the way I use my time — and my resources, and my opportunities — matters of vital importance.  What do you want in life?

 

What I Want, or What I’ve Been Told I Want?

How do I even really know what it is that I want?

what do you want in life

The Public wants what the Public gets” — so went the lyric of a new wave song in the early 1980s.  Certainly we’re even more aware in our era, with the slickness and sophistication of contemporary marketing, that we’re all continually being pressured and manipulated towards making choices that are really about what others –corporations, governments, special interest groups — want us to want.

what do you want in life

Psychologist Prof. Barry Swartz of Swarthmore College has warned us of the dangers that come to us from a society where choices, many of which are trivial, are continually multiplying:

what do you want in life

Beware of excessive choice.  Yet there have always been social pressures around choice in life that alienated us from ourselves.  There has always been the subtle or not so subtle pressure to mold what we want into line with the expectation of the mass of the people in one’s social group.

What depth psychotherapy has brought home to us is how far-reaching these social pressures can be in their influence.  They stem in many cases from the earliest stages of life, and can often alienate individuals from their genuine deepest desires through the course of a lifetime.  What depth psychotherapy also brings home is how deep the need within us can be to find the ways of living and choices that accord with the yearnings deepest within us, with who we most fundamentally are?

In the second part of this post we will examine the tension within us between what we fundamentally desire, and the many pressures that confront us in the world.

Depth psychotherapy can often assist in  beyond the limited perspective of the ego.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Dealing with Regret: 4 More Insights for Moving On

November 2nd, 2014 · dealing with regret

In the first part of this post on dealing with regret, we looked at the nature of regret; here we look at some clues or hints into how to possibly move through it into the rest of our lives.

dealing with regret

An important part of the answer may well consists in not allowing the regret to consume us because the space it would otherwise occupy in us is filled with burning desire to live the life that is before us authentically and fully.

Quit Passing Judgement on Yourself

Here is a key insight: I am not in a position to stand in judgment on my own life

Only in the rarest circumstances are we in a position clear-sighted enough to have some kind of clear view of our actions, their effect, and, ultimately, their meaning in the whole context of our lives.  Only rarely, if ever, do we really grasp the influence of the unconscious psyche on our decisions.

Surrender

It may be a real benefit to have the right kind of “spiritual”, philosophical or observant outlook, that allows us to recognize that, whatever we choose to call it, there is something greater than ourselves determining the course of our lives.  Out of the heartbreak and loneliness of an extremely difficult life, Dame Julian of Norwich was able to say “and all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  These words might seem like a flip exhortation to “keep on the sunny side”– unless uttered by someone who themselves has been through some very, very dark nights.

Passion

It’s fine to say, as I did above, that we should let our regret be swept away by burning desire to live the life in us that really wants to be lived.  But how do we recognize this burning desire?  Intense regret may seem to eclipse any such passion or meaning.  This may well be where the individual is called to examine the desolate places in his or her life, the “swamplands of the soul” as James Hollis calls them, to find the embers underneath the damp leaves of time.

dealing with regret

This is demanding work.  We may well need abiding support in doing it — the kind of support embodied in depth psychotherapy, or Jungian analysis.

Amor Fati

Jung often uses the phrase “amor fait” — “to love one’s fate“.  He makes it clear that such a phrase is not to be used glibly or lightly.  For Jung, the product or the fruit of mature life can sometimes be that which is often contrary to the spirit of youth: an acceptance somehow of the inexplicable rightness of one’s own life.

Hollis reflects further on this:

Anyone conscious of, or reflective upon, his or her history will be humbled and obliged to pause and discern those threads of influence that are at work in us all the while….  Loving one’s fate means that we live as fully as we can the life to which the gods have summoned us.  We are here to figure out and serve what life asks of us.   This is not resignation, it is not defeat, it is not fatalism, it is not passivity… In the midst of defeat for the ego, we are blessed with concommitant abundance [italics mine].

He goes on to quote the words  of Yeats’ poem “A Dialogue of Self and Soul”:

dealing with regret

This is not some glib piety.  If we are fortunate in our aging, it might be wisdom we can take to our own breast, rather than advice to give to others.  Yet, at the right time of life, it may prove to be deeply healing.

Depth psychotherapy can often assist in dealing with regret, as it can bring awareness of aspects of ourselves that can take us beyond the limited perspective of the ego.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Tamas modified ; Bill Strain modified;  Eliazar Parra Cardenas
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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