Journeying Toward Wholeness

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The Healing of Yule: Winter Solstice Symbolism & Wholeness

December 21st, 2015 · winter solstice symbols

My last post focussed on Holiday Depression and Stress , but there’s also a genuine representation of healing embodied in the winter solstice symbolism of the Yule.

winter solstice symbols

                  Yule Log – Symbol of the Return of the Sun

Yule, the ancient festival associated with the time of the winter solstice, contains symbols of wholeness that are native to the traditions of ancient Northern Europe, but which are also found throughout varied cultures of the world.  From a depth psychotherapy perspective, much of this symbolism appears to be rooted in themes deep within the human psyche (which Jungians would call archetypal.)

The Yule; The Wheel

The term “Yule” originally meant “wheel” and the Yule season was associated with the ending and beginning of a rotation of the wheel of the year, the year being viewed as both starting and beginning at the time of the winter solstice, and rotating through the various seasons and the signs of the zodiac.  Below is a picture of the pre-Christian North European year as viewed as a “yule” or wheel, and beginning and ending with the Yule season:

winter solstice symbolism

Wheel symbolism is very ancient, and especially the imaging of the heavens as a wheel.  As shown by the famous Medicine Wheels of the Plains First Nations of North America, it long predates the actual physical wheel, as archeologist John Freeman relates of the famous Majorville, AB medicine wheel, in his book Canada’s Stonehenge.

winter solstice symbols

                  Medicine Wheel, Bighorn, Wyoming

From a depth psychotherapy perspective, the wheel shares in the symbolism of the circle, which is itself the most basic form of mandala, or symbol of wholeness.  The wheel symbolizes eternity; the revolving heavens, and at the center, beyond the rotating perimeter, something that does not move.

The Yule as the Wheel of the Year is a symbol of all that moves and changes in the nature of the Self, and also of the fact that there is something constant and unchanging, right at the heart of our being.

The Tree

The Christmas tree, as an evergreen, symbolizes enduring and renewed life, and can also be a symbol of fertility and immortality.  Furthermore, what we know as a “Christmas tree” is actually a a tree associated with the Nordic Yule, and it symbolizes the Yggdrasil from Norse mythology.

winter solstice symbolism

                                     World Tree

The Yggdrasil is the world tree.  It consists of the whole of the universe as the Nordics conceived of it, including the realm of the giants, the realm of the gods, and the realm that we call home.  This idea of an enormous tree that holds the entire universe is not unique to the Norse.  It is found in many cultural contexts around the world.

For Jung and later depth psychotherapists, the tree is also a symbol of the Self.  In myth, humans often transform into trees, and there are many ways in which trees and humans resemble each other.  Trees have upright trunks; we have upright backbones.  The image of the tree that grows from a small seed or acorn into an enormity is often an image of the human journey of growth and individuation.

So, each “yuletide”, we bring this symbol of growth and individuation in our homes.  As we travel the wheel of the year, and return to this place, we are reminded of our own resilience, the places in our lives where decay is followed by renewal, and the growth toward what it is that we really, fundamentally, are.

Journey toward our true identity is at the core of depth psychotherapy.

With best Holiday wishes,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2015 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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4 Empowering Perspectives on Holiday Depression and Stress

December 14th, 2015 · holiday depression and stress

Every psychotherapist knows that holiday depression and stress are a prominent feature of the lives of many at this time of year.

 holiday depression and stress
Usually that’s seen as something that people just must endure.
But is there a possibility of something that would actually give life in the midst of holiday depression and stress?

Compassion and Insight into Myself at the Holidays

At this time of giving and preoccupation with the wants and needs of others, we all need a very healthy sense of compassion for ourselves.  It’s very important to recognize that the holidays can be quite hard on people.

Many have had difficult experiences associated with the holidays.  Family conflict, negative experiences with addictions, marital breakup or grief over the loss of a loved one are only a few examples.

If I find myself having negative or dark feelings over the holidays, I need to acknowledge that in a kind way, without feeling pathological or wrong. Therapists also know that the compulsive joyousness of the holidays can feel like salt in the wounds of those who might be hurting.

What if I Quit Resisting My Holiday Depression?

It may be important for many people to acknowledge how difficult the holidays are for them, and just to feel it, rather than fighting it. What would it be like, if, instead of resisting the feelings of depression or overstress, I just acknowledge and accept them, without any sense of self blame or self attack? For some, it might bring a feeling of something like relief or liberation.  As Jungian analyst June Singer has it, “psychotherapy can help the person to gain an understanding of the depressive attitude, to work with it, and eventually to transcend it.”

What Do I Need to Release, in my Holiday Stress and Depression?

Depth psychotherapists are aware that often, at the heart of depression, the client needs to release, or let go. It may be an acknowledgement that something that the individual clings to is lost forever, or an obsolete identity or self understanding.  Sometimes, we have to find a way to make peace with the ghosts of the past, and release them.

holiday depression and stress

It’s not by accident that the process of renewal in the life of Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge begins with the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Past. Scrooge has to acknowledge painful things in the past that need to be released. And it’s only by that release that the energy or life that has been caught up and frozen in the loss of those precious things is freed to move into a new form, and a new identity.

Example: a woman grieved her childhood experience of Christmas, which was about material excess, emotional emptiness and loneliness. She came to find a joy and vitality in celebrating a Christmas with minimal material trappings, connections with genuinely meaningful people, and non-traditional meals and activities.

Is Something Vital Hidden in my Holiday Stress and Depression?

From a depth psychotherapy perspective, at the heart of most depression is something that the individual is working on at the unconscious level.  The holidays are a time to watch dreams, and look for creative stirrings.  Within holiday sorrow may be the stirring of new life that wants to be born.

Depth psychotherapy is concerned with finding the life often locked in the frozen heart of depression.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2015 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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False Self vs. True Self: 5 Second Half of LIfe Realities, B

December 7th, 2015 · false self vs. true self

In Part A, we examined the core issue of false self vs. true self, our deep inner drive to express the true self, and the central importance of that drive at midlife.

false self vs. true self

In this post we’ll examine the central importance of wholeness, and acknowledging who we fully are, as a means of distinguishing false self vs. true self, and, look at attitudes that open the door to the gradual emergence of the true self.

It’s easy to assume that we know all there is to know about our true selves.  Yet generally this amounts to the ego only knowing the ego. It’s when we start to be aware of the aspects of ourselves that are disturbing, surprising and sometimes downright not what we want, that the real journey of self-knowledge begins to open up in front of us.

Often that journey involves the emergence from the unconscious mind, by dreams and other means, of symbols of wholeness.

Wholeness and Images of the Self

The unconscious puts many images in front of us to symbolize the fullness and completeness that is calling us toward greater knowledge of the true self.  Depth psychotherapists know they’re limitless in number, but here are some of the key symbols:

These images draw us.  We may find ourselves drawing them, literally.  If we look, we may even find that these images appear within our dreams.

Self Acceptance and the Later Life Journey

In dealing with the question of false self vs. true self, and authenticity, much depends on our attitude, and whether we can accept the self that emerges, as we discover more about ourselves.

But do we even want to know about some aspects of ourselves?  Elements of the self may well not be very acceptable to our egoss.  Yet  finding a way somehow to tolerate them, to be compassionate to ourselves and to allow them to emerge may be essential for our development.

For example: a person may have sexual fantasies that aren’t acceptable to the ego.  Yet, those sexual fantasies may actually contain something really precious, connected to the soul’s deepest yearnings.  The same may be true of feelings of resentment, envy, sadness or many other types of feelings.  Doing this type of what we call shadow work is an essential part of self discovery in depth psychotherapy.  As Andrew Samuels tells us, “To admit the shadow is to break its compulsive hold.’

false self vs. true self

Here I Am

Some therapists have trouble with the idea of psychological wholeness.  Yet, in psychological work, there is very often a “felt sense” of when we are gaining a greater and more complete kind of awareness of who we are.  There are often feelings of relief that accompy a greater sense of acceptance of who we really are, and of the need to no longer defend ourselves against it.

When we show up as authentically ourselves, there is often a feeling of rightness about this.  Depth psychotherapy starts from the place that, however difficult it is to know some aspects of ourselves, it is infinitely better to know than not to know, always, but especially in the second half of life.


Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike © isterik32  ; Self-portrait and portrait by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
© 2015 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)