Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Symbolism of Home: The Journey to Our Inner House, #1

August 28th, 2017 · symbolism of home

I’ve looked at the symbolism of home before in this blog, but it’s important enough to explore it in more depth. Home evokes powerful feelings of belonging, safety, and contentment.

symbolism of home

These feelings are absolutely essential to our lives. For depth psychotherapy, they represent needs that we have to meet to feel like our lives are worthwhile and meaningful. If we don’t feel that, we rapidly get into difficulties.
Issues of belonging, safety and contentment have particular importance at this time of year. As August ends, the vast majority of people in our culture move back into post-summer, “busy season” mode. The questions of belonging, feeling physically and psychologically safe, and feeling that we’re getting enough positive experience out of our lives to meet our fundamental needs become very central at this time of year. And so, connection to whatever we define as “home” becomes extremely important.

Frantic Energies

In our society, so much energy goes into finding a home and making it secure, in many ways. When we think about the industries involved, and the amount of economic effort, it’s simply staggering: real estate; construction; home renovation; home cleaning; home organizing; home decorating, gardening and garden supply and many others.

In a suburban place, like Oakville where I live, you can palpably feel the investment people have in their homes. This is certainly financial, but there is also a very real and powerful emotional connection. If you visit Home Depot, Home Hardware, or Lowe’s on any summer weekend, you will feel the intensity of this connection, almost physically.

From the perspective of depth psychotherapy, what is all this incredible energy? What are we looking for? What is this sense of “home” that we all seem to need for our psychological well-being?

For Humans, Everything Starts with the Symbolism of Home…

For humans, life psychologically begins in the maternal womb, the model for all later homes. Many species of animals instinctively create womb-like burrows. Similarly. the first homes that human beings created for themselves tended to be very small, safe and secure — often physically resembling wombs.

Once having left the womb, humans cannot return to it. Still, the return to home, to our true home, is often symbolized in religion and mythology. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, humans are expelled from the original perfect home of paradise at the beginning, but in the end of time come to “our true home” or perfect home, so it is believed. In Homer’s Odyssey, the whole dramatic action centers on the titanic struggle of Ulysses to return home.

And in our time, we really want womb-like security in our physical homes. There is so much energy in our society, so much anxiety that surrounds the symbolism of home.

Why? Those same three words: belonging, safety, and contentment. In our time, despite living in an affluent culture, many feel a fundamental insecurity. This has much to do with feeling secure about the self — who we fundamentally are.

Why Do People Crave Home So Much?

Certainly, a sense of security has much to do with the sense of feeling importantly connected and valued by significant others. As research by Dr. Katherine Carnelly and colleagues at University of Southampton, and much research world-wide shows, positive connection with others, positive attachment, enhances the sense of security and the felt perception of well-being. We need healthy, strong attachment to others for many dimensions of our well-being, and it is often good depth psychotherapy seeks to enhance a positive sense of attachment. Yet there is another dimension, even beyond that.

Symbolism of Home: Grounding in the Secure Reality of the Self

Perhaps our preoccupation with real estate is actually an expression of concern for the self. Jungians stress that the house or home is often a symbol of the entire self or the personality of the dreaming individual. If we take that possibility seriously, then, on an unconscious level, our massive preoccupation with homes and real estate might be a reflection of a great concern about our individual selves, and feeling secure in our own being. Might such a concern relate to questions of our meaning, purpose, destiny and vocation? Is our “inner house” on a secure foundation?

In the remaining parts of this series, I hope to examine these questions in detail.

The work of depth psychotherapy is fundamentally with the well-being of the Self, the entirety of the individual personality and the individual’s journey toward wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How to Let Go of the Past and Still Love Your Life Journey

August 21st, 2017 · how to let go of the past

Many of us struggle at some point with the question of how to let go of the past, and move on with our lives.

how to let go of the pastOften (but certainly not always!) involves major life transitions, and is intimately bound up with the question “How can I value and affirm my life as it is in the present?” Such questions often come as we’re dealing with major losses or disappointments.
Life can often lead to circumstances that we did not plan on, and do not welcome. How can we come to accept them?

The Life I Wanted

Often we envisage the future, imagining ourselves and our lives in a certain way. Sometimes life events can flood in, and partially, or even completely, take this possibility away. Or, sometimes, we already seem to have what we want from life, and then events rip that life right out of our hands. Loss of a lover, loss of a career, disability, or decline in health exemplify the kind of events that can emotionally wrench us away from the past, and make us feel that, as L.P. Hartley put it, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

Am I Willing to Learn How to Let Go of the Past?

In such situations, the advice of friends and loved will be, “let it go; just move on with your life.” Most often, we already intellectually know this, understanding this to be the right course. The painful and difficult question is: how?

Can I actually decide to let the past go? Am I capable of it? It’s essential to have as much self-understanding as possible about this.

If I’m finding it difficult, or even seemingly impossible to let go of the past, I need to understand why. Is it simply too painful to let go of what was once cherished? What makes it hurt so much? Could it be that my identity, my understanding of who I am, is fundamentally bound up with the past?

Finding Ways to Express the Pain

Our instinct may be to run from pain. But it may be more healing, and actually less painful longer term, to find a way to express that pain, and communicate it to ourselves and others. Writing or journalling may be valuable for some. For others, getting beyond words, and creating visual art, or collages, or music may help most. For some, creating a ritual to commemorate and express the pain or loss may be the most beneficial thing.

Focus on the Present: Can I Accept What Is?

What might take the greatest courage would be to look for signs of life in the present. Is there anything in the present that gives me joy or hope, even if just slightly? That reveals life opening up to me, even just a little bit? If so, can I try and understand that, and be open to what seeks to emerge? At this point, depth psychotherapy for depression or anxiety may help very concretely.

how to let go of the past

The Image of the Broken Pine

In his book Yardwork, Hamilton, Ontario author Daniel Coleman writes movingly of a pine tree in his backyard. Damaged in a powerful storm, the entire top portion of the tree has long been destroyed. As a result, the tree grows in an unusual manner, with its remaining upper branches growing disproportionately large and curling up toward the light in the space left by the destroyed upper branches. The tree doesn’t look the way we expect a pine tree to look. It doesn’t meet our expectations; to us, it looks irredeemably broken. Yet, Coleman gradually recognizes and acknowledges two truths about his tree: 1) it is alive, and, actually, full of health and vitality; and, 2) it is growing.

The image of the tree powerfully symbolizes the complete human personality. Appearing in dreams, it often represents the fullness of what we are. The image of a tree once damaged and broken, but vital, healthy and growing symbolizes a human personality that has been wounded, perhaps by a major life transition or midlife or later life transition. This might be a life or personality not in accord with our pre-conceived ideas of what life “ought to be”. But, nature often doesn’t do what humans would expect, or consider optimal. Yet, it often contains life, vitality and the fullness of being.

This challenge to accept ourselves in letting go of the past embodies the radical self-acceptance that depth psychotherapy sees as fundamental to healing, and to the individual’s journey to wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Solitude vs Loneliness in the Second Half of Life

August 14th, 2017 · solitude vs loneliness

The question of “solitude vs loneliness” is vital to us in the second half of life, although it’s really with us for our whole lives.

solitude vs loneliness

None of us wants to be terribly lonely. Yet, sometimes being on our own in solitude can be some of the most important times in our lives. What actually makes the difference between loneliness and solitude? And how, especially, do these things affect us during mid-life transition and later?

Loneliness vs Solitude in Later Years

Recently, CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition aired a program on “Grey Divorce”, interviewing a number of women who had divorced after the age of 50. The program noted that, unlike other segments of the population, the divorce rate is increasing for over-50s.

The interviewed women provided extremely valuable insight. It is shocking to realize how utterly lonely some of the women were in their marriages — of 30, 40 or more years in duration. It was striking that, even after the painful end of their marriages, many of the women felt more fulfilled, more free and more alive than they ever had in their marriages.

What do these experiences show us about loneliness vs solitude, and about meaningful life and fulfillment?

loneliness vs solitude

Loneliness and the Second Half of Life

What is it to be lonely? What is it to be in solitude? Freud, ever the extrovert’s extrovert, was sure that solitude was linked to pain and anxiety. Much of our society would agree, as many seem to do everything in their power to avoid quiet and being alone. Yet contemporary research seems to indicate that, while loneliness can damage our thinking capacity and even our physical health, solitude of the right kind can actually strengthen individuals. As Jack Fong, a sociology researcher and solitude advocate at CalState Polytechnic puts it, “When people take these moments to explore their solitude, not only will they be forced to confront who they are, they just might learn a little about how to out-maneuver some of the toxicity that surrounds them in a social setting.”

This view accords with a long tradition in depth psychotherapy and Jungian analysis of exploring solitude as a means of engaging the self.

We Need to Get Beyond Loneliness, to be Ourselves

In the second half of life, individuals’ needs vary greatly. For many, it may very well be that more and better social interaction with others is exactly their greatest need. Neuroscience shows clearly that nature has designed human beings to be profoundly social. We know very well that good social interaction is essential to the full and proper development of the human individual, in the developing years, but also as we move through our life journey.

For many in the second half of life, finding good, quality social interaction will be a very key part of the “individuation process” — the term depth psychotherapy uses for the whole process of our becoming who we’re fundamentally meant to be. In order to access the parts of the personality that are seeking to blossom and come into their own, it’s necessary to experience in-depth interaction with others. All the thoughts and feelings and ups and downs of social relating expand our capacity for eros, for related connection, with others.

Yet, We Need Solitude, As Well

Yet simultaneously, we also actually need solitude! Just as we need to exercise and expand our capacity for connection with others, we need to expand the capacity for connection with ourselves. We shun loneliness, but midlife transition may call us to a connection in new ways to our own inner being, and to listening to the voices of parts of ourselves we may never have witnessed before. Thus do we become grounded in the sense of meaning connected to our own individual lives.

As Mark Blinch, echoing Jack Fong, tells us, “The difference between solitude as rejuvenation and solitude as suffering is the quality of self-reflection that one can generate while in it.” Or, as C.G. Jung himself said, “Solitude is a fount of healing that makes my life worth living…. The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.”

For depth psychotherapy, the capacity for self-reflection and solitude, and the capacity for beneficial social connection are both essential aspects of the journey towards wholeness, and the uncovering of individual identity.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

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© 2017 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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