Journeying Toward Wholeness

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The Symbolism of Spring: Approaches to Renewal, Part 2

March 26th, 2018 · symbolism of spring

The coming of spring affects us deeply!  We see the symbolism of spring in music, literature and art, with its emphasis on our personal renewal.  

symbolism of spring

Joy of Spring!

As we saw in Part 1 of this series, the yearning for renewal is often a key motivator for people entering psychotherapy.  The symbolism of spring powerfully represents the radical renewal of the whole of the natural world. 
A wide variety of the world’s religious traditions involve myths of resurrection and renewal, the rites of which are very often associated with the Spring.  This is certainly true of the Jewish tradition of Passover, the Christian Easter tradition, and of the ancient Greek myth of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of the bounty of nature as expressed in agriculture. 
As archetypal psychologist Dr. James Hillman tells us, Persephone, Demeter’s only child is fated to spend half the year as a prisoner in the realm of Hades, the Lord of death, and her time there corresponds to Winter.  But then she is free to return to the surface of the world, and with her, she brings the blessing of the life and vitality of Spring.  Hillman views this myth as weighted with great significance for our own personal life journeys.
symbolism of spring

Marble panel representing the abduction of Persephone by Hades, ca. 190 AD

Spring, Vitality …and Renewal

The symbolism of Spring is associated with, not only a radical renewal of perspective, but also with an actual restoration of life to the world.  In Spring, the whole world seems to rejoice in an overwhelming new vitality.  The symbolism of Spring reaches us so deeply, because it touches the deep desire in all of us for renewal, and for the opportunity to find the fullness of experience of life that some part of us senses as a powerful potential within us.

Spring has returned.  The earth is like a child that knows poems.

~Rainer Maria Rilke

The Yearning for Spring in Our Lives

The symbolism of Spring beckons to us with the possibility of renewal.  It is often at times in our life journey when we feel a profound stuckness and inertness that we yearn most powerfully for such renewal.  At such times, the symbolism of Spring speaks to us most powerfully — in art, in imagination, the life of dreams.  It is precisely when our outlook is filled with the sterility of Winter that we find that the symbolism of Spring beckons to us most powerfully.

Humans are very powerful in many ways, but we cannot create Spring.  We have to wait for it to emerge, and it comes forth from the operation of forces in nature so titanic that they dwarf the efforts of even the greatest human powers.

The Symbolism of Spring: Waiting for the Emergence

So it is in the journey of the psyche, which is often expressed in the work that individuals do in depth psychotherapy.  There are things that we can do to look after ourselves, techniques that we can utilize to help with depression or anxiety, or with, say, creating appropriate boundaries for ourselves.  These are things over which we have a significant amount of conscious control.  Yet, beyond this, there is also a power for healing from deep within the human psyche that no amount of our conscious control and willpower can coerce.  That particular healing element will emerge in its own time, and all we can do is to remove obstacles to its appearance, and wait upon its emergence.  But, if we can do that, it does emerge.  This is what Jung referred to as “the self-healing properties of the psyche”.

In depth psychotherapy work, the emergence of this Spring of renewal in the human psyche is firmly connected with the unexplored aspects of the personality, in what Jung often called “the undiscovered Self”.  The journey of the individual in therapy leads us into vital and hitherto unexplored potential for renewal.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Rennett Stowe (Creative Commons Licence) ; Sharon Mollerus (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How Can I Change My Life? Approaches to Renewal, Part 1

March 19th, 2018 · how can I change my life

The question “How can I change my life?” often has a prominent role in people’s decision to commence depth psychotherapy.

how can I change my life

Readiness to flower?…

Whether people ask this question explicitly as they explore the possibility of psychotherapy, it usually tends to be there, hovering in the background in peoples’ minds.  People who come to therapy are looking for something different in their lives, for some kind of renewal.  They want to feel that there might be new possibilities for their lives, rather than the same old patterns and routines that they may have experienced to this point.

Receptivity

However, a key question for us may be, “How much do you really want to experience change?”  It can be that people feel very positively about the idea of change in the abstract, or about the fantasy of a changed life.  However, the experience of change, or the process necessary to create change, might have aspects that don’t feel as easy or appealing, or that involve some difficulty or hardship.

Can we really be receptive to changing our personal reality?

Control

One of the things that human beings really value is a sense of control, the sense that our situation is understandable and predictable.  The human brain, and particularly the part of it known as the frontal lobe, contains our executive function, which is to say the part of us that wants to plan and execute and make things understandable and controllable.  This is associated with what Jungians and others call the ego, the part of the human mind that is the centre of consciousness.  The ego is certainly not the whole of our personality — but it sure likes to feel like it knows what’s going on, what the score is, and that it is in control.

The Thing about Change, Though, is…

…that it often requires us to more into unfamiliar ways of looking at things, and unfamiliar patterns of behaviour.  The answer to the question, “How can I change my life?” may well take us into territory where, at least initially, the ego is certainly not in control, and where it has to abandon familiar ways of looking at things, and conventional answers to key questions we may have relied on our whole lives.

how can i change my life

Identity, Lost and Found

Consider someone who is about to retire.  This person may have defined his or her identity for decades in terms of work — which she or he is now required to relinquish.  The ego may cling tightly to such an identification!  It may well wish to cling to it, even after the person’s work role is long gone.  Yet an identification with an extinct job description may be crippling, and may result in a huge loss of happiness, meaning and self esteem, even anxiety and depression.  Life may be calling the individual to a new identity and meaning.  Yet it is only in doing what the ego finds so hard and letting go of certainty, familiarity and predictability, and embarking on a journey of discovery of unfamiliar possibilities and “unexplored territory”, that a new identity, and a new sense of purpose and meaning, can be found.

Depth psychotherapy, particularly in its Jungian form, has as its goal the exploration of possibilities and identities in the unexplored aspects of the personality, with the goal of finding meaning, vitality and unanticipated possibility in what Jung called “the undiscovered Self.  This is the essence of the “journey toward wholeness“.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:  || UggBoy♥UggGirl || (Creative Commons Licence) ; Loïc (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Help Me Sleep! Exploring and Getting Past Insomnia

March 12th, 2018 · help me sleep

“Help me sleep!” and “How can I get past poor sleep?” — these questions reflect the epidemic of insomnia in our contemporary world.

help me sleep

Like most modern western societies, Canada has a sleep problem.  Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep to function properly.  Yet more than a quarter of Canadians get less than that minimal 7 hour a night figure.  Sixty per cent of Canadians report feeling tired most of the time, according to a report by the World Association of Sleep Medicine.
The economic costs of sleep deprivation are also very well documented.  Even more disturbing are the health consequences.  Chronic sleep deprivation contributes to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke along with other health conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease and a weakened immune system. Both amount and quality of sleep have been shown to affect appetite and weight control.
Yet, there’s an even more profound aspect to this issue.  Depth psychotherapists are aware that it is symptomatic of our overall attitude to the world, and to the way in which we relate to, and look after ourselves, in the broadest sense of the word.

Why are We Dealing with This Issue?

Why are we, as a society. collectively crying “Help me sleep!”?  On one level, this question could be answered very pragmatically — and it is very important that Jungians and others offer concrete assistance to people with the pragmatics of this issue.

From a pragmatic, “what I should do” perspective, it’s worthwhile considering the following sleep-enhancing measures.

  • You should develop a relaxing evening ritual.  You should begin to gear down and eliminate stress the closer you get to lights out.
  • Find a routine that includes a predictable daily sleep schedule.  This should include consistent waking and rising times.
  • Reserve your bed for sleep.  Avoid stimulating activities, such as eating or using screen devices.
  • Keep electronics out of your bedroom.
  • Keep your sleeping room dark and quiet — and relatively cool.
  • Get regular exercise.

This is not a comprehensive list, but these are some measures worth considering.  Yet, from a broader perspective, it’s important that we also consider the meaning of insomnia for the whole person, and for the whole of the psyche.

The Broader Meaning of Insomnia

When we think of what the type of insomnia that we confront in our time really means, neuroscience helps us to see the root of the problem very clearly.  Research has shown that shift workers are especially prone to sleep disorders, because the arbitrary and artificial sleep regime required by shift work disorders the body clock or circadian rhythm.  Neuroscience also shows that the most restorative type of sleep, “rapid eye movement” or REM sleep gets disrupted by insomnia.  As Jungian neuropsychoanalyst Margaret Wilkinson tells us, this kind of sleep is associated with deep dreaming.  Such dreaming in REM is essential to maintaining the centers of the brain that are associated with learning and with processing our experience.  REM sleep also enables the mind to process emotional states, especially fear, anger, elation — and particularly anxiety.

help me sleep

Brain activity in non-REM and REM sleep

Actually, insomnia fundamentally concerns our relationship to our bodies, and to the deep parts of the brain that are associated with the unconscious mind.  In order to gain a sense of fulfillment and meaning in our lives, depth psychotherapists know that it’s essential to find connection with our bodily rhythms, such as our circadian sleep rhythms, and also with the unconscious mind, the part of our mind beyond our conscious control encountered in the dream experiences of REM sleep.  Both getting what I need to “help me sleep” and the process of depth psychotherapy have as their goal re-connection with the body’s rhythms and with our own deepest nature — all part of the “journey toward wholeness“.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS:  xnot (Creative Commons Licence) ;  (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, OntaWIthout rio (near Mississauga)

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How Do I Cope with Loneliness? — A Very Individual Question

March 5th, 2018 · cope loneliness

In our era, people in record numbers are struggling with the question of how to cope with loneliness. At this time, we can genuinely say that loneliness is an epidemic, often associated with anxiety and depression.

cope loneliness

PHOTO: Clàudia Matges

But what is loneliness?  We can find some general truths, yet it means very different things to different people.  It may involve an actual experience of actually being isolated from people.  Yet, as many individuals in 2018 know, it is very possible to feel absolutely isolated from others in a crowded city, on the subway, or in the mall.  In fact, you may be far less likely to be lonely in a small, remote Newfoundland outport than you are in the midst of a huge city!

Loneliness as Archetypal Pain

Neuroscience researchers such as UCLA’s Naomi Eisenberger have shown that the brain reacts to loneliness in much the same way as it relates to actual physical pain.  Researchers characterize the pain of loneliness and the accompanying stress state as something that has evolved in us to renew and maintain the connections that we need to survive and prosper.

Depth psychotherapy of the Jungian variety characterizes loneliness as a fundamental, archetypal pain.  They would also connect the state of loneliness with the drive within us for eros, for relationship and connection, to understand and to be understood.  (I wrote about eros in a recent blog post).

Loneliness, Self-Sufficiency and Solitude

There is a place for solitude, and all of us experience times when we want to be alone.  This is what we mean when we refer to solitude.  People’s needs for social connection and affirmation vary greatly.  But when we experience actual loneliness, it hurts — sometimes a great deal.

Sometimes, people feel very alone, because they have a hard time tolerating their own company.  They may experience intense anxiety or even anguish when they’re alone.  This may result from faulty or disrupted connections with mothers or other caregivers when they were young.  Or, it may result from disturbing thoughts that emerge when they are alone, that may clash with the way they usually perceive life or themselves.

Sometimes people feel alone because of major life transitions that make them feel outside of the mainstream of life.  Situations of major physical illness or grief can often be examples of this.  Sometimes people feel profoundly different from those who surround them, which creates its own kind of especially deep loneliness.  Or individuals may feel that, despite being connected to many people, they aren’t actually seen for who they are, or they are unable to trust that these others actually “have their back”.

The forms of loneliness are more numerous than I can list here.  Yet one common denominator that they all share, is the capacity to produce immense pain in the life of the individual.

A Creative Response to Loneliness

Much depends on whether the individual can find viable ways to connect with others over the divide that loneliness creates.  The journey to acheive this is a very individual one.  It often involves much self-discovery, deep level compassion for oneself and discovery of creative resources in oneself, together with finding the courage and affirmation to move beyond old patterns.

cope loneliness

The Capacity to Cope with Loneliness — and to Connect with Others

Loneliness is a fundamental aspect of human experience, encountered in many different ways. It might involve actual physical social isolation.  Yet there is also the “lonely crowd”phenomenon, where one is surrounded by others, even interacting with them extensively, but still not experiencing “being seen” or being “taken in” by them.  It also includes existential loneliness, the awareness of being fundamentally alone with ourselves.

Depth psychotherapy at its best addresses the fundamental loneliness that an individual experiences in his or her life, and can often offer help.  One of the most important aspects of depth psychotherapy in its Jungian form is a safe environment for the individual to be seen and acknowledged in their human uniqueness.  It can also offer very concrete assistance in helping the individual to reach out in relationship and connection across the human divides we experience in our lives.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst

PHOTOS: Clàudia Matges (Creative Commons Licence) ; R. Crap Mariner (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, OntaWIthout rio (near Mississauga)

 

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