Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Encountering Major Changes in Life During COVID-19

July 13th, 2020 · changes in life

Major changes in life are some of life’s most important events. Many people are continuing to experience such changes right in the midst of COVID-19.

Often referred to as major life transitions, major changes in life occur as a regular part of our life journey. These types of events or life experiences are often characterized by a strong sense of “before” and “after” when we look back upon them from a later point in our lives. As we tell ourselves our life story, we might say, “Before this event occurred, I was (fill in the blank), but after, I was different”, or, “I changed when I went through XYZ.

The Life Events That Change Us

To what types of life events or life experiences am I referring? There’s a very long list, but it would certainly include the following, for adults:

  • getting married;
  • getting separated or divorced;
  • having a baby;
  • undergoing a miscarriage
  • deciding to change careers;
  • losing a job;
  • major changes in job requirements or the workplace;
  • retirement;
  • moving to a new city;
  • bereavement, losing a close relative;
  • religious or spiritual crisis; and,
  • many, many more.

So, what happens if an individual is going through a major change in life, during this COVID-19 period, when it can feel like so much is changing already? It can be extremely demanding for people to go through a major life event at the same time that we, as a society, are more or less involuntarily going through this other major life event, that we call the COVID-19 lockdown period. How are people who have to go through both at the same time impacted?

Such individuals can certainly encounter a great deal of stress, which can manifest as anxiety and / or depression. If, in addition to the pressures and complications of the lockdown period, an individual is confronting another crisis that they cannot avoid, the demands can seem very nearly overwhelming.

In some cases, the COVID-19 crisis is even triggering other major changes in life. For instance, the experience of lockdown has certainly led to marital tensions, and sometimes, marital breakdown. The experience of isolation has also caused very serious re-evaluations of life priorities, in the form of individuals realizing the need to change career or vocation in some way, and, in some cases, has led to individuals confronting major spiritual, existential and moral awakenings.

Beyond Overwhelm

Individuals confronting major life changes in this time can find it very easy to stay in a state of emotional denial. It can be easy for the individual to tell herself that the major changes in life that she is confronting are not really that significant, and to try and “keep things on the back burner”. This is often the way that the psyche of an overwhelmed individual tries to deal with the situation: it dissociates, or cuts itself off from the emotional impact of the challenge that the individual faces, and tries to “soldier on”.

However, things can easily get to the point where the individual can no longer soldier on without acknowledging the emotional burden created by the marital breakdown, or the job loss, or the feelings of loneliness, isolation and meaninglessness. This can manifest in a crisis where the individual is simply failing to cope, or in substance abuse issues, or it can show up as physical issues, or even as severe illness. To keep moving forward in the life journey, rather than stuck at an impasse, something else is needed.

What Life is Asking Now

One useful way of looking at major life changes is to think about the question that life is asking of us at this particular moment. The questions that life has brought forward for many people in this time of COVID-19 are large indeed.

Depth psychotherapy can be a very effective way to help individuals to face the questions that life asks. It can provide invaluable holding support as they seek out workable ways to move through major changes in life, in a way that has integrity, while remaining true to the fundamental identity of the individual.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Photo by Wicker Paradise on Flickr.com (Creative Commons Licence)

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Canada Day, Attachment and the Meaning of Home

July 6th, 2020 · meaning of home

July 1, Canada Day, gave us the chance to reflect on the meaning of being Canadian—and on the meaning of home.

Finding a sense of home is something that is front and center for many people at this present time. If “home” is the place where we feel most secure and safest, many of us have found that sense of security to be challenged by lockdown requirements, and the many changes and demands that coping with the pandemic has brought to us. It’s a time when many of the conventional securities that we have taken for granted, such as the ability to go to our workplaces, the chance to go to a cafe or a restaurant, or the opportunity to send our children to school, have all be brought into question. It’s a time when, for many people, many of the most familiar aspects of their home life and community have felt somewhat, well…broken.

Forget Your Perfect Offering…

Against this background, the Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper worked with prominent Canadian musicians, singers and dancers to create a unique Canada Day programming offering: a series of interpretations by seven Canadian dance companies of Canadian poet/songwriter Leonard Cohen’s 1992 song, Anthem.

Like much of Mr. Cohen’s work, Anthem is an uncommon combination of a sobering realism about the human condition with a form of surprising yet very vibrant hope. The lyrics are well known to many, and seem to have risen to prominence on social media as particularly speaking to our circumstances in the midst of the pandemic:

Ring the bells that still can ring, /

Forget your perfect offering. / There is a crack, a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen, Anthem

Cohen urges us to realize that the world we inhabit rarely, if ever, matches up to our perfectionistic ideals—and that, in fact, we don’t measure up to our own standards of perfection. He bids us to realize that there is “a crack in everything”, yet then he follows up with this remarkable statement, that this broken-ness, cracked-ness, is in fact “how the light gets in”. This light that he refers to is presumably both the light of conscious awareness of ourselves, and of the world, and also the light of hope.

Accepting Our Limitations, and the World’s

How extraordinary that the artistic guiding lights at the Globe and Mail would conclude that this is the right message to deliver on our nation’s founding day! Usually, we would think of nations’ birthdays as times when a nation’s citizens would engage in a considerable amount of self-congratulation for the wonderful contributions that their nation has made to civilization, or their nation’s stirling character, military and economic strength and all-around wonderfulness. Yet, the words of Cohen’s song give us almost the opposite:

You can add up the parts: you won’t get the sum /

You can strike up the march—there is no drum /

Everyone, everyone to love will come, but as a refugee.

There is a very sober, dry eyed realism in these lines. Yet, as mentioned above, Cohen also gives us his deeply courageous hope. In the midst of the fallibility and imperfection that constitutes human life as we all experience it, Cohen affirms that “everyone to love will come”. Opinions might differ as to what he means here, but my view is that this is rooted in Cohen’s deep spirituality, and his conviction that what we need is a deep compassion for ourselves, and for others, who, like us, are dealing with their own woundedness and broken-ness. He expresses the same grounded but ultimately optimistic perspective in another of his songs when he declares that,

Love’s the only engine of survival.

Feeling at Home

C.G. Jung held a similar perspective when he stated that,

The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook on life. 

Jung recognized, correctly in my opinion, that being able to accept and love oneself, in the midst of one’s broken-ness, fallibility and strengths is a key requirement for being able to accept and act compassionately toward others, in their flawed and human state. In fact, Jung tells us that this is “the epitome of a whole outlook on life.” In other words, to be able to accept others, and to feel at home in the world, we must first come to terms with who we are, and must be able to accept ourselves in our entirety.

To be on the journey of self-acceptance, which is the same as the journey toward wholeness is to embark on the work of a lifetime. To come to terms with, and to accept and love who we really are is also to get at the root of many forms of human depression and anxiety.

The work of self-acceptance, and of finding a true sense of home in the world can be greatly assisted by working in a safe, secure, accepting depth psychotherapy relationship, whether in-person or online.

Wishing you the very best on your journey,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst


© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

PHOTOS:

Photo by Wicker Paradise on Flickr.com (Creative Commons Licence)

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