Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

Creative in Life: Finding the Wellspring Within Ourselves

January 31st, 2022 · creative in life

How do we find and stay with that which is creative in life? Many times, it seems so easy for life to get submerged in routine and rote procedure. This can be true at any age, but people often feel it particularly acutely around the time of midlife transition, or later, at the time of late life transition.

Through Creative Writing, For Instance! (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

There’s a deep natural desire to express who we fundamentally are, in some way, shape or form. That desire to be creative in life is, as Jungians say, archetypal. Human beings inherently are creators.

In an earlier post, I discussed psychoanalyst Thomas Ogden’s insight that

To be alive (in more than an operational sense) is to be forever in the process of making things of one’s own

This is true, or, at least, it has the potential to be true. Every single act that we do has at least the potential to be creative, and this includes the most mundane and seemingly routine of activities—if they are infused with a conscious and creative awareness. This is what Ogden seems to mean when he references the idea of “making things of one’s own”.

Yet, what is it to “make things of one’s own”? You and I can probably think of times in our lives when we’ve done something creative, and there’s been a sense of beauty and meaning about it. What exactly goes on inside of us when we do something creative?

What is Creativity?

What exactly is it to be creative in life? When we’re creative, in the sense of genuinely making things of our own, there’s a sense of being fully involved and “expressing” ourselves—letting some part of ourselves go out into the world.

There is also often a sense of being fully alive. We can create in an incredible range of ways, whether it’s a watercolour painting, a poem, a beautiful garden or a visually beautiful and wonderfully flavoured meal. However we do it, there is also a sense of participating in something that is bigger or deeper than our everyday ego.

Jung calls this sense of connection “living a symbolic life”:

Only the symbolic life can express the need of the soul – the daily need of the soul, mind you! And because people have no such thing, they can never step out of this… banal, grinding life in which they are “nothing but.” . . .

When Jung is using the word “soul” here, he is not using it in the religious sense of the word. Rather he is referring to connection with the life-giving and creative parts of ourselves deep within our unconscious.

if you doubt that there is a creative part of you in the unconscious, my strong recommendation would be to explore your dreams. Nor is it only Jungians who are aware of this. Consider these words from the rigorous and empiricist neuroscientist Dr. Matthew Walker, Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science, UC Berkeley:

From [the] dreaming process… have come some of the most revolutionary leaps forward in human progress… We also know of precious artistic gifts that have arisen from dreams. Consider Paul McCartney’s origination of the songs “Yesterday” and “Let it Be”. Both came to McCartney in his sleep…. The creative muse of dreaming has also sparked countless literary ideas and epics [including Mary Shelley]…. Then there is the French surrealist poet St. Paul Boux [who] before retiring every night… is said to have hung a sign on his bedroom door that read “DO NOT DISTURB: POET AT WORK.”.

I wonder what your dreams might be able to show you about the greater, creative part of yourself. What might want to be expressed?

If We Turn Away from Our Creative Self…

None of this is to say that dreams are the only source or wellspring of creativity in our lives. The unconscious dimension of who we are, and our connection with the broader archetypal unconscious, can appear creatively in many ways.

Yet, for all kinds of reasons, people choose to turn away from, or repress that inner creative impulse. So, what happens to us when we do that?

When we leave behind the creative in life, we’re left with just being alive “in an operational sense”, as Ogden puts it. People end up stuck in “the banal, grinding life in which they are ‘nothing but'”, as Jung phrases it. Nothing but the dull plodding part of themselves that meets the expectations of others. The socially conditioned part that ticks the boxes and pays the rent, without hope for anything of greater significance, or that has any magic.

There is no one way to express our creativity. But we need to find a creative dimension to our lives if we’re to gain a sense of meaning and value.

Our Power to be Creative in Life

There is great value in exploring the kind of creativity that wants to emerge from your own real life. There’s almost no limit on the form that might take. It could be quilting, stand-up comedy, cooking creatively, writing that novel, or creating that landscape painting. Or, any of an almost infinite list of other things that draw you or call to you, in your uniqueness. The important thing is that we start to listen to our own unique selves.

Sometimes when people are dealing with depression or anxiety it can be of great help to find a form of expression that brings out of us what’s going on inside. This might be drawing, painting, collage, working with clay—any of quite a number of things.

A supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can be of tremendous value when we are seeking to explore our creativity. Having the opportunity to open up the creative side of ourselves within the container of an affirming analytical relationship can be tremendously helpful and healing

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner


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

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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If Your Life is a Journey, How’s the Trip Going?

January 24th, 2022 · life is a journey

I can imagine some readers thinking, “Really, Brian? ‘Life is a Journey’? How cliche can you get?” Yet, it’s important for us to closely examine this metaphor of life as a journey. If we look, we find it everywhere. Why is that?

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

The idea that “life is a journey” is certainly widespread. We now know that it appears almost universally in human existence, throughout a vast array of cultures. As far back as 1980, George Lakoff, Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at UC Berkeley wrote about “metaphors we live by”. These are metaphors that are so fundamental, they pretty much structure the way that we take in life. Certainly one such metaphor is this image of life as a journey. If “life as a journey” is so fundamental in human life, how does it affect you or me, in our daily living?

Why is This Important?

Viewing our lives as a journey has important implications for psychotherapy, and for the way we see our individual selves. In thought-provoking reflections, Dr. Connie Zweig, a well-known depth psychotherapist points out that, much of today’s psychotherapy

…is a science, not an art. It’s about the brain…and meds, meds, and more meds…. And it’s about behaviour—brief, cognitive-behavioral therapy, which posits that human beings have no soul, that we need only change our thinking to relieve symptoms…. In the end therapy [is] no longer a… journey guided by the precept “Know thyself”. [Italics mine]

Connie Zweig, The Inner Work of Age

Please understand that I am not suggesting that scientific knowledge of the way the brain works is anything other than essential to psychotherapy. Nor am I suggesting that cognitive-behavioural therapy should be completely discarded. It has many useful applications. Rather, what is important here is the question of how we view the human individual.

The kind of fundamental story that we tell ourselves about ourselves and our lives makes a great deal of difference to therapy, and to our individual experience. It is possible to see ourselves as a very complex bag of chemicals and neural and physiological reactions, with no real unified sense of self or identity. But this fundamental metaphor that “life is a journey” gives us a sense of being a unified being, a person, who is going somewhere definite. This imparts a dignity and coherence to our lives that is essential if we are to experience a sense of meaning in our lives.

Jungians view the metaphor of “life is a journey” as something that is a fundamental part of the human psyche. It is what Jungians would refer to as an archetype.

Experiencing the Parts of the Journey

A journey has a beginning, a destination, and a variety of stages and transitions in between. It can be full of twists and turns, or it may go on the same relatively straight path for a long time before making a turn. When we examine it, we can see why a journey is such a powerful metaphor for our lives.

Very often, there are stages in a journey. In a similar way, there are stages in our lives. We may go on for substantial periods in our lives where relatively little changes, and then find ourselves confronted by a major life transition, like entering adulthood, the midlife transition or the transition to later life.

As in an outer, physical journey, we may get off the path that we’re trying to travel. As when we’re physically lost, there may be a process involved in finding our way back to our actual path. For Jungian depth psychotherapy, this path is the path of the Self, the expression of who we most fundamentally are.

Telling My Story as if Life is a Journey

The path traveled may offer many chances and changes, but there is something incredibly powerful in the realization that it is a path, that life is a journey. For many people, this sense of “journey” may be filled with religious or spiritual meaning, or a sense of something “meant to be” or fateful. There is something fundamentally life-giving in the awareness that the particular challenge that I face now is part of a coherent story. Each of us faces the challenge of finding and reminding ourselves of our own particular story. This is what Jung refers to as our “personal myth”.

Working with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can be an excellent way to gain understanding of our personal journey, and to develop a connection with our personal myth. As individuals work on the situations in their lives, they often develop a sense of pattern, emerging connections and value and respect for where they have been in their lives.

With every good wish for your personal journey.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner


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

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Getting Past Our Shadow Projection

January 17th, 2022 · shadow projection

Shadow projection is a term you see a lot in self help books these days. It’s been popularized by writers like Connie Zweig, who emphasize the importance of “shadow work”. It really is important for us, especially right now.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

To understand “shadow projection”, we first have to understand “shadow”. As Jungian analyst Daryl Sharp tells us, the Jungian term “shadow” refers to “hidden or unconscious aspects of oneself, both good and bad, which the ego has either repressed or never recognized”. Jung referred to the shadow more bluntly as “that which we do not wish to be.”

This part of ourselves which is unacknowledged, either because we’ve repressed it, or because we just don’t know about it, is incredibly important. We all have such a part of ourselves, no matter how “conscious” or “self aware” we might be. The fact that the conscious mind doesn’t acknowledge this dimension of ourselves doesn’t mean that this part of us has no influence upon us. As a matter of fact, the influence of “the shadow” on our lives is enormous.

The shadow can impact us in a wide range of ways. Just as an example, shadow is often very visible when someone is undergoing the midlife transition. People at this stage of life may well connect with parts of themselves that they had completely forgotten about, or which they didn’t ever know were a part of their makeup. This can be very demanding for the ego. The ensuing interaction may take us to places we had never dreamed of going: out of marriages, careers and spiritual/religious commitments, and into entirely new ones, to name but a few possibilities. I mention this solely to illustrate the power of the psychological forces connected with shadow.

Keeping this awareness in mind, I’d like to consider the nature and power of shadow projection. Projection, according to Sharp is:

An automatic process whereby contents of one’s own unconscious are perceived to be in others.

Jungian Andrew Samuels elaborates on this:

Difficult emotions and unacceptable parts of the personality may be located in a person or object external to the subject. The problematic content is thereby controlled and the individual feels a (temporary) release and sense of well being. (Samuels et al, Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis)

So, shadow projection is when we unconsciously take the contents of our own shadow, and perceive them as belonging to another person or group of people. We take muck out of our own backyard, as it were, fling it onto someone else’s face, and are convinced that’s the way they actually look!

Mud, flung onto a wall! (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Dangers of Shadow Projection

As may be readily apparent, shadow projection is a very dangerous thing to do to others. It is also an extremely dangerous thing to do to yourself.

When we project our shadow on others, we see our own characteristics as being part of the other person. Let’s say we have two people who work in the same office. One [“the projector”] projects on the other [“the projectee”] that that person is lazy and unmotivated. This may be because “the projectee” has some other unrelated quality, such as a vague resemblance to someone “the projector” knew in the past—or a strange and unfamiliar-sounding last name. In that situation “the projectee” will particularly lose out, because they may well not have this characteristic at all. If “the projector” is a close working colleague, or worse, a supervisor, this may be quite damaging.

However, let’s not lose sight of the damage “the projector” does to themselves with this projection. The projection of laziness or lack of motivation onto another person, serves to make “the projector” less anxious about something in their own psyche. For instance, this individual may have a very strong investment in seeing themselves as a “good employee” who always meets the expectations and escalating demands of their employer. Yet they may be ignoring or repressing a part of themselves that actually deeply resents the demands of the employer, finds them excessive and wants to push back and assert boundaries.

This feeling may well be an essential and important part of “the projector” to which they need to listen. By projecting it, they get rid of some anxiety, it’s true. Yet, this can be at the cost of losing vitality and authenticity.

Facing Up to Shadow

It can be easy to run from our shadow, and shadow projection is one of the most common ways that we do this. It can be so extensive that it turns into a way of life. People can spend large parts of their life avoiding shadow through projection. They can pay a very heavy price for this, in that they fail to acknowledge essential parts of who they really are.

Shadow and Others

We need to be aware that shadow projection can creep into all of our interactions with others in profound ways. We need to stay alert to its possible presence in individual-to-individual interactions, but that is not all. Shadow projection can have an enormous impact on the way that whole groups are perceived by other groups in our society. This can have a profound impact on business, politics, and even the overall social cohesion of a society.

In our era, social differences on issues can be so polarizing. We see this in the tensions, stigmatization and vilification surrounding issues like “pro vax vs. anti vax” during COVID. How easy it is to lose sight of people in their individual uniqueness, and pigeon-hole them through unfair and demeaning stereotypes! In this era of social media, this is another type of “epidemic” of which all need to be aware.

Dealing with our shadow projection, and doing shadow work can be a great deal easier when we don’t have to do it in isolation. A close, supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can often be of tremendous support in this work. If you feel that you’re dealing with issues of shadow and shadow projection, I strongly recommend you seek out support from a qualified Jungian analyst.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner


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

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New Year: Building Resilience and Meaning in Uncertainty

January 10th, 2022 · resilience and meaning

It’s very early days in 2022, and I think that most readers will recognize the need for resilience and meaning in this uncertain time.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

In my home province of Ontario, as of today we’re once again still in lockdown. This is due to the extremely rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Schools and many retail businesses are closed or facing restrictions. Gatherings of people are also once again strictly limited in size. There’s a general feeling of restriction and uncertainty. No one is sure how long these restrictions will last, or when we’ll finally return to a sense of normalcy.

As the seemingly less virulent but highly contagious Omicron spreads, there’s hope that COVID might be changing from a pandemic to something much less threatening. Yet no one is certain if or when that might occur. It seems that we’re being called to patience and endurance—yet again.

Not surprisingly, the uncertainty of the present time is generating anxiety for all of us. How can we deal with our anxiety in such a way that a sense of hope and solidity is actually directing us? Where can we find resilience? Two things, a sense of resilience and meaning, are very relevant here.

Resilience and Meaning

How do we find resilience and meaning in challenging times? Resilience is that quality that enables an individual to face adversity and to come back from it with strength to meet challenges. When we’re discouraged and thwarted by setbacks, we can become more risk averse and more shut down as a result. However, the resilient person is someone who springs back from such experiences, and even uses what they learn from the setback to help them. Resilient people are characterized by a basic overall optimism, and a capacity to live their lives in the face of circumstances that others might find discouraging.

There are a number of factors that go into resilience. Some of them are founded in things we can’t change, like genetics. Yet there are a great many things that we can focus on that will build up our capacity for resilience, and enable us to deal with setbacks and experiences of disorientation—like the latest wave of the pandemic.

The Capacity for Resilience

One of the things that will help with resilience is to develop an attitude of kindness, starting especially with directing kindness toward ourselves. In difficult circumstances, many people find it easy to let their inner critic savagely beat them up. An experience of failure, for instance, can be something about which individuals rake themselves over the coals, often endlessly.

So, a starting point for building resilience is the willingness to work on seeing ourselves and our lives in a kinder light. This goes hand-in-hand with a willingness to work on treating ourselves better, in many ways. These include getting the sleep we need, perhaps driving ourselves less, and they go right through to the story we ultimately tell ourselves about our lives.

This last point is directly connected to another factor that builds resilience, namely finding ways to root our lives in a sense of meaning. There are many possible sources of gratification or “feel good” in life, but one of the greatest of these is a sense of meaning. This was a bedrock foundation of the psychology of C.G. Jung, as reflected in the following quote:

“The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.”

And in this quote:

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.

We can be curious about our lives, and our own particular experience. We can identify parts of our lived experience that carry a particular sense of meaning or value or truth. We can find aspiration or hope to live for that connect us to a sense of lasting or indestructible meaning. Living for these things can give us a tremendous amount of resilience, if we can just find them and hang onto them.

What is your greatest hope, now?

How Can I Connect with Resilience and Meaning?

For many people, a key part of coping with the pandemic experience centers around finding resilience and meaning. This is generally true in life, but our experience of the pandemic highlights this reality. If we can find meaning in our particular experience of life at this time, and find a value in it, this heightens our resilience, and shows us a way to get through it. This work of finding meaning may well become an essential part of our daily life. What has meaning for you?

This ongoing search for meaning in our own unique, particular lives can often be enhanced by working in a supportive therapeutic relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist. The ongoing “living lab” of depth psychotherapy can allow us to becoming much more discerning about where meaning really lies—and to center our lives on it.

Wishing each of you every good thing on your personal journey,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner


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

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