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How To Know What You Want, Part 2

May 30th, 2022 · how to know what you want

In the first part of this series, we opened up the large and important question of “how to know what you want”. It’s often a tough question, that masquerades as something simple.

how to know what you want
PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

As Steve Jobs asserted in the passage quoted in the first post in this series, knowing what it is that we want is often not a matter of logical or rational certainty. It is more often a matter of intuition, especially when we’re dealing with really major life choices.

In our business-oriented world, decision-making is often portrayed as a very rational straightforward thing. You can often find that the decision-making process described as something much like a balance or a ledger sheet. Should I do X? Well, let’s write down a list of all the pros to doing X on one side of the page. Then let’s write down all the cons to doing it on the other side of the page. Then we just assign a weighting to each thing that’s for X, and to each thing that’s against X, add up the totals at the bottom of the page, and voila, instant major life decision! It seems very straightforward, doesn’t it?

But the trouble is, this isn’t how human beings actually make decisions. Study after study has shown that the actual human decision making process is much less rational than this, and that it involves a lot of intuitive factors, and also that a lot goes on in the unconscious mind when we make a decision. When you add to the complexity and importance of the decision, the process becomes even more involved.

Demanding Major Life Choices

Often the challenge of “how to know what you want” is felt most acutely when we face major life choices. These are the kind of choices that are going to make a big difference in our lives for a long time. It’s quite common for these types of choices to arise when we’re about to undergo, or are already undergoing, a major life transition. Here are some examples of choices that individuals might face that are connected with major life transitions:

  • Should I stay in my marriage, or should I leave it?
  • Should I have a second child?
  • Should I retire?
  • Do I reconcile with my brother (or sister, mother, father, etc.)?
  • Do I seek another career?

When facing these kinds of choices, the decision-making processes can be very involved and complex. They may be so involved that it’s impossible to list all the factors that go into them, let alone to weigh up each one in a completely rational manner. How can we possibly know what we want, and choose it?

Telling Ourselves We Know What We Want

The anxiety associated with major life choices can be overwhelming. The individual can be aware of how much is at stake, and can find him- or herself flooded by angst. It can be all too easy for the ego to simply disconnect, because there are too many options, or because the merits and demerits of each option are so hard to process. As Swathmore College Psychology Prof. Barry Schwartz puts it,

If we’re rational, [social scientists] tell us, added options can only make us better off…. This view is logically compelling, but empirically it isn’t true.

When it comes to a very important major life choice, it can be easy for the ego to tell itself that it has everything under control. We can find it easy to believe that we have the choice in hand, that we know what we want and that we’re moving ahead in a way that accords with our deepest wishes. Sadly, sometimes nothing could be further from the truth. We can end up making choices that we later realize weren’t really reflective of who we are—or of what we really want.

Knowing in Depth What We Want

There is an ages-old folk wisdom that urges us, before we make an important decision, to “sleep on it”. There is a profundity to this. It’s often easy for our conscious mind to feel that it knows exactly what we want, and that it knows the very best route to pursue to get it. But it’s important to recognize that our conscious mind is only a part of what we are. When it comes to making a very important decision, and to addressing how to know what you want concerning the things that are most important and all-encompassing in life, it’s important that as much of who we are as possible is engaged. That certainly includes the vast part of ourselves that is in the unconscious. When we “sleep on” a decision, we let the unconscious mind work on it.

When it comes to how to know what you really want, it’s essential to engage the unconscious. We have to hear from the unconscious parts of ourselves that are so easily missed and forgotten. In Jungian analysis or Jungian depth psychotherapy, we explore the reaction of the unconscious to our everyday lives, and to the big issues and decisions that we face in the course of our journey to wholeness. A supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can be of immense value in solving the question of “how do I know what I really want?”

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

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

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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How To Know What You Want: Is It Even Possible?

May 15th, 2022 · how to know what you want

“How to know what you want.” It sounds so deceptively simple doesn’t it? Yet, getting in contact with what we really want in many situations can be difficult.

how to know what you want
PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Part of the trouble with “how to know what you want” may be that we don’t just want one thing. Or maybe we just don’t know what it is we want at all. Or we want something, and for all kinds of reasons, we find it hard to admit to ourselves that that is what we really want.

The importance of knowing what you want has been highlighted by astute observers, practically since the beginning of time. It was critic and author Arthur D. Hlavaty who observed that:

The secret to getting what you want is knowing what you want [italics mine].

And it was Steve Jobs who uttered the following words, which many people in our culture have found stirring:

You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Certainly these are inspirational words. Yet an honest response to this exhortation on the soul level might well be: that’s great, I love it—but how do I do that stuff?

Jobs’ remarks are not really very different from the attitude that C.G. Jung and modern depth psychotherapists might have to the question of how to know what you want. Yet many people, when confronted in their own real lives with this type of question can find themselves lacking clarity, and swamped with anxiety and indecision. How can we actually, pragmatically, find the way to what it is that we really want—and bring it into our actual lives?

In my next post, we’ll be exploring in a self-compassionate way how to know what you want. We’ll be looking concretely at where to find the signs and traces that help us to actualize this most important aspect of our individuation process.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

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

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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Adult Play: Needed on Our Journey Towards Wholeness

May 9th, 2022 · adult play

Adult play is seriously misunderstood, and very under-rated. In our culture, we adults are not very good at playing. Yet, we need to play, in order to grow.

adult play
Adult play opens up something inside of us (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

When I use the phrase “adult play”, what comes into your mind? Perhaps it’s thoughts of video games or the casino, or even a sport like tennis or golf. Yet, while those activities would definitely fit the definition of “leisure activities”, I mean something different when I refer to “adult play”. The type of play I’m referring to accesses a different part of the self.

C.G. Jung offers us insight into the nature of this type of play:

The dynamic principle of fantasy is play, a characteristic also of the child, and as such it appears inconsistent with the principle of serious work. But without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable. It is therefore short-sighted to treat fantasy, on account of its risky or unacceptable nature, as a thing of little worth.

Jung uses the terms “fantasy” and “play of imagination” in this quote, and seems to value these things very highly. Why is that? How can something that can seem so trivial be of such value?

Adult Play is Fundamentally Creative

For Jung, the key lies in the creative nature of play. Jung tells us that we can see this in the kind of play in which children engage. If you have the opportunity to really observe a child who is deeply engaged in play, what you see is very striking. One key characteristic is that the child is completely absorbed in their play in a way that is completely lacks self-consciousness. By this, I mean that the child is entirely absorbed in his or her pretend worl. They are not embarrassed by it and they do not “feel silly” At the moment of play, the child is completely given over to his or her fantasy, paddling a canoe up the great river to reach the city of the elephants, and there is no self-criticism. Children enter right into their imagination!

Jung stresses that entering into this creative play state actually has immense benefit for adults. Yet it sometimes can be difficult for us to get there. As Notre Dame psychology prof Darcea Narvaez points out,

Play breaks down when people become self-conscious about making mistakes, start to compete or compare, become hostile, seek power, or start justifying actions.

Yet, if we can get past our strict and stiff inner critic, and past our anxiety about what others will think, entering deeply into experiences of play can open us up to the vast array of creative resources in the unconscious mind. As Jung relates in Memories, Dreams, Reflections , this is something he himself found vital to do in the crucial period after he broke with Freud, when he was experiencing a sense of complete lost-ness and disorientation in his life.

When We Deny Our Need for Imaginative Play

It’s very easy for us to reject play. After all, we’re competent twenty-first century people, aware of all of our responsibilities, the realities of the business world, the financial and technological realms, etc. etc. It’s easy to tell ourselves that we’re much too busy or too adult to spend time with our imaginations. Yet, Jung emphasizes how important it is not to treat our fantasy as something of little worth.

If we lose our capacity for fantasy, we are also losing our capacity for spontaneity, and, what is more, losing our connection to possibility, to the awareness that things could somehow be different than they way they are. We also lose vital contact with parts of ourselves that may be striving to come into consciousness. This capacity to open up a new and fresh perspectives on things is essential to our mental health and to the on-going growth in our journey through life that Jung and others call the individuation process.

If we deny our need for imaginative play, we risk cutting ourselves off from the flowing current of our own real lives. This is always a matter of great concern, but it is especially so when we are undergoing a major life transition.

Play That Opens Doors

Adult play opens doors in our lives. Sometimes that play is something that we share with others, as in psychodrama, authentic movement or improv. Often it can be a process that we do on our own, as we create space for the various parts in ourselves to speak to us. This happens in what Jungians call active imagination, or in a wide variety of forms of creative expression. Contrary to that kind of play being a form of irresponsible self-indulgence, we need this kind of activity to open up our awareness of the undiscovered self.

Connecting with the creative fantasy or adult play part of ourselves is a very important part of Jungian depth psychotherapy. Working in a supportive relationship with a Jungian analyst, can be one of the best ways of creating a capacity for valuable and constructive adult play.

Wishing you every good thing on your journey to wholeness,

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

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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Road After 60: Finding Meaning & Value in Later Adulthood

May 1st, 2022 · later adulthood

Jung is famous for his focus on the second half of life. And within that second half of life, there are specific challenges for individuals 60 and over. It’s very worthwhile to explore the importance of later adulthood, when we each complete that precious creation, our unique life.

later adulthood
PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Our culture doesn’t really help us when it comes to later adulthood. Despite the fact that people are living longer than ever before, our society is morbidly gripped by the cult of youth. Advertising, television and movies all proclaim that what is really to be prized in life is youth, and that aging is a dismal, threadbare process that we should all work actively to shun in every possible way. The age we live in screams at us to do everything we possibly can to our skin, muscles, hair, and minds to avoid the curse of getting older.

As psychotherapist and writer Connie Zweig reminds us,

Today the divine messengers of age go unheralded. Though they are inevitable, they go unwelcomed…. We may throw a party to celebrate a retirement. But afterward? Most of us tend to view our final years, which may last decades, merely as a slow decline, a series of disconnected, meaningless events and impairments eventually leading to death.

No one teaches us how to heed the messengers. No one models for us how to retire, become a grandparent, recover from illness, or lose a loved one as a sacred passage into a new stage of awareness.

Connie Zweig, The Inner Work of Age

The Importance of Later Adulthood

No one teaches us, or models these things for us, in our present-day culture. However, it wasn’t always that way. For thousands of years our ancestors in earlier societies had a strong and clear vision of later adulthood, or elderhood, and they respected older adulthood through ritual and tribal customs. They were keenly aware of the potential for a different kind of consciousness that was sometimes possible for older adults, and this they called “wisdom”.

What would it mean for us to listen to the “divine messengers of age”? One key step would be to recognize and give due weight to the major life transitions that we undergo in later adulthood. As noted above, given the biases of the time we live in, it’s easy to experience each major change as merely a diminishment and a loss. As noted aging activist Zalmon Schachter-Shalomi put it,

Everywhere you look, old age suffers from a bad reputation. Because of negative images and expectations shared by our culture, people enter the country called “old age” with fear and trembling. Feeling betrayed by their bodies and defeated by life, they believe they’re condemned to lives of decreasing self-esteem and respect. As citizens of this oppressed nation, they expect to suffer from reduced vigor, enjoyment, and social usefulness.

This is the experience of many in later adulthood. Yet people like Zweig and Schachter-Shalomi—and Jung—hold out another possibility. This is that age can bring initiation into a broader and deeper sense of our own identity.

Beyond Denial and Stereotypes

C.G. Jung had many astute observations about later life, including the following:

The afternoon of life is just as full of meaning as the morning; only, its meaning and purpose are different.”

The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.

Jung also makes an observation about the United States, that would actually apply to a great many 21st century people:

Where is the wisdom of our old people, where are their precious secrets and their visions? [Italics mine] For the most part our old people try to compete with the young. In the United States it is almost an ideal for a father to be the brother of his sons, and for the mother to be if possible the younger sister of her daughter.

So, what is Jung telling us? Well, one clear message is that the second half of life is just as precious and meaningful as the first half, but that it has a different meaning.

He suggests that the first half of life is properly devoted to all the things that our society values so much. This includes all our achievements, building of reputation, hard work and expressions of vitality. They all go into the creation of a certain kind of identity that is structured by the ego and its projects. But Jung suggests that the second half of life is “going inward and letting go” of the ego and its projects. There is something different that we can open up in the second half of life, and especially in later adulthood. This time in life offers us the opportunity to go deeper into soul, into our own true identity.

This sense of real identity can carry us beyond the frantic denials of aging. It’s possible to enter into a meaningful sense of our later years that carries us beyond the toxic stereotypes and into an awareness of fulfillment, completeness and contribution.

Being Here Now

An experience of meaningful later adulthood can take us into a place where we value the present moment, and are able to make our peace with the past. This contrasts with a later life experience that frantically chases some unrealized future, and is consumed with regret and avoidance of the past.

Working in a trusting relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can be of great assistance in helping individuals to appropriately welcome the messengers of age, and to find a later adulthood filled with value and meaning.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

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

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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