Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Tending the Soul Through the Holidays

November 29th, 2022 · tending the soul

“Tending the soul through the Holidays” is the theme I’ve chosen for a series of blog posts for the period leading up to the Holidays at the end of December.

We tend candles through the Holidays; what about tending the soul? (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Now, for those of us living in 2022, “tending the soul” and “getting ready for the holidays” can seem like complete opposites! I hear many stories from clients about how stressful and anxious it often is to deal with the Holidays. There are plenty of reasons for this.

Not least of these is the huge sense of expectation the Holidays create, in children, certainly, but often no less in adults. Another major issue is around dealing with family members and other relationships during Holiday interactions. For many people, this is all complicated by particularly wounding experiences that may have occurred right at the holiday season. These might include the loss of a loved one; or deeply hurtful experiences with a relative struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues. and many other kinds of issue. Additionally, there are a surprisingly large number of people who suffer from religious trauma, and for these individuals, the Holidays can actually be quite triggering.

Also, the Holidays are a period associated with being social and gregarious. People do a lot of socializing during the Holiday period. I’ve recently been told by several clients that the majority of the socializing they do all year occurs within a 6-8 week period around the Holidays. Tending the soul is an activity that we would see as having an inward or introspective dimension. This might seem like swimming upstream during the Holiday period!

The Absence of Soul at the Holidays

This last point brings us up against an important issue. For many people, the Holidays can actually seem to be a time where they experience the absence of soul. By this, I mean something more than simply experiencing the Holidays as hectic and frenetic. For many people, the Holidays can feel artificial and superficial. This is a time when people are looking for something lasting and real, especially given the stressful and unpredictable character of these recent pandemic years. “They” tell us that a deep, solid, lasting reality is what the Holidays are all about. Yet it can seem very hard to find that unshakable, comforting reality.

Soul’s Call, and Tending the Soul

We feel a beckoning in us for something real, something lasting, something that gives our lives solidity. Where can we find that, amidst all the Holiday messaging that saturates us in the media? Jung gives us his assessment:

Who knows the way to the eternally fruitful climes of the soul? You seek the way through mere appearances…. What good is all that? There is only one way and that is your way. You seek the path. I warn you away from my own. It can also be the wrong way for you. May each find [their] own way [italics mine].

C.G. Jung, The Red Book

“There is only one way and that is your way.” Jung is underlining for us the importance of discerning and connecting with the depths of who we are. For Jung, this is a very individual activity. We cannot follow someone else’s formula to do this—not even his.

If we’re going to go our own way, we’re going to have to know ourselves. That means exploring ourselves, and taking the time to understand our genuine reactions. It means understanding our history, certainly, and the events that have really shaped us. It also means understanding, in a compassionate way, our own most fundamental nature.

So, What are We Going to DO About Tending the Soul?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver

So, how do we actually do any of the things that involve going our own way? That is going to be the subject of the posts to come in this series. However, one key starting point is genuinely listening to what we can find or see of the voice of our genuine selves. This is deeply connected to value and meaning in our lives, as emphasized by logotherapists like Viktor Frankl. It may appear in the most surprising of places sometimes, and we have to be careful not to dismiss, judge or overlook it.

This voice of the self may take some real discernment to start to locate. Jung indicates that it was a demanding process even for him, We have to try and locate the things that have genuinely lasting value, for us, in our own individual lives.

This time leading up to the Holidays when, surprisingly enough, this search for value and meaning in or own individual lives becomes a matter of great importance. To embark on our own personal journey towards wholeness may be of great healing value at this Holiday season. From the perspective of Jungian depth psychotherapy, this search is of incomparable importance.

With very best wishes for your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

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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These Things Are On My Bucket List—Or Are They?

November 14th, 2022 · on my bucket list

In recent years the phrase “on my bucket list” has come into popular parlance. This isn’t surprising; it’s a phrase we often find useful!

on my bucket list
My bucket list… (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

What do we use this phrase to indicate? Well, if something is “on my bucket list”, it usually means that this is something that is so important to me, that I want to be absolutely certain that I do it before I die (or, “kick the bucket”). You now often hear people use this expression when they are describing travel destinations, e.g., “going to the Amalfi Coast is on my bucket list”.

At least in the part of North America that I inhabit, it seems that we are all walking around with our bucket lists. We add items from time to time, perhaps substituting items for others. And marketers are more than keen to tell us what should be on our bucket list!

Well, why do I have things “on my bucket list”? The short answer is because these particular experiences must be of the greatest value and importance to me. I simply must see, do, or experience them while I have life left to do it. Of the endless number of things that I could see, do, or experience during my life, these things top the list. I may fit all other kinds of experience into my remaining life, but, to use my example above—visiting the Amalfi Coast has got to get done!

So, how do things get to be so important that they end up on your bucket list? Well, they must have great meaning and value. And where does that come from?

The Things That Get On My Bucket List

The things that get on my bucket list must be things that really grab me. When I think about having, experiencing or doing these things, it must seem to me that they would be peak experiences. Humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow defines a peak experience as follows:

The emotional reaction in the peak experience has a special flavour of wonder, of awe, of reverence, of humility and surrender before the experience as before something great”

This is very akin to what C.G. Jung would call a numinous experience. These are experiences in life of tremendous, incomparable value. To be the experiences that are the most valuable of an entire lifetime, means that we put them at the head of our personal list. The following particularly apt story from the New Testament makes exactly the same point:

…a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value… went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Matthew 13: 45-46

How Things Get on My Bucket List

Things get on our bucket list through our memories and life experiences, our feelings and anticipations—and in so many other ways. What we have felt, known and been in our past profoundly influences our desires and our hope for future life. Our hopes and aspirations are deeply coloured by our prior life experiences. What we yearn for in the future is definitely a reflection of what we have been, and what we are now.

Here’s something that’ important to be aware of: things may yet get on my bucket list in the future, as a result of parts of myself of which I’m currently unaware. It’s true! I know what I want consciously now. Yet, I also have unconscious needs, energies and aspects of myself that may step into the spotlight of consciousness. These things may change the shape of what I need, desire and aspire to. These yearnings might even be at the root of a current experience of depression or anxiety.

In other words, don’t assume that your bucket list is finished and complete just yet! Your undiscovered self may have much to add to the list. What are the deep desires and yearnings that are unfolding in you?

What are Your Pearls of Great Price?

As long as we are alive, the process of discovering our deepest values and yearnings continues to unfold. So does the process of discovery of our deepest selves. Often the process of working with a discerning and supportive Jungian analyst or depth psychotherapist can greatly assist in the process of moving toward what is finally most valuable and meaningful in our lives, and what it is that we most deeply desire.

Wishing you every good thing for your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

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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Finding Your Real Life After Retirement

November 7th, 2022 · life after retirement

Real life after retirement?’ some might ask, “Is that a thing?” It most certainly is, but you’d never know it from the messaging we get around retirement!

life after retirement
What can we expect from life after retirement? (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

A lot of messaging around retirement in our culture has very little to do with “real life after retirement”. The vast majority of the retirement messaging we get falls into the “freedom after age X” category. “Age X” may vary, but one famous example that permeated the media for a very long time was an insurance advertisement that extolled the freedom that individuals would attain from retiring by a certain age—a very young age by most peoples’ standards. This advertising was targeted at boomers, but this meme or theme of retiring at a precociously young age is still around. A slightly different form of it seems to have captured the imagination of of Generation X and millennials. Now, the idea is often portrayed in terms of accumulating the resources to retire very young, and thus escape the clutches of corporate life.

The overriding theme here seems to be some variant of “retirement as escape”. The idea is that, if the individual can accumulate a certain level of wealth, then he or she can move into a life that has none of the negatives of working life. The individuals’ life will finally be his or her own, and days will be filled with the individual doing exactly what he or she wants, all day long. This sounds idyllic.

The other messaging is at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum. It images retirement as a state of lack of direction, and most often imagines that state as associated with a process of decline and atrophy. A process of slow disintegration and disconnection that ultimately ends in a completely dependent state. Needless to say this image is the shadow of the “freedom” imaging described above. Negating all the happy talk, these images float around the edges of our consciousness about “freedom at age X”. But they serve to bring us back to the basic question: is it possible to find real life after retirement?

Real Life After Retirement: Not Into Nothing

At one point, C.G. Jung writes about a man who made the decision to retire, who had a very difficult experience. He found he could not stand the ennui when he retired. Yet, he also found that he could not get re-engaged mentally to his former business when he tried to return to it. Jung relates what he said to the man:

I say to him: ‘You were quite right to retire from business.  But not into nothingness. [Italics mine]  You must have something you can stand on.  In all the years in which you devoted your energy to building up your business you never built up any interests outside of it.  You had nothing to retire on.”

You were right to retire, but not into nothingness. You must have something you can stand on. This idea of “something to stand on” is essential to finding real life in retirement. It’s not enough to just have “freedom” in retirement. There must be lasting meaning and value—something that gives the retiring individual’s life substance. Many people dread the prospect of retirement, because it can feel like a descent into meaninglessness and purposelessness. Is there any way to find underlying meaning and value in this huge life transition?

Individuation and Meaning in Retirement

How to we begin to find what it is that will sustain us through our retirement? Or, for that matter, at any stage in our lives? One important way is for us to understand and appreciate our own life journey, and our own uniqueness.

It can take some real effort to understand the journey that we have been on in this life, what makes our life journey unique and what it is that has particular meaning or value for us in that journey. This really requires that we look at our lives carefully, with compassion and curiosity.

It can be very tempting not to look at our lives this way, and to see our life journey as “pretty much like everybody else’s”. It might be easy from this perspective to be dismissive of where our lives have taken us, maybe even contemptuous, and to see ourselves as simply “one of a million”. From there, it might be easy to feel that the things that have mattered to us in our lives are not really that important. I’m reminded of someone I know, an Albertan, who was asked to comment on a website on what he had done in the forty-five years since leaving high school. His only comment: “In the oilfields.”

“In the oilfields”—OK, I get it. But I’m curious! What happened out there in the oilfields? What was it like? What was my friend’s unique experience in the oilfields? How has it affected him? What matters to him most deeply—now–in the light of his experience, in both his conscious and unconscious selves?

Soul and Real Life After Retirement

This takes us into the territory of what Jung, and people like archetypal psychologist James Hillman would call soul. This is the exploration of what has the deepest and most lasting value in our lives on both the conscious and unconscious levels. The question of how we’re going to connect with that deepest value, and live it forward, is of primary importance in our retirement years. The exploration of that deep identity is the crowning culmination of a life, and it can be of the greatest importance to find an ally who can assist us in this such as a supportive Jungian analyst or depth psychotherapist. This work goes far beyond the work of merely checking items off on a bucket list.

Join me next time for the sequel to this post, “Beyond the Bucket List”!

With every good wish for your personal life journey,

© 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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