Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Personal Mythology: the Deep Importance of Your Own Story

January 30th, 2023 · personal mythology

The story you tell yourself about your life journey is a matter of vital importance. Jungians refer to it as your personal myth or personal mythology.

What is your personal myth? (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

The phrase “personal mythology” may seem pretentious, yet we all have stories that we tell ourselves about who we are, and what our individual life is like. This includes stories about our important relationships, our family of origin, our career, our school and post-secondary years—an immense variety of things. Human beings are creatures that need stories—narratives—that tell us who we are and who we have been. They indicate the significance of all the important relationships, things and events in our lives. Stories give us our orientation to our lives and the world. They also provide meaning, and as Jung observed,

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

However, we can tell ourselves all kinds of stories! Some of those stories connect us to reality, and to a sense of value and meaning. Some stories do the exact opposite: they diminish us. We need to be aware of the immense power of story to both help us and to hurt us. We need to find the stories that convey the truth of our lives. We also need to connect with the overarching story that reflects the meaning and value of our lives.

Do you have a sense of the stories you tell yourself about who you are and your life journey? If so, do those stories actually ring true? And do they capture the essence of who you really are? Or do they work to feed anxiety and depression?

What are the Stories You Tell Yourself?

Have you ever reflected on the stories you tell yourself about your own life? If you think about the stories or narratives that have defined you, and that have set the tone for your life, what are they? Is there a story that you can think of from your life that is “pure you”?

If you’re like most of us, there will likely be a collage of stories. Some of these will feel good and are enlivening or empowering. Some of them may be stories of sadness, defeat or shame. Are there any “threads” or themes that run through all these stories, that connect them, and that may point toward a deeper and underlying story?

One way of looking at the myths of gods, goddesses and heroes of old is that they capture some element of our own individual story. They show who we most basically are, and what the human story is most fundamentally about. The same may be said of fairy tales, and even of modern day comic book heroes like “Batman”, “Spiderman” or “Wonder Woman”!

Embedded in Debilitating Stories

Sometimes it’s easy to get locked into stories that make us seem small and that are defeatist. Or we can just completely deny that we have a story. Sometimes we can end up sharing the sentiment that Shakespeare puts in the mouth of MacBeth:

Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing [italics mine].

Shakespeare, MacBeth

Yet the drive to find meaning in our lives is profound and fundamental. Something deep within us seeks to find and enter into the central story of our lives. This drive is at the heart of human religion, philosophy, literature and drama.

The anthropologist Clifford Geertz says that humans are ‘symbolizing, conceptualizing, meaning-seeking’ animals. In our species, he says, ‘the drive to make sense out of our experience, to give it form and order, is evidently as real and as pressing as the more familiar biological needs.

Robert Fulford, The Triumph of Narrative

The drive to make sense of our experience is as urgent as Geertz and Fulford assert that it is. That is at the root of our search for our personal myth.

Toward Your Personal Mythology

Yet the story of our lives is not something that we can just diligently work on and arrive at. It is something that emerges from the whole of our living, and from the dialogue between our conscious and unconscious selves. Yet it’s only when we actually focus on, and seek to understand our lives, that the true sense of our personal myth will emerge. Often, work with a supportive depth psychotherapist can facilitate the process, and a sense of our own deepest story starts to emerge.

With very best wishes for your personal journey,

© 2023 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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Our Inner Wise Old Person: Can We Access Him or Her?

January 23rd, 2023 · wise old person

The wise old person is an image or symbol found deep within human culture. Does this represent something real in the human psyche? Can we access it?

Can we access our inner wise old person? (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Nearly every culture has some version of the symbol of the wise old person. These figures appear in myth, folk tale and art, and throughout the holy texts of the human race. We can conclude that , down through the millennia, humans have regarded this image of the wise old person as pointing to something real in the human psyche. Whether it’s called the voice of the ancestors or inner divine wisdom or the voice of the Self, humans until very recently in human history did not question the existence of this inner wisdom.

But does it really exist? Is the “wise old person” something that speaks to us or that we can draw upon or rely upon? This is not just an academic question , but a matter of great importance for self-aware people. When we face important decisions, or when we have to find our way through difficult, ambiguous and confusing times, is there some kind of resource of inner wisdom that will help us to cope or to find a path?

A question of equal or greater importance is, if it does exist, how do I access it? It’s all well and fine to say that this inner wise person exists, but, if it does, we still need to know how to hear from it! Our ego, that “nervous Nellie” in James Hollis‘ famous phrase, is always trying to manage the circumstances of our lives. It exerts itself continuously to map out a way through the sticky, ambiguous and formidable situations that we find ourselves in. Sometimes, its resources seem exhausted and unequal to the task. Is there any other wisdom in us that can help us find the way?

An Inner Inherited Wisdom?

Together the patient and I address ourselves to the two million year old man that is in all of us. In the last analysis, most of our difficulties come from losing contact with our instincts, with the age-old unforgotten wisdom stored up in us.

C. G. Jung

Where wisdom reigns, there is no conflict between thinking and feeling.

C.G. Jung

We live in an age that highly values rationality, science and education. It’s understandable why we do: the rational scientific outlook has brought us so many good things that are part of our current day life. Without science and our rational problem-solving approach, our quality of life would be greatly diminished. Yet it may be very important for us to realize that not all of life’s problems can be solved by scientific rationality.

Long before the scientific revolution, our forebears lived lives of complexity and challenge. When they met difficulties, or when they were looking for guidance, they would turn to an inner wisdom that was often described as “the voice of the ancestors”. We can think of this as an inner instinctively-based wisdom. This is what Jung was alluding to in his reference to the two million year old person within each of us.

It’s easy for our modern minds to balk at such an idea. After all, it might not seem quite “rational”! Yet, if we look at the rest of the animal kingdom, the power of instinct is quite awe-inspiring. Snakes, not raised by mothers or fathers, know how to hunt instinctively. Monarch butterflies migrate unbelievably vast distances guided by instinct. Dolphins are imbued with an instinctive curiosity and a predisposition to help others—dolphins, whales and sometimes humans.

When we see these examples of instinctual “wisdom” in other species, it might make us curious about our own instincts. Human instincts exist, even though they may not be as immediately apparent as they are in other species. A depth psychotherapy perspective is open to the ways our deepest instincts, as symbolized by our inner wise old person, seek to manifest in our lives.

Often, it’s in situations of crisis or major life transition where we most clearly meet our instinctual wise old person. Our rational, problem-solving intellect is very capable, but there are situations in life where that intellect hits a dead end. Sometimes our usual way of dealing with life runs out of answers. It may be then that our inner wise old person steps in to assist, through dreams, hunches or intuitions, or in other ways.

Denial of the Wise Old Person

It’s possible to live in a way that denies the existence of any inner wisdom. We can choose to try and problem solve in our usual “common sense” way, and circle around a problem or life situation endlessly, trying to “figure it out”. For instance, an individual may be deeply frustrated by her or his work situation. He or she may be endlessly trying to figure out how to get to that next right job, with its promise of fulfillment and balance, and may be mired in anxiety or depression. The individual may strive for years, with some element or perspective on the situation that is just out of reach.

[inner wisdom] comes from quieting the mind, setting aside the ego, setting aside one’s ideas of how things should be, and listening and feeling for what feels truly right.

Brian Leaf

We can be so rational in approaching our lives that we miss out on the possibility of connection with the wise old person who resides in our psyche. This can lead us to miss out on the inherent wisdom that we carry, inherited from the sum total of our ancestors. How can we avoid this, and make this inherited wisdom a part of our journey to wholeness?

Open Listening to the Inner Wise Person

Connecting with our inner wisdom can sometimes bring a different, and even life-altering perspective. Finding ways to effectively listen to what the inner “wise old person” has to say about our lives, through our dreams, hunches and intuitions can be a very healing endeavour. Often, work with a supportive Jungian depth psychotherapist can be of great help in this process.

With every good wish 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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Am I Making the Right Decision?

January 16th, 2023 · making the right decision

Over my years as a Jungian analyst / depth psychotherapist, I’ve heard a lot of people ask “Am I making the right decision?” It’s often a crucial question.

making the right decision
Am I making the right decision? (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

When we find ourselves asking, “Am I making the right decision?” there can be a great deal at stake. We may find ourselves looking very closely at a life choice we have to make. In fact, we may be on the cusp of making a choice that will affect the whole rest of our lives. Such choices may arise when we are in the midst of a major life transition, or when we are confronted by unexpected changes in the lives of those closest to us.

We may find ourselves asking “Am I making the right decision?” in many different contexts. It may concern a romantic relationship. Or, it might have to do with key job or career choices. Or it might be around moving, or retirement. There is an endless scope for key life choices that may have huge consequences for our lives.

Often, major decisions confront us with the raw nature of human choice. We can’t get all the information we’d ideally like to have. We can’t possibly know the ultimate outcomes of all the choices before us. Sometimes, amidst the uncertainties and unknowns, we just have to choose. And, as the old existentialist saying reminds us,

Not to decide is to decide.

~ Harvey Cox

What IS the Right Decision?

Does it even make any sense to talk about the “right” decision? What could a “right” decision possibly be?

Well, let’s at first make clear what it’s not. In the vast majority of situations the right decision is not, and cannot possibly be, a “perfect” decision. In a great many situations, I simply cannot be absolutely sure of the ultimate outcome of my decision. With many important life decisions, it’s difficult to “tick all the boxes”, and feel that “I’ve done it absolutely right”. When we’re dealing with big choices, and with the future, we often don’t have a crystal ball, that shows us what will be when we make a choice.

Well, if that’s true, how do we go about making the best decision that we can? Well, here’s one thing we can say for sure. When we make a decision about a matter of great importance in our lives, it’s essential that it be an authentic decision. That is to say, that it’s a decision that emerges from who we really are.

There are numerous ways in which it’s possible for us to sidestep making an authentic decision. For instance, we could let a decision be determined by peer pressure, or the need to “look good”, rather then by what we actually feel we should choose. Or, we could let an attitude that we inherited from our family make the choice, rather than really listening to our own instinct or “gut” reaction.

Perhaps the most serious way to avoid making a decision with integrity is to not really listen to ourselves. We have an idea of who we are, and a way that we present ourselves to the world. This is what Jung called persona. The trouble is, this way that we present to the world, and who we think we are, may not be who we really are. It can easily be that there are feelings, attitudes or thoughts of which we are unaware. These are semi-conscious or unconscious elements of our psyche.

The Dangers of Unconscious Decision Making

The unconscious mind is alive and well within each of us. It can profoundly influence our choices without our being aware. It can also react to decisions we make in surprisingly strong ways! Jung tells us that,

The great decisions of human life have as a rule far more to do with the instincts and other mysterious unconscious factors than with conscious will and well-meaning reasonableness.

Elsewhere he states,

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.

It can be easy to be carried along in decisions we make by all kinds of influences that stem from the unconscious. If we stay unaware of them, we end up having our lives run by unconscious factors that take us in directions that the conscious mind would never wish to go.

We probably all know the incredibly sad stories of unconscious factors in decisions. For instance the story of the good, kind person who is on their third or fourth marriage to a severely alcoholic or abusive partner, and who just can’t understand how they could have such “bad luck” in choosing partners.

It can be very important to understand as much as we can about all the feelings, intuitions and motivations that get triggered by a major life decision. Otherwise we may have little or no understanding of the ways that we are pushed and pulled by any major decision in our lives.

“Am I Making the Right Decision” is a Question of Soul

Clearly, there’s a lot involved in answering the question “Am I making the right decision?” Often, if we wish to really understand what’s involved in making a key decision, we may need to look at ourselves in depth. We may well need to understand as much as we can about what the particular decision brings up for us on both unconscious and conscious levels. This can take us into the realm of what Jung and James Hillman refer to as soul, the deep part of ourselves where images emerge from the unconscious.

Working with a supportive Jungian analyst or depth psychotherapist can often lead to vastly greater clarity about decisions. If you’re facing the question of “Am I making the right decision?”, it’s essential to be very compassionate to yourself; and, to be willing to look into yourself in depth.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

© 2023 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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Hope for the New Year: Finding Your Own Unique Way

January 9th, 2023 · hope for the new year

It’s natural, and almost a truism to speak of finding hope for the New Year. But how do we actually do that? And what should we put our hope and trust in?

Hope for the New Year (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Hope in the New Year is no pie in the sky or academic issue. Especially at this moment in time, many struggle in a fundamental way with the question of where to place their hope. At this moment in time, we are dealing with a great deal of uncertainty in our world. This comes from sources as diverse as the pandemic, which still lurks in our background, the economy, which is remains very uncertain, and our changing climate. There seems to be so much transition and uncertainty in our environment.

A great many people people today are living with the direct impacts of this uncertainty. It is affecting the fabric of their lives as individuals, and their relationships and family lives. It’s hard to predict exactly how things will unfold. It’s very easy to project our pessimism and worse case outcomes on this blank screen. How can we get to a hope that will be sustaining? How can we find our way through the challenges of the New Year, and of the future as a whole?

We Need the Most Basic Kind of Hope and Trust

The possibility of hope for the future is linked in the most fundamental way to a basic trust in life. A basic trust is fundamental to human existence. As psychoanalyst Erik Eriksen writes,

Hope is both the earliest and the most indispensable virtue inherent in the state of being alive. If life is to be sustained hope must remain, even where confidence is wounded…

Erik Eriksen

“If life is to be sustained hope must remain.” This is a view to which C.G. Jung also vigorously subscribed. For Jung, as for Eriksen, hope, and the sense that there is the possibility for good things to develop out of the present. They saw it as an absolutely essential aspect of what it is to be—and to remain—human.

Yet, what really is hope? One of my favourite quotes about hope gives a fairly surprising description:

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.

Emily Dickinson

Hope “sings the tune without the words”! Wow—what does that mean? Apparently, this hope is not some form of rational deduction or calculation of the odds, because such things would be rooted in words. The hope that Dickinson is referring to must come from some place entirely different. The most basic level of hope that good things are possible in our lives stems from our earliest relationships, especially from the bond with the mother. And at an even more basic level, hope emerges from something beyond what James Hollis has labelled our “nervous Nelly” ego. Hope is rooted in the broader personality, in the Self.

Hope versus Denial

Sometimes, we don’t operate from a place of hope. It’s common enough for people to get caught up in a place of “just going through the motions”. Instead of having an activating and enlivening sense of possibility for the future, we can keep operating, and getting through our days performing by rote, just carried along by routine.

It’s possible for people to have little or no hope, and to go through the motions in their daily life in complete denial. It may be that people in this situation are actually stuck in the opposite of hope: despair. Despair is that state where individuals lack the sense of possibility for their lives. It can be a very debilitating state of mind. Very often, it is rooted in early life experience of physical or emotional neglect, or in later traumatic experience.

For a fulfilling human life, it’s essential that we find our way to hope. How can we do that?

Hope for the New Year, Hope for Ourselves

This early part of the New Year strongly highlights our need for hope. As we pass the winter solstice, with its shortest day, and its minimal light,, and the calendar changes to a New Year, it’s natural for us to turn our minds to the future. It’s also natural to seek to increase our capacity for hope, and for a sense of possibility for our own lives, and for the lives of those who are closely connected to us.

Often, an exploration of our lives, and of our deepest selves can lead to connection with those parts of ourselves that carry hope. Working with a Jungian analyst or depth psychotherapist in a secure and supportive relationship can often be of great help in this process, as we explore past wounds, but also the elements of psyche that draw us forward into the possibilities in our lives.

With every good wish for your personal journey,

© 2023 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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