Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

Let’s Keep Jung’s Red Book Away from Spiritual Hucksterism

July 21st, 2010 · archetypal experience, archetypes, Carl Jung, collective consciousness, collective unconscious, Identity, Individuation, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Psychology, Psychotherapy, The Self, unconscious, wholeness

It is now quite clear that Jung’s Red Book, which I wrote about in an earlier post, has created quite a stir in certain circles, and has been very well popularized.  It has had quite an impact in cultural and literary circles, and has gained a lot of attention in the media since its publication.

On the whole, those who appreciate Jung’s psychological work must necessarily feel good about this.  Those of us who are passionately convinced that Jung has something profound to say about the human psyche and about life in our time cannot help but feel joy that his message is getting out more widely and deeply in our society.

However, it is hard at times to avoid the feeling that Jung’s legacy is suffering from an approach that is overly-commercialized.  I don’t fault W.W. Norton for a moment for bringing the Red Book to publication, even though Jung himself was very clear that he did not want it published, at least not in his lifetime.

The Red Book documents Jung’s own profound psychological struggle in a manner so eloquent and deep that it is difficult if not impossible to describe.  The world owes the Jung family, the Philemon Foundation, editor Sonu Shamdasani and W.W. Norton a huge debt for bringing the Red Book to the world.  In the sincerest possible way, I thank them all.

But do we really need mystifying and sensationalistic messages associated with it, such as the following?

Jung’s Red Book is a magnificent record of his interior journey through the most profound crisis of his entire life.  It is as if at every turn of the page Jung meets us, personally, with the same wrenching, implacable questions that he meets himself as he descends into his own depths.  Who are you?  What are you?  What are the unknown elements of yourself?

Do we really need this profound encounter opened up for us on the lecture circuit?  Or in webinars?  Or in talk show formats with Jungian analysts and pop culture celebrities?

Can we honestly persuade ourselves that Jung would have wanted this?  Frankly, who are we trying to kid?

As Jungian analyst Wolfgang Giegrich is at pains to remind us, Jung’s Red Book is not “The New Bible”.  Those of us who love Jung need to be careful not to portray it as some kind of divine revelation composed by a semi-divinity which answers all questions.  It’s the record of a very human struggle by someone who was ready to encounter his depths and ready to try to acknowledge his weakness and the inferior and broken parts of himself.  If we read the Red Book carefully, we’ll encounter Jung’s shadow.  We may not always like that and may be uncomfortable or even shocked by it.  Nonetheless, it’s a reminder that here was a human being much like you or me, who really wrestled with his darkness, and fought his way into it and through it to his own unique selfhood, and his own healing.  And he invites us to do the same.

Have you had any experience with Jung’s Red Book, reading it or seeing one of the current exhibits?  I’d love to hear about it if you have.

I wish you all the very best on your  personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

VIDEO CREDITS: © W.W.  Norton & Company; © Digital Fusion Creative Technologies Inc. These images are the property of W.W.  Norton & Company and/or Digital Fusion Creative Technologies Inc. and are used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part III: Heart Trouble

July 11th, 2010 · Carl Jung, collective consciousness, collective unconscious, Current Affairs, depth psychology, Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian psychology, Lifestyle, Meaning, persona, popular culture, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, soul, symbolism, unconscious, wholeness

 

Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part III, Heart Trouble

…I asked him why he thought the whites were all mad. 

“They say that they think with their heads,” he replied.

“Why of course.  What do you think with?” I asked him in surprise.

We think here,” he said, indicating his heart. [Italics mine]

Conversation between Ochway Biano, Chief of the Pueblo Indians and Carl Jung, recorded in  CG Jung, Memories, Dreams and Reflections  (1961)

Everything has been “figured out”, except how to live.

Jean-Paul Sartre

 In Part I  and Part II of this series “Anxiety Behind the Mask”, I’ve been exploring the symbollic meaning of the pop cultural figure of Iron Man.  He is certainly a symbol for the relationship in our culture between the social mask and the inner human, and for the yearning that the social mask be smooth and impenetrable.   However, there is great psychological danger in complete identification with such an impervious persona: it can become a trap, become robotic, with no way left for the inner person to “get beyond the mask”.

One of the elements from the story of the origin of Iron Man is that Tony Stark, who becomes Iron Man, has heart trouble.  As the first Iron Man movie shows, he is injured in the process of his capture, and has to be fitted with a special magnetic device to keep shrapnel from ripping apart his heart.

There is of course a tremendous importance to the symbolism of the heart.  It is the seat of the feelings and of passion.  It is also the particular organ associated with eros, which includes but is more than the power of sexual love.  Eros is also the human capacity to connect and relate.  The place where our yearnings are located.  The place where hope and despair alike find their home.

Tony Stark is portrayed as a technical genius, someone who can create the most incredible machines.  As a hero figure, he symbolizes the incredible technical prowee of our culture.  This kind of technical knowledge exemplifies the tremendous power of rational thinking — what Jung identified as the principle of logos.  It is characterized by the ability to organize, quantify, discriminate, classify, and strategize.  But logos is always pulling things apart, using conceptual power to break things down into their component parts, and make them less than they are.  Our ability to do this as a species is a great strength, and has contributed mightily to the survival and success of our species.  It is a cornerstone of western civilization, and we all glory in our scientific and technical acheivements.

However, this scientific and technical prowess can leave us completely isolated and alienated from our world, nature, and other people.  And above all, it can leave us cut off from our inner selves, from our true ability to feel things, and to relate to others and to our world.

Like Tony Stark, the Iron Man, who is a symbol produced by our culture’s collective consciousness, it is all too easy for those of us who live in our culture to have “heart trouble”, to have lost touch with our ability to feel, to empathize, to relate.  But, as Leonard Cohen seeks to remind us, the truth of the heart is never really lost.  It is always there waiting for us, even when we seem to be in exile from ourselves, even when the world seems to say, “this heart, it is not yours”.

Four Questions about the Heart

Here are some questions that may help the conversation with your own heart.

Are there any feelings that you would find hard to share with the people closest to you? 
What are the three most painful experiences in your life?
 
 
 
What are the three most joyous experiences in your life?
 
 
 
 
What is it that you really yearn for?
 
 

What about your own heart?  It’s only by staying close to it that one can begin to be close to the spontaneity and aliveness that is one’s own real life.  Often, the course of analysis, therapy or counselling is following the road back to the deepest parts of the heart.

I’d welcome your reflections on the “heart trouble” of Iron Man and the ways in which it reflects our own struggles with our hearts, as individuals and as a culture.

My very best wishes to each of you as you make your individual journeys of wholeness and self-discovery,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDITS: © Marvel Entertainment, LLC  These images are the property of Marvel comics and are used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.

VIDEO CREDIT: “By the Rivers Dark” by Leonard Cohen, from the album Ten New Songs ©  2001 Sony Music Entertainment Inc.  This music is the property of Sony Music Entertainment and is used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part II

July 2nd, 2010 · creativity, Film, Identity, Individuation, inner life, popular culture, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, soul, spontaneity, The Self, wholeness

Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part II, The Armoured Self, My Prison

In the course of thousands of years of mechanical development, the mechanistic concept, from generation to generation, has anchored itself deeply in man’s biological system.  In so doing, it actually has altered human functioning in the direction of the machine-like….   Man has become biologically rigid. He has armored himself against that which is natural and spontaneous within him, he has lost contact with the biological function of self-regulation and is filled with a strong fear of that which is alive and free.

Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933)

 In Part I of “Anxiety Behind the Mask” I began to explore the meaning of the pop cultural figure of Iron Man.  As seen in recent movies, Iron Man is a symbol for the relationship in our culture between the social mask, known in Jungian terms as the “persona”, and the inner human.  The Iron Man myth represents the yearning that the social mask be smooth and impenetrable, beyond weakness, mistake and humiliation.   However, as we discovered, there is also great psychological danger in complete identification with such an impervious persona.

In this post, I’d like to open up that idea in a fuller way.  In fact, the social armour which protects us can also be a prison.  We can so easily develop a way of relating that is very smooth, glib, almost machine-like.  It can be so effective that it can give me the strong sense that nothing is ever going to hurt me.  It can lead me to “pat” answers and attitudes that accord with the standard views and attitudes in our social grouping(s), that completely avoid vital questions about how we feel and what we want.

Our armour can persuade others and even ourselves that we are sleek and slick, even sophisticated.  But I can only ensure that I’m on top of things by ensuring that nothing is ever going to reach me, that nothing will ever break my stride.  I need to keep whatever might disrupt my performance at a distance.

So we armour ourselves not only against others, but against ourselves.  We do this by repressing any inner acknowledgment of our own inferior, weak, morally suspect or socially unacceptable parts – and the shame that often goes with acknowledging them.  We eliminate our vulnerability, but at the price of our vitality and spontaneity.

I have heard innumerable people relate nightmares to me with themes that resemble the following:

I am in a labyrinth, or a dark, unknown place.  I am being pursued by robots.  They advance relentlessly, despite all my efforts to destroy them or fend them off.  No matter how many I disable, they just keep coming…  closer and closer and closer.  I wake up, filled with fear.

Potentially a very disturbing dream, that reflects a very important reality in the psyche, about which we genuinely should be disturbed.  In the words of Eric Fromm:

The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that men may become robots.

In a certain important sense, this is also the danger of the present, as the dream above reflects.  My armour, my social mask, may become robotic, particularly if I let it get to be thicker than it needs to be, as a result of my over-identification with my social role or roles.  Then I may find myself cut off from the instinctual and spontaneous sources of life deep in the psyche, and may find myself overwhelmed by anxiety, depression or even psychosomatic illness.  All are dangerous signs that the connections with the deep inner life of the human being are in danger of being severed.

To be continued in “Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part III: Heart Trouble

I’d welcome your reflections on the symbollic aspects of Iron Man and the trap of robotic social roles.   Do you ever see others trapped in their social roles?  Do you ever find that you are struggling to be your genuine self in situations?  In relationships?

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness and self-discovery,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDITS: © Marvel Entertainment, LLC  These images are the property of Marvel comics and are used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part 1

June 22nd, 2010 · Anxiety, Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, mythology, persona, popular culture, Psychotherapy, soul, wholeness

When I was 9 or 10 years old, I was an insatiable Iron Man fan.  I used to race to the local drug store every day to see if a new issue of my hero’s adventures had hit the stands yet.  I still admire Stan Lee and those who developed the Iron Man character: he was truly an iconic figure for a pre-adolescent boy in the mid-1960s.  Well, it’s 45 years later, and Iron Man is receiving great attention — arguably much greater than in earlier days.  “Iron Man 2” was the lead-grossing movie for much of the 2010 Spring season, and the Iron Man 1 and 2 movies are estimated to have grossed in excess of $935 million.

There is no question that the Iron Man figure captures the imagination of many in our culture.

What is the fascination that Iron Man exerts?  Why is this figure a cultural icon—and not just for 9 year old boys?  What is it that he shows us about ourselves as a culture, and the issues and problems that we collectively face?  Please bear with me as I relate some of this modern myth – for it actually has a surprising amount of symbolic and psychological depth.

According to the story line, Iron Man is the alter ego of the wealthy industrialist Tony Stark (played in the recent movies by Robert Downey).  In order to escape a situation where he is held hostage by some despicable outlaws, Stark fashions a suit of practically invincible armour, and overcomes his foes – all details covered in the original “Iron Man” movie.  Stark then goes on to improve and enhance this very sophisticated flying suit of armour, to the point where it is mighty, mobile, and both beautiful and technologically advanced to an incredible degree.

In Jungian terms, Iron Man as a symbol for our relationship between the social mask, the persona and the inner human.  It represents the yearning that the social mask be smooth and impenetrable: the fantasy of being beyond weakness, mistake and humiliation.

Undoubtedly, we need a social mask – we cannot just “let it all hang out” in social situations.  The result would be chaos, and we would be extremely dangerous to ourselves and to others.

But how devastating must the underlying shame be, to lead me to wrap myself in the fantasy of untouchability, to strive for invulnerability, to ensure that nothing is ever going to touch me.  We have to admit that it is a seductive fantasy–one that we might easily be tempted to try and pull off.  Particularly in a culture like ours that so values external appearances.

We are so utterly afraid of our own vulnerability and weakness.  We can so easily live in terror of our own true nature.  It can be so hard to let ourselves be what we are, to know ourselves, and to let ourselves be known.  Part of us is utterly convinced of the need for the pretense of invulnerability.  Yet part of us knows what we really are.

Stark says, “I am Iron Man.  The suit and I are one.”  That’s great for a myth and a fantasy hero.  Heroes in myth are always something other than simply human.  However, complete identification with the persona,  “the suit and I being one” would be a form of living death for a real human being.  It’s easy for us to live in such terror of our vulnerable selves, those parts of ourselves which are not strong and beautiful.  Yet they are there, and if we cannot acknowledge them, and give them their due, they will surface in very destructive ways, such as anxiety and depression, as symptoms of the underlying shadow self.

Somehow, we’ve got to come to terms with the human inside the armour, and to learn compassion and acceptance for that person, just as he or she is. We have to abandon perfectionism, and get beyond the toxicity of shame.  Often, it’s just at this point that psychotherapy or Jungian analysis is a necessity.

To be continued in “Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part II: Imprisoned in the Armoured Self”.

I’d welcome your reflections on the nature of “social armour”, and the social mask.  Have you ever experieced situations where, to your surprise, someone was suddenly vulnerable?  Where you were?

I wish you every good thing as you travel on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDITS: © Turkbug| Dreamstime.com ; marvel.com

VIDEO CREDIT: ©Marvel Entertainment, LLC  //marvel.com/movies/iron_man.iron_man_2

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Work and the Heart

May 15th, 2010 · Hope, Identity, Jungian analysis, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, soul, Wellness, wholeness, work

An article from the Globe and Mail of 12 May 2010 , “Working regular overtime linked to increased heart attack risk” raises some very serious questions about the way that we’re living now:

//bit.ly/99TwPg

The article cites a study published in the European Heart Journal, which finds that employees who regularly put in 11- to 12-hour days have an almost 60 per cent greater risk of having a heart attack than those who put in a standard 7 to 8 hours daily.  The scary thing, of course, is that, in our world, that group who are putting in the 11 to 12 hour days is very large.  As the article suggests, “the overtime hours were not, in and of themselves, causing heart problems, but rather that they likely reflect the stress being felt by those who work long days”.  So, to be literal-minded, stress and endless days are making people sick at heart.

What is it about work and the heart?  There is true symbolism here, that comes right out of the midst of flesh and blood.  For events in the body are very often symbols or metaphors of what is going on in the psyche.  Psyche will reflect in the stomach, or in the neck and back what psyche has to bear, or finds unbearable.  Psyche and soma (Greek for body) are a unity, and they reflect each other.

At the risk of sounding childish or naive, this whole area begs our consideration because it draws attention to a huge very personal, very human question: what is our heart’s desire?

Down through the millenia, the symbolism of the human heart has represented that dimension of the human being that interacts with life through feeling.  The psychic reality is that the feeling dimension of life cannot be ignorred.  The overall question of what we want, really want, from our lives is not going to leave us alone, not really going to go away, even if it gets repressed.  Endless work and/or the complete blurring of the distinction between work and home leaves the heart in a desert wasteland.

We have to come to terms with the true depth of our yearning.  The only way to do that is to trust that our deepest yearnings are not meaningless.

How can we possibly find a way to make a living and keep our health?  Only by giving the heart what it needs.  What does your heart need?  Can we dare to even ask that question?  Do we dare to hope for it anymore, or has that hope gotten submerged or lost in the midst of cascading demands and obligations?

Stay with your heart.  Trust that it knows what you need.  Strive to find the ways to get closer to the things that matter to you, and to be less and less driven by urgencies and agendas that have nothing to do with your own real life.  As the Book of Proverbs, that compendium of age-old human wisdom in the Hebrew Bible has it:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,

but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

 My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness — and your journey to your heart.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: ©  Vladimirdreams|Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Crisis

May 8th, 2010 · Anxiety, Carl Jung, collective unconscious, complexes, depression, depth psychology, Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, psychological crisis, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, soul, stress

 

Sometimes we can be overtaken by things that happen in the psyche.  Such events can leave a person in a very vulnerable place struggling with intense anxiety, depression or stress.  Often these psychic events are triggered by events in our outer lives.  Nonetheless, it is their psychological impact, the things that they cause to happen in our minds, that has the most fundamental impact upon us.  It is the manner in which we perceive these events, and the meaning that we attach to them, that can led us into real difficulties.

There are many potential types of crisis.  I have chosen just a few types to mention here, which are among the most prominent and difficult.

Betrayal is often one of the very worst types of crises. A negative experience at the hands of one who is loved and trusted can be one of the most profoundly shattering experiences in life.  I will be writing a whole posting, or a whole series on this in the near future.  Nonetheless, what is important here is that such an experience can shake a person to the core, particularly if the relationship in which the betrayal occurs is one that is fundamental to a person’s sense of identity (see below).

Fundamental crisis of identity. A fundamental crisis of this kind is an experience in which an individual’s sense of themselves is pulled out from underneath them, as it were, rather than the kind of gradual change in understanding of identity that occurs in aging and maturation.  For example, consider the person who has 37 years in with the same firm, and who is unexpectedly laid off 2 1/2 years before retirement.  Or the 47 year old woman who learns for the first time that she is adopted in her mother’s last will and testament.  job loss.  loss of a business.

Grief and or profound disillusionment.  These two types of experience can be quite distinct, or else they can come together.  Often the loss of a loved one can lead to some of the deepest soul-searching and questions in life.  Sometimes grief, though, can also be associated with the loss of a way of life, or something that has provided a certain kind of meaning, such as a pattern of life that may be associated with living with a certain city or location, or in a certain community of people, when one has to leave it.

The sense of being fundamentally overwhelmed by external events.In my opinion, this is one of the most frequent kinds of psychic crisis for people in suburban environments like Oakville, Burlington and Mississauga.  In fact, at certain times in recent years in our culture, I think that this kind of psychic affliction has been almost epidemic.

The effect of huge life events of these types is that they can cause some pretty fundamental upheavals deep in the individual’s psyche.  These can lead to things in the unconscious getting very shaken up and emerging in consciousness, such as anxiety and depression.

However, it is important to recognize that contents from the unconscious might well be surfacing in an attempt to bring healing to the individual, also.

What do I do if I find myself in the grip of a crisis? Sometimes people keep on with business as usual, acting as if nothing has changed in their lives.  They work just as hard, maybe harder.  They are just as demanding of themselves as they ever were, maybe even more so.

1. Acknowledge that you are in a crisis. This can be hard to admit.  All of us would rather not go through this type of experience, even though they are a fundamental aspect of human life. Sometimes the need to look good–to ourselves, or to others–can keep a person from acknowledging in a self-compassionate way that she or he has something big with which they have to struggle.

2. Take care of yourself.  Carefully consider your sleeping, eating, working and stressful interactions.  Are you putting more burden on yourself than you can manage in a healthy way?  As in 1. , are you truly acknowledging what it is that you are going through?  If you respond to the distress of a crisis by, say, trying to drown the pain through working harder, you need to recognize that the outcome may not be at all good for you or for the people to whom you are close.

3. Get help.  Seek out a good therapist.  You are going to need to process what is happening to you, to come to terms with the feelings, and with everything, such as depression, anxiety and perhaps even panic, that may be coming up from the unconscious.  A skilled therapist who is aware of the deeper meanings of these types of events can help you to put them in a context where the psyche can start to make some kind of meaning out of them.

4.  Ask whether this situation reminds you of anything similar in your earlier life. Is this particular crisis bringing up things out of the past for you?  Does it connect with difficult things that you have had to deal with earlier in your life?  Does it reflect patterns that you have experienced at earlier times in your life?……..

I’d gratefully welcome your comments and reflections on psychological crisis.  Have you, like very many people, had experience of crisis in your life?  Are you dealing with forms of crisis now?

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

Website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga Practice: www.briancollinson.ca

PHOTO CREDIT: ©  Icefields|Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Here in the Middle Years of Life: Is That All There Is?

February 28th, 2010 · Anxiety, depression, depth psychology, Hope, Identity, inner life, life passages, Meaning, midlife, Psychotherapy, soul, stress, suburbia / exurbia, The Self, therapy

The great jazz artist Peggy Lee performed the following beautiful, highly disturbing yet haunting song in 1969, at midlife, in her 50th year:

I doubt that questions get much more real than those in this song.  And the question that Peggy Lee sings about here is of the type, that, for many people, can become achingly urgent at the middle of life. 

For many people, especially in our tumultuous times, the middle years of life can come to feel like an endless process of coping with chaos.  It can feel like life has become a time of just responding to one crisis after another: issues with maturing children, issues with the health of parents; job issues; issues of financial security.  At times, life can come to seem endlessly wearying, and very much as if there is nothing to it, but “just going through the motions”.  From such a place, for very many people, there can come a deep heartfelt cry: “Is this really all that there is to my life?  Is this all that I get?”

This moment, the moment of this question, is highly important in the life of the individual.  This is true, even especially true, if the time when this question arises is filled with depression, anxiety — even despair.

From experience with clients, I can almost guarantee that there will be no canned, pre-packaged answer to this question that will slake the desperate thirst of those who ask such a question. Only an answer rooted in the individual’s life will bring any peace, any hope, any meaning — any sense of value.

By an individual answer, I mean one that emerges from the very depths of the individual.  Not something that the individual’s intellect or conscious mind has cobbled together, but something that emerges from the very depths of the person, from what they most fundamentally are.  Something to which they can say “Yes!” with their whole being.

It is the task of good therapy (and of Jungian analysis) to assist the individual in finding the symbolic dimension that conveys meaning, to find the deep story or myth of an individual’s life.  There are many in suburban places like Oakville, Burlington and Mississauga for whom the question “Is that all there is?” has become urgently real.  I invite you to enter into the therapeutic journey inward, to find your own inner treasure.

I’d gratefully welcome comments and reflections from readers.  Have you had the experience of wondering in this way “is that all there is”?  How has that question affected your life?  If you were willing to share this important and personal part of your life, I’d be deeply interested to dialogue with you.

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

Website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga Practice: www.briancollinson.ca

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

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Depth Psychotherapy: Beyond the Cookie-Cutter

February 22nd, 2010 · depth psychology, Identity, Psychotherapy, therapy


Cookie Cutter Therapy for Vibrant Jung Thing In recent years, there have been certain strong and notable trends emerging in the field of psychotherapy.  Some have been very valuable, but some, unfortunately, have not been for the better.

In many cases what’s on offer doesn’t seem to be anything that really helps people deal with their own personal uniqueness, or the individuality of their lives.  Nothing that really helps people to truly feel at home and alive within their own skin.

For instance, cognitive behavioural therapy [CBT] undoubtedly has some aspects that render it useful.  By attempting to change peoples’ thought patterns, it does offer a very valid tool for people caught in obsessive thought patterns, or patterns of behaviour.  The relief that it provides in this way can be of great benefit to many people.  Yet, often, people who go through a course of such therapy are left with the feeling that, at the end of it, there is something important missing.

I believe that this is because of the emphasis in CBT on purely rational thinking.  There is an underlying belief in CBT that all that is really significant is the conscious mind, and that, if only the individual can be trained to think about their life situations in a reasonable, rational way, then everything will be OK.

But not everything in human life is purely rational.  If rationality were all that we had in human life, our lives would seem dramatically impoverished.  

If you have ever been in love with someone, is the manner in which you look at them and think about them purely rational?  If you did look at them that way, thinking about that person as just a purely biological entity, for instance, a primate of the species homo sapiens composed of various amounts of certain organic compounds, which interact in various complex ways, would you still be able to love them?  Likely not.

Similarly, are you really capable of looking at yourself that way?  As a bundle of chemicals, and metabolic and neural impulses?  Or as something that is like a variant of your laptop computer?  I think that it is much more likely that you look at yourself as a person, as a whole.  

Attempts to reduce human persons to bundles of physical processes are nothing new in philosophy and psychology, or for that matter in medicine.  They have been going on for hundreds of years.  A famous example, which many people find quite chilling is found in the 1971 book Beyond Freedom and Dignity by B.F. Skinner. 

Skinner advocates that decision-makers move beyond “outmoded” ideas of human personhood to govern the world with a sophisticated combination of classical and operant conditioning that would supersede such “obsolete” notions as viewing humans as free and autonomous agents and as having human dignity.  Thinkers like Skinner are very often trying to reduce human persons to something more understandable and manageable, but they never quite seem to be able to capture the essence of what it is to be human.

In addition, please consider the whole added dimension of the human unconscious.  Here is an entire realm of human existence that is never going to be reduced to simplistic notions of goal-directed rationality.  And it is in the symbolic material that emerges from the unconscious, found in the realms of art, literature, mythology, and religious expression that the deepest and profoundest expressions of what it is to be human are found.  Can these dimensions of life be reduced to causal and rational explanations?  Not really.  You can try, of course, but only at a terrible cost: the price to be paid is that our very humanity goes missing.

In the words of the famous poet of the self, Walt Whitman, “Re-examine all that you have been told… dismiss that which insults your soul.”  When it comes to therapy, it’s essential to find a mode of therapy that honours the richness and intricacy of your own deepest being…

 

I’d gratefully welcome comments and reflections from readers.  Have you had experiences of therapy that really honoured your uniqueness, your freedom and your dignity?  On the other hand, have you experienced forms of therapy that have not done so?  I’d be very interested to dialogue with you about this important subject.

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson

Website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga Practice: www.briancollinson.ca

Email: brian@briancollinson.ca

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PHOTO CREDITS: © Hdconnelly|Dreamstime.com 

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

 

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Does February Bring Any GIfts?

January 31st, 2010 · depth psychology, Hope, Identity, Individuation, inner life, soul, The Self, therapy

February Gifts 2 for Vibrant Jung Thing  “April is the cruelest month” wrote the poet T.S. Eliot.  When I first read that line as a teenager, my thought was, “Obviously, this poet wasn’t a Canadian!”

Anyone who has consistently lived through winters in places like Oakville, Mississauga or Burlington will probably tell you that “the cruelest month” is either January or February.  I suspect that many would vote for February.

For many people, February can seem very bleak.  The year-end holidays are far behind us.  There is no major holiday to lighten our hearts, although we do now have “Family Day”.  Snow or brutal cold –this year we have little of the former and plenty of the latter–can turn trips out into an ordeal.  The days are lengthening, it’s true, but, at least in our part of the world, long strings of overcast days lead many people to feel starved for sunlight.

Does February bring us any gifts?  How could it?…

One of the most difficult aspects of this time of the year can be that we tend to feel shut in, and shut up with ourselves.  This can mean that we are left with what I often term the fundamental question of ourselves.  That is, with how to be who we are and feel good about it.  How to actively accept and cherish our lives, rather than just seeing ourselves as “one in a million”.

Many of the things into which we pour our energy at other times of the year are just not available now.  Our response to that can be to curse the luck and hang on grimly until spring.  Or, we could use the time to really encounter ourselves.

Here are some things that might be helpful to think about at this time.  They’ve proved valuable to me, so I leave them with you for your consideration:

 

Have you ever told yourself the story of your own life?  To sit down and actually write your own life story can be a truly revelatory thing to do.

Have you ever thought about what the happiest time in your life was?  Have you ever thought about what was the saddest?

Who are the three most significant people that you have encountered in your life, other than parents or siblings.  Why are they important to you?  What does that tell you about yourself?

In what do you put your faith?  This might be a formal religious belief, or a personal spirituality or philosophy, or it might be something quite different.  What you fundamentally value can tell you a tremendous amount about who you fundamentally are.

It may be that, as you live with these questions, they take on a fundamental importance that leads you to want to explore new dimensions of yourself, with someone “on your side” to witness your journey.  Certainly that was my experience, and that is what initially led me into psychotherapy and Jungian analysis.

 

I’d welcome comments below from readers on how any of these thoughts relates to your lives at this time of year.

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson

Website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga Practice: www.briancollinson.ca

PHOTO CREDITS: © Yobro10 | Dreamstime.com 

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

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Identity and Anxiety in the Film, “Up In the Air”

January 22nd, 2010 · Anxiety, Current Affairs, depth psychology, Film, Identity, Individuation, life passages, Meaning, midlife, persona, puer aeternis, unlived life, wholeness, work

Make no mistake, moving is living.  -Ryan Bingham

 

“Up in the Air”, directed by Jason Reitman, stars George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick.UpInTheAir for Vibrant Jung Thing  Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham is a full-time corporate down-sizer whose life consists of an endless stream of business travel (“322 days last year”).  He moves from place to place, letting people go from corporate roles when their employers cannot stomach doing it.  He has no permanent attachments to people, a desolate and hollow single bedroom apartment he never sleeps in, and he has accumulated 10,000,000 airmiles…

Up In the Air Official Website

Ryan Bingham’s life is in airports and hotel rooms and is filled with constant movement.  The stability and security in his life, his secure base, is found precisely in those things that others find impermanent and impersonal.  His finely orchestrated and choreographed travel routine, his mechanized method of moving constantly from place to place gives him re-assurance, and in an odd way a sense of belonging.  Which is good, because Ryan has no permanent connections to anyone in his life.

Ryan also has a budding career as an motivational speaker.  His message: “Make no mistake: your relationships are the heaviest components in your life….  The slower we move, the faster we die.”

Ryan is completely identified with his corporate role.   His aircraft-bound life is an appropriate symbol of his existence on a deeper level.  In the terms of Jungian psychology, Ryan, like Christopher McCandless, the subject of Into the Wild is a true puer aeternus (“eternal boy”).  He floats above life in his social self, and never puts down roots into the deep soil of his genuine self.  And he is danger of discovering that his life is tragic because there he has no remaining way to turn back.

In its own way, this is a very disturbing and provocative film, but it’s a very good one.  It raises the question for each of us about how connected we’re willing to be to the real substance of our lives.

I’d welcome comments below from readers on anxiety, identity and work.

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson

PHOTO CREDITS: © DW Studios LL.C. and Cold Spring Pictures

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

 

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