Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Three Truths about Mortality and Life Transitions

September 29th, 2013 · life, life transitions, Transitions

Our growing awareness of mortality in the second half of life can spur us to major life transitions.

life transitions

While some life transitions just occur to us, others require some element of decision.  Those are the ones that I want to reflect on in this post.

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The Shortness & Infinite Preciousness of Life

The issue of mortality came home to me this week in a vivid personal way, when, sadly, I learned of the death of a woman I know in her mid-50s.  I cannot, of course communicate any identifying details about this wonderful person, other than to describe her as an engaging, young-looking woman with a quick mind and vivid sense of humour, who apparently passed with incredible quickness.

Certainly, anyone who knew this competent, vivacious, woman, who apparently had so much ahead of her, must have been deeply shocked by this turn of events.

This is a difficult truth, but an incredibly important one: none of us knows how much time we actually have to live, and to become aware.  That makes each day, each new awareness, each new choice, infinitely precious.

There are Life Transitions We Need to Make Happen

In keeping with the theme of those life transitions that we have a role in bringing about, we need to ask some searching questions.

1.  Are there experiences that I need to have?  I don’t mean this in the sense of fulfilling some entertaining “bucket list” of diversion.  Rather, are there experiences that are soul work, that my inmost being cries out for?

2. Have I found people with whom I can connect in a meaningful way?  Are there people with whom I am truly at home?  Where in this world can I find a welcome?  And…

3. Perhaps most profoundly and fundamentally. are there ways in which I need to explore and be aware of myself?  To embark on a path of increasing self awareness — this can often be the profoundest life transition of all.

Go for Soul

For many, as life moves along its course, it becomes essential to have experience of the true depth of life within ourselves.

Here is a Zen Buddhist parable on mortality:

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger.  He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above.  Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!…

life transitions

The following recounting of a dream by C.G. Jung in Memories, Dreams, Reflections seems to me to sound many of these same themes, as does the accompanying song by, of all people, Jimmy Buffet:

Jungian therapy concerns itself with the key importance of life transitions, particularly in the second half of life, and emphasizes the need to pour ourselves fully into the things that want to draw us into life.

PHOTOS: Attribution Share Alike  Some rights reserved by deejayres ;
© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Life Transitions: 4 Truths about Seasons of the Heart

August 27th, 2013 · life, life transitions, Transitions

Life transitions are at their most readily apparent in the late Summer-early Fall period: we feel the turning of the seasons — in nature and ourselves.

life transitions

I’ve certainly felt this personally this year as the days move towards early September.  My youngest child is heading off to university this fall, and so this seasonal turning matches the turning of the seasons in my own life. Who knew there were so many seasons, so many life transitions in adulthood!

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Seasons of Adulthood

Well, it turns out psychologist Daniel J. Levinson did, or at least knew more about it than most of us.  His groundbreaking work on the seasons of men’s and women’s lives postulated four stages, overlapping to some degree, that run right through the life cycle: 1. Childhood and Adolescence (birth to 20);  2. Early Adulthood (17-45); 3. Middle Adulthood (40-65); and, 4. Late Adulthood (60 and up).  life transitions

According to Levinson, each stage has a stable period, and transitional stages between it and the other stages.  Whether or not he gets these precisely right, it ‘s hard to avoid his basic intuition that life consists of stages and seasons — an intuition shared by Jung.

Discerning the Time

It’s essential to discern the season of our lives.  What is it that life is bringing to us at this time, right here, right now?  Can we see it?  Can we let it be what it is? Or are we straining to return to some long past reality, trying to fit the present into the mold of a now non-existent past?  Or, striving in some grim, relentless way to bring an as-yet non-existent future into existence, and, in the process, missing what life is bringing to us now?

Or, am I stuck in a major life transition, knowing that I can’t remain in the past, but unsure about how to move into the future?

Life Transitions: Embrace, Let Go

September is a time that really brings home the realities of the seasons of our lives.

Sometimes it’s hard to embrace the present moment and its meaning.  We’ll see this reality powerfully mirrored in the faces of some of our children as they face the reality of going back to school!  Still, we have to accept what our lives are, and what we face at the moment, in both our inner and outer worlds.

We also have to be strive to be aware of the feeling response of our inmost being to the season — whether it is anxiety, acceptance, grief, yearning, or any other reaction.

life transitions

Life Transitions of the Fall

Here comes September, a reminder of the changing seasons and of the life transitions of men and women.  Here comes September, mirror of all the seasons of life, and of their call to us, as the Byrds remind us in the beautiful song “Turn, Turn, Turn”, with the words of the Bible sounding remarkably like the words of Lao Tzu:

 

 

Life transitions, especially major life transitions, touch our depths.  Often depth psychotherapy can help us find meaning, healing and direction in the midst of the seasons of our lives.

PHOTOS: Attribution Some rights reserved Nicholas_T ;  VIDEO: © 2006 Sony BMG Entertainment (UK) Ltd.
© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Jungian Therapy & the Second Half of Life, 5: Freedom

April 9th, 2012 · freedom, Jungian, Jungian therapy, life, second half of life

jungian therapy

The word freedom often appears in discussions about the second half of life, but often the particular depth of understanding that Jungian therapy would attach to the word is lacking.

Not long ago, people talked about “Freedom 55”, the idea that one would be able to retire and leave work behind at age 55.  However, particularly since the economic contraction of 2008, this may seem much less possible.  Yet, this type of fantasy retains its power: we often hear phrases like “imagine the freedom” associated with, say, winning the lottery.

However, another concept much more closely associated with what used to be called spirituality may have more relevance in the second half of life.  Jungian analyst James Hillman once observed,

[W]e haven’t thought about… freedom enough. It needs to be internalized as an inner freedom from “demand” itself… that comes when you’re free from those compulsions to have and to own and to be someone…. [We need a concept] that broadens our current limited idea of freedom: that I can do any goddamn thing I want on my property; that I am my own boss and don’t want government interference; that I don’t want anybody telling me what I can and can’t do…

Externals and Freedom

We easily identify “externals” that keep us from being free, such as my boss, my job or my financial limitations.  It’s true: my external circumstances always limit my freedom – just as they also create my possibilities.  But in our time and culture, is being free from externals the freedom that we really most need?

Freedom from Inner Compulsion

Like Jungian therapy in general, Hillman suggests the greatest restrictions we face may actually be inner.  Yearning for more self esteem,  we may thirst for: respect and approval of others; ownership of house or car that says we’ve “made it”; or, status or qualifications that show that we “are somebody”.  Or we feed addictions, thus avoiding dealing with shame or anxiety.  Could release from inner compulsions make us free?

Free… For What?

We assume we need to be free “from” externals.  But Hillman and Jungian therapy bid us consider what our freedom is actually for.  What do we need to be free to find in the second half of life ?

Authenticity and Meaning

Jungian therapy emphasizes the self in the second half of life: what does freedom mean from this perspective?  Surely letting the self live freely, and finding one’s life purpose in doing so.  Perhaps the Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis summed it up best in his epitaph:

“I expect nothing.  I fear nothing.  I am free.”

 

 

PHOTOS:  Attribution Some rights reserved by Guilliame Paumier  VIDEO: © 20th Century Fox
© 2012 Brian Collinson

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