Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

Psychotherapy, Self and a Snow Day

February 2nd, 2011 · analytical psychology, Anxiety, depression, inner life, life journey, Lifestyle, Meaning, Oakville, Peel Region, personal story, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, reflection, Self, soul, The Self, therapy

Why am I writing about psychotherapy, snow days and the self today?  Because, if Environment Canada and the other weather folks are right, today will shape up to be the most significant “snow day” we’ve experienced in this part of Canada for a number of years.  And even if the weather folks are wrong, there’s a huge number of school and other closures, and people just staying home in anticipation of a huge dump of snow, whether it actually comes or not.  Psychotherapy would say that the snow day is a psychological and social reality, even if it turns out not to be a meteorological one.

So what do psychotherapy, psychology and the self, etc. have to do with a snow day?  I think it’s this.

Normal Expectations — Shut Down!

With a snow day, suddenly all of our normal expectations for the day just get shut down.  Normal routines and expectations of the day are put on hold.  There’s no taking the kids to school, and maybe no commute and time in the office.  Where we had expected an ordinary working day, filled with the usual frenetic busy-ness, we often get a much quieter day.  A day with unexpected elements of “down time” and maybe with significant blocks of empty space.

What do I Notice?

What do I notice in the middle of the unexpected emptiness of a snow day?  Potentially, many things.  One of them may be a lot of anxiety.  The sudden lack of agenda may lead us to feel an unexpected void.  Alternately, we might find ourselves feeling a bit “down”.  For some people, there may have been a feeling of anticipation of the snow day — “Oh, good, no work!” — which is gradually replaced by a feeling of listlessness that seems to creep in as they are confronted with inactivity.  And then, for some folks, there will be a genuine feeling of relief to just have some let up from the pressure of the daily routine in this unexpected way.

Opportunity

Whatever feelings you may confront, they bring an opportunity.  In this open space of time, you have the opportunity to learn something about yourself, about relationship, and about your feelings about your own real life.  This day, seeming empty, may prove to be a doorway, if you take the opportunity it provides to look within.

Three Psychological Questions to Ask Yourself Today

1.  What do I really feel today?  Please note: this is not the same question as “What do I think?” or “What do I think I ought to feel?” It’s a question that I ask myself when I’m trying to be as honest as I can about parts of myself to which I may not usually pay attention.

2. What do I really want today?  Again, this is not the same as, “What do I think I ought to want?”  Without censoring myself, can I be honest about what I’d really like in my life?

3. Is the Life I’m Leading Meeting the Needs of My Inmost Self?  If the answer to this question is “No”, or “I’m not sure”, this might be the moment to seek out the help of an experienced and qualified psychotherapist to do some in-depth self-exploration.

More than just “down time”, the open-ness of a snow day can be an opportunity to move into depth.

Wishing you a meaningful snow day — and a genuine encounter with your own dear self, as you move forward on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2011 Brian Collinson

Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

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An Oakville Psychotherapist’s View of Work Life Balance

November 4th, 2010 · Identity, Individuation, Jungian analysis, Lifestyle, Meaning, personal myth, psychotherapist, stress, therapy, work

 

The Toronto Globe and Mail has been running a series of articles on “Work Life Balance”.  There is one of these articles that I found myself reacting to rather strongly.  The article is entitled “Work-Life Balance: Why Your Boss Should Care” .  In particular, the article contains the following paragraph:

“Our inability to balance our jobs and our home life is costing corporate Canada as much as $10-billion a year in rising absenteeism, lost output, lower productivity, missed deadlines and grumpy customers, according to estimates by business professors Linda Duxbury of Carleton University and Christopher Higgins of the University of Western Ontario.”

Now, in fairness to this article, it is part of a series of articles that the Globe has been running, that all have somewhat different perspectives on work-life balance.  It is also true that this article states  that it focuses on the management perspective in a very up-front way.  Nonetheless, I feel that, from the perspective of a therapist, this article loses sight of a number of important things.

Work Life Balance is an Individual Thing

First, it’s not the job of corporations to sort out the individual’s work-life balance issues, nor is it within the corporation’s competence.  The task of a corporation is to make money for its shareholders, plain and simple.  The large corporation, as much as the state, is an entity composed of masses of human beings.  However, the matter of work-life balance is a matter that is important to individuals, and it is only on that individual level that the question of the right relationship of life and work can be solved.

Work Life Balance is Not Fundamentally an Economic Issue

Second, the study emphasizes the cost to employers of distorted work-life balance.  However, it doesn’t appear that any corresponding analysis was done of the financial benefits to corporate Canada of people working hours that are weighted on the heavy end.  If that calculation were done, and if it were established that there was a net financial benefit to corporate Canada in encouraging overwork, would that conclude the matter, making overwork a good thing?  Unquestionably not.  Otherwise, you have reduced the value of the individual’s life purely to their economic role.

Work-life issues are not properly analyzed in terms of financial cost-benefit or markets.  They are only properly analyzed in terms of individual decisions, and in terms of what the individual values in his or her life.

Individuals Have to Take Responsibility for Their Own Lives

Individuals can’t offload their responsibility to find a personal solution to these issues to any corporation or other employer — or to any other collective entity.  Individuals have to really take hold of this issue, take personal responsibility for it, and examinine it deeply in the light of their own deepest values.  From the point of view of the therapist or Jungian analyst, the answers to those life questions are going to be fundamentally tied up with the individual’s understanding of his or her own personal identity, and with the story that the individual tells him or herself about her or his life — his or her own personal myth.

A Question of Identity

And that requires that individuals distinguish their work identity and social self — the roles they play, what Jung would call the persona — from their true identity, which rests upon the things that the individual most fundamentally values.  The journey of psychotherapy is to go in search of what that true identity is, even when it may conflict in some ways with the standards and norms of society and family.

How Does This Affect You?

Are you wrestling with issues around balancing work and life?  Have you faced particular times when this issue has come to the fore for you, and required decision, discernment or endurance?  I would really welcome any of your comments or life stories, either as comments on this post or as confidential emails.  I would really appreciate your thoughts and reflections.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2010 Brian Collinson
Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

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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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"People Don't Say What's On Their Minds"

March 26th, 2009 · Carl Jung, depth psychology, Identity, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Lifestyle, persona, Psychology, Psychotherapy, soul

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This has been an extremely busy time for me, and I apologize to those of you who may have been expecting that I would be posting before now.  I have a number of somewhat longer posts that I expect to put up on the blog before very long, but I thought that today I would leave this quotation with you from Jung.  It's the latest in the series of Jung quotations that I have been posting on this blog. 

It's a fascinating little comment in which Jung tells us something of how he himself first became interested in psychology and psychological growth ,and ultimately, in identity and individuation and the shadow.  It's from an interview of Jung called "On Creative Achievement" by Emil Fisher, which appears in that great little book called C.G. Jung Speaking.  Fisher asks Jung,

What were the circumstances that induced you to work in the field of psychological research?

To which Jung replies,

"Even as a small boy I noticed that people always did the contrary of what was said of them.  I found some of the people who were praised quite unbearable, whereas I though others who were criticized quite pleasant.

I noticed the inconsistencies in the behaviour of adults quite early on, because I spent my formative years in Basel, in a rather odd environment, which was frequented by people with a complicated psychic structure.

When I was barely four years old, someone said to me in an exaggerated childish tone: "Where do you think you are going with your rocking horse?"  I reacted quite the enfant terrible: "Mama, why does this man say such nonsense?"  Even as a child I clearly felt that people did not really say what was on their minds."

"Americans Must Say 'No' in McGuire, William, and Hull, R.F.C., eds.,

C.G. Jung Speaking (Princeton: University Press, 1977)

 

I think most of us share the sense that Jung had at a very early age, that there is a lot more going on inside people than they really show us on the outside.  And then, it's also true that there's a lot more going on inside ourselves than we show on the outside.  It's something that we've all known for a very long time, and we all really want to understand it.  When it comes to ourselves, there may well come a time in our lives when it's absolutely vital for us to understand what makes us tick.  To open ourselves up to self-knowledge may well be the true beginning of wisdom.

My very best wishes to each of you on your individual journeys to wholeness,

Brian Collinson

Website for Brian's Oakville and Mississauga Practice: www.briancollinson.ca ; Email: brian@briancollinson.ca

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© 2009 Brian Collinson 

 

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Jung on North America's Anxiety and Individuation Dilemma

March 16th, 2009 · Anxiety, Carl Jung, collective consciousness, Current Affairs, depth psychology, Identity, Individuation, Jungian analysis, Lifestyle, Meaning, popular culture, Psychotherapy, soul, The Self, wholeness

In 1931, over 75 years ago, C. G. Jung gave an interview to an American journalist in Vienna.  In it, he laid out a description of what he saw as some of the central dilemmas facing Americans.

In this moment, we are in the aftermath of the subprime mortgage and financial crises, and hopefully at the beginning of some kind of recovery from those fearful events, and the anxiety associated with them.  I believe that Jung’s remarks still speak very directly to Americans – and equally to Canadians – as we are unavoidably forced to re-evaluate what is fundamentally important in our values, our psyche and our lives. 

"The tempo of America is being taken as a norm to which life should be directed….  What America needs in the face of the tremendous urge towards NO for Vibrant Jung Thing Bloguniformity, desire of things, the desire for complications in life, for being like one's neighbours, for making records, et cetera, is one great healthy ability to say 'No.'  To rest a minute and realize that many of the things being sought are unnecessary to a happy life, and that trying to live exactly like one's successful neighbour is not following the essentially different dictates, possibly, of a widely different underlying personality, which a person may possess and yet consciously try to rid himself of, the conflict always resulting in some form, sooner or later of a neurosis….

We are awakening a little to the feeling that something is wrong in the world, that our modern prejudice of overestimating the importance of the intellect and the conscious mind might be false.  We want simplicity.  We are suffering, in our cities, from a need of simple things….

These things are being expressed in thousands of dreams.  Women’s dreams, men’s dreams, the dreams of human beings, all having much the same collective primal unconscious mind – the same in the central African… and the New York stockbroker – and it is in our dreams that the body makes itself aware to our mind….  The dream calls our mind’s attention to the body’s instinctive feeling.”

"Americans Must Say 'No' in McGuire, William, and Hull, R.F.C., eds.,

C.G. Jung Speaking (Princeton: University Press, 1977)

 

At this difficult anxious time, the world situation confronts us with fundamental choices about how we will see our own lives, how we will define ourselves, and what we will value and choose as we move forward in our lives.  Jung seeks to brings us back to recognizing and living out of the reality of the psyche, and to seeking to be conscious of the whole of what we are as human beings, which is the core of a meaningful life.

 

My very best wishes to each of you on your individual journeys to wholeness,

Brian Collinson

Website for Brian's Oakville and Mississauga Practice: www.briancollinson.ca ; Email: brian@briancollinson.ca

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© 2009 Brian Collinson 

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Anger: Everybody Has It, So What Do We Do With It?

December 9th, 2008 · anger, collective consciousness, depression, depth psychology, Halton Region, Individuation, Jungian psychology, Lifestyle, Mississauga, Oakville, Peel Region, Psychology, Psychotherapy, soul, The Self, Wellness, wholeness

Anger for Vibrant Jung Blog There is no easy way with anger.  It can be one of the most powerful psychological forces that we experience.  As an old song once said, "anger is an energy" — and it can be a force for growth in a person's life, or a source of misery and destruction.

At this time, the problem of dealing with anger is more on our minds in this society than it has surely ever been.  As a society, we really don't know what to do with it.  It is simply symptomatic of our confusion and uncertainty that a major fast food chain has created a major campaign centered around a hamburger called the "Angry Whopper"!

For many people, anger is the unacceptable "taboo" emotion, the one that has no real place in our lives, the one that "decent" or "reasonable" people avoid.  This is a lesson that many of us learned deep in the womb of the family.  When I think of my own upbringing, it is absolutely clear to me that most emotion was suspect, but anger in particular was completely anathema. Anger 2 for Vibrant Jung Blog

There is a trend in modern thinking to isolate anger, to treat it as some intruder in the human psyche or soul.  There is a tendency in much of modern psychology to want to wall anger off and treat it as a specific discreet problem that has only limited connection to the whole of a person's personality.  So we hear a lot about anger management and rage addiction.  This type of term that ignores the fact that a person's anger stems from real issues in the whole of that person's personality.

But those who have to deal with their anger or rage as personal problem know that such emotions are anything but discreet.  When they are in full force, they can often seem to take complete control of the personality, and to be completely in the driver's seat.

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Anxiety and the Downturn

November 30th, 2008 · collective consciousness, Current Affairs, depth psychology, Georgetown, Halton Region, Individuation, Jungian psychology, life passages, Lifestyle, Meaning, Milton, Mississauga, Oakville, panic, Peel Region, popular culture, Psychotherapy, The Self, Wellness, wholeness

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The present economic conditions are deeply challenging to the ways that we all think about ourselves and our lives.  It takes a toll on all of us to be constantly bombarded with negative economic news that often seems only to get worse with each passing day.

It's evident to me from my practice how much anxiety is being created in each of us, and what a heavy burden a lot of people are having to carry in the present situation.  At the tail end of last week, there were numerous people who came through my office who were profoundly anxious and deeply scared at the things that they were seeing in their personal and working lives as we undergo the current economic crisis.

© William Attard Mccarthy | Dreamstime.com

How can we avoid being crippled by the anxiety and the fear?  There are a number of things to keep in focus.

First, the economic conditions that we are confronting are governed by the psychology of the crowd.  Modern communication technology only enhances and deepens this effect.  Crowd psychology is prone to irrational excitements and manias when things are good, and is equally prone to mass panics when they are bad.  In the short run, it can likely be expected that panic will actually worsen economic conditions, and we have to be prepared to weather that.

Second, we must fully expect that this mass panic is going to "hook" and activate all of our deepest fears.  Money is a very emotional matter for the vast majority of human beings.  It symbolizes our life-energy, which we have put into our work, through our sweat and sacrifice.  We can expect that, when we receive the kind of ominous news that has been about, we are going to initially respond with fear and anxiety — maybe even with terror.

Third, it is important to "hang onto ourselves" by not giving way to this fear and panic.  On balance, weighing decisions carefully at this time, and realizing that we are being infected, so to speak, by the panic of the crowd, and taking action in a way that really is in line with our own true feelings and emotions will lead us to courses of action that will serve us better.  Also, we need to hang on to the recognition that this crisis will not last forever.

Fourth, find your basic trust in life again, and act from that.  This is the time to draw on your deepest philosophical and religious convictions.  What do you really believe is important in life?  Do you believe that life is a meaningful journey, which is unfolding in a way that makes your life and the lives of the people close to you valuable?  If so, now is the time to put that belief in front of you, and to remind yourself of it constantly.

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Chicago: An Enormous, Diverse, Extroverted, Friendly American City…

August 16th, 2008 · collective consciousness, Current Affairs, depth psychology, Halton Region, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, Lifestyle, Mississauga, Oakville, Peel Region, popular culture, Psychotherapy, soul

Chicago_for_jung_blog

© Bonnie Pignatiello Leer | Dreamstime.com

I’ve just gotten back today from a trip to Chicago, and I apologize to my readers for the lack of posts over the last little while.  I plan to write about my trip, and to reflect on different psychological and soul aspects of my trip to that great city.

It was a wonderful trip!  Chicago is such a vital place! 

I couldn’t help drawing a lot of comparisons with Toronto as we explored different dimensions of the city.  There are certain similarities — large cities each located on the shores of the Great Lakes.  However, beyond these surface characteristics, the two cities are very different in very many ways.

Most fundamentally, I think , there is a difference in what Jung would call weltanschauung, or world view.  Perhaps to, say, Europeans, or Asians, the inhabitants of Chicago and Toronto would seem very similar.  However, I think that there are some fascinating differences in fundamental attitudes.  It’s hard to put this into words, except to say that, even in the midst of the current economic uncertainties, there is an extraordinary confidence that Chicago exudes.  Perhaps it’s a bit cliche, now, but I could hear the poetry of Carl Sandburg ringing in my ears as we travelled through the city.

It’s not a question of one collective outlook being either wrong or right, of course, but I’m intrigued with the differences in what seems to me to be each city’s collective perception of the world.  I hope to write more about this in subsequent posts.

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Under Milk Wood: Our Dreaming and Waking Selves

August 7th, 2008 · depth psychology, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, life passages, Lifestyle, Mississauga, Oakville, Peel Region, Psychotherapy, soul, symbolism, The Self, theatre, wholeness

Over the weekend my wife and I had the chance to see the Soulpepper Theatre production of Under Milk Wood, the Dylan Thomas work originally performed as a one-person monologue by the Welsh poet himself.  Many other versions of Under Milk Wood have used a large cast, with different actors playing the various characters, but in this version director Ted Dykstra and actor Kenneth Welsh go back to Thomas’ Boathouse_dylan_thomas_boathouse original idea of a monologue.  It’s an extremely energetic and demanding 85 minute performance for Welsh, but the result is an entrancing immersion in a small Welsh town and a deeply empathic, frank and often humorous engagement with the unique character of each of the inhabitants.  I found myself completely enthralled and drawn in by Mr. Welsh’s performance as this version of Under Milk Wood unfolded.

Laugharne Boathouse in Wales where Dylan Thomas spent many years and where he wrote some of his best poems.     © Hans Klamm | Dreamstime.com

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Is My Life Meaningful — for Me?

July 21st, 2008 · depth psychology, Individuation, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, life passages, Lifestyle, Meaning, Psychology, Psychotherapy, soul, symbolism, Wellness

One of the most fundamental questions a person can Dancing_woman_for_meaningask  is whether his or her life, taken as a whole, is meaningful to her or him.  This is different from an abstract question about "The Meaning of Life".  There is no abstract universal answer to the yearning that each of us has for a meaningful life.  Every "answer" that an individual finds in terms of meaning in his or her life is an individual answer, an answer that emerges from the very fabric of his or her unique life.  On this level the question is as important as it is urgent: Does your life or my life have meaning– not in the abstract, but to us personally? 

image: Arjan Hamberg //12186.openphoto.net

Meaning is to be found in the value that we place on our experience and our involvements.  It does not reduce to simply "just being happy": it is something more and deeper than that, something that is not incompatible with happiness, but that can abide through the difficult times and struggles of life.

Meaning_11

What gives meaning can vary greatly from person to person.  Sometimes it is found in our relationship to other people.  Sometimes it is in our vocation, if our work is meaningful or satisfying, or in our avocation — what we do with our time and our life outside of work.  Sometimes meaning is found when we can relate symbols intimately to our lives, whether those symbols are found in the arts, in organized religion, or in symbols that have emerged for us as individuals on a deeply personal level — symbols from the depth of psyche.

image: Christof Wittwer //7740.openphoto.net

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