Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

Psychotherapy and Renewal: Persephone’s Big Comeback

April 5th, 2011 · depth psychology, Jungian analysis, life passages, mythology, personal myth, personal story, psychological crisis, Psychology and Suburban Life, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, renewal, Self, soul, therapist, therapy, unconscious

Frederic Leighton – The Return of Persephone (1891).

There’s a lot of truth for psychotherapy in the Greek myth of Persephone and it’s all tied up with the yearly renewal of the seasons.  Persephone, a vegetation goddess, and the daughter of the harvest goddess Demeter, was kidnapped and ravished by Hades, the king of the Underworld, and taken to live in his realm.

Demeter, so distraught at her disappearance, refused to let crops or vegetation grow anymore until her daughter was returned.  The gods finally prevailed on Hades, who agreed to let her go.  However the all-wise Fates had decreed that anyone who consumed the food of the underworld was destined to stay there for eternity.  Alas, wiley Hades had persuaded Persephone to eat 3 puny pomegranite seeds.  And so Persephone must spend part of the year in the Underworld, a time of barreness, and vegetation would flourish again only when she was re-united every year with Demeter above ground.

This is quite a myth to explain the origin of the seasons.  Here in Canada, after the long barren winter, we all feel a little like I imagine Persephone would, as she was released from the earth. Released back into life!

The profound truth of the Persephone myth also conveys a deep meaning for our own psychological journey.

The Persephone myth conveys a natural movement in psychological life  For Persephone, it is only as she is detached from her familiar world, and descends to the Underworld that she can bring the blessing and the gift of the seasons, of new green life, and fertility.

My experience is that it is like that in the lives of my clients and in my own life, also.  Sometimes the encounter with life’s circumstances and with the unconscious can seem like a sudden plunge into darkness and descent into the underworld.  But the underworld has its own gifts that it brings.  Only those who can accept those gifts, and “eat the food of the underworld”, can bring the gift of life and fertility back to the “surface world” of their everyday lives.  In the encounter with the depths in ourselves, including our unconscious, we travel Persephone’s way, and return to our everyday life with the green lushness of  renewed outlook and vitality.

In the video below, the great Brazilian jazz stylist Antonio Carlos Jobim sings his wonderful song “The Waters of March” at the 1986 Montreal Jazz Festival.  Lush and full of feeling, this wonderful music captures the enormity of the renewal of Spring that we all sense at this time of year.  May we find that same sense of renewal through the encounter with our own deepest selves.

A stick, a stone, it’s the end of the road

It’s the rest of a stump, it’s a little alone

It’s a sliver of glass, it is life, it’s the sun…

…It’s a beam it’s a void, it’s a hunch, it’s a hope

And the river bank talks of the waters of March

It’s the end of the strain

The joy in your heart

Finding Renewal

Both Persephone’s descent into the underworld and the renewal of spring symbolize aspects of the psychotherapeutic process.  Often for renewal, it is important to enter into the depths, and to encounter the more hidden parts of our own existence, and our own experience of life.   The journey may well be demanding, and it is the role of the depth psychotherapist to guide the individual toward renewal, and the deep rewards of the journey.  There’s no better time to start than now.

As always, I welcome your inquiries and comments.

Wishing you the gifts of renewal on your journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

1-905-337-3946

PHOTO CREDIT:  Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton (1830–1896).  This work is in the public domain.

VIDEO CREDIT  © 1986 Antonio Carlos Jobim and Koch International

© 2011 Brian Collinson

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

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Stress, Power, Resilience — and Myth, Part 1

October 10th, 2010 · Anxiety, Carl Jung, depth psychology, Hope, Meaning, mythology, Oakville, power, Psychology and Suburban Life, resilience, stress, trust, work

Some of the greatest stressors that people experience in the second decade of the 21st century stem from the things which people feel powerless to control.  At times, individuals can feel like life is a dice-roll.

I think that’s why a lot of people in Oakville are so happy about the cancellation of the Oakville Power plant.  Here in Oakville, the mood almost borders on euphoria.  It seems that the feelings are associated with a sense of release, though.  I think that this may be due to the fact that many in Oakville felt that the Power Plant was something close to an an inevitability because of the array of formidable powers (Ford, Trans-Canada and the Premier and Provincial Government) that apparently wanted to see it come to completion.  Fortunately, there were many in Oakville, in organizations like Citizens for Clean Air, who kept up a formidible fight.  And they succeeded, to their very great credit!

There are many things in the 2010s that can easily make people feel powerless.  Many of those things have to do with economics.  It is not that long since the 2008 market meltdown and the Great Recession which followed it, and the recovery which is underway can certainly seem precarious.  Many people have had to contend with job loss, and many more feel that their jobs–and the lives that they have built around those jobs–are precariously balanced.  To a lot of people, dreams that seemed readily attainable for their parents’ generation do not seem at all easily attainable for them.  And many worry about their children’s education and future — and their own later life.

In addition, the majority of us struggle, or have had to struggle with our own inner wounds.  For many people, there can be a strong sense that their experience growing up has not equipped them to feel strong and confident in meeting the challenges that they are facing in their lives.  It can be very hard to the people who feel that “something fundamental  was missing” in the kind of love and affirmation that they received from those who were supposed to love them.  For others, it can feel that events in their lives — loss of love, marital breakup, personal tragedy, trauma — have deprived them of the wherewithal to meet the challenges that life is putting in front of them.

What we each need to meet our lives is what psychologists increasingly refer to as resilience.  Simply put, resilience is the power to “roll with the punches” that life throws at us, and to “have the stamina to go the distance” in our lives, and to “hang in”.

What psychologists and sociologists have noticed in their study of the coping patterns of people, even people dealing with some of the most difficult situations imaginable, is that there are huge differences in how people respond, and whether they are able to cope and endure.  Even in appalling situations, there are some people who have the capacity to overcome their circumstances, and to find the courage to live meaningful and courageous lives.  Resiliency has been defined by psychiatrist Steven Wolin as:

the capacity to rise above adversity—sometimes the terrible adversity of outright violence, molestation or war—and forge lasting strengths in the struggle.

Clearly, we all need resilience.  But we have to be careful that the resilience that we seek is the real thing, not the fake kind.  I think most of us have had some experience with this less-than-authentic resilience.  The fake kind is kind found in the “you can do anything, rise above anything” variety of pep talk, that unfortunately is often found in self help literature.  Regrettably, it is also espoused by some psychologists and therapists.  This heroic version tends (consciously or unconsciously) to over-emphasize will power, and it papers over the cracks and the pain that often run unbelievably deeply in peoples’ lives.  This emphasis on “where there’s a will there’s a way” (a phrase Carl Jung hated) will not sustain when the chips are really down in life.

Mark Bolan’s Cosmic Dancer , which many of you may know from the movie Billy Elliot, itself an incredible celebration of resilience, uses the metaphor of dancing for resilience — “I was dancing when I was 12 / I danced myself right out of the womb / I danced my way into the tomb” :

So, how do we get to the real thing — to a resilience that is rooted in our own real lives?  This is a subject I’ll be pursuing in the next part of this series on “Stress, Power, Resilience — and Myth”.

What are your “impressions” on the whole subject of resilience?  What is it for you?  What is it rooted in?  I’d welcome any of your reflections.

I wish you every good thing as you make your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Lawrence Wee | Dreamstime.com

MUSIC CREDIT: Mark Bolan and T Rex performing “Cosmic Dancer” from the album “Electric Warrior” © 1971 Warner  This music is the property of Warner and is 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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Depth Psychotherapy & Your Own Personal Mythology

October 25th, 2008 · depth psychotherapy, mythology, personal mythology, Psychotherapy

Mythology is of great interest to depth psychotherapy, and has been a matter of vital importance throughout the time that humans have been upon this planet. Myth-making is one of the fundamental ways that humans understand and make themselves at home in the world.

Myth-making is an expression of the deepest parts of the human psyche.  In the symbols that appear through dreams and in the rest of our lives, we find the touchstone for our ownAborigine sea turtle for vibrant jung thing blog personal mythology.  This is the truth of our lives expressed in a way that is far deeper than mere statements about our lives can express.

 

© Joanne Zh| Dreamstime.com

 

Carl Jung, the depth psychotherapy pioneer, was one of the first people to speak of individuals as having their own personal mythology.  He believed that, in the contemporary era, it was going to be a matter of psychological necessity for more and more people to find their own myth or narrative for their lives.  He stressed that it was only in finding this personal mythology that many contemporary people would be able to find the sense of fulfillment and grounding in life that would make a meaningful life possible.

Are you one of those people who needs to explore and develop your personal mythology?  Has that process already started within you?

What does it mean to find your own mythology?  Above all, it means to take seriously the symbols in Maori moais for vibrant jung thing blog your life, and to treat them as a unique reflection of your own deepest being.  It means accepting that I am a mystery only partially known to myself, and that my vocation and purpose in my life is to understand as fully as possible the symbols and images that appear from within myself.  It means understanding and accepting that I am something greater than simply my own ego or conscious self.

© Jose Tejo| Dreamstime.com

 

A man dreams that he sees a huge tree, greater than any sequoia, planted in the front yard of his house.  It grows greater and greater, and finally no one can ignore that it is there…

A woman dreams of a dolphin that visits her, and beckons her on a journey…

A man dreams of finding himself on a sea voyage on a beautiful sailing craft that belongs to a goddess-like woman…

Does your own myth beckon to you?

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Individu- What???

June 11th, 2008 · depth psychology, Individuation, Jungian psychology, life passages, Lifestyle, midlife, mythology, Psychology, Psychotherapy

I’m enjoying the process of writing this blog on a regular basis, and having the chance to communicate with all of you about different aspects of what it is to be a therapist and a Jungian in Halton and Peel Regions in this continually surprising "place" that we call suburbia.  I’m really open to any of your comments, either privately via email, or in the comment sections on the blog.

Solitary_pathway_for_blog_2 Carl Jung developed the idea of "individuation" to describe the individual journey that human beings undertake in their lives.  I believe that this is a very useful way of looking at things, and that it helps people to answer the question "What is it that is happening to me in my life?"

Jung’s idea is that the journey of our lives takes us on a more and more individual path.  That we are in the process of becoming more and more uniquely ourselves.  Jung often used the analogy of an acorn and an oak tree, saying that the potential to be an huge oak tree is latent in the acorn, waiting to expand and to become.

© Micheal Armstrong | Dreamstime.com

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The Symbolic Power of Home

June 4th, 2008 · depth psychology, Jungian psychology, Lifestyle, mythology, Psychology, Psychotherapy, suburbia / exurbia, symbolism

Toy_houses_for_blog Suburbia is fundamentally linked with the symbolism of “home”.  And the symbolic reality of Home runs incredibly deep in the human psyche.

In the western world, one of the greatest and most profound tributes to the depth and power of this symbolism is found in Homer’s Odyssey.  In that great poem, the hero Odysseus struggles through overwhelming difficulties and trials, motivated above all else by his desire to return to his home, Ithaca, and his wife Penelope and son Telemachus.  The wily and resourceful hero succeeds in his quest, only after many years, and much loss and sorrow, and returns home, where he finally encounters his wife again.

Then Ulysses in his turn melted, and wept as he clasped his dear and faithful wife to his bosom. As the sight of land is welcome to men who are swimming towards the shore, when Neptune has wrecked their ship with the fury of his winds and waves- a few alone reach the land, and these, covered with brine, are thankful when they find themselves on firm ground and out of danger- even so was her husband welcome to her as she looked upon him, and she could not tear her two fair arms from about his neck.  [Homer, trans. Samuel Butler, The Odyssey, Book XXIII]

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