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The Psychology of Spirituality and the Second Half of Life, Part 2

May 23rd, 2016 · psychology of spirituality

In part 1 on the psychotherapy of spirituality we looked at issues of reality and connection; here, we look at the crucial issue of meaning.

psychology of spirituality

It’s no overstatement to say that, here in the 21st century, many people are undergoing a genuine crisis of meaning.  This can be particularly true for those in the second half of life.  This issue can become acute at any point in the life journey, but life can ask us some crucial, unavoidable questions as we pass its midpoint.

Psychology of Spirituality and the Crisis of Meaning

In our age there is a genuine and widespread sense of vacuity in the lives of many people.  Many are afflicted with an overall sense of meaninglessness.  And, as individuals move beyond the various socially prescribed tasks of the first half of adulthood, they can find that these issues become particularly pressing, even to the point of what might be called existential crisis.

It’s at this stage in life, when the kids start to go to university, and move out of the house, and much less of the parents’ energy is consumed by them, that people confront “the empty nest”.  It’s at this time, too, when individuals often realize that there are very real limits on what they will be able to achieve in their careers, and they struggle to accept those limitations.  Simultaneously, the individual may become aware of a whole range of other limitations: financial; health, and many others.

The 19th century Danish philosopher Kierkegaard wrote on how existential despair could appear in the individual’s life when an inherited or borrowed view of the world no longer proves adequate to help the individual in unexpected and particularly difficult experiences in life.  Depth psychotherapists well know that this is very often the experience of self-aware individuals as they move through the second half of life.

Psychology of Spirituality: The Politics at God’s Funeral

Those who watch House of Cards on Netflix will be familiar with the nefarious doings of the nihilistic antihero of that drama, Frank Underwood (played by the formidably talented Kevin Spacey).  At one point, Underwood describes a religious discussion he had with a professor:

psychology of spirituality

And then he asked if I had no faith in God. I said, ‘You have it wrong. It’s God that has no faith in us.’

For Underwood, the conventional idea of God that he has inherited doesn’t convey to him any fundamental feeling of being loved, or valued or believed in — it’s basically an unreal abstraction.  This fits the whole pattern of House of Cards, which portrays the reality of the politics at God’s funeral — life amidst a crisis of value and meaning.

Meaning as Essential

The need for meaning is not quite the same as the sense of reality that we described in the last post.  It becomes apparent in the course of psychotherapeutic work that meaning revolves around the sense that there is something inherently worthwhile, something that really intrinsically matters about our lives.  The sense that this has value, this is worth going on for, this makes a powerful difference in my living.

Having meaning in one’s life is not something optional.  Whether there is some transpersonal, transcendent meaning in our lives, can literally make the difference between life and death, as Dr. Viktor Frankl continually reminded us.

The sense of having found meaning, or lacking meaning, has profound implications for what we value, and for what we purpose, and so, ultimately, the course we choose and the path we walk on the journey of life.

Emphasis on the Unique Individual

Depth psychotherapists continually stress that, throughout the journey of the second half of life,  there must always be an emphasis on the unique individual, and on the symbols that speak to that individual, and that carry a sense of meaning and of touching the deepest parts of his or her being.  In whatever form these symbolic realities manifest, they form the basis of the individual’s true spiritual search or spiritual journey.

Those who have worked with individuals confronting their unconscious selves in psychotherapy well know that meaning for the individual is not contained within the routine affirmations of organized religiosity or conventional piety.  Rather, meaning and spirituality are contained in the deeply symbolic encounters that touch the individual’s mind, heart, imagination — and soul.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike © Santosh Y ; Mike Licht
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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The Psychology of Spirituality and the Second Half of Life

May 16th, 2016 · psychology of spirituality

“Psychology of spirituality?” some readers will say, “Oh boy, here it comes…“, and I think I understand pretty well what they’re feeling.

psychology of spirituality

by Marc Chagall

Many who were brought up in the confines of conventional organized religion have become quite “allergic” to the language, feeling, sights, sounds and even the smell of traditional religiosity.  And, equally, many brought up outside of that kind of religious framework simply don’t feel that it has the credibility to allow them to enter into it.  Depth psychotherapist C.G. Jung would be the first to acknowledge that the symbols of conventional religion have lost much of their power, and their ability to influence the psyches of a great number of people in our culture.

That’s exactly why I decided to use the word “spirituality”, rather than “religion” in the title.  I wanted to emphasize the individual spiritual dimension, rather than the formalized and structured aspects of organized religion.  This is a journey that we have to go on in our own right.

However, the word “spirituality” brings its own problems.  To my formerly Protestant ear, this word can have a decidedly “other worldly”, “next life” ring to it.  But that’s not really the core meaning, or the dimension that I want to get at here.  Rather, I’m using the word to point to that part of ourselves that seeks out the essence of things.

How do issues of the psychology of spirituality take on particular urgency for us in the second half of life?

Reality

A key aspect of spirituality is that it is concerned with what is ultimately real.  In whatever form it occurs, spirituality is about connecting the individual to the fundamental realities of existence, whether that is God, Goddess. multiple Deities, the Universe, the Atman, the Tao, the Ground of Being, or any of the many other forms of expression or symbols that humans use to embody what Paul Tillich called Ultimate Concern.  In the second half of life, our confrontation with mortality makes that sense of connection with something permanent and lasting an ever more crucial quest.

All humans want the experience of reality in their lives, in some form or other.  In the second half of life, the question of “What is ultimately real?” often becomes ever more important.

Connection

Another dimension of the psychology of spirituality in the second half of life is the move away from isolation to the reality of connection. This can take a number of forms.

One dimension of connection that is very important is the sense of real and genuine connection with others.  The impulse for connection with others, through what Jungians would call eros, is a tremendously important impulse in the second half of life.  For many, it only tends to grow in significance as they continue to age.  For these individuals, this sense of united connection with others is at the heart of what they would call spirituality.

Another, perhaps surprising aspect of connection is that of genuine connection with oneself in depth.  There can often be a sense in the second half of life of encountering aspects of oneself that have not been fully visible to ourselves at previous life stages.  We come to experience these unknown parts of ourselves, and in the process, we obtain a growing sense of unity and wholeness.

Then there is also, for many, a sense of connection with the universe, the All, the whole of reality.  Some experience this in the sense of participation in the “ocean of being”.  Others might frame this in terms of connection with the Author or Origin of everything that exists, the One in whom “we live and move and have our being”, in the words of St.Paul.

An Expanding Field of Vision

In the second half of life, spirituality may bring us to the sense of having an ever expanding field of vision.  For many from a traditional religious framework, there may be a feeling of relief that we can be on the individual journey of spirituality, without necessarily having to go back to the forms of “that old time religion”, in the sense of having to enter into the trappings of organized religion.

psychology of spirituality

On the other hand, it can be very re-assuring to know that, in the spiritual journey, from a depth psychotherapy perspective, as we work on the contents of the deepest and most profound parts of psyche, we are connecting with some of the key archetypes.  In doing so, we are connecting with the ancestral stream of humanity back as far as the Paleolithic era, and even well before that.

In the second part of this post, we’ll look in depth at the dimension of meaning in the psychology of spirituality, and the particular importance of our human uniqueness in the spiritual journey.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

 PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike © Heidi De Vries ; Tsukiko YAMAMURA
© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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