Journeying Toward Wholeness

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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

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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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The Self as Hidden Treasure in Jungian Psychotherapy

January 27th, 2011 · alchemy, art, C. G. Jung, collective consciousness, depth psychology, False self, Identity, parent-child interactions, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, Relationships, religious symbolism, Self, self-knowledge, symbolism

Jungian psychotherapy and Jungian analysis put a high value on the uniqueness of the individual, and on the treasure that is the inmost Self.  Jungians see symbolic reflection of the motif of the Self as hidden treasure in many texts from the world’s artistic, religious, spiritual and philosophical traditions.  For instance, in the Gospel of Matthew, and also in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas, there is the famous parable comparing the “kingdom of Heaven” to a hidden treasure.  A Jungian psychological interpretation of this saying would portray the “kingdom of Heaven” as, broadly speaking, a symbol of the Self:

‘The kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field

which someone has found; He hides it again,

goes off in his joy, sells everything he owns and buys the field.

Matthew 13:44, The New Jerusalem Bible

The motif of the Self as hidden treasure also permeates alchemy, that esoteric pre-scientific approach to matter and the world, in which Jung took such an interest in the later part of his life.  The goal that the alchemists sought was not to create ordinary gold from lead, but to create something called “the philosophers’ stone”, an absolutely incorruptible and indestructible substance.

Jung acknowledges that, from a scientific point of view, the way the alchemists went after this goal made no sense, but what gripped him was the underlying symbolism.  Jung saw in the “philosophers’s stone” a potent symbol of the Self, in this case, hidden in matter and awaiting discovery, a treasure guarded in secrecy by the alchemists.  Jung believed that some of the later alchemists such as Gerhard Dorn came to realize that what they were seeking in their alchemical work was not a physical, but a psychological reality, and that it was that reality that the symbol of the philosphers’ stone or “son of the philosophers” as it was sometimes called was pointing.

The Core of the Self

At the base of all this symbolization there lies a profound and precious truth about human existence.  It is a truth about the nature of the human self.  At the core of each of us, there is that element in us, an awareness, that is unique and precious, that defines what we most fundamentally are.  Sometimes that is represented symbollically as a hidden treasure, sometimes as a gemstone, sometimes in a variety of other ways.

This is the core of ourselves, symbollically represented.  And there is a bit of a paradox about its nature.  Certainly, symbollically, it is often presented as something that is so precious because it is incorruptible, even indestructible.  Yet, there is a danger concerning the self to which symbol and myth point.  It seems that it is possible for us to lose this treasure, to have it taken away.  Somehow it needs to be guarded and treated with vigilance — like the individual in the parable who joyfully finds the treasure, but then hides it carefully again, until such time as he can go and buy the land in which it’s buried.

Self Protection, Self Possession

This issue of the core of the self, protecting it and keeping it, is one that I meet with on a very regular basis in psychotherapy practice.  It is something with which, in one way or another, very many people.  It is a sad truth that very many people have learned, one way or another, and very often early in life, that their self — their true uniqueness — can be stolen or devalued by others

Sometimes, people learn this lesson as a result of the guilting, shame or ridicule of those who are close to them.  Sometimes what happens really does look like a theft of the self: for instance, a young person will get the message very directly that a parent or other significant person cannot tolerate or deal with who the young person really is, and so that person (often unconsciously) manufactures a false self tp placate the other.  Sometimes a person will give themselves whole-heartedly in relationships — and then find her- or himself deeply betrayed.

Learning to Hide the Self Away

As a consequence, these people learn — sometimes unbelievably well — that the true self has to be hidden away, that they cannot dare reveal who they really are to the people closest to them.  It is then very easy for this lesson to get generalized out to take in the whole world.  It can be come a reflex to feel that nobody wants me, or wants to know who I really am.  Then the only way I get through life is to “keep my head down”, in despair, and just try and keep my joys, my needs — anything at all about me — from getting noticed, and that any encounter of another with me will only result in guilt, rejection and shame.

As is very often the case, it seems to me, when you are looking for someone to express some aspect of modern consciousness, you very often cannot do better than the Beatles.  Here they are, singing a song that is profoundly “on the money” about the need to hide the true self — “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away“.


Getting the Self Back

For such an individual, getting the self back, and spontaneously living out of it, is a key priority.  The reason for that is that, without that sense of acting and reacting out of our actual self, our life simply doesn’t feel real to us.

Psychotherapy with the right therapist may be an essential part of this self-recovery.  An effective psychotherapeutic approach will allow you to get at the deeper reasons for hiding the self.  Many of those reasons may reside in the unconscious, and it may be that only as a person uses the therapy as a “laboratory” for exploring him- or herself, that they can begin to develop a sense and a comfort for what it is to live out of the self.

Most people at one time or another have had to wrestle with the feeling that who and what they are is not acceptable to others.  Has that feeling ever been a part of your experience?  If you would be willing to share your experiences, either in a comment or an email, I would welcome the opportunity to share and dialogue with you.

Wishing you a fuller and fuller encounter with your deepest treasure, the Self, as you move forward on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT:     Rembrandt “Parable of the hidden treasure” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

MUSIC CREDIT:      © Lennon / McCartney, EMI Music, 1965

© 2011 Brian Collinson

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

wealth

riches

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Jungian Psychotherapy, the Dream and the New Year

January 1st, 2011 · depth psychology, dreams, Identity, Individuation, inner life, life journey, Meaning, personal myth, personal story

Depth psychotherapy such as Jungian analysis knows that it’s not at all uncommon for the psyche to be particularly active with dreams at the end of the year, and at the beginning of a New Year.  Years are divisions of time which are artificially and, to some extent, arbitrarily created by humans.  Still they form important divisions in time, that the unconscious often seems to recognize in some form or other.  Individuals can sometimes have astonishing dreams at this time, or other experiences which show that the inner depths of the person are active, as we look forward into the open New Year, which waits like a newly painted room for each of us to fill it with our lives.

I think most of us find ourselves thinking about the year, and in a broader way, about our lives, at this time of year.  I certainly find myself thinking about what’s really important in my own life, what really matters to me as I move forward into the rest of my life.

Finite and Precious

Now that I’ve reached a certain age, each passing milestone, like the successive New Years, is a reminder that life is finite, and that it is precious,  SUch times are a confrontation with questions about what is truly meaningful in my life, and about the nature of my true identity.  As I think back over the year, and over all my years, I find myself asking, “Am I more aware of myself than I was?  Who am I, in the light of what I’ve experienced now?”

The Archetype of Renewal

However, there is even more than this.  As Stephenson Bond has shown in his book The Archetype of Renewal, the New Year’s season is deeply associated with the the archetypal theme of renewal, expressed through the mythological association of the New Year with the death and renewal of the King in traditions such as that of ancient Babylon.  As individuals, at the New Year are confronted with the problem of the death and renewal of our own conscious attitude, with the very deep level question of “What is meaningful for me now?” and “On what foundation can I base my life, as I move forward into it?”

Toward An Individual Foundation

There was a time when the answers to these questions were ready-made for many in our culture.  In our time, for many — and I certainly include myself in this number — pre-made answers of the kind afforded by organized religion or other social institutions will not suffice.  I need my own connection to realities that will sustain me through the journey of the rest of my life.  Often this individual foundation is only found through depth psychotherapy or Jungian analysis.  It’s always found through in-depth confrontation and exploration of the self.  As Jung himself put it:

All coercion ultimately proves to be nothing but an obstacle to the highest and most decisive experience of all, which is to be alone with [one’s] own self.  The patient must be thus alone if he is to find out what supports [one] when [one] can no longer support [oneself].  Only this experience can give [one] an indestructible foundation….  The way to the goal seems chaotic and interminable at first, and only gradually do the signs increase that it is leading anywhere.

C. G. Jung, Collected Works 12, Psychology and Alchemy , paras. 32-33

What Is the New Year Bringing to You?

Have you had a dream this New Year’s? Or another experience in which you really encountered yourself or the unconscious?   I’d be very interested in your experience and would really welcome your comments, either below, or via confidential email.

Wishing you a deep and lasting foundation on your personal journey to wholeness, and a very happy, prosperous and soulful New Year.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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PHOTO CREDIT:  © Melissa King | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Anxiety, Regret and Persona in “Death of a Salesman”

November 19th, 2010 · Anxiety, Father, Marriage, persona, psychological crisis, Psychology and Suburban Life, regret, Self, soul, symbolism, unlived life

I love theatre, and I’m lucky enough to live in the Toronto, Canada area.  We have a lot of excellent theatre hereabouts, including the wonderful Soulpepper Theatre, which is not nearly so famous as it deserves. I was fortunate enough last Saturday to see Soulpepper’s production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.  which was arresting and raw.  It’s a profoundly psychological play, in the ways in which it deals with anxiety, regret and “persona“, or the false self.

Lots of people know the story of Willy Loman, the crumbling salesman at the centre of the play, and the drama of his decline and eventual death.  Clearly Willy is retreating more and more from reality and from life — but what pushes him into this?

Anxiety

Clearly, Willy and his family live in an atmosphere of intense anxiety.  In the initial scenes of Act 1, Willy has returned from a business trip because he cannot concentrate when driving, and has nearly driven off the road.  The interactions between Linda and Willy are full of an unacknowledged but agonizing anxiety that pervades the whole of the play until the tragic climax.  An important psychological question, though, is, “What is the source of this anxiety?”

Grandiosity and Failure

I believe the answer is found in the tension between Willy’s grandiose and idealized image of greatness, and his own very real sense of failure to live up to this idealized image of himself, to be the “well-liked” man whose fame precedes him, and for whom all doors open.  Willy does not dare become fully conscious of this profound sense of failure.   He can only look at it indirectly, or acknowledge it glancingly in his interactions with Linda.  It seems when he does do this, he expects to be re-assured by Linda, to be argued out of his feeling.  Right through the play Linda enables Willy by shoring up his illusions.

Willy’s Persona

In Jungian terms, Willy is firmly in the grips of a persona (Latin for “mask”) or false self with which he identifies and tries to present outwardly to the world.  But it is deeply at odds with who he really is, and his attempts to carry off this masquerade are costing him more and more emotionally and — dare we say it — spiritually.  Willy is in a horrible dilemma:  the only image he has of himself is as a “well-liked” salesman — and yet he knows that he has failed profoundly in realizing this ideal.  However, there is no other sense of himself that he can find to hang onto, and so he is drowning.

Biff

So Willy does what parents often do in this kind of situation: he transfers all of  his hopes for success and greatness to his sons, and in particular, onto his eldest son, Biff.  However, whatever wounds Biff may be dealing with, he cannot ultimately bring himself to live out the unlived life and fantasies of his father.  After initially succumbing to his father’s illusory picture, Biff refuses to enable his father further, saying “we’re a dime a dozen, you and I!” to Willy, which is the very thing that Willy cannot, will not accept.

Regret

The picture is further complicated for Willy by his profound regret, particularly for an incident in which he was discovered by Biff with another woman with whom he was having an affair in a hotel room.  This incident has a profound and fateful effect on Biff.  Miller’s dialogue masterfully shows how Willy can neither really face and be honest with himself for what he has done, nor can he release himself from the torture of his regret.  Finally, this regret will lead Willy to a horrific act of atonement, which is intended to restore Biff to the path of “greatness” — as imaged by Willy.

“The Woods are Burning”

What is it to be consumed by false self, by persona?  What are its inner psychological effects?  I believe that playwright Arthur Miller captures this powerfully in one phrase that Willy uses several times throughout the play: “the woods are burning!”  In dreamwork and in fairy tales, the deep woods, which are dark and where one’s view is limited, are often the image of the unconscious.  The image of the woods burning, of a huge forest fire in the unconscious symbolizes the psychological reality in a profoundly eloquent way.  The true self may be ignorred, and may be pushed into the unconscious, but not without powerful, often devastating consequences.

What about You and I?

The false persona and false self are real things in human life, not just art.  It can be a devastating thing to live with a false sense of who one is, and without any real connection to the true self.  I have had personal experience with the ways in which such an over-identification with the persona can bring a person into difficulties.  I was fortunate to have the help of a good psychotherapist to get me through that extremely difficult period.

Staying as true to the real self as possible is an ongoing process in life, a genuine psychological work.  This is especially true in a society like ours, which becomes more success and image-oriented with every year, or so it seems.  Are these issues which you, too, have encountered in your life, or are addressing right now?

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PHOTO CREDITS: © Maik Schrödter | Dreamstime.com
© 2010 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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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

+19053373946

PHOTO CREDIT: © Sepavo | Dreamstime.com

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

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Stress, Power, Resilience and Myth, Part 3: In Myself

October 31st, 2010 · depth psychology, Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian analysis, Jungian psychology, personal myth, psychological crisis, resilience, Self, soul, therapy, wholeness

This is the third in my series of posts about resilience, and its role in the work of psychotherapy.  In my last post, I wrote about personal experiences through which I was changed, and, through which the issue of resilience really came home to roost in my life.  In this post, I would like to try and say something about the places in which I believe I really found some sources of resilience.  As I stressed before, this is not to say that what I will describe is exactly “the answer”, for anyone other than me.  The “answers” that any of us find are of necessity very individual, and if what I describe points anyone to move any further on their own individual path to being grounded in their own being, then I think that is all that I can hope to do.

Fortunately, Things Became Sufficiently Painful

When I left off my story, in my late 20s and early 30s, I was in the midst of making a lot of rash decisions, and taking a lot of risks.  My anger, pain and despair were very near the surface, and I was volatile in the extreme.  I do not believe that I was very easy on the people who were nearest to me at that time, and I was certainly “acting out” in some nasty ways.  Fortunately, in my late 20s, things became painful and difficult enough that I realized that I needed to reach out for some highly skilled help, and I got into therapy with someone who was very highly skilled, and who got what was at stake.  This was the first of a group of very good therapists, all of whom had a psychodynamic orientation, to whom I owe a very great debt, perhaps even my life.

Down Into Me

Through my 30s, much of my therapeutic work was involved with getting me out of my head, and down into my body and my emotions.   A lot of the work focussed on things that had occurred in my earlier life.  They also helped me  to understand what it is to feel your own life, in every sense of the word.  To be in your body.  To really feel your own emotions.  The work evolved in a more and more symbolic direction, and I was fortunate to have  therapists, in particular Jungian analysts, who were able to help me come to some deep insights into my own being from my own patterns of behaviour, and from my dreams.  They helped me greatly with the process of uncovering my own symbols, and my own personal myth.  They knew how to work with the symbols that emerged from my dreams, and could help me to see how they eloquently express the reality of my particular selfhood and life.  This is something very hard to espress in an intellectual way, but when it happens, it’s something you know.

Above All, They Really Listened

However, if I had to point to one single characteristic of this small group of therapists that helped me more than any other, it was this: they really, really knew how to listen.  And in addition, they really, really knew how to ask questions.  As I moved through my therapy, this intent listening — this belief of theirs that they had never heard my story from anyone before, and would never hear it from anyone again —  really helped me to grasp the real nature of my own story, and to come to an ever better understanding of who and what I really am.

Acceptance

My therapeutic journey has enabled me to find a kind of acceptance of my life.  An ability to feel that this life, as outwardly ordinary and unheroic as it may be, is unique, and that it is truly mine.  To feel that, even in my suffering, there is a kind of rightness to my life, a rightness to being here in this time and this way, and to being alive.  That my life is my life, me… and that I can accept that, and welcome it.  For me, this means feeling rooted in my life, much more solid in it, than I have ever felt.  Insofar as I can make any meaningful sense of psychologists’ use of the word “resilience”, this is it.

How Does All This Seem to You?

Are these experiences to which you can relate?  I would really welcome any comments that you might have.  Are reslience and feeling at home in your life things which concern you?  If so, I would really welcome hearing from you.

Wishing you all good things on your journey to wholeness, and to your self,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

 

PHOTO CREDIT: © Socrates | Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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

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The Psychological Meaning of the Chilean Miners

October 15th, 2010 · Current Affairs, Hope, inner life, mine rescue, Psychology, psychotherapist, Psychotherapy, resilience, symbolism, therapy

I had just begun my series on “Stress, Power, Resilience — and Myth” when our attention was again drawn to the fate of  the miners trapped at the bottom of the mine at Copiapo, Chile.  This is a story that embodies resilience, if there ever was one.  The world’s media have been following the fortunes of the miners with tremendous verve and intensity.  Why is it that this story grips us so?

Frankly, from a symbolic perspective, there is so much that could be said about a group of miners trapped in the bowels of the earth, and finally coming to the light of day again that you could write a very hefty book about it.

Clearly this story is an incredible embodiment of human resilience.  To wait in a precarious chamber of rock for 66 days for a tunnel to be dug down: could it really get much worse?  It would be a test of any human being’s sanity to have to wait in this manner is such confining and threatening surroundings.

And the world waited with the Chilean miners.  In an emotional, and even in a quasi-physical way, we experience to some degree what it is that they experience.  With them, we share in their longing for a return to the surface, to the world of light.  Their experience reminds us of all those aspects of human life where things seem to be beyond our control, where the only way to “get through” is to endure, to be patient, to be resilient.  We share in their hope for freedom, and for the restoration of their own lives, because, in their hope we find our own hope, our own need to “get through” in life, that we will some day get beyond the difficult things with which we have no choice but to deal.

Sometimes human life takes us into the darkness.  We are lost; we are disoriented; we are trapped.  What we need then is to find that hope in which we can endure, and find a way back into the world of the living.  This can be as true in the world of psychological growth and psychotherapy as it is in the mines of Copiapo.

Do you have reflections or thoughts on the meaning of the events around the Chilean mine rescue?  I would certainly love to hear about them if you do.  Does their story resonate in any way with your own?

Good wishes to all of you as you make your own personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

VIDEO CREDIT: © Russia Today These images are the property of  Russia Today and are used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Sarah Palin, “Mama Grizzlies” and the Mother Archetype

August 15th, 2010 · archetypal experience, archetypes, Carl Jung, collective consciousness, depth psychology, mother archetype, parent-child interactions, popular culture, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, symbolism, unconscious

Andrea Huffington commented recently  in the Huffington Post on Sarah Palin’s use of archetypal imageryin the political ads that she has recently run with incredible success online.  Huffington seeks to use the concepts of Jungian psychology to analyze Palin’s message.  In my opinion, it’s a fruitful approach.

The ads are remarkable for the fact that they do not discuss the political issues at all, presumably leaving it to the viewer to draw his or her conclusion about what the issues are that are under discussion.  What they in fact do is evoke the symbolism of the bear, and in particular the mother grizzly bear.  Palin at one point says,

“I always think of the mama grizzly bears that rise up on their hind legs when somebody is coming to attack their cubs… you don’t wanna mess with the mama grizzlies!”

Huffington believes that Palin has unconsciously used images that are archetypal, and that, because of that, these images resonate with people powerfully on the unconscious level.  Certainly, “mother” is a powerful archetype, as is the symbol of the bear, which has possessed great meaning in human cultures throughout the world.  While Palin may have unconsciously hit upon this approach, historians can point to similar highly manipulative tactics used by propagandists throughout history.  Of course, the past masters of this kind of thing were the Naziis, particularly Hitler’s propanganda genius Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler himself.

Palin tells us, “Moms just kind of know when something’s wrong.”  Perhaps.  But it is important to distinguish between two very different aspects of the mother archetype, and how they might affect us.

Like all archetypes, the mother archetype has a negative and a positive pole.  That is, there are manifestations of the archetype that foster human growth and individuation, and there are manifestations that hinder or hobble such development.

The archetype can manifest as “positive mother”.  This happens, for instance, when a mother gives messages to her child that are affirming, and that give a sense of fundamental rightness to the child’s existence.  A child growing up with this kind of message and support from the mother may very well grow to have a lot of confidence in themselves, and in life.

At the other end of the spectrum is the negative mother, including “smother mother”.  This is the mother who undercuts the child fundamentally, and destroys the child’s confidence in what he or she is, his or her own powers, and in the goodness of life.

So this leaves us with the question of what kind of mother it is that Palin is evoking with her “Mama Grizzly” images.  Is this mother life-giving and empowering, or fundamentally undercutting, disempowering, and perhaps smothering?  Is Palin’s “mama grizzly” a mother who affirms individuality and uniqueness, or a mother trapped in standardized, stereotypical and ultimately mother roles?  What’s your view?

The archetype of the mother is indeed powerful, and I hope to explore the nature of positive and negative mother archetypes in future posts.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Johnbell | Dreamstime.com

© 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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The Symbolic Power of Home, Part 1: Michaelle Jean

March 16th, 2010 · Home, symbolism

 

I think that many Canadians’ imagination and empathy has been caught by news stories of our Governor General, Michaelle Jean, who has been in the news here quite a bit this week.

 

Haiti for Vibrant Jung Thing

Her Excellency is herself a native of Haiti who came to Canada at age 11 in 1968.  In the last few days, she has returned to her homeland in the wake of the devastation, as an emissary of hope and solidarity.

Michaelle Jean has been both very strong, and also very apparently in grief over the loss of human life and destruction in her homeland of Haiti and her home town of Jacmel.  It is very clear how moved she has been, even shaken to the core.  Yet in the midst of that she has delivered a clear and unshaken message of hope for the future.  Clearly she is a very remarkable woman.

Her experiences should cause us to stop and reflect.  It is hard for those of us who have not been through such an experience to imagine what it would be like to see one’s home, the place from which one sprang, facing such devastation, to face the death of many whom one has loved, and to see the places of one’s youth endure such damage.

Horrific as these experiences are, they teach us an incredible amount about the psychological significance of home… to ourselves — and to every human.  It is the nature of human beings that we need a place to belong, a place that is fundamentally ours, where there are others to whom we are bound by ties that never break.  The very bond with the land where we come into being is a very powerful one.  The place that brings us to life marks us, shapes us, never truly lets us go.

Modern people tend to downplay the importance of place, and to feel that one country, one city, one house is interchangeable with another.  This is particularly so in suburban places, like Oakville, Burlington or Mississauga.  Here we often tend to think in terms of houses and the land they are located on as badges of particular social status or as arrangements of convenience, rather than as a fundamental reality that touches us in the deepest places in our being, in what we might very well call our soul.  But increasingly, environmental psychology is demonstrating to us the unshakeable importance of place.

This is a matter of particular psychological importance for nations like Canada, the United States and Australia, which are predominantly immigrant cultures, or particularly mobile.  The immigrant retains a psychological bond to the soil that brought him or her to life.  That bond is not easily broken, and may be a matter of great personal significance to the individual.  To come to terms with that bond, and to come to terms with the particular character of the new homeland may be a major piece of psychological work. 

For Jungians, there is another dimension, also, to the symbolism of home, and that is an archetypal dimension.  For the deepest and true home of all of us is the Self, the core of our being.  Ultimately, it is only by connecting with one’s true identity and the unique reality that each of us is, that we can really come to feel at home in the world, and in our lives.

 

I’d gratefully welcome comments and reflections on the archetype of home.  What does the symbol of “home” mean in your life?  Where is home for you, a place that you associate with your own fundamental identity? 

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDIT: © Konstantin32 |Dreamstime.com

VIDEO CREDIT: © ‘A’ Morning Video, 2010 | //www.atc.ca/ottawa

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

 

 

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