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What Do You Want in Life? Finding Direction in Midlife Transition, 2

November 17th, 2014 · what do you want in life

In Part 1 of this post, we saw how discerning what we really want becomes much more individual in the second half of life; in this post we look more at what that might mean.

what do you want in life

Actualizing what we want, and living it out means being able to truly hold the tension between our desire, our yearning — our “call” even — and the concrete realities of our lives.


Stuck in the Archetype of the Puer Aeternis

A danger that befalls many is simply letting our yearning float above our lives, and never doing anything to make it actual.  Depth psychotherapists would call this a denial of soul.  We all know people in whose lives this dynamic is glaringly obvious.

Jung’s colleague von Franz has amply spelled out the dangers of this psychological state of subjection to the puer aeternis or “eternal child” mode of being.  At its best, this archetype of eternal youth can be the source of incredible art — think Mozart .  At its worst,  it can keep an individual hovering above the real substance of his or her life, perpetually refusing to be tied down.

Why We Need to Keep It Real

We can avoid the risk of actualizing the things that matter most to us, for reasons such as:

  • we fear it will create messy, complex situations in our lives;
  • we fear that life will make us pay dearly  for getting what we really want;
  • we’ve somehow absorbed the message that we don’t deserve to have this thing in our lives; or,
  • we fear that the real thing, once we get it, will be not quite as good as the way we’ve imagined it.

Although we don’t admit it to ourselves, it can be quite tempting to stay floating with the fantasy of what we want, rather than taking actual steps and sacrifices to bring it into being.

Leonard Cohen captures this state of the provisional life superbly in his song “Waiting for the Miracle“.  He shows the state of yearning, of going nowhere, and of the extraordinary cost when we allow what we want and need to hover provisionally “out there”, and never seize hold of it.

There is an aching poignancy to his words, reflecting both regret and yearning…

what do you want in life

What I Want, or What I Feel I Have to Settle For?

Once we try to seize hold of what we really desire, we most often have to reach some accommodation between our yearnings and the realities of the world.  It may well be that the things I desire are very difficult to bring about.  There may be financial, legal, or family reasons why what’s desired is hard to attain.  There may also be psychological issues, in that attaining this thing flies in the face of conventional morality, or requires us to face our own shadow, the part of ourselves that we do not wish to acknowledge or accept.


Also, desires that emerges might go in directions that just aren’t sanctioned by the collective or group to which we belong.  Example: a chartered accountant who takes pottery lessons may not always meet with approval or understanding from colleagues.

what do you want in life

Yet we can’t just throw up our hands and forget these yearnings. To do so might entail a terrible cost.  Often we have to move in the direction that life is beckoning, if we are to avoid a sense of flatness and sterility in our lives.

True Me

Who I truly am is linked to what I really want.  The question “What do you want in life?” is fundamentally a question about identity.

It’s not enough for soul to just fantasize about living the things that really matter to us, at that very individual level.  It has to be made real, incarnated, lived out.  The work of depth psychotherapy concerns overcoming the often very real barriers to living our own real life.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Shabbir Siraj modified ; Sergey Bestcenny modified;  waferboard
VIDEO: “Waiting for the Miracle” quoted for the fair use purpose of critical comment © 2013 SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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What Do You Want in Life? Finding Direction in Midlife Transition 1

November 10th, 2014 · what do you want in life

“What do you want in life?” is such a seemingly benign question, but to genuinely answer it is often one of the most important parts of the work of depth psychotherapy.

what do you want in life

We all assume that we know what it is that we want — but is it always so straightforward?

Shared Values in “the First Adulthood”

Knowing what you want may seem pretty straightforward in the first parf of adulthood (although this may be changing for millenials).  In what Jung calls the first adulthood, the adult part of our lives leading up to midlife, our society has tended to hold out collective values which many people buy into, and for which they strive.  Many people want some kind of post-secondary education.  They want a job that enables them to sustain themselves, and that garners a certain measure of respect in our society.  People have tended to want marriage, or at least intimate relationship, and many people are firmly convinced of the value of having a family.  These highly motivating values are widely shared.


The Challenge of Value in Midlife Transition and After

In the second half of life, the situation may well change dramatically.  For very many people, the situation becomes much less clear.  Individuals can often start to question whether what they’ve actually attained is really what they wanted for their lives.  The even more vital question of what I might want for my future gets highlighted by the fact of an often increased awareness of mortality.  At 20, I’m going to live forever.  At 40, 45, 50… I’m very aware that I don’t have infinite time, which makes the way I use my time — and my resources, and my opportunities — matters of vital importance.  What do you want in life?


What I Want, or What I’ve Been Told I Want?

How do I even really know what it is that I want?

what do you want in life

The Public wants what the Public gets” — so went the lyric of a new wave song in the early 1980s.  Certainly we’re even more aware in our era, with the slickness and sophistication of contemporary marketing, that we’re all continually being pressured and manipulated towards making choices that are really about what others –corporations, governments, special interest groups — want us to want.

what do you want in life

Psychologist Prof. Barry Swartz of Swarthmore College has warned us of the dangers that come to us from a society where choices, many of which are trivial, are continually multiplying:

what do you want in life

Beware of excessive choice.  Yet there have always been social pressures around choice in life that alienated us from ourselves.  There has always been the subtle or not so subtle pressure to mold what we want into line with the expectation of the mass of the people in one’s social group.

What depth psychotherapy has brought home to us is how far-reaching these social pressures can be in their influence.  They stem in many cases from the earliest stages of life, and can often alienate individuals from their genuine deepest desires through the course of a lifetime.  What depth psychotherapy also brings home is how deep the need within us can be to find the ways of living and choices that accord with the yearnings deepest within us, with who we most fundamentally are?

In the second part of this post we will examine the tension within us between what we fundamentally desire, and the many pressures that confront us in the world.

Depth psychotherapy can often assist in  beyond the limited perspective of the ego.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Courtney Carmody ; Don O’Brien;  Eliazar Parra Cardenas
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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