Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

G20 Toronto: What the Heck Just Happened?

July 6th, 2010 · Carl Jung, collective consciousness, collective unconscious, complexes, Current Affairs, depth psychology, G20, Ontario, panic, popular culture, Psychology and Suburban Life, Toronto, Trauma, trust

On June 26 and 27, the leaders of the G20 nations and numerous other nations met in downtown Toronto.  For many living in this area, what happened in the course of those two days has something of the character of a nightmare in the collective psyche of the City of Toronto, and indeed, the whole of the Greater Toronto Area [“GTA”] and much of Canada.

For those of you who don’t know Toronto, let me explain that it is one of the more decent and livable large cities on the North American continent.  This is a city that is genuinely, vibrantly diverse, and one that is characterized by a great deal of openness and tolerance.  As I started to write this post on Sunday, July 4th, the City’s 30th Gay Pride parade –North America’s largest — was taking place.

But you wouldn’t have recognized Toronto during the two days of the G20 summit.  As many of you will be aware, we had burning police cars,  police arrests for which there was apparently no actual legal authority, shop windows of not only large corporations but also small merchants vandalized, and a small minority of so-called “Black Bloc” rioters who effectively kept the voice of thousands who were legitimately exercising their right of free speech from being heard.

In a democracy, people often have widely divergent views.  The exchange of those views can sometimes become very heated, especially when those of more left-leaning and more right-leaning perspectives encounter one another.  And especially when the issues being considered involve concerns as fundamental as debt, poverty, economic health, globalization and the environment.

However, what occurred in Toronto over these two days was not any encounter of this kind.  It was a fundamentally different kind of experience.  People on all sides seem to have been caught up in fear and confusion.  Over the last week, there has been a sense that the GTA is gradually emerging from some kind of fog, and coming back to itself.

I don’t think that it is an over-statement to say that the G20 events and their aftermath have affected many people in a manner that has the character of trauma.   Just what it was in the course of the G20 that any particular individual found traumatic varied.  It might have been the images of burning police cars, or the windows of shops broken in, or stories of individuals arrested and held without proper authority, or video images of overwhelming police presence.  Regardless of which particular images or stories it was, the response of individuals to the G20 events seems to have been “This isn’t the Toronto I grew up in and trusted!  What has happened to my city?”

In my opinion, that’s the right question.  What happened to our city?  More specifically, what happened to the psyche of our city?  And it’s at this point, I believe, that CG Jung has some things to say that are specifically relevant.  For instance, he states at one point in his Collected Letters:

Any organization in which the voice of the individual is not heard is in danger of degenerating into a subhuman monster.

I believe that this is the essence of what was wrong with the whole G20 summit experience in Toronto.  The individual, and his or her meaning and significance, became completely lost. The whole event was completely disconnected from the life of the City of Toronto, and the experience of its citizens.  Everything about the G20, and especially its titanic size, just serves to dwarf the significance of the individual.  The forces grinding and clashing at such an event are so huge that the voice of the individual simply cannot be heard in any meaningful way.

A democracy cannot afford to do politics in this manner.  At least, it cannot do so, and expect to remain a democracy.  In my opinion, there is a deep need at this point in our history to bring political decision-making down to a more human scale.  I don’t know whether that is a point that favours the right or the left, but it is a simple reflection of human psychological reality.  If we lose the individual, we will find ourselves submerged in crowds and mobs which we cannot influence, governed by unconscious psychological forces that we cannot begin to control or even understand.  That kind of mass psychology leads to disaster.

It’s up to each of us to take a personal stand to keep our political and social life fundamentally human, and to deliver a message to politicians, officials and others: individual persons–and only individual persons–count.

My next blog post will return to my “Iron Man” series, with “Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part III: Heart Trouble

I’d welcome your reflections on the G20 in Toronto.   Do you agree with me that it took us to some pretty unsatisfactory places, or do you have another perspective on these events?  Do you agree or disagree with me that now is a particularly important time to focus on the value and dignity of individual persons in our collective and political life?  As always, I greatly value your comments and reflections — and you certainly don’t have to agree with me!

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDITS: © Turkbug| Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Anxiety, Stress and Decisions

May 11th, 2010 · Anxiety, decision, Individuation, midlife, Mississauga, Oakville, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, soul, unconscious, wholeness

A great deal of stress and anxiety in peoples’ lives is associated with making major decisions that deeply effect personal life.  Very often, people come into therapy because they are hung on the horns of a major dilemma, with a decision to be made between two or more possible decisions or paths to take.

As we all know, making a life-changing decision can be a time of real struggle.  Often the choice may be of a kind from which there is no easy turning back.  In such a situation, if the stakes are high enough on each side, the dilemma can seem insoluble, and the situation can seem absolutely paralyzing.

This is in part because, there is often no easy, logical set of steps to take in making the fundamental decisions in life.  Decision-making is not nearly the logical, rational proposition that it is often portrayed to be, and that we would like to think that it is.  This is true whether we look at individual or group decisions.  I appreciated this article in the Financial Post newspaper of date, which concerned research into the psychological processes around decision-making demonstrates this:    //bit.ly/cd0whp

In the course of an ordinary human life, there will be decisions that will be true forks in the road.  These decisions will not be made easily, and making them may well have a very real personal cost.  As one enters mid-life, the frequency of these difficult, uncharted decisions tends to increase.  From the middle of life on, there will be more and more of an individual character to such major choices.  As one really confronts one’s own unique identity, and one’s own unique values and sources of meaning, conventional cookie-cutter answers to these dilemmas will be less and less readily apparent and less and less helpful.  If an individual is to find an authentic way to move forward at such a point, it will require genuine self exploration, and confrontation with the unconscious elements in him- or herself.

Coming to terms with the unconscious element of ourselves, and becoming aware of its presence and its effect on the direction of our lives is a transforming process.  The self that makes the decision and moves forward will necessarily be somewhat different from the self that originally confronted the dilemma.  Often it is the support provided by the container of depth psychotherapy that can make the difference between an end result that furthers a sense of despair and stagnation, and a resolution to the dilemma that provides a sense of greater unification and integrity of the self.

I’d gratefully welcome your comments on the decision process.  Have you confronted times in the recent past where making a major decision or decisions has been a source of great stress?  Have you ever had to confront decisions that had the feeling of being a genuine “fork in the road” or “crossing of the Rubicon” from which, once made, there was no turning back?

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Main website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga practice: www.briancollinson.ca

PHOTO CREDIT: ©  Ffennema |Dreamstime.com

© 2010 Brian Collinson

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Individual Therapy, Women, Men & Marilyn Monroe

March 7th, 2010 · Anima, feminine, individual, individual therapy, masculine, therapy

 It’s very striking how the figure of Marilyn Monroe sometimes comes up in individual therapy.

Individual therapy

Few people have gripped the imagination of popular culture as she has.  An iconic and fateful figure for both women and men.  A figure combining elements of both the erotic goddess and the cautionary tale.  Her story is disturbing.  In some important sense, she will not leave us alone.

A recent book, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborrelli sheds light on the last period before her death at age 36 in 1962.  However, a CBC network television program, The Passionate Eye last fall aired an even more informative documentary, Marilyn: The Last Sessions , which described the last sessions that Monroe had with her psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Greenson.  This psychiatrist allegedly engaged in a wide range of boundary-violating behaviour, including seeing Marilyn twice a day, and involving her in his family life.  I wonder whether Greenson did not himself fall under the spell of the archetypal child-woman symbology that our culture had already imbued on Monroe. 

Even today, Marilyn Monroe is an unbelievably powerful symbolic figure — for both men and women, and on all kinds of levels.  In her persona and public image, Marilyn represents a female figure who is essentially conformed to the will of men.  In her whole bearing, in her breathy-voiced, man-pleasing manner, she represents a very powerful manifestation of the “anima woman”, a woman who is so permeated on the unconscious level by her need to conform herself to the inner image of woman in male fantasy that it takes over her entire outer presentation.  A woman who lives out her entire life in this mode is very often headed for a tragic outcome.  Such seems to have been the fate of Marilyn, the fatherless girl who so deeply yearned for male approval and love.

Marilyn is clearly a powerful image of male-dominated womanhood, and is a tragic figure for women.  What is not so often seen is how destructive a figure she can represent for a man, if she embodies a man’s “anima”, which is to say that receptive dimension of a man that enables him to relate to women and the feminine.  How could a man dominated by such an image really have anything but contempt for his own receptive, feeling “feminine” dimension?  Or anything but pity or contempt for the real women who occupy his life — if he sees them through the image of Marilyn, the child-woman?

Is the Marilyn Monroe type of feminity the only way in which our society or individuals in it can access the feminine?  If it is through “Marilyn lenses” that we view the world, how can we have any feeling connection to the feminine parts of reality — nature, the earth, our own feeling and relational dimensions, even those parts of ourselves that are receptive, gentle and creative?  If feminity can only be imaged as an absence of the masculine and its strength, then we are doomed to perceive only half of the world.  

Our culture is desperately yearning for the healing that the feminine can bring, but that healing is nowhere to be found in the tragic symbology of the female pushed into a mold created by the male.  In his 1975 film based on the “rock opera” Tommy by The Who, avant-garde film director Ken Russell captured our dilemma with a certain bizarre eloquence…”You talk about your woman…”

Tommy – “Eyesight to the Blind”

I’d gratefully welcome comments and reflections on Marilyn Monroe specifically, and, more generally on the place of femininity in our culture.  How has the way our culture treats the feminine impacted you?  I think that this is a very important matter, and I’d very much like to share with you about your views.

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

Website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga Practice: www.briancollinson.ca

PHOTO CREDIT: © Konstantin32 |Dreamstime.com

FILM CREDIT: “Tommy”, Directed by Ken Russell, © Columbia Pictures, 1975 

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 


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Here in the Middle Years of Life: Is That All There Is?

February 28th, 2010 · Anxiety, depression, depth psychology, Hope, Identity, inner life, life passages, Meaning, midlife, Psychotherapy, soul, stress, suburbia / exurbia, The Self, therapy

The great jazz artist Peggy Lee performed the following beautiful, highly disturbing yet haunting song in 1969, at midlife, in her 50th year:

I doubt that questions get much more real than those in this song.  And the question that Peggy Lee sings about here is of the type, that, for many people, can become achingly urgent at the middle of life. 

For many people, especially in our tumultuous times, the middle years of life can come to feel like an endless process of coping with chaos.  It can feel like life has become a time of just responding to one crisis after another: issues with maturing children, issues with the health of parents; job issues; issues of financial security.  At times, life can come to seem endlessly wearying, and very much as if there is nothing to it, but “just going through the motions”.  From such a place, for very many people, there can come a deep heartfelt cry: “Is this really all that there is to my life?  Is this all that I get?”

This moment, the moment of this question, is highly important in the life of the individual.  This is true, even especially true, if the time when this question arises is filled with depression, anxiety — even despair.

From experience with clients, I can almost guarantee that there will be no canned, pre-packaged answer to this question that will slake the desperate thirst of those who ask such a question. Only an answer rooted in the individual’s life will bring any peace, any hope, any meaning — any sense of value.

By an individual answer, I mean one that emerges from the very depths of the individual.  Not something that the individual’s intellect or conscious mind has cobbled together, but something that emerges from the very depths of the person, from what they most fundamentally are.  Something to which they can say “Yes!” with their whole being.

It is the task of good therapy (and of Jungian analysis) to assist the individual in finding the symbolic dimension that conveys meaning, to find the deep story or myth of an individual’s life.  There are many in suburban places like Oakville, Burlington and Mississauga for whom the question “Is that all there is?” has become urgently real.  I invite you to enter into the therapeutic journey inward, to find your own inner treasure.

I’d gratefully welcome comments and reflections from readers.  Have you had the experience of wondering in this way “is that all there is”?  How has that question affected your life?  If you were willing to share this important and personal part of your life, I’d be deeply interested to dialogue with you.

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

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

Website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga Practice: www.briancollinson.ca

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

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Between Childrens’ and Parents’ Needs: the Generational Anxiety Sandwich

February 15th, 2010 · complexes, compulsion, Current Affairs, depth psychology, Jungian analysis, parent-child interactions, parental complex, Psychotherapy, The Self, therapy, unlived life, wholeness

 

Sandwich for Vibrant Jung Thing In this post, I would like to write about something that may have a sense of “taboo” about it.

For many of us in the present day world, a powerful struggle goes on in our middle years.  There are greater and greater demands on our personal reserves of compassion, empathy, time, energy and money.  These resources are streaming out in two directions, both towards our children, and also towards our parents, and possibly other aging relatives, who are living to a greater age than ever they have in the past.

As many people in their middle years try to meet the needs of the younger and older generations, they find themselves nearly impossibly stretched.

In such a climate, it can feel almost impossible to meet the needs of others.  In addition, many people end up feeling like callous ingrates if they give any consideration to their own needs as people.  “How can I consider myself?” one often hears people in this position say, “My parents gave me so much.  I owe them so much–everything!”

The really difficult thing is when the inner complex gives such guilting messages to an adult child, when the parents have actually not been kind or supportive to their children.  I experience this as a very frequent occurrence in my practice.  Many times, people who have been seriously emotionally or physically neglected by their parents — or worse — are the very people who respond in the most dutiful and self sacrificing manner.

And then again, it is often those same people, dutiful to their parents, who turn around and are completely self-sacrificing to their children.  And sometimes those children can be every bit as demanding unreasonable and narcissistic toward their parents as their grandparents are toward them.  And often that same mass of guilt and obligation that whips these people into unreasonably self-denying behaviour toward their parents will do the same when it comes to their children.

The particular psychological forces that bring this about are as individual as the people involved in the situation.  Very often, in dealing with these situations, healthy ordinary people need therapy to get to the root of the problem, and to free themselves from the crushing guilt.  Guilt can be an extremely powerful emotion and motivator, and it is often necessary to confront it in the safe environment of therapy to be able to remove its power.

The other hugely difficult component of these intergenerational binds is that they often lead to enormous amounts of anxiety.  This can prove as difficult, if not more so, than the guilt.  However, what I am going to say next about that guilt may prove surprising, even shocking!

Which is, that it may actually be quite a good thing that the individual is experiencing the guilt!  “Wow, Brian” you might be thinking, “what a horrible thing to say!  …Speaking of callous!…  How can you possibly wish anxiety on already-burdened people?”

Now, I don’t wish anyone unnecessary pain, and, all other things being equal, I would wish that no one would have to deal with excessive anxiety.  But in a situation like this, I believe that it is often the case that the anxiety has a psychological purpose.  Simply put, the intense anxiety makes us aware that there is a conflict, and that the status quo is simply untenable for the individual

It may be that the guilt is intense for such a person, but the anxiety shows us that there is tension, that the needs of the self are not willing to just continue being put on the shelf and denied.  The complex of guilt and obligation within us may spur us on to utterly altruistic self-destruction…but that complex is not all that there is to us.  There is the part of us that recognizes that the purpose of human life is to become the person who is latent within us, that that is why we are here in this life.  That part will allow us to make some compromises, but it will not allow us to completely sell ourselves out — not without our paying a very dire, wrenching psychological price.  

It’s easy for many people to feel a strong impetus to self-sacrifice, but, psychologically speaking, it’s important to realize that there may be very real limits to the degree to which we can put our own needs on one side to care for and meet the needs of others.

This awareness might lead us to face an even more fundamental questions like, “How do I begin to live my own real life?” and “What is meaningful to me?”  These questions takes us to the very heart of Jungian analysis, and true depth psychotherapy.

I’d gratefully welcome comments from readers on these issues, which affect very many of us.  How have you experienced the “generational sandwich”?.

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

Brian Collinson

PHOTO CREDITS: © Lukyslukys|Dreamstime.com 

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

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Does February Bring Any GIfts?

January 31st, 2010 · depth psychology, Hope, Identity, Individuation, inner life, soul, The Self, therapy

February Gifts 2 for Vibrant Jung Thing  “April is the cruelest month” wrote the poet T.S. Eliot.  When I first read that line as a teenager, my thought was, “Obviously, this poet wasn’t a Canadian!”

Anyone who has consistently lived through winters in places like Oakville, Mississauga or Burlington will probably tell you that “the cruelest month” is either January or February.  I suspect that many would vote for February.

For many people, February can seem very bleak.  The year-end holidays are far behind us.  There is no major holiday to lighten our hearts, although we do now have “Family Day”.  Snow or brutal cold –this year we have little of the former and plenty of the latter–can turn trips out into an ordeal.  The days are lengthening, it’s true, but, at least in our part of the world, long strings of overcast days lead many people to feel starved for sunlight.

Does February bring us any gifts?  How could it?…

One of the most difficult aspects of this time of the year can be that we tend to feel shut in, and shut up with ourselves.  This can mean that we are left with what I often term the fundamental question of ourselves.  That is, with how to be who we are and feel good about it.  How to actively accept and cherish our lives, rather than just seeing ourselves as “one in a million”.

Many of the things into which we pour our energy at other times of the year are just not available now.  Our response to that can be to curse the luck and hang on grimly until spring.  Or, we could use the time to really encounter ourselves.

Here are some things that might be helpful to think about at this time.  They’ve proved valuable to me, so I leave them with you for your consideration:

 

Have you ever told yourself the story of your own life?  To sit down and actually write your own life story can be a truly revelatory thing to do.

Have you ever thought about what the happiest time in your life was?  Have you ever thought about what was the saddest?

Who are the three most significant people that you have encountered in your life, other than parents or siblings.  Why are they important to you?  What does that tell you about yourself?

In what do you put your faith?  This might be a formal religious belief, or a personal spirituality or philosophy, or it might be something quite different.  What you fundamentally value can tell you a tremendous amount about who you fundamentally are.

It may be that, as you live with these questions, they take on a fundamental importance that leads you to want to explore new dimensions of yourself, with someone “on your side” to witness your journey.  Certainly that was my experience, and that is what initially led me into psychotherapy and Jungian analysis.

 

I’d welcome comments below from readers on how any of these thoughts relates to your lives at this time of year.

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

Brian Collinson

Website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga Practice: www.briancollinson.ca

PHOTO CREDITS: © Yobro10 | Dreamstime.com 

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

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Identity and Anxiety in the Film, “Up In the Air”

January 22nd, 2010 · Anxiety, Current Affairs, depth psychology, Film, Identity, Individuation, life passages, Meaning, midlife, persona, puer aeternis, unlived life, wholeness, work

Make no mistake, moving is living.  -Ryan Bingham

 

“Up in the Air”, directed by Jason Reitman, stars George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick.UpInTheAir for Vibrant Jung Thing  Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham is a full-time corporate down-sizer whose life consists of an endless stream of business travel (“322 days last year”).  He moves from place to place, letting people go from corporate roles when their employers cannot stomach doing it.  He has no permanent attachments to people, a desolate and hollow single bedroom apartment he never sleeps in, and he has accumulated 10,000,000 airmiles…

Up In the Air Official Website

Ryan Bingham’s life is in airports and hotel rooms and is filled with constant movement.  The stability and security in his life, his secure base, is found precisely in those things that others find impermanent and impersonal.  His finely orchestrated and choreographed travel routine, his mechanized method of moving constantly from place to place gives him re-assurance, and in an odd way a sense of belonging.  Which is good, because Ryan has no permanent connections to anyone in his life.

Ryan also has a budding career as an motivational speaker.  His message: “Make no mistake: your relationships are the heaviest components in your life….  The slower we move, the faster we die.”

Ryan is completely identified with his corporate role.   His aircraft-bound life is an appropriate symbol of his existence on a deeper level.  In the terms of Jungian psychology, Ryan, like Christopher McCandless, the subject of Into the Wild is a true puer aeternus (“eternal boy”).  He floats above life in his social self, and never puts down roots into the deep soil of his genuine self.  And he is danger of discovering that his life is tragic because there he has no remaining way to turn back.

In its own way, this is a very disturbing and provocative film, but it’s a very good one.  It raises the question for each of us about how connected we’re willing to be to the real substance of our lives.

I’d welcome comments below from readers on anxiety, identity and work.

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

Brian Collinson

PHOTO CREDITS: © DW Studios LL.C. and Cold Spring Pictures

© 2010 Brian Collinson

 

 

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