Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Summer Can Open Us to Life Changing Experiences

July 25th, 2022 · life changing experiences

Here we are in the middle of summer 2022, and, naturally, many of us are looking for fun experiences. But summer can also bring us life changing experiences.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

(Of course, fun experiences can be life changing! The two things are not mutually exclusive!) But, more generally, what kind of life changing experiences can summer bring? How do we recognize and welcome these experiences? How can we let them grow in our lives?

Often, we are so accustomed to experiencing life in a certain preset way, and so used to seeing things from a fixed perspective, that it can be difficult to let anything else really penetrate our awareness. We can have an experience of something that seems genuinely new and enlivening. The new thing may seem to change us for a week or two, but then we revert to our older habitual view of ourselves and our lives. After a while, the experience of anything other than “the same old same old” can start to seem far away,. It can feel that perhaps we only imagined it.

How can we retain our connection to experiences that seem genuinely life-changing, and life giving?

Summer Brings a Different Rhythm

For many of us, the summer period has a different rhythm than the rest of the year. With summer vacations and more recreational activities on the weekends, time may seem to slow down, in some ways. We’re able to be much more present to the moment, and perhaps much more aware of our thoughts, reactions and feelings.

It may be that, in the course of summer living, we have experiences that really wake us up. We may describe them as “feeling more alive”, or “feeling authentically ourselves”. They may take us beyond anxiety and into presence. Perhaps as we’re doing a recreational activity, or, as we’re pausing and doing nothing, just being here now, we reflect that “Yes, this, right now, is what I really want for myself”. Or, we have some compelling awareness of what we want in our lives, and we feel that there might just be a way to attain it. I don’t mean by this that we see a way to a new house, boat or swimming pool. I’m referring much more to having a sense of how we might be in our lives.

It may be that such an awareness comes in a precious moment where we are alone, but genuinely with ourselves. It may come from a special interaction with family or friends. Or, it might even come as a dream state. It was not by accident that WIlliam Shakespeare wrote a play entitled “A Midsummer Night’s Dream“!

Letting In” Life Changing Experiences

The great challenge to new experiences or awarenesses is always our own resistance. The psyche is inherently conservative. If we have a mind-altering or perspective-changing experience, it can be all too easy for the ego to dismiss it as irrelevant, or of negligible importance. Lena M. Forsell of Lund University notes the

affective, cognitive, and behavioral components that create a psychological resistance to making a change in particular situations or overall changes in one’s life

Say we have an experience that seems to point to a fundamentally different way of being in our lives. We can count on the appearance of resistance to pressure us to return to “the way it’s always been”. We may especially note this tendency at times when we’re going through major life transitions.

If we let our resistance stay in the driver’s seat, we may find that something that could be a life changing experience gets turned into “an odd experience that I once had”. It then gets relegated to the dustbin of our lives, as an element of unlived life that never will be.

Letting Go of Past Constraints

Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s possible to cultivate an attitude of receptiveness and openness to experiences that seem to offer a doorway to new possibility. We can become more aware of our resistances, to see them for what they are, as we develop our ability to put them aside and explore new possibilities. In this way, as Jung put it, we can work to go beyond the limitations of our ego, and explore the beckoning of our greater Self.

With very best wishes for your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Should I Quit My Job? Connecting Career Vocation and Soul

July 11th, 2022 · should I quit my job

Should I quit my job? Here we are, on a beautiful sun-filled summer day. Perhaps you’re on summer vacation. Work may be far from your mind! And yet…

Should I stay or should I go? (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets).

And yet, there’s something about the summer vacation period that leads us to look at our jobs from a different angle. When we get away from the patterns of daily work routines, we often can see our work or career differently from how it looks when we’re right down in the trenches. Over the years, hundreds of people in stressful jobs have told me how hard it can be to focus on anything other than immediate deadlines when they endlessly keep arising. And in 2022, that’s the nature of many jobs!

Should I quit my job? That question may well come into more focus when I have time off from the regular daily routine. When I’m outside of the regular weekly vortex, I may find myself more in contact with what it is that I really want from my life. I may also find myself more in touch with the whole of my personal journey—and that’s important.

How do you even assess whether your job is right for you? Even more fundamentally, how do you start to figure our what you’re looking for from a job? [Please note – for the purposes of this discussion, I’m including self-employed options as a kind of “job” or career.]

What Do You Want from Your Job?

There are a number of key areas to think about, when it comes to asking whether your job is giving you what you need:

  • Does my job meet my basic material needs? Clearly we want jobs that provide at least a basic living wage, have safe working conditions, and provide sick leave and disability insurance. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, or in continual fear of getting sick, this isn’t the job for you.
  • Can I manage my workload, on an on-going basis? This is a big issue, as many people currently feel that their employers continually ask them to do more with less.
  • Do I have a sense of community or connection with the people I work with? If not, it can be very hard to get a sense that work is satisfying, valuable or meaningful. It’s essential that work feels psychologically safe.
  • Is my job adequately rewarding? I’m using the term here in a broader sense than just salary. Does my job provide other opportunities to develop, both professionally and personally?
  • Is my job actually a fit with my life, and with who I am? Recently, this broad question has been in the background in our culture as we witness what Texas A & M Prof. Anthony Klotz labelled “the Great Resignation”. This huge wave of post-pandemic resignations comes as many workers re-examine their priorities and values.

From the perspective of Jungian depth psychotherapy, it is this last question that is the most important. How does this job align with who I really am? From a Jungian perspective, the key life task we all face is individuation. This is the development of the individual personality, or, as Jung puts it, “the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology” (Jung, CW 6). So, the question arises: is this job making me more or less myself?

The Dangers of Just “Keeping On Keeping On

From this perspective, the greatest danger is that we will never even ask the question of how my work relates to my true identity, to the essence of me. Many years ago, Paul Simon expressed it perfectly in the song Slip Sliding Away:

We’re workin’ our jobs, collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway, when in fact we’re slip sliding away

It can be very easy to simply let inertia carry us when it comes to our work life. A job may be absolutely soul-sucking, and yet we continue day after day, month after month, year after year. We can suppress our real feelings, and experience them coming back to us in the form of anxiety or depression. We may never get to the point of confronting vocation, or of what it is that we feel we’re meant to do with the gift of our unique lives.

Should I Quit My Job? What Does Soul Say?

I’d like to close this post with three quotes by Jungian analyst James Hillman:

the purpose of life is to make psyche of it, to find connections between life and soul.

Each life is formed by its unique image, an image that is the essence of that life and calls it to a destiny.

…you find your genius by looking in the mirror of your life.

On its most fundamental level, how I approach my job, and whether I remain in or leave my job, is a soul question. It has to do with the essence of who I am, and with making my daily life an expression of that true essence.

The expression of that true essence is fundamental to our journey to wholeness. Finding and expressing who we most fundamentally are is the very heart of Jungian analysis or depth psychotherapy.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Getting to the Inner Meaning of Midlife Depression

July 4th, 2022 · midlife depression

Midlife depression is a reality for many. By “midlife depression” I’m referring to forms of depression which specifically have their onset in the midlife years.

PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets

Today I’m focusing on midlife depression that is rooted in psychological issues associated with the middle part of life. So, this blog doesn’t focus on the more specifically physical issues that can result in depression, such as: low Vitamin B12 levels; thyroid disorders; chronic pain due to arthritis; diabetes; menopause; or, heart health issues. We’re going to look more at the range of psychological changes that result from being in the middle part of life.

The types of midlife depression we’re examining in this blog are the types that are associated with midlife transition. A 2008 study of 2 million individuals found that midlife depression is a worldwide reality. This is the period, occurring sometime around the middle of life, when very many people begin to really reflect on the lives that they have lived, and may even find themselves moving toward new values or a new perspective. Jungian analyst Robert Johnson vividly describes this process:

With aging we all face threats to our ability to control outcomes. Perhaps it is the painful onset of physical limitations… the death of parents and even friends, or disillusionment of youthful dreams—all these may contribute to a mental shift at midlife from “time since birth” to “time left until death” and we begin to feel that time is running out while something essential is still missing….

Researchers argue over whether the midlife crisis is a universal phenomenon of modern life, but we do know that so often by middle age the cultural process has become very dry for us, as if we have wrung all the energy out of our character. This is true not only when life has disappointed you and achievements have fallen short of expectations, but also if you have accomplished a good measure of success. Meanwhile the energy in your unlived life becomes more urgent [italics mine]

Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl Living Your Unlived Life

Midlife Depression: the Psychological Impact

Midlife depression can manifest in many different forms, often related to our limited ability to control outcomes. For instance, depression may be related to a sense of overload: in midlife, it can be very easy to feel suffocated by the combined demands of children, aging parents, marriage and your job. This is particularly the experience of many women—but men can certainly experience it, as well.

Another factor in midlife depression can be the empty nest. When a child or children leaves home, it can profoundly affect our mood. The investment of emotional energy that previously went toward children may now seem like it has nowhere to go, and we can feel empty. Again, we tend to stereotypically assume that this is the experience of mothers, but years of clinical experience have taught me that fathers can have just as profound a reaction!

Another factor with a profound relationship to midlife depression is retirement. This is particularly true for people who retire young, or who are forced into retirement. However, retirement can be psychologically difficult whenever and however it occurs. As Carl Jung famously said, “it’s good to retire—but not into nothing”.

Loneliness can be another key factor in midlife depression. It can be very easy for us to lose connection in midlife with people who are truly significant to us. Establishing meaningful connection with others may be one of the key challenges of midlife.

Grief also has a very significant connection with midlife depression, and may be associated with the loss of parents, significant relatives and friends. Grief is not the same thing as depression, but grief that is traumatic or unshared or unexpressed can lead to serious depression.

There are other factors in midlife that also lead to depression. A lot depends on the particular experience of the individual.

Denying Depression

There was a time—not so long ago as we’d like to think—when the conventional wisdom on how to deal with depression was “suck it up and keep going”. We’ve come a long way since then, and we’ve learned that denying the existence of depression doesn’t make it go away. We’ve also learned that another, related idea is not true: hard work doesn’t beat depression.

It’s very easy to be in a place of denial about depression. It’s not uncommon for individuals to deny or fail to recognize their depression for years. Yet the danger is that depression can have a dramatic effect on our physical or mental health. It has been demonstrated that unacknowledged and untreated depression can lead to serious heart-related health issues.

Finding the Sunken Life in Midlife Depression

A Jungian depth psychotherapeutic approach to depression emphasizes getting in touch with the unconscious component of the depression, and finding a way to release its emotional energy into our lives. in the words of Jung,

Depression should be regarded as an unconscious compensation whose content must be made conscious if it is to be fully effective.

C. G. Jung, CW5

The most healing thing we can do with our midlife depression is to get to the unconscious feeling and other content that is at the heart of it. We need to find ways to express and live out the unlived life contained there, in a way that enables us to be more creative, engaged and alive. This is a key part of Jungian analysis or psychotherapy for midlife depression, and it can make an enormous contribution to our journey towards wholeness.

With every good wish for your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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The Meaning of the Feminine in Our Contemporary Psyche

June 27th, 2022 · meaning of the feminine

What do we mean when we talk about “the feminine” in psychotherapy today? What is the meaning of the feminine for women and men in our world?

What is the meaning of the Feminine? (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

I can imagine some readers responding to this with a lot of scepticism. “Come on!” they might say, “Be reasonable! This is a topic on which Jungians, contemporary feminists and many many others have written literally thousands of pages! And you’re proposing to cover it in a blog post?

Well, I have to admit, those critics would not be wrong! It would be possible to write a huge amount on the meaning of the feminine. Clearly, I can’t write a vast tome in this blog post. I probably can’t even make all the highest-level important points that need to be made. Yet we can look at at least some aspects of the meaning of the feminine that Jungian depth psychotherapy would emphasize as important to take into our consciousness.

NEWSFLASH!!! Feminine is not the Same as Masculine!!!

This statement may seem utterly inane, but it isn’t! It’s very easy for societies like ours that are rooted in patriarchal culture to assume, consciously or unconsciously, that the two are really the same. That type of outlook can easily take us to the idea that the difference between masculine and feminine is really no big deal. Or, worse, a particularly poisonous outgrowth of patriarchal culture is the idea, held consciously or unconsciously, that the feminine is the mere absence of the masculine. This collapse into the underlying conviction that “everything that is real or strong is inherently masculine” is the poison right at the heart of sexism. Such a view of the world will ensure that we will never be truly conscious of either masculinity or femininity. It obliterates the meaning of the feminine.

The Interplay

A strongly contrasting image of masculine and feminine is to be found in the writings of Emma Jung. Her reflections on the nature of masculine and feminine had a profound effect on her husband C.G.Jung. In 1955 she wrote:

In our time when… threatening forces of cleavage are at work, splitting peoples, individuals and atoms, it is doubly necessary that those which unite and hold together should become effective; for life is founded on the harmonious interplay of masculine and feminine forces, within the individual human being as well as without. Bringing these opposites into union is one of the most important tasks of present-day psychotherapy.

Emma Jung, Anima and Animus

Emma Jung wrote of the “threatening forces of cleavage” that were splitting individuals and peoples in her time. In our time, perhaps we feel these forces even more than she did, especially when we reflect on current events both at home and farther afield.

If we really take in what she states, it has profound implications. Her statement that “life is founded on the harmonious interplay of masculine and feminine forces” emphasizes that masculine and feminine are most certainly not the same. What is more, for Emma Jung, life is founded on a harmony between masculine and feminine energies. So, apparently, it’s essential for the feminine and masculine to recognize, respect, and meaningfully interact with each other. And even more, this not only happens between individuals and groups, it also happens within the individual human being, as well as without.

The Meaning of the Feminine

What, then, is the meaning of the feminine? The answer is, that it is a fundamental part of reality, always inextricably in relationship to the masculine. Jungian analyst and embodiment therapist Marion Woodman describes the meaning and relationship of the masculine and feminine within each individual:

The true feminine is the receptacle of love. The true masculine is the spirit that goes into the eternal unknown in search of meaning. The great container, the Self, is paradoxically both male and female and contains both…. Without the true masculine spirit and the true feminine love within, no inner life exists…. To be free is to break the stone images and allow life and love to flow.

Marion Woodman, Addiction to Perfection

This true feminine is within each of us, and we need to acknowledge its presence as a central part of our journey towards wholeness. Yet, that acknowledgement on its own is not enough to allow us to safeguard our journey. We must also acknowledge and affirm the meaning and reality of the feminine beyond ourselves, in the world. This means to acknowledge that the lived reality of women is a sacred and different reality from the lived reality of men. We have to affirm the reality and experience of individual women, in order to respect the meaning of the feminine, not only within ourselves, but in the shared social, economic and political realities of our lives.

With every good wish for your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Who Needs an Ego? When Ego Can Help Us—and When It Hurts

June 20th, 2022 · ego

Ego? What is that thing, anyway? We all talk about it, especially psychologists. But what are we really talking about? And how does it help or hurt?

We have a cultural stereotype of “ego”, and it isn’t pretty… (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

The term “ego” gets used a lot in ordinary language. Often it’s used when someone has a very high opinion of him- or herself, as in “He’s got a big ego.” (See the picture of our friend above!) But in a psychological sense, the word carries a different meaning. The word “ego” is taken from the Greek word for “I”. For psychology, the ego is the centre of consciousness—of our “I” awareness.

The ego may be the centre of our awareness of “I”, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the whole of our personality. Freud saw the ego as the central part of our personality. As the seat of our conscious awareness, he gave it the vital role of being the place where outer, external reality meets our inner subjective life. He saw it as a kind of mediator of the inner and outer worlds. Jung wouldn’t disagree with this assessment, as far as it goes.

Ego: Not the Whole Enchilada

However, Jung would emphasize that there is a lot more going on in the personality than just the functions of the ego. As Jungian Andrew Samuels tells us, “Though the ego is concerned with such matters as personal identity, maintenance of the personality, continuity over time, mediation between conscious and unconscious realms, cognition and reality testing”—it is still not the whole and complete sum total of what we are.

Both Freud and Jung held that, not only is there a conscious part of the personality, of which the ego is certainly the centre, but a large other part, called the unconscious. Freud saw the unconscious as a repository of everything that we have forgotten, along with everything that we’ve repressed because it’s too unpleasant or difficult to look at. Jung would agree with Freud as far as it goes, but would also emphasize that there are more things in the unconscious than Freud acknowledged:

…everything of which I know, but of which I am not at the moment thinking; everything of which I was once conscious but have now forgotten; everything perceived by my senses, but not noted by my conscious mind; everything which, involuntarily and without paying attention to it, I feel, think, remember, want and do; all the future things that are taking shape in me and will sometime come to consciousness…

So, this unconscious dimension of who we are is a very important part of the whole picture!

When the Ego Thinks It’s Running the Show

Even though the ego certainly is not the sum total of what we are, it can sometimes act like it is! All too often, the ego can act like it’s “the only game in town”. This center of the conscious part of the personality can carry on as if our conscious thoughts, feelings and wishes are all that there is to us. It can be easy for people to feel that they “know themselves’, when it may be that all they’re aware of is the conscious portion of who they are.

There are many kinds of situations where the ego chooses to ignore, or repress, what other parts of the personality may know or feel. For instance, it may be that we’ve gotten the message from family or peers that our real feelings about family relationships are unacceptable, and so we repress them. If the ego operates while ignoring our deepest feelings about key matters in our lives, that’s a recipe for trouble. Among other things, we may fall into the depths of depression or intense anxiety, or even worse psychological situations.

Similarly, if the ego ignores or dismisses other kinds of promptings from the unconscious, we may lose a very great deal. For instance, if the ego ignores our intuition, which comes from the unconscious mind, we may lose a very precious source of perceptions about our lives and the world. In much the same way, if dreams are ignored or dismissed, a potentially invaluable communication channel with the deep workings of the unconscious gets lost.

The Ego in Right Relationship to the Self

The ego can certainly stand in the way of connecting with the whole personality, or, as Jungians call it, the Self. Yet, on the other side, the ego can definitely do things that help us to connect to the whole of who we are. There is a lot we can do for ourselves that opens up the connection with the unconscious personality, and the whole of who we really are. We can take advantage of techniques that increasingly open the ego up to everything that we are thinking, feeling or perceiving. There are many possible techniques. One fairly straightforward approach is the practice of journalling on a daily basis about what has gone on in your inner and outer life, and how you have reacted to it. As writers such as Rebecca Strong emphasize, the value of journalling is now widely recognized far beyond the Jungian world. Other viable techniques include noting and writing down your dreams.

Something that can certainly help the ego and the rest of the personality to get along better is entering into the process of Jungian depth psychotherapy or analysis. A supportive therapeutic relationship of the right type can certainly help the ego to hear and support the voices of the rest of the personality. This is a key part of the journey towards wholeness.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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How to Know What You Want, 3: Integrity & Holding Opposites

June 6th, 2022 · how to know what you want

In Parts 1 & 2 of “How to Know What You Want”, we’ve looked at a lot of the intricacies of genuinely understanding our desires. So, now what?

So, now what????!!!!

We know now that, to get to “How to Know What You Want”, there are a lot of different parts of ourselves, both conscious and unconscious, that we have to take into account. How exactly can we do that? How do we ever get to a genuine knowledge of our real desires? As we discussed in the last post, we’re likely not going to do it by creating a ledger sheet!

We are complex and intricate beings. Depth Psychotherapy asserts that we have many different aspects to our personalities, both conscious and unconscious. How do we find our way through all of this complexity and get to what it is that we really want?

To find this, we have to approach the question of what we want with integrity.


Now, as soon as you use a word like “integrity”, it can conjure up some pretty unhelpful misconceptions. When many people hear that word, what arises for them is the idea of someone who has a very conventional, probably old-fashioned morality, and who follows moral rules in a completely unbending way. However, in his book Integrity in Depth, Jungian psychoanalyst John Beebe invites us to see the word “integrity” in a different way. He quotes American author Robert Grudin, who in part defines integrity as

…an inner psychological harmony and wholeness…. a conformity of personal expression with psychological reality….

Now this is a significantly different understanding of integrity. For Beebe, it’s clear that integrity has to do with taking all that we are into account. If we are to have an integrity-based approach to the question of how to know what you want, there has to be a harmony and wholeness between our inner and outer reality. Also our “personal expression”, or everything that we do in the outer world has to conform with our complete psychological reality. It has to take into account all that we’re thinking and feeling.

Holding the Opposites

To have this kind of “psychological harmony and wholeness” means to bring together what the ego wants, with what the shadow wants. As we’ve discussed before in this blog, the shadow was defined by C.G. Jung as “the thing a person has no wish to be”. To put it another way, the shadow is composed of everything that the conscious personality experiences as negative. Just what exactly is in the shadow differs greatly from individual to individual. The shadow of a Mafia Don is likely to look very different from the shadow of the Pope. Yet we can be sure that the ego doesn’t like whatever it is!

Part of what is in the shadow are wants and desires. Often, these can be desires that are completely unacceptable to the ego—so much so, that the ego may not even acknowledge their existence. Nonetheless, they are part of our actual desires.

The task of getting down to our real wants can take some real fortitude and courage. We may have to be prepared to really look at the shadow and recognize what it wants. Then, we need to hold that in tension with the more acceptable desires of the ego. If we can do this, then, over time, what it is that we “really want” will gradually emerge from the tension.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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How To Know What You Want, Part 2

May 30th, 2022 · how to know what you want

In the first part of this series, we opened up the large and important question of “how to know what you want”. It’s often a tough question, that masquerades as something simple.

How do I know what I want?

As Steve Jobs asserted in the passage quoted in the first post in this series, knowing what it is that we want is often not a matter of logical or rational certainty. It is more often a matter of intuition, especially when we’re dealing with really major life choices.

In our business-oriented world, decision-making is often portrayed as a very rational straightforward thing. You can often find that the decision-making process described as something much like a balance or a ledger sheet. Should I do X? Well, let’s write down a list of all the pros to doing X on one side of the page. Then let’s write down all the cons to doing it on the other side of the page. Then we just assign a weighting to each thing that’s for X, and to each thing that’s against X, add up the totals at the bottom of the page, and voila, instant major life decision! It seems very straightforward, doesn’t it?

But the trouble is, this isn’t how human beings actually make decisions. Study after study has shown that the actual human decision making process is much less rational than this, and that it involves a lot of intuitive factors, and also that a lot goes on in the unconscious mind when we make a decision. When you add to the complexity and importance of the decision, the process becomes even more involved.

Demanding Major Life Choices

Often the challenge of “how to know what you want” is felt most acutely when we face major life choices. These are the kind of choices that are going to make a big difference in our lives for a long time. It’s quite common for these types of choices to arise when we’re about to undergo, or are already undergoing, a major life transition. Here are some examples of choices that individuals might face that are connected with major life transitions:

  • Should I stay in my marriage, or should I leave it?
  • Should I have a second child?
  • Should I retire?
  • Do I reconcile with my brother (or sister, mother, father, etc.)?
  • Do I seek another career?

When facing these kinds of choices, the decision-making processes can be very involved and complex. They may be so involved that it’s impossible to list all the factors that go into them, let alone to weigh up each one in a completely rational manner. How can we possibly know what we want, and choose it?

Telling Ourselves We Know What We Want

The anxiety associated with major life choices can be overwhelming. The individual can be aware of how much is at stake, and can find him- or herself flooded by angst. It can be all too easy for the ego to simply disconnect, because there are too many options, or because the merits and demerits of each option are so hard to process. As Swathmore College Psychology Prof. Barry Schwartz puts it,

If we’re rational, [social scientists] tell us, added options can only make us better off…. This view is logically compelling, but empirically it isn’t true.

When it comes to a very important major life choice, it can be easy for the ego to tell itself that it has everything under control. We can find it easy to believe that we have the choice in hand, that we know what we want and that we’re moving ahead in a way that accords with our deepest wishes. Sadly, sometimes nothing could be further from the truth. We can end up making choices that we later realize weren’t really reflective of who we are—or of what we really want.

Knowing in Depth What We Want

There is an ages-old folk wisdom that urges us, before we make an important decision, to “sleep on it”. There is a profundity to this. It’s often easy for our conscious mind to feel that it knows exactly what we want, and that it knows the very best route to pursue to get it. But it’s important to recognize that our conscious mind is only a part of what we are. When it comes to making a very important decision, and to addressing how to know what you want concerning the things that are most important and all-encompassing in life, it’s important that as much of who we are as possible is engaged. That certainly includes the vast part of ourselves that is in the unconscious. When we “sleep on” a decision, we let the unconscious mind work on it.

When it comes to how to know what you really want, it’s essential to engage the unconscious. We have to hear from the unconscious parts of ourselves that are so easily missed and forgotten. In Jungian analysis or Jungian depth psychotherapy, we explore the reaction of the unconscious to our everyday lives, and to the big issues and decisions that we face in the course of our journey to wholeness. A supportive relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can be of immense value in solving the question of “how do I know what I really want?”

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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How To Know What You Want: Is It Even Possible?

May 15th, 2022 · how to know what you want

“How to know what you want.” It sounds so deceptively simple doesn’t it? Yet, getting in contact with what we really want in many situations can be difficult.

Figuring out how to know what you want. (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Part of the trouble with “how to know what you want” may be that we don’t just want one thing. Or maybe we just don’t know what it is we want at all. Or we want something, and for all kinds of reasons, we find it hard to admit to ourselves that that is what we really want.

The importance of knowing what you want has been highlighted by astute observers, practically since the beginning of time. It was critic and author Arthur D. Hlavaty who observed that:

The secret to getting what you want is knowing what you want [italics mine].

And it was Steve Jobs who uttered the following words, which many people in our culture have found stirring:

You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Certainly these are inspirational words. Yet an honest response to this exhortation on the soul level might well be: that’s great, I love it—but how do I do that stuff?

Jobs’ remarks are not really very different from the attitude that C.G. Jung and modern depth psychotherapists might have to the question of how to know what you want. Yet many people, when confronted in their own real lives with this type of question can find themselves lacking clarity, and swamped with anxiety and indecision. How can we actually, pragmatically, find the way to what it is that we really want—and bring it into our actual lives?

In my next post, we’ll be exploring in a self-compassionate way how to know what you want. We’ll be looking concretely at where to find the signs and traces that help us to actualize this most important aspect of our individuation process.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Adult Play: Needed on Our Journey Towards Wholeness

May 9th, 2022 · adult play

Adult play is seriously misunderstood, and very under-rated. In our culture, we adults are not very good at playing. Yet, we need to play, in order to grow.

Adult play opens up something inside of us (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

When I use the phrase “adult play”, what comes into your mind? Perhaps it’s thoughts of video games or the casino, or even a sport like tennis or golf. Yet, while those activities would definitely fit the definition of “leisure activities”, I mean something different when I refer to “adult play”. The type of play I’m referring to accesses a different part of the self.

C.G. Jung offers us insight into the nature of this type of play:

The dynamic principle of fantasy is play, a characteristic also of the child, and as such it appears inconsistent with the principle of serious work. But without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable. It is therefore short-sighted to treat fantasy, on account of its risky or unacceptable nature, as a thing of little worth.

Jung uses the terms “fantasy” and “play of imagination” in this quote, and seems to value these things very highly. Why is that? How can something that can seem so trivial be of such value?

Adult Play is Fundamentally Creative

For Jung, the key lies in the creative nature of play. Jung tells us that we can see this in the kind of play in which children engage. If you have the opportunity to really observe a child who is deeply engaged in play, what you see is very striking. One key characteristic is that the child is completely absorbed in their play in a way that is completely lacks self-consciousness. By this, I mean that the child is entirely absorbed in his or her pretend worl. They are not embarrassed by it and they do not “feel silly” At the moment of play, the child is completely given over to his or her fantasy, paddling a canoe up the great river to reach the city of the elephants, and there is no self-criticism. Children enter right into their imagination!

Jung stresses that entering into this creative play state actually has immense benefit for adults. Yet it sometimes can be difficult for us to get there. As Notre Dame psychology prof Darcea Narvaez points out,

Play breaks down when people become self-conscious about making mistakes, start to compete or compare, become hostile, seek power, or start justifying actions.

Yet, if we can get past our strict and stiff inner critic, and past our anxiety about what others will think, entering deeply into experiences of play can open us up to the vast array of creative resources in the unconscious mind. As Jung relates in Memories, Dreams, Reflections , this is something he himself found vital to do in the crucial period after he broke with Freud, when he was experiencing a sense of complete lost-ness and disorientation in his life.

When We Deny Our Need for Imaginative Play

It’s very easy for us to reject play. After all, we’re competent twenty-first century people, aware of all of our responsibilities, the realities of the business world, the financial and technological realms, etc. etc. It’s easy to tell ourselves that we’re much too busy or too adult to spend time with our imaginations. Yet, Jung emphasizes how important it is not to treat our fantasy as something of little worth.

If we lose our capacity for fantasy, we are also losing our capacity for spontaneity, and, what is more, losing our connection to possibility, to the awareness that things could somehow be different than they way they are. We also lose vital contact with parts of ourselves that may be striving to come into consciousness. This capacity to open up a new and fresh perspectives on things is essential to our mental health and to the on-going growth in our journey through life that Jung and others call the individuation process.

If we deny our need for imaginative play, we risk cutting ourselves off from the flowing current of our own real lives. This is always a matter of great concern, but it is especially so when we are undergoing a major life transition.

Play That Opens Doors

Adult play opens doors in our lives. Sometimes that play is something that we share with others, as in psychodrama, authentic movement or improv. Often it can be a process that we do on our own, as we create space for the various parts in ourselves to speak to us. This happens in what Jungians call active imagination, or in a wide variety of forms of creative expression. Contrary to that kind of play being a form of irresponsible self-indulgence, we need this kind of activity to open up our awareness of the undiscovered self.

Connecting with the creative fantasy or adult play part of ourselves is a very important part of Jungian depth psychotherapy. Working in a supportive relationship with a Jungian analyst, can be one of the best ways of creating a capacity for valuable and constructive adult play.

Wishing you every good thing on your journey to wholeness,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Road After 60: Finding Meaning & Value in Later Adulthood

May 1st, 2022 · later adulthood

Jung is famous for his focus on the second half of life. And within that second half of life, there are specific challenges for individuals 60 and over. It’s very worthwhile to explore the importance of later adulthood, when we each complete that precious creation, our unique life.

Later adulthood can bring a distinct kind of freedom (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Our culture doesn’t really help us when it comes to later adulthood. Despite the fact that people are living longer than ever before, our society is morbidly gripped by the cult of youth. Advertising, television and movies all proclaim that what is really to be prized in life is youth, and that aging is a dismal, threadbare process that we should all work actively to shun in every possible way. The age we live in screams at us to do everything we possibly can to our skin, muscles, hair, and minds to avoid the curse of getting older.

As psychotherapist and writer Connie Zweig reminds us,

Today the divine messengers of age go unheralded. Though they are inevitable, they go unwelcomed…. We may throw a party to celebrate a retirement. But afterward? Most of us tend to view our final years, which may last decades, merely as a slow decline, a series of disconnected, meaningless events and impairments eventually leading to death.

No one teaches us how to heed the messengers. No one models for us how to retire, become a grandparent, recover from illness, or lose a loved one as a sacred passage into a new stage of awareness.

Connie Zweig, The Inner Work of Age

The Importance of Later Adulthood

No one teaches us, or models these things for us, in our present-day culture. However, it wasn’t always that way. For thousands of years our ancestors in earlier societies had a strong and clear vision of later adulthood, or elderhood, and they respected older adulthood through ritual and tribal customs. They were keenly aware of the potential for a different kind of consciousness that was sometimes possible for older adults, and this they called “wisdom”.

What would it mean for us to listen to the “divine messengers of age”? One key step would be to recognize and give due weight to the major life transitions that we undergo in later adulthood. As noted above, given the biases of the time we live in, it’s easy to experience each major change as merely a diminishment and a loss. As noted aging activist Zalmon Schachter-Shalomi put it,

Everywhere you look, old age suffers from a bad reputation. Because of negative images and expectations shared by our culture, people enter the country called “old age” with fear and trembling. Feeling betrayed by their bodies and defeated by life, they believe they’re condemned to lives of decreasing self-esteem and respect. As citizens of this oppressed nation, they expect to suffer from reduced vigor, enjoyment, and social usefulness.

This is the experience of many in later adulthood. Yet people like Zweig and Schachter-Shalomi—and Jung—hold out another possibility. This is that age can bring initiation into a broader and deeper sense of our own identity.

Beyond Denial and Stereotypes

C.G. Jung had many astute observations about later life, including the following:

The afternoon of life is just as full of meaning as the morning; only, its meaning and purpose are different.”

The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.

Jung also makes an observation about the United States, that would actually apply to a great many 21st century people:

Where is the wisdom of our old people, where are their precious secrets and their visions? [Italics mine] For the most part our old people try to compete with the young. In the United States it is almost an ideal for a father to be the brother of his sons, and for the mother to be if possible the younger sister of her daughter.

So, what is Jung telling us? Well, one clear message is that the second half of life is just as precious and meaningful as the first half, but that it has a different meaning.

He suggests that the first half of life is properly devoted to all the things that our society values so much. This includes all our achievements, building of reputation, hard work and expressions of vitality. They all go into the creation of a certain kind of identity that is structured by the ego and its projects. But Jung suggests that the second half of life is “going inward and letting go” of the ego and its projects. There is something different that we can open up in the second half of life, and especially in later adulthood. This time in life offers us the opportunity to go deeper into soul, into our own true identity.

This sense of real identity can carry us beyond the frantic denials of aging. It’s possible to enter into a meaningful sense of our later years that carries us beyond the toxic stereotypes and into an awareness of fulfillment, completeness and contribution.

Being Here Now

An experience of meaningful later adulthood can take us into a place where we value the present moment, and are able to make our peace with the past. This contrasts with a later life experience that frantically chases some unrealized future, and is consumed with regret and avoidance of the past.

Working in a trusting relationship with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can be of great assistance in helping individuals to appropriately welcome the messengers of age, and to find a later adulthood filled with value and meaning.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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