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A Coronation, A King and Symbols of the Self

April 30th, 2023 · symbols of the Self

For Jungians, there are a number of key symbols of the Self, and the King, Queen, monarch or head of state is prominent among them. Given that the coronation of King Charles is about to occur on May 6, it’s worth considering this symbolism, and its role in our psyche.

Symbols of the Self: Crown on Buckingham Palace gates (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

The whole subject of the monarchy, whether we are discussing its symbols or not, can tend to stir up strong feelings in people. Some folks passionately favour our constitutional monarchy, and regard it as a fundamental part of our way of life. Others are just as passionately convinced that the monarchy has no place in our nation or our collective lives. Yet regardless of where you are on the spectrum of feeling about the monarchy, there is real value in recognizing the prominence of the monarchy among the symbols of the Self.

In a few days, King Charles will travel to Westminster Abbey, and there he will be the center of ceremonies, anointing and the actual coronation itself. All of these rituals are intended to convey to all that, as King, there is a significance to his person that goes beyond that which he share with everyone else. In a similar way, when the figure of the monarch appears in our dreams, or in fairy tales or myth, it has a particular significance.

The Ego and Symbols of the Self

The crown, anointing and special rituals indicate that a King or Queen has a dimension and importance beyond his or her day-to-day life for his subjects and for others. The royal person represents the whole of the kingdom. In a similar way, as symbols, the king and the crown are symbols of the Self. Our ego is that aspect of ourselves that, in day to day life, connects an individual with the outer world and handles the business of dealing with outer reality.

While the ego can often believe that it is the sum total of who we are, symbols of the Self, like the King or Queen, serve to remind us that our personality is much more than the ego. These symbols affirm that there is something greater within us that has a larger awareness and wisdom, and that is striving for a unified wholeness of the personality, and for a rooting in a deeper meaning.

Why Symbols of the Self Matter

It is very easy, especially in our contemporary time, to feel that there is nothing more to who we are than the ego. Life can easily seem to be an endless succession of problems or difficulties that we must finagle or negotiate. We can strongly get the feeling that our lives are nothing more than the sum total of all the “fixes” the ego has created and all the exertions we have made. And it can feel that, if the ego stopped with its endless efforts and exertions, there really wouldn’t be anyone there—we’d be nothing.

This ego focused attitude is reflected in the slogans of the contemporary business world. Consider the tagline of McKinsey, one of the world’s most prominent consulting firms: “Driving impact. Shaping the future”, or of one of its competitors, Deloitte: “Making an impact that matters.” Similarly in the IT world, Intel’s tagline is: “Leap ahead.” Impact, leaping ahead, shaping the future: we can easily feel that it’s all up to the ego and its exertions. If that’s true, what a recipe for anxiety and depression that would be!

King and the Other Symbols of the Self

The King and other symbols of the Self point to a bigger and more comprehensive reality in the human psyche than is carried by the ego. IN the outer world, the monarch in the outer world receives a crown, and becomes representative of the greater reality of the nation. Similarly, the symbol of the King when it appears in dream, myth or fairy tale represents the greater broader reality of the personality. In the midst of all of the confusion and off-centeredness of the ego, there is something greater within us that knows what it is doing. That is the reality of the Self.

The self is not only the centre but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the centre of this totality, just as the ego is the centre of consciousness.

~ C.G. Jung

In the lead up to the coronation, I have had many clients who have told me that they have had dreams involving the figure of a king. Often this king is just coming onto the throne. Sometimes he is replacing another old and tired monarch. These are the symbols of renewal appearing in our dream life. Often, for us, there is a monarch waiting to be crowned, to be acknowledged in our lives, who represents a figure of revitalization and renewal.

Wishing you every good thing or your personal journey,

© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

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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If I Have the Symptoms of a Burnout, What Should I Do?

April 17th, 2023 · symptoms of a burnout

Our society seems to value work above all else. That makes it very important to be able to identify the symptoms of a burnout, and to respond appropriately.

Regardless of age, you can encounter symptoms of a burnout (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

As someone whose focus is Jungian depth psychotherapy, I will be emphasizing an inner perspective on burnout. What goes on inside of us, consciously and unconsciously, when we have the symptoms of a burnout?

It’s common to approach burnout by looking at the external factors, and scrutinizing the workplace environment of an individual who is experiencing burnout, and that ‘s perfectly valid. However, it’s also important to take seriously what is going on inside an individual and what is unfolding in their personal life, as a very important perspective on the story of burnout.

The Symptoms of a Burnout

The Mayo Clinic provides a good summary of the actual symptoms of a burnout:

  • Increased cynicism or criticality at work;
  • Increased difficulty getting to work and/or getting started working;
  • Irritability or impatience with co-workers, customers or clients;
  • Sense of lacking the energy to be consistently productive;
  • Difficulty in concentrating;
  • Lack of satisfaction from achievements;
  • Sense of disillusionment about your job;
  • Use of food, drugs or alcohol to self-medicate; or,
  • Changes in sleep habits.

If you experience any of the above symptoms, they may indicate that you are suffering from a burnout (or, also that you might be suffering from depression). However, if you are suffering from burnout, the question still remains to be answered: why?

Inner Causes of Burnout

As I mentioned above, there are a wealth of sources addressing the external factors that might cause a burnout. As a primarily extroverted society with a “fix it” mindset, there’s a strong tendency for us to approach the symptoms of a burnout in this particular way. We find it easy to look at management, workflow, relationships with co-workers commute times and many other external factors as giving the key to understanding burnout. Not that looking at these factors is wrong! An individual may need to change elements in their work life or workplace, or, indeed change workplaces to address their burnout. Yet, it can be very important to realize that this is often not the whole story.

So, what is the “inner” story of burnout? If we look at this issue from an internal, more psychological perspective, the root causes of burnout may be seen to vary greatly from individual to individual. They are associated with a wealth of important questions that require individual answers. To list just a few:

  • Does the type of work I’m doing fit with my personality type?
  • How much space should work occupy in my individual waking life?
  • What are the things I want in my life besides work?
  • What is really important to me? What things in life carry real meaning for me?
  • Do I have an addiction to self-abusive overwork?
  • Has my family and life experience taught me to neglect myself?
  • What aspects of myself are trying to emerge and be acknowledged by my conscious mind? How do those aspects relate to my work life?
  • And last, but certainly not least: Who am I, really?

If an individual doesn’t explore these inner factors related to symptoms of a burnout, it will tend to make him or her focus solely on external solutions. He or she may well miss important dimensions of his or her life journey that are trying to come into focus, and that underlie “the symptoms of a burnout”.

What Burnout May be Asking of Us

It’s very important to consider that, in addition to external factors that need an external fix, the symptoms of a burnout may be a manifestation of something that is trying to emerge in our lives. This may be something that has the potential to contribute greatly to our overall consciousness of ourselves and our journey towards wholeness.

In the midst of burnout, there may be great value in working with a supportive and insightful Jungian depth psychotherapist. It can be essential to look at what is emerging for us at a time like this, on both the conscious and unconscious levels, and to hear the voice of the greater Self in the midst of our particular struggles.

With best wishes for your personal journey,

© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

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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When You Don’t Know What to do Next…

April 3rd, 2023 · what to do next

When people are facing crises or major life transitions, it’s not uncommon for them to feel that they “don’t know what to do next”.

Sometimes, you just don’t know… (PHOTO:Stock Photo Secrets)

When we’re dealing with complex unfamiliar situations in our lives, it’s very easy to feel that we don’t know what to do next. To feel that we can’t evaluate and make decisions about the various options before us. Or else, that we can’t even identify an option that seems workable or viable. Sometimes we can feel that we are completely in the dark.

It’s not uncommon for people to find that their life situation is comfortable and well-adapted, and then suddenly to find themselves in very unfamiliar territory. For instance, someone may be in a work environment that seems familiar and predictable for a long time, and then may suddenly find that their work environment changes dramatically and in unexpected ways. Or, an individual may go along in a particular mode of life or lifestyle for a long period of time, and then, relatively suddenly find that they can no longer take for granted assumptions that they have long held about their lives. This is often the case in midlife transitions or other life transitions.

When life leads us in an unanticipated direction, it’s important, first of all, to accept the reality of the change. This can be a very demanding step, when something unexpected and deeply unwelcome has come into our lives. The process of coming to terms with a new situation, or an old situation seen in a new light can be formidable. Certainly, it can require us to treat ourselves with deep compassion.

A Changed Perspective

Going through a major change in life can create a very strong sense of disorientation. Sometimes, when we have taken something as a certainty in our life, and that fact or state of affairs disappears, it can seem like life has been completely turned upside down.

Consider an individual whose long-term marriage has come to an abrupt and unexpected end. Such a person may have a deep feeling of familiar patterns in his or her life that seem like “just the way it is”. The same may be true of a person who has worked for the same organization, or in the same job for many years, and has their employment come to an end. Such situations often produce feelings of enormous loss and confusion.

It’s not only changes in the external world that can have this kind of effect. Sometimes our inner world can be profoundly shaken up by new realizations and deepening insights into our lives. I have worked with many individuals who came to an insight, sometimes suddenly, that they could not continue “doing the same old same old” in some important area of their lives. This could involve their profession, their primary relationships, living in a certain cultural milieu, or many other areas of life. It can be a very arresting thing to come up against a part of oneself that is suddenly aware that “I can’t do this anymore!”

When I Just Can’t Face It

One possible response, when we’re confronted with a dramatic change in perspective, is denial. We can simply act as if the new and possibly unwelcome thing that is impinging on our awareness just doesn’t exist. This may be a partially conscious decision, or it may be something that we do more or less unconsciously. We can carry on acting and reacting as if the new state of affairs didn’t exist at all. When that happens, it doesn’t seem very difficult to know what to do next; it seems natural to do what it is that we have always done.

The only trouble is that, as the saying goes, facts are stubborn things. New realities in our lives will not disappear simply because we don’t choose to acknowledge them. We can keep acting as if the new reality doesn’t exist, but it does, and on some level, we probably actually know that. Try as we might, we can probably only fool ourselves for so long, and give ourselves the message that nothing has changed. Whether it is a reality in the outer world, or the inner world, the disorienting change is likely going to make its presence felt.

The other alternative is that we may actually succeed in fooling ourselves for a very long time. It would be a very sobering awareness to realize that we had deluded ourselves, in the very autumn of our lives.

We cannot change anything until we accept it.

~C.G. Jung

The Mystery of What to do Next

Let’s suppose that we accept that we’re in a complex new situation in our lives, that our perspective has changed, and that we’re deeply disoriented. It can be very hard for us if we realize that we just don’t know what to do next. What can we do in such a situation?

The most important thing we can do is to try and sit with the new situation and to look at it without flinching. In many cases, this may involve an element of grieving. Having patience for ourselves, and giving ourselves time and space to allow an answer to emerge from the depths of our unconscious mind, may be fundamental to getting to the place where we know what to do next. Connection with a supportive and insightful Jungian depth psychotherapist may be of great assistance in allowing the answer to emerge fro deep within us.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

© 2023 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

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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A Creative Life: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?

March 20th, 2023 · a creative life

The expression “a creative life” can seem wonderful and romantic, but can also seem far away from our own real lives. Why is living a creative life important?

A creative life can include many things… (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

To answer that question, we probably need to look first at what a creative life is. That may require us to put aside some preconceptions. For many of us, the first place we go when we hear the phrase “a creative life” is to think of the lives of great artists, or other individuals who have performed great, culturally recognized acts of creativity. Perhaps we think of Michelangelo, Salvador Dali, or even the Beatles! Yet, it might be important to give that idea a second look.

Is creating a major work of art the only way to live “a creative life”? Moreover, is it even the most important thing to do to live a creative life? In fact, if we think about some of the creators of major works of art, we start to realize that their actual daily lives were pretty desolate, characterized by depression and substance abuse. Is that what we mean by living “a creative life”? Or is there something different, and very important for us, that we’re trying to move towards?.

Just What Is a Creative Life?

Jung offers us a different perspective. As he states,

The creative mind plays with the object it loves. Without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable. But, if you have nothing at all to create, then perhaps you create yourself [Italics mine].

I think that the last part of this quotation is perhaps the most important. I would read it in the sense that the most important and fundamental thing that you have to create is yourself. Jung is encouraging us to bring our imagination to ourselves, and to imagine possibilities for ourselves. He sees this as the most fundamental form of creativity, and the heart of leading a creative life.

Opening the Door of Possibility

Jung stresses that without play and fantasy there is no possibility of any kind of creative work. So what does it mean if we think about being creative with our lives? Can we bring play and fantasy to bear on what our lives might look like?

There is probably a part of each of us for whom the answer to that question is “No!” “Are you kidding?” that part might tell us, “Look at my life! Look at my responsibilities! I have kids! I have a mortgage! I have bills! How can I possibly be creative or playful about that?” And in fact, there are many people whose outlook is probably dominated by the view, held consciously or unconsciously, that “my life is just the way it is”. Or as John Lennon simply and eloquently put it, “Nothing’s gonna change my world.” There may well be elements of anxiety and depression that keep us locked in such an outlook.

For many of us, it’s easy to feel that our lives are driven and determined by external forces. At this point in North America, many people, including both younger and older adults, feel that way about their career or work life. For many, career determines their daily schedule, consumes the vast majority of their energy, seems to establish what is possible and impossible, and, in many cases, leaves people feeling that they are living with a high level of uncertainty about their future. Others may feel similarly about the economy, about family issues or many other things.

Unconscious Wisdom and a Creative Life

We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal and then leap in the dark to our success.

~Henry David Thoreau

Yet, is there a possibility of playfully imagining something different in our lives? For instance, as a starting place, is it possible to imagine what we would like our lives to look like, or imagine if something in our lives changed? Is there some step, even a small one, that we can take toward “creating ourselves”, as Jung urges? Such a thing might initially seem very hard. Often, a supportive connection such as a Jungian depth psychotherapist can begin to open some doors that might have seemed unavoidably closed.

The unconscious mind is often more aware of our playful, creative and soulful elements than the conscious mind. Do you ever wonder about the creative elements in you, and where they might lead you in your life? Or, do you ever feel “stuck”? Maybe now is the time to get better acquainted with your creative self.

With very best wishes for your personal journey,

© 2023 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

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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Feeling Alone in the World: A Major Issue of Our Time

February 27th, 2023 · feeling alone in the world

Feeling alone in the world is a very common experience in these times. We’re surrounded by technologies that enable social connection, yet many feel very isolated.

Many people feel quite alone in the world. (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Why is it that so many are feeling alone in the world? There are many factors that contribute to this. One of the more recent and obvious contributors is the pandemic. In many ways, perhaps the worst of the pandemic is behind us, yet its social impact is immense. Certainly during the pandemic. research appearing in the Harvard Business Review strongly indicated that social connections had diminished. What’s more, there are strong indications that this reduced social interaction persists right into the present. However, that’s far from the only thing.

Social media are another factor. Touted as a source of connection with others, they do bring a certain form of social interaction. However, evidence suggests that they actually make us less socially connected.

Work and the North American corporate lifestyle also leave us more isolated. Work and commutes demand a great deal of our time and leave us with a very limited amount of time to connect with other people. In fact, overall, the truth is—as a society we don’t give priority to social connection.

The Essence of Feeling Alone in the World

However, there’s an even more fundamental issue. There is a big factor that limits our intimacy with others. Simply put, it’s that we’re not very intimate with ourselves. We simply don’t know what’s going on inside us, and that can keep us from having the capacity to relate to the inner life of others.

It’s possible to use interaction with other people as a distraction from our own sense of not being at home with ourselves. We can laugh and joke with others in superficial ways that don’t involve any intimacy or real connection. Certainly, this might distract us from our isolation and sense of inner lack, but it isn’t really healing our inner loneliness. It’s only when we’re willing to go deep within ourselves, find what we feel and share it, that we can start to replace our loneliness with genuine intimacy. It’s also then that we start to transform what is locked in anxiety and depression.

To encounter your own deep, genuine feelings gives you something valuable and meaningful to share with others. Of course, it may well also lead to an encounter with your own deeper self that may do a lot to alleviate the sense of inner emptiness.

This may all run counter to a certain way of looking at ourselves that our society fosters. Our society worships at the altar of individualism. Individualism exalts the ideas of independence and self-reliance, and can often de-emphasize the importance of intimacy and connection.

Individualism and Individuation are Not the Same Thing

We come from a culture that greatly values and exalts individualism. “The individual” is often viewed as something discrete and autonomous, that exists in its own right, independent of relationship and connection. It’s interesting that C.G. Jung is often seen as a champion of this view of the individual, but Jung actually had a rather different view of who we are.

“You cannot individuate on Everest”, Jung reminds us. The process of identifying what is unique in ourselves has an inherently social or relational dimension. The principle of relationship, eros, is one of the fundamental elements of the individuation process for Jung. He tells us that, “where love [eros] reigns, there is no will to power.” For Jung, relationship and connection is an inherent part of the individuation process. We need to relate in a truly conscious way to become our true individual selves, and conscious relationship is an essential part of that process.

To give oneself over in relationship to others, even consciously, may not fit very well with an absolutely “self reliant” individualism. Certainly, the impetus to genuinely connect in relationship comes from a place in our psyche deeper than the ego. It’s a fundamental human need, though. It’s essential for us to find a way to connect and be related.

Finding a Way to Authentic Connection

The path to authentic connection is a journey toward the other that is profoundly connected to the journey toward ourselves. It’s essential that we explore the path of relationship, if we’re to have the sense that we’re becoming who we most fundamentally really are. If we are feeling alone in the world, it may be a call from the deep self to move more in the direction of connection and relationship.

Jungian analysis or depth psychotherapy can be of great help in moving our lives toward relationship. A connection with a supportive ally as we simultaneously explore the depths of the unconscious side of who we are, and the potential within us for connection. A supportive depth psychotherapy relationship can help us to move beyond lack of relatedness and fear, and more and more toward our capacity to stand as our unique selves in relationship to others, and to the whole of life.

With best wishes for your personal journey,

© 2023 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

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 Unconscious Anxiety in the Background: A Very 2023 Issue

February 13th, 2023 · anxiety in the background

It might seem odd to think about partially or fully unconscious anxiety in the background of our lives and minds, but it’s definitely a real thing.

Anxiety in the Background (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Not surprisingly, we tend to think of anxiety as something conscious—something of which we’re just fully aware. Yet the fact is that we can have anxiety in the background of our psyches. It may be powerfully influencing us, and yet we may be partially or fully unaware of it. This seems counterintuitive! How can we have anxiety, and not know that it’s there? Nonetheless, our experience of the last three years has shown us in spades how anxiety powerfully affects us, even if we’re not aware of its presence.

Our experience in those years since the beginning of the pandemic is very instructive with respect to anxiety in the background. We need only think of some of the examples we see in public spaces to illustrate the ways in which people are carrying unconscious or semi-conscious anxiety. These days, if you sit in your local Tim Horton’s, Starbucks or other coffee place, it probably won’t take long to see several instances of people going off on the staff behind the counter, sometimes for the most irrational things. Not so long ago, it wasn’t like this. Public space has become much less courteous and people have become much more self protective.

As Globe and Mail writer Marcus Gee observes, since the beginning of the pandemic, peoples’ anxiety seems to be much more intense, and spills over in public places:

Cars and motorcycle race and weave around the streets of many cities, filling the night with the scream of their engines. Clashes among people over parking or driving seem angrier and more common. You took my spot! You cut me off!

Marcus Gee, Globe and Mail, Saturday, February 11/23

This trend in our public life, and the way we treat each other is deeply concerning. Hopefully our leaders and proactive individuals in our communities are going to take substantive steps to reverse this trend. However, I bring it up here primarily to point to another important reality that we all really need to notice. We are all subject to the spirit of the times. We all tend to carry our own background anxiety, and it can be very important for us to become aware of it, and how it affects us.

Becoming Aware of Our Anxiety in the Background

Unconscious anxiety in the background can have an enormous affect upon us. Certainly it’s true, as Freud asserted, that people with anxiety can live in a state of anxious expectation. Yet, even if you’re not aware of having social anxiety, or anxiety about driving, financial anxiety or any of the other big anxiety provokers, anxiety can still have a very big impact on your life.

Sometimes, we can experience anxiety as an ever-present, hard-to-pin-down sense of nervousness, that is a kind of stream that runs throughout your day. Or you may find yourself restless, tense, jumpy—even irritable at other people. Perhaps you find yourself unable to relax, or only able to relax if you distract yourself, perhaps through your cell phone or gaming online.

Anxiety? What Anxiety?

We tend to think of anxiety as a condition that involves a lot of conscious worrying. Something that involves clearly conscious thoughts about what could go wrong, that keep recurring. Viewed from that perspective, it may be easy to tell ourselves, “I don’t have any anxiety!” Yet, that may not be the entire story.

Anxiety in the background may show up in any of the following ways:

  • I’m having trouble paying attention, and I’m disorganized;
  • I have “brain fog” and/or trouble making decisions;
  • I get overwhelmed, and it shows up as frustrated, angry or tearful outbursts;
  • I have intrusive thoughts, or the same thoughts keep occurring over and over;
  • I struggle with perfectionism, or the need to get everything just right;
  • I feel like I always have to prepare for the worst; or,
  • I experience physical pains, insomnia, shortness of breath, or other physical manifestations of anxiety.

We may not have consciously anxious thoughts, and yet our anxiety may be having a substantial effect on our lives. Moreover, this anxiety may have a substantial unconscious dimension. It may be very important to become as conscious as we can of this anxiety in the background.

Our Background Anxiety Has Something to Give Us

If we find a way to pay attention, the anxiety in the background of our psyche has the potential to reveal a great deal about what we’re currently dealing with in our lives. It can show us a lot about our vulnerabilities and wounds, and also about our deepest needs and aspirations. We live in a time when unconscious anxiety is very widespread, and has deep effects on our collective social life.

A supportive and insightful Jungian analyst or depth psychotherapist can be of great assistance as we seek to understand our anxiety, and the wounds, aspirations and deep yearnings that underlie it. As we work on our anxiety in the background, the result can often be a greater level of compassion for ourselves, a greater understanding of ourselves, and a greater sense of what is trying to emerge in our lives. How does your anxiety in the background manifest? What might it be indicating about what is of deep importance in your life?

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

© 2023 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

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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“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”: Our Yearnings

February 6th, 2023 · I still haven't found what I'm looking for

“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is a pop song of enduring popularity. Released by U2 in 1987, it resonates powerfully, even now.

I-still-haven't-found-what-I'm-looking for
A sense of restless yearning. (PHOTO: Stack Photo Secrets)

The phrase “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” seems to strike a chord with many people in our era. For many of us, there is a sense of feeling deeply unfulfilled, and of looking restlessly to find what can meet the need. There’s a strong sense that there’s something, right now outside of our reach, that we need to quench a kind of thirst in our soul.

In our culture, advertisers are constantly using our deepest yearnings to try to motivate us to purchase their wares. What lurks behind many advertisements is the subtly implied promise that the advertised product will bring us the kind of love that we really want and need. Other advertisers implicitly offer the sublime peak experiences we’ve been waiting for all of our lives. Yet others quietly offer us the sense of inclusion and belonging that we’ve always sought. The phantom offering of other products is just plain old ageless immortality!

However, make no mistake. All of these beckoning offers are playing deeply on the sense that some kind of fulfillment is missing, i.e., “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”.

What Exactly Are We Looking For?

One quick answer to that question is that we’re actually not all looking for the same thing. In fact the thing that we yearn for most deeply is probably highly individual. Also, a Jungian depth psychotherapy perspective suggests that there is also a large unconscious component to what we’re looking for. Our ego, what we normally think of as “I”, may not completely know what we’re really after. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not deeply yearning for something.

It may seem hard to get a fix on what we really yearn for. It may seem incredibly elusive. In the words of the Sufi poet and mystic Rumi,

Longing is the core of mystery.

It would seem that he’s right. And his insight complements that of Jung:

The fact is that each person has to do something different, something that is uniquely [her or his] own.

C. G. Jung Man and His Symbols

The humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow states something very similar, in slightly more homey language:

If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.

Our yearning is a mysterious and very individual thing. It moves us to discover and explore aspects of ourselves of which we were previously unaware. We need our yearning: it leads us into life.

Jung clearly asserted that yearning is what spurs the great artists of the world to make their monumental creations. He also saw yearning as enabling each of us to create the unique masterpiece that is our individual life.

What If We Ignore Our Yearnings?

Now, we don’t have to pay attention to our yearnings. We can often just ignore them. But what happens when we do?

We may be able to choose to simply focus on the needful things of every day life without awareness of any greater desire for fulfillment. We might even tell ourselves that it’s virtuous to ignore our “frivolous wishing”. That we should just get on with the business of humdrum life. Suppose we’re successful in completely repressing the sense that “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” What then?.

If we are successful in driving out our yearning and our spontaneity, we are probably also driving out our individuality. We are probably also courting depression and anxiety. Huston Smith, the famous scholar of comparative religion, put it this way:

With mind distracted, never thinking, “Death is coming.”To slave away on the pointless business of mundane life, And then to come out empty—it is a tragic error.

Huston Smith, trans. Robert Thurman

The weight of this tragedy may already be felt by the time we start to undergo the midlife transition.

We may not have found what we’re looking for, yet. But our yearning is one of the most profoundly human things about us.

The Unconscious Side of Our Yearnings

Much of our sense of yearning or lack of fulfillment may have to do with aspects of ourselves of which we are only partially conscious, or perhaps entirely unconscious. It may be important to explore that part of ourselves that feels that “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” There may well be treasures of self-knowledge at the root of that yearning. There may be a source of deep meaning for our individual lives.

It may be of great importance to work with a supportive Jungian analyst or depth psychotherapist

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey.

© 2023 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

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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Personal Mythology: the Deep Importance of Your Own Story

January 30th, 2023 · personal mythology

The story you tell yourself about your life journey is a matter of vital importance. Jungians refer to it as your personal myth or personal mythology.

What is your personal myth? (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

The phrase “personal mythology” may seem pretentious, yet we all have stories that we tell ourselves about who we are, and what our individual life is like. This includes stories about our important relationships, our family of origin, our career, our school and post-secondary years—an immense variety of things. Human beings are creatures that need stories—narratives—that tell us who we are and who we have been. They indicate the significance of all the important relationships, things and events in our lives. Stories give us our orientation to our lives and the world. They also provide meaning, and as Jung observed,

The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.

However, we can tell ourselves all kinds of stories! Some of those stories connect us to reality, and to a sense of value and meaning. Some stories do the exact opposite: they diminish us. We need to be aware of the immense power of story to both help us and to hurt us. We need to find the stories that convey the truth of our lives. We also need to connect with the overarching story that reflects the meaning and value of our lives.

Do you have a sense of the stories you tell yourself about who you are and your life journey? If so, do those stories actually ring true? And do they capture the essence of who you really are? Or do they work to feed anxiety and depression?

What are the Stories You Tell Yourself?

Have you ever reflected on the stories you tell yourself about your own life? If you think about the stories or narratives that have defined you, and that have set the tone for your life, what are they? Is there a story that you can think of from your life that is “pure you”?

If you’re like most of us, there will likely be a collage of stories. Some of these will feel good and are enlivening or empowering. Some of them may be stories of sadness, defeat or shame. Are there any “threads” or themes that run through all these stories, that connect them, and that may point toward a deeper and underlying story?

One way of looking at the myths of gods, goddesses and heroes of old is that they capture some element of our own individual story. They show who we most basically are, and what the human story is most fundamentally about. The same may be said of fairy tales, and even of modern day comic book heroes like “Batman”, “Spiderman” or “Wonder Woman”!

Embedded in Debilitating Stories

Sometimes it’s easy to get locked into stories that make us seem small and that are defeatist. Or we can just completely deny that we have a story. Sometimes we can end up sharing the sentiment that Shakespeare puts in the mouth of MacBeth:

Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing [italics mine].

Shakespeare, MacBeth

Yet the drive to find meaning in our lives is profound and fundamental. Something deep within us seeks to find and enter into the central story of our lives. This drive is at the heart of human religion, philosophy, literature and drama.

The anthropologist Clifford Geertz says that humans are ‘symbolizing, conceptualizing, meaning-seeking’ animals. In our species, he says, ‘the drive to make sense out of our experience, to give it form and order, is evidently as real and as pressing as the more familiar biological needs.

Robert Fulford, The Triumph of Narrative

The drive to make sense of our experience is as urgent as Geertz and Fulford assert that it is. That is at the root of our search for our personal myth.

Toward Your Personal Mythology

Yet the story of our lives is not something that we can just diligently work on and arrive at. It is something that emerges from the whole of our living, and from the dialogue between our conscious and unconscious selves. Yet it’s only when we actually focus on, and seek to understand our lives, that the true sense of our personal myth will emerge. Often, work with a supportive depth psychotherapist can facilitate the process, and a sense of our own deepest story starts to emerge.

With very best wishes for your personal journey,

© 2023 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

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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Our Inner Wise Old Person: Can We Access Him or Her?

January 23rd, 2023 · wise old person

The wise old person is an image or symbol found deep within human culture. Does this represent something real in the human psyche? Can we access it?

Can we access our inner wise old person? (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

Nearly every culture has some version of the symbol of the wise old person. These figures appear in myth, folk tale and art, and throughout the holy texts of the human race. We can conclude that , down through the millennia, humans have regarded this image of the wise old person as pointing to something real in the human psyche. Whether it’s called the voice of the ancestors or inner divine wisdom or the voice of the Self, humans until very recently in human history did not question the existence of this inner wisdom.

But does it really exist? Is the “wise old person” something that speaks to us or that we can draw upon or rely upon? This is not just an academic question , but a matter of great importance for self-aware people. When we face important decisions, or when we have to find our way through difficult, ambiguous and confusing times, is there some kind of resource of inner wisdom that will help us to cope or to find a path?

A question of equal or greater importance is, if it does exist, how do I access it? It’s all well and fine to say that this inner wise person exists, but, if it does, we still need to know how to hear from it! Our ego, that “nervous Nellie” in James Hollis‘ famous phrase, is always trying to manage the circumstances of our lives. It exerts itself continuously to map out a way through the sticky, ambiguous and formidable situations that we find ourselves in. Sometimes, its resources seem exhausted and unequal to the task. Is there any other wisdom in us that can help us find the way?

An Inner Inherited Wisdom?

Together the patient and I address ourselves to the two million year old man that is in all of us. In the last analysis, most of our difficulties come from losing contact with our instincts, with the age-old unforgotten wisdom stored up in us.

C. G. Jung

Where wisdom reigns, there is no conflict between thinking and feeling.

C.G. Jung

We live in an age that highly values rationality, science and education. It’s understandable why we do: the rational scientific outlook has brought us so many good things that are part of our current day life. Without science and our rational problem-solving approach, our quality of life would be greatly diminished. Yet it may be very important for us to realize that not all of life’s problems can be solved by scientific rationality.

Long before the scientific revolution, our forebears lived lives of complexity and challenge. When they met difficulties, or when they were looking for guidance, they would turn to an inner wisdom that was often described as “the voice of the ancestors”. We can think of this as an inner instinctively-based wisdom. This is what Jung was alluding to in his reference to the two million year old person within each of us.

It’s easy for our modern minds to balk at such an idea. After all, it might not seem quite “rational”! Yet, if we look at the rest of the animal kingdom, the power of instinct is quite awe-inspiring. Snakes, not raised by mothers or fathers, know how to hunt instinctively. Monarch butterflies migrate unbelievably vast distances guided by instinct. Dolphins are imbued with an instinctive curiosity and a predisposition to help others—dolphins, whales and sometimes humans.

When we see these examples of instinctual “wisdom” in other species, it might make us curious about our own instincts. Human instincts exist, even though they may not be as immediately apparent as they are in other species. A depth psychotherapy perspective is open to the ways our deepest instincts, as symbolized by our inner wise old person, seek to manifest in our lives.

Often, it’s in situations of crisis or major life transition where we most clearly meet our instinctual wise old person. Our rational, problem-solving intellect is very capable, but there are situations in life where that intellect hits a dead end. Sometimes our usual way of dealing with life runs out of answers. It may be then that our inner wise old person steps in to assist, through dreams, hunches or intuitions, or in other ways.

Denial of the Wise Old Person

It’s possible to live in a way that denies the existence of any inner wisdom. We can choose to try and problem solve in our usual “common sense” way, and circle around a problem or life situation endlessly, trying to “figure it out”. For instance, an individual may be deeply frustrated by her or his work situation. He or she may be endlessly trying to figure out how to get to that next right job, with its promise of fulfillment and balance, and may be mired in anxiety or depression. The individual may strive for years, with some element or perspective on the situation that is just out of reach.

[inner wisdom] comes from quieting the mind, setting aside the ego, setting aside one’s ideas of how things should be, and listening and feeling for what feels truly right.

Brian Leaf

We can be so rational in approaching our lives that we miss out on the possibility of connection with the wise old person who resides in our psyche. This can lead us to miss out on the inherent wisdom that we carry, inherited from the sum total of our ancestors. How can we avoid this, and make this inherited wisdom a part of our journey to wholeness?

Open Listening to the Inner Wise Person

Connecting with our inner wisdom can sometimes bring a different, and even life-altering perspective. Finding ways to effectively listen to what the inner “wise old person” has to say about our lives, through our dreams, hunches and intuitions can be a very healing endeavour. Often, work with a supportive Jungian depth psychotherapist can be of great help in this process.

With every good wish for your personal journey,

© 2022 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario

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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Am I Making the Right Decision?

January 16th, 2023 · making the right decision

Over my years as a Jungian analyst / depth psychotherapist, I’ve heard a lot of people ask “Am I making the right decision?” It’s often a crucial question.

making the right decision
Am I making the right decision? (PHOTO: Stock Photo Secrets)

When we find ourselves asking, “Am I making the right decision?” there can be a great deal at stake. We may find ourselves looking very closely at a life choice we have to make. In fact, we may be on the cusp of making a choice that will affect the whole rest of our lives. Such choices may arise when we are in the midst of a major life transition, or when we are confronted by unexpected changes in the lives of those closest to us.

We may find ourselves asking “Am I making the right decision?” in many different contexts. It may concern a romantic relationship. Or, it might have to do with key job or career choices. Or it might be around moving, or retirement. There is an endless scope for key life choices that may have huge consequences for our lives.

Often, major decisions confront us with the raw nature of human choice. We can’t get all the information we’d ideally like to have. We can’t possibly know the ultimate outcomes of all the choices before us. Sometimes, amidst the uncertainties and unknowns, we just have to choose. And, as the old existentialist saying reminds us,

Not to decide is to decide.

~ Harvey Cox

What IS the Right Decision?

Does it even make any sense to talk about the “right” decision? What could a “right” decision possibly be?

Well, let’s at first make clear what it’s not. In the vast majority of situations the right decision is not, and cannot possibly be, a “perfect” decision. In a great many situations, I simply cannot be absolutely sure of the ultimate outcome of my decision. With many important life decisions, it’s difficult to “tick all the boxes”, and feel that “I’ve done it absolutely right”. When we’re dealing with big choices, and with the future, we often don’t have a crystal ball, that shows us what will be when we make a choice.

Well, if that’s true, how do we go about making the best decision that we can? Well, here’s one thing we can say for sure. When we make a decision about a matter of great importance in our lives, it’s essential that it be an authentic decision. That is to say, that it’s a decision that emerges from who we really are.

There are numerous ways in which it’s possible for us to sidestep making an authentic decision. For instance, we could let a decision be determined by peer pressure, or the need to “look good”, rather then by what we actually feel we should choose. Or, we could let an attitude that we inherited from our family make the choice, rather than really listening to our own instinct or “gut” reaction.

Perhaps the most serious way to avoid making a decision with integrity is to not really listen to ourselves. We have an idea of who we are, and a way that we present ourselves to the world. This is what Jung called persona. The trouble is, this way that we present to the world, and who we think we are, may not be who we really are. It can easily be that there are feelings, attitudes or thoughts of which we are unaware. These are semi-conscious or unconscious elements of our psyche.

The Dangers of Unconscious Decision Making

The unconscious mind is alive and well within each of us. It can profoundly influence our choices without our being aware. It can also react to decisions we make in surprisingly strong ways! Jung tells us that,

The great decisions of human life have as a rule far more to do with the instincts and other mysterious unconscious factors than with conscious will and well-meaning reasonableness.

Elsewhere he states,

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.

It can be easy to be carried along in decisions we make by all kinds of influences that stem from the unconscious. If we stay unaware of them, we end up having our lives run by unconscious factors that take us in directions that the conscious mind would never wish to go.

We probably all know the incredibly sad stories of unconscious factors in decisions. For instance the story of the good, kind person who is on their third or fourth marriage to a severely alcoholic or abusive partner, and who just can’t understand how they could have such “bad luck” in choosing partners.

It can be very important to understand as much as we can about all the feelings, intuitions and motivations that get triggered by a major life decision. Otherwise we may have little or no understanding of the ways that we are pushed and pulled by any major decision in our lives.

“Am I Making the Right Decision” is a Question of Soul

Clearly, there’s a lot involved in answering the question “Am I making the right decision?” Often, if we wish to really understand what’s involved in making a key decision, we may need to look at ourselves in depth. We may well need to understand as much as we can about what the particular decision brings up for us on both unconscious and conscious levels. This can take us into the realm of what Jung and James Hillman refer to as soul, the deep part of ourselves where images emerge from the unconscious.

Working with a supportive Jungian analyst or depth psychotherapist can often lead to vastly greater clarity about decisions. If you’re facing the question of “Am I making the right decision?”, it’s essential to be very compassionate to yourself; and, to be willing to look into yourself in depth.

Wishing you every good thing on your personal journey,

© 2023 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario.

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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