Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Hope and Trust, and Reclaiming the Future

October 19th, 2020 · adapting to change, hope and trust

In this post, I’m moving slightly away from my recent posts on “Emotions of the Pandemic”, to examine hope and trust.

Hope and trust might seem like they’re very important things in a major life transition such as this pandemic period, and of course they are. However, they’re equally important for any season in our lives. Many of the things that are true about hope during the pandemic are true, really, about a great many stages and points in our lives.

Hope is an essential part of human life. You may have heard some version of that old saying:

Humans can live about forty days without food, maybe three days without water, about eight minutes without air…but only about one second without hope.

Yet what exactly is hope? How do we get it? As C.G. Jung tells us, it’s not just something that happens to us:

Faith, hope, love, and insight are the highest achievements of human effort [italics mine]. 

C.G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul

Jung ranks hope as one of the great accomplishments of the human spirit, and he recognizes that there’s more to it than might at first appear.

Hope and Trust: Not Exactly Emotions

Hope is not just a naive, feel-good emotion that carries us along. It’s a dynamic motivator that involves at least three of the four psychological functions: thinking, feeling and intuition. The emotional and feeling part of hope follows the thinking and intuitive part which generate motivating goals. There can be an inspirational aspect to hope, in that the things that really move us to persist and to strive can sometimes come in a full-blown way out of the unconscious.

Hope has an emotional part, a positive emotional charge that comes out of our capacity to imagine possibilities, and ways in which we might start to be able to realize them. It relates to our capacity to establish what psychologists like Prof. Charles Snyder call learning goals, which are goals that help us to aspire to improving our situation, and that of those we care about. This contrasts with those who lack hope, who tend to choose only mastery goals, which are easy goals that don’t require us to challenge ourselves, or do anything we haven’t tried before. These are goals that don’t aspire to anything better than the present situation. They are devoid of hope. Very often, they can be associated with high levels of depression and anxiety.

Where Can I Find Hope and Trust?

The road to hope starts with imagining possibility, ways in which things could be different and better than what we currently are experiencing. So there is definitely an element of imagination in hope.

Sometimes, our experience in life may prevent us from imagining possibilities that are different from the things we experience at present. This may be as a result of experience from even the early days of life, when perhaps the family dynamics, economic conditions or other factors led us to close the door on anything other than the particular situation in which we as children or young people found ourselves.

Or, it may be that, as a result of setbacks and issues that we face in the present that our capacity to imagine and take steps to move toward good things in the future has been damaged, or lost altogether. This situation is what we call “losing hope”. It can be caused by many types of life circumstances, but it’s an experience that a good number of people are encountering during this time of COVID-19 and lockdown.

We need to get back to our hope, and to trust in a future that can offer us good things.

Strength for Now and the Future

In order to move into a personal future that is worth having, we need to be able to envisage a better possibility for the future. We also need to have the motivation and resilience to pursue those possibilities, and we need to be able to see at least the outline of a way of getting to those goals. It can be a crucial and demanding piece of psychological work to move into a place of healing, from which hope is possible.

Working with a depth psychotherapist to develop the ability to imagine better future possibilities that can actually be achieved, and to find the inner motivation and resiliency to move toward them, can be a very important step towards recovering genuine hope and trust in our life journey.

Wishing you genuine and lasting hope and trust for your journey to wholeness,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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COVID 19 and Boredom: Journeying Towards Meaning and Value

October 5th, 2020 · COVID-19 and boredom

You might not think of boredom as an emotion, but it is. In fact, it’s one of the most widely experienced “Emotions of the Pandemic”

Boredom is one definite aspect of what we’re experiencing in the pandemic. Certainly, this lockdown period is a time of stress, uncertainty and fear, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t often find ourselves succumbing to boredom. We might feel that we shouldn’t be bored at this demanding and unusual time, that life somehow demands more of us—but that doesn’t necessarily stop it from happening.

We might well feel, as Margaret Talbot writing in the New Yorker puts it, that

The… plot thickens by the hour. We need to be paying attention. But boredom, like many an inconvenient human sensation, can steal over a person at unseemly moments. And, in some ways, the psychic limbo of the pandemic has been a breeding ground for it—or at least for a restless, buzzing frustration that can feel a lot like it.

Talbot, Margaret, “What Does Boredom Do to Us—and for Us?”

Boom Times for Boredom?

This pandemic period has seen many people stuck for prolonged periods in their homes, either working from home, or, in a good many cases, unable to work. Social activities have been cut back dramatically, as has attending restaurants, theatres, sporting events, gyms, libraries and many of the other activities that form the social, cultural and recreational backbone of our society. The result has been that many people have experienced considerable amounts of boredom, which U. Illinois-Springfield Prof. Shahram Heshmat describes as

an unpleasant emotional state in which the individual feels a pervasive lack of interest in and difficulty concentrating on the current activity…. Boredom is such a motivating force that people do all kinds of things to ease the pain.

This description aptly describes a state that many people will clearly recognize as occurring frequently during the lockdown period.

There are a few typical “stepping stones” to boredom. If you’re experiencing these things, you’re very likely on your way to being bored:

  • Monotony occurs when tasks are too predictable and repetitive;
  • Lack of “Flow” happens when we can’t immerse ourselves in what we’re doing;
  • Need for Novelty comes about when there’s an absence of external stimulation;
  • Unengaged Attention strikes us when we just can’t concentrate on something;
  • Emotional Unconsciousness hits us when we’re unaware of our emotional states, and don’t really know what will make us happy;
  • Undeveloped Inner Resources may keep us always looking outwards, searching for stimulation and novelty; and,
  • Feeling Trapped occurs when we feel stuck or constrained—as many people do during the lockdown.

Many people have been aware of experiencing these things during the COVID 19 lockdown period.

COVID 19 and Boredom: Taking Hold

How do we deal with the boredom we may be experiencing now? One of the important challenges with respect to COVID 19 and boredom is admitting to ourselves that we’re in fact bored. We may find that we resist acknowledging our boredom. Why is that?

University of Calgary Classics Professor Peter Toohey, in his 2011 book Boredom: A Lively History describes the concept of acedia, an ancient Christian term which was applied to the boredom that hermits and monks experienced as a temptation to abandon their life of prayer and contemplation. As Margaret Talbot tells us, “Though boredom no longer strikes most people as a sin, as acedia was for medieval monks, a dusting of shame still clings to it, especially when it can’t be blamed on a job endured to pay the bills.”

Often we do associate a sense of shame or inadequacy with the idea of being bored, as if being bored was a personal or moral failure. But we need to approach our boredom from a place of self-compassion. What if our boredom is simply an emotional state, that puts us in contact with a deep need in our lives for things that are real, meaningful and full of vitality?

What’s Meaningful Now?

In our boredom, we can discern an emotional state that forces us to ask some deep questions about our lives. We can seek to avoid those inquiries by seeking for refuge in more and more entertainment and/or thrill-seeking behaviour, or through the experiences that are at the root of much addictive behaviour (alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc.). However, those types of experience are likely to leave us feeling that we are still lacking what we ultimately need.

The challenge in our experience of COVID 19 and boredom is to find the things in our lives that involve us and give us the sense that we are having real and substantial experience. This entails finding the experiences that connect us with soul. The search for what is ultimately meaningful in this way has particular importance for the midlife transition, but also comes into the foreground at times of major life transition, as we’re experiencing with pandemic and lockdown.

Depth psychotherapy can often be of tremendous help in identifying what is truly meaningful, by bringing us into intimate contact with the rich resources we have in our inner life and in the as-yet undiscovered self.. The most important answers to the questions posed by our experiences of boredom are grounded in our journey to wholeness, and in connecting with out authentic selves.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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The Big Uneasy: Coping with Covid 19 and Anxiety

September 28th, 2020 · coronavirus, COVID 19, covid 19 and anxiety

This third post on “Emotions of the Pandemic” focuses on one of the more powerful and obvious manifestations of our COVID 19 experience: anxiety.

We may be used to thinking of anxiety as a “disorder” or a “problem, but as the American Psychological Association reminds us,

Anxiety is an emotion [italics mine] characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.

“Anxiety”, APA website

Anxiety is a regular part of human life, which everyone experiences to some degree in the course of living ordinary life. Yet it can also be one of the most excruciating experiences that we can have when it’s at its worst.

Psychology and neuroscience affirm that anxiety is the nervous system’s standard and predictable response to uncertain and threatening circumstances—to crises. Our brains and nervous systems are wired to feel anxious when we encounter threats that have unpredictable aspects.

The Alertness Emotion

Anxiety was created by evolution for a purpose. It’s meant to protect us and to keep us alert when we’re facing situations of potential threat. It’s intended to motivate us into taking action that keeps us and the people and things near and dear to us safe when there’s danger in the environment. So, anxiety can actually be a very good thing, that enables us to take good care of ourselves.

However, we can become overloaded with anxiety in situations where we feel we’re dealing with too much uncertainty. If it gets too great a hold in the wrong way, anxiety can overwhelm our capacity for coping, and it can cripple our ability to function effectively. For many people, this has been the experience with COVID 19 and anxiety, as they deal with digestive issues, headaches, relentless worry, sleep problems and nightmares, and experiences of sudden rage that seem to come out of nowhere. It’s not surprising that some people are turning to alcohol, drugs or other means of diversion at record levels. As renowned physician and addictions counsellor Dr. Gabor Maté emphasizes,

A lot of us carry a great deal of anxiety that we usually cover up or distract ourselves from, through work, relationships, going to the pub, watching sports, exercising. Some of these are good things to do, but they can also function as a way of binding or diverting our anxieties.

Now that there are fewer of those options for coping, people’s anxieties are rising, and that’s showing up in their behavior. [Much] anxiety was not born of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was there before, and in almost every case, it goes back to people’s earliest experiences.

Mate, Gabor, “When The World Won’t Hold Us”

Denial, Minimization, Diversion

Certainly, when it comes to COVID-19 and anxiety, the anxiety can be so continuous and so overwhelming for many people that they try consciously to deliberately minimize it, or, on an unconscious or semi-conscious level, they deny its existence, or try to divert from it. They seek to live their lives as if nothing untoward or different is happening.

It may well be that much of the resistance to wearing masks or engaging in social distancing comes from the fact that acknowledging the anxiety that the present situation arouses is simply too uncomfortable or painful for individuals to take in. Also, in many cases, the anxiety of the COVID situation connects too powerfully with other anxieties that we’re had in our lives for an incredibly long time, but may have been able to keep at bay—until now.

COVID-19 and Anxiety: How To Deal with It

If you’re facing an overload of anxiety at the present time, how can you best deal with it, and restore yourself to experiencing normal and appropriate levels of anxiety, as opposed to overload?

One simple answer is to connect with things that give a sense of calm. This can include quite a number of straightforward practices, including deep breathing, and exercise of many forms. Many people find great value in practices such as yoga and T’ai Chi. There’s a lot of scientific evidence that getting out and exercising in green spaces enhances relaxation and a sense of well-being.

There’s something I’ve mentioned before is limiting consumption of news channels. These days they’re full to the brim of stories about COVID. One good approach can be to confine yourself to one trustworthy news choice, which you listen to just once a day, rather than bathing yourself in the constant 24 hour a day news cycle.

Another important type of thing we can do is to move our anxiety towards action. We can do this by doing something where we take hold of our power. Generally speaking, anything that you can do that genuinely increases your sense of control in your life, and helps you to feel that you do have power you can use is good. It will tend to help you feel better and less anxious. This could involve help for other people, or creating things that bring more of what you want into your own life.

To effectively address COVID-19 and anxiety issues, it can be extremely valuable to do therapy with a depth psychotherapist who can help you to greater insight about the roots of your anxiety, and how it might relate to what is trying to emerge in your life. This can be very valuable, if the therapist also has an understanding of the neuroscience of anxiety. For people who are experiencing the COVID-19 crisis as a major life transition, this kind of help can bring important healing and growth.

With very best wishes for your journey to wholeness,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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How to Deal with Grief and Loss of All Kinds During COVID-19

September 21st, 2020 · how to deal with grief and loss

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we’re all struggling with how to deal with grief and loss during this COVID-19 period.

I’ve chosen the subject of grief for this second post in my series on “The Emotions of the Pandemic” because grief is such a pervasive and powerful emotion during this pandemic lockdown. We may well not be aware of all the ways in which it is emerging for us in this extraordinary time.

Perhaps we’re aware of the very difficult circumstances that anyone who has lost a loved one has faced during the COVID-19 period. The hardships have been notorious and very well-publicized, including families being unable to visit dying relatives in the hospital, harsh limitations on attendance at funerals, and a range of other very trying ordeals.

Other manifestations of grief may be less obvious. We experience them without even labeling them as grief, yet we may experience them in ways akin to depression.

The Many Forms of COVID Grief and Loss

In a recent article in the Amplify section of the Globe and Mail, Lara Pingue writes about her experiences with her son’s first day of school this year as a senior kindergartner. She notes how getting him ready with mask and hand sanitizer, “after the longest and least rejuvenating March break in history” left her with a keen sense of sadness. She came to realize that this sadness was a sense of grief, stemming from her lost sense of normalcy as she thinks about her son, going to SK in a mask, “who knows that he can’t hug his teacher or high-five his best friend”, and as she thinks about all the normal experiences of work, home and social life that we’ve all had to leave behind in this pandemic period.

As we noted above, Pingue recognizes that she had previously thought of grief in terms of catastrophic loss: “the sharp pang of a lost mother or father, a job, a home”. But she recognized in her experience that the loss of the small things that make life ordinary and secure can result in very substantial experiences of grief.

Pingue quotes the famous thanatologist and grief expert, David Kessler, writing in the Havard Business Review:

We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving.

Kessler, David, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief”, Harvard Business Review

Working Hard to Avoid Grief May Not Help

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are grieving in this pandemic period, in a multitude of small ways. We may also find that we are trying very hard to avoid acknowledgment of our grief as we make our way through so-called ordinary life in the pandemic. We’re experiencing a major life transition, with all the emotional fallout that entails

It’s natural to want things to be normal, to damn well insist on them being normal, even when they clearly aren’t. That’s one way in which we try to cope, and among other things, try to reduce our anxiety. Yet the plain fact of the matter is that grief has a way of being present to us, even when we seek to ignore it, and perhaps berate ourselves for feeling it, because we “haven’t had a catastrophic loss.”

Finding Meaning Amidst Grief and Loss

Kessler emphasizes the importance of finding meaning in our grief and loss, as a way of coping with it. In this, he is very much on the same page as C.G. Jung, who continually emphasized the need to find meaning in life, and especially to find it in life’s dark and hard experiences.

What would it mean for us to find meaning in our experiences of grief and loss during this pandemic? First of all, we would have to be willing to look at those experiences, and genuinely acknowledge our sense of loss, and sorrow, much as Lara Pingue did with her experiences. However, we should be aware that our experiences of loss may well be very different from hers. Someone I know finds it really distressing that the whole experience in grocery stores has become so slow and joyless. I personally can feel a huge sense of loss in the way one day blends into another. How do you experience the pandemic?

Working with a depth psychotherapist to process feelings of grief and loss over the pandemic, or any experiences of grief and loss can be of great value. The process can lead us on the path of finding meaning in our loss.

With very best wishes for your journey to wholeness,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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How to Cope with Anger During COVID-19

September 14th, 2020 · how to cope with anger

This post on “how to cope with anger” is the first post in my new series on “The Emotions of the Pandemic”.

As we all know, the COVID-19 experience is stirring up strong, complex feelings. How do we cope with them? What do they mean? In this series, I plan to look at anger, fear, despair and other emotions to attempt to answer these questions for each emotion—and what they respectively mean for our lives at this point in our journey.

Today’s post deals with anger, and the ways in which we’re experiencing it during the COVID lockdown period. Has anger been a part of your experience during the lockdown? It certainly has been for very many people. It’s important for our health and our growth as human beings that we understand as much as we can about what’s going on with this feeling.

Our Anger Now

Bernice (Not her real name) is angry. “My business is really struggling. We’re way down from last year at this time, because of social distancing, and because my business depends on bringing groups of people together. I’m fed up with all the stores and my favourite restaurants being closed. We didn’t really have much of a summer, because of travel restrictions, and everything being shut down while we were away. Now the kids are going back to school, and I really don’t know what to expect. Is it safe? Who knows? And if one more person tells me that this is ‘the new normal’—I don’t know what I’ll do!”

Many of us can relate to the kinds of things that Bernice, and the many people like her, are saying. For many of us this is a very anxious, painful, frustrating time, and whether we want to admit it or not—we’re pretty angry about it. What can we do about it?

Owning Our Anger

Before we can do anything else to respond to our anger, we have to acknowledge that we have it. A lot of people don’t acknowledge anger, and that failure can have some very negative impacts. Anger which we deny or refuse to acknowledge can come out sideways, leading to passive-aggressive responses to other people. Also. anger can get displaced, so that our anger ends up getting dumped on those who don’t deserve it–a loved one, an innocent party, or even a family pet. Or, unresolved anger can end up coming out in our lives as anxiety.

To feel better about our lives and to get more of the good things we want from our lives will mean that, at some point, we have to come to terms with our anger. Even to move towards becoming the unique individuals that we have the potential to be (to individuate as Jungians say) will require us to acknowledge our anger and to come to terms with, and somehow incorporate its energy.

The Dynamic Side of Our Anger

As anger researcher Prof. Ryan Martin of U. Wisconsin-Green Bay reminds us, anger is

the emotion we feel when we are treated unfairly or our goals are blocked…. Anger can be helpful in that it energizes us to confront injustice or solve problems.

That is, provided we find ways to use that anger that are healthy and constructive. Seeking to find such ways to be creative and life-giving with our anger is particularly important for all of us who are now seeking out how to cope with anger in the midst of these pandemic times

It can be of genuine benefit to both explore the roots of your anger, and discover creative ways to express its energy through working with a supportive depth psychotherapist. What comes out through working on your anger may be of great importance for the whole course of your life.

With every good wish for your journey to wholeness,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Parenting Stress & Anxiety During the Pandemic

August 31st, 2020 · anger management, anger management therapy, parental stress

Parenting stress and anxiety are very often high in September, but this year it’s higher than ever for many parents.

This year, as we all know, it’s not just a matter of the regular parenting stress and anxiety associated with the start of the school year, which can be quite high enough. In addition, parents are dealing with all the uncertainties and pressures from COVID-19 that schools and other institutions are seeking to address with the measures they are taking to attempt to create a safe, non-contagious environment for students and staff.

As is natural and normal for human beings, when we’re stressed and dealing with uncertainty, we seek re-assurance, and we try to look for ways to make the situation more controllable and certain. That’s exactly how many who are parenting now are responding, seeking to learn as much as they can, and arrange things as well as they can, to maximize a sense of stability and control. Yet the decisions that have to be made now, around education, social connection and maintaining health can certainly be challenging. What is more, it’s hard to see any “perfect” solutions. Many parents are feeling forced into difficult choices, trade-offs and compromises.

The Vulnerability of Parenthood–Especially Now

I have no pretensions to being any wiser than anyone else about what the right course of action is for parents who are seeking to do the best thing possible for their children. I know that many parents are weighing big choices, such as whether to send their children back to the classroom with whatever element of risk that entails, or to keep their kids at home for “virtual school” or homeschooling, with all the social, educational and occupational challenges that each choice would imply.

It can feel like there is a very great deal at stake, both for the well-being of children and the peace of mind of parents. How can parents find their way through this exceptionally demanding time, and both look after those whom they love, and simultaneously avoid being overcome by parental stress and anxiety?

At this time, many parents are deeply feeling the vulnerability inherent in being a parent. That vulnerability is always there, because, try as we might, parents can’t control all the ways in which life might impact our children negatively. We’re always trying to make our children secure, and to find paths through life that will enable them to grow as human beings and to have rich and meaningful lives. At some particular times, however, we feel the insecurity and anxiety of this more than at other times. This is particularly true in this time of pandemic, and now of needing to face choices around education in the midst of it.

Smiling Through?

The response of some people to this kind of situation is denial. They just go on as if everything is fine and seamless. They try to convey to everyone that they are motoring along, and coping without any parental stress. They especially try to convey to their children the message that there is no need to worry, and that everything is under control.

Unfortunately, however, it may become readily apparent at some point that everything is not under control, and that these kinds of decisions are hard. If we try too hard to give the sense that we’ve “got it all under control”, things have a way of showing us that they’re not. Things can backfire disastrously upon us when we don’t acknowledge the “shadow” of things, as Jungians say. And what may be in the shadow—and what we may not admit, even to ourselves—is our awareness that all is not under control, that the education options are imperfect, or even, at points, just plain wrong for the situation. And that we as parents are uncertain, scared and unable to make it all alright.

Self-Care and Meaning

An important form of self-compassion is involved in admitting to ourselves that we can’t possibly control all the variables in this situation to guarantee that things will turn out perfectly. This doesn’t make us bad parents. It makes us human parents who are dealing with the complexity and uncertainty of a rapidly changing world.

It’s a matter of key importance that we don’t hide this human and vulnerable side of ourselves from our children, as we confront the major life transition of kids returning to school in the midst of the pandemic. While it may not be appropriate to make them party to all of our doubts and fears, it is essential that children get the message that we don’t know it all when it comes to making the choices around going back to school, that we love them, and we’re striving to do our very best to make wise choices.

Given the significance of the choices involved, it’s extremely important to involve children of whatever age in the decision-making process to at least some degree, so that they feel certain that their needs and wants are being taken seriously.

As I mentioned above, confrontation with the vulnerability we face as parents around back-to-school decisions in this pandemic time may well be part of a major life transition that we are undergoing at this time. This whole pandemic situation may well be part of a changing understanding of our place in life and our identity, and our key values and priorities that very many people are experiencing at this time.

It may be of key importance to gain the benefit of good therapy in confronting the parental and other challenges of this time. Jungian depth psychotherapy can be particularly helpful in that it is concerned with finding deep meaning in our life situations, combined with a deep level of acceptance of ourselves, in all our strengths, weaknesses and complexities.

With very best wishes for your continuing journey towards wholeness,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Why Go On a Journey of Self Discovery? Why Now?

August 24th, 2020 · a journey of self discovery

The phrase “a journey of self discovery” may seem a little over-used and cliche, but the symbol of human life as a journey is as archetypal as it gets.

The idea that humans need to go on a journey where the destination is self-knowledge is also very ancient. Socrates, Plato, Pythagoras and Aristotle all urged their followers to “Know thyself”. The impulse to know and understand ourselves was actually already very old even in their time. What is it about understanding ourselves that is so important?

Well, Jung helps us to understand that self-knowledge is connected to wholeness. Knowing ourselves, being connected to the various parts of ourselves, and fundamentally accepting ourselves, in Jung’s conception are key to having a meaningful life. It’s only when we can start to see all the various parts of ourselves, and meet all those parts with kindness, that we can begin to experience a sense of who we are as individuals, and to live that out in a meaningful way.

The Call of the Moment

Many people are finding that the issue of self-knowledge has become important at this particular time. This is occurring as people encounter various issues and situations in their lives, a good number of which have been intensified by the pandemic. While in some cases the pandemic created these situations, it seems, more often, that people are finding that issues and questions that they have been living with for a long time have been brought into clearer focus by these unusual times.

Here are some examples of situations where people have been finding that the issue of self-knowledge has come into focus.

  • An individual has been confined to home by the pandemic with their spouse, and questions about what he or she wants from the marriage, and from life, have come into the foreground,
  • Pandemic conditions have changed peoples’ work situations in some very big ways, and individuals are asking themselves pressing questions about their work, and even more broadly about their overall sense of vocation, meaning or purpose in life.
  • With the lockdown, people have been spending more time inside, and on their own, and often find themselves thinking about issues from their past, or thinking about previously unexplored aspects of themselves, or about regrets or aspirations.

These are all issues that many people had somewhere in their minds prior to the advent of COVID and the lockdown. Yet, it seems that, for many in this time, the questions and issues have become much more urgent.

But Don’t I Know Myself Already?

Now, many people feel that they know themselves well already, and have no real need to put effort into understanding themselves. They feel quite confident that they see and understand themselves as they really are. Yet there may be some indications that their self-understanding is not as great as they might think.

Often, an individual might be surprised at what others who know them well might be able to tell them about themself, that the person either doesn’t know, or has only dimly suspected to be true about themselves. Jung is far from the only psychologist to note that other people know things about us of which we may still be unaware.

This is because a substantial part of the human mind, and of our personhood, is unconscious. The unconscious mind, and the portions of the brain where it functions, are vast, indeed. A great portion of the operations of the brain occur in the unconscious. While Sigmund Freud was one of the first to refer to the unconscious mind, he tended to associate it with repressed content related to the sexual and aggressive drives. Today, the modern understanding of the unconscious mind has moved beyond this, and researchers such as Prof. Ap Dijksterhuis of Radboud University have shown that much feeling and emotion and much of the intuition and creative activity of human beings is grounded in the unconscious.

It can be of great importance to become acquainted with the unconscious parts of ourselves, for our happiness and sense of meaning and fulfillment. Making a connection with the parts of ourselves that we know less well can lead to an increase in our sense of overall vitality, and our feeling of being genuinely connected to our own unique lives.

Meeting the Undiscovered Self

The journey of self discovery is an on-going process. It unfolds as we meet new stages of our experience in life, and we may particularly gain awareness when we go through major life transitions, such as the midlife transition, or the transition into retired life.

A journey of self discovery can often be enhanced by working with the right type of psychotherapy. Most often, for dealing with issues of meaning, fulfillment or integration of conscious and unconscious elements of the personality, working with a Jungian depth psychotherapist can be of great benefit.

With very best wishes for your journey to wholeness,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Lockdown, Soul and Marking The Passage of Time

August 17th, 2020 · passage of time

Marking the passage of time in important ways is a quintessentially human activity. However in these COVID times, it’s become a great deal more difficult to do.

I don’t mean that we can’t tell what time it is: of course, the clocks still work! But that’s something different from being aware of the passage of time in a psychological sense.

Yes, you can still watch the hands of the clock go around during the time of COVID. But the problem for many people is the endless sameness of each day, when work occurs in the same space as homelife and relaxation, when there are limited destinations outside of the house, and when few people can gather at any one time and place.

Our human life depends greatly on indicators that map out the passage of time as we experience it subjectively. A great deal of research in modern neuroscience has emphasized that there are strong linkages between our emotional state, and the ways in which we subjectively experience the passage of time. Claremont Graduate University’s Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was the first to use the term “flow” for the way time passes when we’re caught up in pleasurable, engaging experiences where all distractions are shut out. In recent years, research has also done much to confirm and explain our felt sense that time passes quicker as we age as individuals.

The marking of personal time, of the passage of seasons and the occurrence of significant events and major life transitions in our lives is a matter of the greatest importance for meaningful human life. It’s not overstating things to say that it is key to having the sense of being truly alive.

Loss of Soul

Loss of awareness and failure to observe the special, meaningful character of time is strongly connected with the loss of awareness of key aspects of our inner life, sometimes referred to as “loss of soul” by depth psychotherapists. This is something we can experience powerfully during times of lockdown. The days drift into one another, when weekdays can seem just the same as weekends, when cherished regular activities have been put on hold, and when even family routines have been disrupted (e.g., taking the kids to Grandma and Grandpa’s house).

As a result of this “flattening out”, our lives can begin to lose the dimension of soul, as Jungians and other depth psychotherapists would say. The deep human significance of human events gets lost. We see this loss at its most extreme, when we see what happens with some of the turning points or very special major life transitions during the lockdown. One hears of couples getting married, and of almost all the guests only being able to attend virtually. The same has been experienced by a substantial number of people around funerals of family members. And the most extreme example has occurred when people who are fatally ill with COVID have been forced to leave this life without being able to see any family members. To be honest, I can’t even imagine how dreadful such an experience would be.

Flattening Out, Dampening Down

Denial of the need to acknowledge the special moments in our human life results in a loss of our connection to meaning and to what has lasting importance—a loss of connection to the archetypal dimensions of human life, as Jungians refer to it. As Jung and Viktor Frankl and many existentialist and humanistic psychologists have pointed out, one of the key things that human beings need to survive and thrive is a sense of meaning. We strongly need to feel that there is a significance to our lives, to feel that what happens to us matters.

The purpose of ritual, celebration and commemoration in human life is to make us conscious of the connection between what we’re doing or living and some bigger, more fundamental story. Whatever form it takes, we need this connection back to the meaning of the passage of time—in order to stay human.

Creativity and the Passage of Time

Recently, I had the good fortune to travel to the City of Stratford, Ontario. Stratford is famous for the Stratford Festival, North America’s largest Shakespearean festival. This year, because of COVID-19, the regular season of plays, all held in indoor venues, had to be cancelled. To its credit, though, the City didn’t respond to these events by lapsing into despair or passivity.

When you walk on the streets in Stratford this summer, you get the sense of a great deal of life! A large number of the restaurants in the central part of the city have created patios, so that, even if people cannot be in the restaurants for dinner, they can be out enjoying meals on the streets, which are full of life and pedestrian traffic. None of the Festival’s plays can currently be performed indoors, but various theatre groups have created plays that you can watch out of doors—or seated in your car, as if for a drive-in movie. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, they’ve created a marvelous little music barge with a good sound system, which enables some fine musical artists to perform out-of-doors while travelling up and down the Avon river, which runs through the centre of town. It’s all quite impressive!

It seems to me that Stratford has done something that we all need to do in the face of the sense of shut-down and restriction that we have faced as a result of COVID-19. The CIty has found ways to acknowledge and show that this summer period is something special, even if people can’t do the “normally special” things that are usually associated with Stratford in the summer. The people and organizations of Stratford have used their various creative abilities to mark the passage of this summer season in some valuable, meaningful ways.

I believe that essentially all of us are called by the Self to use our own individual creativity to achieve similar kinds of result, which acknowledge the passage of time in meaningful ways during this time of COVID. It’s very important that each of us find good, personally fulfilling ways to acknowledge important events in our own lives, and to understand the movement occurring in our own lives and of those who are close to us.

An important part of the work of depth psychotherapy such as Jungian analysis is to find connection with the deep meaning and significance of the events of our own lives, and to identify ways to honour the meaning we find in our own journey. This is always important, but in this time of COVID-19, it takes on an even greater value and meaning.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Encountering Major Changes in Life During COVID-19

July 13th, 2020 · changes in life

Major changes in life are some of life’s most important events. Many people are continuing to experience such changes right in the midst of COVID-19.

Often referred to as major life transitions, major changes in life occur as a regular part of our life journey. These types of events or life experiences are often characterized by a strong sense of “before” and “after” when we look back upon them from a later point in our lives. As we tell ourselves our life story, we might say, “Before this event occurred, I was (fill in the blank), but after, I was different”, or, “I changed when I went through XYZ.

The Life Events That Change Us

To what types of life events or life experiences am I referring? There’s a very long list, but it would certainly include the following, for adults:

  • getting married;
  • getting separated or divorced;
  • having a baby;
  • undergoing a miscarriage
  • deciding to change careers;
  • losing a job;
  • major changes in job requirements or the workplace;
  • retirement;
  • moving to a new city;
  • bereavement, losing a close relative;
  • religious or spiritual crisis; and,
  • many, many more.

So, what happens if an individual is going through a major change in life, during this COVID-19 period, when it can feel like so much is changing already? It can be extremely demanding for people to go through a major life event at the same time that we, as a society, are more or less involuntarily going through this other major life event, that we call the COVID-19 lockdown period. How are people who have to go through both at the same time impacted?

Such individuals can certainly encounter a great deal of stress, which can manifest as anxiety and / or depression. If, in addition to the pressures and complications of the lockdown period, an individual is confronting another crisis that they cannot avoid, the demands can seem very nearly overwhelming.

In some cases, the COVID-19 crisis is even triggering other major changes in life. For instance, the experience of lockdown has certainly led to marital tensions, and sometimes, marital breakdown. The experience of isolation has also caused very serious re-evaluations of life priorities, in the form of individuals realizing the need to change career or vocation in some way, and, in some cases, has led to individuals confronting major spiritual, existential and moral awakenings.

Beyond Overwhelm

Individuals confronting major life changes in this time can find it very easy to stay in a state of emotional denial. It can be easy for the individual to tell herself that the major changes in life that she is confronting are not really that significant, and to try and “keep things on the back burner”. This is often the way that the psyche of an overwhelmed individual tries to deal with the situation: it dissociates, or cuts itself off from the emotional impact of the challenge that the individual faces, and tries to “soldier on”.

However, things can easily get to the point where the individual can no longer soldier on without acknowledging the emotional burden created by the marital breakdown, or the job loss, or the feelings of loneliness, isolation and meaninglessness. This can manifest in a crisis where the individual is simply failing to cope, or in substance abuse issues, or it can show up as physical issues, or even as severe illness. To keep moving forward in the life journey, rather than stuck at an impasse, something else is needed.

What Life is Asking Now

One useful way of looking at major life changes is to think about the question that life is asking of us at this particular moment. The questions that life has brought forward for many people in this time of COVID-19 are large indeed.

Depth psychotherapy can be a very effective way to help individuals to face the questions that life asks. It can provide invaluable holding support as they seek out workable ways to move through major changes in life, in a way that has integrity, while remaining true to the fundamental identity of the individual.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Canada Day, Attachment and the Meaning of Home

July 6th, 2020 · meaning of home

July 1, Canada Day, gave us the chance to reflect on the meaning of being Canadian—and on the meaning of home.

Finding a sense of home is something that is front and center for many people at this present time. If “home” is the place where we feel most secure and safest, many of us have found that sense of security to be challenged by lockdown requirements, and the many changes and demands that coping with the pandemic has brought to us. It’s a time when many of the conventional securities that we have taken for granted, such as the ability to go to our workplaces, the chance to go to a cafe or a restaurant, or the opportunity to send our children to school, have all be brought into question. It’s a time when, for many people, many of the most familiar aspects of their home life and community have felt somewhat, well…broken.

Forget Your Perfect Offering…

Against this background, the Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper worked with prominent Canadian musicians, singers and dancers to create a unique Canada Day programming offering: a series of interpretations by seven Canadian dance companies of Canadian poet/songwriter Leonard Cohen’s 1992 song, Anthem.

Like much of Mr. Cohen’s work, Anthem is an uncommon combination of a sobering realism about the human condition with a form of surprising yet very vibrant hope. The lyrics are well known to many, and seem to have risen to prominence on social media as particularly speaking to our circumstances in the midst of the pandemic:

Ring the bells that still can ring, /

Forget your perfect offering. / There is a crack, a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen, Anthem

Cohen urges us to realize that the world we inhabit rarely, if ever, matches up to our perfectionistic ideals—and that, in fact, we don’t measure up to our own standards of perfection. He bids us to realize that there is “a crack in everything”, yet then he follows up with this remarkable statement, that this broken-ness, cracked-ness, is in fact “how the light gets in”. This light that he refers to is presumably both the light of conscious awareness of ourselves, and of the world, and also the light of hope.

Accepting Our Limitations, and the World’s

How extraordinary that the artistic guiding lights at the Globe and Mail would conclude that this is the right message to deliver on our nation’s founding day! Usually, we would think of nations’ birthdays as times when a nation’s citizens would engage in a considerable amount of self-congratulation for the wonderful contributions that their nation has made to civilization, or their nation’s stirling character, military and economic strength and all-around wonderfulness. Yet, the words of Cohen’s song give us almost the opposite:

You can add up the parts: you won’t get the sum /

You can strike up the march—there is no drum /

Everyone, everyone to love will come, but as a refugee.

There is a very sober, dry eyed realism in these lines. Yet, as mentioned above, Cohen also gives us his deeply courageous hope. In the midst of the fallibility and imperfection that constitutes human life as we all experience it, Cohen affirms that “everyone to love will come”. Opinions might differ as to what he means here, but my view is that this is rooted in Cohen’s deep spirituality, and his conviction that what we need is a deep compassion for ourselves, and for others, who, like us, are dealing with their own woundedness and broken-ness. He expresses the same grounded but ultimately optimistic perspective in another of his songs when he declares that,

Love’s the only engine of survival.

Feeling at Home

C.G. Jung held a similar perspective when he stated that,

The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook on life. 

Jung recognized, correctly in my opinion, that being able to accept and love oneself, in the midst of one’s broken-ness, fallibility and strengths is a key requirement for being able to accept and act compassionately toward others, in their flawed and human state. In fact, Jung tells us that this is “the epitome of a whole outlook on life.” In other words, to be able to accept others, and to feel at home in the world, we must first come to terms with who we are, and must be able to accept ourselves in our entirety.

To be on the journey of self-acceptance, which is the same as the journey toward wholeness is to embark on the work of a lifetime. To come to terms with, and to accept and love who we really are is also to get at the root of many forms of human depression and anxiety.

The work of self-acceptance, and of finding a true sense of home in the world can be greatly assisted by working in a safe, secure, accepting depth psychotherapy relationship, whether in-person or online.

Wishing you the very best on your journey,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


Photo by Wicker Paradise on (Creative Commons Licence)

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