What is Standing in the Way of Your Happiness?

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There is only one reason anyone initially goes into therapy – they sense that something is amiss in their lives. They feel that they are not living up to their potential or perhaps there is a particular relationship or issue that seems to be standing in the way of their happiness or well-being. Often clients come in talking about one issue and then we realize together that there is something deeper that needs our attention.

I have often thought that this process is rather like unwinding a knotted thread. As we undo the knots – which can be likened to knots or complexes in the psyche – we find out where the thread wants to lead us. The thread is like the soul’s imperative – its urgent calling. I believe that each of us has a deep soul imprint that we come into the world with, and that imprint carries our purpose for this lifetime. All of us need to figure that out for ourselves – what is it that we are supposed to be doing in this lifetime, in this body and this personality? Why are we here? What do we need to do, address, accomplish, to give our lives meaning and purpose? Very often, people will follow the dictates and ‘shoulds’ that they have absorbed from the collective or from their parents or schooling, and wind up feeling that they missed the boat, regardless of how much money they are making. There is a soulless feeling of emptiness and the haunting question of ‘Is this it?’ They have never dared to really live their dream or fulfill their life purpose.

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In the myth of Theseus and Ariadne, Theseus is the hero figure who has volunteered to kill the raging minotaur that required the flesh of 7 young men and 7 young women every year to prevent the city from being terrorized. Theseus hated this ongoing human sacrifice and volunteered to go into the minotaur’s cave which happens to be very deep and labyrinthine. Ariadne, who was the king’s daughter, and in this case a soul figure for Theseus, tells him that the only way he can safely do this is to take the thread that she will hold, waiting outside the cave.

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As he unwinds the thread, descending ever deeper into the cave, he tracks his passage, allowing for a safe descent and then return. She trusts that he will be able to slay the minotaur when he encounters it, and then he will be able to find his way back. Theseus does as she directs, and he is able to return, having conquered a monumental problem, becoming the hero and saviour of the city of Athens.I have often felt that this was a beautiful metaphor for dealing with life’s problems. We have to descend into the gritty depths of the issue, deal with it in an honourable way, and then find our way back into life, recharged and revitalized. Like Theseus we need to have contact with our own deep soul purpose – in his case personified by Ariadne. It is for each of us to do this inner work, in our own way, so that we can follow our soul’s guidance and fulfill our life purpose. We need to address what stands in the way of our happiness. For many people, being in therapy is like having a companion that can guide them in their descent as they tackle their problems, which then allows them to find a way safely back into a more fulfilled life.

Watch this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUPASDc7lhU

Bless Them and Let Them Go: The Ubiquity of Loss

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I have been reflecting on life and death these past weeks, which brought me to thinking about those mini births and deaths that make up part and parcel of our daily lives. The birth of something new is usually a joyous, affirming experience, but we tend to forget about the little deaths that preceded it – that cleared the decks for something new.

I’ve noticed that it is those relationships that have really hurt or disappointed us that we close to our hearts, worrying and picking at the scabs in an unconscious attempt to keep them alive. In this way we keep the wound fresh, present and grievous. Sometimes we do this with wounds we thought had healed – we resurrect them and start gnawing anew.

At times like these, it seems the hardest thing is to acknowledge that we all have the intrinsic right to choose our path, make our mistakes or correct old ones. Essentially we have the right to create new karma or live in the dharma of fulfilling our soul’s obligations.

Painful though it can be to watch someone you care about veer away from you, more often than not we should bless them and let them go. I am thinking of an old friend now who betrayed my trust. It was the death knoll of our relationship. We have long since parted ways, but there is a part of me that is still hurt.

Every once in a while she floats into my consciousness and I wonder how she is doing, but trust is a very difficult thing to repair, and both parties need to work very actively to repair it. So the only thing I can do, I realize, when she surfaces into my consciousness, is to bless her and let her go on the path she has chosen.

I don’t think this is something you do once and it is over. I believe it is a practice – allowing and acknowledging the heart pain, then blessing the end or the parting, and letting it move through you – like a ship receding into the distant horizon.

Why Therapy: Laundry and Take-Out

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Going into therapy, finding the right therapist – it’s a risk. Why would anyone want to bare their soul to a stranger – does the thought make you feel hugely vulnerable, awkward? Isn’t it extremely embarrassing, uncomfortable? Yes it can be, but the more dominant feeling of clients who walk over that bridge is one of relief. There is something sacred about sitting with another who is truly attending to you that lends a deeper resonance and meaning to your process and your life. Having worked with clients for over 25 years, I feel deeply privileged to work with others in this way.

A very important part of Jung’s way of working was to attend very seriously to the dreams – both his own and those of his clients. He felt that dreams most often pointed to content in the unconscious that was ready to become conscious. As a Jungian psychotherapist I place great value and importance on working with dreams, often in combination with mind/body work which allows for the cultivation and recognition of the deeply felt sense in the body – your inner compass. I feel that if we can start working with a dream, it is like starting from the inside and working out. Many therapies do just the opposite – starting with outer content and facts, and work inwards, trying to understand the core issues. If we can understand the dream, we have a much better chance of getting to the heart of the matter. I will try and show this by talking about some of my own dreams, as I do not want to use clients’ dreams here. Some years ago when I was asked why I became a therapist, I remember I had this dream.

In my dream a woman had a business of going to people’s houses, and doing their laundry or taking it out to have it done, plus she had the added service of bringing take-out food to her clients. She would drop off the food and collect the laundry. On waking, I thought this might be a great business idea, though not one I was going to do.

However, I have been trained to interpret dreams symbolically, and so I questioned what this might mean. The Self communicates to us in images and symbols – that is the language of the psyche. And interestingly, it often has a very quirky sense of humour. I had to chuckle at this dream, because I saw that in some ways, doing therapy is closely aligned with laundry and take-out. Talking to a good therapist can in the beginning feel like ‘you are airing your dirty laundry’ – this is the initial hump of awkwardness that needs to be gotten over. However, it is surprising how quickly that can happen, because getting the laundry done feels good There is something very satisfying about dealing with stuff that has ben shoved in the closet for years. By speaking freely and openly about some of these issues, we can do the laundry together. Dark secrets don’t have to be so daunting – they can be aired in the sunshine.

And hopefully you leave with a little take-out….something to chew on – reflect on. Ultimately, as the process builds and you start to become free of the complexes that stand in the way of you living a happier, more fulfilled life, you will feel nourished at a very deep level.

I will share one other dream image that occurred over 16 years ago. I still remember it because it was so powerful, and because it had to do with laundry. I was going through a very difficult time. In my case it lasted for 7 years; I now think of it as the 7 years in the desert. Everything that could go wrong was going wrong: a marriage break-up, my elbow was smashed to smithereens in a bike accident, the deaths of my mother, father and my sister, financial woes, not to mention landing in another dysfunctional relationship. In the midst of all this I was thrown headlong onto my spiritual path. I seriously started to pray, to meditate, to do my own work in analysis.

During this time, I had a dream that I was hiding under my bed. I saw these absolutely enormous feet approach the bed. They were naked, gigantic feet, and they were blue. Then this figure walked away from the bed and I peeked out. It was a gigantic Kali figure, standing at a laundry tub. She must have been at least 11 feet tall and her skin was blue.

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She knew I was looking, so she turned to look back at me. She had a huge, terrifying grin on her face, as she scrubbed rhythmically on a washboard. I was absolutely terrified, and woke myself up, sweating. But the more I thought about this image, the more I realized that SHE was going to wash things clean, and that I would be alright. The more I meditated on this image, the more settled and relaxed I became.

Looking back, I think this was a real turning point in my life. Knowing that I was being helped by higher powers allowed me to relax and to simply trust the process of my life. Kali is a goddess of the East who is often associated with death and destruction. In India she is venerated because it is understood that nothing new can come unless the old is destroyed. Happily, I met her in her more beneficent aspect – as a laundry woman who was bent on cleaning up my dysfunctional life. I will be forever grateful for all the help that I have received, but at the time it felt like life was trying to crush me. We rarely have perspective when we are in the midst of a huge transition.

Part of my reason for sharing these dream images with you is to demonstrate the power of dreams, and the extraordinary intelligence that is in them. The difference between the Jungian approach and many other therapies, is that a Jungian will place supreme importance on the dream image, and strive to uncover what it may be trying to convey. In other words, it takes its lead from the Self.

Many other therapies expect you to come with the problem, and then the two of you (the therapist and you) try to deal with the problem. The difference is that the ego presents the problem, and then tries to dissect it to its own advantage. The ego is always limited by its own worldview and perspective. It cannot see what it cannot see. You and the therapist can easily get sidetracked into dealing with a problem that is not THE problem. The Self sees you from the other side and is the Friend or the Beloved that Rumi always talked about. Coming to know this through following your own dreams is an extraordinary gift. Your life begins to take on the feeling of a revelation that gradually reveals its sacred purpose to you.

Listen to this and learn to trust your life:

Rumi: Say I Am You

On Dealing With Anxiety: A Conversation With a Young Man

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Recently I had a conversation over the internet with a young man who has been dealing with anxiety. This seems to be such a common problem, especially with young people who have so much uncertainty about the meaning of life, themselves, and their future.  As I reread the text of our conversation, it occurred to me that although this was a singular case, it was also universal. With his permission I have edited out the personal details, but am sharing the overall arc of the conversation. I hope it is useful to some.

Q.  What you said about my anxiety has really stuck with me, and I have been thinking about it ever since. 
I like what you said about letting go and allowing this energy to be used towards my creativity. Here is my question to you. I feel like I’m trying to let go, however I’m really not sure what that looks or feels like.

A.   The thing about anxiety is that it comes out of our deep-seated fear and awareness that we are not in control – so it is fear of death, fear of the future, fear of illness etc. Most of the world’s religions try to create a structure or framework to believe in that will appease this deep-seated fear. It would be really good to work through this in therapy, but in the meantime, if you get very quiet and start to pay attention to your breath, you will notice if you are breathing diaphragmatically or not.  Is it relaxed? Is your diaphragm soft and pushing your belly gently out as you receive the inhalation? Or is it tight and contracted? See if you can shift into diaphragm breath – not big breaths – but the inhalation should be small and soft – allowing it to received into the bottom of the lungs









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If you notice that there is contraction or heaviness or pressure in your throat, chest, or gut – let your awareness ask into it….what is this all about, what is this connected to? What am I feeling emotionally, energetically? Remember it is only a part of you – maybe a very old part, or a very young part. When was the first time you remember feeling this way? This technique is called focusing. There is a small book called Focusing by Eugene Gendlin that might help you. You need to get to know that part. The functional adult part of you needs to understand and be compassionate to that part








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Q.   I have been trying to meditate – to empty my mind but it is so difficult!

A.  Most meditation techniques try to empty the mind of any thoughts, but I have found that the trick is to allow the thoughts and compassionately observe them – so you can softly let them move through you. Don’t get into a battle with the thought – it is all thought – even the fear – you are other than your thoughts – this is just monkey mind









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Q.  So instead of ignoring the anxiety, accept it and let the thoughts




 that lead to anxiety









 just pass?

Q.  Yes, that’s it….As you soften the thought with compassion, you start to realize you don’t need to get caught in that trap. The complex web around the fear starts to soften and dissolve. As we reduce the grip that fear has on us, we release energy for other more creative ventures. You can compassionately accept the anxiety and its roots, its underpinnings – it is like talking to the young boy in you who needs to be parented and taught that it will all be okay – he just needs to trust in his life and his path

The truth is once you recognize that you are having a thought – the thought starts to move on through – you couldn’t hold onto a thought for any length of time if your life depended on it!

Q.  So with me I need to recognize my anxiety, but not attach myself to it. It doesn’t represent me. However I can’t just ignore it otherwise I won’t overcome it. Am I understanding this right?

A.  Yes the anxiety is just based on fear thoughts – so you need to recognize that a part of you is feeling anxious and is having these thoughts but it is not all of you – so it is understanding that young part and having compassion for that part, and it is recognizing that negative thoughts are just thoughts – and in fact whatever we give energy to – grows! So the more we allow these thoughts to govern us – the bigger and stronger and more compelling they become – so it is dangerous to give them power.

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Q.  That makes complete sense. My awareness needs to shift so I can direct my energy to my positive thoughts. I would imagine then, with practice of course my fear thoughts will become less and less frequent.




Thank you for taking the time Margaret to help me out!

On Birth, Death and Rebirth

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I’ve been thinking about birth and death lately, as someone I know has been approaching death. It struck me the other day how these two big events, between which we live out our lives, have some meaningful opposites. If you think about the soul incarnating into a baby’s body, I imagine it would feel terrified and vulnerable as it faces all the variables and unknowns of this earth-bound world, knowing it would forget its celestial home.

On the other hand, babies are usually welcomed into our world, ‘trailing clouds of glory as they come” to quote Wordsworth. At the end of the body’s life,  as the soul prepares to depart this 3 dimensional bonded experience, the earthly family mourns, even as the celestial family awaits.

I have always  sensed the liberation of the soul from the body to be one of upliiftment and joy for the soul, even as it is a travesty for the loved ones left behind. I think it helps to keep birth and death linked, understanding it as a continuum and a cycle. Reincarnation is a concept that has been taught in many of the world religions because it is a living truth. Christ himself also pointed to the laws of karma and reincarnation when he taught, “you reap what you sow”.

Recently there has been some humorous news as the Chinese government said they would be in charge of the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation. The Dalai Lama has put out a very clear teaching on reincarnation. Here it is – under messages: reincarnation

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www.dalailama.com/messages

One of the most beautiful poems on the nature of our immortality comes from William Wordsworth. This particular stanza talks about our birth and our forgetting of our celestial home.

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Excerpt from:

Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood

by William Wordsworth

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own;
Yearnings she hath in her own natural kind,
And, even with something of a mother’s mind,
And no unworthy aim,
The homely nurse doth all she can
To make her foster-child, her inmate, Man,
Forget the glories he hath known,
And that imperial palace whence he came.

And from my beloved Rumi, this extraordinary poem on the homecoming at death:

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Imagine the time the particle you are

returns where it came from!

The family darling comes home. Wine,

without being contained in cups, is handed around.

A red glint appears in a granite outcrop,

and suddenly the whole cliff turns to ruby.

At dawn I walked with a monk

on his way to the monastery.

“We do the same work,” I told him.

“We suffer the same.”

He gave me a bowl.

RBMS

And I saw:

the Soul has this shape.

Shams

and actual sunlight,

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help me now,

being in the middle of being partly in my self,

and partly outside.

Translated by Coleman Barks