Archive for the 'psychology' Category

Richard Holloway: Waiting For The Last Bus

April 6, 2022

     I enjoyed Richard Holloway’s autobiography Leaving Alexandria, and also his book on spiritual journeys and our need for religion Stories We Tell Ourselves, so was interested to come across Waiting For The Last Bus, which is essentially the reflections of a man in his eighties on the inevitable approach of death. It is a brave piece, for it takes courage to accept and explore the implications of one’s impending departure from the world; it is also a very common-sensical book. Here is nothing new, nothing stunningly revelatory: he owns his thoughts and reactions and shares them, and we are led to realise that we are the same, the same applies to us. This is the human condition; it’s just that many of us are quite good at avoiding the obvious…

Holloway is honest about the way the old may envy or resent the young. He also avows bafflement at the state the world has got itself into nowadays, a feeling which speaks to my condition, underlining my growing feeling that we are perhaps not such an intelligent species after all. And his writing is laced with many wonderful and apposite literary references, musings, and questions. He is good on the importance of forgiveness.

For a man who held high office in the Church of Scotland, and whose faith left him (see Leaving Alexandria) he comes over as spiritual rather than religious, open rather than closed in his thinking, questioning rather than answering. At times I felt it was mere brain candy, wistful even though full of obvious truth, and yet I felt my reaction was churlish, for there are many in the world who do not know how to wander through these streets through which he entices and leads us.

I like him for the way he, like me, sees religion as our human response to our own mortality, our awareness of it, and our struggle to come to terms with it, to interpret it as best we can (which is not very well!). And in and among his thoughts I came across the clearest explanation of the Hindu concept of reincarnation that I’ve ever read…

Anthony Stevens: Jung – A Very Short Introduction

April 4, 2022

     I’ve written earlier on this year about re-visiting some of Jung’s writing, prompted partly by earlier re-reading of Hermann Hesse’s fiction; while dependent on the library for reading-matter because of our recent house move, I came across this introduction to the great man’s life and work. The Oxford Very Short Introductions series is one I’ve found very helpful in the past.

What particularly appeals to me, at my stage of life, is Jung’s concept of individuation, the idea of making sense of one’s entire life or existence as on looks back on the whole of it – which is obviously something for those of us further on in years. One’s life is a journey of discovery and self-discovery; one has to go one’s own way, to make one’s particular journey: nobody else can do it for you! Which at one level is a statement of the bleeding obvious, and at another is profoundly empowering, it seems to me.

Anyway, there’s not a lot I can say about this slim volume other than that it’s a very well-written, clear and thoughtful introduction to and explanation of Jung’s life and particular contribution to psychology and psychoanalysis, which makes many useful connections both with what went before and what has developed since. Jung’s influence on the world of counselling, psychotherapy and self-discovery in general, is hard to overlook when you appreciate the breadth of his learning, knowledge and exploration.

Jung: Memories, Dreams, Reflections

November 7, 2021

     This was a fascinating and unusual approach to autobiography. Jung does not present his life in a linear fashion, but through the recalling of significant moments and epiphanies, especially of his childhood. He gives a very powerful and detailed picture of the centrality of religion to his early years, and I quickly recognised a polymath striving to find his way through so much curiosity and so many paths of knowledge. He shows how he arrived at his earliest glimpses of the workings and power of the unconscious, and the shadow, in his life. When he moves on to his development as an analyst, we can see clearly the evolution of his therapeutic methodology, and how it has influenced the ways many current practitioners work. There is an astonishing bravery and confidence during those days of psychoanalysis in its relative infancy, almost a ‘make it up as you go along’ approach. Jung’s split with Freud is explained quite clearly: Jung could not go along with his colleague’s attribution of sexual origins to all neuroses, and quite soon was ploughing his own furrow, Freud merely being an episode in the progress of Jung’s life and work.

I find the descriptions of various cases fascinating and often wonder if such arcane and weird-sounding issues present themselves nowadays, as presented themselves to the likes of Freud and Jung, or whether today’s mental health issues are very different.

Some chapters are very challenging, both to read and to understand; Jung’s confrontation with the unconscious felt almost like an episode of madness to me, and the revelations he enjoyed reminded me of the effects of hallucinogenic drugs. I was continually astonished by his phenomenally detailed memory for his dreams and visions.

Jung’s studies, reading, researches and thinking represent an enormous work of synthesis across many fields, psychology, history, mythology, alchemy, religion, literature, and reflect the complexity both of his past and development, and through him, our understanding of that of the human race as a whole. There seems to be a much broader scope in his approach to the human mind and consciousness than in Freud’s work, as far as I can recall it. And I was intrigued – and will reflect further on this – by a sense of his influence on Philip Pullman’s vision of the afterlife as pictured in the Northern Lights trilogy…

As his life progressed, there was increasing emphasis on the importance and significance of the spiritual element, in its broadest sense, to human life, and the consequences of our neglect or rejection of this aspect of ourselves. I was also struck by Jung’s humility, in spite of the scope of his life’s achievement, by his recognition of his own, and humans’ limitations generally, and by the way he reached acceptance and contentment in his terms, as his life drew to a close.

Not an easy read, but a very thought-provoking and satisfying one.

Frieda Fordham: An Introduction to Jung’s Psychology

November 1, 2021

     I’ve been re-visiting Jung recently, and went back to this introductory text, which is quite old now (Fordham actually knew Jung towards the end of his life). Briefly I wondered why I hadn’t chosen a more recent general text, but I’m finding – perhaps because of my age – that older texts are better organised, more carefully expressed and often much better referenced; this one has an excellent glossary. I’m sure the receptiveness of our brains changes, and has been shaped by our age, and our education, too.

One thing that is quite striking is how dated some of the attitudes and behaviours ascribed to men and women sound today; Jung and Fordham were both of a particular time, and this particular flaw does not invalidate their explanations. In fact, a reaction to what we now call sexist language and attitudes is a useful touchstone in a way, for evaluating the soundness of the underlying ideas: you slow down as you read in order to argue with the text and check how sound the arguments are.

The importance attributed to the unconscious is central to Jung’s exploration and understanding of how we humans ‘work’ mentally and emotionally, and it’s stressed that the unconscious isn’t just a sort of dustbin for the unacceptable parts of us, but something far broader and deeper. Accepting that there is much going on below the surface that is an integral part of us is part of a journey to wholeness; concepts such as the animus/anima and the shadow can be helpful in furthering our self-understanding.

I had not recalled – or perhaps not noticed previously – how much Jung focuses on the second half of life, and this is surely part of the reason that I have returned to his after a good many years. Neither had I taken on board his interest in alchemy, as part of his researches, and reflecting on more recent times I wondered if he would have explored the uses of various psychotropic drugs…

Again I have been struck by the modernity in his methods of analysis, particularly the idea that the work done by analyst/counsellor and client/worker but be open, shared: both are working towards a resolution of the issues and there is no cut-and-dried interpretation to be handed down like stone tablets from analyst to ‘patient’. Such an approach is intrinsic to so much contemporary counselling and psychotherapy.

Overall I have been impressed by the breadth of Jung’s research and knowledge and the way he has attempted to synthesise so much material. It’s not the complete answer for me, but a very useful tool to have on the journey, and Frieda Fordham’s book is mostly a very lucid introduction.

Carl Jung: Modern Man in Search of a Soul

September 21, 2021

     The main overall impression I gained from this book, published almost a century ago, is how much psychoanalysis has moved on in that time, in terms of its methods, procedures and outcomes, and also how far ahead of his time Jung was, even though he wrote using language which is rather impenetrable nowadays.

He warns against ‘suggestions’ from the ‘analyst’, advising that progress comes from what the client brings to a session; here we see the current way, where the ‘client/worker’ does the work through speaking and making connections, and cannot not remain passive during a therapy session, cannot, having talked for their hour, then have the ‘solution’ to their ‘problems’ presented by the expert analyst.

We see Jung’s clear awareness that people like Freud, Adler and himself were at the very earliest stages in the development of what we now call psychotherapy. Freud and Jung had initially focused on dreams, whereas today the emphasis has shifted to feelings, with dreams perhaps a significant part of what a client brings along. And Jung’s big discovery is the unconscious, and its contribution to us as individuals, and the collective unconscious and its effect on us as a species. There is a humility on Jung’s part in the way he describes so much as a work in progress, and is often quite tentative in what he is suggesting. He does place a lot of emphasis on dreams, which he saw as a useful ‘way in’ to what was going on. There is also a very interesting chapter on art and artists and the potential of art as therapy, which is now something used quite widely and commonly in various schools of psychotherapy.

He also seems to have been ahead of his time in considering the need to be working with healthy as well as unhealthy minds, in terms of developing a greater understanding of how we human beings ‘work’. And I was aware, all the time I was reading, of the huge shadow cast over Europe and its peoples by the horrors of the First World War, which had only ended relatively recently…

The other area where I feel Jung makes a significant contribution is in his recognition of the importance of a spiritual element in the human psyche, no matter what actual language or terminology we use to explore and describe it. For Jung, acknowledging this is necessary to a balanced life. He wrestles with a number of complexities here, but his ideas fit in with his key notion of the collective unconscious.

There is a great deal of thoughtful and measured wisdom and goodness in what he writes, and in the way he writes, even if it is now rather dated and unfamiliar language; it’s certainly worth the effort. Jung is much more spiritual or religious than I remember him from previous reading many years ago, and yet also far more modern in terms of his vision of how the counsellor-therapist and her/his client must work together to succeed.

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