Welcome to episode 23. I just came back from quite a long adventure, criss-crossing Ontario, Canada, visiting family and friends, singing, and also working with a lot of my clients that I still see virtually overseas. I’m back here in Stockholm, landing, getting my bearings again, and here with you. 

 

I was reflecting on what I wanted to talk about today. I think it’s time to do a solo podcast and reconnect. What’s on my mind is a kind of moment that I went through during my Master’s degree in psychology which was a moment that I think a lot of people go through when they study a subject with a certain intensity. It had to do with feeling kind of unmoored from some of my earlier assumptions when it came to theories of the mind of life. 

 

For practical reasons, what I would like to delve into today is this tension between an area of psychology that tends to focus on self-help solutions and looking at human beings on a particular spectrum in terms of functionality and sort of the foundation of what had brought me into the field of psychology which was much more attuned with a kind of mystification of human life. 

 

To put that in clearer terms, looking at life experience as divined in a way, in the way that we might say, “Well, that didn’t go so well but I learned from it and it was meant to be.” You don’t get a job, for instance, or a relationship ends and you can very casually say, “Oh, it was meant to be.” There’s a real question of whether that’s just us rationalizing something away or saying that to comfort ourselves or whether that is really true. What does that mean if someone says, “That was meant to be”? That betrays that we don’t really think we had much choice in the matter. 

 

I don’t know if we always scrutinize these casual assumptions in that way. But, personally, my first introduction in any profound way to psychology was to the work of Carl Jung and dreams and looking at the ways that the images and events that we dream of at night act as a kind of unconscious counterpoint to our waking life. This is the idea that there’s a kind of wisdom and logic that is always present and guiding us and there are ways that these ideas have evolved in a much more contemporary way. To an extent, this kind of literary understanding of our lives, seeing a kind of narrative in our life, stands in contrast with a more reductive way of looking at the human body and our behavior from the sort of somatic and physiological standpoint (which is somebody makes a decision not because it was divined or meant to be but out of a more reductive way of saying, “Well, there’s a craving there”). 

 

I might, in today’s podcast, stick a little bit with the foundations of my own thinking which I come back to often. They have to do with a basic idea that Carl Jung had as a kind of matrix, if you will, for psychological health. It was this basic notion that connected the ego (our conscious experience of ourselves and what we know) with what he called a kind of capital S self (this kind of broad, all containing, often unconscious, breeding ground for our creativity). Dreams and symbols from dreams would emerge from and represent these core foundational notions that we’re trying to connect with and touch. The idea is that we get glimpses of the capital S self in moments in our life (in connection with others, in spurts of creativity, or in dreams). There’s never this perpetual connection to the self so much as an increasing awareness of what it means to become who we are.

 

Another idea that I wanted to have in the back of our minds today is this notion of teleology, which is that we’re driving towards something. Whereas, in some sense, when we talk about having a crisis or something being wrong, there’s one end of the psychological spectrum which looks at that really as something being wrong. Why did you get into that car accident or what was wrong with you that you weren’t paying attention at work and you made this mistake or you missed your flights? These are very kind of pedestrian mistakes that could have been avoided. 

 

There really is a kind of tension of when and how do we treat something as just some error and when do we think about events in our life that don’t go our way as a kind of other logic that is unfolding? I don’t find it easy to hold that tension. Tune into this episode to hear more of my reflections on this topic.

Show Highlights:

  • The religious guilt that often drove people to therapy in the early 20th century.
  • How the motivations for attending therapy have changed in our modern society.
  • Why we often question if we’re “normal” when entering adulthood.
  • How we “zombify” other human beings.
  • Why I struggle with the teleological idea that everything in life has a purpose.
  • What archetypal psychology is.
  • How our body is like a symphony.
  • What happens to us when that symphony becomes so sufficiently damaged during development that it stops working properly.
  • The potential of merging the two philosophies of romance and logic.
  • Why dream work can be so powerful.
  • Why we need to address both the symbolic and physiological aspects of psychology.
  • Why existential crises will always occur and the dignity that that fact affords.

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Mitchell Smolkin is a sought-after clinician, speaker, and author. For media and interview requests please contact his publicist Randy Phipps at randy@rpcommunications.net. For all other inquiries, please send mail to info@mitchellsmolkin.com.

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