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“Tradition meaning and grounding” is a phrase that might conjure up some very staid images. Yet grounding and a sense of meaning are fundamental human needs — archetypal needs.
Tradition is fundamental to our psychological health, and has its roots in archetype and the basic human need for meaning. Yet, tradition, which sometimes can seem so restrictive, can be lived out in ways that liberate us, and free us to be ourselves, in the best “tradition” of /a-midlife-transition!
In Canada, we’re approaching the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, which we celebrate considerably earlier than our American friends. Celebrating such a traditional holiday in 2017 brings up all kinds of issues. Is there any way to celebrate such holiday traditions, and to still be authentic, and truly ourselves?
Archetypal Roots of Tradition
From a Jungian perspective, we can say that most traditions in human life have an archetypal foundation. In holidays like Canadian or U.S. Thanksgiving, or the various harvest festivals celebrated worldwide, we certainly see an archetypal core to the celebration. The impulse to gratitude is fundamental in humans, whether it is expressed as gratitude to the ancestors, the spirits, the gods and goddesses, God or Goddess, or simply, the Universe or Life. From prehistoric times, humans have found ways to express their gratitude, and have found satisfaction, grounding, and perhaps even healing in doing so.
As with many characteristic human behaviours, traditions like Thanksgiving are tied to our need to feel rooted or grounded, or at home in the universe. They are also powerful forces that help us feel more connected to others, especially those close to us. There is also research, such as that of U. Minnesota’s Prof. Kathleen Vos and colleagues that shows that rituals of gratitude, or that are associated with positive occasions, just plain enhance our enjoyment of the event.
So, this urge to find tradition is deeply rooted in our conscious and unconscious minds, and our need to find a deep level of meaning in our lives.
Tradition Can be Powerfully Restrictive
The shadow side of tradition, though, is that received forms of tradition may have exactly the reverse effect on people, and may make events seem meaningless. The received traditions for Thanksgiving or Hannakah or Christmas, for some people will be incredibly invigorating and full of life and good positive associations. For others these forms of tradition may feel shallow, meaningless, or worse, may even have negative or adverse associations. Traditions not firmly rooted in the psyche of the individual may make them feel like they’re trapped in the midst of a herd of sheep.
The Individual and Tradition
As applied to traditions like Thanksgiving, /a-midlife-transition examines what traditional or ritual practices resonate with the individual. The focus is on what connects with her or his psyche both consciously, and in terms of deep unconscious connections or resonances, that are rooted in symbol or myth.
The individual may very well connect with the traditional symbolism of a holiday or festival. It may be very meaningful to an individual to have a traditional turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. In fact, that might well be the absolutely most meaningful way that the individual can keep the holiday. Such an individual should undoubtedly make turkey a central part of their holiday tradition!
Yet, for a considerable number of individuals the conventional symbolism of a holiday like Thanksgiving just doesn’t work. Yet tradition is important, as it provides grounding and meaningful connection to the human story and our shared collective unconscious stores of myth and symbol. So, it may be essential for the individual to work out their own unique expression of a tradition like Thanksgiving, which they then live out in connection with significant others in their lives. This might take surprisingly individual forms. Perhaps your family holiday repast may come to include a “traditional” Thanksgiving squash and duck pizza!
In the work of Jungian or /a-midlife-transition, finding appropriate tradition meaning and grounding will often form the basis of a true expression of the individual self, rooted in psychological depth. This is all part of our on-going journey towards wholeness.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst