I’m in love. Don’t worry, it’s likely just an infatuation with a 78-year-old man named James Hollis Ph.D. I first encountered his work a month or two ago and since then I’ve read articles and listened to every podcast and YouTube lecture from him I could find. Who is he and why am I infatuated? On the surface Hollis is a practicing Jungian analyst and depth psychologist, author of over 15 books, a public speaker, and the former executive director of the Jung Society of Washington D.C. What I find particularly attractive are the thoughts and ideas that he routinely illuminates—a big part of which is the examination of our lives as we mature and enter the second half of life. And in spite of the many distractions we all face, I can’t help but be captivated by the goldmine of introspection he offers for those of us who are drawn to greater self-discovery and awareness, along with other insights about the innermost workings of our psyche.
First a little more background. Hollis by his own admission started out like many in our society by climbing the ladder of success. He graduated from a good collage, landed a professorship at a private University, got married, had children and enjoyed what appeared to be a perfect life. That was until he turned 35 and suddenly he was gripped by a major depression and feelings of emptiness. He first began his own therapy, and ended up in Switzerland where he studied to become an analyst at the Jung Institute. Once licensed, he opened a private practice in Houston and then D.C. by carrying out the work that his soul guided him to create.
At the core of Hollis’s work is Jungian analysis. But surprising to me was the admission that the people who come to see him aren’t there to be fixed from their “issues.” According to Hollis, the symptoms of pathology are not aspects to be fixed or even moved beyond—they are there as indicators of what our soul feels needs our attention. Hollis believes that most of psychological issues people face like depression, anxiety, paranoia and addictions are really messages from within our psyche about where we are unconscious or aren’t being true to ourselves. Are we listening? It depends. According to Hollis it takes either courage or desperation to be willing to follow through with what is being asked of us from inside.
When do many of those messages start showing up? Chances are good that most of us will face a time in the future (if we haven’t already) when our deepest self will revolt, telling us we are living an agenda that isn’t right for our Soul. Hollis calls that point, “The second half of life.” While it often happens at midlife, it can happen at any pivotal time where some life event occurs that is difficult to ignore. Things like a death of a loved one, a divorce, getting fired from a job, or facing a life-threatening illness, an empty nest, retirement, or anything that rocks your world. All those events can cause our psyche to insist on our questioning the roles we’ve blindly accepted or many of the choices we’ve unconsciously made merely because that is the way we felt we needed to when young.
Of course we can try to will, ignore or push those messages away. Some people do it their entire lives. But again, if we are desperate enough, or have the courage, we can stop and do our best to discover what our deepest Self wants us to know. And while Hollis typically uses the word soul, he doesn’t mean it in a religious way. His perspective is that we all have a deep inner awareness that holds the blueprint for why we were born and what we are here to do. If we listen and allow it to guide us, we will live a life of congruency and authenticity. Of course that doesn’t mean it will be easy or comfortable, only that it will fulfill the purpose and meaning we were born to live. Or, as the Gospel of Thomas said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
I could actually write for another hour or two about some of the insights I’ve gained so far from this man, but this is where I want to start. In fact, if you listened to the first SMART Living vlog that I posted last week, I revealed that my word-of-the-year (or WOTY) is “Yes!” What I didn’t say there was that I got the idea from James Hollis. In one of his interviews he explains that every morning each of us wake up with two gremlins sitting at the foot of our bed. One gremlin is fear. Fear that we aren’t good enough, fear that others will judge us if we don’t toe the line, fear that tells us we’ll look stupid if we do something, fear encouraging us to play it safe, be careful …need I go on? The other gremlin is lethargy. That gremlin tells us, “Don’t worry about it. What can you do anyway? Let someone else fix the problem. Go shopping or self-medicate. Just stay busy, entertain yourself, and everything will be fine.” Both of those gremlins are aspects of our personality (our shadow) that want to keep us small and comfortable. So for me, instead of letting my life be guided by either fear or lethargy in 2020, I intend to do my best to let my innermost being direct my path. I intend to listen and say “Yes!” to what I am guided to do and be in the 365 days ahead.
Of course, it’s necessary to accept from the beginning that the purpose of our life is not just to be safe, predictable or live a life of comfort. And believe me I twinge a bit even as I write that because who doesn’t like to be comfortable now and then? But what are we sacrificing if we choose safety and routine day-in and day-out? Hollis teaches that in spite of our ego demands or our shadow personality, our psyche is here for developmental growth, learning and enlargement. Yet he continually reminds us, “it takes a strong sense of self and no little courage to examine and take responsibility for these darker selves when they show up.” It is so much easier just to deny them, run from them, blame or project on others, or bury our issues, rather than to consciously and lovingly look them in the eye and listen to what they are attempting to teach us.
If Hollis has a recommendation for us as we navigate our second half of life, it is to keep asking questions and remember that none of us “are getting out alive anyway.” He urges us to “grow up, show up and to step into it (our lives) more fully.” He also likes to quote Jung who reminds us that, “Life is a short pause between two great mysteries.” So let us live a life in service to our highest most innermost voice to the best of our ability. Also according to Hollis, “It’s not what we do that matters…it’s what it is in service to inside.” If we can ask and then follow that suggestion, we will surely discover the meaning and purpose we were born to fulfill.
I’m not sure if I’ve been able to communicate even a bit of the ideas that I’ve picked up from this man in the last few weeks. But my attraction has started me asking myself deeper and more honest questions as I head into this new decade. We all have forces in the world telling us what to do and who to be. Perhaps the SMART challenge, and certainly mine, is to say “Yes!” to that voice within and follow where it leads.
For anyone who is interested, here is a link to the first podcast I listened to that got me hooked. Insights On the Edge with Tami Simon