The Book of James Hollis

James_HollisI first made these notes a number of years ago while spending a week at my daughter’s home in Northern Kentucky. Regrettably, I neglected to make a note of which one of his many paper-backs, published by Inner City Books in Toronto, I gleaned this first one from.  But I do have the sources for the later ones: 

We now know something is living us even more than we are living it…. That deep down something knows our destiny… whether we wish to know it or not…. That something in us, no matter how much we flee it, summons us. And that summons is the call to become our own selves for no matter how small our role, each of us is a carrier of cosmic energy and a crucial part of a great unfolding pattern…. Something wants to live through us, and we need to allow it.

My personal vision, as I wrote in Beginnings,  is of a huge mosaic with each of us being an unique tile essential to its ever-changing wholeness, as beings die and new babies are born.  Consequently, each one of us plays a very necessary part in the great scheme of things.

Hollis again, and this next quote comes from Tracking the Gods, The Place of Myth in Modern Life (ICB, Toronto, 1995):

You are brought into this life having all that you need. You have a great force, a great spirit, a great energy within. Trust it, stay in contact with it, and it will always lead you to what is right for you. Never hurt another person, but always be true to that great inner force and you will never be alone and never without direction

What each of us owes the world is the contribution – by moving towards wholeness – of our best unique selves along with ethical behaviour and respect for every other person’s summons to be unique too.

So, he approvingly quotes Henry David Thoreau who, in Walden, wrote

that everyone mind his own business and endeavour to be what he was made. 

Hollis again: 

It is here, in this place, in this time, in this arena, that everything that we are called to live, must be lived. That recognition is the love of fate. 

For all of us the question is Who Am I? and if it cannot be answered at the level of conscious autobiography because we are all more than the sum of what has happened to us….So we become obliged to read surfaces, in order to go below surfaces… [By asking questions like]… What is going on here, what causes this, from whence in my history, or the history of the other does this arise? … [Because] …Failure to do so means that we shall suffer greatly when we are not living the life in which the psyche wishes us to live. 

When we relinquish our fantasy of control through understanding, and accept that we are a mystery, that some large life courses within us with its own goal, then we live closer to the heart of things. When we can admit that there are autonomous energies which spin forth our lives, then we are appropriately humbled by their power, their inaccessibility and their essential otherness…. But at least … [We are]… then back in the place where we are meant to be – standing before the large rather than the small. 

Individuation… [Therefore]… has to do with becoming, as nearly as one can manage the being that was set in motion by the gods as defined by forces transcendent to consciousness.

About which, in On this journey we call life, living the questions, (ICB, Toronto,2003) he continues:

To talk of the Gods is to respect the autonomy and profundity of the energies of the cosmos…. In such encounters we are restored to our proper place in the larger humanity …. What we call meditation, therapy, or sometimes even friendship, is an interactive encounter with the energy that supports us. Such occasions, to use the old language, are to invite the gods to be present. The healing of the person and the healing of the world … will not occur without the presence of those energies we metaphorically call gods…. In the end, the choice of vocation is also an acknowledgement that something is in fact calling us. And it may have little regard for what we, our ego wishes. It is what the gods’ wish that determines vocation. (Emphasis in the original).

To say that I [i.e. himself] serve Hermes …  [as, coincidentally, do I but also with Aphrodite] … is to say that what we call a god, that personified energy that moves the cosmos, drives history, has taken me. That I can choose to name the god [goddess] and choose to honour it is to be conscious rather than enslaved. Whenever we can use such fictions consciously, then we can remain awake on our journey… [So] … A worthy fiction leads to a worthy life …. To find our truth we must travel consciously, by way of our fictions. 

Lastly, we must realize that the burden of meaning has truly shifted to our own shoulders. As obvious as this may seem, the import is enormous. We are required to accept that there is no parent to lead the way, no guru, no ideology to save us from the complexity and ambiguity of life…. So this is the call, then, to be oneself, as a service to the whole of nature and to succeeding generations who depend on us to become ourselves…. [So] … I am not what is happening to me; I am what I choose to become. I am not my roles; I am my journey. I am not my limiting experience; I am the creative power of my potential.

What I am called to serve will play out differently for each of us, for we each have our own destiny, a separate vocatus. But in each case we will be served, in turn, by that which we have been summoned to serve. (Emphasis in original).

While the ultimate purpose of this journey and our unique role in the great scheme of things will remain a mystery, our questions serve us by keeping us on track. Something, and he is repeating himself here, wants to live through us, and we need to allow it, whence and wither this journey is the question of questions … Again as Jung so wisely put it, The meaning of my existence is that life has addressed a question to me … or conversely, I myself am a question. 

In that context, Hollis also points out that: 

The question of the first half of life is What is the world asking of me? …. The question for the second half is, however, quite different, What now does the soul ask of me? 

Another way of putting the first question is …. Do you have enough energy, courage, resourcefulness, to enter into this world, take on its demands, and create your own conscious place in it? 

In the second half of life the question becomes Who, now, apart from the roles you play, are you? Do you have the wherewithal to shift course, deconstruct your painfully achieved identity, risking failure, marginalization and loss of collective approval….  The whole … [of this part] … of life calls us to a spiritual, by which I mean psychological, agenda, while maintaining one’s participation in the social community. 

And, at this point, I have a need to mention that during the course of my struggles over the past few years. some women, and it was always women, would say to me, Never forget that the Goddess will never give you more than you can handle, to which Hollis, with his uncompromising integrity, gently responds, They dissemble [i.e. conceal the truth] who say that God never gives human beings more than they can bear, for the world is full of people destroyed by their own darkness or that of others, as anyone who walks the clinical wards, or reads the papers, can attest to.

In my case I see them everyday in downtown Victoria asking for money. 

Next, Hollis begins his Introduction to The Eden Project, In Search of the Magical Other (ICB Toronto, 1998) in his usual direct manner:

All relationships begin and end with separation …. The quality of our relationships is a direct function of our relationship to ourselves … [Hence] … The best thing we can do for relationships with others … is to render our relationship to ourselves more conscious, This will prove to be the most loving thing we can do for the Other. The greatest gift to others is to be our own best selves, Thus, paradoxically, if we are to serve relationship well, we are obliged to affirm our individual journey. 

And while he apologizes: I do not like the premises of my words myself, he makes no attempt to avoid reinforcing what we might call that reality: 

The evidence is strong that there are no Magical Others, that we befoul our own relationships with our own psychic debris, that the best relationship we can achieve with the intimate Other … is a function of the relationship we achieve with ourselves …. Then the most loving thing we can do for those we claim to love, and for the world, is to withdraw our projections and consciously assimilate them into our personal journey. But who wants to hear that?

Lastly, from the opening Chapter of “Creating a Life, Finding Your Individual Path (ICB, Toronto, 2000): 

Were therapists required by truth in advertising legislation to tell their reality … [to their clients] … they would be obliged to say at least three things: First, you will have to deal with this core issue for the rest of your life [which his equally renowned colleague, James Hillman describes as the childhood wound that never heals] and, at best, you will manage to win a few skirmishes in your long uncivil war with yourself …. Second, you will be obliged to disassemble the many forces you have gathered to defend against the wound. At this late date [the second half of your life] it is your defences, not your wound, that cause the problem and arrest your journey …. And, third, you will not be spared pain, vouchsafed wisdom or granted exemption from future suffering … [so] … Therapy will not heal you, make your problems go away or make your life work out. It will, quite simply, make your life more interesting … but it is an immense gift, a stupendous contribution. Think of it: your life might become more interesting to you. Consciousness is the gift, and that is the best it gets. 

In that connection, he quotes Jung who once said, “The reason why consciousness exists, and why there is an urge to widen and deepen it is very simple: without consciousness things go less well”.

But then Hollis adds this seeming contradiction:

How … can we believe we choose if we do not know the place from which our choice emanates? As Jung said time and time again, whoever has discovered the power of the unconscious knows thereafter that he is not the master in his own house. 

And he ends his thoughts about consciousness this way: 

The message of loss and grief and betrayal is that we cannot take anything or anyone for granted [Alan Watts calls this The Wisdom of Insecurity]; cannot spare ourselves acute pain. But what abides is the invitation to consciousness. We are neither our point of origin nor our goal … we are the journey itself. Loss, grief and betrayal are just dismal places we must unwillingly visit … [but] … are as much a part of the journey as the places where we feel respite and would tarry. The great rhythm of gain and loss is outside of our control; what is within our control is the attitude of willingness to find in even the bitterest of losses what remains to be lived. 

Finally, and shades of Mark Twain, Our experience is simply our experience and not what may have actually happened.

That is so true, isn’t it?