Speaker, professor, Jungian analyst and bestselling author Dr. James Hollis joins us on Soul Sessions to discuss Carl Jung’s Individuation process and topics found in his new book, “A Life of Meaning.” Our culture tells us to seek wealth, power, prestige, or even enrollment in someone else’s idea of a worthy cause—yet where do we turn when these paths fail to fulfill our need for purpose? In this episode, we explore:
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Individuation: A Conversation with James Hollis, PhD Transcript
Debra Maldonado 00:00
Welcome to Soul Sessions with CreativeMind with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado of CreativeMind. Join us each week for inspiring conversation about personal development based on Jungian philosophy, Eastern spirituality, and social neuroscience. Spend each week with us to explore deep topics in a practical way. Let's begin.
Robert Maldonado 00:28
The interview with Dr. Hollis is a dream come true for me. We always half jokingly ask ourselves, if this was a dream, how would we interpret this? For us, Dr. Hollis represents the archetypal man of knowledge, holding up the lamp of wisdom so that everyone can find their true path. It's a special interview that we did. He's full of wisdom, so generous with his time, so willing to share his knowledge of Jungian psychology. Thank you for tuning in.
Debra Maldonado 01:05
I had many goosebumps during that interview. We can't wait for you to hear it. It's coming right now.
Robert Maldonado 01:13
Everyone can find their true path. It's a special interview that we did. He's full of wisdom, so generous with his time, so willing to share his knowledge of Jungian psychology. Thank you for tuning in.
Debra Maldonado 01:32
I had many goosebumps during that interview. We can't wait for you to hear it. It's coming right now.
Dr. Hollis 01:39
We’re aware that the world has slipped out of our hands — as if it were ever in our hands. We're close to the process of individuation as infants because we're governed by instinct. Instinct tells us what is right for the organism, whatever it may be. But as we all know, we're tiny, vulnerable, dependent on our environment. We start making adaptations and interpretations. We ask ourselves: Is the other reliable or not? Is the other something I can approach or do I need to keep my distance? We learned basic strategies of adaptation and survival in our earliest days. The greater the adaptations, potentially, the greater the separation one experiences from one's own core. That's why the world of psychopathology exists. When I use the word “psychopathology,” it's not a judgment in any way. It's a description of our disturbances and interrupted relationships with our own instinctual and soulful life. The whole project of life is to what degree can you serve that which is wishing expression in the world through you, which may or may not have anything to do with your ego, may or may not have anything to do with making you wealthy or successful by social standards. But there's something in you that is imperious, that's demanding, that is wishing expression, and it's about becoming who you are. That's why we're here in the first place. Each of us is a tiny chip in a large mosaic. We may feel insignificant at times, but then you take those chips away, and what is the mosaic? It's deprived. Individuation is a word for the natural developmental process that's built into us genetically, the struggle to recover a relationship to it and to serve that rather than serve whatever the environmental demands might be at any given moment.
Robert Maldonado 03:42
How do we do this, given that we know now there's a strong genetic component to behavior. Behavioral genetics has given us a different perspective than in Jung's time of what forces shape our personality. We have behavioral genetics, we have epigenetics now, our understanding of how our forefathers’ experiences are passed down to us and how we inherit those processes. Also, of course, the powerful force of conditioning, the things we experience in our families and in our culture. Given all those elements, how is it that we start to develop this sense of self we call the ego, the persona?
Dr. Hollis 04:34
The sense of self is quite different than the self. When Jungians talk about the self, it's with a capital S, so to speak. It's that organizing developmental agenda that's built into our nature, our sense of self is our conscious understanding of that. Of course, our sense of self can be highly dependent upon what's happening around us. If we ask ourselves, why should a child be scarred or influenced by, say, poverty, or disease, or alcoholism, or racism or whatever because it's outside of them? Of course, every child is reading the world to try to see what its message is. What do you think about me? Who am I in relation to you? How am I to conduct myself? What is safe and what is unsafe? And so forth. Again, there's an inherent conflict between socialization and the natural growth and development. Now, obviously, some socialization is necessary. A lot of that socialization is productive and helpful. We learn to stop at stop signs, we learn to look both ways before we cross the street, we learn to use a knife and fork. These are hardly impositions upon the self trying to self if you will. But when it comes to fitting in, being adaptive, feeling permission to be who you are, to desire what you desire, to undertake the projects that speak to you, that's a whole different question. Most of us have a very conditional sense of self. I can do this or do that, if such and such is true. Or if I'm a good person, these things are available to me and these things are not, and so forth. Yet there's always a deep yearning in the psyche for self expression. It’s not from a conscious standpoint or even an ego standpoint, it's more about what is it that is wishing expression through me. The neurobiologists have much to teach us, but the thing that is missing in their considerations is that we are meaning seeking, meaning creating animals, we suffer terribly when we're disconnected from meaning. As Jung said once, the smallest of things with meaning is always larger than the largest of things without meaning. Therefore, we experience the disconnect from meaning. Something inside of us is in grave peril. That's where most human beings are, because we’re creatures of adaptation, that's how we survive, that’s how we managed on this planet. At the same time, as I suggested before, the greater the adaptation, the potentially greater the disconnect from inside. Then that rises as a protest from the psyche, by symptomatology and loss of connection, loss of meaning, or depression, whatever form it takes. It's that that we tend to treat rather than the underlying problem: does this person have a sense of permission to live their journey? I found that most individuals don't feel a deep sense of permission in life, because we learned early that life is conditional, you have to meet the condition to be acceptable. Even love becomes a test as it were. My parents will love me if I do X and Y, they won't if I do something else. That carries over into adult life. The recovery of permission and the recovery of personal authority, that is to say, from the multitudes of desires and pressures upon us at any given moment, which voices come from the depths, which ones are true for me? Can I find the courage to live them in this world? That's where we find ourselves on a daily basis.
Robert Maldonado 08:29
The image I get is, because we’re social creatures and need to fit into the tribe, the family, the social system, we sacrifice our true nature, our essence, we feel survival is more important at this point. I have to establish a beachhead in life, the only way I can do it is through the development and the identification with an ego persona that will give me safety, people won't reject me, they won't think I'm strange, I'll fit in. Is it the creation of the shadow that we push away or hide what's not adaptive to us?
Dr. Hollis 09:23
That's well said. We do tend to repress or impose on others what is not acceptable and what is not permitted to us. Again, we suffer a disease inside because we’re separating from some of our most vital energies. The persona is a Greek word that means “mask” after all, originally it came from “sonar”, “to sound”, what’s the sound that comes through, who you really are is mask. The opposite of the mask in a sense is my full humanity, which includes elements I or my society reject or control, therefore it becomes shadow material. The ego consciousness is whipsawed between them from time to time. Again, if we serve only the persona world, we’ll be shallow creatures of adaptation. Much of life is on automatic pilot, we live perhaps for decades on stimulus response until something comes to a person that says “This can't be permitted to continue, I have to change something, this is what life is calling me to do.” We could say, and this is a very crude distinction, but the first half of life is about building that ego world. I leave my parents, I step out into the world, I say to an employer “Hire me, you can trust me to show up and do the job you're paying me for.” We form a relationship, “Trust me in this relationship, because I'll meet you halfway”, and so forth. Then having done all of that, somewhere around 35-40- 45-50, one begins to say “Where do we go from here? What's this about really? What is my journey, since I've already in some way achieved these goals in life? Where might you go from here?” If so, you have to remember, in 1900, the average length of life in North America, US and Canada, was 47. We've virtually doubled that in our time. One could say, having served the biological functions of reproducing the species and becoming socially adaptive creatures, why are we still here? Nature doesn't need us anymore. How are we to live our life? That's already raising questions of the life, of the spirit, which is to say “What values do I give myself? What is my calling here? Who am I apart from my achievements in life, my resume, my house in the suburbs?”. All of these things began to rise for a person and the meaning of their life, it is the degree to which they're willing to address those questions head on in the second half of life. That's how you get your life back again. However, I want to emphasize this many times, the price of not going is death of the spirit, the price of leaving the conventional is to experience some form of exile. One has to be willing to accept one's exile from the conventional standards in order to step into your journey. I don't mean this in an adolescent sense of flaunting authorities or anything like that. That's very infantile. As I said, if you don't serve what is wanting expression through you, there is some terrible deformation of the soul. The soul responds symptomatically and will have what Kierkegaard called the sickness unto death, which is a terrible depression that leads to despair.
Robert Maldonado 14:06
In my early work, I did a lot of psychotherapy. There was this sense of hopelessness and emptiness, these lethal levels of meaninglessness people experience that literally shatter the person's view of themselves and their life. What's possible for them in life? Are we all meant to individuate, to undergo this transformation?
Dr. Hollis 14:36
By definition, yes. The acorn is meant to be the oak tree. That's its nature. We all have a nature that seeks to unfold and express itself, to exfoliate into the world. Not many acorns become—
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Dr. Hollis 15:45
Where social definitions prevail over their natural developmental process. They can't really express themselves, because their social climate will not allow that. History has been full of that as we know it. This is why human misery has always been showing up. Because, again, there's some imposition of the world upon the natural developmental process of that acorn that's struggling to become the oak tree. The answer to the question is yes, all of us are meant to serve, not ego consciousness per se, because my development may put me in harm's way. That's something everybody has to experience as an internal conflict. Speaking as an introvert, for example, I've lived an extroverted life. But it's because I've been in service to a certain mission, which has been public education for several decades now. Public education is something that is of sufficient value to me that I'm willing to override my inherent shyness and apprehensions around public disclosure. My school teachers as a child were my heroes, because those dear ladies plus a neighborhood librarian offered to me a larger world. They showed me something worth affirming, and I look back upon that as the real place of my nurturance where I got some sense that there's a big world out there, maybe you can go out and explore parts of it. I’ve been identified with education ever since.
Robert Maldonado 17:28
Assuming that a person is able to navigate this first phase of individuation processes and begins to confront the personal unconscious, they're able to integrate the shadow. What does that lead to? What happens internally to their energy systems?
Dr. Hollis 17:53
For one thing, we'll never integrate the shadow. It's as large as the universe any more than we would integrate the unconscious. I often define, first of all, the ego as a thin wafer floating on iridescent ocean. That ocean is the unconscious, it can easily overwhelm consciousness and possess it, it happens to us all the time. There are clusters of energy in unconscious that, when triggered, come up and take over ego consciousness. That's what happens when we fall victim to a complex, we all have complexes. Word “complex” comes from the original German and means “structure”, like airport complex, apartment complex. If you, as an infant, walk up and touch that hot iron, you now have a story, you now have an experience. How is that going to play out in your overall understanding of self and world? Does that make you frightened of every shiny object? Does it protect you? Does it limit you? How does that get internalized? That seems like a trivial example, but you take those examples multiplied by the thousands and realize that the inter psychic life is swarming with clusters of energy we have around everything: riding a bicycle, learning to use skates, etc., not to mention our relationships to other people, which are fraught with significance for obvious reasons. Again, underneath all of this is this nascent soul that is wishing expression and acceptance in the world and may have to fight through a lot of obstacles to get there.
Robert Maldonado 19:37
It's more of coming to terms with the shadow. We're coming to terms with that tension between persona and shadow.
Dr. Hollis 19:48
It means a continuing conversation the rest of one's life. Again, let's not associate shadow with evil. Our biggest shadow issue, as you pointed out, is that we live small lives. That's a significant statement. Our understandable need for safety, satiety, security can prevail. We can collude with shutting down our own talents, or callings, or capacities. As the old saying goes, not many people on their deathbed look back and say “I wish I had spent more time at the office” or something like that. It's usually “I wish I'd undertaken that trip I always wanted to take”, or “I wish I'd started painting when I really wanted to”, “I wish I'd spent more time with my children.” Whatever form it takes, there is a shadow issue for that individual. Why is it that you're blocked from doing that? What keeps you from seeing that in the first place? Those are shadow issues. Living a small protected adaptive life is understandable. There are parts of us that are drawn to that. But again, what if your inner life caused you to journey of one kind or another? Emily Dickinson took a lot of journeys, but she never left home, so to speak, in a physical sense. But she certainly traveled psycho spiritually. She did so at some price from her own family and her community. If she hadn't, we’d never have heard of her. It doesn't mean we're here to achieve celebrity or anything like that, that can be very superficial and elusive. It's rather that what if the voice you're looking to express or embody is never heard in this world? Among writers, for example, there is a cliche, “you have to find your own voice”. What does that mean? Young writers start out trying to emulate Hemingway, or Fitzgerald, or one of these current writers. It's flat and imitative, because it's not their voice. How do you find your voice? You have to somehow risk that. When you do that, you step into your greater capacity. Individuation is about finding your voice in life and speaking whatever needs to be spoken.
Robert Maldonado 22:19
I can see why Jung says somewhere that confronting your shadow requires great moral courage.
Dr. Hollis 22:25
He gave a lecture at Yale University in 1937 where he said “If you could imagine a person courageous enough to take on their own shadow, that person is saddled now with a new problem.” I'm paraphrasing him here. “That person's problem is that he or she can no longer say “they do this or that, they are at fault this.” One has to be able to see the same within oneself. The wisest thing ever said about the shadow was by the Latin playwright Terrence who said “Nothing human is alien to me.” I have to accept that the murderer, the beggar, the cheat, the liar, and a saint are all intro psychic aspects of my personality. If I'm in denial of them, they're operating unconsciously, either by unconscious behaviors or I have certain projections on certain people. I'm drawn to them, or I'm repelled by them because they're carrying my shadow. Another good definition was from Jesus who said “I can see a speck in your eye, but I'm missing the log in my own eye.” I can see your problems, your hesitations, your blockages, but I'm not addressing my own. That's again, shadow material.
Robert Maldonado 23:50
It appears that for them to shift the focus from seeing the world as separate and independent of our mind to understanding that I'm participating in the creation and the meaning of my experience of life.
Dr. Hollis 24:11
That's true. What do we bring to this mess, this mixture of natural forces? Jung said we bring the capacity for consciousness. He told a wonderful story about being on an expedition in Africa. It was either in Uganda or Kenya at the time. One morning he got up before his party, walked out and stood at dawn. He said “I felt as if I'd entered into a new time-space relationship. I felt I was in the first place, an Edenic arena.” He talks about these great herds of animals drifting by timelessly and cries of the scavenger birds looking for prey. He said “I had this overwhelming sense of why I had been brought to this mix, our task here is to bring consciousness to brute being, make nature conscious in some way.” Of course, the question is, what do we do with that consciousness? That's another whole different story. But it's at least an interesting thought that the human animal has evolved, its brain has developed over many millennia and now is capable of enormous beauty and compassion on the one hand, and terrifying violence and oppression on the other hand.
Robert Maldonado 25:44
This leads to the second question regarding the collective unconscious, because the personal unconscious is where the shadow is housed, our personal history and all the personal complexes. As we move, as we go deeper into the psyche, through introspection, questioning the nature and the purpose of our life, we start to tap into deeper layers of the unconscious mind that Jung calls the collective unconscious. Could you elaborate and tell us a little bit more about how we use that layer. How do we relate to that deeper layer of the unconscious mind?
Dr. Hollis 26:34
What Jung means by the collective unconscious is what is common to our species. I just referenced us as humans, one branch of an evolutionary tree that developed increased cognition for good and for ill in the world. Look at our ecological crisis in which we find ourselves. It was created by us, not by animals, not plants, it's created by us. We're a problematic animal here. The collective unconscious represents the core factory of images, if you will. You could dream tonight a dream that’s virtually identical to a dream dreamt millennia ago. Why? Because our symbol making faculty is pretty much the same. We know there are certain tendencies in human behavior that are predictable. If you look at the houses of government or the houses of religion, you'll find enormous conflict and disarray in our time. That's because these conflicts are playing out, same old mistakes are made, same old temptations are present. What is done in one millennium is repeated in another one or ripples through the generations. We know that, the evidence is obvious, you just have to be a student of that. When you begin to realize that, then you realize that humanity over the last few thousands years hasn't changed much. Our technology has changed, our social structures have changed, our social values, our stories have changed. The human psyche is pretty much the same. There's something in us that we can find in our brother Oedipus or our sister Antigone. There's something these ancient playwrights were able to identify as lying at the core of human temptation on the one hand and the human capacity for transformation on the other hand, that’s common to us as well. When we study these things, it's not a studying the ancient, because it's studying the contemporary. Contemporary deity of the symbol making formation that each of us has an eye for. An archetype is the structuring process of these images. One of the most common of archetypal expressions is the idea of the journey. It's something I allude to frequently. We're always in motion towards something. Every morning we rise facing an archetypal struggle. As I've noted in various books, at the foot of the bed are two gremlins. One is called Fear. The other is called Lethargy. Both want to eat you up for today. Fear says “It's too much for you. It's too challenging, you can't manage it.” Lethargy says “Chill out, tomorrow's another day, have some chocolate.” And the summons is to shut up and show up, step into that, stand on your own two feet and live your life as fully as you can that day and every day. That archetypal struggle is there between progression and regression. As Jung wrote back in 1912, the spirit of evil, which is strong language, the spirit of evil is negation of the life force by fear. Only boldness can deliver us from fear. If the risk is not taken, the meaning of life is violated. That's pretty clear. Nobody enjoys fear, quite the contrary. But fear governs your life because it make your decisions for you. Where do you step in and fight the good fight against it? We may never got get rid of those fears. But we still have to live our life in the face of it. It’s one thing to have fears, it's something else to have a fearful life, it's quite different. That's the struggle all of us go through. That's the timeless struggle all human beings have had to deal with it. There's a marvelous passage in Marcus Aurelius’ accounts. He's on the frontier of fighting the Teutonic forces. He says to himself “I wanted to stay in bed this morning, it's cold out there.” Then he says “But what have you been called to do with your life?” It's not to come here and pull the blanket over your head. It’s to get up and stand in the face of what is such a threat to your life and well being. These are images and tendencies that come from the collective unconscious, they are timeless. They can be found as we study the scriptures and the artworks and the religious traditions of the ancient world.
Robert Maldonado 31:42
Which brings us to today these institutions, these traditional practices seem to have fallen away and people don't have something to replace them. It's replaced by materialism, consumerism, hedonism instead of a genuine social structure to take people through a transformational process. What do you think we can do about that? How do we get back on track?
Dr. Hollis 32:15
That's a very good question, and I don't think there's an answer to it. But I certainly would suggest a couple of notions here. First of all, the purpose of an institution is very valid, it's to try to preserve a respected experience of some kind and to transmit it to the subsequent generations. That's what an institution does. Of course, as you get further and further from the original experiences that gave rise to that institution, it's harder and harder to transmit it. It's replaced by structural values. The law of institutions, the primary purpose of the institution evolved to the point that it is to preserve the institution itself, even at the expense, perhaps, of the original inspiring experiences, and secondly, to protect its priesthood of whatever kind. It could be in academia, it could be in churches, it could be in government, whatever. Again, the purpose of those experiences was to link people to the four orders of mystery, the mystery of the cosmos. Why are we here? What's the purpose of this universe? Is there a universe? Are there gods? What is their intention for us? How are we to behave toward them? What happens after our deaths? These are timeless questions, they don't go away. But the capacity of a local culture or institution is to effectively mediate them where it actually produces a felt change or experience within the person, wanes over the subsequent generations. The second order of mystery was the mystery of nature. How are we to live in harmony with nature rather than in opposition to it? Third is a social perspective. Who are my people? Who is my tribe? Where is my home? To what degree do I stay within that tradition or to what degree do I depart from it? Again, based on the individuation imperative. Fourth is the individual or psychological task. Who am I as a person, separate from, say, my siblings, or my ancestors? How am I to govern my life? How do I make choices? By what perspectives and standards do I make choices? Those are the timeless questions or timeless spheres of engagement. The question then is, do the images available from my culture help me mediate for that or feel served by that? The truth in our time is, as happening over the last two centuries, there's a waning of the power of the institutions to effectively mediate that. Therefore, individuals will fall back either into the unconscious or turn outwardly to popular culture. As you just suggested, the operative religions of our time in terms of popular culture, is our materialism, the fantasy that my spiritual emptiness can be assuaged by purchasing an object of some kind. If that works, we’d know it by now. It doesn't or works only for a short length of time, which then generates the need to keep buying something, it becomes an addiction. Secondly, hedonism, the search for pleasure as opposed to meaning. Thirdly, narcissism, self absorption. Everything we're talking about in terms of individual is not narcissism. Ironically, narcissism is about buttressing a weak ego. A true narcissist is an empty person, a true narcissist looks in the mirror and no one stares back. This is not narcissism or self absorption. This is about the ego serving something that is worthy of its service. That's a different question. One of the things that one has to ask is “What is worthy of my service?" My own answer through the years, as I've already suggested, has always been education. I've always been interested in learning and sharing what that learning is about. It was so meaningful in my own life, why would I not want to share that with others? That's something that is innate to me. It's not necessarily to someone else, they have their own summons, their own appointments with the soul. The question is, of course, will they show up for that appointment?
Robert Maldonado 36:53
Jung was always talking about the tension between these opposing dualities, the persona and the shadow, the conscious and the unconscious. Through individuation, we move from the tension between the persona and the shadow, the personal unconscious into this larger sphere of seeing that we're part of a bigger process of the individual and the collective, the tension between what it means for me to be an individual in this larger collective of humanity.
Dr. Hollis 37:32
By asking that question, you're being determined that this is not a narcissistic endeavor, it's really about service, because in the second half of life, the service you're asked for is to give your energy to something that really matters. It could be your relationships with other people. I've also been a therapist through these years. Both as a teacher, as a therapist, as a writer, these are forms of services, I don't see them that much as self expression as being a vehicle or mediator between the material that we're looking at, the material, the unconscious, the history, whatever the source is at the moment, and trying to interpret that, to facilitate that as an experiential engagement for the individual. That's a dynamic process. For other people, the question is what is worth your service? I've had so many people through the years say “I always wanted to learn the piano, always wanted to learn Italian or Spanish, or something.” Again, you have to ask the question, why didn't you? There are usually excuses. “I didn't have the money. I had children.” All true. Yet, there's the appointment with the soul that was not kept. That's the problem. Why didn't I keep my appointment with my own soul? As painter Chuck Close said, who just passed away last year, a lot of artists think you have to wait for inspiration. Professionals don’t, they show up early at the studio and get to work. That's true. 100% of the writing I've done through the years has been at the end of a workday. It's not like I was sitting in some cushy position where I could just write to my heart's content. It was always to earn a living like every other person, I did that as a psychotherapist. But then the writing comes in evenings and that means sacrificing one's need for rest, for diversion, etc. But is the sacrifice worth it? That's the key. What's worthy of your sacrifice? Because if you don't sacrifice to something worthy, you're sacrificing to something that in the end is not worthy. That won't serve in any way to enhance your journey or the journey that you share with others.
Robert Maldonado 39:59
I never thought of it that way. It gets at what is the meaning of purpose. When we say it's the purpose of my life, it's something that's worthy of my sacrifice, that I can devote my energy to.
Dr. Hollis 40:18
As the word suggests, “sacra” and “facere”, “to make sacred”, it means an ordinary thing, just opening a door for a person or being thoughtful around someone else might, in fact, make it sacred at that moment, where it taps into a value that's other than the transactional relationship of our relationships, where it taps into some other life of the spirit. In those moments, you see your spiritual presence in this world, even in all of its material demands upon us.
Robert Maldonado 40:55
We get to the self because Jung always emphasized that the aim of individuation is the self, we want to get to this. I love the way you put it, a transcendent organic wisdom of nature that is our true self. Can you elaborate a little bit more and tell us what we experience and what we should expect? Why should we sacrifice and try to do this individuation process? What happens when we experience the self?
Dr. Hollis 41:32
First of all, we as animals share with other species, biological tribes, we also have social needs or need to have a relatedness to others, tribal sense. But thirdly, this indefinable issue of meaning, or the life of the spirit. When you encounter the self, you’ll feel a connection to something that's transcendent to the ego consciousness. You'll feel the support of that on a very practical basis. Let me suggest it this way, we have tons of evidence every day about how to conduct our life, yet we often lead confused and disabling lives. First of all is the feeling function. We all know about that. But we don't realize you don't choose your feelings. Feelings are autonomous qualitative analyses of your life as experienced by the psyche. You can ignore your feelings, you can anesthetize them, you can project them onto others, you can do a lot of things, you’ll be possessed by them. But feelings tell you. Let's say you're in this career that your education and your work has prepared you for. One day you realize you're profoundly bored out of your mind. But you can't afford to indulge in that feeling because you have an income, you have a family to support, you have whatever. But you see underneath, your psyche has already registered its vote as to how you're spending your life. Secondly, we have energy systems. When you’re doing what's right for you, the energy of the self support you, we can mobilize energy in service to survival and adaptation needs. That's good, that way we’re able to get up at three in the morning and change the diaper of the baby, that's essential. But if you continue to evolve your energy over time in the wrong places, it leads inevitably to burnout, exhaustion, depression, self medication, and so forth. Thirdly, we have dreams, dreams are also autonomous qualitative analyses of our life, as observed by the Self, capital S. They confront the ego on a regular basis. I learned recently that if you live to 80 years old, astonishingly, six years of your life out of 80 will be spent dreaming. Think of that. Not sleeping, but dreaming. Nature is not wasting energy, it's serving a purpose. One of the purposes of dreaming is to metabolize the mass of stimuli that occurred to us in every given 24-hour period. It's more than we can handle, but it has to continue to process that. But secondly, if you pay attention to your dreams over time, you realize there's some intelligence there, outside the sphere of the ego. It can borrow and steal from contemporary imagery, contemporary culture, but it is autonomous, you don't create your dreams, they come to you. Try to have a dream about hamburgers or something like that tonight. Your psyche is not going to pay any attention to you. It'll attend its agenda. The only question is, are you paying attention? Fourthly, over time, that question of meaning is, if what you're doing is meaningful, the energy will be there, the feeling function will support that. That's why I've been teaching for 50-60 years. There's now a lot of teaching, but the psyche has continued to support it through the years, the day it doesn't is the day I'll start doing something else. Last of all, psychopathology, when we're off track, the psyche is going to show up and knock on our door. If we ignore it, it’ll knock more stridently until we're forced to address it. I was blessed, as I now say and wouldn't have said at the time when I was at midlife, having achieved everything that I wanted to achieve at that understanding of things. I had a significant life depression. It sent me to my first hour of therapy. It wasn't as if I was starting the second half of life and was going to make major changes in my life. It was with a sense of futility, I've done everything I thought I was supposed to do. Why is it not working? Why does it not feel okay within? That was a healthy question. I didn't understand at the time, at the time I wanted to just get rid of the depression as anybody else would want. That's why we could gravitate to medications, or five easy steps to this or that. The real question to be asked at that point is, why has your psyche autonomously withdrawn its approval and support from the agenda that your ego consciousness is trying to enact in the world? That's the real question. If we continue to ask that in an honest, thorough, and disciplined way, you will begin to find some answers that come back to you.
Robert Maldonado 46:33
That perspective is very different than the typical clinical model in psychology that sees the depression as a chemical imbalance or something like that.
Dr. Hollis 46:46
There are occasions in which a depression arises out of a chemical imbalance, we're gonna address it that way. But part of what one has to do is differential diagnosis. You can have multiple sources of depression. If you treat only one of them, you're going to miss the larger point here. Modern psychotherapy has fractionated the person into pharmacology, which is to say, neurobiology, actions we take, thoughts we have, cognitive processes, all of which we have. But we're more than that. That's the point, we’re more than that. If it's a question of having a bandaid for a certain issue, that's one thing, or changing some maladaptive behaviors, that's helpful. But if you're really talking about the journey of your life and what your life means, what it's about, what choices you need to make, that's a different inquiry. That's where depth psychology begins. I'll tell you a funny story. Last year, I was in the hospital and just before a rather painful procedure, a nurse said to me “Go to your happy place.” I said “This is my happy place.” She didn't think that was very funny. But then she said to try and distract me “How does being an analyst differ from psychiatrist?” I said “For one thing, psychiatrists would tend to give medication, a psychoanalyst will try to ask other kinds of questions. We try to evoke a conversation with the unconscious.” She thought about that for a while and said “I see, you work with people in a coma.” I thought that was fine. We went ahead with the procedure. It's true to say that when we're in service to a cultural image, or in service to our internalization and our encrusted story of it, which is to say, a complex, we may, in fact, be living a state of possession, metaphorically. We could say, by extending that metaphor, in a way one can live so unconsciously, one’s in a coma, so to speak. You go through the motions. Kierkegaard talked about a man who was shocked to find his name in the obituary column of the Copenhagen Tablet, or whatever the title of the paper is. He didn't realize he had died because he didn't realize he had been here in the first place, living the life of stimulus response and autonomous enactments. That's the unconscious life.
Robert Maldonado 49:28
That's the tragedy of life. People are given an opportunity to experience their true selves in life. But they get stuck in the over identification, with a persona, with a role they're playing in society. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. We need to fit in, we need to do work and establish ourselves in society. But that deeper calling is really what we're here for. It's what really gives meaning to our life.
Dr. Hollis 50:00
I'm sure someone who's watching or listening would say this sounds very good, it’s very idealistic. Most people, as Thoreau said, lead lives of quiet desperation, that’s absolutely true. Throughout history, most people have been defined by their environment, the tribe they're born into, the historic conditions they have to serve, and so forth. It's another whole layer of human misery of separation from one's own soul. In our time, we can say, for example, the family structure, as historically meant, is a modality of survival. The more children you have, the more likely you are to survive, the more hands you have to hunt for food or till the soil. Today, we would say the basic function of the family would be to serve as a platform for the growth development, affirmation of the individuals, so they can live a fuller life. That's quite a different definition of family in a different historic setting. It's certainly not true for most people on the planet, for whom survival is the daily agenda. I don't want to sound idealistic, I'm saying, therefore, the souls that are caught in those structures that are so oppressive, are going to live miserable lives, I have the deepest sympathy and hope for them, I think about them all the time, starting with my own parents, for example, for whom economic survival was everything. Basically, the Depression defined their lives and World War II, those were circumstances over which they had no control and to which they had to report. The world they lived in had to do with you, you get a job, you hang on no matter how soul killing it is, you hang on at any cost, because without it, you will perish. My father had terrible headaches as a result of conflict within but he never had, sadly, permission to break free from it. I can tell you stories of other families, certainly. But again, does the family, does the structure around it support the individual? Or is it in some way call for this ritual sacrifice of the individual and service to whatever the collective experiences are? Ultimately, it's something that lies outside of our control. What lies within our control is the choices we make internally, whether we're outwardly free or not. That's why one of my heroes is always Nelson Mandela. When he was imprisoned unjustly in the prime of his life, he and his colleagues decided their bodies were in prison but their spirits wouldn’t be. They chose to teach their captors to read and write, for example. It’s a magnificent triumph for the spirit. When they left the island to go back to so-called normal society, those who had been their captors considered them helpful agents in their lives. That says something about the life of the spirit and the choices we can make.
Robert Maldonado 53:08
Talk about moral courage, that exemplifies it. Debrah is itching to jump into the conversation.
Debra Maldonado 53:17
I absolutely loved your book, I love that you wrote it in the casual tone. It was so nice for me to capture the brilliance of your work, the work of Jung. One of the things I read in your book that I thought was really interesting is why people stay stuck. You had said something to the effect that there are two reasons. One is abandonment, the other is overwhelm. I’d love for you to elaborate a little bit on that, because I absolutely love keeping it simple. This is the two main things that keep people stuck.
Dr. Hollis 53:51
First of all, everyone has some stuck places in their life. If you ask a person to tell you where they feel they’re stuck. If they think about it beyond the first sentence or two, they’ll come up with an example. If we can identify so readily where we're stuck, why is it we can't get unstuck? The answer is, the moment we start moving in the direction of getting unstuck, we activate some archaic field of anxiety that’s something within us. There are two categorical threats to our survival and well-being. Overwhelmed by the world that we all got as children, it was factual, the world's big and you're not, the world's powerful and you're not, so you better figure out a way to deal with powers of that world. Avoiding it and being compliant with it are the usual strategies. Secondly, abandonment. Without the others, we would perish also. There's a tremendous terror of being isolated and alone. Now, if one can go into the depths there and say “To get unstuck, I’d have to do X or Y or Z.” Let's say, diet. A person wants to lose weight. They use food as a form of self medication. It's very common, because food produces chemical changes in us. It may be that person's go to strategy to deal with their emotional life. If I let go of that, what's going to be there for me? Then I experience abandonment, there's no other there to solace me, I'll have to face the magnitude of tasks that lie before me without my self medication and without my retreat zone. You can see why it becomes preferable to stay stuck. Because then the question is, what will I have to take on to get unstuck? Many times what we have to take on is something very open and obvious. We can handle it, because the wiring that goes from that archaic field of anxiety was essentially generated in our childhoods, it comes up and has the capacity to shut the ego down. But there is also a person who has shown up in my life, who can handle this. First of all, many of the issues I fear, for example, a person might say “If I open my mouth, I'll lose the love and support of the other. I'll be out there on my own, I'll be alone.” Maybe that’ll happen, maybe it won't, chances are it won't. But if it happened, maybe that's the price of stepping into your own journey. There's an adult on the scene, that's you, that has the resilience, range of options, and depth of experience to cope with that in a way a child can’t. Stuck places are good places to begin to explore the unconscious, the first step. Secondly, to say “What would it take to be unstuck? What anxiety?” Because if I can say I'm stuck, I've already made a judgmental statement about it, I'm not wanting to advance myself as a very stuck person. It's rather, these are the places where the old anxieties have their way with me, because I’m still a servant to the anxiety they generate. If I can take that on, then I again step into my larger human journey.
Debra Maldonado 57:20
I was in the corporate world and in my late 30s I was feeling I wanted to do something else with my life. But I was afraid to leave my corporate comfort. I got laid off, it was taken away. I remember saying to myself “I just want to see what I'm made of.” It was inside of me, I don't know where it came from. But this part of me was like “Let's just try it, there's nothing to lose.” It's a boldness you have to take toward this to override the ego’s fears.
Dr. Hollis 57:51
That's why Jung’s quote I mentioned before, “Only boldness can deliver us from fear.” If the risk is not taken, the meaning of life is violated. There was a moment where, in a way, fate entered and said “We are gonna put you in a new situation. It’s gonna be an obvious a loss.” Notice corporations, related to corpus, the body. It's like, as long as I'm connected to the body, I'm nourished and safe. I'm separated, which is birth, after all, I'm now there on my own. Yet nature has equipped us with the same resources and energies that have timelessly been there. Another way of putting this is why would I think that the strength and resilience that allowed my ancestors to survive on this planet would not be present within me as well? The difference being today is I have information available to me they didn’t have and couldn’t have imagined. Secondly, I have a cultural milieu in which there's far greater opportunity for the expression of the self than the closed societies and most humanity has experienced heretofore.
Debra Maldonado 59:07
I always say there's no place to fall, you can't fall anywhere, because spirit will catch you, wherever you are. You had said that in your book, I must have been channeling your ideas. There's so many people that live a life of the persona. Jung's work, his theory of individuation has changed my life. That's why Rob and I are so dedicated to inspire people to take the journey because it's painful not to.
Dr. Hollis 59:38
It's painful to take it but it's more painful not to, you need to know. Iif you think life is difficult now, imagine your life at the end when you say “I wasn't really here. I didn't do what was wanting to be done through me.” You don't want to be in that position, I suspect.
Robert Maldonado 1:00:01
We want to be mindful of your time. Thank you so much for taking the time to be here with us.
Debra Maldonado 1:00:11
We know our listeners are going to enjoy this interview and buy your book, A Life Of Meaning: Relocating Your Center of Spiritual Gravity. Amazing book, highly recommended, great read. Thank you so much.
Dr. Hollis 1:00:26
Thank you. It was a pleasure to be with you. I wish you well.
Debra Maldonado 1:00:29
What an incredible interview with Dr. Hollis.
Robert Maldonado 1:00:33
He's very generous with his time and knowledge. We definitely encourage you to get the book, A Life Of Meaning: Relocating Your Center of Spiritual Gravity.
Debra Maldonado 1:00:48
It’s written in a cool way. He has a very common, more relaxed language than these typical books. Those of you who are new to Jung or new to the individuation process, will really enjoy it. Before we go, I do want to remind you to make sure you click that Subscribe button on your phone so you can hear every episode of Soul Session. On behalf of Rob and I, thank you for joining us, we'll see you next time.
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