The cure for loneliness is solitude

While flipping through my notebook the other day I came across the notes I took last March in St. Paul, MN at the workshop with James Hollis, PhD, Jungian analyst.

Below are the notes from one of the pages and I couldn’t help but think how each sentence could be a book or workshop topic unto itself, although simply pondering each sentence is plenty of exercise for my little gray cells:

“Behind the wound lies the genius of the person.”

“Fundamentalism is an anxiety management system designed to rid ourselves of ambiguity.”

“We’re all recovering children.”

“You can’t individuate through the other but you can’t individuate without bouncing things off them.”

And my favorite:

“The cure for loneliness is solitude.”

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Your Vocation

As individuals we are not meant to be well-balanced, sober servants of collective values. We are not meant to be sane, safe or similar. We are, each of us, meant to be different…

The shape and character of our vocation may change at different developmental stages. We have not just one life, but many lives to live, and in the course of however long we are privileged to live, many tasks, many vocations.

Personality, or personhood as Jung might define it, is not found in adjustment to external expectations, but in serving one’s calling in the context of our environment. This may bring one to an individual experience of being ‘misjudged, derided, tortured, and crucified.’

No wonder vocation is seldom served. And yet, and yet, something in us always knows better. Something in us, no matter how much we flee it, summons us. We may avoid it all our lives, but deep down, something knows. It knows us whether we wish to know it or not. There is no escape from this knowing though much of contemporary Western culture is a flight from knowing what, inescapably, we already know.

We will be most nearly real when we serve our vocation. We will not be spared suffering, but we will be granted a deeply felt sense that our life is right, even when suffering isolation and rejection.

That deeply felt sense of what is right for us… is how we can find it is we are to do with this precious and fragile gift of life and transcendent reality we are summoned to serve. This sacrifice of the ego will constitute our greatest gift to the world.

The sacrifice of collective acceptance, which individuation demands, is redeemed by our bringing a larger person back to the world, to our relationships and to our dialogue with mystery.

–James Hollis in Creating a Life (p. 109-111)

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Your Fate

Image and video hosting by TinyPic“Whatever one’s fate may have in store, the task, if we are up to it, is to serve the individuation imperative, to become as nearly like ourselves as we can manage.”

-James Hollis

So what is this “individuation” Jungian psychologists are always yapping about?

I’ll let Hollis explain (from his book Creating a Life):

One of the most profound of Jung’s contributions to the field of psychology is the paradoxical concept of individuation. Even today the term is misunderstood as egotism or self-absorption. Such a path is seldom if ever the path of ego gratification, creature comforts, vacillation and flight. It is the cruciform path of the Self which will seek its own fullest being whether the ego cooperates or not.

Just as Dietrich Bonhoeffer surely prayed for his release from Flensburg K-Z Lager, so he also prayed that in that mad place he might know God’s will for him. He had been brought there because of his opposition to Hitler; it was not God who put him there. But his task, while there, before he was hanged, was to find and serve his fate with as much fidelity as he could manage. That is the model of individuation. It is not the path of solipsism, isolation, self-aggrandizement. It is the path of defeat which may lead to a life well lived.

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Creating kingdoms out of complexes

The older I get, the more I wonder if we ever have direct encounters with other people, or if we only interact with each other’s complexes, projections and neuroses.

The idea of the complex is considered to be Jung’s greatest contribution to the field of psychology and most of what follows in this post is a synthesis of Jungian analyst James Hollis’s thoughts on complexes and projections.

A complex is an emotionally charged, internalized experience that has a splinter identity and a splinter script. When you get defensive and start justifying something, you are in the throes of a complex. When your reaction to something is disproportionate to the situation, that’s a complex. Bodily changes often accompany this.

An example of a complex is when you talk on the phone with one of your parents and find yourself reverting back to childhood in your feelings, behavior and what you say.

Some common complexes are the power complex (seeking sovereignty over environment and other people),  the fantasy of immortality complex, and the fantasy of the magical other (the notion that there is one person out there who is right for us). And, of course, the mother complex and father complex. “How many children are enlisted into the impossible, not to say unfair, project of making their parents feel good about themselves?” Eek.

Hollis says one can create an entire kingdom out of a complex.

Complexes are what bring people together. One might marry to find the good parent in the other, to find an abuser in order to confirm a wounded sense of self, or seeking what was missing in family of origin.

So what about projections?

Hollis says the central law of projection is that which is unconscious will be either repressed or projected. We are never free of projections. “It is truly frightening to realize how little one is conscious in the formation of intimate relationship.” Eek.

When we fall in love, what we fall in love with is some aspect of ourselves reflected back to us in the other. What we do not know about ourselves or will not face in ourselves will be projected onto the other. We project our childhood wounding, our infantile longing and our individuation imperative. Hollis said that when he was a college professor, his students could never grasp this, for they wanted desperately to believe that their romantic partners were the fulfillment of their dreams and couldn’t accept the huge role projection plays. “I’ll see you when you’re 40,” he would tell them.

Blaming our partner for stepping on mines we have laid is where most couples are when they walk into therapy, he says.

How to become more aware of and perhaps begin to outgrow some of our complexes and projections?

This requires that we ask ourselves of every impulse and behavior: “Where does this come from within me? Where have I been here before?”

If one can identify unquestioned, reflexive tendencies in one’s life, those for which rationalizations are immediately available, one might be able to walk backward to the formative experiences of which they are the ‘logical’ expression. Then one might be able to imagine alternative attitudes and behaviors as possibilities.

And as for projections in our relationships, he says we should ask that most difficult of questions: “What am I asking my partner to do for me that I should be able to do for myself?”

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Your Test

Image and video hosting by TinyPicThe test of a psychologically mature person, and therefore spiritually mature, will be found in his or her capacity to handle what one might call the Triple A’s: anxiety, ambiguity and ambivalence. – James Hollis

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Getting over certainty

One of my favorite U2 lyrics is from their song Stand Up Comedy: “I can stand up for hope, faith, love/But while I’m getting over certainty/Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady.”

And, of course, James Hollis has some interesting things to say about getting over certainty:

Meaning will not be found through any arrival at certainty, for any place we settle will soon prove inadequate. Meaning will arise from sundry departures from certainties, obligatory deaths and rebirths, and surprising new arrivals from which, then, new departures perforce persist. This is meaning.

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Your Agenda

Image and video hosting by TinyPic“Your fears must be your agenda.” –James Hollis

To put it another way, if we’re going to be fully present in our life, then we have to study the role our fear management systems play in our life.

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Your Biggest Obstacle

Image and video hosting by TinyPicJames Hollis said the #1 thing he learned during his six years in Zurich while training to become a Jungian analyst is this:

Who we’ve become is our biggest obstacle.

Oops. :-)

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My favorite definition of neurosis

Image and video hosting by TinyPicA neurosis is wherever we are allied against our true nature.” – James Hollis

A more roundabout way of saying it is: “some profound energy or value has been repressed, pathologized, and is now reasserting its will upon us. Whenever we force ourselves to do what is against our nature’s intent, we will suffer anxiety attacks, depressions, or addictions to anesthetize the pain of this inner dislocation.” – James Hollis

Other neurosis definitions:

“Neurosis is the flight from authentic suffering.” – Jung

“Neurosis is symptomatic of a reduced vision of life, a worldview of insufficient amplitude.” – James Hollis

“A neurosis is often a rebellion of an unconscious psyche against forces which it perceives as threatening to its specific nature.”  – June Singer

Jung said our neuroses are forms of suffering that have not yet found their meaning.

“Is not our chief neurosis – by which I mean our estrangement from nature – our desire to hold fast to what is forever transforming, to freeze the familiar, to submit motion to stasis, to solicit immortality through rigidity.” – James Hollis

Don’t forget to rock your neurosis.

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Your Task

“Our task is to be defeated by ever larger things” – Rainer Maria Rilke

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending a workshop by author and renowned Jungian analyst James Hollis.

I listened to him for a total of 5-6 hours and there wasn’t a single sentence of fluff. His speaking style is elegant, low key, and the content was never boring. It was like a college course condensed into 6 hours. His background as a humanities professor was evident as he rattled off from memory countless quotes from poetry, literature and Jung.

The above quote was one of them. Notice the use of the word “defeat” rather than “overcome.” Being defeated seems discouraging yet, as Hollis said,  if you’re defeated by ever larger things, it means you’re growing, developing and following an agenda that leads you more and more into mystery. Jung said encounters with mystery are defeats for the ego.

Hollis says the task for midlife is the recovery of personal authority. This isn’t self-absorption but is submission of the ego’s desire for comfort, consensual approval and predictability in service to whatever it is that what wants to come into the world through us.

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