Reflections and Spin-offs on Through the Dark Wood, by James Hollis

Quotes, impressions, and responses…
Where James Hollis stops and Jim Dollar starts
is often anybody’s guess.
Give Hollis the credit and Dollar the blame

Session 1, The Middle Passage and the Project of the Second Half of Life

When the provisional self, derived from the internalization of childhood messages, collides with the natural, spontaneous, instinctually grounded self, problems arise. The collision is inevitable, though often unconscious until it presents itself to consciousness as troubling symptoms. Each of us is a prisoner, to some degree, of history. We are impacted by the context and circumstances, terms and conditions of our lives. And the psyche is an autonomous reality that has to be taken into account. It has its own intentions and calls to us relentlessly to align ourselves more fully with our nature.

We are spiritual beings who seek to realize themselves in the world of time and place. If that weren’t hard enough, we complicate things by virtue of the fact that we don’t necessarily see the world as it is but as it is internalized, interpreted, filtered and understood by us. So, we are charged with bringing ourselves to life in a world which may not actually be the world! We don’t have a prayer. We have the capacity to delude ourselves and not pay attention to the other forces that are at work, unseen, dismissed, and/or discounted in our lives and within each of us.

We have a lot to learn. That’s the first lesson of life. We never put anything behind us. That’s the second lesson.

We make our choices amid the influences which operate within the context and circumstances of our lives. What guides the choices we make is the question.

We have to deal with the threat of being overwhelmed and the threat of being abandoned. Where do we turn for help? What are the resources we can call upon? Who is on our side here against the forces of annihilation and diminishment?

Compliance is not acquiescence.

When we aren’t living to please someone else, what are we doing?

The Psyche is always speaking to us. Feelings, dreams, reactions, etc. contain messages from the Psyche. We have to start paying attention and entering into dialogue with ourselves. Our Psyche knows and will summon us, and when it is ignored it will come forth as symptom. We have to listen to, attend, our own Psyche, or suffer the consequences.

Our patterns serve a core idea. What are the autonomous core ideas that I am living out in my life? Where do they show up? By what spiritual points of reference do I make my key decisions—what are my values? Does this path enlarge me or diminish me? What brings me to a sense of mystery? By what constructive fictions, or constructs, am I living my life? What am I giving my life energy to? By what authority do I live my life? Who gives us permission to be who we are, to desire what we desire, to decide what is true for us? What is my vocation for this stage of life, my calling, the thing I must do in order to be who I am, because I am who I am?

Whatever we are not aware of on the inside will come at us driving six white horses from the outside.

Something is always trying to create through us, to come into being. Our task is to get out of the way, to serve who we are meant to be.

We always are what we have always been, and who we will become—Carl Jung.

Fate… Where has life been unfair to you? How did that unfairness affect you? Where did it fixate you? Where did it partially at least define you? Lead you in to the Dark Woods? Where have you been gifted, blessed, or fortunate? What have you done with the gift, the blessing, the fortune? What might you do now?

Stuckness … Where are you rigid and resistant to change? Where is the blocking fear? Where are you blocked by fear? Where is fear calling the shots? What is the fear beneath the fear? What does the fear track back to? Overwhelm-ment? Abandonment? What is the primary learned fear? Fear management governs most of our lives. Where was your father stuck? Where was your mother stuck? How does their stuckness make itself apparent in your life? Where do you avoid conflict? Where we avoid conflict avoids growth and creates stuckness. Out of conflict comes the larger possibilities. What are the things holding you back? Habits? Routines? Behavioral patterns? These things have to be broken if we are to grow. There is a task our patterns help us avoid. Where in your life are you lacking and waiting for permission? Where do you need to grow up? The Ego is to be in service to the Self, the Soul—it is not on its own to do as it pleases.

Destiny, that which is capable of becoming, of coming to be in the world… What were the fantasies you had of yourself as a child? What were the enthusiasms you had? How might we express these things symbolically, if not literally? What have you always been called to but did not attempt? Where are those possibilities still lurking in your life? We are meant to become who we are, more eccentric, more odd. This is service to divinity to the Soul. What new life wants to emerge into this world through you? The summons is to a greater responsibility, a greater growth and development, a greater accountability.

Session 2, Mature Relationships

We sense that things were once better than they are now, and seek to recover the idyllic state in magical connection with the Right Other (Mother) who will take care of us the way we want to be taken care of, who will do for us what we need to, must, do for ourselves. We see the Other as a Magical Parental Surrogate which addresses our infantile needs: I am counting on you to protect me, take care of me, keep me from growing up.

Projection and Transference… Projection is something within me that is seen or experienced as being “out there.” We expect something from others that we need to find or produce within ourselves. Transference means we bring the dynamics of another time and place into the present and treat, or experience, now as though it were then. History is brought into the present and comes alive here and now. Am I here or there? Is it now or then?

What we don’t know about, or can’t face in, ourselves is placed on the other. This is projection. We tend to project or transfer our childhood wounds, our infantile longing, and our individuation agenda onto the Magical Other. Since the Other cannot and should not carry our wounds, projections tend to wear away and deteriorate into the problem of power. The power struggle supplants relatedness. The best thing we can do for relationship is to take full responsibility for our own individuation task and infantile needs (We have to grow up). We have to do for ourselves what we want the Other to do for us.

I have to take responsibility for my life. I have to become psychological—looking for the root causes within me for what is driving me. What am I asking of this Other what I should be doing for myself?

The most important truths are paradoxical, and we have to maintain the tension and balance the opposites.

One can achieve no higher relationship than the level of conscious personal responsibility and individuation (emotional maturity) that each person in relationship has achieved.

Every projection which fails returns something to us. It isn’t for you to carry, and it returns to me. I need to say, “What does this say about me?” The Other brings Me to life in me. My agenda is to give me what I need. What we deserve from each other is respect, compassion, caring and support—shared responsibilities and divisions of labor, communion, sharing of vision and conversation. The dialectic is our gift to one another, which brings each of us beyond ourselves into the more that we are capable of being. Every relationship is a conversation. We are made larger by relationship. The Other best serves us by remaining “Other.”

When one lets go of the search for the Magical Other, one begins to encounter the immensity of one’s own journey, one’s own soul. We are, contain, the magic we seek.

The more we can be with ourselves, the more we bring to the other.

What are the dynamics of your current relationship? What is your role? What is your script? Your partner’s role? Script? What is being asked of each of you by the relationship? When did you become aware of these roles? Where have you played that role before? Family of origin, perhaps?

What are the repetitions and patterns? Where do your dependencies show up? Where do we count on the other to carry some area of responsibility that is legitimately mine? Where do we count on the other to cover the bases? To take care of us? What do we need to pick up ourselves?

What are the needs? What are you looking for in your life? What do you need to address?

Block the development of another person and you’ll wind up with depression or anger or resentment.

Where are the stuck places? What are the primal fears? Can we speak out our own fears to ourselves? To the other? What have your deepest fears always been? How do they lend themselves to the stuck places?

Where have you grown most in relationships? How might relationship heal the wounds of the past?

Session 3, Swampland Visitations

Save us from both inflation and deflation! Help us walk the straight and narrow boundary between yin and yang!

“Many of our conflicts are intrinsically insoluble” – Carl Jung. The presence of internal conflicts and contradictions is evidence of life being lived.

The enlargement of consciousness is the task of the second half of life. We confront the contradictions and enlarge, expand, deepen ourselves. Our sense of spirit and mystery is enlarged.

We look for the will of the soul within the circumstances of our lives, and endeavor to live in right relationship to the Mystery.

We are always having to re-imagine ourselves (the attainment of a different relationship with ourselves) in our encounters with the unwanted. Where does the Psyche want us to go? Our comfort and security and happiness are very low on the Psyche’s list of priorities. What needs to be reconfigured in order to better align with the Psyche’s intentions?

The choices I have made or failed to make have brought harm to bear upon myself, my loved ones, and the world. I am guilty. What I do has consequences and I stand responsibly before those circumstances. We are existentially complicit in the wrongs of our times. But, we are not to confuse our guilt with our anxiety that makes us feel bad about who we are.

We have to relinquish our losses, to let go of what is gone, and we have to experience to the full the grief of doing so.

There are no contracts, no deals, no way of avoiding the vicissitudes of life. “It rains on the just and the unjust alike.” What were the contracts I was assuming when I fell into cynicism and despair? Our encounters with the unwanted aspects of life open us to the reconsideration of our expectations, presumptions and projections.

Doubt is a form of respect for and relationship with the Mystery. The absence of doubt leads to a violation of the Mystery itself. Anxiety is treated by the search for certainty, which leads to dogma, rigidity, and idolatry. Toleration of doubt and ambiguity brings openness and revelation, enlightenment, insight, and enlargement. We have to bear the pain! Suffer what must be suffered! And serve the Mystery we embody!

The cure for loneliness is solitude. In solitude we embrace ourselves, enjoy our own company, and are not alone.

What do we need to face in our life? How are we not facing it? What are we doing instead? What do we not want to face? Face it!

Whose plan for our life are we effecting, serving? If it isn’t our—our soul’s—plan, there will be problems. The Psyche will protest. The Psyche will withdraw energy for the service of its own agenda. Why has the Psyche withdrawn its cooperation, its energy, from where we want to put it? Where are the points of conflict, of discontinuity between Self and self? What are the areas that need attention and energy? How will changing our agenda ease our depression?

Between depression and anxiety, always choose anxiety. Between anxiety and fear, always choose fear. Choose to be afraid, not anxious and not depressed. Fear is specific, anxiety is diffuse, generalized. Always ask, “What does Psyche want?” How does our life need to be reconfigured, reoriented? What are we not paying attention to? Symptoms are expressions of Psyche’s autonomous reaction to the way we are living our lives.

Anger is the fuel of resolve for resolution to address what must be addressed.

What do we need to do? What is the next stage of our journey? What is it that is supporting us through all of this? On some level, it is well with us, no matter what is going on in our lives, and we have all that we need.

Session 4, Healing the Souls of Men and Women

The issues keep coming around. Nothing is ever left behind. All that is, always is. The process of resolution and recovery, awareness and attention—mindfulness—continues. But, we can recognize the patterns earlier and take up the work of reconfiguring desires and expectations.

Men don’t generally process their lives, don’t generally talk about the impact of living and their response to it. Women do. There you are.

Where there is resistance, there is always anxiety.

Will I be up to it? The fear of not measuring up. The feeling of being a looser. The burdens of being a man.

What’s the motivation for growing up? Why bother with getting better when it’s so much easier to settle for feeling better? The pain of life, the experience of emptiness, meaninglessness, of not being alive is the motivation. But. Escape, denial, dismissal, addiction are more attractive options than growth.

We cannot move forward without sacrifice.

You get knocked down. You get up. You get ready to go again. You get back into the fray.

In order for men to heal, they have to acknowledge the loss of the father. Then, they need to learn to father themselves. Where do we get what we were not given? Men need to face their secrets, the secrets of being a man. Men need to find, or be, mentors to help them, and others, along to the next stage of their journey. We can seek nurturance in life without being dependent. To be a man, or a woman—to be a human being—is to know what we want and do it, achieve it, serve it (Carl Jung). Men need to recover a sense of the journey of the soul. We have to know who we are, what our gift is, our genius, what we have to give.

Women find satisfaction in relationships. Men find their satisfaction in the achievement of their goals.

Diffuse and focused awareness are both necessary. For men to be narrowly focused on an external task, leads to estrangement from their inner life. Split lives lead to split relationships. Men cannot relate to another because they are not in relationship to themselves.

Men must find the anima within themselves. Not Eve, not the Mother, not the Muse, not Sophia “out there.” Not external. But internal, within.

For women, the animus is the power to achieve. If the anima for men is the personification of life sustaining values, the animus for women is the personification of the spiritual energy for achieving life on her own terms. We find within what we seek in the voices that direct us. Tarzan, the Hero, Logos (power of the word), the Sage, owner of transparent spiritual wisdom—women have to find these within themselves.

We are not drawn to or moved by something that does not touch something deep within us.

We cannot find in the external world what is missing inwardly.

We seek the sources of nurturance and empowerment in the beloved other. We have to supply them to ourselves from within ourselves. We have to find within what feeds our souls, and gives us a sense of purpose, and empowers us and gives us permission and steps up to the tasks of life. We are brought into life bearing the powers and capacities we need to live it. Whatever we have denied within we will be compulsively seeking in the outer world, or be at the mercy of it.

We have to develop our relationship with our guiding and intuitive center. In solitude one is present to oneself. The healing of the holy, of the psyche, is found in solitude.

Consider the role of fear in your life. What were your deepest fears as a child? What are your deepest fears now? What does this fear make you do, or keep you from doing?

Where does insecurity have us in its grip? What does it force us into? Keep us from doing? Where are we trying to maneuver others to care for us? Where does it show up in competition? Who has to prove themselves to us? Where do we have to prove ourselves? You are not here to please others or to fit in, you are here to be you!

What are your losses? What do we miss most now? What are the values we can derive from what was? How can we serve those values in new places? How can we take what mattered to us and convert it into new life?

Where are we most alienated from ourselves? What needs to happen in order to be better aligned with ourselves?

What did you want most as a child from your father? What did you need that you didn’t get? What would you most want from him today? How do you pursue that need on your own?

The work consists of bringing insight to the problems of life, courage to face what must be faced, endurance to stick it out and persist in the work of dealing with the problems. The calling is to survive, to persist and to prevail.

What is the great wound to the soul that you carry? What happened? How did you internalize it as a message? What was the message? How does that message show up in your life? What is the counter ploy to the message? What does the soul desire? How do you know? Dreams, moments of clarity, the white rabbit, symptoms, urges that will not go away, inclinations that will not let you go.

What can we do to address what our soul is asking of us? How can we respond to that with courage and fidelity and integrity? When we are doing what is right for the soul, it is supported. If I commit my intentions to what the interior produces, the outcome will be good.

When we do the right thing for us, it is the right thing for us. When we do the wrong thing for us, it is the wrong thing for us.

We have to undo all that stands in the way. We don’t do something so much as we undo something. What you have become is now your chief obstacle. We have to relinquish our attachment to what we have become in order to be open to what is trying to come through us into the world.

Session Five, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life

We get untracked and have to get back on track. We distrust our own authority and our own connections to instinct and to the Self. All our troubles flow from being separated from our instincts (Carl Jung). Too much of the animal distorts the civilized person, and too much of civilization makes sick animals (Carl Jung). What moves us? Lots of things, of course. But we are meaning seeking, meaning creating. Meaning moves us. Purpose moves us. How do we find meaning? Where is it?

Meaning is inherent, transcendent to consciousness, and we only have to be open to it.

Who am I trying to please? What would it take to be pleasing to the soul?

What are your questions? The more profound your questions, the deeper your life.

What brought you to this place in your journey, to this moment in your life? What have been the formative influences? What are the forces that have impinged upon you to bring forth the questions that you are asking? What does the Self wish of us?

What acts of fate or divinity, forces or family or social reality, framed your reality? Supported it? Constricted it? We are all more than what has happened to us. What gave you your sense of self? What do you need to do today to separate from the past and to define yourself by what comes more from within than from the outside? Whose life have you been living?

The life we are living is too small for the soul’s desire. Where do we experience transcendence? Nature? Art? Music? Creativity? Service to others? It’s different for each of us, but we have to know where we stand in relation to transcendence.

Recovering our personal authority is the single most important task in the second half of life, where we work to reestablish an enhanced relationship with the natural Self. What is true for you in any situation? Who is running the show? We have to risk living that truth in the world, in our lives. We have to go up against the nay saying voices, the recalcitrant powers, within. We have to live out of our own authority toward what is important to us. Do we enlarge, or do we diminish? We must find the resolve to live out of our own sense of direction, our own knowledge of what is right for us. Everything hangs on it.

We cannot trust our first responses, they are our initial reflexive response based on what someone else told me I ought to do or on what I did to survive at some point in my life. We have to listen deeply. It takes a while to think what we are thinking, to know what we think, how we feel.

We look for the invisible world in the visible world. What are the patterns in our own history? Our behaviors? Our symptoms? The psyche is timeless and everything that has ever happened to us is always right there, in the now of our experience, though it may have happened years ago, when the reflexive core idea that is being stimulated in this moment was formed. When complexes are hit, buttons are pushed.

What is the nature of our psychic house?

We have to go back and pick up what we left behind and bring it forward. It’s still there waiting for us, waiting to serve us.

We have to balance our commitment to others and our commitment to the soul, the Self. We walk the straight and narrow between the outer duties and the inner duties. This will keep us busy throughout the second half of life. We don’t put anything behind us. We deal with it again and again, there on the boundary between yin and yang, between outer and inner.

Courage and resolve, kid, courage and resolve.

We are forever redefining ourselves, living beyond who we were. We are not locked into the past forever.

To what am I in service? New and developing values!

The magnitude of our questions has a great deal to do with the quality of the life we are living. Larger questions mean a developmental life.

There is a voice within us that is always trying to speak to our growth and development.

We change and grow and we stay stuck. It’s all true. The patterns and processes are changing like the waves, but the dynamics remain as constant as the unchanging sea. The obstacles to change are the fear of enlargement, of stepping out. The failure of nerve is our biggest problem. It’s the biggest problem of the church and culture. The enemy is within. And the burden of responsibility falls on us.

Why should I live longer? In service to what? What am I doing that is so important that I need more time in which to do it?

What has brought us to this point? What is rising to the surface and wants to be engaged, served? Whose life have you been living? What do you think you are here for? Where did that idea come from?

What is not received well by the world is pushed underground, but it does not go away. We don’t put anything behind us. Symptoms tell us that we are out of sync with the psyche, that the psyche has a different agenda. Where are we living in bad faith with ourselves? There will be symptoms there.

We have to trust ourselves to the dialogue with our own psyche, our own psychological life. The word “therapy” means “to attend to.” We have to attend to ourselves. We have to listen to the soul. Pay attention to dreams and symptoms and intuitions. We have to know what we know. We keep coming back to what we know and what we need to know, and may tumble at last into wisdom, into figuring something out, into understanding what we are about and are to be about.

We, on some level, know what we need to do with our lives, and we evade it. The psyche keeps saying the same thing over and over. The white rabbit comes back around. We have to know what we know.

The split between our protective, reactive, devices and our natural, instinctive truth is experienced as neurosis. Not to live our journey is a violation of divinity and an abdication of our highest calling. We have to keep the appointment with our Self. We have to risk ourselves to our journey.

The transcendent is always present. It is present in everything. “Invoked or not invoked, the god is always present.” And our task is to become aware of the transcendent that is “with us always, to the end of the age.”

The Ego is the necessary servant. It is the burro that carries the soul.

We must open up to the largeness of our own journey.

“We must be alone, present to our own individuation project. Our life is our life to live. We must be with our journey if we are to find out what it is that supports us, what rises to support us when we can no longer support ourselves”—Carl Jung.

When the roadmap provided by culture and family are no longer appropriate to the terrain, then we must trust ourselves to ourselves, to the indestructible foundation. The Self emerges and pushes us, leads us, into the new life.

The function of the hero is to serve the Soul and overthrow the powers of darkness, which take two forms: what we fear and what intimidates us, and what seduces us and leads us astray. We cannot forget the journey.

“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”—Carl Jung.

We are the carrier of transcendent energy—who are we to stand in its way?

Session Six, Constructing a Mature Spirituality

We cannot accept someone else’s package. We have to find our own spiritual path. We have our own journey.

There is no transformation without suffering.

We lust for certainty at the expense of the journey which involves a rigorous examination of truth and a search for alternative possibilities. Nothing important is simple.

We are always a part of the problem, and will walk right into whatever we flee sooner or later.

I do not know what I am doing. I am open to discovery. I find this to be a fascinating journey, even though I may well be just along for the ride.

If we are not experiencing divinity within us in some way, it will come to possess us through our projection of it onto the outer world, or go inward and emerge as symptom.

How do we fill the emptiness within? Something “out there” won’t do it. How do we treat the great hunger in our soul?

The numinous is an invitation to encounter with the Radical Other, with the Mystery. The dynamic incarnation of the spirit through image embodies the Mystery. When we resonate with this incarnated image, we know we are in the presence of the transcendent.

The church is preoccupied with reasserting certainty not exploring and engaging the mystery. Certainty is disrespectful to mystery.

Access to primal religious/mystical experience of the mystery, or the Mysterious Other, is found through the experience of beauty, awe, and wonder in art, music, and nature.

We have to take on the responsibility of establishing for ourselves a mature spirituality, a religious sensibility. We have to create for ourselves a linkage to the transcendent. How does that show up in our lives?

Information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom.

What are the questions we don’t ask, the questions we are not permitted to ask?

Choose the way in which your heart delights. What moves us is a critical test of our personal authority.

The five tests of a mature spirituality: 1) To what degree am I projecting my fears onto the cosmos? 2) When you are confronted by an image from any source, the question is does it resonate within? Does it stir something within you? What stirs within you? What moves within you? If it doesn’t move you, you cannot force it to happen. 3) Where do you encounter the numinous? What nods to you, winks to you? 4) What opens you to mystery, confounds your experience, calls into question your construction of reality? 5) Where are you being asked to grow up? What is asking you to be more than you wish to be? Where are you being disturbed?

Doubt is our best guide through the dark woods.

Do our beliefs and practices open us to mystery, ask us to grow up, make life more complicated but more interesting than we ever expected?

Both suffering and humbling is necessary for consciousness, growth and renewal.

When things become nouns they are not longer mysteries.

Our goal is to be on the road, to be on the journey, to be on the way. There is no understanding in terms of being able to explain anything. Our understanding is experiential, not logical, rational, intellectual. Those who get it get that there is nothing that can be gotten. Which doesn’t mean there is nothing to get.

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