Posted on 19 November 2005

As I organize to leave this country, coordinate a special evening for store, I wonder at my sanity. I’m moving too quickly. I fell three times in three days. Is that a warning? Sometimes, I feel as if I am following in Leslie’s footsteps, that I will follow her to the grave for my obsessiveness. But Helen tells me this isn’t true. I am more grounded, more flexible, more questioning. I hope so.

Last night was a treat. I went to see James Hollis speak at Christ Church with Helen and Shirley. I wrote notes so I could remember what he’d said. He is a small man, meticulous in dark suit, white shirt, and striped tie. His hair is a startling white, looks like silk, every hair in place. He could be a politician except that he speaks a strange language – about energy moving through one, spirituality but not of the institutional kind, and soul – we must ask ourselves what our soul wants. He quotes poets and philosphers. He is eloquent but not pretentious. And it is easy to grasp his ideas.

He says that we are all carriers of energy. What drives us? Our complexes and fear of death. He notes that Plato said we should consider death every day of our lives. What is important is the quality of questions we ask ourselves. We must watch the dependencies of childhood. Hollis quotes Jung in saying that we all walk in shoes that are too small for us. Sorry, I forgot to mention that the talk was on “The Second Half of Life” the title of his new book, but he notes that he isn’t speaking of chronological age. Some young question their way of doing things, the established order. And besides, how are we to know when we have reached the half way point? In my mind, the phrase is simply a way to grasp the Jungian idea of individuation, of being brave enough to question, and move, trusting ones intuition, heart, soul. (Such grandiose ideas for the daughter of Irish immigrants.)

Hollis said that there are three things we must do in the second half. First, we must recover personal authority. Second, we have to balance consideration of ourselves and others. Third, we must evolve a more mature spirituality.

He spoke at length on each point. About the first, he said that we must (ugly word – I’m not sure what he used) discern what is true for us and try to live it. “What you have become is now your greatest problem.” He quoted – was it Shakespeare – “no prison is more confining than the one you don’t know you’re in.” To figure out what the problem is – any problem that we dwell on too long and hard, we must work backwards. (Am I making any sense? Let me simplify for me. I have a problem. I overreact in a certain situation. Why? Does it remind me of a similar overreaction I’ve experienced. What does that remind me of? And so on and so on, backwards and backwards into the distant past.)

Hollis said something here that hit home: The past is always imminent, present in us. (Why, I wonder, does the obvious sometimes feel like a revelation?)

We are all recovering children. To initiate change, we have to choose between depression and anxiety. We have to take risks (that promote anxiety) to step into larger shoes. (He described depression as “pockets of soul that have withdrawn energy” or, in other words, “soul is not pleased where we are putting our energy.”) When we decide to take a risk, we should ask ourselves: “Does this enlarge or diminish me?” There will be suffering either way. (Damn it.) Another giant question to wrap our mind around is “What task is my neurosis trying to help me avoid?”

Hollis was briefer in his discussion of the second point. He spoke of honouring relationship and the mystery of the other. As in his last talk in Vancouver, he noted that we should not be looking at an other (mostly in our intimate relationship) for what he or she can do for us but simply accept him or her as a mystery. (How to do this? Hmm… if we can’t even know ourselves well, don’t know what is in our unconscious, how do we expect to know another being? Especially if they don’t tell us what they are thinking, feeling, etc. Or their mode of expression is different than ours?)

And lastly Hollis spoke about spirituality and I wasn’t able to grasp his ideas well. I always have a problem grasping the abstract, mysterious and spiritual. He said we all have an unconscious spirituality that relates to the degree to which we can tolerate ambiguity and doubt. He discussed addictions as the way we manage stress. We all have addictions. And they are the clue that there is something else going on.

Finally, he spoke of creating our own myth consciously or a myth will be created for us.

It was a good evening. Afterwards, the three of us walked down Robson to O’Douls and had a glass of wine, an appetizer, and listened to live jazz. Our conversation flowed. It was a perfect evening.

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