James Hollis on Living the Examined Life (Extract)

I offer this book containing the summation of decades of working with students, clients, analysands, and myself in the hope that it will be helpful to each reader in the conduct of his or her life and bring a greater sense of purpose and personal permission to be, in the end, who he or she is. All that sounds so simple, but in fact it is very difficult.

For the last thirty years, I have had the privilege of traveling to four continents giving presentations and workshops and have flown well over a million miles to these scattered venues. As a result, I have witnessed what touches people, what energizes them, what reminds them of something they know but perhaps have forgotten, and finally, what challenges them to come back to their journey. Herein I summarize these very complex issues in a finite list of graspable points. Sometimes we need a list, sometimes to be reminded, and sometimes to be kicked in the butt. This book is that reminder, that kick in the butt. This book promises nothing easy. It asks that the reader be serious about looking at his or her life and taking responsibility for it. We are, after all, the only constant character in that long-running soap opera we call our life. Therefore, it might well be argued that we are somehow account- able for how it is turning out.

This book contains twenty-one desiderata, the daily acknowledgment of which will change your life, make it more interesting, make it more nearly your own, and make possible the recovery of your journey. It is my surmise that you have not picked up this book idly or as a distraction. You have done so out of a nagging curiosity, a deep, abiding pain, an unresolved life problem. Moreover, you most likely want surcease of suffering, rapid improvement, and abiding change for the better. If someone tells you the truth—that you will likely be dealing with these issues most of your life that you will come back to them over and over in new venues, new relationships, new

Lessons in living for mid-life stages of life—you would likely move on quickly. But the truth is the truth, and as Jung pointed out, we seldom solve problems, but we can outgrow them. That is what this book is about, not solutions, but attitudes, behaviors, and disciplines that move us toward enlargement, toward enfolding our debilitating history into a journey more productive, more clearly our own. As I believe these ideas require reflection, percolation through the layers of our accumulated resistance to change, I strongly recommend that the book not be read straight through, but a chapter a day. Only a disciplined reading allows the ideas to percolate to our soul. To that end, the chapters have been kept short and to the point. Reading one chapter per day allows greater absorption than surfing through the whole permits.

It is my hope that this book will be a tool for each of us to recover respect for that which abides deeply within. As we do, we will not be spared disappointment or suffering, but we will know the depth and dignity of an authentic journey, of being a real player in our brief moment on this turning planet, and our life will become more interesting to us, taking us deeper than ever before. Only then are we on the journey of the soul. As the Danish theologian Kierkegaard observed: merchant mariners get their sailing orders in the safe harbor; men-o’- war open their instructions on the high seas. Whether you know it or not, you are on the high seas of the soul and have been so for a long time. It is time to open our instructions, set a new course, turn and tack into the wind, and sail onward, with the destination unfolding as we move.

James Hollis, Washington, DC

Excerpted from LIVING AN EXAMINED LIFE, by James Hollis, PhD. Sounds True, February 2018. Reprinted with permission.

The extract was featured in the Autumn 2018 Cygnus Review. Living anExamined Life is available for purchase from Cygnus Books.