Living between Worlds

Living between Worlds. Finding Personal Resilience in Changing Times” is the latest book, written by Dr. James Hollis on the topic of modern challenges of coping with anxiety and help from Depth Psychology. 

The author is Dr. James Hollis, or Jim, as we call him, is a well-known scholar in the field of Depth psychology. I met Jim personally during my tenure at the Jung Society of Washington, D.C. 

This book is an introduction to the field of Depth psychology for general public. It is also a summary of Jim’s personal journey and his previous books.

The author tried to solve the following problems:

  1. What are the causes of anxiety in our time
  2. Why our social institutions are failing
  3. What is Depth psychology, its principles and practices
  4. What we can learn from literature and folklore
  5. What are our tasks
  6. What are the major concepts of Jungian psychology

Jim explained the major concepts in plain language and illustrated in different ways before giving the official terminology. It makes the complex material much more accessible. 

The main problem was framed using the following concepts:

  • Instincts – the unconscious, inner guidance, primary phenomenon, the transcendent Other, the energy, the gods. 
  • The ego – our consciousness, which contains the secondary, epiphenomenal, our subjective images of the phenomenon, our concepts and the worldview.
  • Anxiety – the psychopathological symptoms, the split, caused by the separation of the ego from the instincts.
  • Anxiety Treatment – an approach of Depth psychology to healing by reconnecting the ego to the instincts, based on the ideas of Carl Jung. 

What are the causes of anxiety? The social function that focuses us on the outer values like power, wealth, status, and disregards inner guidance such as dreams. The idea here is to show that our modern civilization is moving in the wrong direction, and creating more, not less, anxiety in people.

In order to provide a solution to the problem, Jim described his view on the principles and practices of Deep psychology. 

The principles: 

  • It’s not about what it’s about
  • What you see is a compensation for what you don’t see
  • All is metaphor

The practices:

  • Journaling
  • Dream Interpretation
  • Active Imagination

What are our tasks to live with dignity?

  • Recovery of personal authority
  • Seek meaning, not happiness
  • Ask more from ourselves, less from the Other
  • Become conscious of own Shadow
  • Acquire steadfastness and philosophic patience in the face of suffering in-between the worlds.

The author presented the holistic framework of the human psyche that explains how changes of energy, feelings, and dreams are connected to the social function and psychopathology.

Unfortunately, the book does not have any pictures or visualizations, and I, as a visual person, developed the following diagrams to understand the text better.

Figure 1. The structure of the psyche

As we can see on Figure 1, we are the Ego, and we are focused on the demands of the social function: education, work, family, and society. Because those demands do not include our personal instincts, we are experiencing the psychopathological symptoms, i.e. anxiety. This anxiety actually prevents us from fulfilling the demands of the social function by isolating us into a severe personal crisis known as neurosis that requires a special treatment. The problem arises when the accessible and socially approved treatments such as pharmacology are not helpful, and we find ourselves in the stuck places. This is the pattern that Dr. Hollis called “the passage”, and makes a reference to his earlier book called “The middle passage: from misery to meaning in midlife”.

The better way to get unstuck is to include in the worldview the nature guidance such as energy level, feelings, dreams, and practice journaling, dreams interpretation, and active imagination. The warning from Dr. Hollis was to avoid what is called lucid dreaming when the Ego is reasserting itself rather than learn from what was presented.

The author presented the functions as different energies, and a concept of an archetype as a cluster of those energies.

Figure 2. The transformation process

The archetype is the organizing function, that includes a cluster of energies, responsible for the specific type of a split, and a corresponding compensatory function. It forces the subject to grow in order to overcome the limitation. The concept of energy follows the rule that nature does not waste it, which includes dreams. 

Personally, I found it very insightful. A typical hero archetype described as something you need to do. Jim showed that an archetype is actually a result of getting into a victim mentality in the first place. Basically, a complex is a creation of an archetype. The wholeness can be broken in many ways, and the archetype is that resulting form that has both sides – the force that got us broken, and the hidden force that is formed to get us healed. Our mature spirituality and meaning seeking will lead us through a resonance system to the inner peace and contentment. The most useful reads for that practice are “Tracking the gods: the place of myth in modern life”, and “Living an examined life: wisdom for the second half of the journey”.

“Living between worlds” is a summary of Jim’s previous works, and serves as the introduction and a navigational framework for the reader. It is also a good reference with the list of the publications available to read next, and the index for terminology used. 

I feel that this book is similar conceptually to the C.G. Jung’s work called “Man and his Symbols”. It was designed as a general introduction to the Analytical psychology, and has served me well before. At the same time, Jim’s book reminded me about another work of Carl Jung, “The undiscovered Self”, where Dr. Jung focused on the society at large. 

I read Jim’s previous books as well as other authors, related to the topic of Depth psychology, and found his way of sharing ideas through a mythopoetic style quite distinctive. His practical advice often illustrated by the examples from his deep knowledge of literature, to show the universality of the archetypes across different times and cultures. Even now, at the age of 80, he is very active in his own analytic practice, gives interviews and lectures, and just shows up.

4 thoughts on “Living between Worlds

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