Hauntings: Dispelling the Ghosts Who Run Our Lives by James Hollis (2013)

, 29 Sep 2016

The present moment is informed by the past, driven by its imperatives, its prescriptions and proscriptions. Either we are repeating it by serving its message, or trying to escape it, or we have evolved our unconscious treatment plan for it. Either way, the past calls the shots, at least until it is flushed out into the full light of consciousness.  (Loc. 148-151). The past is not dead; it is not even past. And what we resist will persist— as haunting.(Loc. 201-202)
This is the first book I read by Hollis, a reputed Jungian psychoanalyst, and I am most impressed with his literary writing, his erudition, his wisdom, his humanity, his compassion a with the way he touches the readers' soul, or at least mine. 

Hauntings is not a book about mediums or ghosts, is a book about those psychological ghosts (by absence and by presence) that make our lives more mechanical and more untrue to who we really are (our soul and inner self). Those ghosts direct our behaviour, our feelings, and our lives in two major ways: by replicating them without being aware we are doing so, or by being aware of them and trying to compensate to avoid them.

THE HAUNTING GHOSTS

> Our genes. Of course, they aren't discussed in this book.
> Our parent's unlived lives and conditioning. Everything we learn about the world is first filtered through them. From them we receive our culture, religion, values and even their neurosis and behaviours. The mother figure is vital until we are 6-7y.o.a, but the father figure becomes increasingly so from then onwards, if any of those fail not to be there or to be too much, or be in the wrong way, those patterns of being, behaving and feeling will be passed on to us.   
> Synchronicity. This the only positive haunting in the book. It is presented as a mysterious non-causal energy of the Universe that follows us to let us know whatever we need to know or notice, and puts us in direct connection with the Universe without the need of any mediator (the state, gurus, evangelists, priests, or whomever else, all of them with their own agenda). 
> Our "complexes" or subconscious patterns of behaviour emotionally triggered. Hollis does a great job at explaining what a complex is, how it works and how it manifest, and the power that they have over us all. We need to bring them into consciousness, but even we do, they are the hardest thing to handle. They are the ghostly aspect most widely discussed in the book:  "We do not rise in the morning, look in the mirror while brushing our teeth, and say to ourselves, “Today I will do the same stupid things, the reflexive things, the regressive things which I have been doing for years!” But more often than not we indeed do the same stupid, reflexive, regressive things, and why? (Loc. 857-860).
> Our shadow, projections and transferences, who present aspects of us as part of somebody else's, an unconscious lens that alters reality and the perception of who the others are, bringing a distorted picture of their self, that we only notice is a lens when the projection crumbles and we tell ourselves s/he wasn't what looked like or the person thought s/he was. 
> Our sense of guilt (personal or social it might be). Guilt is the result of something we have done or failed to do. It shows in our lives in three different ways: patterns of avoidance, patterns of overcompensation, and patterns of self-sabotage. Perhaps the most evident sense of guilt comes from the expectations of society that favours niceness over authenticity and adaptation over assertiveness, so we end giving too much weight to what others expect from us or think of us any failure or lack of fitting is transformed into guilt.  
> Our sense of shame, or the belief that we are wrong or flawed somewhat because we have to meet some criteria, respond to somebody's else expectations, or serve a given agenda, no matter is self-imposed or more commonly imposed by cultural codes, religious institutions, or the internalisation of agendas or assignments (even unspoken) of parents, family or other people who matter to us.
> Psychological social projections, the same as personal projections but at a big scale. They are the base of racism, sexism, xenophobia, prejudice, religious intolerance, dogmatism and the view of anything and anybody who is different as a threat. The more insecure the ego the less it tolerates differences. The reverse side is contagious social ideas, fashions and fears that expand like a plague. Hollis states that no religious, civil, educational or social institution has not, in some degree, constricted us and prevent us from fulfilling  our potential.
> Betrayal from others and from ourselves. Betrayal is a kind of loss that is internalised and leads us to inner conclusions that result in paranoia, obsession, and projective identification. Hollies says that usually transfer to the Universe, the State, the Company, the marriage the role of good parent or caretaker and when they fail to serve us we have a tantrum and disappointment will be seen as betrayal.
> Magical thinking or the failure to differentiate interior reality from external reality.
> Modernism, or the loss of a spiritual core and myths of the 'tribe', which creates an inner void and anxiety. The loss is appeased by compensation: materialism, self-absorption, obsession, compulsion, addiction,  and any sort of "-holism', whatever fills up that void. When reading chapter 9, which deals with this matter, I thought of how the collapse of the Dream Culture among Aboriginal Australians has led the last two generations to being lost, angry, raging, and to consuming much into alcohol and drugs so as to numb their lack of spiritual void and the guidance of the elders.
The lost of our connection with our soul.

THE MAJOR TAKINGS FROM THE BOOK TO ME

>> One of the major takings of the book is a clear idea of what complexes are and how they work in our psyche, and how they direct our behaviour. Most importantly, how much power have over us, how much inner energy they summon, and how difficult is to loose them up, because beating them is out of the question. This is a bit terrifying,  especially if you are aware of your own complexes and want to beat them.

.>> The second major taking is how dreams and feelings are relevant for our inner world and psyche. Dreams speak in a symbolic language to tell us what our soul grievances and hopes are. They don't rise from the ego, nor have an ego agenda, so they bring the unconscious to the conscious better than anything else. They are a window to your soul, you have just to poke you nose in to see. In the same way our feelings, the way we feel, are expressions of the psyche and the soul and not of the ego, so we should pay more attention to them.

>>  We need to live more consciously and more thoughtfully. We need to bring the unconscious to our conscious as if our life depended on it because, in a way, it does.

>> We need to be faithful to our core and authentic self.  Betraying our soul is the worst betrayal one will ever suffer. This demands paying less attention to what society and other people expect from us, and doing and being more what our soul is and longs for. This demands learning what you truly want and living according to it. We all fear to change, to grow, to be lonely, to get the disapproval of others, to be weird, not to fit, but that cannot be a deterrent to be who we truly are. Fear is normal, living in fear is not.

>>  There is a need for grace and forgiveness with others and ourselves. Let's accept our humanity and imperfection.  The need to trust even when our trust has been abused. Easier said than done!

>> We need to choose life over victimhood. "It is always easier to blame the other than recognize at how many stages of the process we betrayed ourselves, sustained denial, and perpetuated what was already outlived. Betraying our own souls has been with us so long that we often forget we have a soul and that it is asking to be served even more urgently than our dependencies and our infantilities." Most difficult!


>> Let's individuate! Becoming a person is actually a very difficult project. (Loc. 2598-2599), just worth the effort.

SOME CRITICISM

Hauntings is a wonderful book that has touched me deeply, bit it lacks something very important to me -- practicality. In that regard, I love Robert A. Johnson's books, which aren't as soulful, but more tool-full. Hollis advises us to bring our ghosts to our conscious life, to pay attention to our dreams and feelings, to be faithful and true to ourselves, to face the pain and adversity with some sort of stoicism by going through the pain instead of numbing it or ignoring it. Yet, how we all mortals do that without the assistance of a psychoanalyst?

A WISH

I found a ghost missing from the list. Well, I'm not sure if it is ghost properly speaking but a ghost of mine definitely -- the ghost of poverty. Not being able to have ends meet. I think individuation is just a wonderful thing, and will appeal to some individuals no matter their gender, age and social status, but to individuate we have first to have our belly full and some sort of economical surplus. Or perhaps not. It is definitely always a ghost for me perhaps because I was very poor for a long time and poverty and having nothing is always around the corner, even when I have a bit of money at hand. I would have loved Hollis, who knows what poverty is, to perhaps include it in his list and make some reflections about it. 

ON HOLLIS' WRITING

Hollis is an erudite, well-versed in English and World literature, Philosophy and Theology. He integrates in his books quotes from American and European authors. To me, they are so illustrative and so to the point of what Hollis is writing, that I didn't find them invasive most of the time. On the contrary, I found them illuminating of how artists are so in tune with the human soul and what what life is, and how  they can dig as deep as a psychoanalyst does. 

If you watch some of Hollis's videos online you will see that he is quite a direct speaker, very approachable and easy to understand. However, his writing is quite different, I think simply because he loves writing and does so in a very literary formal way. To me, that is simply wonderful. It is also challenging because he uses a rich English vocabulary that has quite pronounced Latin and German nuances. The way I see it is that his writing allows me to improve my English, not a flaw. I admire when authors do not betray themselves even when pushed by editors to downgrade their writing for the red-necks and bogans of the world, with all my respect. I think those same readers can grab a dictionary and improve their vocabulary. Yet, it sounds at times that those people consider that offensive! This is utterly shocking to me. I also find shocking readers commenting on Hollis' intention of proving how clever he is, which I think it is a clear projection of their inferiority complex because, to be realistic, they don't know this man at all!

Having said that, although I like Holli's style and choice of phrasing and vocabulary, I thought that sometimes he goes a bit too far using words that are archaic, rare or specialised. Not that there are many of those, but I think they aren't needed. E.g. 'anfractuosities.', in medias res' and some others.

Also,  at times there were too many quotes and they aren't always necessary. Here an approximate list of the authors quoted in the book: Robert Frost, Paul Eluard, Rilke, Longfellow, W. H. Auden, Sharon Olds, Delmore Schwartz, James Tate, Josef Breuer, Freud, Jung, Brothers Grimm, Christopher Marlowe, Milton, Nietzsche, Sartre, Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett, Pascal, Emily Dickinson, Kant, Copernicus, Francis Bacon, B, Scott Momaday, St Augustine, Matthew Arnold, Chritopher Fry, Alicia Ostriker, Walt Whitman, Paul Tillich, Kierkegaard, Aldo Carotenuto, Horace Walpole, Thomas Wolfe, Dabuek Wakoski, Adam Zagajewski, Paul Hoover, Homer, Gunnar Ekelof, Joyce, Shakespeare, Yeats, Ibsen, Mann, Hesse, Machado, Wittgenstein, and Dante!

The book is a bit repetitive and loopy at times, and unnecessarily so, and I found the use of rhetorical questions excessive in number, as the same could have been said straight forward in  non-interrogative form without losing any emphasis. In other cases, the rhetoric works great, but not always.

MIND

If you are a reader looking for a simple book to read, this might not be for you. It is written in  a very formal literary way, it is very deep, and it is very Jungian.  So this is not pop-psychology nor a self-help book.

RENDERING FOR KINDLE

The book has no pages, just the usual locations, but there are some cross references (unlinked) in the book that refer to specific page numbers not locations. That shouldn't be so in an e-book. I noticed:
> Location 1037 (p. 49), but the book has no pages on Kindle.
> Location 1851, (p. 000) What What What?!

Living Your Unlived Life: Coping with Unrealized Dreams and Fulfilling Your Purpose in the Second Half of Life by Robert A. Johnson & Jerry Ruhl (2007)

, 22 Sep 2016

At mid-life we come face to face with our failures and losses. As we age, each of us is confronted by limitations, threats to our capacity to control outcomes, and deflations of our presumptions of omnipotence. (p. 49). "we are called upon to examine the 'truths' by which we live and even to acknowledge that their opposite also contains truth." (p. 15) "The reluctance to face our own shit is very strong." (p. 217-218).
Living Your Unlived Life is a short Jungian book that synthesises and develops many of Johnson's previous books on shadow work, dreamwork and active imagination, and mixes them with some reflections on archetypes, complexes, and Depth Psychology from Rhul. The narrators use the first person, so one cannot distinguish what comes from whom. However, the book feels whole and coherent. Johnson's impromptu is clear, especially if you have read others of his works. Like in most of Johnson's books, a Greek myth is used as conductor of the study, in this case the story of Castor and Pollux. You might ask why myths are still relevant for our Western Culture, and the answer is: 
"Mythic stories tell us holistic, timeless truths, as they are a special kind of literature, not written or created by a single individual but produced by the imagination and experience of an entire culture. (...) Mythic stories, therefore, portray a collective image— they tell us about things that are true for all people." (p. 8).

THE NUGGETS

The second part of life or middle age is a period of time when we seek authenticity, to be true to who we are and to express ourselves in ways that connect us with our inner truth. This is also a period of upheaval and reflection when, more than ever, we start seeking for meaning to get a sense of inner fulfilment. The main quest in the second part of life is the seek for wholeness, which means to be "hale, healthy and holy" and to honour our higher self, this understood as "the propensity of psyche to dynamically seek greater levels of integration, organisation, relationship, and creative expression" (note 2).

Johnson & Ruhl's advice to achieve wholeness and authenticity is not based on fluff, it is based on serious inner work:
1/ We have to 'be' more and 'do' less, or just to alternate 'being' and 'doing' more frequently.A Zen approach to life, basically.
2/ We need to make the unconscious conscious.
3/  We have to apply meta-consciousness to our thinking and behaviour so we aren't acting on autopilot and repeating behaviour patterns that are not good for us and are even harmful. The requires that we pause and reflect instead of doing what we usually do, i.e. leave our unconscious to run its hidden agenda. To disarm a complex you must learn to move your ego into a position of witness  (...) the goal is not to eliminate patterned thoughts and behaviour but rather to loosen them up sufficiently(p. 62).
4/ We need to learn to separate which parts of us are not really us but a by-product of our culture, country of birth, gender and social class or just a projection of our families.
5/ We must live our unlived lives (those parts of our character and psyche that we consciously or unconsciously repress, which are both luminous and dark) by doing shadow work, dream work and through active imagination We also need to start asking ourselves the right questions: instead of What should I do to get rid of this wrong thing in me?” we should ask “Why is the right thing in the wrong place?” (p. 103) instead of asking "What’s in it for me?” we should ask “What is needed at this moment for greater wholeness, integration, and creative expression? What serves the greater good?” (p. 179).
6/ We need to learn to look at the world with less polarity, with less duality, with less judgement, more through a coloured lens and less through a black and white one. There is no list of virtues that cannot be contradicted; this is a truth that can be liberating and frightening at the same time. We need to synthesise the opposites tempering one with the other and accept that both are valuable and necessary to live a balanced life.  
7/ We need to keep a balance between the archetype of the Eternal Youth and the archetype of the Wise Elder, by using an attitude of tinkering, discovery and play. Without the Eternal Youth we become morally rigid, dogmatic, judgemental, and authoritarian, but if we are too attached to the Eternal Youth we may exhibit immaturity, narcissism and an inability to grow and achieve psychological maturity.
8/ Let's  get a  new mindset, as the old solutions to our problems won't work and our automatic habits will work against us the older we become.  
9/ Let's have strong ethics and walk the talk. People who behave ethically are those who make an honest effort to conform their behaviour to their values. When your conduct is at odds with your essential character, it reflects a fragmentation of the personality. Shirking of ethical responsibility deprives us of wholeness. (p. 125). Amen!
10/ We need to do some work to improve our capacity of response to the challenges we face, so we do so with more flexibility, passionately and in a powerful way.

This book is full of wisdom, with some philosophical and spiritual reflections that are wonderful to ponder on,  no matter the stage you are in life. I actually think that this sort of book should be read by people older than 25 so that  they can start doing  something with their lives to have less neurosis and more fulfilling lives when they are, say, in their mid 30s.

My favourite chapter is number 10, Returning Home and Knowing It for the First Time. This chapter is very thought provoking, very touching and lyrically spiritual, and also very confronting in a way. This won't be an easy read if you are a hardcore Christian or very attached to any established creed; however, the chapter will be like a fragrant breeze for those of us who are more spiritual than religious. In a way, this chapter is a call to arms, to  the true spirit that lives in all of us, to break free from the chains that constrict and restrict our soul even if those are part of a set of religious beliefs and structures. Besides, this is the only chapter where old age and death are considered. The chapter is a call to the return to the divine, to walk into oneness, and to reclaim our personal paradise, as heaven lives within us:
"Paradise exists, but as a level of consciousness, and it is available to you when you are ready to receive it. (...) The very idea that the material world is separate from some other “higher” existence is itself an error of duality. Reality is not dual, though our current level of awareness perceives it that way. (pp. 225-227).
If you have never read a book by Johnson, this might intrigue you enough to read more detailed approaches to shadow work, dreamwork and active imagination. If you are into Jungian and Depth Psychology, you will find wonderful applications of Jung's teachings to the challenges that your psyche  and life face, no matter your age.

THE SHORTCOMINGS

~~ Although the book has great wisdom and is well written, it might  disappoint the general public, who will come to this book because "the second part of life" in its title. They might expect precise concise answers on how to solve or face mid-age issues, but they won't find but challenging inner work.  

~~ The structure of the book  makes the message confusing or not clear enough. To me, they should have started explaining what an unlived life is, specifically, and how it affects our life. "To live our unlived lives" is repeated ad nauseam, but "unlived life" is never clearly defined. I would have explained how to access that unlived lives (shadow work, dreamwork, active imagination, archetypes in this precise order) and how to deal with our oldest years if we get there alive.  I think in this way the whole book would have conveyed the same message in a more clear way. Just my opinion, of course.

~~ Except for some parts, this book is not specific for people in the second part of life. The bits about old age are truly so, but most of the book focuses on doing things that are beneficial for people of all ages and are interested in inner work. 

~~ I have a problem with vague talking, in this case with the expression "the second part of life". What is that supposed to mean? My grandmother died old and wretched in her 40s, so her second part of life was in her 20s. Depending on the country or area of the world we live in, we have a longer or shorter life expectancy and we marry and settle sooner or later. So I would like to know, exactly, how do we know we are in that second part of life as we don't know how long we are going to live. Is it an age? I is a state of mind? Is it having a job and a routine life? Is a state of the soul?  Is being settled in life? What exactly?  

MIND

>>  Although the language is accessible, the book reads better if you already have an understanding of basic Jungian concepts, like ego, shadow, projection and archetypes.  The authors have a specific reader as a target, so if you aren't one of those, you  might get lost without the help of a teacher or mentor.

>> Although Jungian Psychology is very much Christian and spiritual, there is a good deal of elements that could conflict with orthodox Christian beliefs because, beyond the concept of psychological soul, the book is infused in Zen, Eastern philosophies and Antiquity Greek religion. Therefore, the book might not be for readers who have a set of values deeply ingrained in established churches and religions, and believe in the value and importance of right and wrong, good and bad, light and dark. 

EXERCISES IN THE BOOK

 > Unlived lived inventory (adapted from the Roland Evans' model, quite interesting and surprising.)
> What are you stuck at? (good)
> The Doing/ Being Shuffle (good)
> Who am I? (good, needs of partner or conductor).
> The living symbol (not practical, need of partner or conductor who knows what s/he is doing.)
> Talking it over with yourself  (interesting but it would be great if an expert did it with you the first time so  we learn.)
> Dream tending (excellent.)
> Follow what you love (OK.)
> Dissolving the split perspective  (truly interesting and fun!)
 Some of the exercises are great if you happen to have a guide, a psychoanalyst or mentor who has a mastery on those,;otherwise, they might  lead you nowhere. Also, some of the exercises were somewhat odd, like asking yourself about the unlived lives of your parents. Some things came to mind for my parents about things they said they wanted to do and couldn't because of poverty or their specific circumstances. Yet, I am not my parents' psychoanalyst, so there must be many things inside them that they are never expressed, of which they don't want or can't talk about, or simply don't know they exist.

RENDERING FOR KINDLE

I find upsetting paying for a short digital book to find that the notes are not linked to the text they relate, that the index is not linked either, and that some of the links do not work either. It doesn't cost much fixing that in the e-book, so I always wonder why editors don't give a damn.

WHAT?!

As a tool to remember and note down your dreams, the authors recommend a "voice-activated tape recorder also can be handy (p. 142)." Time to wake-up, most people would have a smart-phone with a voice recording app included, tape recorders died, like a few decades ago, no? Tape recorders are an obsolete technology, no longer in use, unless you happen to have one of those. In year 2016 you can still find voice recorders, digital, but they are expensive, and one needs more a mobile than a VR, so using an app, free or paid, or just the VR feature that comes included in some smartphones is the easiest cheapest way to do that in year 2016.