Articles & Reviews

Review of James Hollis's Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life

Finding Meaning in The Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up
James Hollis, Ph.D.
Gotham Books, New York
276 pages, ISBN 1-592-40207-0

The C.G. Jung Society of Montreal Newsletter, November 2006
Review by Stephen Morrissey

James Hollis's new book, Finding Meaning in The Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up, begins with the premise that while the first half of life is outer directed, such as to building a family life, or owning property, or being employed, the second half is more inner or spiritually directed. As we age, if we have not done the important work of examining our life, we may one day find ourselves in the "swampland" of life's second half. At that time there is an urgency to deal with our psychology, as confused, alienated, and fragmented as it may be.

Hollis asks, in a series of spiritually and psychologically probing questions that open the book, "Why is the life you are living too small for the soul's desire?" Hollis writes: "As Jung once put it humorously, we all walk in shoes too small for us. Living within a constricted view of our journey, and identifying with old defensive strategies, we unwittingly become the enemies of our own growth, our own largeness of soul, through our repetitive history-bound choices."

Why do we keep wearing shoes that are too small? One reason lies in our belief in "the false self" which encompasses "the values and strategies we have derived from internalizing the dynamics of our family and our culture." Our too small shoes keep us from stepping "into the largeness that the soul expects and demands." We know the signs of the soul being denied. There may be a depression, often treated relatively inexpensively by medication, but not treated deeply or thoroughly. There may be a problem with addiction, or an awareness of psychological complexes.

In the chapter on "The Dynamics of Intimate Relationship" Hollis discusses romantic love and marriage. It is a fairly bleak discussion of something that is supposed to bring us great happiness and fulfillment but is all too often filled with fantasy, complexes, transference, projection, and the desire to find the "magical other" or the person "who will truly understand us, take care of us, meet our needs, repair the wounds, and ... spare us the burden of growing up and meeting our own needs."

We live in a world that idealizes romantic love; indeed, we believe it can fulfill many of our needs, especially those in life's first half when it is only natural to want to have a partner and family, to fulfill ourselves in our careers, and to work for something greater than our individual selves. However, Hollis contends that we place a greater emphasis on the importance of the romantic relationship than it can fulfill. Central to his thinking is an emphasis on living as authentically as possible to the soul's purpose; unfortunately, romantic love may not be the fulfillment of this purpose, and Hollis seems to contend that it may also be the negation of it. The important thing, for Hollis, is not romantic involvement, which sometimes ends up as simply being an expression of co-dependence and a fear of being alone. Hollis suggests that we continue on our journey of self-understanding, and then, possibly, we will find that we are more tolerant and loving of others. "It is love not only of the other, but love of this life, this journey, and love of this task of soul." It is difficult to disagree with Hollis without appearing naïve, but I am not totally convinced by Hollis's argument which seems overly pessimistic. Sometimes even a bad romantic relationship can be a vehicle for waking up to the psychological complexity of life, and when better to wake up than the first half of life?

Our experience of family changes after mid-life. Some marriages collapse after the children have left home. They may have been a diversion or buffer, allowing the parents to continue to co-habit but also a means for couples to avoid relating to each other. A pathology in the family that Jung identified, and which Hollis discusses in this book and in his previous books, exists in the relationship of some parents and their children. It is the important observation that some children are burdened with "the unlived life of the parents." This refers to the parents' failure to reflect on their own life, to "finally, really grow up." Inevitably, the children will have to do the inner work that the parents never dealt with. Subsequently, Hollis writes, because "The parent has stopped growing, is intimidated by fear, is unable to risk, that model, that constriction, that denial of soul will be internalized by the child."

In the last chapter of this book, "The Healing of the Soul," Hollis answers the series of questions he presented at the very beginning of the book. Healing the soul can be the work of psychology, as Hollis feels it must be, for the etymology of "psychology" refers to "psyche" or the soul. The soul is a subject that religion has traditionally dealt with and psychology has avoided as unscientific or in the jurisdiction of organized religion. There is, Hollis writes, "A mystery so profound that none of us really seems to grasp it until it has indisputably grasped us..." This mystery is "that some force transcendent to ordinary consciousness is at work within us to bring about our ego's overthrow... That the Self, the architect of wholeness, which operates from a perspective larger than conventional consciousness." The Self is a spiritual aspect to our totality as human beings; the Self seeks wholeness and life affirmation despite the psychic fragmentation we experience. A dream, and the understanding of the dream, that leads to a greater understanding of some aspect of our life is an expression of the Self.

James Hollis's book, intended for a mass market, is an introduction to only some aspects of C.G. Jung's work; for instance, there is little or no mention of the shadow, anima and animus, or other discoveries that Jung made in his long career. Nevertheless, for many people, James Hollis's Finding Meaning in The Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up is an excellent place to begin this important journey into the second half of life.

Copyright © 2007 The author