Somewhat reluctantly my eyes scan the last few lines of James Hollis’s book What Matters Most one more time. “To have kept one’s appointment with destiny, to have taken one’s journey through this dark, bitter, luminous wondrous universe, to have risked being who we really are, is, finally, what matters most.” I have just finished a remarkable book and feel somewhat saddened by the realization that the final page has been turned. I always feel this way with a special book; I measure out my reading page-by-page, day-by-day to save some morsel for another time. I wend my way upstairs to comprise a review for Amazon. This is kind of fun as I have never done it before. Humility Combined with Insight to Create a Masterpiece of Understated Wisdom: “I loved this book. Firstly, it is written by a psychologist who believes in soul. Secondly, it is written by a spiritual teacher who does not promise a Pollyanna existence if we follow his teachings. There is a wonderful sense of reality about James Hollis’s writing. In fact one of the quotes I loved went as follows: ‘though I am not against happiness I do consider it a poor measure of the worth and depth of one’s life.’ What matters to James Hollis is living the journey to its maximum; to fully explore the mystery; to live an interesting life. He never takes on the air of knowing all the answers.”
I reflect back on the aspects of the book that touched me most. The recollection that much of our adult behaviours are unconscious and governed by complexes created in our early days. This had really bought my troubled relationship with my father to the fore. I had known for many years the rebellious child complex that I had lived with unconsciously for years. It resulted in me taking on authority, often aggressively and to my own detriment. I recall how, as a teenager, I had been summoned by the rugby coach to tell me that I was to lose my prize position as centre and be moved out to the wing. In my aggressive effort to challenge him I was told that I either accepted it or left the team. “I won’t play then” I retorted therefore ensuring my future as a rugby player was over for the rest of my school days. Only in hind-site was I able to see how self-destructive my behaviour had been. The only person who was hurt was myself. This complex continued to dominate my attitude in certain situations throughout my working career. It was not until mid-life that I started to evolve my reactions to authority figures. I could now see these were thinly disguised reactions to my father.
While reading What Matters Most I encountered a second complex related to my father which I wrote about in http://ta44.wordpress.com/2009/04/12/empowerment-part-2/ This is the mirror complex of the one above. It results in a feeling of childish disempowerment in certain situations. It feels like a default response for occasions when the rebellious child doesn’t show up. I sense that holding the rebellious child archetype was energetically demanding and was frequently greeted by some form of negative reaction or punishment. So there was a second persona that just went along: peace at any price. But the result as an adult is to feel inadequate and weak.
James Hollis was kind enough to engage with me over some of my thoughts and insights. It started when I wrote him a letter thanking him for his second book Why Good People Do Bad Things. In my card I observed that when reading a passage to a friend, she had commented that he writes a bit like me, so I was presumptuous enough to send him a copy of my book Life’s Little Book for Big Decisions. To my surprise and pleasure, he replied, thanked me, and said he would read it. This led to my sending him a piece I had written in response to his chapter on complexes and once again he honoured me with a complimentary response. This encouraged me so when I wrote a reflection on the issue of why some do this in-depth work and not others and whether there is any consequence if you never get around to it, I again e-mailed him. Once again he responded with a reflection of his own. I noticed how much I appreciated this engagement and then, like a dart hitting the bullseye, yet another complex fell into place I observed that there was an interesting time of anxiety and uncertainty between when I wrote and when he replied. As I reviewed this, I recognized a similar child like quality in my reaction; something like the feeling of disempowerment described above; a reaction perhaps to possible rejection and criticism. I realize that a third complex around my father is a need to be seen, recognized and affirmed by others, particularly someone in a position of authority like James Hollis. This was something I never recall receiving from my father. I noticed the child like apprehension that had made it impossible for me to ask if he had indeed read my book, let alone ask him what he thought.
I think the great gift of his writing is that it encourages us to explore the mystery. I suspect that as we tap into these unconscious behaviours and understand them, it frees us in some way. Perhaps it releases energy or chi and restores for use in our current life. I do know that my awareness has lifted a veil that was over my eyes and has diminished the unconscious power that these complexes were wielding over my behaviour. I think I am finally ready to ask if he has read my book.