Over ten years ago, when I formed my first Sophia Discussion Group, it did not take me long to decide what book we should tackle first. There has been one thinker who has guided me more than any other during the last twenty years and that is the Jungian analyst and writer, James Hollis. I have given dozens of copies of Hollis’ books to friends and have recommended his works to many more. There is, to my mind, no better interpreter of Jung’s work today and it must be added that he has developed and taken that work much further and to deeper spaces than any other Jungian writer before. Simply put, it you are reading this and have not yet found him in your explorations, please go buy one of his books and read it now---but remember to keep it, because you will be returning to it and finding new things each time. I subscribe to Joseph Campbell’s religion –which consists of underlining sentences---and the James Hollis works in my possession are so underlined and so full of notes to myself that they have become difficult to read.
Let me return to the book that got the Sophia Discussion Group going all those years ago. It is one of the many he published with Inner City Press, a wonderful publishing house run out of Toronto by Daryl Sharp. The books he publishes are by Jungian analysts who take on a number of subjects, all interesting, all of them eye-opening, all worth reading. Hollis’ book --- that first book – is called The Eden Project—In Search of the Magical Other and it is a must read for anyone in a relationship, contemplating one or even those who are convinced they will never enter into one again. It is the kind of book you read with your mouth open, madly underlining entire paragraphs in the hopes that you will somehow memorize every word. It is the kind of book you re-read a year later, five years later, and ten years later again only to find that you missed that one particular and perfect thought in all those other re-readings that allows you to look at your life in a completely different way. It is the kind of book you give to friends hoping that it will open their eyes and that they will stop blaming their partners for their unlived lives-- a gift that they may thank or curse you for because not everyone wants to be a grown up and Hollis is for grown-ups, for those wishing to take on their own lives fully by assuming responsibility for every decision made. And be aware -- for this book is not a how-to guide of any kind but a beautifully written road map to the greatest relationship we have -- the one with ourselves.
It is like this with every one of Hollis’s books. The Sophia Discussion Group – now in its eleventh year – has lately been exploring his Swamplands of the Soul, a book with a title guaranteed to raise the eyebrows of anyone looking at the cover but what a gem! In it Hollis explores all of our disowned and most troubling emotions that take us to some dismal places – guilt, grief, loss, betrayal, loneliness, anger, addictions, fear, angst--the list goes on.
His observations of what happens in these dismal places are those of someone who has travelled through the underworld and imbibed the wisdom to be found there. Like the Joseph Campbell hero, Hollis has returned to share his experiences and his thoughts with those of us less willing to tread so openly in such murky depths.
One of the most wonderful things about James Hollis’s books are the many references to poetry, philosophy, literature and art that appear in each of them. They open many poetic and philosophical universes within which we recognize how human our struggles are, how beautiful, how similar to those who have travelled these paths before.
In Swamplands, Hollis quotes the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche:
Behold your thoughts and feelings....there stands a mighty ruler, an unknown sage—whose name is Self.
Every single work by James Hollis is his attempt to guide you to connect with the Self so that you enlarge your experience and become less compulsive and unconscious than you were before. Hollis' book are not for children, but then again, we are not children, and many of us yearn to travel to the places that take us beyond our manic lives and allow us a passage into an ensouled world.