Published in the winter 2014 issue of the Newsletter of the C.G. Jung Society of Montreal
Hauntings, Dispelling the Ghosts Who Run Our Lives
Chiron Publications, 2013
By Stephen Morrissey
When I was six years old my father died. Several months after his death I saw my father's ghost, luminous and bright, at the top of the stairs. No one spoke of my father for many years after his death so that his absence became an even greater haunting than seeing his ghost. This new book by James Hollis, Hauntings, Dispelling the Ghosts Who Run Our Lives, spoke to me personally as I have been haunted by the loss and grief I felt over my father's passing. For Hollis, there are several ways in which we may be haunted and none of them are supernatural. These include dysfunctional parental relationships, complexes, guilt, betrayal, the shadow, and even a calling to an authentic life becomes a haunting when it is ignored. These ghosts that haunt us are the conflicted parts of our own inner being and they are able to destroy relationships and happiness and make life feel that it is not worth living.
To be called to an activity is not something only for great artists or thinkers. Each of us has a calling to some activity, but this calling is also to psychological wholeness, what C.G. Jung called individuation. We reject this calling at our own peril because it leads to an inauthentic life. Hollis admits that it was with reluctance that he began writing this book. He was called, however, by a dream about the American Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant and by synchronistic experiences that he describes in the Introduction. Hollis also states this writing was a "summons and an obligation," for a calling is sometimes not to an activity that we may desire, but one that we are compelled to carry out.
We can also be haunted by a complex. Hollis quotes Jung in describing a complex as "the state of being seized or possessed" by the past. A complex is driven by the fear, sometimes by the terror, of not behaving in accordance with the unresolved demands of an experience in our life. A mother complex is one that some people are possessed by, but many other complexes also exist. Those people haunted by complexes readily find excuses to perpetuate them. There is a lot at risk in understanding the psychology behind a complex, the foremost might be to lose a connection to the past to which one is attached. Hollis writes, "wheresoever ready rationalizations exist, thereunto a complex is being protected" (42).
One of the most fascinating discoveries of C.G. Jung is the shadow aspect of the psyche. The keeping of secrets is an important way the psyche maintains the existence of the shadow. When we project what we don't like about ourselves onto other people we are being haunted by the shadow but we are also in thrall to the secret that is protected by the shadow. What we are afraid of or reject in ourselves is what we project onto other people. The history of the world is full of examples of such shadow hauntings. Evidence of the shadow can be seen when people make generalizations, usually condemnatory, about other people, often people who can't defend themselves from these unfair projections. These secrets haunt us and corrupt our present-day life. At its worst the haunting by the shadow can lead to genocide and racial hatred, or the failed relationships of people who are unaware of their own shadow. In either case, this haunting results in the diminution and denial of life, not the expansion and affirmation of life.
Hollis's book is accessible and is a continuation of his previous books. It is Hollis's mission to help the reader understand his or her life more fully, often by taking an original approach to difficult psychological problems, or different stages of life. Being haunted undermines our ability to live fully the life that we have. Hollis returns again, in this book, to the topic of living the unlived life of the parent. He feels an urgency to communicate and explain this idea. Can we ever exorcize our parents who both blessed us with life and cursed us with their unlived lives? It seems to me that this can be taken two ways: the first is the obvious working at a career that is not appropriate for us or otherwise living according to the unfulfilled experiences that our parents wanted for themselves. It seems to me that there is another, less literal, example of "living the unlived life of the parent" that is to attempt the individuation, or self-understanding, the parent never considered important or was afraid to attempt. If our parents have not lived in a way that is authentic to their inner being, then this work becomes the inheritance of their children. The alternative is a multi-generational continuation of dysfunctional relationships, this is the haunting of families that can last for many years. Hollis writes,
Of all of these hauntings, the greatest is the one we alone produce: the unlived life. None of us will find the courage, or the will, or the capacity to completely fulfill the possibility invested in us by the gods. But we are accountable for what we do not attempt. To what degree does our pusillanimity beget replicative haunting in our children, our families, our communities, our nations? (144)
As we get older, or face old age and death, we know that this life is a journey from birth to death. We have happiness and regret, success and failure, but the worst thing is the discovery that one's life has not been authentic to oneself. This journey demands of us inner work that is psychological but it is also spiritual and this spiritual aspect is ignored in our increasingly secular society. For many of us, part of the beauty of Jung's approach to psychology lies in its assertion that individuation is "synonymous with, or analogous to, what our ancestors called a divine vocation: answering the summons of God" (141).
Hauntings, Dispelling the Ghosts Who Run Our Lives is the culmination of James Hollis's years of communicating to his readers the urgency of knowing ourselves and resolving our inner conflicts. Most of us will be able to resonate to the thesis of this book, that what haunts us is the residue of our own unexamined life. This beautifully written book, a book of wisdom and intelligence, can help the reader exorcize the spectral presences that prevent us from living a more meaningful and authentic existence. [EDIT] Stephen Morrissey's A Personal Mythology (Ekstasis Editions) is forthcoming in 2014. Visit the author at www.stephenmorrissey.ca.