Carl Jung was the father of modern analytical psychology. He was heavily influenced by Freud and shared his belief that the unconscious mind holds the key to unlocking repressed memories that define our past and help shape our future aspirations. Jung did split from Freud on other matters, such as the Oedipal complex and the over sexualization with respect to dream analysis. Jung’s cornerstone concept was that of individuation, where the self evolves from its two main components, the conscious and unconscious elements. This life long process is achieved by recognizing and blending these repressed memories with the aspirations and wishes for the future. There must be a balance for self actualization to occur or we will feel a disconnect from our authentic selves.
This all leads to a whole lot of dream analysis as dreams are the only source of unconscious knowledge that can be brought to the conscious surface. And this is where I have a hard time with a number of the premises brought forth in James Hollis’s book, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, How to Finally, Really Grow Up. Hollis is a Jungian psychoanalyst who uses multiple examples of how dream analysis can unlock what the mind is truly longing for in life. As a biologist I believe that dreams are a direct manifestation of neural connections that have been stimulated, perhaps without your conscious knowledge, to trigger memories, fears and anxiety responses (hence more dreams associated with negative emotions are remembered in greater detail than those associated with pleasant stimuli). Dreams are simply a processing mechanism required for the brain to function in the face of constant visual, auditory, taste and touch stimulation in our daily interactions. I do not ascribe spiritual or religious meaning to dreaming any more than I would any other biological function. I do not urinate more during the day because I secretly hate my parents!
The first half of this book spent a great deal of time outlining the problems we face moving into our mid life. Dealing with parents and their dreams for our lives and the difficulty we have in wanting desperately to assert our individualization without disappointing our progenitors. I did not find this part particularly helpful. I don’t know too many adults who, at this point in their lives, have not already dealt with this issue in some way they deem resolved. Either you have decided to disappoint those family members and let the chips fall where they may, or you have come to terms with the life you chose and the path taken. Either way the bigger issue is “how do I move on from here?” The past is exactly that, done and done.
The second half of the book is where Hollis is helpful. He addresses the specific issues of many of us who ask “what is happening?, why have I lost my sense of purpose?” He points to Jung’s own memoirs:
I have frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life. They seek position, marriage, reputation, outward success or money, and remain unhappy and neurotic even when they have attained what they were seeking. Such people are usually contained within too narrow a spiritual horizon. Their life has not sufficient content, sufficient meaning. If they are enabled to develop into more spacious personalities, the neurosis generally disappears. -Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections p. 140
In chapter 7, career vs vocation, Hollis points out that the choices and paths that worked for the first half of our lives will fail us when we have achieved those early set goals. We need to keep our minds active and moving toward something more fulfilling. Of course, finding that something is hard to do! A vocations is a calling, not just a career, it is from a deeper need than just paying the mortgage. It is what you believe you were meant to do, not necessarily how your current talent is defined.
It is better to do your own duty badly, than to perfectly do another’s: you are safe from harm when you do what you should be doing. -Bhagavad-Gita, III, 35
It is common for us in this midlife transition to become overwhelmed with the enormity of finding your calling, especially at this point in our lives. We have children and aging parents, spouses and community commitments to consider. Wouldn’t it be selfish to put ourselves first and to ignore those relationships to focus on ourselves to find that calling? I struggle with this everyday. I am a mother, wife and child myself and take those responsibilities very seriously. How can I tell my family that I want to go into the peace corps and help others. Leave for months to “find myself”, would that be fair to them? So, instead what do we choose to do with our unhappy realities. Self medicate, have an affair, ignore those children. Is that a better choice? How is staying nearby but making disrespectful, hurtful, selfish choices that very well may tear the family apart be better than taking those six months to help others who are less fortunate in a third world nation? All the rest is just distraction. Eventually the drink is gone, the fantasy of the affair is broken and the children move on and you are right back to the original question “What’s next”? and the very people you were trying to accommodate are no longer in your life.
The final two chapters are worth the price of the book, if you read nothing else. They are powerful and everyone will find something relatable. Hollis posses thought provoking questions and encourages the reader to take responsibility for his or her own healing. I am a strong believer in that you cannot control other peoples actions, but you can control your reaction. I have been disrespected, deceived and hurt more than I ever thought possible, but I am not a victim.