Tuesday, April 07, 2009

What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life -- Book Review

"If we fail to engage in some form of cogent dialogue with the questions which emerge from our depths, then we will live an unconscious, unreflective, accidental life."
-- James Hollis

Longtime readers of this blog may recall that one of my favorite writers is Jungian analyst James Hollis. His most recent book, What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life, directly deals with many of the life legacy issues I've written about over the past three years.

For anyone who grew up in the Midwest (or anywhere else for that matter), Hollis presents a point-of-view in the book that would make a Norwegian Lutheran "nice boy" wonder why everything he was taught as a child was, shall we say, "less than the truth" about life. According to Hollis:

"We are not here to fit in, be well balanced, or provide exempla for others. We are here to be eccentric, different, perhaps strange, perhaps merely to add our small piece, our clunky, chunky selves, to the great mosaic of being . . . we are here to become more and more ourselves."

That's not what my parents, grandparents, and teachers had in mind for me or any of my friends. I was well-trained to "not rock the boat, be good, be nice, don't 'show off', and that 'appearances' were of tantamount importance." I imagine that just the idea of writing a blog that all the world could see (about anything that mattered to me) would be shameful in their eyes back then and even now.

James Hollis does not discuss the usual "stuff" of what matters most in his book. He notes that matters like family, friends, love, work, and the like that "take care of themselves." Rather, Hollis encourages us to look at matters such as risking growth over security, learning to tolerate ambiguity, not be governed by fear, delighting in creativity and our "foolish passions", engaging spiritual crises, and living fully in the shadow of death. Through his personal reflections and stories of people he has counseled in private practice, the author provides insights and guidance for readers who want to live life to its fullest.

There is so much in this book that I enjoyed that it's hard to decide what to write about. In the chapter in which Hollis asks "that we consider feeding the soul," he says:

"Maybe all us will learn to grapple with the paradox that living our lives more fully is not narcissism, but service to the world when we bring a more fully achieved gift to the collective. We do not serve our children, our friends and partners, our society by living partial lives, and being secretly depressed and resentful. We serve the world by finding what feeds us, and, having been fed, then share our gift with others."

In his chapter focusing on the subject of "writing our own story," Hollis asks us to:

"Imagine what our story would look like if, rather than succumbing to the insistent voices of family or culture, we determined that our vocation was to be a better human. Many, if not most of us, will have run through our lives and never really been here, never really experienced precious moments of mindfulness, asking why, or felt ourselves in the presence of mystery, whether found in the beloved, in nature, in contemplation, in the work of hands, or in whatever venues mystery comes to find us."

He goes on to say: "Personhood is not a gift; it is a continuing struggle; the gift is attained later, and only from living a mindful journey where, prompted by an inner summons, we write our story at last."

I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in "living a more considered life" and risking being who you really are. You may find, as James Hollis does, that "in the end, having a more interesting life, a life that disturbs complacency, a life that pulls us out of the comfortable and thereby demands a larger spiritual engagement than we planned or that feels comfortable, is what matters most."

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One Woman's Journey said...

Found your site this early morning.
I may order this book. Will be checking in often.