I am mad at James Hollis. I’m not going to finish his book.

Day 80.  Which is pretty cool.  no, i’m not specifically ‘counting days’.  i have my date in an excel file and can calculate from there. sometimes i like to know what day i’m on so that i can plan a reward.  like at day 90 i want a present. but other than that, i don’t check anymore.  i think i stopped checking just after day 30 (when my mental math thus required Excel’s help!).

but here’s what i want to say today, and i’ve been avoiding writing this post.

I’m mad at James Hollis’s book “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life.”  and i’m not being facetious, i’m serious. Yes, the book is a bit pompous, and yes the language is a bit circuitous and so i often have to read entire phrases multiple times before i can figure out what the fuck he’s talking about.  In fact, it’s my least-favorite kind of self-help book.  the kind that has a lot of theory, and no where near enough ‘how-to-implement-in-your-life’. there are great ideas, but they sort of go in one ear and out the other.

until i get to the chapter where he talks about magic realism. and here’s where i got mad. and i’ve stopped reading.

i’m going to paraphrase, and badly, but basically he says that everyone gets to a place where they realize that life is full of bad things, that nice vegans get cancer, and that the world is full of randomly shitty things.  and you really only grow up once you accept the world as a chaotic and random disaster, that is full of great and bad at the same time.  You’ll have to confront your ‘magical thinking’ that if you do right, think right, eat right that you’ll be spared the worst of the shit.

well then, mr. hollis, if that’s your definition of the world (and of how to grow up), then i’m not the slightest bit interested in participating.  count me out.

because, you see, i DO engage in magical thinking. I do believe that things happen for a reason. i do believe that if i can visualize it, then i can make it happen.  i do believe that (for now) i’m continuously constructing a life where more bad things will not keep happening to me.

in reading this book, i realize that i’ve been living with my current attitudes since my early 20s.  Right after i escape my disastrous childhood, i thought:  whatever happens to me now, compared to that, will be like heaven. it’ll be joyous.

for example, i was single for a long long time in my adult life, and/or could only manage to date/attract idiots.  and yet i always held out the hope that if i got married, it would be worth the wait, and that i deserved to be happy, and that i’d have the kind of marriage that other people envied. because that was the deal. i’d earned that.

i’d already had enough grief and pain in my life, in the early part of my life, so the later parts are going to make up for that.

i’m one of these magically thinking weirdos, who does believe that thoughts and feelings can – to a very very large extent – determine what happens in my life.  that i’m the one driving the car.  that I get to decide how happy I am. That i get to decide what adventures I have.  that there are speed bumps to be navigated, but they’re trivial and learning experiences, and nothing is random anyway.

here’s a snapshot of me that i don’t show the outside world: 

I grew up poor: no-telephone, no-car poor.  this poverty did not lead me to believe that wealth was “for other people and wouldn’t happen for me”; instead i realized that if i wanted wealth in my life i’d have to go out and make some myself.

I grew up in a dark, wet apartment.. i witnessed some jesus-bad violence. and i’ve known real, terrifying fear.

so yes, once i got out of there, since my early 20s, i’ve felt like something good was going to happen for me.  to compensate, perhaps. or that the shitty earlier life was going to drive me to create other goodness (in my life and in the lives of others). I own a company or two (one of which is ‘helping’ others), i have the ability to create work when i want to so i can control my own income. i have an amazing husband (got married at age 39).

I don’t have kids, but i also feel that this was part of the trade-off that i made with the universe back when i was 12.  the trade-off that said, i’ll have all the shitty scary stuff early in life, and the rest of my life would be at my direction, my creating, and therefore by contrast would have to be better, amazing, rich, abundant.

I don’t resent that i don’t have kids, i’m quite at peace with it.  to have been pregnant at age 12 would have been a disaster.  the universe spared me from that.  in return, i’m not pregnant for the rest of my life. and I say “that’s a great trade, universe, thanks soooo much, it’s the best possible outcome.” seriously.

Hollis says that we falsely believe that if we follow certain rules, we’ll be spared the worst of what life has to offer: “Yet sooner or later life brings each of us not only disappointment, but something worse, a deep disillusionment regarding the ‘contract’ that we tacitly presumed and served to the best of our ability … the friendship we counted on, the protection we assumed would be there perpetually, the comfort that someone would pick us up and make it all right when we fell …” (p. 84).

fuck that, i say.

yes, OK, perhaps i’m living in an imaginary fantasy land. i’m happily married, healthy, middle-class. i live in europe. i speak a couple of languages. i’m childless but i consider that to be a lucky turn of fate, not a curse. i’m happy beyond … i’m lucky beyond … and i’m even sober.  i’ve done all of this myself, made me into the person i am.  and yes, now i do fucking expect great things to continue for me… If I continue to work for them, if I continue to dream things up, if I continue to allow them.

I’m clearly more of a Law of Attraction girl than a Jungian one.

in conclusion. i’m mad that someone writes that there are always more bad things coming.  i disagree that this is necessarily true.  and if the only way to grow up is to accept that there’s no contract with the universe, then i respectfully disagree.

i feel like i’ve made my deal with the universe a long time ago.  and so far we’re both living up to our sides of the agreement.

Here’s what i really believe, from a different James:  “The outer conditions of a person’s life will always reflect their inner beliefs.” ~ James Allen

PS/ i’m really not going to finish reading this book, and will happily mail it to anyone who wants to read it next.

Belle

I want to put this online, to hold myself accountable. I want to document the noise in my head. I'm tired of thinking about drinking. date of last drink: june 30, 2012

39 thoughts on “I am mad at James Hollis. I’m not going to finish his book.

  1. Shit! I ordered the book but haven’t cracked it open yet. I, too, am a magical thinker and while I know random bad things can happen, I believe it is up to us to find the good in them no matter how hard it is to find.

    1. KM, i know that paul and perhaps – was it cleo? – loved this book, so maybe they will explain that if we just ignore this one chapter/thought then the rest is OK. but it was enough to make me put the book down and not finish … that and the pompousness… anyone else read it and have a different take?

    2. no need to worry … Hollis’ books are written in clear simple English and they promote each person’s search for their own wellbeing. Whoever wrote that crap above should be held accountable. It’s pure unadulterated tripe.

  2. wow, thank you for sharing that. I have to believe that you have earned and deserve nothing but goodness for the rest of your life, all your bad shit already happened. I think for most the bad shit is spread out with more difficult things happening as they get older. Perhaps James Hollis did not experience enough of the bad stuff and that is where his perspective comes from. Who knows? You are secure in your belief about how life balances out and you don’t have to question it. You can just question other stuff instead!

    1. thanks suzy, you’re right, it’s like i needed permission to ignore this book : ) I mean he’s a jungian PHD for pete’s sake, he must be right. well he’s not right about me or about how i see the world. i see it exactly as you’ve described. my bad shit is done, thanks. my world is balanced out just right : )

      1. Having a PhD doesn’t make one more right than anyone else, ever. We were just discussing that last night with regards to licensed plumbers vs unlicensed, and I said all that means is one can charge more than the other, it doesn’t make him/her a better plumber than the other. I know, I’ve seen some pretty shitty licensed plumbers in my day. *L* So ignore away!!!

      2. THE SINGLE GREATEST BOOK EVER (maybe the most important book ive read)

        First of all, I come from a physics background and i get annoyed at people that try to blend fake science with spirituality, this book is definitely not “the secret” from what i am told the secret is about. It isnt a strict science book, closer to power – more like a philosophical book.

        i listened to the audiobook whilst travelling through China and it is a book that causes as much introspection as a psychedelic drug would cause, and i think its a book that teaches us acceptance of the human condition, how to be more self aware, it touches on his interpretations of his patients dreams which can offer different ways to interpret what happens in our dreams and in this context he has a very rational method contrary to the biases of intuition. He understanding characters in dreams by being realistic and noting that the characters in the dream are still essential yourself, however our bodies

        fuck…..cbf editing etc

        ps this book will make u less of a piece of shit in relationships

  3. You get angry Belle. If I were running a hippy retreat I’d take you out into the bush and give you a big stick and a pillow and tell you to take that stick and whack that pillow and yell your anger out. All of it. Hit and yell and hit and yell. I don’t know what I think about magical thinking, or whether things happen for a reason or if you create your own destiny/reality. I don’t know. I think I’ve been blocked to a lot of spiritual thinking for a while (hello?! wonder why?!). I thank you so much for sharing in an open and honest (albeit anonymously through a blog but you know what I mean!) way. I feel such pride and strength coming from your words… I want to stick my jaw out and give you a firm nod from afar in order to say how great I think you’re doing. How utterly marvelously wonderfully fully GREAT you are doing and I am so pleased you are here with us. Stay strong. Stay sober. Stay real. Big love from New Zealand xxxx

  4. It doesn’t sound like a good book or one that I would read. 🙁 I think you have to believe and live your own reality, based on your experiences.

    I totally relate with your thoughts that when there is that much bad early on, you can take it upon yourself to make the rest something better. There is part of me that HAS TO believe that there is only so much bad for each of us. Like you, things are good for me now and the majority of my bad happened early on. I’ve always thought maybe it is wishful thinking that the only benefit of this (besides that it was character building) is that it left less bad for later in my life. But there is still always part of me that is waiting for the other shoe to drop, that this goodness in my life can’t last, I can’t possibly deserve it. It’s crazy how much power I give those inner voices.

    What I do know is that, for me, it works to put my Higher Power in control, that He has my back and wants better for me than I could ever even imagine, that He is always orchestrating things in my best interests, and that I trust Him.

    That seems to silence (or at least placate) the voices. 🙂

  5. Hey Belle, I haven’t read the book, but I enjoyed your review of it! I love your response and the outrage and the ‘fuck that, James Hollis’. But you’ve also written an honest, heartfelt reflection on your earlier years and yeah, you deserve all the good stuff that has come your way and will continue to do so. You’ve done the hard yards.

    I guess my philosophy to life is that shit happens – good and bad – and I can’t always control either. All I can control is how I respond, to try to make the best of what’s going on and create opportunities for happiness where I can. Simplistic? Perhaps.

    Lovely post, thank you xo

  6. It feels so strange, Belle, to be in disagreement with you as usually you say exactly what I feel. Obviously you feel very strongly about this issue – and I so admire that – that you know who you are and how you feel. However I feel totally differently. I believe the world is totally random and I never assume that I have had my share of suffering. In the last 15 years, I have lost a child, suffered a devastating illness that 75% of people don’t survive, my husband was given a terminal diagnosis 4 years ago, my good friend betrayed me recently, 3 friends have died of cancer in their late 40s …………and yet I consider myself lucky beyond words. I never presume my suffering is done. Who I am to assume that when I look at the devastation of lives around me – those in abject poverty, those orphaned with AIDs, those living in war torn countries? However, like Imogen, I know we can try to control our response to the shit that happens – given that even the worst of our shit is not likely to be at the extreme end of human suffering.

    We all develop a philosophy of life to live by. For me accepting that life can be cruel and random is my way of preparing myself for whatever comes my way. You have a different way of looking at life and that is also fine.

    I loved the fact that Hollis was more philosophical than prescriptive. This does not work for you. That’s cool.
    Clearly the Hollis type way of thinking provokes strong reactions – and finally we have found something to debate!
    So wish we could be doing this over a cappucino in a European cafe!
    Take care Belle and thanks for putting it all out there and for being who you are. Cleo xx

    1. jesus cleo, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I feel like I’ve been gloating about how fucking lovely my life is (now). I do feel like my struggling is done, but you’re right – I don’t know anything about real struggle. on the continuum, I’m still in the sunshine. I do try to control my responses to what does happen to me … but our struggles are so much smaller than ‘real’ struggles. my husband lost his job last year. this was a big shake-up for us. but I know it’s not a ‘real’ problem on the grand scheme of things. it seemed like a big problem to us. but we got through it.

      not having any real experience with death and illness up close — and I mean NONE — I really am living in a bubble. and maybe this is exactly what james hollis is talking about. that my husband and I are teenagers compared to real adults out there dealing with real life. if we’re still adolescents, and yes we probably are, I don’t know how we’ve managed to escape the tragedies of ‘real life’. and of course, if we are adolescents, then of course I don’t want to grow up! who would! I’ll shut up now. and I mean it. I haven’t lost a child. I just never got pregnant, but I never tried to get pregnant, either. when the doctors told me at age 30 that getting pregnant wasn’t an option for me without serious medical intervention, I sort of felt it was a relief since I hadn’t been pregnant as a teenager (when I really should have been). I felt like it was a fair trade. but life threatening illness, there’s not fair trade for that. none at all.

      I know this is my blog and I can be as self-indulgent as I want. I’m having a lovely life and believe that I’m in charge to a large extent of how lovely it turns out. but I will not forget for one second how privileged I really am. and I’ll shut the fuck up.

      Cleo, I make a good cup of tea, so whenever you’re in my part of town, I’d be happy to debate self-help-theories versus self-help-HOW-TO. come any time : )

      love belle xoxo

      1. Please oh please DON’T shut the fuck up. Now I feel like I (unfairly) pulled out the big guns to support my viewpoint. Enjoy your happiness. we none of us know whats round the corner – so the moment is all we have – so lets just be happy that THIS moment we have our blog friends , our sobriety and everything else in our lives that make us happy.
        Oh and I am a big tea drinker too xxx

    2. James Hollis was helpful when bad (undeserved) things happened to me. I can’t abide writers who tell me what to do; I prefer a philosophical approach. So, I agree with Cleo about Hollis, but I agree with Belle about creating your own life.

  7. Oh and sorry – meant to say WELL DONE on 80 days!!! Always surprised when others that I have “known” from the start post their days. Seems time has flown and then I remember if they are at 80 days for example must mean I am at…… 117 days!

  8. May I step in here gently?

    Here are my thoughts.

    Starting with: “Right after i escape my disastrous childhood, i thought:  whatever happens to me now, compared to that, will be like heaven. it’ll be joyous.”

    Having also survived a disastrous childhood I totally get where you are coming from Belle. When a childhood is taken away you learn the world is a dark and hard place long before you should, long before you have the maturity or coping mechanisiums to process this.

    If you do more than survive this and actually overcome it you realize that there really isn’t much in life that is worse then having that innocence taken away. It will affect you at some level for the rest of your life.

    The world is random. There is pain, betrayal and heartache. There is suffering. However I truly believe that dealing with pain, betrayal, heartache and suffering is different as an adult that has gained the wisdom that comes from overcoming such devastating loss so early in life. The perspective or prism is different.

    Like Cleo I never assume my suffering is over. I just know that almost nothing will be as devastating as the loss of my childhood and innocence.

    I know as an adult I can handle and live though whatever pain, heartache, betrayal or suffering comes my way. I know I can choose how to live into it. I know I have gained that wisdom. The hard way.

    I also know that I can choose to be happy. I can choose to believe that the world is a good place, that the good days will out weigh the bad days. I know I can survive.

    1. thanks for this missy, i think you’ve nailed it exactly. stuff might happen when i’m a grown up, but there’s nothing that sucks as much as feeling helpless and truly like a victim of your environment that a dysfunctional childhood can bring. surviving a shitty childhood, and being successful afterwards, truly does make you feel like you have a batman cape. I’m going to continue wearing mine…

  9. Well I don’t want to read it. It sounds as depressing as fuck. I get that a certain number of random bad things happen to all of us. Some more than others, some earlier than others. How bad they are seems more open to interpretation, both at the time they happen and years afterwards. I believe I have the strength to get through hard times. I have the faith I’ll find the support in the universe to do that. I don’t believe that’s magical, but I wouldn’t want to subscribe to his harsh view on the world anyway.

  10. Wow. Listen to yourself. You are one angry person. It permeates through and between the lines of what you’ve written, especially in your tone. Are you sure that magical thinking is working for you? If you truly do get to decide how happy you are, then why have you chosen to be so unhappy? Listen to yourself!

    1. hi PVD, you may want to read other posts on my site, you’ll find that I’m tirelessly optimistic. that book made me grumpy, that’s for sure : ) no one likes to hear that how they successfully and happily live in the world is immature … which is, I think, what Hollis was saying. oh well, maybe I am immature. I guess I’m happy with that, too. thanks for your comments.

  11. Now I don’t want to read any of his books. I thought finally a book that will show me how and where to go. I am at a crossroad in my life. I am old and miserable and scared to death to make a move. So I think I will go with my gut with no map . All of these self help books are the same you read them but they don’t help. My childhood sucked too too many bad things have happened and I don’t believe it is the end.

    1. i think that sometimes we have to say “bad shit happened back there, and now i’m going to face forward and make something else happen for me.” stuff happened TO us before. the best part about NOW is that we can MAKE stuff happen FOR us… sorry for all the shouty caps!

    2. Hello Carol,
      Please do not let one negative review deter you from reading a book. I would hesitate to call Dr. Hollis’s books “self-help.” They are profound and require study and contemplation. They are not to be read superficially. Frankly, Hollis’ book “How to Find Meaning…” helped save my life.
      Best wishes to you!
      ST

  12. I like your message “that i’m the one driving the car. that I get to decide how happy I am”. That’s a powerful point. But I’m not sure Hollis would disagree. Cars get into accidents without regard to the driver. I think that’s his only point. There’s no guarantee (much less any magic), even if you’ve trained yourself to be the best driver in the world, that you will avoid getting banged up one way or another. Stuff happens. But Hollis wouldn’t have written his books if he didn’t agree with your empowering message: we can take control of our happiness by facing things more clearly, even unexpected accidents or turns of events that defy any magic but less easily defy a strong will and the necessary wisdom to absorb the unwelcome things and move forward, perhaps even stronger than before. I’m grateful to Hollis for helping see how this can be done, and to your for your fiercely optimistic attitude.

  13. James Hollis message is very powerful and hopeful because it is realistic. It’s not magical thinking that is the creative force in our life, it’s the deep inner work, daring to keep looking at ourselves in the mirror day after day. That’s where the magic is – returning each day to the person looking back at us in the mirror, asking that person the difficult questions and answering them compassionately. For those that want to take the time and are tired of 5 steps to happiness books, James Hollis is the way to go.

  14. I know this post is ancient, but just wanted to thank you for writing it. I’m 29 years old and have been feeling this immense societal pressure because I’m not married, nor do I have any kids. I don’t even know it I WANT any of that, but I feel like I SHOULD want that, thus feel shitty because I don’t have it.

    It’s super comforting and reassuring to me that you refused to settle when it came to marriage and that it worked out wonderfully for you. Also, that you aren’t riddled with regret for not having kids. It’s the hard evidence that I needed to prove that there’s nothing wrong with the way I’m living. So thank you :).

    1. i think you have every right to be exactly who you want to be 🙂 kids or not. married or not. now or later. external pressure on how you should live your life? that does smack of ‘bullshit’ to me…

  15. James Hollis’ books and his way of leaning into life has profoundly changed my life. I think the writer has a simplistic approach to life. At the essence Hollis challenges us to look deeper into the patterns of our lives and to look with new eyes and see where our repetitive mistakes present themselves.. It’s truly your loss not to finish the book.

  16. You don’t get what he is saying. Yes your thoughts have a huge influence on what you attract but you can’t control everything. That you have not been “tested” by this truth allows you to hold on to this position of your ego. That YOU can control everything. Not being able to control everything doesn’t mean you are weak or stupid. It’s just that ” shit happens” and it’s probably not your fault. You can’t control other people. They may not be as enlightened as you and they can disappoint, hurt. You can’t control “their” journey. And you may get thru life without being tested. Sweet. But … probally not; which would be a good thing … so you can grow.

  17. I am suspicious where you apparently are not: “Here’s what i really believe, from a different James: “The outer conditions of a person’s life will always reflect their inner beliefs.” ~ James Allen What makes me suspicious here is the use of the term “always”. Like “never,” believing in “always” strikes me as running counter to my own life experience. And do our outer experiences always reflect our inner beliefs? This runs in the dangerous direction that people give themselves cancer or that my son died from the flu virus because of his beliefs. I believe instead in “in spite of”–acting “in spite of fear” for example; or accepting the consequences in spite of my desire to blame someone else for those consequences.
    I am also suspicious of the desire to be told “how” by “self-help” books–and even more suspicious when such books take it upon themselves to tell me “how” in the more complex arenas of life. The simpler things such as how to use my damned TV remote or make my computer printer work–these I need precise instructions re “how.” So I do not mind Hollis’s lack of precise instructions. What I do want from him is to be provided something of a general map with some cardinal directions, and this he provides nicely.

  18. It’s amazing to me just how different we all are, and how differently we can experience the same thing. I’ve read this book several times and continue to find wisdom and meaning in Hollis’ beautiful writing. In fact, his books have been some of the most important ones I’ve ever read, and I read all the time! I highly recommend Hollis to anyone searching for ways to make sense of and find meaning in one’s life.

  19. Hollis is a Jungian, and we Jungians (yes, I am one too) don’t go in for magical thinking. We are all for transforming one’s own complexes (psychological constellations, basically, that “tell us” how to see the world). However, to believe that one will meet only with good things if one becomes more good…or to believe that I can attract only what I want to attract, is to live in an inflation. We do not have that kind of power. Want to change the world? Change yourself, and keep working on those changes. It’s a lifetime of work. If others around you (even a few) recognize the value of the work you are doing, and are somehow influenced to work on themselves too, then all the better! Psychological transformation is not easy, and it is never finished. But if you are doing that work of transformation in order to reap only positive rewards, well, all I can tell you is you are on a false path.

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