James Hollis, Ph.D., is a graduate of the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich. He has taught  mythology and religion, men's issues, and midlife. His books have been translated into Russian, German, Swedish, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, Italian, Korean, Finnish, and Japanese. "Under Saturn's Shadow - THE WOUNDING AND HEALING OF MEN" is the impetus for my interview.

SB: Taking words from your book, I feel empowered to dive into life and struggle for depth and meaning. Dr. Hollis, thanks very much for this interview. Shall we get serious about psyche?

Hollis: Everything starts with human psyche.  Whatever the reality of the world, we experience it through our own, unique, structuring psyche.

SB: New neuroscience discoveries explain the brain's experience in the chaos of life. How does Dr. Carl Jung stand under the light of these findings?

Hollis: Jung described himself as an empiricist. He said: We have to examine what is happening in front of us and take it seriously. He wrote about flying saucers and three books on alchemy. The very choice of such subjects makes him suspect to many contemporaries but his interest was radically empirical. Why do people experience flying saucers? Why are there rashes of such sightings? What does it mean when one has such an experience?  He was not speculating on the "reality" of flying saucers; he was asking how and why people throughout the ages would have such experiences. 

He studied alchemy because he understood that was the last time in the Western world when matter and spirit were still held together before they split off into the venues of pulpit and laboratory.

EEG showing brainwaves during REM sleep (Credit: Wkipedia Commons)

Alchemy texts illustrate a series of projections of the psychic structure and dynamics  of the alchemists. Therefore, we might work backwards to the nature of human psychic life by studying its material manifestations as we do with dreams. Ego does not create dreams. Consciousness does not create dreams. What can we learn about the other sources of knowing that we carry within us that are transcendent to consciousness.  I saw three patients this morning, a physician, a gerontologist, and a metallurgist. All talked about their dreams and enlarged the frame through which they see their lives.

What are dreams? They are other manifestations of awareness that are compensatory to the limited purview of conscious life. To ignore such extra-conscious forms of cognition is not to be empirical or really conscious.

SB: What is empirical -- is tied to the scientific method.

Hollis: Jung had a strong scientific grounding. He understood the scientific method. He investigated phenomena that come to us from nature, both the world around us and the world within us.

SB: Nature includes humans.  While I was reading "Under Saturn's Shadow," the news of "Ida" came out last May. She had lived apparently in Germany about 47 million years ago. Some might call her "human-like" but with a long tail. I had many questions about matter and human spirit regarding this 8 month-old with a broken wrist.

Hollis: Yes, we are linked to that child in all its evolutionary forms.   What did she dream, and what similar dreams do we have? Jung  had worked on 67,000 dreams before he wrote a single paragraph in dream Interpretation. By that time, he had something to say about how they work, how we might approach them, and what role they might be playing in our adaptive life journey.

Dreams can be a scavenger  from the detritus of daily life but whose contents are woven into a qualitative commentary on the conduct of the individual's life.

"The Knight's Dream" by Antonio de Pereda (Credit: Wikipedia Commons)

SB: A question from your book: do you feel like a man?

Hollis: Yes and no. No, because I, too, was exposed to definitions of masculinity which impose impossible standards. Yes, because I could see through those definitions. Jung said, to be a man is know what you want and to do it. That sounds too simple. However, getting through our conflictual internal traffic, and then finding the courage to live it is not an easy task.

What does it mean to be a man? Adam means "of the earth," nature. Eve is the "vital," living dimension. When anima is repressed, the masculine spirit withers. Love and relatedness are replaced by power. Where power prevails, love is driven out, and psyche is violated.

SB: Psyche is sometimes taken as almost a dirty word, isn't it?

Hollis: Deep purposefulness within each of us is either supported or violated by the culture. We have to make choices as individuals to align ourselves with those deep purposes of our nature. The literal translation of psyche from the Greek is soul.

SB: That wisdom.. could also be understood as laws of nature.

Hollis: The price of violating those laws is pathology. Psychopathology is, ethymologically, the study of the wounded soul. Depression, addictions, anxieties, et al., are the symptoms of the cost to pay for the violation of psyche.

Marie-Louise von Franz recalled a conversation where she said a particular patient thinks she lived on the Moon. Jung replied: she lives on the Moon. We have to take her personal experience seriously without colluding with it. Psychologically speaking, her reality is that she does live on the Moon. For us to make connection, to really understand, we have to enter her reality. This is, in the end, a radical empiricism which is expressed through our humble respect for the forms of nature. 

SB: Thanks so much for this time with you.