Thursday, June 7, 2012

Stories That Tell Us

"Stories Told, Stories Untold, Stories that tell Us" - An Evening with James Hollis
 Jung Institute 5/18/12

We track the movement of the invisible through forms in the visible world. Dream images, for example. Story is a verb, not a noun, and is storying through us.

We each need to find our story.  One person who models this is the lone survivor of a European town where all other Jews were massacred.  He hid in the forest and returned after the war to find the Jewish cemetery had been intentionally shattered by tanks.  He  made it his life’s work to reassemble each fragmented headstone, like a vast series of complex jigsaw puzzles.

We are both carriers and products of stories.  These stories can particularly be seen in our relationship patterns.  Hollis offers the example of his friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Steven Dunn.  Dunn lived to mid-life believing that his father was a drunk who had gambled away the family savings.

Late in life his father confided that he had given their savings to his father-in-law who needed the money for his mistress.  He took the blame, kept the secret, and drank.  Now informed, Steven was then free to see how the family mythology was built on a lie.  His father had told the lie to protect the reputation of his father-in-law and in so doing had ruined his own, and then lived the story of a ruined man.

Avoidance of conflict means avoidance of growth.  It (the real issue) is not about what it’s about.  It’s linked to a deeper story.

When are we not willing to risk something for what’s truly important to us?  How do we get permission to be who we are? 

How do we confront that story?  What are the stories that are playing out in your life? 

Hollis uses the book (also turned into a movie) The Reader to illustrate the idea that almost everyone has a pathological secret around which we create our lives to conceal. 

In The Reader, some of the surprising and underlying plot twists eventually reveal why the female character consistently affirmed her signature on a Nazi prison camp authorization.  Her deepest shame, and what she will go to any lengths to hide, is that she is illiterate.  Learning to read while in prison, she then discovers the truth about the holocaust, and on the day of her prison release, hangs herself.

A complex, says Hollis, is simply a charged cluster of our history of story.  It’s a splinter story.  One’s own history is the embodiment of story.

“We believe ourselves to be conscious and every once in a while we are.”  Hollis

“How much of my life is my choice?” he asks.  “We do logical things based on the story we’re in service to.”

Would we say these stories are worthy of our lives?  Therapy is a re-storying (reframing) of events.  Symptoms are pictures that stand for us.

“Our task is to continuously be defeated by ever larger things.” Rilke 

Bigger stories can crush the small ones we’ve even unconsciously clung to.

Questions to ask ourselves:

What is the story that nature or divinity had in mind when it invested in me?
What stories bind me to repetitive behavior?
What story actually wants to come through me?

We’re a multiplicity of stories, so if you think your life is boring it’s simply a failure of imagination not to see otherwise.  Self is a verb.  Self is always selfing the story you’re in service to.

Hollis discovered his central story was:  “Don’t go out there; it’s too scary.”  He described the hard life of his parents and his experience in the depression to explain why this story made perfect sense.

His parents wanted a better life for him, which they saw as working for the phone company.  Somehow during his college years he had a breakthrough.  A philosophy instructor offered him an independent study course.

The instructor then explained that independent study meant that he could choose his subject and research it on his own.  Excited at the prospect, the young sophomore (which he noted combines the terms sophia and moron) walked through the campus bookstore actively searching for something compelling.  Suddenly his gaze fell upon a particular book and he realized that was it, that was what he wanted to write about.  He then held up that book, now after so many decades, rubber banded together, but still featuring Dr. Carl Jung’s face on the cover.

While we want to live with certainty (which many obsessive compulsive or addictive behaviors revolve around) reality presents ambiguity.  The more you are able to live with ambiguity, the more you are likely to live a more interesting life.

Don’t be too attached to your models.  You’ll have better questions as you grow.  The models are just metaphors.


What large story of the soul wants to be told through me?

Of what am I unconscious?

Remember, we track the invisible as it moves through the visible world, i.e., our history, our dreams.

“The window of consciousness is narrower than I would have thought,” says Hollis.  Invisible forces are continuously at work.  “If economic experts can’t plan a national economy, how can you or I plan our lives?  Yet you have to try.

Jung’s theory of how we change:  Three parts:  Insight, courage to face what we uncover, and endurance.  Psychology can only help with the first.

Hollis defines addiction as a reflexive anxiety-managing system.  On one level, he likens it to habit.  We get upset so easily over small provocations, traffic, for instance.  It’s anxiety at disorder.

If the water level were rising in the room, and we couldn’t see it, we would still be unconsciously reacting to the invisible.  If the level fell back to normal, our anxiety level would also lesson and we might remain unconscious as to why.

To break addiction requires one to become more skilled at bearing the unbearable, psychologically speaking.  This is why new habits are generated through recovery programs.

We tend to accept that our well being is about going along with existing stories, as in the case of Stephan Dunn. 

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