This is the last ‘quote-fest’ from James Hollis’s Living an Examined Life—I promise.
I think what I noticed from reading and then scrutinizing quotes from this book, is that it inspired me to do a “What was the meaning of MY LIFE?” recapitulation searching for major themes and significant affecters that helped to make me WHO and WHAT I am at present. (Whoever and whatever that actually is.)
Now this in and of itself means little to anyone but me, and any narration of “my life story” is rife with opinion and subjectivity, especially as a child recalling the most influential affecters of my early life, because how we perceived the world around us as children was raw, had little peripheral context, and involved mainly moments of when we felt loved or threatened.
So just to try and shift my perspective on the entire earliest years of my life, I tried to tell the story NOT from my own viewpoint, but from the people whose lives I most affected by my being suddenly present in their lives; and wow—what a difference that perspective shift made in how I viewed my remembered childhood. In other words, the story wasn’t so much about me, it was more about THEM and how a new baby suddenly shifted their focus and attention.
Retelling my childhood in that manner helped me to see where my most telling ‘issues’ had developed—such as ‘abandonment.’ That title above is a direct quote from Hollis that I’ll show here soon, but for an adopted child “living with ambiguity and uncertainty” was very much a part of my early life.
‘Abandonment’ is often a major affecting theme for adopted children, nothing new there; but all the tentacles branching out from that festering core wound led back to the very sources of my existence and early nurturing.
And THAT assessment from the ‘ME’ who I now am looking back on the most influential sculptors of my fresh, pure, and ready-to-mold psyche, brought a greater understanding to my lesser (but still natural) behaviors. I was sculpted in their own images—created to be who they thought I should be—a masterpiece to display before others with such pride of ownership. (“Go get your violin out now and play for your aunt and uncle.” i.e., meaning the latest captive audience in our livingroom).
I learned a bit more about ‘WHO I AM’ from that recap, than I had previously considered. And with that being said, here’s the rest of Living an Examined Life that I wanted to memorialize here for others:
“…As children we all asked the elemental questions: Who am I, who are you, why are we here, what are we to do, and whither do we go? These questions are most forgotten, pushed into the suburbs of the busy metropolis of modern life. But they rumble on in the unconscious of all of us. We look for them unconsciously in each other, in novels, in television shows, movies, and so on, or we anesthetize their loss in the thousand forms of busyness and distraction our culture provides. …
“The human animal is a creature of desire, and what it most desires is meaning, and what it most suffers is the loss of meaning. The autonomous judgment going on within each of us is a function of our psycho-spiritual reality. … (p. 116)
“…a Substantial gift of the therapeutic arrangement is to construct a holding place whereby the deconstruction of the old may take place, exigencies of the moment be attended, and watchful attendance upon that emergent be supported. …Most of the people we admire throughout history had difficult lives, but they shared a common trait—namely that they hung on until the new purpose of their life emerged for them, and they found the courage to live those new challenges. …
“What was most troubling to me as a child and as a young adult—namely, the presence of ambiguity and uncertainty—is today almost comfortable. This is because I have learned that whatever makes sense today will be insufficient tomorrow when I have larger questions, larger contexts, and more consciousness to bring to the table. I also know that wherever there is ‘certainty,’ there is either naiveté, unconsciousness, or defense against doubt. Wherever there is hysterical certainty, and there is much in our land, it is because doubt has already planted its black flag inside the soul and the ego is running away like a child. …” (p. 117)
“…In childhood, simple questions led to simple answers. Because the large questions led to ever-larger uncertainty, many of us shut down, stopped talking, stopped asking, and thereby stopped growing. But the same questions are still being asked in the unconscious: ‘Who am I? Who are you? What is this all about? Whither are we bound, and how am I going to live my life?’…[When our life summons us] Will we keep the appointment? Many, perhaps the great majority, never keep the appointment—never show up, thus lead lives of quiet desperation, suffer anesthetized souls, and have to continuously palliate distracted consciousness. Others show up because they have to. Keeping the appointment is where our lives find purpose—not in answers but in living large questions that are worthy of the soul’s magnitude.
And that is why the examined life matters.” (p. 118)