The Book in a Few Sentences
As seen on the Apple TV show Ted Lasso. Absolutely brilliant, one of my all-time favorite books. Every page is dense with Jungian wisdom like a slice of Black Forest chocolate cake.
The Middle Passage summary
This is my book summary of The Middle Passage by James Hollis. My summary and notes include the key lessons and most important insights from the book.
- The midlife crisis, which I prefer to call the Middle Passage, presents us with an opportunity to reexamine our lives and to ask the sometimes frightening, always liberating, question: “Who am I apart from my history and the roles I have played?” When we discover that we have been living what constitutes a false self, that we have been enacting a provisional adulthood, driven by unrealistic expectations, then we open the possibility for the second adulthood, our true personhood.
- The Middle Passage is an occasion for redefining and reorienting the personality, a rite of passage between the extended adolescence of first adulthood and our inevitable appointment with old age and mortality.
- Those who travel the passage consciously render their lives more meaningful. Those who do not, remain prisoners of childhood, however successful they may appear in outer life.
- Depth psychologists know that the capacity for growth depends on one’s ability to internalize and to take personal responsibility.
- The invitation of the Middle Passage is to become conscious, accept responsibility for the rest of the pages and risk the largeness of life to which we are summoned.
1: The Provisional Personality
- Perhaps the first step in making the Middle Passage meaningful is is to acknowledge the partiality of the lens we were given by family and culture, and through which we have made our choices and suffered their consequences.
- The sense we received generated a conditioned life, which represents not who we are but how we were conditions to see life and make choices.
- Most of us survive as merely neurotic, that is, split between the intrinsic nature of the child and the world to which we were socialized.
- The nature of childhood wounding may be broadly generalized into two basic categories: 1) the experience of neglect or abandonment, and 2) the experience of being overwhelmed by life.
- …the primary influence in our lives derives from the character of the parent-child relationship.
- In attempting to read the parent-child environment, the child interprets experience in three basic ways.
- 1) The child phenomenologically interprets the tactile and emotional bonding, or lack thereof, as a statement about life in general.
- 2) The child internalizes specific behaviors of the parents as a statement about self.
- 3) The child observes the behaviors of the adult’s struggles with life and internalizes not only those behaviors but the attitudes they imply about self and world.
- Out of the wounding of childhood, then, the adult personality is less a series of choices than a reflexive response to the early experiences and traumata of life.
- There are few who do not have an emotionally charged response around such issues as sex, money and authority because they are usually associated with important experiences in the past.
- We can be driven by what we do not understand about ourselves.
- Our lives are tragic only to the degree that we remain unconscious of both the role of the autonomous complexes and the growing divergence between our nature and our choices.
- Most of the sense of crisis in midlife is occasioned by the pain of that split. The disparity between the inner sense of self and the acquired personality becomes so great that the suffering can no loner be suppressed or compensated.
- Thus, the Middle Passage represents a summons from within to move from the provisional life to true adulthood, from the fast self to authenticity.
2: The Advent of the Middle Passage
- As Matthew Arnold observed a century and a half ago, we water “between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born.”
Tectonic Pressures and Seismic Intimations
- The acquired sense of self, with its assembled perceptions and complexes, its defense of the chid within, begins to grate and grind against the greater Self which seeks its own realization.
- One is invited to regain one’s life, to live it more consciously, to wrest meaning from misery.
- Again, the Middle Passage starts when we ask, “Who am I, apart from my history and the roles I have played?”
- But the weight of the schooling, the parenting and the acculturation process gradually replaces the child’s sense of awe with normative expectations and cultural certainties.
A New Kind of Thinking
- I have yet to be asked to give a commencement address, but loathsome as such speeches usually are, I still might not have the heart to tell the truth. Who compared to say too eager and hopeful faces,"In a few years you will likely hate your job, your marriage will be in peril, your kids will cause you fits, you may very well experience so much pain and confusion about your life that you will think of writing a book about it.”
- One is in the Middle Passage when the magical thinking of childhood and the heroic thinking of adolescents are no longer congruent with the life one has experienced.
- Anyone in midlife has witnessed the collapsing a projections, of hopes and expectations, and has experienced a limitation of talent, intelligence, and, often, of courage itself.
- Realistic thinking gives us perspective.
- Knowledge is the valued lesson of experience. Wisdom is always humbling, never inflationary.
- Approximately every seven to ten years there is a significant physical, social and psychological change in a person.
- … our natural tendency is to resist the dissolution of what we have managed to accomplish.
- Our culture has become so heterogeneous, and has lost its mythic moorings in any case, that we can only transmit twentieth-century beliefs in materialism, hedonism and narcissism—with some computer skills thrown in. None of this provides salvation, connection to the earth and it's great rhythms, meaning or depth to one's journey.
- I called the period from roughly twelve to forty the first adulthood.
- The first adulthood, which may in fact extend throughout one's life, Is a provisional existence, lacking the depth and uniqueness which makes the person truly an individual.
- As suggested earlier, the Self, that mysterious process within each of us which summons us to ourselves, often expresses itself through symptoms—loss of energy, depression, sudden fits of rage over-consumption—but the power of the projections is such that one may keep the larger questions of the journey at bay.
- The third phase of identity, the second adulthood, is launched when one's projections have dissolved.
- In working with the elderly, each of whom has to face loss and anticipate death, there are clearly two categories. There are those for whom the life remaining is still a challenge, still worthy of the good fight, and those for whom life is full of bitterness, regret and fear. The former are invariably those who have gone through some earlier struggle, experienced the death of the first adulthood and accepted greater responsibility for their lives.
- The fourth identity, mortality, which involves learning to live with the mystery of death, will also be discussed later, but already in the second adulthood it is essential to accept the reality of death.
- Without some relationship to the cosmic drama, we are constrained to lives of transience, superficiality and aridity.
Withdrawal of Projections
- Few at the altar our conscious of the enormity of their expectations. No one would speak aloud the immense hopes: “I am counting on you to make my life meaningful.” "I am counting on you to always be there for me.” "I am counting on you to read my mind and anticipate all my needs.” "I am counting on you to bind my wounds and for you fulfill the deficits of my life.” “I am counting on you to complete me, to make me a whole person, to heal my stricken soul.”
- Jung observed that the largest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of the parents.
- For men, the issue of work at mid life often occasions depression, the deflation of hope and ambition.
- If a spouse feels threatened by change, and resists, then he or she can be assured of living with an angry and depressed partner. And in the crucible of marriage change will not inevitably be for the better, but it will be inevitable. Otherwise the marriage may not survive, especially if it hinders the growth of either partner.
- While there are many other sorts of projections which fail to survive the first adulthood, the loss of expectations regarding marriage, children, career and the parent as protector are the most telling.
- The erosion of projections, the withdrawal of the hopes and expectations they embody, is almost always painful. But it is a necessary prerequisite for self-knowledge. The loss of hope that the outer will save us occasions is the possibility that we shall have to save ourselves.
Changes in the Body and Sense of Time
- … is this sense of limit and incompleteness which calls the first adulthood to an end.
The Diminution of Hope
- When the purse strings of the heart suddenly tighten, and one knows oneself mortal, the limitation of our lives are suddenly inescapable. The magical thinking of childhood, and a heroic thinking of that extended adolescence called the first adulthood, prove inadequate to the realities of life.
- The hopes of the nascent ego for immortality and celebrity are in direct proportion to childhood fear and ignorance of the world. Similarly, the bitterness and depression of midlife is linked to the amount of energy invested in the phantasmal wishes of childhood.
- And even those who gain renown, who name hotels after themselves, who drive their children to madness, are no more exempt than the rest of us from the encounter with limit, with deflation and with mortality.
- … in the second greatest deflation of midlife expectations is the encounter with a limitations of relationships.
- Marriage is often end at midlife and one central reason is the enormity of childhood hopes which are imposed upon the fragile structure between two people. Others will not and cannot meet the grandiose needs of the inner child and so we are left feeling abandoned and betrayed.
- Life has a way of dissolving projections and one must, amid the disappointment and desolation, begin to take on the responsibility for one's own satisfaction. There is no one out there to save us, to take care of us, to heal the hurt.
- Only when one has acknowledged the deflation of the hopes and expectations of childhood and accepted direct responsibility for finding meaning for oneself, can the second adulthood begin.
The Experience of Neurosis
- Emotions are not chosen; they choose us and have a logic of their own.
- The woman who suffers a depression is turning her unwelcome anger within, upon the only person she has permission to attack.
- All of us are neurotic because we experience a split between what we are and what ewe are meant to be.
- In the process of responding to the socialization process of childhood and the pressure of outer realities, we become progressively estranged from ourselves. Protests from within are squelched by the weight of the outer world.
- Indeed, suffering seems to be a perquisite for the transformation of consciousness.
3: The Turn Within
- The central project of the first half of life is to build ego identity.
- An insufficiently attained ego identity haunts and hinders a person’s development in the second half of life.
- One must have found a way to be productive with one’s energy…it means that one feels challenged by a task and productive in its fulfillment.
- There must also be a mature commitment to relationship. The inability to meet another half way, to hold one’s own in the inevitable friction of relationships, presents a primary failure to achieve a sense of one’s own psychic reality.
- One of the most powerful shocks of the Middle Passage is the collapse of our tacit contract with the universe—the assumption that if we act correctly, if we are of good heart and good intentions, things will work out.
- The breakdown fo the ego means that one is not really in control of life.
- It’s enough to realize that one not even able to manage one’s own life very well.
- …the fundamental result of the middle passage is to be humbled.
- As simplistic as it may sound, growing up is really the inescapable demand of the Middle Passage. It means finally confronting one’s dependencies, complexes and fears without the mediation of others. It requires us to relinquish blaming others for our lot and to take full responsibility for our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
- My own analyst once said to me, “you must make your fears your agenda.”
The Persona-Shadow Dialogue
- The persona (Latin for “mask” is a more or less conscious adaptation of the ego to the conditions of social life.
- Although the persona is a necessary interface with the outer world, we tend both to confuse the persona of others with their inner truth and to think that we too are our roles.
- To the degree that we have identified with the persona, our socialized self, so we will suffer anxiety at being pulled away from the outer adaptation to address the reality of the inner.
- The shadow contains all that is vital yet problematic—anger, and sexuality, to be sure, but also joy, spontaneity and untapped creative fires. Freud succinctly observed that the price of civilization is neurosis.
- Virtually all socialization represents a constriction of the natural impulses, hence a growing accumulation of anger is to be expected.
- With a life-long investment in the persona, the shadow encounter with anger is troubling, to be sure, but achieving the freedom to feel one’s own reality is a necessary step toward healing the inner spirit.
- Indeed, there are few midlife marriages, if they have survived, that are not under great strain. Either divorce is the signal event which launches the Middle Passage, or the marriage becomes a prime locus for those tectonic pressures.
- Arranged marriages have had a better track record than those predicated on maintaining love, that most elusive of feeling states.
- …it would seem from all accounts that marriages based on working needs have a better chance of enduring than those based on romantic expectations and mutual projections.
- However, the fundamental truth of relationship is that one projects all that one does not consciously experience of oneself onto the Other.
- The truth about intimate relationships is that they can never be any better than our relationship with ourselves.
- Meaning comes, Jung noted, “when people feel they are living the symbolic life, that they are actors in the divine drama. That gives the only meaning to human life; everything else is banal and you can dismiss it. A career, producing of children, are all maya [illusion] compared to that one thing, that your life is meaningful.
- To have a mature relationship one must be able to say, “No one can give me what I most deeply want or need. Only I can. But I can celebrate and invest in the relationship for what it does offer.” What it usually offers most is companionship, mutual respect and support, and the dialectic of opposites.
- Real relationship, then, springs from a conscious desire to share the journey with another, to grow near the mystery of life through the bridges of conversation, sexuality and compassion.
- …what one flees always is that awesome largeness of personal responsibility for our own lives.
- The unwavering truth of the psyche is: change or wither into resentment; grow or die within.
- The sooner each partner can embrace the necessity of individuation, as the raison d’être of the relationship, the greater the chance it will last.
- When one spouse continues to block change, be assured that he or she is still controlled by anxiety and invested in the projections of the first adulthood.
- No one has the right to block the development of another; that is a spiritual crime.
- “What is it in your history or your behavior which might cause conflict or undermine the relationship?
- “What has been your dreams for yourself and what fears have blocked you?
- Sex may be a bridge between them, children as well, but the real cement is to know what it is like to live inside the other’s skin.
- In the end, martyrs make neither good mothers nor good partners.
- The attachment needs of childhood remain very strong within the adult.
- But maturity is lacking when the primary measure of one’s self-worth and security is invested in the Other.
- Conditioned to shun feeling, avoid instinctual wisdom and override his inner truth, the average male is a stranger to himself and others, a slave to money, power and status.
- …it takes a man about a year in therapy before he is able to internalize and be present to his actual feelings—a year to reach where women are usually able to begin.
- So a man, during the Middle Passage, has to become a child again, face the fear that power masks, and ask the old questions anew. They are simple questions: “What do I want? What do I feel? What must I do to feel right with myself?”
- The power of the affair at midlife really lies in the magnetic pull back to the full flush of first adulthood.
- I have known a few so-called open marriages, some managed by highly conscious individuals. All failed in the end, in part because, however rational the agreement, there are such things as feelings.
- The meaning of the midlife affair is the imperative to go back and pick up what was left behind in one’s development.
- What is sought is completion, wholeness.
- Perhaps the hardest task of all is learning to accept and affirm one’s separateness in the context of relationship. The theme which recurs throughout this discussion is the necessity of taking responsibility for one’s own well-being while still being responsive to others.
- The easiest thing in the world is to blame another.
- It is eminently possible for a marriage to enter the whirlpool of the Middle Passage, to deconstruct and be reconstituted if, and this is a big if, the two are willing to become separate persons again and dialogue with each other about that separateness. One must acknowledge the paradox that for marriage to be unified there must first be greater separateness.
- A marriage can only be as good as, or at the level of, the two persons in it.
The transformation of marriage at midlife, then, involves three necessary steps:
- 1) The partners must assume responsibility for their own psychological well-being.
- 2) They must commit to sharing the world of their own experience without reproaching the Other for past wounds or future expectations. Similarly, they are to endeavor to hear, without feeling defensive, the experience of the Other.
- 3) Only radical conversation, the full sharing of what it is like to be me while hearing what it is really like to be you, can fulfill the promise of an intimate relationship. One can only engage in radical conversation if one has taken responsibility for oneself, has some self-awareness, and has the tensile strength to withstand a genuine encounter with the truly Other.
From Child to Parent to Child
- Perhaps no task is more important at midlife than the separation from parental complexes.
- The imperative to find one’s own authority is essential in midlife; otherwise the second half remains dominated by the vagaries of childhood.
- “Who am I at this moment?” “What do I feel, what do I want?”
- Exile from the group is the great threat of authority. No child can withstand exclusion from parental approval and protection, and so it learns reflexively to curb natural impulses. The name for that defense against the angst of exclusion is called guilt.
- …a parent who is living his or her life is not unconsciously jealous, not projecting expectations and limitations onto the child. The more individuated the parent, the freer the child can be.
- Many parents are disappointed in their children…This disappointment is in direct proportion to seeing the child as an extension of themselves not as a different being with a unique path of its own.
- If we truly love our children, the single best thing we can do for them is to individuate as much as possible ourselves.
- And just so should we treat our children—worthy of being different, having no obligation to us whatsoever. They are not here to take care of us; we are here to take care of us. As in marriage, the task is to love the otherness of the Other.
- We cannot love ourselves unless we have felt affirmed by the parent.
- The two greatest needs of the child are for nurturance and empowerment. Nurturance implies that the world will serve and meet us half way, support and feed us, physically and emotionally. Empowerment implies that we possess the wherewithal to meet life’s challenges and to fight for what we desire.
- Differentiating one’s own knowing from the messages of the parent is the necessary prelude to the second half of life.
- …shame means that one feels implicated in the wounds of others.
- What is not conscious from our past will infiltrate our present and determine our future. The degree to which we feel nurtured directly affects our ability to nurture others. The degree to which we feel empowered directly affects our ability to lead our own lives.
- If I have not had my worth affirmed, I will fear failure, avoid success and program myself to a repetitive cycle of evading the tasks of life.
- Jung once observed that we cannot grow up until we can see our parents as other adults, special to our biography certainly, wounded perhaps, but most of all simply other people who did or did not take on the largeness of their own journey.
The World of Work: Job Versus Vocation
- We do not really choose a vocation; rather it chooses us. Our only choice is how we respond.
- Our vocation is seldom a straight path, but a series of unfolding sackings and turnings.
- We are judged not only by the goodness of our heart, but also by the fullness of our courage.
Emergence of the Inferior Function
- Jung’s simplest definition of neurosis was “disunity with oneself.”
- The more trained we are and the more successful we are with that training, the more narrow will be our vision and our personality.
- He [Jung] had the “radiant thinking” of the intuitive but he lacked the sequential logic of the sensation type.
- In any relationship we are obliged to ask, “What am I expecting of this person which I ought to do for myself?”
- At first one feels awkward using the less adapted process, but in the end the psyche responds by a greater sense of grounded well-being.
- The reader will recall that the shadow refers to everything in the individual that has been repressed.
- All our aberrant actions represent a blind groping for more life, for renewal, though their consequences may be damaging to ourselves and others.
- …the Latin poet Terence once said, “Nothing human is alien to me.”
- As such, the shadow is rich in potential. Becoming conscious of it makes us more fully human, more interesting. A shadowless person is extraordinarily bland and uninteresting.
- The shadow embodies all the life which has not been allowed expression.
- We must examine what we envy or dislike in others and acknowledge those very things in ourselves.
- The more I know about myself, the more of my potential I can incarnate, the more variegated the tones and hues of my personality will be and the richer my experience of life.
4: Case Studies in Literature
- As Aristotle suggested twenty-five centuries ago, art can sometimes be clearer than life because art embraces the universal.
- As we know, what is unconscious is suffered inwardly or projected outwardly.
- How difficult it is for any of us to recognize that what is demanded is inner healing. It is so much easier to seek solace or satisfaction in the outer world.
- Keeping our appointment with midlife involves both the suffering and the search for its meaning. Then growth is possible.
- The more unconscious we are, the more we project.
- The urgency of their unloved lives causes them to make bad choices.
- The Underground Man makes conscious what all of us do in the first adulthood, namely, react to life’s wounds. We build a set of wound-based behaviors and live out our handicapped vision with rationalizations and self-justification.
- As painful as the encounter with our shadow may be, it reconnects us with our humanity.
- The facts of one’s life are less important than how we remember them, how we have internalized them and are driven by them, or how we are able to work with them.
- Destiny, however, is not the same as fate. Destiny represents one’s potential, inherent possibilities which may or may not come to fruition.
- Without painful efforts toward consciousness one stays wound-identified.
- With greater consciousness comes a greater opportunity for forgiveness of others and of ourselves, and, with forgiveness, release from the past.
- We must address the making of our myths more consciously or we shall never be more than the sum of what has happened to us.
5: Individuation: Jung’s Myth for Our Time
- The experience of the Middle Passage is not unlike awakening to find that one is alone on a pitching ship, with no port in sight. One can only go back to sleep, jump ship or grab the wheel and sail on.
- At the moment of decision, the high adventure of the soul is never more clear. In grabbing he wheel we take responsibility for the journey, however frightening it may be, however lonely or unfair it may seem.
- In not grabbing the wheel, we stay stuck in the first adulthood, stuck in the neurotic aversions which constitute our operant personality and, therefore, our self-estrangement.
- At no point do we live more honesty, or with more integrity, than when, surrounded by others yet not knowing oneself to be alone, the journey of the soul beckons and we say “yes” to it all.
- The implicit premise of our culture, that through materialism, narcissism or hedonism we would be happy, is clearly bankrupt. Those who have embraced such values are not happy or complete.
- Let us review for a moment the symptoms characteristic of the midlife transition.
- They are boredom, repeated job or partner shifts, substance abuse, self-destructive thoughts or acts, infidelity, depression, anxiety and growing compulsivity.
- Behind these symptoms there are two fundamental truths. The first is that there is an enormous force pressing from below. Its urgency is felt as disruptive, causing anxiety when acknowledged and depression when suppressed.
- The second fundamental truth is that the old patterns which kept such inner urgency at bay are related with growing anxiety but decreasing efficacy.
- Such symptoms announce the need for substantive change in a person’s life. Suffering quickens consciousness…
- …there is no rescue, no parent to make everything better and no way to go back to an earlier time.
- The ego structure which one worked so hard to create is now revealed to be petty, frightened and out of answers.
- Underlying the symptoms that typify the Middle Passage is the assumption that we shall be saved by finding and connecting with someone or something new in the outer world.
- [Jesus said,] “if you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
- Again, the stability of the society is served, but at the cost of the individual.
- …individuation is the developmental imperative of each of us to become ourselves as fully as we are able, within the limits imposed on us by fate.
- We must separate who we are from what we have acquired, our de facto but false sense of self. “I am not what happened to me; I am what I choose to become.”
- So we, with even minor correctives, can effect huge changes in our lives. To take on this project there is no escape from a daily commitment to stay in touch with what comes to us from within.
- The paradox of individuation is that we best serve intimate relationship by becoming sufficiently developed in ourselves that we do not need to feed off others.
- We remain most socially useful when we have something unique, our fullest possible selves, to offer.
- The world is not served by those who are alienated from themselves or others, nor by those who in their pain bring pain to others.
6: On the High Seas and Alone
From Loneliness to Solitude
- The American poet Marianne Moore once wrote that “the best cure for loneliness is solitude.”
- Paradoxically, the more troubled the relationships to the parent, the more dependent the person will be on relationships in general.
- Jung put parents in a difficult spot when he wrote that they “should always be conscious of the fact that they themselves are the principal cause of neurosis in their children.”
- When we are not lonely in being alone, then we have achieved solitude.
- The purpose of a ritual is to link a person to the larger rhythms of life.
- The goal is to still the traffic of the mind, the neurotic clutter which floods and distracts.
- Self-alienation is very much the condition of the modern world and it can only be changed by individual action.
Connecting with the Lost Child
- One of the most corrosive experiences of midlife is the sense of futility and joylessness that comes with routine.
The Passionate Life
- And the Greek novelist Kazantzakis advised, “Leave nothing for death to take, nothing but a few bones.”
- Anyone who has attempted to be genuinely creative knows what hard work it is, how suffering is unavoidable, and yet how satisfying can be the sense of process and completion.
Here are some important axioms:
- Life without passion is life without depth.
- Passion, while dangerous to order, predictability and sometimes sanity, is the expression of the life force.
- One cannot draw near the gods, the archetypal depths, without risking the largeness of life which they demand and passion provides.
- Finding and following one’s passion serves one’s individuation.
The Swamplands of the Soul
- One of the grandest of those illusions is that there is an Ultima Thule called Happiness, a real state which one can discover and in which one can live permanently.
- As social commentators like Jessica Mitford (The American Way of Death), Ernest Becker (The Denial of Death) and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (On Death and Dying) have observed, America in particular has a problem with the central fact of life, that we are all dying.
- Why do we wish to remain young?
- The answer is immediately clear, that one does not wish to take on life as a development rather a fixation, that one is not prepared to see it as a series of deaths and rebirths, that one is really not up to the fullness of the journey and would prefer to tarry awhile in the known and comfortable. So plastic surgery erases the epaulets of life’s campaigns, and adolescence rules the culture.
- Seen from the perspective of the first adulthood, the second half of life is a slow horror show. We lose friends, mates, children, social status, and then our lives.
- It is through making choices that we become human and find our personal sense of meaning.
- The paradox is that only through relinquishing all that we have sought do we transcend the delusory guarantee of security and identity; all sought let go.
- Then we move from the knowledge of the head, important as it sometimes is, to the wisdom of the heart.
The Luminous Pause
- I know no better definition of life than Jung’s, that “life is a luminous pause between two great mysteries which yet are one.”
- A sign that a person has not made the Middle Passage is that he or she is still caught in the ego-building activities of the first adulthood.
- We learn that no one really knows what life means or what the mysteries are.
- For those who worry bout the impact of their journey on others, we need to remember that our best way of helping them is by living our own life so clearly that they are free to live theirs.
- After the Middle Passage, no one can say where the journey will take us. We only know that we must accept responsibility for ourselves, that the path taken by others is not necessarily for us, and that what we are ultimately seeking lies within, not out there.
- Recall Jung’s central question. “Are we related to something infinite or not?