What Matters Most:
Living a More Considered Life

Dr. James Hollis


Photograph by: Raymond Gehman, www.raymondgehman.com

Constance-Avery Clark, Ph.D., CJSSF Board Member

CJSSF: Why the title, “What Matters Most”? And how is it that you came to write this book?

DR. HOLLIS: I am getting to be an old guy now, and it is the privilege, and the duty, of this stage of life to step back and reflect a bit on the bigger picture, and what, if anything, one has learned along the way.  Being thoughtful about these matters is important at any stage, but a more considered life will ask of each of us to really sort through and discern what matters most to us.  I do not presume to tell others what ought to matter most to them, but I do wish to provoke them to pause from time to time and radically review what does matter to them, and whether where they are investing their energies serves those values.


CJSSF: The preface of your most recent book, What Matters Most, ends with a thought-provoking excerpt from T. S. Eliot’s “The Dry Salvages”:
Fare forward, travelers! Not escaping from the past

Into different lives, or into any future….

Not to farewell,

But fare forward, voyagers.
How does this poem reflect the main message of your book?

DR. HOLLIS: As young persons, we all believed there were definitive answers to life’s puzzles and challenges.  The older we get the more we realize there are no final answers, although there may be personal discoveries which make sense to us, and that our life is more a journey toward larger and larger questions.  Lived thusly, we are living a developmental, enlarging life and not one in which we have died before we died.   Any certainties we do acquire are for now only, and may be replaced by ever more challenging experiences.


CJSSF: In your first chapter, “Shock and Awe: That Life Not Be Governed by Fear,” you note, “But in every moment of certainty, every privileging of fractal consciousness, every necessary hubris, we also know something else!” What is it that we also know?

DR. HOLLIS: We all know, intuitively, that we are meant to step into the full package, the full investment in our journeys.   It is not wrong to be fearful for fear, after all, is a by-product of our fragility and dependency as children, and fortunately we are creatures of infinite adaptation in service to survival.   But we may also grow imprisoned by those adaptations, the patterns of avoidance or compliance that, once protective, now are constrictive.   We all know, intuitively, that we are asked to “show up” in our lives, and serve the vocation it asks of us.


CJSSF: Chapter four of you book focuses on our need to respect Eros. Some people may interpret this to mean that we must respect the power of Love or Relationship. What do you mean when you refer to Eros, and how is Eros associated with what matters most?  

DR. HOLLIS: Eros is the life force. One of its many forms is sexuality, but it is also expressed through creativity, and the will to push through what oppresses us; and while it may take delight in beauty, relationship, and the transcendent, it also is the tough force which refuses to quit, refuses to relinquish this opportunity for fuller expression.


CJSSF: In your eighth chapter you discuss our need to follow our creative urgencies and to find joy in our “foolish passions.” Could you talk about the role of creativity and passion in the pursuit of what matters most?

DR. HOLLIS: Joy, and happiness, are not goals in themselves, but they are the by-product of those moments when we are doing what is really right for us.  We may will ourselves to many necessary things, thank goodness, but in the end, the autonomy of our psyche will weigh in with its own judgment.   Thus the feeling function and the energy systems are continuous, autonomous evaluative processes.    Passion comes from the Latin passio, which means suffering.   Much of our most meaningful experience will come out of suffering, the suffering of birthing a baby, the suffering of creativity, the suffering of finding our path, whatever its cost.


CJSSF: In you chapter on writing our own stories, you note that, “Personhood is not a gift; it is a continuing struggle….” I can imagine that some people might think of “personhood” as an exceptionally abstract concept while others might regard it as more of a trait or someone’s static character. What do you mean by the term “personhood” in this book, and how does it relate to the theme of what is most important in life?

DR. HOLLIS: In his essay on personality, by which he meant, personhood, Jung noted that it has a claim on us equal to a divine summons.  It means subordinating the ego’s fantasy of control, sovereignty, and comfort to embody what divinity, or nature, wishes to bring into this world through us.  When we see our being here on this planet as a form of service to such transcendent energies, we may not have a comfortable life, but we will have found our myth.


CJSSF: In your concluding paragraph, you include what I know is one of your favorite phrases from Rilke: “To have been here, to have wrestled with such things, to have lived such questions, to have kept the mystery before us, to have joyfully accepted being ‘defeated by ever-larger things’….is, finally, what matters most.” What comes to your mind when you read your own last paragraph and particularly Rilke’s admonition to experience defeat in the presence of ever-larger things?

DR. HOLLIS: This is the path of growth, not in service to material comfort or ego satisfaction, but to  have stepped into a larger engagement with mystery.   The historic function of tribal myth and institutional religion was to induct a person into these mysteries.   If these forms still achieve this outcome, then the person is well-served; if not, he or she will be obliged to undertake a personal path of discovery. We are most fully alive when most fully swimming in the unknown.


CJSSF: I will often have a client who complains that someone else who they know, someone else who appears identified with social image, making money, their professions, raising children, or any of a number of other activities, does not suffer as he or she, my patient, does. The client will bemoan the fact that these friends, relatives or spouses appear much more confident in their ability to ascertain what is most important to them and even appear to be happy. What does one say as a therapist, or even as a friend or confidant, to such an individual that is consonant with the points you make in your book? 

DR. HOLLIS: We can never know from outside a person’s life whether the journey they are living is the one intended for them by divinity or nature or not.   A friend once said that she wished she could just be a “happy carrot.”   She wasn’t given that option by the gods.   Our task is to be accountable for our own journeys, and the thousand choices we make daily.  That is enough good work to keep us busy, and perhaps to make us less annoying to our neighbors.


Portrait of Don Streit, LCSW

James Hollis is a Zurich-trained, licensed Jungian analyst in private practice in Houston, TX, where he served as Executive Director of the Jung Educational Center. Dr. Hollis is one of the most widely published Jungian authors with 13 books, including Archetypal Imagination, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, and his most recent work, What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life.


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Center for Jungian Studies
c/o Richard Chappell
20533 Biscayne Blvd Ste 104
Aventura, FL 33180-1529

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As a Not-For-Profit organization we exist because of the generosity of our friends, volunteers and donors. None of the work that we do would be possible without you.