Living An Examined Life

with James Hollis Ph.D.

The Question

How do you define ‘growing up’?

Does it mean you achieve certain cultural benchmarks – a steady income, paying taxes, marriage, and children? Or does it mean leaving behind the expectations of others and growing into the person you were meant to be?

If you find yourself in a career, place, relationship, or crisis you never foresaw and that seems at odds with your beliefs about who you are, it means your soul is calling on you to reexamine your path.

If you’re wondering about your life, this episode is for you.

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Our Guest


James Hollis Ph.D.

Jungian Psychologist and Spiritual Author

James Hollis, Ph. D., was born in Springfield, Illinois, and graduated from Manchester University in 1962 and Drew University in 1967. He taught Humanities 26 years in various colleges and universities before retraining as a Jungian analyst at the Jung Institute of Zurich, Switzerland (1977-82).

He has written a total of fifteen books and over fifty articles including the topic of discussion of this episode – Living an Examined Life: Wisdom for the Second Half of the Journey. He is presently a licensed Jungian analyst in private practice in Washington, D.C.  

Truth. Is. Beautiful.

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The Talk

James Hollis believes that something deeper lives beneath the ‘voice in our head’. Underneath the ego lies the vast forces of the unconscious – the psyche – which has its own plan for us.

The responsibility of each person, is to figure out what they are, and then heed that call instead of resisting it.

This is a radical and challenging way of thinking about yourself. It means that what you think you want from life probably isn’t what life wants from you. And it means that living meaningfully is almost certainly going force you out of comfort and certainty, and into suffering and the unknown.

Often we try to just ignore this deeper level but when suppressed, it usually surfaces somewhere eventually as depression or insomnia or bad dreams. When we are off track, the soul protests.

At any major point in life, Hollis argues we should ask of ourselves: “Does this path, this choice, make me larger or smaller?”

The usual question we might pose in life is “Will this make me happy?” – but few of us actually know what will make us truly happy. Ask instead whether a choice will make you larger or smaller, and surprisingly often the answer is obvious.

What’s Your Feeling?

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The Questions

  • You’ve written many, many books over the years, what brought you to writing this one and what was the central question at the forefront of it?
  • Can you explain what you mean by the soul and how it tries to push us to our higher self?
  • What are the three qualities humans need to live a well-lived life?
  • 90% of our fears are psychological, archaic from early childhood. How do we steel ourselves to work through these primal fears?
  • How do you cultivate courage and bravery in people?
  • Do you think meaning in life can only really sustainably taken from following your soul’s purpose and any deviation from that is when we start to abstract ourselves from truth?
  • How important is humility to a well-lived life?
  • How difficult is it to remain humble later in life? The renewing act of humility?
  • How do you see love and self love in life? How important is it to try to cultivate both independently?
  • What advice do you give younger people starting out in life?

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