Through a Jungian Lens

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Suffering, Swamplands and Meaning

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Swamplands of the Soul - James Hollis

Swamplands of the Soul – James Hollis

I have a day of grace, a day with no projects in hand while waiting for the late afternoon when I will begin handing out treats to the young and young at heart. It’s Hallowe’en in North America and like most, our house and family participate in the ritual of handing out treats. Earlier in the afternoon I will likely cut up some wood which I had gathered from an old building in the countryside which had been abandoned decades ago and was now on the verge of collapsing. I will preparing birdhouse kits for three of my grandsons with that wood. I had thought of buying some new wood for these kits, but when the idea of bringing life back to the wood which would otherwise disappear, rejected and abandoned, I knew that the spirit of the wood would welcome another opportunity to be valued and useful.

That said, I have time this morning to do something I have been thinking of for some time – revisiting James Hollis’ book, Swamplands of the Soul. There was a time seventeen years ago when this book came out, that it served a vital purpose of illuminating a path through my own swamplands of soul. As I revisit the book, I find many passages marked with yellow highlight, reminders of those words that touched me deeply, the words that served as stepping stones upon which I would then walk carefully to avoid sinking into the swamplands of misery. Now, I am able to see other words that I need to attend to with thought and resonances.

With the years between then and now, I have invested more of myself in Buddhism and much, much more study of Jungian psychology, finding that there are more things in common with both than I would have otherwise believed. The first example I can think of is that of is suffering.

In Buddhism, the first of four noble truths is focused solely on suffering: The truth of dukkha – with dukkha translated as suffering, anxiety, unease, a lack of satisfaction that is manifested in both body and mind. Suffering in Buddhism includes a ” basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all forms of existence, due to the fact that all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance.” Turning to Hollis’ book, I found these words which echo the notion of suffering as central to the fact that we exist as humans:

“Jungian psychology [is] based on the assumption that the goal of life is not happiness but meaning. . . . Jungian psychology . . . avers that it is the swamplands of the soul, the savannas of suffering, that provide the context for the stimulation and the attainment of meaning . .  Without the suffering . . . one would remain unconscious, infantile and dependent.”

I know that I had read these words in the past for passages before and after these words were highlighted in yellow.  As I think back in time, I reaslise that I wouldn’t have ventured out of the comfort zone of my outer life if circumstances hadn’t basically forced me to do so, inner world circumstances that erupted into my outer life. And now, I find myself thankful that my ego collapsed, that I had been turned inside out. Yes, I suffered. I was cooked in fires that if physical would have consumed my skin and bones, cooked to such an extent that I had little choice – arise like a Phoenix, transformed, or disappear into the swamplands and the darkness. Reject the suffering, deny the suffering and one stays in darkness. Allow the suffering to do its work and one does discover and rediscover the light.


Written by Robert G. Longpré

October 31, 2013 at 9:55 am

4 Responses

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  1. I love Hollis’s books. This one spoke to me very clearly all those years ago, as do all his books when I revisit them!

    Robert Caldwell

    October 31, 2013 at 10:57 am

    • From one baby boomer to the another baby boomer, thanks for the comment, Robert. Interesting as we have the same name, the same notion of mentoring, and the same life involvement with folk music. I did lose the goatee somewhere along the way. 🙂


      October 31, 2013 at 11:01 am

  2. I have forgotten this definition; thank you for reminding me of it.


    November 1, 2013 at 10:12 pm

  3. Jungian psychology [is] based on the assumption that the goal of life is not happiness but meaning.

    I like this, it makes sense. I’m reading “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life” right now by James Hollis. Still trying to figure out why I’m here.


    November 2, 2013 at 5:37 pm

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