Monthly Archives: November 2012
Now to continue on from the last post . . . From Nigel Hamilton’s study, “The Alchemical Process of Transformation“:
“From a psychological standpoint, this stage is experienced as entering a dark and chaotic unconscious inner world. St John of the Cross has referred to this as the first of two dark nights, the dark night of the mind, which is an encounter with the darker aspects of our self (that which Jung called “the shadow”). At first nothing appears to make sense, indeed all the therapist can do at this stage of the process is to be fully present and empathise with the client, who in the process of articulating their experience, facilitates it further. The therapeutic setting, i.e. the therapy room, becomes the hermetically sealed vessel and the inner chaos that the client enters into is symbolised by the reactions of opposing forces struggling against each other. That is to say the client’s own psyche reveals its submerged inner conflicts to the conscious mind.
This is what I referred to in the last post, the establishing of a place of sacred safety, of temenos. During this part of the work, the “client” tells his or her story as it is known and sensed by the ego, the clothed self, This telling is vital and it is enough for the therapist to listen and support without trying to fix anything at this point.
As the client begins to experience the inner world to be more real, the process intensifies (the fire increases) and often anger, fear, frustration, and a desire to “escape from it all” is experienced. To pass through this stage requires patience, humility and acceptance not only of the client, but also of the therapist, who through experiences knows that a process of purification is in progress and that one by one the inner conflicts will gradually become resolved until a completely new inner state of clarity and freedom is achieved. Then the client will be reconciled with his or her inner earth nature – in alchemical terms they will have united with their “earth nature.”
The therapist tracks the appearance of complexes, contradictions, images and fears through the process of working with dreams, journaling, sand play, and other active imagination strategies. For the client, it almost feels that everything is getting worse as old sores are laid open, exposed to the light. It must be stated that the process doesn’t wait for all the shadows to be exposed. The shifting to the second stage, albedo begins when the therapist and client begin to tackle what has been exposed. Only so much darkness can be held at one time.
The dark night of the soul, this is something that is intimately known by all who suffer depression. The dark night of the soul is what we meet when we enter into midlife crisis. Each of us senses a darkness, a place of shadows from which we want to flee. This depression is not “organic,” a depression that is chemically induced. This depression and darkness appears to be something “out there,” something to which we feel we are victims. Typically, we run like hell trying to escape, trying to hide from the darkness. Drugs, sex, money, work, new places, new hobbies, redecorating our homes, a new car, a new spouse: we try anything to banish that darkness. But, the darkness refuses to be banished. This is the dark night of the soul, or at least our introduction to that darkness.
If we are like many others, we head to a doctor’s office for some pharmaceutical relief; or to a psychotherapist’s chair for some answers, some other strategies to banish the darkness. We do this only as a last resort knowing that if we don’t do something we will descend into insanity or commit suicide. It isn’t a pretty picture, but it is real.
“Alchemy announced a source of knowledge . . . which yields a “bitter” water by no means acceptable to our human judgment. It is harsh and bitter or like vinegar, for it is a bitter thing to accept the darkness and blackness of the umbra solis and to pass through this valley of the shadow. It is bitter indeed to discover behind one’s lofty ideals narrow, fanatical convictions, all the more cherished for that, and behind one’s heroic pretensions nothing but crude egotism, infantile greed, and complacency. This painful corrective is an unavoidable stage in every psychotherapeutic process . . . it begins with the nigredo . . .” (Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, CW 14, paragraph346)
So, the pain serves as an impetus to finally do something about the pain when all other avenues prove fruitless. So, one enters into psychotherapy. However, before the work can even begin, there is a need to create a place for the work; a safe, even sacred place. Like a surgeon preparing for an operation, there is the need to build a sense of safety in the relationship as well as place. The therapist needs to become aware of the boundary limits (or lack thereof) of the person and to build a sense of trust in that person as well as to have the person enter into a trust relationship with the therapist.
As time goes by, the two begin to test each other, test the boundaries of safety. And when there is a sense of safety, the belief that the container of their relationship has become sacred in its own way, then the work may begin:
“In the early period of analysis, the primary work is the establishment of the boundary, the analytical temenos, in which the analysis is to take place.” (Hall, The Jungian Experience, p. 78)
There is real vulnerability for both therapist and the person entering into this work of depth psychology. It is as through the establishment of temenos that one becomes safe enough to strip of their psychic layers as if stripping off clothing in order to expose the wounds that have led to the therapists office.
The image has been given a blue hue as blue is a colour long associated with both the unconscious and with gods and goddesses.
I am using a naked image in order to have it symbolize the need for naked truth in addressing the shadows that assail the psyche and the ego. When one is intent on getting unstuck, one has to peel away the layers that disguise the real issues. One has to approach this work or opus with honesty and not hide behind excuses like one hides behind clothing. Honesty is critical.
Before I begin to talk about the first alchemical stage (the next post), I want to quote Carl Jung’s words on the the use of alchemy as a process for psychotherapy:
“Since my aim was to demonstrate the full extent to which my psychology corresponded to alchemy – or vice versa – I wanted to discover, side by side with the religious questions, what special problems of psychotherapy were treated in the work of alchemists. The main problem of medical psychotherapy is the transference. In this matter Freud and I were in complete agreement. I was able to demonstrate that alchemy, too, had something that corresponded to the transference – namely, the concept of coniunctio . . . (Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 212)
Jung published his findings in his book, Psychology and Alchemy, the 12th volume of his Collected Works. Further studies resulted in the 13th volume, Alchemical Studies; and probably (in my opinion) the most important of his work regarding alchemy, volume 14, Mysterium Coniunctionis.
“There I was concerned with the interplay between conscious and unconscious, and with the impact of the greater personality, the inner man, upon the life of every individual.
This investigation was rounded out by the Mysterium Coniunctionis, in which I once again took up the problem of the transference, but primarily followed by my original intention of representing the whole range of alchemy as a kind of psychology of alchemy, or as an alchemical basis for depth psychology. In Mysterium Coniunctionis my psychology was at last given its place in reality . . . (Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 221)
Now, with this foundation, I will attempt to bring Jung’s words and ideas to you through my lens and filters.
When I meditate, I am working at becoming more aware. The work is powerful, time-consuming and life-changing. All effort produces change. Each day I sit in meditation, I go through the transformation process. It’s a never-ending work as I see it and know it. But the impact of even small changes on a daily basis is significant.
The same kind of transformational work goes on each time a person engages in therapeutic processes such as undergoing Jungian psychoanalysis. Alchemy is the transformational model that Carl Jung used to frame his own practice.
I am doing a bit more pre-investigation before jumping into the use of alchemy for personal transformation as a therapeutic model. A not so quick search of the literature and websites has yielded more information than I can actually use. Below are a listing of some links you might find useful.
- Adam McLean – The Birds in Alchemy
- Hollingsworth Counselling – Alchemy For the Soul
- Nigel Hamilton – The Alchemical Process of Transformation
- Dennis William Hauck – The Seven Stages of Transformation
- Jo Hedesan – The Four Stages of Alchemical Work
- Dirk Gillabel – Alchemy
- Wikipedia – Magnum Opus
My focus will concentrate on the Magnum Opus, or the four stage process, rather than the seven stage process that is discussed in most studies of alchemy. The four stages of the Magnum Opus are easier for me to discus in psychological terms with the focus on effecting change in consciousness, bringing a deeper awareness of self. As I understand it, this process is best likened to a spiral with each journey through the stages taking a person deeper and deeper into the personal unconscious in order to bring that which is hidden into the light of ego consciousness. Using Buddhist terms, one could say that this is the path to enlightenment.
The four stages are:
- nigredo – blackening – The Shadow
- albedo – whitening – Anima / Animus
- citrinitas – yellowing – Wise Old Man
- rubedo – reddening – Archetypal Self (wholeness)
In future posts, I will visit each of these stages, hopefully giving you a better understanding of the stages in terms of finding a way out of darkness, the Dark Night of the Soul that you may be suffering.
In Jungian psychology, the journey towards wholeness is called individuation. In alchemical terms, this wholeness is represented by the masculine and the feminine symbolism which takes the form of a holy wedding between the king and the queen. Knowing that the images are symbolic is vital for understanding of the psychological process. Within the psyche, the anima, or soul, is the feminine aspect; consciousness is the masculine aspect.
As to be expected, there are other symbols that are used to illustrate the idea of completion, of wholeness. One that finds it way into contemporary society is that of the sun and the moon contained together. As I walk down the street of my tiny town, I can see numerous examples of this image including several that are on my house. In Jungian terms, the sun is symbolic of consciousness, of the masculine principle; the moon is symbolic of the unconscious, or feminine principle. It is vital to differentiate the masculine and the feminine principles from biological males and females.
In social terms, the union of a man and a woman with the resulting creation of a child produces a wholeness that all societies embrace as family. This union of male and female has its roots in instinct, in the will to survive as a species. The union also has the impulse for completeness, for two to become one for a moment, a moment in which allows a transcendence of the painfully prosaic lives we live as individuals, even if we are in relationship with others.
With the act of union completed, it doesn’t take long for each to retreat within themselves and begin a grieving process for the loss of the other, for the loss of a sense of being at one with oneself. One returns to suffering.
“In talking about sex, we are getting into a very big topic. We are getting into the fact that every life situation has meaning behind it, or a process of communication in it. Communication can’y be established unless there are two parties, one of whom is the activator and the other the receiver. On that basis, any communication can be said to be sexual, although I’m not being Freudian here. The passionate quality of sex, doesn’t have to be involved necessarily. In order to communicate anything, however, you do have to have the true element of union. From the tantric point of view, everything is interpreted that way – in terms of union. There is the union of samsara ad nirvana, the union of phenomena and consciousness. We interpret it all in terms of the feminine and masculine principles. Everything is seen that way. (Trungpa, Work, Sex, Money, p. 106)
The union of masculine and feminine, the union of all dualities, polarities – the union of opposites and the achievement of wholeness, of one-ness.
Alchemy is an ancient art that has for its goal the transformation of turning base metals (lead and iron) into noble metals (gold and silver). Alchemy also had the goal of creating the elixir of life which would allow one to retain the appearance and energy of youth rather that the decline into old age and infirmity. Our modern world of chemistry continues the tradition established thousands of years ago, the tradition of transforming aspects of the outer world for the benefit of humans.
But alchemy is much more than about science and chemistry, it is also about the alchemist and the psychology of the human spirit which sees the possibilities going beyond what and who we are. Humans not only want more, they want to be more. We all are unsatisfied with ourselves in some fashion, physically, mentally, psychologically, spiritually, or in our relationships with others. We swallow pills and alcohol, we smoke various substances, we engage in various dietary regimes, undergo surgery or enter into psychoanalysis in hopes of changing ourselves.
I am no different. I meditate, I eat carefully and choose carefully what I eat, I take a few medications to help regulate body systems that have weakened over time. I abandoned practices that kept me subservient to spiritual authority and adopted a spiritual path that felt right. And in the process of doing things differently, I changed, I transformed.
When I bring up the word alchemy here, I will bring with it a psychological rather than a chemical association. I am not interested in test tubes and finding an answer out there. I am interested in finding answers within so that I can better appreciate who I am, and as a result, better appreciate others as individual humans.
I am a Buddhist and I meditate every day. If I could describe the manner in which I sit, this image would best describe it., a semi-lotus position.
Meditation for me is more than just sitting in silence, or sitting and following the sounds of some engineered sound, or sitting whispering a mantra over and over again, Meditation is about energy and presence. As I breathe in I gather energy into one of the seven chakras.
“Chakras play an important role in the main surviving branch of Indian Vajrayana, Tibetan Buddhism. They play a pivotal role in completion stage practices, where an attempt is made to bring the subtle winds of the body into the central channel, to realise the clear light of bliss and emptiness, and to attain Buddhahood.” (Geshe Gelsang Kyatos)That is about it, the attainment of emptiness which translates as the cessation of suffering. I find this state of emptiness at times, for brief moments. Sometimes during walking meditation (yes, I meditate when walking in the countryside) thinking stops and I find that my head is “empty.” When in that state I see, hear and smell without thinking about what my senses are bringing into awareness, without having the senses trigger association which lead me to “project” stuff that really isn’t there. Sometimes during sitting meditation I find this emptiness as well, but strangely not as often as I would hope. The stillness of “emptiness” isn’t brought into awareness by action or thought. The stillness is always there. I have to give up trying to force emptiness to be present, for when I am busy trying, I am actually pushing it away. One has to simply “be” and that is enough.
It’s a very difficult thing to figure out what a naturist is, but not so difficult to know what a nudist is. I am not a nudist; I am a naturist. A nudist is simply defined as someone who takes the opportunities that present themselves to spend time without clothing. Sometimes one only finds these opportunities to appear when one is alone: sometimes one only takes the opportunities that present themselves when they are in a social setting.
I would define the difference between naturism and nudism as existing in the motivation and the results to the individual’s psyche. A naturist accepts the fact of living in a community and a society that has a basically negative response to the naked human body. By negative response I include legal sanctions, shunning, shaming and the reducing of all nudity as sin, as pornography. A naturist also accepts the realities of nature, for example, wearing clothing as a necessity for warmth and body protection.
What is the intention for removing clothing? For many, it all comes down to comfort – it simply feels good. That intention is about valuing self in contrast to valuing the opinions of others. Where the intention is internal validation that embraces nature rather than external validation through participation in social events at beaches, clubs, resorts, nude bike rides, etc., one would be a naturist. That said, one can be a naturist in a nature setting that is shared with others.
The lines between naturist and nudist are blurred for the most part as it is hard to see motivation. In the end, perhaps it doesn’t matter. After all, beneath all the fashions, costumes, uniforms – we are all naked.
PS – in case anyone is interested, the photos were found somewhere on the web. If the owner(s) of the photos wants me to remove them, I will. On another note, perhaps you would be willing to take the credit, publicly, here.