As many of you know, I recently signed up for the Jung Platform’s course on James Hillman’s book, Alchemical Psychology. This past Thursday was our first session. The online class presents a live conversation between Jungian Analysts Patricia Berry and Robert Bosnak. The audience was given time at the end of the session for questions and comments.
I’ve decided to preface my posts on the class here with an attempt to first locate myself in relationship to learning, therapy and alchemy and to write briefly about the value I see in attending the class. To start, I want to acknowledge the ghosts that accompany me into my seat as both student and participant.
Formal school has often times been a stumbling block for me. As a child and into my teen years I was a terrible student within the formal setting of public school. These early years of my life coincided with an ongoing experience of a particularly painful sense of absence. Absence was a dominant theme; absence from school, absence from relationships, absence from embodiment all of which left me with an increasing sense of abandonment. These themes of absence, abandonment and identity are part of what is for me, the alchemical Prima Materia.
My love of learning was eventually initiated during my teen years through the discovery that ideas themselves are part of a deeper level in which I am in relationship to. As a teenager I recall the thrill of reading Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha which led me to a much-needed understanding that I was not alone in feeling that life itself is a journey. The depth, beauty and intimacy of ideas and their ability to affect change in both my perspective and skill at living life, were initiated at that time, and continue to this day to be the great work of my life.
“[T]here is one thing that this clear, worthy instruction does not contain; it does not contain the secret of what the Illustrious One himself experienced—he alone among hundreds of thousands. That is what I thought and realized when I heard your teachings. That is why I am going on my way—not to seek another doctrine, for I know there is none, but to leave all doctrines and all teachers and to reach my goal alone—or die.” Herman Hesse
Initially, the work took on an inward focus as I saw that something in or about me was the problem because – I am that which suffers. In time I have found that the work has moved beyond interior issues and out into relationships with others and the larger issues of cosmology and the state of the world.
The feeling in the midst of deep personal suffering and woundedness brings with it a sense and desire for something to change. But what becomes apparent in the work is the difficulty of breaking the mold and habit of self that develops within the confines and limitations of the resources of that same self. That difficulty is what led met to seek out a guide and so in my thirties I sought out a therapist to work with. There I came to know my deficiencies and began to see how limited a view I had of myself and the world. I also learned of the importance of using and understanding language and that knowledge of ideas found through the study of history, religion, mythology and science helps in gaining a perspective as to our time and place in the cosmos.
So, perhaps the class, instructors and students alike, are individually and as a group, looking for that Prima Materia, each of us searching for what brings us to enter into the study of alchemical psychology. For myself, I have a deep need to continue digging for the gold because I have experienced tremendous healing in my life through what I still see as the great work. The sensitivity that comes from such a work though, has allowed me to feel a great sorrow for the suffering of others and for the ways of the world, many of which bring seemingly unnecessary pain through an ongoing quest for power, a lack of willingness and skill in real communication, a misallocation of resources and the fear and insecurity that an ongoing demythologizing in the bringing together a variety of cultures brings.
Through the experience of deep and personal healing, I have come to know that there is much value within our own experiences. There is perhaps a terrible irony in what it took for me to come to enough of an understanding of the nature of myself and the world to release me into life, in that, I could not have done the work alone, and yet, I had to do the work alone, and that work initially brought more suffering, but perhaps the right kind of suffering that eventually and profoundly led to healing. As James Hillman put it, “Our wounds open us up,” but we must first find a way to “suffer that opening” without being irreparably ripped to pieces.