Wholeness, Fragmentation and Dionysus

220px-David_BohmDavid Bohm’s book, “Wholeness and the Implicate Order,” explores the problem of fragmentation in human thought and consciousness. Along with a very thorough analysis of why the problem of fragmentation exists, he also provides suggestions for undoing what he calls “habits of thought” which limit our ability to perceive wholes, or to even be aware of them.

“A new kind of mind thus begins to come into being which is based on the development of a common meaning that is constantly transforming in the process of the dialogue. People are no longer primarily in opposition, nor can they be said to be interacting, rather they are participating in this pool of common meaning which is capable of constant development and change.

Man’s general way of thinking of the totality, i.e. his general world view, is crucial for overall order of the human mind itself. If he thinks of the totality as constituted of independent fragments, then that is how his mind will tend to operate, but if he can include everything coherently and harmoniously in an overall whole that is undivided, unbroken and without border (for every border is a division or break) then his mind will tend to move in a similar way, and from this will flow an orderly action within the whole.

Although we may all experience a common pool of meaning in varying ways, the idea of a pool or a consensus might help us gain some insight by separating form of meaning from content. Without this separation, we risk missing the context which we bring to experience that allows us to understand the specific habit patterns, either in thought, feeling or action, that each of us enacts.

Content is perhaps the easiest to see, and is the “what” of perceived experience; the immediacy of sense impressions of the objects, ideas, emotions, beliefs that grip us, not unlike the sun in your face, or the wet, damp cold of a winter’s day. Content is etymologically related to the word “contain,” what is held together, or can be held together. Interestingly, content, with the emphasis on the second syllable, meaning satisfied, also shares this idea of containment; to be held, or a feeling of holding together. Content reflects subjective awareness, the view from the inside of direct engagement both immediate and apparent within the sensate world and the world as it translated into various forms of expression. 

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Form is then the shaping or patterning of how the content gets contained, and potentially provides one with a meta-view of the content, or what and how something is contained, categorized or understood. If content consists of the subjective insider view, form is what we see when we zoom out. Is subjectivity, then, associated more with feeling and sensate perceptions, where objectivity pulls back into modes of abstracting, thinking and evaluation? If so, the nature of the shaping of content can easily get lost as focus is on the unreflected insider impressions of the content. Form can bring us ways of contextualizing through expansion, amplifying and distancing from immediate experience through reflection, “as if” from the outside looking in.

Both of these modes of perception interplay and we shift in and out them perhaps not only seamlessly, but without an awareness of their distinct styles. When we are directly engaged in the world, soaking in whatever we are attending to, we may more or less pause to reflect and pull back from the engagement. We may also sense a tension between the two modes. To be engrossed in a project, or a conversation, or any intense level of participation that we sometimes refer to as “losing ourselves in,” can be pleasant. But as well, a deep immersion into sadness, loneliness, or any kind of pain, also belongs to the mode of subjective immersion.

Rebis_Theoria_Philosophiae_Hermeticae_1617Rebis_Theoria_Philosophiae_Hermeticae_1617

 

We humans are both blessed and cursed with such tools and abilities afforded us through sense, language, reflection, desire and the creative impulse to expand, control and change our environment. Perhaps though, when we fail to look for and see and reflect upon the nature of relationship itself, whether between humans, or to the world we live in, great distortions of these gifts grip us, either through too much abstraction, or too much immersion, or the failure to engage how and where they influence each other.

David Bohm referred to the problem as “fragmentation” in which we lose sight of the “whole” while being immersed, and lose sight of the immediacy while zooming out. He saw language itself as a big contributor to the loss of an ability to see connections and relationships by dividing the whole into parts, thereby mistaking objects as truly separate from each other in the same way that words are separate and discrete. Language does not have any true bearing on the nature of the unified whole, except as it shapes our perception, which is always subject to the ebb and flow of the both the narrowing and expanding qualitative states of one’s attention and field of consciousness.

The focus of his book is on the ways in which science is likely to fail the greater good of society, by neglecting to see the relatedness between what knowledge allows us to do, and the implications for technologies that ultimately cause harm. But here I am more interested in modes of perception in our day-to-day living, and especially that which truly has the power to influence us through emotional and intellectual disruption, trauma and all that tears asunder, that which in our current style or mode of being in the world, and subsequently becomes ineffective and possibly broken, brings with it the potential of more relational styles of being in the world.

In James Hillman’s essay on Dionysus, he uses the image of dismemberment as an archetypal force, or metaphorical image for the distinct styles of being changed through participation and relationship within a community of others:

If we take our clues from Jung’s exploration of the theme in alchemy (“The visions of Zosimos,” CW 13), dismemberment refers to a psychological process that requires a body metaphor. [55] The process of division is presented as a body experience, even as a horrifying torture. If, however, dismemberment is ruled by the archetypal dominant of Dionysus, then the process, while beheading or dissolving the central control of the old king, may be at the same time activating the pneuma that is distributed throughout the materializations of our complexes. The background of the second Dionysus offers new insight into the rending pain of self-division, especially as a body experience.

Leo_Putz_-_Bacchanale,_1905

He continues by emphasizing that the Dionysian experience is neither physical nor psychological, but both. The essential point not to be missed is that through disintegration psyche and soma are experienced integratively, or conjoined, which as Hillman notes later, awaken consciousness, not of, but in the body:

We experience this process in psychosomatic symptoms, in hysterical conversions, in specific sadomasochistic perversions, in cancer fantasies, in fears of ageing, in horror of pollution, or in disintegrative incoherent conditions that have a body focus. This experience has its other side. The dismemberment of central control is at the same time the resurrection of the natural light of archetypal consciousness distributed in each of the organs.

But does King Ego die, and if so, how? Hillman suggests that the death of the king is a dying to the community through “lysis,” or a loosening.

Dionysus was called Lysios, the loosener. [61] The word is cognate with lysis, the last syllables of analysis. Lysis means loosening, setting free, deliverance, dissolution, collapse, breaking bonds and laws, and the final unraveling as of a plot in tragedy.

The_Bookshelf_for_boys_and_girls_Little_Journeys_into_Bookland_(1912)_(14772923505)

The loosening, or death of the king by, and for, a more relational and integrated community within and without, has both personal and collective significance for our times. Perhaps the tyrant within must become the tyrant without, amplifying the visibility of the archetypal power in our midst, and now perhaps, brings us full circle. Bohm’s fragmentation might then be seen as a Dionysian move that is yet to be made fully manifest, but could serve as a catalyst towards providing a corrective move in which the King, both within and without, no longer able to stand in for his forgotten, neglected subjects, dissolves into a more integrated association with humanity at large.

 

As noted: Hillman, James. Mythic Figures (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Book 6). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

 

Anima, Soul, Psyche

Being that has soul is living being. Soul is the living thing in man, that which lives of itself and causes life…. With her cunning  play of illusions the soul lures into life the inertness of matter that does not want to live. She makes us believe incredible things, that life may be lived. She is full of snares, and traps, in order that man should fall, should reach the earth, entangle himself there, and stay caught….  CW 9, i, 56

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The contentless asexual description of the anima archetype as “life,” analogous with Maya, Shakti, Sophia, and the p’o soul, points to a specific kind of life, life which projects out of itself consciousness. In other words, the life which Jung attributes to the anima archetype is psychic life: “The anima…. is a ‘factor’ in the proper sense of the word. Man cannot make it; on the contrary, it is always the a priori element in his moods, reactions, impulses, and whatever else is spontaneous in psychic life. It is something that lives of itself, that makes us live; it is a life behind consciousness that cannot be completely integrated with it, but from which, on the contrary, consciousness arises. James Hillman

Perhaps anima, understood here as that quality of soul which eludes our awareness, while at the same time lures us into life itself, could be seen as a quality feminine in nature, especially compared to the more willful masculine aspects of our conscious awareness. Hillman, in his book Anima, An Anatomy of a Personified Notion, slowly brings the discussion around to Jung’s own deeper understanding of the nature of anima as archetype, and especially, as the archetype of life itself.

Anima here is not a projection but is the projector. And our consciousness is the result of her prior psychic life. Anima thus becomes the primordial carrier of psyche, or the archetype of psyche itself.

She projects herself into consciousness through expression; expression is her art, whether in the extraordinary artfulness of symptom formation and clinical ‘picture’ or the artifices of anima bewitchments. And the wisdom that Sophia imparts is seeing sophically into these expressions, seeing the art in the symptoms. James Hillman

Hillman quotes Jung’s own distinction between the ideas of anima, soul, psyche – three words frequently used interchangeably, reflecting a lack of consensus regarding their meanings.

Anima means soul and should designate something very wonderful and immortal. Yet this was not always so. We should not forget that this kind of soul is a dogmatic conception whose purpose it is to pin down and capture something uncannily alive and active. CW 9, i, 55

Jung’s distinction of soul as an archetypal power contrasts notions dogmatically held by religious and philosophical concepts. Jung’s emphasis on the soul as ‘alive and active’ is worth pondering further, as this important distinction may indeed point us to an underlying current in modern consciousness often referred to as ‘patriarchal society.’ Perhaps the soul, as the primary psychic reality that supports all thought, fantasy, imagination and expression, through literal fixations, remains driven by an incessant need to pin down and capture the living, breathing flow that is the very definition of life itself. The fall into anima, or life, through a practice or work, alchemical in nature, or Hillman’s ‘soul-making,’ is necessary for expanding our awareness at the deepest level of consciousness.

Image-François_Pascal_Simon_Gérard_006Amid the confusion (is this inherent in the anima archetype herself?) between our ideas of anima, soul and psyche, Hillman has tried elsewhere (See The Myth of Analysis) to show an archetypal background to soul’s movement in Apuleius’ tale of Psyche (From Wiki):

Transformed into a donkey by magic gone wrong, Lucius undergoes various trials and adventures, and finally regains human form by eating roses sacred to Isis. Psyche’s story has some similarities, including the theme of dangerous curiosity, punishments and tests, and redemption through divine favor.[6]

About this he says:

My point there was to show phenomenologically that what starts out as mere anima moods and fantasies becomes psychological ambiguity, that is, receptivity, containment and imagination, so that the way to psychological understanding is through anima. My point here is to show conceptually that the process of anima becoming psyche can be deduced from Jung’s notion of anima itself. James Hillman

He defends this idea by showing that, although Jung associated feminine figures with the anima, the mother, or maternal element is consistently lacking from any association to anima and for good reason.

The anima makes possible a ‘purely human relationship independent of the maternal element of procreation.’ (CW 10, 76)…. The movement from mother to anima represents this shift in perspective from naturalistic to psychological understanding. In alchemy the relationship corresponding with the psychological perspective was exemplified in the adept’s relationship with the anima-soror. James Hillman

Moving us ever further away from the literal association of anima to female (as compared to feminine), Jung also associated anima with Mercurius. This association broadens the anima archetype even further and is the bridge itself from anima to anima mundi.

Very much more material is the definition of Mercurius as a ‘life-giving power like a glue, holding the world together and standing in the middle between body and spirit.’ This concept corresponds to … Mercurius as the anima media natura. From here is but a step to the identification of Mercurius with the anima mundi… CW 13, 262-63

This movement between anima and anima mundi is quintessential for bringing soul into relationship with the universals, and fosters an understanding of ourselves as living both within and through archetypal reality, meaning, we can no longer see soul, or any notion of ourselves and others with clear boundaries, or as either inside or outside of us – but that we are within soul and partake of archetypal reality – something much bigger, broader, ultimately unfathomable, forever flowing through us as the source of life herself.

This sort of extended notion of soul appears in alchemy, e.g., the soul described by Richard White which, Jung points out, differs extremely from the idea of psyche in ‘biological and personalistic psychology.’ This soul is at once the personified anima figured in a female form and the reflective psychological principle. As Jung notes, she joins in one the distinction between the wider notion of soul (anima mundi) and the narrower one (anima vagula). This distinction between soul and the soul or my soul did not bother the alchemists, and it was a distinction upon which Neo-platonism refused to insist, for Plotinus was able to discuss psychology on both levels at once: what takes place in psyche of course takes place in man’s soul. Jung sometimes concurs, saying for instance  “it often seems advisable to speak less of my anima or my animus and more of the anima and the animus. As archetypes, these figures are semi-collective and impersonal quantities…(CW 16, 469) James Hillman

I want to suggest that the ideas presented lastly here, of misplaced ownership, as they present themselves not only in our actions, but within our thoughts, shaping our conscious awareness itself, have yet to be given full recognition, especially as they relate to the troubles in our modern world. It’s no surprise then that even with the gifts of Jung and Hillman’s writings which brought these ideas into the cultural conversation, psychology, as well as much of the human community at large, still suffers from an ontologically mistaken identity and sense of ownership.

Except where noted, all quotes from James Hillman, Anima, An Anatomy of a Personified Notion, Spring Publications.

Alchemy Class Notes – Session Twelve

“Enter alchemy – thing-words, image-words, craft-words. The five supposed sources of alchemy are each a technology. Each is a handwork physically grappling with sensate materials: (1) Metallurgy and Jewelry: mining, heating, smelting, forging, annealing; (2) Cloth and Fiber Dyeing: dipping, coloring, drying; (3) Embalming the Dead: dismembering, evacuating, infusing, preserving; (4) Perfumery and Cosmetics: grinding, mixing, distilling, diluting, evaporating; (5) Pharmacy: distinguishing, tincturing, measuring, dissolving, desiccating, pulverizing.”

Although admittedly going off on a tangent here, this post was inspired by Session Twelve of the Jung Platform’s course on James Hillman’s book, Alchemical Psychology. What I’ve recently come to appreciate is that the study of alchemy is as inexhaustible as is its application to my life.

Alchemy is styled and practiced in a number of traditions dating back at least to the 3rd and 4th century BCE. With that in mind, my focus here is to review the general structure of Western alchemy, while staying with Hillman’s emphasis to work one’s perspective by giving substance to soul and soul to substance.

Alchemy is a practice; a work in which a transformation of some kind is initiated through the desire and aim of a goal. In everyday life, it can be applied to cooking, writing, relationships to any person, place or thing, or the learning of a craft, trade or art. You may think of other applications.

Elihu Vedder (1836–1923) Title: Soul in Bondage

Prior to the 18th century, before science divorced herself from the arts, it may have been more readily understood that the work on the materials would simultaneously “work” the practitioner. Alchemy then was a quest for knowledge about the nature of particular substances and processes in the world.

The modern sense of our individuality reflects science’s need to distinguish between subject and object, self and other. These changes bring much freedom to the individual, while also coinciding with a loss of soul, or soul’s substantiality. Not only a sense of one’s personal soul, but the felt sense that the world herself is ensouled, enlivened by all creatures and substances and their varying degrees of autonomy and obeisance.

One might say that the more one feels the divide and separation between themselves and others, the more we might miss, or dismiss the autonomy of other beings and things, leaving no room for acknowledging the invisible, autonomous forces, except where science quantifies them (gravity, electromagnetism, etc.).

Modern ideas of alchemy deeply reflect these changes of self-perception and our place in the cosmos. To speak of a literal alchemy in which base materials are turned into precious metals has lost credibility with all but a few practitioners. As well, the work, if undertaken at all, seems narrowed by an emphasis on personal transformation. But, if alchemy itself is a reflection of an evolving consciousness of universal import, we might see this modern emphasis on self as a necessary stage before the gap between material and non-material existence can dissolve.

Limbourg brothers, Title:Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry English: Anatomical Man.

If alchemy lives on anywhere, as a practice of noting influence and correspondences between the microcosm of one’s human experience and the macrocosm of the hidden nature of the greater cosmos, we have astrologers to thank. For astrologers have never abandoned the idea that human nature and experience is a reflection of the nature, motion and resemblance shared throughout the cosmos, enhanced all the more by our apprehension of it.

With that in mind, we can break alchemy down into three dimensions of the practice: the materials, the operations and the stages of the work.

Materials

In alchemy, as in astrology, the elements are the givens, each of which have mythological, planetary or astrological correspondence. The idea of turning base medals into gold, literally or psychologically, requires coming to know the nature of each material substance. Alchemical psychology and Western astrology, borrowing much from their mythological heritage, see in each planet a corresponding metallic nature.

When alchemists link the planet Saturn to lead, it sees leaden characteristics, knowable by working directly with the substance lead. Alchemy, like astrology, does not stop here, but sees lead’s slow, heavy nature as an influential psychic force corresponding to our nature as well. For example, Saturn’s influence is said to be felt as weighty, depressive, slowing us down in some way in both mind, body and circumstance. As Saturn is associated with the Greek god Kronos, where we get our word for time (chronology), there may also be a need for time or attention to some aspect of our lives.

Hillman says of the alchemists work with metals:

“The metals were imagined to be made of coagulated moist vapors, like a condensed gas whose spirit could be released by the proper operations. Because the metals were inherently moist, that is, embodying phlegm, they had a phlegmatic tendency to be passive or inert, requiring fire. Resistance to change is given with the seeds of our nature and only intense heat can move human nature from its innate inertia.”

When we moderns deprive ourselves of seeing any correspondence between ourselves and the nature and motion of the cosmos, we risk increasing the feeling we may already have of alienation, with both ourselves, others and the world we are literally pieces and parts of.

Saturn = Lead

Jupiter = Tin

Mars = Iron

Sun = Gold

Mercury = Quicksilver (Mercury)

Venus = Copper

Moon = Silver

Operations

The operations used in alchemy for initiating action and reaction upon the materials are primarily salt, sulfur and mercury. Salt as agent for thickening, loosening and resistance to heat, sulphur for heating and combustion, and mercury or quicksilver for fluidity. Hillman warns that there is no purity in substance, operation or stages of alchemical work but a blending and merging of one into the other.

Making Waffles – Alexander Hugo Bakker Korff (1824–1882)

“Whatever is said about salt is always contaminated, and must be so contaminated by the materials, vessels, and operations with which it is in interaction. Psychic materials are always in diffuse interpenetration, with other materials and do not remain singly self-consistent, and so require multiple interpretation. In fact, this very contamination is part of their definition: let us say that alchemy is soft-edged. Lines between its elements cannot be drawn hard and fast because these elements are also elementary living natures.”

Stages

The work both progresses and regresses in stages associated with coloration, usually three or more of the following: Black, Blue, White, Yellow, Red. The colors themselves have astrological and mythological associations. Alchemy in contrast to modern science, is the practice of knowing the nature of anything by the qualities it presents to us. Where modern science reduces things down to size and mathematical relationships, alchemy seeks essence through the quality and nature of relationships within and between things.

Hillman emphasizes the alchemist’s ability to see psychologically through any practice that involves working with the worlds substantive qualities. From this work a truer understanding of ourselves and the nature of the world emerges into the unique expression each of us then presents daily to the world. In coming to know the substances, images, environments and actions/reactions which influence us, we are continually ensouled through our sensual, everyday experience that sees our nature reflected back to us through the nature of the cosmos.

All quotes: Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Alchemy Class Notes – Session Eleven

“The Suffering of Salt, Toward a Substantial Psychology,” is the title of chapter three of James Hillman’s book, Alchemical Psychology, and the starting point for the first class of year two of the Jung Platform’s online course. Hosts Patricia Berry and Robert Bosnak focus the discussion on the notions of salt, commonality and substance.

I am beginning to see an increased importance in the ideas presented in this chapter to much of Hillman’s work, as I understand it anyway. The alchemical marriage itself may be at the heart of Hillman’s proclivity to substantiate ideas, and also to see interiority within substance, even granting to substance a subjectivity. Beyond human subjectivity, he asks us to look within each substance for inherent qualitative aspects. The stones will cry out!

Might there be a subjective truth that invites us to look to the interiority of otherness for its own subjective qualities? That seeking will tell us something about our interiority, but with practice expand the qualitative distinctions we glean from others, enlivening us, and the world as ensouled; an Anima Mundi.

The alchemical work of psychology is precisely then the work of coming to know qualities; to learn of their essence as we learn of ours. Understood this way, we see much of the work as a practice of discernment; separating and specifying the nature of psychic substance, such as ideas and sensation, giving weight to them as we more readily do with physical substance. Here we will find the commonality of experience, as is the alchemical “sal” and salt in nature. At the same time, we educate our perception, looking more directly at the nature of both our, and the world’s suffering.

“Not only is the macrocosmic world personified and alive with subjective qualities that we nowadays allow only to human beings, but the microcosm of the human being, because it is a microcosm of nature, is also a mineral, physical object, consisting of substances such as salt.”

Our modern sensibilities may resist the notion that all substances and beings have a discernible nature accessible to others. Aren’t we locked up inside our skin, limited to knowing only through our own subjectivity? A deeper study of anything, or anyone, will admit that the limitations on what we can know, do not entirely keep us ignorant of the subjectivity of others. We better know that fire can burn, people can harm us, and as well, that we need warmth and love to live. We are not alone. Ours is a between state, one that we continually negotiate. The desire to settle into, or concretize any pattern as permanent, is death or at least ignorance of the inherent motion of all things.

“…we shall be activating the image of salt (1) as a psychological substance, which appears in alchemy as the word sal; (2) as an operation, which yields a residue; (3) as any of many physical substances generically called “salts”; and (4) as a property of other substances.”

In alchemy, psychic quality belongs as part of physical substance:

“The word sal in alchemical texts, especially since Paracelsus, often indicates the stable basis of life, its earth, ground, body. However, the term also more particularly refers to alums, alkalis, crystallizations, bases, ashes, sal ammoniac, potash, as well as to the sense qualities equivalent to these materials: bitterness, astringency, pungency, mordancy, desiccation, and crustiness, dry stings and smarts, sharpness and pointedness.” Emphasis added.

So why the “suffering of salt?”

Robbie and Pat talked a lot about salt as both common and necessary. We suffer the salt through the commonality of our human experience. To find our own essence, we must first see our commonality, how impersonal our fate and suffering may be. Then, instead of the focus of suffering aimed at what was done to me, we turn to the qualitative experience of our suffering. Failing to see the commonality of what we suffer, seeing only what was done to me, we are more apt to crystallize experience into encrusted memories whose force of repetition itself is a rewounding that remains open until we see into, or interiorize the nature of the wound rather than the wounder.

To be clear, it’s not so much how suffering occurs, but how we experience it.

Zubdat-al Tawarikh in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul

Although not discussed, it occurred to me during the class that Hillman begins the book with the suffering of salt because the practice of alchemical psychology, whether in the context of therapy, or within an individual’s life, is indeed a work of deepening experience through the stages of what the material presents to us, transforming not only our relationship to physical substance, but also giving substance to our ideas and coming to see how they work on us. Hillman suggests that we all embody both the ideas and the substances; that they make us. We encapsulate in miniature the nature of the cosmos, physically, and therefore, psychically. That is also the basis for astrological correspondence. We are each of us, a microcosm, salt of the earth.

“Not only is the macrocosmic world personified and alive with subjective qualities that we nowadays allow only to human beings, but the microcosm of the human being, because it is a microcosm of nature, is also a mineral, physical object, consisting of substances such as salt.”

Our work then is to know our common suffering, working the salt as a salve. Through deeper discernment of the nature of ourselves, our wounding, our commonality helps us to belong, embracing it as what unites us. Embracing our wounds and working the salt moves us out of crystallizing, or feeling stuck, towards curiosity, where love, compassion and forgiveness for ourselves and others, including the non-living, are granted through our recognition of their own substantial nature, apart from, but always in relation to us. Awareness of the suffering of our commonality, and the commonality of our suffering, frees us to express a life more fully lived.

“The microcosm/macrocosm model requires a micro/macro-awareness. It asks that we feel into the world of matter with sensitivity for qualitative differences. It asks that we find in our objective experiences analogies with and metaphors of physical processes and substances. The micro/macro model works in two directions. While endowing the world with soul, it also indicates that human nature goes through natural processes of an objectively mineral and metallic sort. Our inner life is part of the natural world order, and this perspective saves us from taking ourselves so personally and identifying what goes on in the soul with the subjective ego.”

Previous Class Notes here, or here.

All quotes: Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Revolution

Once upon a time, some men believed that the sun revolved around them. Then one day, here and there, some very brave men decided they wanted to know how true we could be. Why would the sun, so precious to life, participating in the very gift of our life, revolve around us? Our big Lion King, regal and alive with powerful star energy is a force to be reckoned with. Who can even see his face?

Imagine the adjustment to be made, when one by one, people everywhere reimagine their place in the world knowing it is they, not the sun, who are doing all the revolving. Who then, is beholden to whom?

Take heart though, for there is still the beautiful face of the moon which is so attracted to us that she faithfully revolves around us every 29.530589 days. She’s just a little off, like we are, revolving as we do around the sun every 365.256363004 days. But in an incomprehensible act of faith she keeps her face turned to us. Is there anyone you have ever known so faithful and true as that? It’s true that the sun, along with our own joy of spinning, do, from time to time, hide the lovely Lady moon’s beauty from us. It’s just as well because we have to get some work of living done now don’t we?

Although many of us have yet to digest the implications, it’s clear to some of us that things are just as they need be, for this particular story to take place. What story? The one we’re in of course.

We’re aligned with opportunity. We spin around an amazingly powerful sun, basking in his rays, fed by his birthing of all sorts of growing things. And the lady of our dreams stays with us, faithfully showing, with just the right amount of solar light reflected back to us, a Holy presence in her, and so, in each one of us. Her faithfulness to the beautiful marbled ball we call Earth, could be our faithfulness. But, just like a woman, she let’s us see exactly what we want to see, passing no judgment. For without her lovely mirror, how else could we ever receive any truth?

The Unseen I

“The unseen eye remind me of a midnight dream

You know it remind me of somebody I have never seen”

Sonny Boy Williamson

What is meant when we say, “I?” What we know of self and other may only be an immediate perception; a glance, a choice of words or clothing, a smell, or intuitions of recognition and deception – all steps on a never-quite-finished bridge from me to you.

For some, who we are is an idea so old and tiresome it’s no longer compelling or useful to ponder. The impossibility of knowing lessens the value of our imaginings. Whoever or whatever we are seems too slippery, incomprehensible or mercurial to be grasped; void of any tangible meaning worth imagining. For who is it that imagines the very self we want to comprehend? Are there then two of me? Ugh.

Yet, the life span of the body, the persona of an “I,” accumulates, weaving time and memory into a continuous sense of me. Underneath the limits of language, essentially there is something here, even if definition and identity fail to uphold an enduring portrait. With depths hidden even to oneself, others will see even less than that.

As much as we moderns may disparage the separateness that the “I” invokes, seeing the very notion as the source of strife, conflict and suffering, who among us could tolerate being unselved, without the opportunity to feel and respond uniquely as we do? What there is to know of self and other, begins with what shows up, and continues with what is revealed.

And, do we ever act completely independently of others? Are not others just as much ungraspable, mysterious extensions of our (in)ability to differentiate? Perhaps the drive to differentiate is the very thing compelling us to see anew. For who would remain an undifferentiated “I” sees neither others nor themselves. The more we are able to differentiate subtle distinctions, the more articulate our responses. From that comes an ability to see more of the whole.

The palette expands though not for quantities sake, but for quality – where beauty, love and compassion, already rooted in our being, respond as a tree to moisture and sunlight. What we learn through distinction and relationship is to appreciate the strange, the unknown which afford us access to the source of creation, that unseen I.

Like others, I am driven by both an urge to see, comprehend, understand and to reveal. But the double-edged sword of seeing and revealing will admit that through differentiating, focusing, defining, or what alchemy calls the separatio – necessary as they are, are themselves a mode of perception and never the whole story.

A time of darkness, not seeing, not even looking, can then become a place for renewal. Like the womb of our birthing, the dark periods of life can seem forbidden, empty, neither separate, nor unified, but a place of mystery of life itself, as necessary as food and shelter. Willingly or not, sometimes we find ourselves in the dark womb. Immersed in undifferentiated unity, we now belong, unquestionably protected and loved. The noun and verb as one, actor and act, lover and beloved, creator and created, heaven earthing, no “I” here to see or be seen.

It has only been with age that I begin to see “as above, so below.” As above, my life embodies the pulse of the universe as comings and goings, and like the weather, I watch and tend to them as best as I can, trusting in an unseen “I.”

File:NGC 3132 "Southern Ring".jpg

A jewel of the southern sky, NGC 3132 – Judy Schmidt

The unseen “I” immersed in the womb, sleeps and dreams itself into the next incarnation. Is there only one “I?” Perhaps that is so, and we may sense this strongly in times of convergence where the walls tumble-down, “things” smear into undifferentiated unity. No worry. Perhaps you’ve slipped back into the womb.

Time, the stream that moves us like seeds in the wind, needs us – our small life, in ways we may never fully understand, both giving illusions and taking them away, articulating the woven body of “I” into the cosmos, feeding and nurturing new life, hidden, fallow, unseen. Then perhaps what begins with desire, is fulfilled through the love of the unseen I, forever creating, destroying and renewing.

Alchemy Class Notes – Session Ten

The final class of the 2014 Winter semester of the Jung Platform’s course, hosted by Patricia Berry and Robert Bosnak, takes us into the third chapter of James Hillman’s book Alchemical Psychology, titled, The Suffering of Salt, and begins with the topic, “Toward a Substantial Psychology.” Salt, although understood by Hillman as metaphorical, to the alchemists was indeed a substance and a common one both sacred and desirable.

Glass salt cellar 1720 Public Domain Photo by Nick Michael – Private collection

To the ancients, salt was sacred perhaps because of its use as a preservative, or salve, back in a time when food storage and medicines were extremely important for survival.

Robbie and Pat open the session discussing the weightiness of metaphors and ideas that become substantial to us. Substance comes through interiority and for Hillman it is the common element of metaphorical salt that adds weight to our experiences. The weight that balances us for living “as above, so below,” where as microcosm, we reciprocally reflect the macrocosm.

“The microcosm/macrocosm model requires a micro/macro-awareness. It asks that we feel into the world of matter with sensitivity for qualitative differences. It asks that we find in our objective experiences analogies with and metaphors of physical processes and substances. The micro/macro model works in two directions.”

The awareness that we are not in nature, but are nature herself, cannot be attended to enough in our culture. How interesting that we humans do not necessarily feel that we are part of this world. Perhaps our lives have become too insulated, or experienced a glimpse of eternity through intuiting that consciousness is not only embedded within us, but may be the source of all being, or a deep unresolved suffering finds us longing for the beyond. Whatever the reason, we may be a bit resistant to being embodied. Many myths and religious practices indeed emphasize our spiritual essence seeing physical life as a test, a punishment (karma), or a contest in which the prize is eternal life (meaning either disembodied, or no longer a suffering body).

For some, a fear of being only a body, an evolutionary accident, may drive the spirit to feel disdain for this body of death, widening the sense of separation between mind and body. Through the saltiness of our lives, Hillman sees a way to belong in this embodied state. Troubling as it may be, embodied life offers each of us a uniquely condensed perspective through heightened sensitivity and positions us as refiners of the Anima Mundi, or world soul, through the personal touch of our lives, and the love and compassion we make through the saltiness of our experience.

“While endowing the world with soul, it (the microcosm/macrocosm model) also indicates that human nature goes through natural processes of an objectively mineral and metallic sort. Our inner life is part of the natural world order, and this perspective saves us from taking ourselves so personally and identifying what goes on in the soul with the subjective ego.”

To this Robbie and Pat remind us that unless we let go of the sense that we are special, a common sense may be difficult to access. It is the physical and sensed nature of our lives that we do share, and that sense is the root of what we know as common. Hillman associates the common psychological salt with:

“The word sal in alchemical texts, especially since Paracelsus, often indicates the stable basis of life, its earth, ground, body. However, the term also more particularly refers to alums, alkalis, crystallizations, bases, ashes, sal ammoniac, potash, as well as to the sense qualities equivalent to these materials: bitterness, astringency, pungency, mordancy, desiccation, and crustiness, dry stings and smarts, sharpness and pointedness.

Indeed, bitter and mordant qualities are not only as common and basic as salt, but they are as essential to the embodiment of our psychic nature as is salt in our physical bodies. Our stinging, astringent, dried-out moments are not contingent and accidental; they are of our substance and essence.”

Robbie points out that, especially in our modern world, bitterness can often be measured against sweetness, rather than seeing each quality for its own contribution to life and soul. When we cover life’s bitter moments with too much sweetness, Robbie says, “reality bites” us as a way to bring us back into the salty moment, as the salt of the earth. Or, maybe we need to add salt on the wound in order to heal.

To the alchemists, sulfur was sweetness and worked in tandem with salt. In our psychic work:

“When body is equated with sulfur what is meant is the excitable, palpable urgency, the body of generative passions and will. When body is called salt what is meant is the fixed, consistent, stable body that encloses any existent as its outer shell.”

Here we see how sulfur and salt appear together and in psychological work, it is not always apparent that their different moods are connected. Using the example of a woman who experienced mood swings, Hillman describes the work:

“An alchemical therapeutic approach would not temper one with the other, but would touch both with mercury, that is, free them from their alternating concretism by means of psychological insight. The first step is to see how impersonally autonomous the swings are and how they constellate each other, as do sulfur and salt.”

This insight leads to a discussion on the mining of psychological salt.

Hexagonal Shaped Salt Crust at Badwater, Death Valley National Park

“In fact, because salt is “the natural balsam of the living body” (Paracelsus, 1: 259) we descend into the experiential component of this body – its blood, sweat, tears, and urine – to find our salt. Jung (CW 14: 330) considers alchemical salt to refer to feelings and to Eros; I would specify his notion further by saying that salt is the mineral, impersonal, objective ground of personal experience making experience possible.”

Here, Hillman emphasizes the need to experience subjectively first before the work of alchemy can carry soul between micro and macrocosm. Salt is the ground of deeply lived subjectivity.

“The fact that we return to these deep hurts, in remorse and regret, in resentment and revenge, indicates a psychic need beyond a mere mechanical repetition compulsion. Instead, the soul has a drive to remember; it is like an animal that returns to its salt licks; the soul licks at its own wounds to derive sustenance therefrom. We make salt in our suffering and, by keeping faith with our sufferings, we gain salt, healing the soul of its salt-deficiency.”

Salt then is ironic, as it pains an existing wound out of necessity, when our feeling sense has not been incorporated into our lives. WIthout incorporation we may fixate on our wounds and run the risk, as did Lot’s wife, of solidifying our identity to the woundedness, from too much salt that comes from an accumulative numbness.

“The danger here is always fixation, whether in recollection, earlier trauma, or in a literalized and personalized notion of experience itself: “I am what I have experienced.” “

So, to reconcile the seeming contradiction between full acceptance of subjective pain and woundedness, with the necessity of gaining insight and context that keeps the work moving, we look to the particularities of the salting, and not the person, for solutions to arise.

“Alchemical psychology corrects this sort of literalizing by presenting the personal factor that so dominates in psychologies of salt to be impersonal and commonly general. Then, when we work at our self-correction, betterment, purification, we realize that it is not the self that is the focus of our good work; it is the salt. We are simply working on the salt. In this way, the salt in alchemical psychology helps keep the work from flaming up in the egoistic inflation of personal guilt. I am alone responsible; it’s all my fault.”

Alchemical psychology is truly an art of shifting perspectives, of differentiating between substances and knowing how to work with them by discerning their specific qualities. Therefore, any work on ourselves shifts our focus into the matter and materials of embodied, everyday life, where we can see, touch and respond with the senses, salting our lives to our own taste.

“The very same salt that is honest wisdom, sincere truth, common sense, ironic wit and subjective feeling is also salt the destroyer. Dosage  is the art of the salt; a touch of the virgin, not too much. This dosage only our individual taste and common sense can prescribe. Only our salt can taste its own requirements.”

All quotes from Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman) Kindle Edition.