Secret Agent Man

 

Possession

The conceptual framing of one’s experience into spatial designations of ‘inner and outer,’ ‘self and other,’ ‘me and not me,’ ‘real and imaginary,’ shape, categorize, which through the force of habit and time coagulates into an assumed identity referred to as ‘me.’ Inversely, out of all that remains, the discarded elements of raw experience become what is not me; the dispossessed, unseen, invisible, incomprehensible “other.” Possession is the coagulator of the psyche’s primary boundaries that form an identity.

 

The_Wounded_Angel_-_Hugo_Simberg

Hugo Simberg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Influence

Extending outward from one’s identity, the habit of ownership eventually include one’s experience, as it is put to memory, and the reflections absorbed into the private realms of awareness. As we come into contact with others who inhabit public or shared places a consensus, or shared reality then affirms and negates their accuracy and value. Our subjective states categorize the world, both private and public, into, among other things, truths and falsehoods predicated upon our buy-in to the consensus experienced within a cultural context, invisibly absorbed, contained and supported. One’s internal, private divisions tend to reflect and reciprocate public, external divisions. Private and public are then, two aspects of a dynamic pole defining both our individuality and the culture that often reflects the loudest and most resonant ideas and beliefs – devaluing or rejecting what lies on the perimeter and beyond; invisible, discarded, unacceptable or unbelievable according to the consensus as one experiences, absorbs and understands it.

Ideas about ourselves and others, rather than remaining fluid, tend to congeal into static objects by the force and habit of our mental states, thereby cementing for each of us a personal ‘self’ that negotiates definitions of “others.” Beyond, a privation or abstraction of a larger boundless reality remains hidden from awareness and sometimes denied any existence at all to the degree that consensus belief, opinions and buy-in influence the permission given for consideration and valuation of the private states we all experience.

The inability to incorporate and validate the existence of private experience constitutes a loss of dimension and depth, and risks reducing what is by nature fluid into static events and figures of ‘me’ and ‘you.’ What I am then becomes defined by what I censor and can articulate from experience – through the skills, body image, gender and generation that contextualize my experience. What I am not remains dispossessed, unknown and can only be seen by what is rejected – including how others are perceived to be, or to have, that are not mine. The eyes become I’s, the nose no longer knows, and the ear cannot hear.

Consciousness then, abstracts experience into concepts of what is real and imaginary, mine or not mine, friend or foe, true or false. Because our modern myth deems it culturally unacceptable not to accept, believe or buy into the existence of a one true objective reality, imagination is rarely understood as that primary aspect of each person’s experience which apprehends; filtering according to the habits of one’s culture, time and place, but rather is believed to be a special instance of ‘creativity:’ a gift that we either have or have not.

256px-Fleming's_paperback_Bonds

Agency

The more one’s agency looks to the consensus for validation rather than to one’s experience, which may not be consensual but rather deeply private and subjectively interior, the less agency one might avail towards the more interior realms of experience. Without a sense of one’s own agency, and its direct access to a reality less censored by either one’s own habits of filtering, or influence from the consensus, we in turn risk denying the existence of agency to other beings. Agency here is understood as the source and ability to apprehend and that which enables us to experience at all – to reflect, evaluate, reveal, hide and express. The less we can distinguish between our private direct experience and consensual filtering, the less agency available to us.

It’s no wonder that both the invisibles; God, or the gods, or even the visible living have become dead to us. Rather than experiencing any direct communion with the invisibles, it’s replaced with belief in ideas or opinions shared among visible beings and approved through a consensus of public agreements, however we come to define them.

Without acknowledging direct, private experience we submit our agency; our ability for true communion, to the human level of the so-called experts of our time, place and public opinion. As we seek for knowledge and power outside the agency of direct experience, the experts proliferate as god-like voices that provide a shared containment for an agreed upon objective reality that serves to validate our deprived and seemingly hopelessly subjective self.

 

1024px-Clonfert_angels-_south_(adjusted)_2006-06-21

The less we avail ourselves to direct experiences of private states in which we encounter all that visibly or invisibly influences us, and in turn give full agency and permission to have these direct encounters, the more we fall prey to influence as it appears to us in any form; invisible, human, or consensus opinion. The power of unseen influence is then replaced by consensual sources within the visible, human world – making heroes, villains, saviors and saints out of those affirmed and believed to literally have power. Through consensual experience we reject any notion that power might come from unseen, invisible sources. We then look to humanity for power, placing our devotions at the feet of individual public figures, crowned as leaders, professionals or experts, rather than understanding the human condition through an ongoing personal practice of expanding one’s apprehension and senses born of subjective experience. The idealism, perfection, purity once belonging to the gods, is now a choir of fallen angels echoing god-like voices in the human world, placing an impossible burden and expectation on people just like us; limited, frail and faulty.

 

Beware of pretty faces that you find
A pretty face can hide an evil mind
Oh, be careful what you say
Or you’ll give yourself away
Odds are you won’t live to see tomorrow

Johnny Rivers

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.

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 a glimpse of eternity through intuiting that consciousness is not only embedded within us, but may be the source of all being, or 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.

 

Break on Through

“I found an island in your arms 
Country in your eyes 
Arms that chain 
Eyes that lie 
Break on through to the other side” Jim Morrison

Oftentimes it is said that ideas are less important and that action is better; what counts then is what is done or made manifest. The favored status of action, an idea itself, has always struck me as a half-truth, which of course it is. An idea is as much an action as the mind is the body. I say this not to blur the lines or resolve that ideas and actions are somehow the same, but more to reveal a hidden relationship and unity between seeming opposites that reflect in many ways our condition. A condition which is itself unified in ways that we perhaps might not be accustomed to seeing or sensing. Separation then, is both a blessing and a curse. “Idea” from idein” is akin to archetype, model or seeing and is very much related to bodily sense. All seeing comes from the body.

The constructs of our mind are also constructs of our bodies; psyche and soma, and in this world anyway happen together. That we are capable of mentally splitting off body from mind and mind from body is an amazing human quality, but it points to a deficiency of perception. A blind spot in our senses. We can think in ways that carve the world up into fragments that don’t exist apart from our mental constructs. Mental constructs can be useful, and even necessary, but when division and separation are not seen as constructs for the sake of convenience, the pain of separation and the threat of loss and death become spectral enemies that haunt us, tempting us to destroy them, either through literal murder, or mentally by splitting them off from awareness. Here the past seems more real than the present, others become “not us,” foreigners, enemies and nature is moved to some place “out there.”

If it is in the realm of ideas that the splitting occurs, that will also be the place where reunification happens. We cannot and do not live without ideas, without thought, without mind or psyche. Broadening our ideas dissolves the hardened sense and boundary of self and other. The place of wounding (splitting) is then the place of healing (unifying). In alchemy there is first the separation of the substances, then a reuniting. But if wholeness is the background, or underlying nature of reality, seeing and sensing it may not come from ignoring the illusions of separation and parts but more from multiplying them, or seeing the many in the one. That is what metaphor, fairy tale, mythology or a good poem does for us. Instead of a literal account of reality, a metaphor intentionally takes us beyond the literal, singleness of meaning, opening up and expanding meaning by “a carrying over.”

Love's Body.jpgEach chapter of Norman O. Brown’s book, Love’s Body, uses the rich history of ideas, mythology, Freud’s psychology, religion and mystical insights to define and resolve the splitting off of pieces of the world into what is mine,  not mine, real, unreal, us, them, history, mythology, life, death. Do we suffer duality because language divides the world into things and we identify with the separateness of our bodies? Did primitive man experience a “participation mystique?” Do animals experience a more unified world? …and what does love got to do with it? Everything of course – because we love what is ours, we incorporate others and all that is “out there” into ourselves when we love. Love is communion, death and hate are then an excommunication, a disowning in which we separate out all that we don’t commune with. A tough pill to swallow.

File:Herz aus Muschelschalen.JPGPerhaps our sense of being a separate self, along with the nature of time – our one-at-a-time perception, powerfully convinces us that the nature of the world is really not unified, but separate pieces and parts. Even language is structured sequentially, one word following another in which we grasp meaning by putting the words together. Many of us sense both the split and the underlying unity of the world to some degree or another. But what is it that moves a sense of unity into the heart, to permeate our daily experience and slowly dissolve the need to take the boundaries literally? And, what does a sense and awareness of unity do for us? Does our sense of “I” as the unique owner and operator of “me” disappear, merging forever into the oneness? That, I believe is a false perception perhaps held by those whose mental constructs, mistaken for “reality,” are still too near and too dear to part with. Or, as Brown suggests, that is the “Fall” into division. He reminds us that “the erection of a boundary does not alter the fact that there is, in reality, no boundary.”

Borrowing largely from Christianity, Brown uses the analogies of rebirth, resurrection, and apocalypse to get at the problem of separation and reunification. Not following any creed or practice – every thinker, poet, mystic or philosopher is included in the conversation, and rightly so, as wisdom can never be “owned,” the exclusive property of any one of us because wisdom’s nature is to free us from our literlisms, possessions, boundaries, framings, and identities used to divide what is by nature whole.

” “The real apocalypse comes, not with the vision of a city or kingdom, which would still be external, but with the identification of the city and kingdom with one’s own body.” Political kingdoms are only shadows – my kingdom is not of this world – because kingdoms of this world are non-bodily. Political freedom is only a prefiguration of true freedom: “The Bastille is really a symbol, that is, an image or form, of the two larger prisons of man’s body and the physical world.” Political and fleshly emancipation are finally one and the same; the god is Dionysus.”

The apocalypse, or unveiling, is Dionysian, a madness in which the god is torn apart, broken, in pieces, no boundaries, moving beyond ordinary meanings into the multiplicity of symbolism, but instead of a breakdown, as in schizophrenia, a breakthrough. “Break on through to the other side,” as Jim Morrison put it. There is a danger here, for sure, but as Brown notes:

“The soul that we can call our own is not a real one. The solution to the problem of identity is, get lost.”

With the unveiling, symbolic consciousness accepts the mystery and empty space creates room for the not-known, the new. No longer do we have to figure it out, but live through our animal sense, in the present where love can find us without a purpose beyond itself.

“Symbolic consciousness is between seeing and not seeing. It does not see self-evident truths of natural reason; or visible saints. It does not distinguish the wheat from the tares; and therefore must, as Roger Williams saw, practice toleration; or forgiveness, for we never know what we do. The basis of freedom is recognition of the unconscious; the invisible dimension;  the not yet realized; leaving a space for the new.”

 

Becoming the Vessel

In reviewing last week’s session of the Jung Platform’s class on James Hillman’s book, Alchemical Psychology, I want to reflect more on the place and nature of the vessel in the work. Hillman says:

“You are the laboratory; you are the vessel and the stuff going through the cooking.  So, too, the fire is an invisible heat, a psychic heat that clamors for fuel, breathing room, and regular loving consideration. How to build the heat that can dry up the soggy, soggy dew, melt the leaden oppressions, and distill a few precious drops of intoxicating clarity?”

The wrestle of Jacob - Gustave DoreSuffering can frequently be a catalyst to move us into the deeper unchartered waters in which we can, by necessity, dispose ourselves to the alchemical work. Drifting aimlessly, we’re sometimes not even sure if we are still afloat. Sometimes though we can transform our suffering, by making ourselves available to experience that dark night in which we can’t know yet where we’re going.

We must now, at least for a little while, feel the acute aloneness that comes when the world no longer makes any sense.

But until we can acknowledge the darkness around us, that the cold aloneness like an endless deep-sea has cut us off from others, with a growing fear that we may not make it back to shore, we may never need to confront the angel who waits for us to say yes to the invitation to enter into a unique cosmic wrestling match.

“In Greece, in the Asklepian temples where “patients” went to find healing by dreaming, they incubated for a period of time devoting themselves to focused brooding and right procedures in order to be blessed by a beneficent dream. In the Bible, Jonah, abandoned by his shipmates, had to remain for a time in the belly of a great whale sunk in the depths of the sea. In that darkness he generated heat, lost his hair. Solitary confinement; utter internality. This is the Nekyia, the night sea journey through the underworld made also by Odysseus, Aeneas, and Hercules, and by Eurydice, Inanna, Persephone, Psyche, by Orpheus, by Christ.”

Neither a journey for journey’s sake or to get to some place of our choosing, nor a way to fix ourselves or the world, it is perhaps a journey of necessity because reaching the edge of the sea with still no land in sight, tired, lonely and hungry, this is where you now find yourself.

“Whether this underworld is frigid and ghastly or burning with the hots of hell, it is a realm characterized by temperatures suitable only for demons, ghosts, heroes and heroines, goddesses and shades who are no longer altogether of the upper world.”

While it may be that “not all who wander are lost,” some of us will very much find ourselves leaving the upper world, without a map, a compass, or even a boat. Even our friends and family become strange to us, all is dark and everything we once thought we knew ceases to make any sense and no longer interests us. None of the old ways work anymore.

“Outsiders. Marginals. Alchemy is a profession of marginals; those at the edge. Those who live from their own fires, sweating it out, self-sustaining their own temperatures which may be at variance with the collective climate.”

In our modern world, the difficulty of the alchemical work, the profession of marginals, lies in our need and willingness to be alone, suffering until we can make our own compass, one which will chart a course of our own making. We moderns are soft, accustomed to traveling together, looking to experts to remind us to wear a seatbelt or a helmet, avoiding harm at all cost. There is much shame around getting hurt, we are to be held accountable. No longer optional, we must fill out the accident report, insurance claim, pay our liability insurance, all the while hoping to mitigate the harm done with “no-fault” policies.

Old Woman stretching out her hands to the fire - Pablo PicassoSo, how do we accept being in the margins, enough to let go of our need to be “on top of it” and in control. What will happen in accepting the invitation to wrestle the angel?

When you find yourself already at the edges, in the margins, and you know that you’ve already come too far and there is no turning back, that is when you might finally see that you have become the vessel and that you are also the substance.

In the vessel and substance that we have now become, we can prepare to do the great work. In alchemy there is first off the matter of the heat, and as the scintilla, or spark of our suffering has just lit the fire, we’ll need to turn our attention to its properties.

“If alchemy is the art of fire, and alchemists, “artists of fire,” as many texts repeat, then the alchemist must be able to “know” all the kinds of fire, degrees of fire, sources of fire, fuels of fire. And, the alchemist must be able to fight fire with fire, using his own fire to operate upon the fires with which he is operating. Working the fire by means of fire. Nature works on nature. Alchemy, an art of nature, a natural art that raises the temperatures of nature.”

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

Class Notes – Session One

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.

File:Fotothek df tg 0005526 Theosophie ^ Alchemie ^ Medizin.jpgI’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.

People Get Ready

What is Peace? What does it look like? What are its images? Have we ever known peace? What is the difference between one’s individual practice of peace and world peace?

Would anyone not want peace? Some say we’ll never have sustained peace, but who would reject making peace if understood personally as a practice, accessible and as common as is the practice of writing, or T’ai Chi? And what does the dove tell us? Wiki says:

“Doves mate for life, are incredibly loyal to each other and work together to build their nest and raise their young. Because they tend to nest in areas that humans can watch, people picked up quickly on the idea that doves were dedicated, honorable and peaceful. While hawks and other birds of prey would violently attack their neighbors, the dove was a bird of peace, eating seeds, easily trained to eat out of the hand or to become domesticated.

Beginning with the Egyptians, the dove was as symbol of quiet innocence. The Chinese felt the dove was a symbol of peace and long life. To early Greeks and Romans, doves represented love and devotion, and care for a family. The dove was the sacred animal of Aphrodite and Venus, the goddesses of love. The dove also symbolized the peaceful soul for many cultures.”

Peace Doves

Peace is an important idea, but judging by the lack of its sustained presence it remains one of humankind’s most challenging notions. Even defining peace is challenging…

Questions I ask:

Is peace the absence of something; the lack of war, hate, poverty?

Is peace an addition of something; love, cooperation, compassion, a willingness to resolve conflict through compromise?

Will a political solution bring us peace or is it cumulative through an individual’s practice spreading to others?

I make no claim to having answers – but it’s worth considering and sharing all the many ways we do experience peace, both personally, collectively, technologically and politically. Ideas do have a way of becoming viral and perhaps if we could share with each other our notion and practice of peace, describing the small ways in which each of us already does experience peace, we can deepen, encourage and multiply the practice of peace for ourselves and others.

Why wait for someone else to create peace when we can be creators ourselves? I know, crazy, isn’t it? As the saying goes, “nothing worth having ever comes easy.” As well, many of us already do practice creating peace for ourselves and others, and we aren’t always aware of the impact that sharing our experience can have.

Recently, watching a documentary, titled Pete Seeger: The Power of Song (2007), I was struck by the life of this man; one of music, authenticity, energy, controversy, along with contributions to the community that I was unaware of. I have always been a fan of his live performances with Arlo Guthrie, and am thankful to have seen them perform together a few times in 70’s, and the 80’s in small venues on Long Island where I lived at the time. Through interviews, the movie showed Pete’s efforts towards making a more peaceful world both in the way he lived his life and in local causes he embraced.

Admittedly, I struggle with the perception of him as political figure and specifically his support of communism. I don’t recall Pete and Arlo ever politicizing their performances though, but rather promoting through song and storytelling ideas of peace and freedom for all people and eliminating suffering caused by wars and poverty. I am aware that Pete was involved with the Communist party of the USA, but as the documentary and other sources show, later in life he denounced the violence and harm done by communist regimes that he may have seen as political solutions for humankind. And, even if Pete believed communism to be a solution to humanity’s problems, people’s beliefs do not represent the entirety of their life or nullify their good works (saying this as much to acknowledge the need to dispel this notion in myself as in others).

““I certainly should apologize for saying that Stalin was a hard driver rather than a very cruel leader,” he said. “I don’t speak out about a lot of things. I don’t talk about slavery. A lot of white people in America could apologize for stealing land from the Indians and enslaving Africans. Europe could apologize for worldwide conquest. Mongolia could apologize for Genghis Khan. But I think the thing to do is look ahead.” Pete Seeger in an interview with Ron Radosh. Read more here in the NY Times article.

Bear Mtn Bridge.jpgOne of Pete’s legacies was his initiation of a successful community based effort to clean up the Hudson river in NY by raising awareness of the issue and funding for a non-profit organization dedicated to cleaning up the river and advocating for corporate responsibility for damages done and better stewardship in the future.

There are many others, alive and dead, famous or not, that have dedicated their lives to working for peace. I applaud Pete for working at the local level to make a difference to the local and not so local community.

peace-art

As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on what peace is and how you practice its presence in your life, in the local community; how is peace made manifest in your life? And is peace in the world composed of our individual practice of peace or is something else needed?

A petition for a Nobel Prize for Pete Seeger:

http://www.nobelprize4pete.org/

For more ideas on the etymology and usage of the word “peace” see here:

http://www.hejleh.com/edna_yaghi/peace1.html

Thank you to Curtis Mayfield:

“People get ready, there’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’
Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.”