Archive for November 2012
Now to continue on from the last post . . . From Nigel Hamilton’s study, “The Alchemical Process of Transformation“:
“From a psychological standpoint, this stage is experienced as entering a dark and chaotic unconscious inner world. St John of the Cross has referred to this as the first of two dark nights, the dark night of the mind, which is an encounter with the darker aspects of our self (that which Jung called “the shadow”). At first nothing appears to make sense, indeed all the therapist can do at this stage of the process is to be fully present and empathise with the client, who in the process of articulating their experience, facilitates it further. The therapeutic setting, i.e. the therapy room, becomes the hermetically sealed vessel and the inner chaos that the client enters into is symbolised by the reactions of opposing forces struggling against each other. That is to say the client’s own psyche reveals its submerged inner conflicts to the conscious mind.
This is what I referred to in the last post, the establishing of a place of sacred safety, of temenos. During this part of the work, the “client” tells his or her story as it is known and sensed by the ego, the clothed self, This telling is vital and it is enough for the therapist to listen and support without trying to fix anything at this point.
As the client begins to experience the inner world to be more real, the process intensifies (the fire increases) and often anger, fear, frustration, and a desire to “escape from it all” is experienced. To pass through this stage requires patience, humility and acceptance not only of the client, but also of the therapist, who through experiences knows that a process of purification is in progress and that one by one the inner conflicts will gradually become resolved until a completely new inner state of clarity and freedom is achieved. Then the client will be reconciled with his or her inner earth nature – in alchemical terms they will have united with their “earth nature.”
The therapist tracks the appearance of complexes, contradictions, images and fears through the process of working with dreams, journaling, sand play, and other active imagination strategies. For the client, it almost feels that everything is getting worse as old sores are laid open, exposed to the light. It must be stated that the process doesn’t wait for all the shadows to be exposed. The shifting to the second stage, albedo begins when the therapist and client begin to tackle what has been exposed. Only so much darkness can be held at one time.
I have been busy with writing, another project that is focused on Alchemy. I do see the project becoming something significant for me, perhaps leading to an e-book at some point.
As the image lets you know, it is very wintry here on the Canadian prairies. The weather shifts from quite cold to near freezing temperatures making for some interesting scenes in my yard. I am hoping that we avoid the deep freeze of a sustained very cold spell for which the prairies are famous, before we fly off to spend three months in Latin America.
With that said, I am heading back to my writing and my daily time for studying Spanish.
The dark night of the soul, this is something that is intimately known by all who suffer depression. The dark night of the soul is what we meet when we enter into midlife crisis. Each of us senses a darkness, a place of shadows from which we want to flee. This depression is not “organic,” a depression that is chemically induced. This depression and darkness appears to be something “out there,” something to which we feel we are victims. Typically, we run like hell trying to escape, trying to hide from the darkness. Drugs, sex, money, work, new places, new hobbies, redecorating our homes, a new car, a new spouse: we try anything to banish that darkness. But, the darkness refuses to be banished. This is the dark night of the soul, or at least our introduction to that darkness.
If we are like many others, we head to a doctor’s office for some pharmaceutical relief; or to a psychotherapist’s chair for some answers, some other strategies to banish the darkness. We do this only as a last resort knowing that if we don’t do something we will descend into insanity or commit suicide. It isn’t a pretty picture, but it is real.
“Alchemy announced a source of knowledge . . . which yields a “bitter” water by no means acceptable to our human judgment. It is harsh and bitter or like vinegar, for it is a bitter thing to accept the darkness and blackness of the umbra solis and to pass through this valley of the shadow. It is bitter indeed to discover behind one’s lofty ideals narrow, fanatical convictions, all the more cherished for that, and behind one’s heroic pretensions nothing but crude egotism, infantile greed, and complacency. This painful corrective is an unavoidable stage in every psychotherapeutic process . . . it begins with the nigredo . . .” (Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, CW 14, paragraph346)
So, the pain serves as an impetus to finally do something about the pain when all other avenues prove fruitless. So, one enters into psychotherapy. However, before the work can even begin, there is a need to create a place for the work; a safe, even sacred place. Like a surgeon preparing for an operation, there is the need to build a sense of safety in the relationship as well as place. The therapist needs to become aware of the boundary limits (or lack thereof) of the person and to build a sense of trust in that person as well as to have the person enter into a trust relationship with the therapist.
As time goes by, the two begin to test each other, test the boundaries of safety. And when there is a sense of safety, the belief that the container of their relationship has become sacred in its own way, then the work may begin:
“In the early period of analysis, the primary work is the establishment of the boundary, the analytical temenos, in which the analysis is to take place.” (Hall, The Jungian Experience, p. 78)
There is real vulnerability for both therapist and the person entering into this work of depth psychology. It is as through the establishment of temenos that one becomes safe enough to strip of their psychic layers as if stripping off clothing in order to expose the wounds that have led to the therapists office.
Another one of my grandsons (white hockey jersey), the oldest of six, makes his way into my blog site. He plays defence for a midget hockey team and is a good hockey player, being named the “A” assistant captain of the team even though he has just moved to a new city and a new team. Needless to say, I am proud of him for his way of being present that allows him to emerge out of anonymity to take a leadership role.
I brought this photo because the scene makes me think of the conflict that goes on between the ego (the home team in white jerseys) and the shadow (the enemy team wearing dark jerseys). Sometimes the ego is able to repel the “pushing” of the shadow and stand firm and score a victory. But at other times, the “pushing” becomes too much to handle for the ego with the result being a “loss.”
A good hockey coach doesn’t get too worked up about a loss as there is a lot learned in the process of losing. The shadow has a lot to teach us, not only about the cracks in our armour, but about what works and doesn’t work. Rather than repeat the same behaviours with greater and greater intensity only to become more and more frustrated with life, the shadow points us towards new ways of being, new paths that might be taken. Perhaps the greatest thing the shadow can teach us is the fact that it isn’t others who cause our weakness; rather, others help us by showing us our weakness. In the end, we grow as individuals who are more conscious.
I often get up in the pre-dawn darkness when the world is silent, and sit with a cup of coffee in my hand and watch the sky begin to lighten, listening to the silence without a thought in my head. After a while I notice that my coffee has remained untouched and has cooled because the house is kept at a cool 16 Celsius (60 F.) overnight. In the silence and the waning light of dawn, especially on cloudy days such as today, ego awareness is as slow to waken. It is as though I have remained in the land of dreams even though my body has left my bed and shows signs of having begun a new day.
As I sit there, words began to call out seeking to be freed from the depths of darkness. A rush of images, of possibilities, of impossibilities cascade into almost recognisable scenes. I am aware that I have been gifted with dreamscapes and stories. I have been gifted with these knowing that it is now my duty to find some way to bring them to the outer world where others may hear and see these stories. Will I be able to find the will to make this happen? Only time will tell. For now, I can only offer you this image taken this morning.
With a shift in temperatures from above freezing to slightly below freezing and with the right amount of moisture or humidity in the air, I woke up to a fairy tale world, one in which fingers of frost had draped trees, bushes and weeds. I am always entranced by hoar frost and almost always stop to take photos of this phenomenon when it occurs.
It is as if old man winter has come out with his white beard to tell me that winter has truly arrived and that it is time for a deep sleep with deep dreams. I am then taken to another image, that of Father Christmas with his beard of white. This fairy tale world invites gods and goddesses to make their appearance. And with their appearance, we find ourselves beholding them with both awe and fear. Father Christmas is older than Christianity’s Saint Nicholas. He finds his roots in the pagan god Woden/Odin.
The frost also brings to my mind a trickster image, that of Jack Frost. As a trickster, he promises the graceful, fragile and delicate world while in truth he is using his arts to cover his darker intent of plunging the earth into a deep freeze of winter darkness. It is as though the hoar frost serves to invite us to enter into a form of death, to descend into the underworld.
The associations continue to build for me as I think of the invitation of an apple that lured Snow White into a deep sleep that could only be awakened by the promise of love, the promise of life. The story of being frozen in time and place again finds its way into our mythology with the story of the Snow Queen. In all of the associations, one thing emerges, that of rebirth, re-emerging into the world of sun, warmth and life.
With all of these stories in mind, I remain fascinated with hoar frost and wonder what winter has in store for me and the rest of the world.
I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to play with my youngest grandson for the past five days. He’s just three years old and he uses as many of his hours as possible in play. Most of those hours were spent with me while mother and grandmother had time for other things.
It didn’t take long for me to lose many decades of structured life as I became his partner in play. He was a good teacher and I was his willing student. And in the process of shared play, a bond of trust was built that allowed me to become the leader and use my life experience to guide the play to the practice of new skills and the gaining of new knowledge.
The greatest gift that my grandson gave me was time spent out of my head. For the time he was here in my home, I spent time on little things such as building towers with blocks, racing and crashing toy cars, doing and re-doing jigsaw puzzles, playing in the snow, going for walks and sled rides, reading story books and wrestling that involved a lot of tickling. It was a time for imagination to run wild and free, a time for male bonding, mentoring, modelling and simply being “pépére.”