Alchemy and the Self

>> Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sometimes certain things come at me from my wanderings that seem like they are intended for me to see at the exact moment I see them. Synchronistic, almost. Today I stumbled, once again, on alchemy. To be clear, any knowledge I have of alchemy is limited strictly to a Jungian perspective (and Full Metal Alchemist).

This is an excerpt from Marie Louise Von Franz, which was referred to in an exceptionally well-written article posted on a blog from an unlikely source: "Carl Jung's" Myspace blog. I've emboldened the meta-message:

"...the mystery of the structure of the universe, was in themselves, in their own bodies and in that part of the personality which we call the unconscious, but they would say in the life of their own material existence. ...They thought that instead of taking outer materials you could just as well look inside and get information directly from that mystery because you were it. After all, you too were a part of the mystery of cosmic existence, so you could just as well watch it directly.

Even further, you could ask matter, the mystery of which you consist, to tell you what it is, to reveal itself to you. Instead of treating it like a dead object to be thrown into a vessel and then cooked in order to see what came out, you could just as well take a block of iron, for instance, and ask it what it was, what its kind of life was, what it was doing, how it felt when melted. But since all these materials are within you, you can also contact them directly and in that way they contacted what we would now call the collective unconscious, which to them was also projected into the inner aspect of their own bodies.

They consulted these powers directly through what they called meditation and therefore most of these introverted alchemists always stressed the fact that one should not only experiment outwardly but should always insert phases of introversion with prayer and meditation and a kind of yoga. With yoga meditation you try to get the right hypothesis, or information, about what you are doing or about the materials. Or you can, for instance, talk to quicksilver, or to iron, and if you talk to quicksilver and iron then naturally the unconscious fills up the gap by a personification. Then Mercury appears to you and tells you who the sun God is. A power, the soul of Gold, appears and tells you who and what it is. (Marie-Louise vonFranz, Alchemical Active Imagination, Spring Pub., Dallas, 1979)."
In my search for understanding myself, I couldn't have asked for a wiser clue. And yet again, it seems I am being told to look within, to gaze inside of myself to find the answers, rather than seek outside authority. I can look inside and wait for my unconscious to materialize the answer I seek.

I always get stuck here though. I say to myself, now, this may be great in theory, but how can I start this process? Its like because I can't understand the inner workings I don't think it'll work. But thinking this way inhibits me from even trying. I think that if I start, from the inside I'll be transformed. Of course it makes sense that from my now perspective of sitting on the outside I can't see how it works. I can't see how it works because I'm on the outside.

I think that finally, FINALLY, I'm starting to get it. The answer is also written in Marie Louise Von Franz's above quote. I don't have to worry. I do need to act. I do need to get out of my brain and onto the floor and meditate. I need to sit still. I need to practice yoga. I need to listen. The act of meditation, of being still will generate the next step, as breathing in necessitates breathing out.

From Jung's "The Red Book"

As a final clarification, I want to say that I don't believe that this path is about exclusively looking within. That's what is so marvelous about the metaphor of alchemy: the exterior is intimately related to the interior. I think that, yes, the exterior world is a manifestation of the interior workings of the psyche (collective and individual), but I think it's more than that. Matter exists. It is real. By manipulating and engaging with it, you can transform your internal life, just as engaging with your psyche can transform your material surroundings. The road goes two ways.

It reminds me of one of Joseph Campbell's favorite phrases he quoted so often, "Thou art that."


Goodbye, great grandma--Hello, trust.

>> Monday, September 14, 2009

My great grandma died yesterday. She was 95. My whole family from that side (save my sister, Dawne) spent the day together, besides me. I'm sick and don't want to contaminate my mom ,who is so fragile anyways, and all the elder folks at the nursing home who might not make it through the kind of cold I have. It's pretty gnarly.

I'm struggling to figure out the mess of feelings I have about this.
We knew it was coming. She was failing. She'd been having blood transfusions for a couple of years now, because she was losing blood internally and nobody knew where it was going. About a month ago we were told they were 'making her comfortable,' which is explicit code for 'she's dying and we're just going to let that happen.'
I'm struggling with the weirdness I've been left with, because quite frankly, I didn't really know my great grandma. She was pretty distant when I was growing up. Yes, she always had little sandwich baggies full of a pack of gum, a mini-snickers bar, a mini m&m's package, and a dollar for each of us. Yes, she laughed and giggled in this small but rich way that really was quite delightful. But I didn't really know her. I was too young for her to talk about real life stuff in front of me. And then when I got old enough, you know, into my teenage years, I stopped going over to my grandma's (her daughter's) house every weekend, so I rarely made the drive up to Ocean Shores to see my great grandma. I only saw her at the holidays, when my grandma would drive her over.
She would sit in the chair in the corner and her daughter would bicker with her nonstop. This was nothing new. We'd put on the holiday parade so she could be partially entertained. As she got older, she stopped making small talk with the rest of us. Occasionally we'd ask her something, and she'd reply in monosyllabic answers.
I guess it was about three years ago(?) when I found out she was in an advanced stage of dementia. She'd been falling--off of busses, out of her house, inside of her house, and more frequently. My grandma was not at all pleased with this, and somehow or other among the many doctors visits it came out that my great grandma didn't know who any of us were, or really anything about who she was. She did always remember her daughter though, which I think is very sweet.
I only visited her one time in the past couple of years she'd been in the nursing home. I hadn't really felt the need to. She had no memory of me. I wasn't banking on that. The last thing I wanted was to go in there, visit her, and make her feel terribly uncomfortable by trying to pretend she recognized any part of me. So I didn't. I told myself I can love her quietly and it's not about seeing her because she isn't the same as she once was.
But in January or February I was having lunch with my grandma and she took me to see her. No, she didn't remember me. I wasn't in the least bit hurt or offended by this fact, which everyone else seemed to be. It wasn't her fault; she wasn't not remembering me because she didn't love me. It had nothing to do with me.

I guess I can see where I'd be hurt if it was my grandma--her daughter--that was going through this. This grandma I know so well, have lived with and drove around with and squabbled with my whole life. If it were her it might break my heart. But my great grandma, Ina...I can depersonalize it a little bit. I don't have to make it about my pain with her. It's almost a blessing. I can be relieved that she's finally unfettered by human form. I can feel some sort of little joy that she is going where her siblings and her husband had gone before her.

All of this brings to light my issue with death.

I cannot understand, for the life of me, the purpose of coming into being, of coming into form, if we are made to return to formlessness. I do not understand, for the life of me, the purpose of our forgetting what we once new of ourselves. If I believe (which I do) that we chose to come into human form, then I can't figure out the necessity of forgetting that very crucial fact while we are here. It seems to me that death and separation, grief and longing would be made much gentler if we had that primordial memory. I would have a memory, I would know--not just believe--that I chose to come into form. I would know--not just believe--that death is the natural progression of life. I would know there is nothing to fear or mourn.

I guess this highlights what has come to me recently as my spiritual path. I am here to learn to have trust and faith in the divine process. I keep rushing to action. I keep trying to learn more, to read more books, to try new herbal medicine for this and that ailment. I want to act rather than trust. I want to know why rather than accept blindly what is.

Last night I was meditating on a particular issue and awaiting a divine response. The guide I was using had a particular format to follow: Fear not, enter into stillness to listen to the 'still small voice,' and finally, take action. As I sat, I mostly focused on finding the 'still small voice' of God inside of me, locating it written on my heart, and trusting it. I sat there, asking myself, is this really God, or is it me (or really, what is the difference, right???), and finally, regarding some of my health challenges of late, what kind of action am I to take?
The bizarre thing is that small voice said something to the effect of, 'action is nothing without trust.'

Trust. And Faith. Trusting a process that I can't control. Having faith that what will happen will happen forever and I can't change it. I've been acting for so long and nothing has worked. I've tried to psychoanalyze all of the metaphors involved with my health, and tried to 'let go' of the past. I've tried to trust. And then I've realized therein lies the challenge: I believe, rigidly and dogmatically at time, but I do not trust. I do not have faith.

This directly affects my relationship with death. It directly affects my relationship to my body, to my health, my chronic ear infections (that won't seem to go away, damnit!), and with everything, really.

For so long I thought the issue was death. What death means to me, and how I fear separation and abandonment and loneliness. And that's all there too, really. But what underlies that is my innate mistrust in the process that brought me into human form and will ultimately take me out of it. But now, as my health seems perpetually challenged, it seems that it is the perfect opportunity to wrestle with this spiritual path.

My great grandma's passing and my ear infection have both pushed me toward my path, when I would rather be reading frivolous books and focusing on planning my wedding. They've reminded me that there really is no time to waste, is there? To paraphrase Gautama Buddha, I must attend to my own salvation with diligence. I must not shy away from all of the hard stuff because the hard stuff will keep coming until I find the courage and grace to look directly at it.

Finally, I'd like to end with a passage from the Christian scriptures that was brought to my attention today (John 11:28-37):
And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. "The Teacher is here," she said, "and is asking for you." When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. "Where have you laid him? he asked.
"Come and see, Lord," they replied.
Jesus wept.
Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"
But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

Jesus wept.

Those of us who know this story know that Jesus does indeed go on to raise Lazarus from the dead. But I want to stop there for a minute. What I see here, plainly, is two sisters who are so very sad at the loss of their brother and a compassionate, understanding man who actually weeps at their grief. Jesus, who at this point is pretty aware of his divine purpose and calling, is weeping--not at the actuality of death, which is an inevitable yet arbitrary event, as he goes on to show not only in Lazarus' resurrection, but in his own death and resurrection--at the pain and sadness associated with death.

Bringing Lazarus' resurrection into the dialog then, what does this say about Jesus? Although he had full knowledge of his divine gift, although he knew full well that his belief in the divine energy would enable him to raise Lazarus from the dead, he still mourned. He was still saddened.

This tells me that death is sad. It's supposed to be sad. So even if I become a spiritually enlightened being, death will still be sad. My issue to struggle with is not about overcoming sadness. It's about overcoming the lack of trust in the process. I can still grieve and be sad. I can still struggle with change and endings and transitions. But if I can work through all of it to have faith in divine process, then I can be fully sad. I can fully grieve without that panic and worry niggling in and overwhelming me away from my experience with grief.



>> Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I'm finding a lot of things difficult right now.

A good friend of mine is having a religious experience that rivals the medieval mystic and her ascent into hell.

Fundamentalist Christians have a faith they can call on with clear cut rules, regulations, and dogma.

Unity New Thought ministers believe we can each attune to our Christ energy, follow Jesus' un-unique example, and become the Christ inside of us.

I'm reading Pam Houston write about her heroine's Irish Wolfhound and his struggle with cancer.

I'm going to work. I'm getting married. I have an ear infection. I'm tired. I'm overweight. I'm depressed.

I think I'm a little depressed.
I think I'm a little depressed.
I think I'm a little depressed.

'The Secret' masters are clicking their tongues, knowing for certain that I'm bringing more of the same my way, but I just want to finally be honest, for once in my life.


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