September 26, 2013 § 19 Comments
“Why do we describe a distraught person as being ‘beside himself’? Because the ancients believed that soul and body could part, and that under great emotional stress the soul would actually leave the body. When this happened a person was ‘beside himself.’” ~ Dictionary of Word Origins
Our language is rife with references to what has traditionally been described by shamanic cultures as ‘soul loss’ — “Nobody’s home,” we might say of an empty-eyed co-worker. Or, in a funk ourselves: “I feel like a part of me is missing.” Popular songs site it casually — I don’t know where my soul is / I don’t know where my home is (Nelly Furtado, “I’m Like A Bird”).
Yet, these expressions are so common, we often use them as descriptors without fully investigating their implication.
“Few of us live as fully as we could. When we become aware of this, we want to recover the intensity of life, and the intimacy, that we once enjoyed…We want to come home more fully to ourselves and to the people we love.”
Many turn to the shamanic arts for language and methodology which address our collective angst with a soulfulness lacking in modern lexicon.
“The re-emergence in the late twentieth century of shamanism — with its lively and concrete notion of soul — seems to be a response to a very depressing cultural reality,” notes Jungian analyst John Ryan Haule. ”In the past six or seven hundred years we have undergone a consciousness-shift of 180 degrees. Formerly soul was our primary reality. Now we have only a body and a rational ego.
“The material conditions of our lives have improved immeasurably, but we’ve lost the imaginal and transcendent scope that belongs to the reality of soul. In a situation like this, it is often the depressives among us who are the most realistic regarding the impoverishment of our human existence.” (“Depression & Soul-Loss.”)
According to modern writers on the ancient subject, soul loss accounts for depression, anxiety, a sense of alienation, incompleteness and disconnection, a feeling of being “spaced out,” or “sleepwalking” through life. Extreme cases include coma, psychosis, fugue states and dissociative identity disorders.
Interestingly, the concept that a vital aspect of the self flees or retreats during experiences of extreme pain or disturbance is an idea shared by shamanism and psychotherapy alike. Psychotherapy calls it “disassociation,” shamanism calls it “soul loss.” The purpose in both cases is self-protection.
Modern shamanic healers explain that we all lose bits and pieces of our soul, or vital essence, as we go through life.
The cause doesn’t have to be something as monumental as an accident or as extreme as abuse. It can be as simple as a small child’s sensitivity to her parents’ psychic tension or continued arguing. Little by little, parts of ourselves withdraw and become seemingly lost to us.
Rejected elements of the personality are banished from conscious awareness — Jung’s concept of the psyche’s ”Shadow” aspect. This is done unconsciously, to ease the cognitive dissonance of harboring seemingly conflicting or ambiguous feelings; what modern psychology calls “compartmentalization” and repression.
Denied aspects — such as repressed sadness, anger, inner child or libidinous impulses — are effectively exiled. But they do not disappear. They continue to exist “underground,” as it were, in the subterranean caves of the psyche, causing emotional alienation, discomfort and disconnection from self.
The good news is that excavation of these buried aspects — and a renewal of their accompanying vital forces — is always possible, and the focus of psychotherapy and shamanic healing alike.
“An aspect of the infinite soul fleeing under duress is a state everyone has at some point experienced, regardless of terminology or ideology applied,” comments Kelley Harrell in her Huffington Post article, “The New Treatise on Soul Retrieval.”
The most common approach of neo-shamans is to echo the ancient model of shaman-as-guide in the netherworlds of psyche/non-ordinary reality. As pioneering anthropologist Mircea Eliade wrote in his now classic text “Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy”:
“Only the shaman can undertake a cure of this kind. For only he ‘sees’ the spirits and knows how to exorcise them; only he recognizes that the soul has fled, and is able to overtake it, in ecstasy, and return it to its body….Everything that concerns the soul and its adventure, here on earth and in the beyond, is the exclusive province of the shaman.”
However! A fascinating synthesis between psychotherapy and shamanic soul retrieval has been in the works over the past several decades.
“Upon his return from studying with teachers in India, Australia, and South America, shaman Ross Bishop transformed the Soul Retrieval process into a method that could be embraced by the Western mind and heart by making a simple shift in the roles of Shaman and client,” relates psychotherapist, author and soul retrieval practitioner Selena Whittle.
“In this contemporary method of Soul Retrieval, the essential elements of the process are the same. There is a shamanic journey into the inner world where the wounded part of the self is identified, healed and brought back; however, the client does the work and is guided by the Shaman. The client takes the shamanic journey. The client identifies the part of the self that is wounded. The client builds a relationship with that part of the self, heals it, then brings it back for integration.
“The Shaman guides the client every step of the way, helping the client navigate the internal world of the psyche, guiding the client in the potent words or actions that are needed to build the relationship with the fragmented aspect of the self, to heal it and to bring it back. The shamanic journey becomes a shared experience, the Soul Retrieval a shared healing intervention.”
For more information on how to perform these inner excavations yourself Ross Bishop’s “Healing the Shadow” details the process. Both Selena Whittle and Ross Bishop offer in-person and phone-based sessions.
But let me initiate you right here and now into a simple yet profound method, which you can practice in the comfort of your home.
1. Create your inner sanctum.
This could be anything from an ornate temple to a simple spot by a running brook. The important part is that the setting has identifiable features, which can be recreated, and that the space makes you feel empowered, centered, safe and calm. Mentally construct as many details — sights, sounds and smells — as possible. Lie back, get comfortable and spend some time really making your inner sanctuary come to life behind closed eyes. (*The bath, with some low light, candles, calming scents and salts, is an excellent place to do soul work.)
2. Call in the missing soul part.
Decide which aspect you are going to reach out to before settling in by first looking at the problem areas in your life. For example, if you are having issues with anxiety, call in “the one who feels anxious.” If you are dealing with addiction, call in “the one who is addicted.”
If you are a visual person, the rejected aspect will likely take form in your mind’s eye. If you are not, you may simply get a feeling or “thought package” of insight — though visualization is encouraged with this particular method.
3. Reach out, reassure, & connect.
Remember, these inner aspects are in hiding because they have been wounded, ridiculed, banished, frightened. They are like scared children — who have not developed beyond the age at which they fled — and must be reached out to accordingly. So its important to project a sense of deep compassion towards them if you’re to inspire their trust.
Tell them you wish to discuss their unmet needs.
These rejected aspects, which you may have deemed bad, difficult, or unacceptable, actually have legitimate needs, which — as they are not being met by you, their guardian — are being substituted with unhealthy behavior. The coping mechanism employed by the exiled aspect, however far from your ideal, is truly its best effort with the tools at hand.
Explain mentally to your exiled aspect that you are here to increase communication between their awareness and your conscious personality. Remind them you both have the same goal of wellbeing and wholeness, because ultimately, you are one being. Any sense of isolation and disconnection has been a fear-driven illusion based on pain and misunderstanding. Now you are calling home your missing parts. If they have felt unloved, give them the love they crave. You have all the power. Use it.
These injured aspects have a long history of feeling unsafe in the presence of the too often accusatory and judgmental conscious mind. As a result, they will often cloak themselves in guarded energy, which can have a menacing impression. This is not the true aspect, but a self-protective mask.
Like any vulnerable creature attempting to seem stronger than it feels, this protective presentation may take the form of something frightening. Practitioners refer to this as “entity” presence, which denotes fear-based energy that isn’t yours but is being used by the wounded inner aspect like armor.
This same goal can be achieved by the inner aspect through opposite means, by presenting an overly “goody-two-shoes” image (“See? I’m perfectly fine. Not hurt at all.”)
So it is necessary to gently test and question the initial appearance of the invited aspect by asking if it is an entity. In your sacred space the aspect can not lie. Even if it says “No” with its mouth, it’s shape may shift or the eyes may flicker, telling a different story and betraying its true nature.
It should be noted that simply because an image is disturbing does not automatically make it false “entity” energy. It can just as easily be the symbolic representation of the feeling-state of the soul part—it may feel, and thus present as, bruised, starved, beaten-up or neglected.
Keep probing its authenticity gently until you feel it has lain down its defenses and actually offered its true, vulnerable self at which point reach out and initiate a compassionate dialogue. A good place to start is by asking how you can help.
If the answer is simple and true, you know it’s the soul part speaking. If the reply is too convoluted or complex, it’s an entity-energy defense, or your cerebral analysis kicking in; start over and await the answer without assumption, projecting compassion.
5. Identify Source of Disconnection, Correct Misunderstanding
Once assured of the fragmented aspect’s authenticity, ask it to show you at what age it became separated. It may show you a particular scene or instance. Ask how this situation made the soul part feel. What was the message it received? Usually, something in the “Not good enough” category will surface. As with small children who blame themselves for their parents’ divorce or general unhappiness, the impression of unworthiness will invariably be based on a misinterpretation of events. With compassion, correct this misunderstanding. The fragmented aspect needs to hear it is worthy of love. Bring it home by embracing this exiled aspect of yourself; give it the love and acceptance it has been hereto denied.
6. Stay connected afterwards.
The goal is to continue the newly forged relationship beyond your inner journey into your everyday life, eventually forming a full integration between the formerly exiled piece and your conscious awareness. Check in with the newly rediscovered aspect throughout the days following your journey. How does he or she feel? Are you meeting the needs discussed with more awareness?
What makes this method different from, and often more effective than, regular “talk therapy” is the willingness to surrender conscious mind constructs to the wild and telling symbolism of the subconscious. In this way cerebral analysis is transcended and the beating heart of true experience touched.
What may read as hokey can be extremely powerful in a real-time, step by step process. After all, these are the parts of self from which we are always running, from whose pain we so often seek distraction. Giving them back their voice, and gracing their needs with our attention, can be a life-changing integration.
Ultimately, whether you regard this excercise as symbolic or literal doesn’t matter. As French poet Baudelaire said, this world is a “forest of symbols.”
The inner fragmentation experienced by so many in this modern time mirrors the compartmentalization tendencies of society itself.
“The natural environment is treated as if it consisted of separate parts to be exploited by different interest groups. The fragmented view is further extended to society which is split into different nations, races, religious and political groups. The belief that all these fragments — in ourselves, in our environment and in our society — are really separate can be seen as the essential reason for the present series of social, ecological and cultural crisis.” ~ Fritjof Capra, (The Tao of Physics)
In a so-called civilized world, which so often dismisses the idea of soul and then complains of feeling empty, soul retrieval — reclaiming personal wholeness — is a heroic act.
April 2, 2013 § 30 Comments
“No one man can, for any considerable time, wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one.” ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne
“To be nobody but myself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me somebody else—means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight, and never stop fighting. ~ e.e. cummings
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” – C.G. Jung
In 1944 Helen Deutsch—notably, the first psychoanalyst to specialize in women’s psychology—coined the term the “as if” self.
This concept was expanded upon and called the “false self“ by D. W. Wincott in 1960. ”Other people’s expectations can become of overriding importance,” Wincott noted, “overlaying or contradicting the original sense of self, the one connected to the very roots of one’s being.” (“Our Need for Others.”)
The idea of a false personality construct being distinct from one’s essential, authentic nature dates back over 3000 years: in the Bahgavad Gita, Ego (or Ahamkara) is described as the body-identified sense of self which is disconnected from the true soul.
“According to the Gita,” notes Ramnath Subramanian ”there is a fundamental difference between ‘real’ ego and what it defines as the ‘false’ ego. Real ego is our very essence, the consciousness that makes us aware and awake to reality. The false ego is a false identity crafted to preserve the sense of being the most significant and the most important all the time. In short, it is a narcissistic search for being loved, validated and appreciated.(“The Bhagavad Gita and the Problem of the Ego,” Huffington Post.)“
“We all need an ability to mask or control our baser emotions so that we don’t blurt them out inappropriately where they can get us into trouble,” explains Dr. Tain Dayton in “Creating a False Self: Learning to Live a Lie.” “The real danger lies not in creating a mask or false self, we all do that somewhat. The danger lies in mistaking the false or idealized self for the true self.
“A false self because it is an unconscious defense, can stifle the growth of a conscious, authentic self. It’s the false self that strategizes and develops strength, confidence and acceptance. And the true, conscious self gets suffocated and sent into hiding.”
One surefire way to distinguish one’s core center from the egoic personality structure or false self is meditation, in which we cultivate what has been called “the witnessing self.” Meditation asks the practitioner to become conscious of when one is thinking, which really just means becoming aware of when one is talking to oneself internally.
In our everyday Western life, a constant inner monologue for us has become like breathing. We identify with our thoughts to the point where the statement “I am not my thoughts,” however factually correct, feels somewhat radical when taken to heart.
Yet the meditation practitioner soon finds moments, however fleeting, when the inner dialogue is stilled and mental silence is achieved. Anyone who has ever experienced this will tell you that this moment feels very much like making contact with one’s true being—which, according to mystical traditions the world over, it is.
“Based on the philosophy of [the ancient Hindu texts] the Upanishads,” details Neera Kashyap in “Personal Growth & The Witnessing Mind,” [we are taught] that if we could witness our thoughts and emotions, we would discover that what is witnessed is not our essential nature, but an ever-changing flux of our mind’s desires and tendencies.
“By practicing witness consciousness, we can distance ourselves from our chameleon-like mental tendencies. [This way] we observe our world, but simultaneously also absorb the detachment, power and impartiality of our anchor, the witnessing mind.
“Anchored, we observe,” continues Neera. “Anchored, we inquire into the origins of our thoughts and emotions, and the problems that arise from them. Anchored, we see them rise, take form, and ultimately merge into the witness. The thoughts, emotions, and problems are transformed, by their mergence in the silence and peace of the witness.”
“There are two birds, two sweet friends, who dwell on the self-same tree. One eats the fruits of the tree, and the other looks on in silence.”
“This verse from the Upanishad,” notes Neera Kashyap, ”sums up the secret of abiding happiness, in our lives. We enjoy the fullness of life, yet simultaneously witness this participation silently. This seems essential, when we consider the next verse of this Upanishad, in which the imagery is further developed.
“The active bird is overcome by sadness at her unceasing and unwise partaking of life. However, when she beholds on the same tree the eternal power and glory of the other bird, the witnessing spirit, she is freed from sorrow. For she sees that between herself and the other bird, there is a fundamental identity.”
Wincott prescribed what he called “play”—anything that brings out spontaneous aliveness, from art to sports to meaningful conversation—as a way to revive contact with the authentic self.
“When we’re self-accepting,” elaborates Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. in “Evolution of the Self, “we’re able to embrace all facets of ourselves—not just the positive, more ‘esteem-able’ parts. As such, self-acceptance is unconditional, free of any qualification.
“We can recognize our weaknesses, limitations, and foibles, but this awareness in no way interferes with our ability to fully accept ourselves…Perhaps more than anything else, cultivating self-acceptance requires that we develop more self-compassion.”
It can be hard in a world that values success, perfection and positivity to accept our failures, flaws and darkness, but ultimately, in order to touch the authenticity within ourselves we seek—ironically!—-accepting the aspects of ourselves which we like least is the first step to unleashing that part we like best.
What are your thoughts on authenticity, identity and the false self?
March 5, 2013 § 12 Comments
“Cease trying to work everything out with your minds. It will get you nowhere. Live by intuition and inspiration and let your whole life be Revelation”. ~ Eileen Caddy
“The only real valuable thing is intuition”. ~ Albert Einstein
Studies and anecdotes alike suggest that we have ways of gaining information beyond that which is readily available to our conscious mind. The word intuition comes from the Latin word intueri, which translates as to look inside or to contemplate.
Psychology Today relates an experiment wherein the subject is shown images which are either calming or agitating (an image of a lake, an image of a spider…) The order is randomly generated in the moment by a computer.
Electrodes that measure tiny changes in skin resistance are attached to two fingers on the subject’s left hand; plus, a third that monitors blood flow. Consistent with other test subjects, the body does not react to calming images, but does show response to the agitating ones. In this groundbreaking experiment, researchers discovered that the subject’s body reacts to the agitating image a fraction of a second before the image has been randomly generated.
I’ll give that a minute to sink in.
Implications of nonlinear time aside—which are, in themselves, awe-inspiring—this study suggests concrete proof that “gut reactions” are a genuine function of human processing.
“Today, cognitive science is revealing a fascinating unconscious mind that Freud never told us about,” notes David G. Myers in The Powers & Perils of Intuition. “Thinking occurs not onstage but offstage, out of sight. Studies of automatic processing, subliminal priming, implicit memory, heuristics, right-brain processing, instant emotions, nonverbal communication and creativity unveil our intuitive capacities. Thinking, memory and attitude operate on two levels: the conscious/deliberate and the unconscious/automatic. ‘Dual processing,’ researchers call it. We know more than we know we know.”
“The scientific evidence is now stronger than ever for commonly reported experiences such as telepathy (mind-to-mind communication), clairvoyance (information received from a distant place) and precognition (information received from a distant time),” observes psychologist Dean Radin. “Studies suggest that we have ways of gaining information that bypass the ordinary senses.”
This acknowledgement extends even to the United States Navy, who, The New York Times reports, has started a program to investigate how members of the military can be trained to improve their intuitive ability during combat and other missions.
“The idea for the project comes in large part from the testimony of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan who have reported an unexplained feeling of danger just before they encountered an enemy attack or ran into an improvised explosive device, Navy scientists said.
“’Research in human pattern recognition and decision-making suggest that there is a ‘sixth sense’ through which humans can detect and act on unique patterns without consciously and intentionally analyzing them,” the Office of Naval Research said in an announcement late last month,” citing numerous peer-reviewed studies in cognitive psychology and neuroscience.
The New York Times notes that people often “confuse” the concept of intuition with the supernatural—though many intuitive types would more likely call this a difference in perspective.
Whatever your personal beliefs as to the source of intuition, its existence is embraced by the world’s most celebrated thinkers. In Einstein and the Poet: In Search of the Cosmic Man, William Hermanns shares a conversation with the man whose name is literally a synonym for genius:
“Einstein nodded: he was a good listener. After a pause he said, ‘The cosmic man must be restored, the whole man who is made in the image and likeness of the arch-force, which you may call God. This man thinks with his heart and not with party dogma. As I’ve explained before, there is an order in the universe – a cosmic order – and humans have the possibility of understanding these laws.’
“Einstein leaned back in his chair; so did I, putting my writing pad on my knees. He added, ‘I have no doubt that the allies will win the war.’ I smiled, ‘Oh, you are my prophet again. ‘Prophet or not,’ he scratched his head, ‘what I say is more often felt through intuition than thought through intellect.’” (Einstien’s Intuition.)
It’s important, however, to remain discerning, and not to assume that every strong feeling we receive is operating on some higher, interconnected plane.
As David G. Myers points out in The Powers & Perils of Intuition, “The history of science tells story after story of challenges to human intuition. To our ancestors, the sun’s daily travels had at least two plausible explanations: Either the sun was circling Earth, or Earth was spinning while the sun stood still. Intuition preferred the first explanation. Galileo’s scientific observations demanded the second.”
It’s also possible to confuse the strong emotion of desire (wishful thinking) with the strong feeling of a potential “gut reaction.” We must always check our guts—and analyze our motives—first and foremost for self-deception.
“Nobody can dictate my behavior,” said Diana, Princess of Wales, in her last interview before her fatal accident. “I work through instinct, and instinct is my best counselor.”
“Does this mean we should ignore our hunches or intuitions?” asks Denise Cummins Ph.D in “Good Thinking.”
“Not necessarily. According to Dr. Daniel Kahneman, decisions are the output of two processes, a fast intuition- or emotion-based process and a slower, deliberative one. To Kahneman, intuitive activities are very similar to perceptual activities, such as seeing and hearing.
“Ask yourself this: When you glimpse something out of the corner of your eye, what do you normally do next? You probably direct your attention to the new stimulus, allowing your visual system to process it in more detail. As it turns out, that is probably the best way to think about the role of intuition in decision-making: Your gut reaction tells you this particular choice deserves further deliberation.”
Cummins also sites an experiment by Dr. Michel Tuan Pham of Columbia Business School, which asked people to make a number of future predictions, from box office success to presidential elections. The findings indicated that people did better in fields with which they already had some knowledge. But also, those who believed in their ability more, made more accurate predictions. This was dubbed “the emotional oracle effect.”
So how to cultivate your intuition? For one, start listening to that still, small voice. Like a muscle, it benefits from excercise. Make feeling-based predictions privately to yourself, which can be proven later. This way you can begin to get an idea of what your most successful hunches felt like in their nascent stages—as well as build confidence and trust in your abilities, thereby employing the benefits of that documented “emotional oracle effect.”
Remember, the subliminal self operates on a far subtler level than we may be used to paying attention to or even noticing.
Meditation—simply giving yourself time to cultivate inner stillness—helps quiet the mind and open receptivity to subconscious knowledge.
Paying attention to how your body responds to certain situations or people can tell you a lot.
Try imagining yourself in a beautiful, calming natural environment. Take the time to really bring the sights and sounds of your inner space to life. Once this has been achieved, take a little more time simply to enjoy your creation.
Then imagine a treasure chest in this scene. Ask a question. In your mind’s eye, walk over to the chest and open it. The subconscious will present you with an answering image. It may be clear or obscure symbolism, but more often than not you will find the image that appears carries metaphorical weight and is not random.
Have fun tapping into that buried treasure!
January 30, 2013 § 15 Comments
“We are unraveling our navels so that we may ingest the sun. We are not afraid of the darkness. We trust that the moon shall guide us. We are determining the future at this very moment. We know that the heart is the philosopher’s stone. Our music is our alchemy.” ~ Saul Williams
Shrouded in mystery and steeped in mysticism, Alchemy is the art and science of transformation. The multi-leveled, symbol-rich philosophy of the ages functions both on an exoteric (practical) and esoteric (spiritual) level.
At its most literal, alchemy was the chemical quest to create the Philosopher’s stone—a legendary substance derived from a series of laboratory processes, known as the The Magnum Opus, The Great Work, or simply The Art. The Philosopher’s Stone was said to be the agent of gold transmutation, and the key ingredient in the creation of the fabled elixir of life, said to heal all diseases, induce longevity and even immortality.
Yet it’s clear from the ancient sacred texts, known as the Corpus Hermeticum—upon which alchemy’s Hermetic principals are based—that gold transmutation is but the tip of the iceberg, as well as a symbolic teaching, of what is essentially a philosophical and mystical tradition. The Philosopher’s Stone can be, and often is, viewed metaphorically.
“[T]he Stone is a symbol of incorruptible wisdom achieved by uniting both rational, intellectual thinking (masculine, right brain activity) with our intuitive knowing of the heart (feminine, left brain activity).” (Alchemy & The Philosopher’s Stone.)
“The idea of the ‘primal material’ was developed by Aristotle and refers to the idea that there is a primordial matter that lies behind all forms, but that is itself invisible. It is the womb of creation, the field of pure potentiality, but it only gains existence, in the strictest sense, when given form.
“In the alchemical process, the primal material is that which remains when something has been reduced to its essence and can be reduced no further. Psychologically, this is a potent symbol for the inner process of transformation in which we regularly arrive at ‘core realizations’ that cannot be deconstructed further, but that themselves become the ground for successfully moving forward in life—‘integrating’ as we evolve.”
Certainly such high-level claims as gold transmutation and immortality elixirs made alchemy ripe for abuse from charlatans. Its cryptic language and oblique symbolism only aided sham-peddling swindlers with the perfect smoke screen behind which to operate mysteriously.
Fraudulent claims drove The Art into disrepute—Dante reserves a special place in his Inferno for alchemists—and the modern materialist mind is often quick to disparage alchemy as an arcane jumble of smoke and mirrors hogwash. Though it is considered a protoscience for modern chemistry due to its establishment of basic chemical procedures (the most notable being distillation), its discovery of phosphorus, antimony and bismuth, and preparation of nitric, hydrochloric and sulphuric acid.
The real “gold,” however, seems to lie in the deeper, spiritual heritage of Alchemy. The mystical truths preserved in its archetypal imagery and symbolism still serve as an allegorical map for seekers today.
“Only through discovering alchemy,” notes pioneering Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, “have I clearly understood that the unconscious is a process and that ego’s rapport with the unconscious and his contents initiates an evolution, more precisely, a real metamorphosis of the psyche.”
While the imagery associated with alchemy can be bafflingly surreal and even disturbing, every detail holds symbolic meaning that becomes coherent when viewed through an allegorical lens.
The 7 Stages (or Operations) of Alchemy give insight into many of these symbols. The system is thought to be based largely on the ancient text, The Emerald Tablet of Hermes—the jewel in the crown of the Corpus Hermeticum. The first translation dates back to the 13th century, though its origin is suspected to go as far back as the 2nd century or older.
The 7 Stages, undertaken with the goal of the Philosopher’s Stone (both literal and metaphorical), are as follows:
1.Calcination. (“Its father is the sun.” ~ The Emerald Tablet of Hermes)
Chemically, this initial stage involves heating the substance over an open flame and burning away the first layer of impurities.
“Psychologically,” remarks Dennis William Hauk, an Internationally recognized expert on alchemy research, “this is the destruction of the ego and our attachment to material possessions. Calcination is usually a natural humbling process as we are gradually assaulted and overcome by the trials and tribulations of life, though it can be a deliberate surrender of our inherent hubris [igniting] the fire of introspection and self-evaluation.”
“In spiritual symbolism, this stage is sometimes humorously referred to as ‘cooking’ or ‘baking’ (and in fact the prime symbol of this stage is fire),” observes P.T. Mistlberger in “Psycho-Spiritual Alchemy.“
Spiritually, Adam McClean points out in his essay Birds in Alchemy, “the nigredo indicates the initial stages of the alchemist’s encounter with his inner space, through withdrawing from the outer world of the senses in meditation, and entering what is initially the dark inner world of the soul,”
Symbolized by crows, ravens, toads, sculls and skeletons—as well as the alchemist in his own burning flask or cauldron—philosophically, this stage represents the breaking down of old structures. Called the nigredo, or “blackening,” Calcination involved putrefaction and decomposition of the alchemical substances—a ”trial by fire” that psychologists often equate with the Dark Night of the Soul, the death of old aspects of the self and confrontation with the shadow within.
2. Dissolution (“Its mother is the moon.”)
Also called the albedo, or “whitening,” the second stage, was said to result from the washing (ablutio, baptisma) of the products of the nigredo. Chemically, this phase denotes the dissolving of the ashes from Calcination in water. Often symbolized by a white swan or a white eagle, Dissolution marks a time of emotional cleansing, a purification through catharsis and letting go.
“It is, for the most part, an unconscious process,” details Dennis William Hauck, ”in which our conscious minds let go of control to allow the surfacing of buried material. It is opening the floodgates and generating new energy from the waters held back. Dissolution can be experienced as “flow,” the bliss of being well-used and actively engaged in creative acts.”
“This stage is often characterized by experiencing the emotion of grief,” adds P.T. Mistlberger, “and allowing ourselves to truly grieve painful incidents from our past that we may have long buried.
“A key to the stage of Dissolution is the awakening of passion, and the harnessing of the energy of emotional pain toward an object of creativity. We do not just passively witness the reality of our inner pain; we redirect its energy, wedding it to our authentic personal desires and constructive aims.”
“It is that stage of catharsis after some intense experience of being consumed in the crucible,” details Adam McLean, ”when we glimpse the appearance, however fragmentary, of a new possibility —a flickering light in our souls which draws us towards its promise of change.”
3. Separation (“The wind carries it in its belly.”)
Chemically, according to Hauk, this stage marks “the isolation of the components of Dissolution by filtration and then discarding any ungenuine or unworthy material.
“Psychologically, this process is the rediscovery of our essence and the reclaiming of dream and visionary ‘gold’ previously rejected by the masculine, rational part of our minds. It is, for the most part, a conscious process in which we review formerly hidden material and decide what to discard and what to reintegrate into our refined personality.”
The Separation stage, much as its name suggests, denotes a time of discernment and taking stock. ”In this stage,” notes Mistlberger, “we begin to see what is of value in our life, and what is not.”
“Chemically,” Hauk tells us, ”it is the recombination of the saved elements from Separation into a new substance…”
“Psychologically, it is empowerment of our true selves, the union of both the masculine and feminine sides of our personalities into a new belief system or an intuitive state of consciousness. The alchemists referred to it as the Lesser Stone, and after it is achieved, the adept is able to clearly discern what needs to be done to achieve lasting enlightenment, which is union with the Overself. Often, synchronicities begin to occur that confirm the alchemist is on the right track.”
The divided self, often represented by a king and queen, now purified and healed—is reunited, producing filius philosophorum, or “the philosopher’s child,” a magical, hermaphroditic babe, representing the reborn, integrated self.
“Esoteric alchemy proposes,” Mistlberger elaborates, “that what is left if the first three stages of calcination, dissolution, and separation have been properly undergone is a state wherein we can more clearly mediate between our ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’.
“In this sense ‘soul’ refers to our embodied spirit, the part of our essential nature that is fully on Earth, and ‘spirit’ refers to our most rarefied connection with the divine, transcendental Source. These two are sometimes categorized as the divine feminine (soul) and the divine masculine (spirit). The combining of the two is the essence of inner tantra, a sacred marriage of spiritual opposites.”
The integration of the active, “impregnating” principal of divine spirit is often depicted as the masculine sun, or Sol, while the receptive principal of the body receiving that spirit infusion is represented by the feminine moon, or Luna. Below these aspects integrate via the symbolic sexual union of Sol and Luna.
“In conjunction, fears melt,” adds Nephtalia Leba in her essay “Alchemical Transformation.“ ”The old scripts that played in our head that said we ‘must’ or we ‘should’ are quieter, if not gone. There is more joy now. We begin to see the world more clearly. The acts we do choose to engage in – even the mundane acts – take on a greater delight.”
5. Fermentation (“Separate the Earth from Fire, the subtle from the gross, gently and with great Ingenuity.”)
Chemically, Fermentation is the growth of a ferment (bacteria) in organic solutions, such as occurs in the fermenting of grapes to make wine. And this idea is mirrored in the psycho-spiritual stage it represents in the seeker’s journey. Fermentation is a two step process, which begins with Putrefaction.
In this stage, Hauk details, ”matter is allowed to breakdown and decompose. The alchemists often added manure to help get the process going…The dead material seems to come to life again with an influx of digesting bacteria, as Fermentation begins.
“This new life force changes the fundamental nature of the material in what the alchemists saw as a process of spiritization [the second phase in Fermentation].
“Psychological Fermentation is the introduction of new life into the purified presence that developed during Conjunction. This child of the Conjunction, however, is really just a melding of opposites of the personality that may still be contaminated with traces of ego, so it is necessary to “sacrifice” it to bring about its resurrection on a new level of being.
“During psychological death or Putrefaction, the ‘child’ of the Conjunction, which is the strongest presence you can create within your earthbound personality, is exposed to the decadent humidity of your deepest and most clinging psychic components, the psychological manure in which most of us wallow.”
Hauk continues: ”Fermentation then begins with the inspiration of spiritual power from Above that reanimates, energizes, and enlightens the blackened soul. It can be achieved through various activities that include intense prayer, desire for mystical union, breakdown of the personality, transpersonal therapy, psychedelic drugs, and deep meditation. In simplest terms, Fermentation is a living, loving inspiration from something totally beyond us, something existing wholly Above in the realm of pure mind.”
Like the first “nigredo” stage of Calcination, the Fermentation phase has been associated with the Dark Night of the Soul psychologically.
“Here, we undergo a type of rebirth,” observes Mistlberger, ”resulting from the deep willingness to let go of all elements of [ourselves] that no longer serve our spiritual evolution. This marks the true beginning of inner initiation, of entry into a ‘higher’ life in which our best destiny has a chance to unfold.”
This stage is often associated with the peacock due its reported accompaniment of multi-colored visions upon entering the spiritization phase, known as “the peacock’s tail.”
6. Distillation (“It rises from Earth to Heaven and descends again to Earth, thereby combining within Itself the powers of both the Above and the Below.”)
Chemically this stage involves the boiling and condensation of the fermented solution to increase its purity, such as takes place in the distilling of wine to make brandy.
“Psychologically,” Mistlberger details, “distillation represents a further purification process, being about an ongoing process of integrating our spiritual realizations with our daily lives—dealing with seeming mundane things with integrity, being as impeccable in our lives as we can be, and not using the inner work as a means by which to escape the world…
“…At this stage remaining impurities, hidden as ‘shadow’ elements in the mind, are flushed out and released, crucial if they are not to surface later on (a phenomena that can be seen to occur when a reputed saint, sage, or wise person, operating from a relatively advanced level of self-realization, appears to have a fall from grace).”
Mistlberger tells us that a common alchemical symbol for this stage is the Green Lion devouring the sun, suggesting “a robust triumph and an embracing of a limitless source of energy.”
7. Coagulation (“Thus will you obtain the Glory of the Whole Universe. All Obscurity will be clear to you. This is the greatest Force of all powers, because it overcomes every Subtle thing and penetrates every Solid thing.” )
“This is closely connected to the idea of the Resurrection Body of mystical Christianity, or the Rainbow Body of Tibetan Buddhism, which includes the esoteric idea of the ability to navigate all possible levels (dimensions) of reality, without loss of consciousness.
“It is the form of the illumined and fully transformed human, in which matter has been spiritualized, or the spiritual has fully entered the material. Heaven and Earth seen as one, or as the Buddhists say, nirvana (the absolute, or formless) is samsara (the world of form). At this end stage, whatever we set eyes on we see the divine, as we have come to realize our own full divinity.”
Below, an alchemical woodcut depicts the Stone as eternally youthful and fully integrated. He controls the forces of duality and fends off any materialistic advances on his unified Soul and Spirit
“In the age-old image of the Ouroboros lies the thought of devouring oneself and turning oneself into a circulatory process, for it was clear to the more astute alchemists that the prima materia of the art was man himself.
“The Ouroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e. of the shadow. This ‘feed-back’ process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he therefore constitutes the secret of the prima materia.” ~ Carl Jung
*To see where you might be on the path of alchemical process, take a test at www.alchemylab.com.
January 14, 2013 § 10 Comments
Rachael Rice is an Oklahoma-born, Vermont-bred dream coach, artist, digital media maven, teacher and dreamcatcher maker — featured in the likes of People Magazine– living in Portland, Oregon. We met at an event offering free workshops for women — I was leading a poetry workshop and she was teaching a class on making dreamcatchers. Her creations and creative spirit alike are inspiring to behold.
Rachael, I’ve been calling 2013 the year of the dream. I saw the other day on your Facebook page that you’ve coined the same term! Dream actualization is in the air! Transformative culture is on the rise. What are your thoughts on this moment of history in which we find ourselves and the role of the dreamer in the modern age?
Well I think it’s some pretty intense karma to be alive now. I mean, now we really know about the consequences of our actions: how unlimited growth doesn’t work in a closed system like Earth, how coal and combustion engines make polar bears grip their tiny ice shards. We have more awareness than ever of the scope of human suffering — AND potential.
I choose to put all my energy into working with others who are building whatever is coming next. I don’t get real upset about politics because I don’t think the answers to the world’s problems are going to come from the government (although it would benefit greatly I think from a presence of women commensurate in proportion to its electorate) — I think the answers to the world’s problems will come from creatives: artists, dreamers, song-singers, and the like.
So I began to notice that I’d sit down with someone to talk about her website, and we’d end up talking about whether or not she wanted kids, or the fact that she really wanted to forgive her sister, or quit her day job and be a writer. So the conversation about branding quickly turned to the Big Dream, what we want out of life, and I found that I was pretty good at using the online branding process to help clients achieve more clarity about what they really wanted to be doing. Now I have a group of women that I coach in what I’m calling Dream School: A Solopreneur Salon for Creatives. We get together and use various tools — everything from smudge sticks to Danielle Laporte’s Desire Map to Seth Godin’s blog to Tara Gentile‘s writing about money to Pixie Campbell‘s SouLodge animal wisdom teachings. It’s a very spiritual, very practical approach to running a business as a creative person.
Well the dreamcatcher originated with the Ojibwa Nation and were often used above a child’s cradle, as a mobile to capture and filter out the bad dreams (there are various iterations of this theme). The Pan-Indian movement of the 60′s and 70′s saw the dreamcatcher popularized as a uniting image, and it has certainly become quite commercialized and appropriated by white girls like me since then. I grew up in a time when “multiculturalism” was part of arts education and I learned to make them in Oklahoma, much as you would learn to make snowshoes or Ukrainian eggs.
Then I became a public school art teacher and explored all manner of indigenous and non-western art and craft. Now there’s a lot more mindfulness (or there should be) around cultural appropriation so I understand it’s tricky to create art inspired by Native American imagery. The spiritual nature of the objects I create exists only as an expression of what I think is beautiful, I claim no heritage other than the space occupied by my own heart. They are not marketed as sacred objects (though they are to me, but so is my guitar). I use mostly salvaged materials, and as much as possible I source my feathers from happy birds on farms. I donate to the Native American Youth and Family Association of Portland, as a token of thanks.
What advice would you give to people trying to break through issues of anxiety, depression, creative stagnation and/or self-doubt?
I share this issue. I would call it a spiritual assignment. I’ve had some serious trauma in life that has resulted in the need for clinical support. I do believe in therapy (I’m a fan of the alphabet soup evidence-based therapies like CBT, DBT, and especially ACT). But therapy is like food, you have to try a lot of it to find out what you like. And some of us need medication, as over-prescribed as it is. Prozac is my friend. I haven’t tried ayahuasca yet but certainly psychedelic drugs have influenced my capacity to wonder.
I love 12-Step work, because of its accountability, and its helpfulness in dismantling egoic narcissism. You don’t have to believe in God(s) to have a higher power, you know? I adore the work of Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hahn, Eckart Tolle and all those folks talking about the nature of the soul. I think body centered practices like EFT tapping, yoga, and other healing modalities can get to places that talk-based therapies can’t reach. You know, none of these approaches work unless you’re really willing to be very, very VERY uncomfortable. And a lot of people aren’t. They’re very attached to their stories about themselves, their Pain Bodies, the narratives imposed upon them by the operating system downloaded into their bodies by their DNA, their parents, their society.
My advice is to stay away from alcohol and read about Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. Get a sense of the Observer Self that’s there all the time, no matter how you’re feeling. Cultivate gratitude. Every single day. We have every modern convenience, every imaginable advantage. If you don’t believe me, go turn your water on and off. There is no excuse to not have a life that is meaningful and rewarding, full of connection and service.
We over-emphasize the mind in our culture. We think it’s important to not have negative thoughts a lot. Well, some of us were programmed to have a lot of negative thoughts. That’s not such a big deal. The sun will become a red giant and in 10,000 years none of it will matter, you don’t have to take your negative thoughts and feelings so seriously. Pay attention to the activities that make time fly by, to the things that give your life meaning. And choose behaviors that align with those things, no matter what your mind may be doing. This will often be really uncomfortable. It’s the yoga of the development. But the amazing thing is that, if you choose different behaviors, you’ll have different feelings!
Try to view all your relationships as assignments from your soul. Entertain the possibility that your soul chose this body, and these circumstances, at this time, to best learn how to be at home in your own heart.
You’ve described yourself as a “living, breathing dream catcher.” I love this idea. Can you describe for us how others might achieve this?
Figure out how you want to feel (specifically, not just generically) and identify actions that create those feelings. Like, I want to feel expanded, inspired, abundant, divinely feminine, and useful. I can’t feel that way and have a normal day job. But other people can.
My new thing is to buy the coffee of the person behind me in a drive-through, especially if I’m feeling particularly contracted around money. It shifts everything for me, and I get to drive away before they can even thank me! Awesome!! Abundance is a feeling, and I have plenty. Pay attention to how your body feels in reaction to your environment. To the food you eat. To the conversations you have. If you’re unsure of your soul’s purpose, try to help others in some way. Be of service. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Surround yourself with people who make you feel more like yourself. I spend 80% of my time alone, and that’s ok. I’m sensitive. Always be asking, “why do I want this?” And notice, right in this moment, you are safe.
Is there a particular philosophy by which you live your life?
I dig engaged Buddhism. I think it’s important to know the land we walk on, to re-indigenize ourselves: where my water comes from, what plants are edible, who was here before me, from which direction do storms blow in. I believe in forgiveness.
What would you say is your number one inspiration?
The natural world. Or Lady Gaga. It’s a toss-up.
December 21, 2012 § 10 Comments
“Apocalypse does not point to a fiery Armageddon but to the fact that our ignorance and our complacency are coming to an end. Our divided, schizophrenic worldview, with no mythology adequate to coordinate our conscious and unconscious — that is what is coming to an end.” ~ Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That
“If there is an Armegeddon it is within each of us.” ~ Robert Ghost Wolf
I write on the eve of the Mayan Apocalypse, Dec 21st 2012 — a date they are calling “the most anticipated date in history,” which has been gaining power and momentum in the collective mythic imagination for literally decades.
2012 has become a cultural phenomenon, far exceeding any basis in Mayan history, expressing, rather, our own collective sense of dread — that we are heading for destruction, and change of a radical nature is needed if we are to survive.
Archeologist, anthropologist and author Michael D. Coe was perhaps the first to put forth an apocalyptic interpretations of the ancient Mayan codices, writing in his 1966 book The Maya:
“There is a suggestion … that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the 13th [b'ak'tun]. Thus … our present universe [would] be annihilated [in December 2012] when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion.”
Since then, apocalyptic prophecies have proliferated exponentially, leading up to the fervor of the 2012 phenomenon. The film industry has capitalized off this fear/trend with a mounting plethora of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies. Post-apocalyptic video games like Fallout abound. New Age bookstores are exploding with 2012 material. Youtube features a veritable frenzy of 2012 videos…
Yet actual modern day Maya and Mayan scholars insist that the end of the ancient calender simply signifies the end of an era, known as the thirteen ba’kt’un (each ba’kt’un being equivalent to 394.26 years.) It is the end of an age of man, what the Maya called the fourth world.
Ricardo Cajas, president of the Colectivo de Organizaciones Indígenas de Guatemala, states that the date does not represent an end of humanity, but of a new cycle, which “supposes changes in human consciousness.”
According to a diverse group of indigenous peoples’ creation myths, from Mexico to New Zealand, there have been three failed worlds before our current age (could these legends refer to lost continents such as Plato’s Atlantis?).
The Hindus believe that earth goes through four world cycles, or ages of man, which repeat indefinitely. Most interpreters of Hindu scriptures believe that earth is currently in a Kali Yuga cycle, a dark time marked by destruction and degeneration in human values, known as “the age of the demon” or the “age of vice.” Eventually, the Kali Yuga will evolve into three more cycles, each one improving, until we reach a Golden Age.
“We Hopi believe that the human race has passed through three different worlds and life ways since the beginning,” details Hopi Elder Dan Evehema. “At the end of each prior world, human life has been purified or punished by the Great Spirit, or Massau, due mainly to corruption, greed and turning away from the Great Spirit’s teachings. The last great destruction was the flood which destroyed all but a few faithful ones who asked and received a permission from the Great Spirit to live with Him in this new land.”
According to Chief Evehema, the famous rock inscribed with Hopi hieroglyphs (Hopi Prophecy Rock) foretold both world wars and indicates an upcoming time of choice, where humankind will be offered a choice between the path of the heart and the path of the intellect and materialism.
“Modern man is out of balance because he lives in a left-brain dominated society,” asserts the Hopi elder, “leading to imbalance and conflict, and ultimately to destruction.”
We find ourselves in a runaway culture of technological advancement, where authentic human connection –to the earth and one another — threatens to be left behind. Isolation and distraction abound. As Daniel Pinchbeck, author of Breaking Open the Head, says, “We live in a culture where everything tastes good but nothing satisfies.”
Violent outbursts, like the recent tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and the stabbing of 20 school children in China – bizarrely, on the same day – create a disquieting atmosphere of building tension and mounting darkness. It’s as though we are experiencing a dark night of the world soul.
“A dark night of the soul,” writes Erin Reese in her post of the same name, ”primarily occurs when the old self-image is ready to go. This is the outdated identification of who you think you are – the ego structure. When the self-image becomes calcified in any way, a dark night of the soul comes rumbling in like storm clouds.” (For more, check out Parallax’s Navigating the Dark Night of the Soul.)
Astrologically Pluto and Uranus have been, and continue to be, influential.
“The effect of Uranus is to shatter old outworn forms so as to allow new life to be born. Pluto is the Lord of the Underworld in the Roman archetypal pantheon. In traditional astrology Pluto represents the eternal cycle of death and rebirth. In the Egyptian pantheon Pluto is Osiris, the God of Regeneration; Uranus is Wadjet, the Great Awakener. The long lasting square between these two astrological giants [during 2012 and for the next few years] suggests that we have only just begun our journey of incredible transformation and change.”(Astrological Insights.)
“Uranus represents change, invention, revolution, and higher awareness,” details astrologer Jamie Partridge. ”It’s effect is shocking, unpredictable, and erratic. Pluto represents globalization, destruction, transformation, and renewal. It’s effect is grinding, ruthless and extreme. Both of these planets are distinctly non-personal and emotionless, yet their effect is dramatic and deeply felt. The square is the most challenging of the planetary aspects, representing tests and challenges. It’s effect is stressful and frustrating.”
I wouldn’t include an astrological analysis if I hadn’t felt the truth of these interpretations in my own life. So many people in my life tell me they feel it too: that 2012 was one of their most intense, full years. Many have had very hard years, while others have had intensely wonderful years. Most of us have had a mixed bag of extreme highs and lows. Few people found 2012 to be “just another year.”
For many, a pressure is building. The need to burn away all that is false (a trait associated with Pluto.) Many I speak with seem to be going through an emotional-spiritual purge or some kind of shadow work at the moment. I think many of us feel innately that it’s a good time to purify and detoxify (look for tips on this in future posts!). Many feel pushed to their limit and filled with a desire to restructure their life. Old behaviors which no longer serve us are becoming increasingly uncomfortable. I realize this doesn’t apply to everyone, but it strikes me as significant that so many people I know are experiencing one or all of these things right now — more than usual, it seems.
And so the 2012 phenomenon, the so-called Mayan Apocalypse, can be seen as an expression of our personal and collective discomfort with old existing structures and outmoded patterns of behavior. When Dec. 21st comes and goes and the world remains in all it’s chaos, we will be left with the anti-climatic but significant realization that there is no escaping ourselves.
Let’s die to the past through this inner apocalypse – harness the intense energy of this time and use it for personal rebirth and transformation. We are collectively craving it. But it can only start with each of us, individually, and it can only take place in the present, right now.
October 30, 2012 § 17 Comments
By Tai Carmen“The night sea journey takes you back to your primordial self, not the heroic self that burns out and falls to judgment, but to your original self, yourself as a sea of possibility, your greater and deeper being.” ~ Thomas Moor
“There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” ~ Carl Jung
“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth” ~ Pema Chödrön
So named after St. John of the Cross’ classic religious poem of the same title, the dark night of the soul is described by seekers of all mystical traditions as an important stage of the quest for deeper knowledge — as unavoidable as confronting the dragon who guards the treasure in every mythic hero’s story.
“The mythological goal of the dragon fight is almost always the virgin, the captive, or more generally, the ‘treasure hard to attain.’ This image of the vulnerable, beautiful, and enchanting woman, guarded by and captive of a menacing monster gives us a picture of the inner core of the personality and its surrounding defenses,” relates Donald Kalsched in Myth & Psyche.
The maiden or treasure on the other side of the dragon symbolize our own inner wealth or spirit, awaiting reunion with the conscious mind, guarded by the ego and shadow-side aspects of the personality.
“Only one who has risked the fight with the dragon,” notes the great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, “and is not overcome by it wins the hoard, the ‘treasure hard to attain’. . . . he has faced the dark ground of his self and thereby gained himself.”
In myth and life alike, when the seeker first sets out upon the path, it is often not by choice but by necessity. To live in denial of the call simply becomes unbearable. Many times transformation is triggered by a crisis of meaning, forcing a reassessment of values and priorities.
Increased awareness shines a light on dark corners of the personality and/or the world at large. So the dark night period is really a sign that transformation is occurring — the labor pains of personal rebirth.
If processed, all who have undergone the dark night of the soul agree that it is ultimately a doorway to deeper awareness and understanding. On the other side awaits a more authentic self and a broader concept of the world. But in the meantime the false constructs and denied aspects of self become increasingly uncomfortable, even painful, giving the impression that something awful is happening, when, in fact, this period can be seen as nature’s way of encouraging regeneration — as a snake’s partly shed skin irks and itches him until he rubs the husk off entirely.
Because of his powerful ability to shed old layers of himslef, mystical traditions the world over associate the snake with transformation and regeneration.
Jesus had his forty days in the desert, Jonah his time in the belly of the whale. In Star Wars, when Luke Skywalker asks Yoda what he will encounter in his first test, the mini master replies: “Only what you take with you.”
“Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” In other words, the more we deny it, the more power the shadow self has over us.
“The Shadow is an archetype—a universal motif or image built in to all human beings. You can no more get rid of this inner Shadow than you can avoid casting an outer shadow when you’re in sunlight. For most of us, that creates a problem, because the Shadow appears as the sum total of the weakest, most flawed, inferior or even disgusting parts of yourself. It’s everything you don’t wish to be, but fear that you are.” (“The Tools” by Phil Stutz.)
When one is experiencing a dark night of the soul, one inevitably comes face to face with one’s shadow side.
“Most of us do not take these situations as teachings,” says Zen monk and author Pema Chödrön. “We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape — all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”
Continues Chödrön,”It’s a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately trying to fill up the space. By waiting, we begin to connect with fundamental restlessness as well as fundamental spaciousness.” By spaciousness, Chödron means the vast calm available to us in the “inner space” of turning inward in meditation and conscious presence. (For more on third eye meditations and inner space travel see “The Art of Seeing: Third Eye Perception and the Mystical Gaze”).
“It takes a long time to learn to listen to the still, small voice within,” notes Psychology Today writer Wendy Lustbader. ”We tend to seek direction outside ourselves, while our soul’s language is drowned out by the commotion of day-to-day doings, all the external strivings that distract us.
“It is possible to lose awareness of this inner voice for years and to be carried along by the force of society’s dictates and other people’s conceptions of a worthy life. At any point in the lifespan, suffering makes our need to hear what is within acute.”
“We see our Shadow as a source of humiliation that we try to hide—usually through some kind of perfectionism,” explains Phil Stutz. ”The counter-intuitive truth is that when we reveal the Shadow… its nature changes. It becomes a source of creativity and confidence.”
This is because it has been noted by students of the psyche, and Jung in particular, that, as psychologist Ken Page puts it: ”Our deepest wounds surround our greatest gifts.” Continues Page, “Cervantes said that reading a translation is like viewing a tapestry from the back. That’s what it’s like when we try to understand our deepest struggles without honoring the gifts that fuel them.”
“Core gifts are not the same as talents or skills,” continues Page. “In fact, until we understand them, they often feel like shameful weaknesses, or as parts of ourselves too vulnerable to expose.” He gives examples of a client who feels she is “too much,” whose core gift is passion. Another who feels he is “not enough,” whose core gift is humility.
“Yet [these vulnerable parts of ourselves] are where our soul lives…” Page observes. “But gifts aren’t hall-passes to happiness. They get us into trouble again and again. We become most defensive-or most naïve-around them. They challenge us and the people we care about. They ask more of us than we want to give. And we can be devastated when we feel them betrayed or rejected…”
“Since the heat of our core is so hard to handle,” details Page, “we protect ourselves by moving further out from the center. Each ring outward represents a more airbrushed version of ourselves. Each makes us feel safer, puts us at less risk of embarrassment, failure, and rejection. Yet, each ring outward also moves us one step further from our soul, our authenticity, and our sense of meaning…
“So, most of us set up shop at a point where we are close enough to be warmed by our gifts, but far enough away that we do not get burned by their fire. We create safer versions of ourselves to enable us to get through our lives without having to face the existential risk of our core.” (“How Our Insecurities Can Reveal Our Deepest Gifts”).
Considering these angles, it becomes easier to see how the symbolic dragon of the shadow side protects our greatest riches, and how shining a light on our darkness is one time-tested way to liberate the luminous gold of our authentic self.
The only way out is through. Once we begin to see the value in our shadow aspects and dark night periods — whether it’s a dark night day, month or year — we can learn to stop resisting the discomfort and surrender to the process, to view it as an initiation, a transition. If we view every aspect of the journey as sacred, we are better able to glean its gifts, for behind the dark night awaits a silver dawn.