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“Only that which has been properly separated can be rightfully joined.”
Working Through Depression with Alchemy
by Iona Miller, 2/2008
"Right at the beginning you meet the dragon, the chthonic spirit, the devil or, as the alchemists called it, the blackness, the nigredo, and this encounter produces suffering..." ~ Carl Jung
"I am an infirm and weak old man, surnamed the dragon; therefore am I shut up in a cave, that I may become ransomed by the kingly crown...A fiery sword inflicts great torments on me; death makes weak my flesh and bones...My soul and my spirit depart; a terrible poison, I am likened to the black raven, for that is the wages of sin; in dust and earth I lie, that out of Three may come One. O soul and spirit leave me not, that I may see again the light of day, and the hero of peace whom the whole world shall behold may arise from me..." ~ Aurelia Occulta Philosophorum
THE GREAT WORK
Alchemy is the Great Work, a process of separation, transformation and integration. This is just as true of the substances worked experimentally in the retort as it is of the personality undergoing the transformative process. You are the alchemical vessel and the contents of your psyche is the means and object of transformation. As the images and substances change, you change too.
There is theory and practice in science, and two applications in alchemy -- spiritual alchemy and experimental alchemy involving literal lab work. You can work either method separately or both in concert. Our true selves are beyond what our conscious awareness alone could ever make of us.
Benchwork is a projective mechanism that mirrors your psychic transformation synchronistically. Projection turns into a clarifying image. You gain an experiential knowledge of the elements and materials of alchemy, rather than just comprehending a concept.
There is a treasure to be discovered. Your psychophysical being is a vessel of the soul and spirit. The physical body is sustained by the energy body, the field body and its zero-point component. You are made of the fabric of spacetime. The alchemical axiom, “As Above, So Below” means there is a universe to explore within yourself and you are not separate from the whole Cosmos in any way.
The raw psychic contents (prima materia) become cooked (ultima materia). There is no quick fix to the accumulated baggage of life. The method works if you do, but you must be motivated, either by passion or despair to enter into such an arcane pursuit. You must dare to seize the noble fruit. The impetus may come from an inexplicable attraction to the experimental alchemical art, life passages, spiritual longing, an illness or dis-ease of body or mind, or both.
The spiritual landscape is changing and alchemy offers a safe harbor for the drifting spirit beyond institutional or cult affiliation. Many paths are vying for participants but alchemy chooses you. It is a self-initiatory path that provides a structure or scaffolding for metaphorical death and rebirth, a generic process described in many traditions. But you must remain dedicated to the process.
In exploring the unknown you are exploring yourself. The journey to wholeness often begins with a retreat – into oneself, your interior nature. The experience can be one of darkness, coldness, the isolation of the self-imposed outsider. Your energy is purposefully turning inward and it is best to follow it, even to amplify that dynamic. Some choose the laboratory, some a therapeutic setting, some plant allies, and others an eclectic self-directed approach.
We all have negative tendencies, self-destructive compulsions, self-sabotaging impulses, or neurotic self-defeating patterns. This is our psychological baggage. In his or her work, the novice alchemist channels both the voluntary and compulsive aspects of the depression that can drive the urge to transform.
The work itself forms a vessel of transformation, a safe place where the alchemist can be fully open to nature and his or her own primordial nature. With alchemy you can work with your thoughts and feelings rather than fighting or avoiding them. Once initiated, the unfolding cycles of the Magnum Opus naturally lead through and beyond the nigredo toward breakthroughs rather than breakdown, emergence rather than emergency.
You must grow and face your fears to solve the problems of multidimensional existence. But to do so you have to make spiritual growth a priority by giving it time and attention. Only your comprehension of the deeper nature of depression, recognizing the call, and your commitment to the conscious struggle for transformation makes it alchemical. Then you rescue the fragmented parts of yourself. Suffering is meaningful. It leads to empathy, which funds active compassion.
TALES FROM THE DARK SIDE
Part of the art of alchemy is decoding your own symbolic language. Depression means you have lost your dream and have yet to reconnect with a new one, with the new images or symbols that can pull you forward toward your future. Primal people call it loss of soul. We recognize it as loss of self-worth.
You hurt so much that you may be convinced you are going to die or even wish you would. But the fantasies of death are telegraphing a metaphorical message. Your old self is on its way out. Getting into this morbid state is the point. You have acute awareness of your mortality. The experience of maximum despair is “hitting bottom”. You are a mess. The good thing is there is nowhere to go but up. What do you want your tombstone to say?
You are metaphorically decomposing. This is the paradoxical flip side of ego inflation, toxic narcissism, and shallow self-absorption. It keeps us from responding to even outstanding opportunities. This crisis is an extraordinary opportunity to re-create your life and world. You have to learn how to use your strengths and skills while you meet multiple challenges and stressors. You need to uncover your buried potential and mine the gold of your buried talents and creativity.
This hero’s depression lifts once you embark on your mission with purpose, based on finding your inner vision. Once you’ve heard the “Call to Adventure” you have enthusiasm, passion, intentionality and direction. You determine to persevere through the crisis, but the road has many trials. The devil comes as chaos, suffering or pain. Psychophysical suffering feels like wandering around in fear and darkness – a dark night of the soul, even a journey to Hell.
The ancient Greek vision of Hades was that of a dark, cold, windy, dry realm. This is a good metaphor of all our early traumas of abandonment, hunger, loss, sorrow and shame that are frozen in the labyrinthine halls of psyche. We cannot meet or accept life's legitimate suffering. We can't grieve these ominous shadows so they pile up on us creating blind spots, despair, denial, and wrongful assumptions. The trouble they cause is their demand to be seen for what they are.
This glacial ice cave houses unresolved issues that continue to affect our relationships with self, others and world. It drives our compulsions for achievement and the pain of loneliness. We all carry the burdens of self-doubt and loneliness. We simply remove ourselves from whatever we cannot or will not process, but they remain alive and powerful though buried or frozen, multiplying in scope and weight as we grow older.
Though lack of unconditional acceptance is a natural part of human experience, these unhealing wounds are the hidden focus of our conscious lives. These early losses hang around frozen in time, as if they are still happening. Simply changing their apparent expression, they obstruct the flow of our lives until we recognize and acknowledge them.
The unhealing wounds of unrealized suffering, self-delusion, addiction, chronic depression, compulsivity, failed relationships and some physical illness present opportunities throughout life to reconcile and resolve what we couldn't heal earlier. The word 'resolve' echoes the alchemical maxim of 'Solve et Cogaula," the liquification and reintegration of essentially frozen psychic energy.
Heartache and pain, a persistent sense of failure and inadequacy are core human experiences. We feel a hunger or sense we are missing something. The older we get, the more the fear of death creeps in, feeding the desire to numb out and not feel anything at all. Death tempts and attacks us in this predestined confrontation.
This unfinished business locks us into a distorted "virtual" reality, a false self. When we are out of balance and pursue pleasure at any cost, our old wound is showing. If these deepening shadows mess up our lives enough, we are forced to break free and tunnel out of the cocoon of distortions and self-loathing. This deadly and dreaded challenge to your courage can reconnect you with your lost confidence by drawing on transpersonal resources. It is an unavoidable part of the journey to an authentic life.
Constructive discontent can drive our best thoughts, emotions, and actions. But to get to its root you must enter a tomblike passageway, making a journey to “the center of the Earth,” to the center of yourself to gain the treasure, the cure, the grace. This is engagement with power within.
You can't go back so you must go forward. We have the potential to grow beyond mere personal fulfillment to transpersonal experiences. New information you gain from the unconscious helps you create a dynamic new situation, an ever-widening, self-perpetuating cycle that restores flow.
What if you actually believed you are a capable and worthwhile person? How would building and aligning with greater mental, emotional and physical power within impact all facets of your life and relationships? What would life be like if you really opened a new pathway that helps you live, lead and succeed in your purpose, in your essential nature? What is blocking you?
When old defenses no longer work, you must develop new coping skills for developmental challenges. But this initiatory way includes many deaths and rebirths. Nigredo, the blackening, isn’t always the first stage, but may be one of relapse, eclipse or another incubation stage.
Nigredo is a recurrent cycle of desire and frustration with no real beginning. Your energies are sucked from the outer world and turned in on themselves. Normal life is radically disrupted. When you are paralyzed by life there is nothing to do but let go of your control fantasies. An eclipse of the ego offers a way into the deeper energies of the unconscious.
After involuntary or voluntary symbolic death, reborn spirit eventually emerges from the rotting corpse of the old self with its limiting worldview. This death is equivalent to the conception of the legendary Philosopher’s Stone. Death becomes your ally and advisor. Meditators are advised to “die daily” in their practice. The ego is eclipsed but the Stone is born. These trials nourish the Self. Vision expands, wisdom deepens, self matures.
Conscious alchemy offers a direction, an operational roadmap for realizing your highest potential. It is a psychospiritual path, approached experimentally and spiritually. You make the experiment on yourself. It is a whole brain, whole self process, involving both rational and irrational forces.
Psyche has a regressive tendency. If you block the process of growth, depression will recur, again and again. You will regress anytime your work goes awry, you seemingly take a step backward, or circumstances weigh you down. Each octave of work brings exponential results. Over time, you catch yourself in self-defeating acts sooner in the cycle. But the full weight of the dirty business must be born each time disruption intrudes chaotically into your life.
Even the root of the word “alchemy” refers to the black soil of Egypt. This Egypt is an imaginal realm of Hermetic mysteries, which created the dying and rising god Osiris. This root mystery influenced many cultures, including the Eleusinian rites of ancient Greece. Initiatory rebirth is an awakening into a higher life. It is echoed in the rites of Dionysus, Attis, Adonis, and Mithras. Death and spiritual rebirth permeates all the mystery religions. Hermetic texts influenced the growth of European alchemy.
You must bury your old self in that rejuvinating soil for new life to emerge. The nigredo means seeing all through the bleak eyes of depression but it also means “seeing through” the meaning and value of depression. You may belong to a guild of like-minded travellers, but you walk the transformative path alone. It is a solitary journey.
The nigredo is often called the first alchemical operation but there is no distinct order handed down from tradition. It is the first stage of mortificatio – the killing of the old worn out or obsolete personality. Many people seek a spiritual path because of their existential despair. The old self must dissolve, the neurosis must be liquified and reduced to the primal condition.
Only a purging fire will turn this darkness white. It might be the slow heat of a rotting corpse or fetid compost pile but the inner fire is lit. Like a struck flint, flashes of insight ignite the inner fire which leads to searing visions of the truth of your reality and channel your burning desire toward further transformation that brings clarity.
“Something” in you has already died and it’s beginning to stink. This blackening phase of the alchemical process describes a gloomy time of depression. All the signs seem inauspicious. You feel unlucky, caught in a black mood whose origin may be difficult to pinpoint. This is because your current ego attitudes are outdated.
You feel stuck because you aren’t coping or adapting to present circumstances. These feelings may come into your life due to an overload of stress, financial and relationship problems or clinical depression. Depression is a “no love” script. Love may be there but you have lost the capacity to feel it. You wonder in anguish, “Is this all there is?"
There are three main types of clinical depressive disorders: major depressive disorder, dysthymia (mood swings), and the depressive lows of bipolar disorder. Mania is a defense against depression. Self-deception, loss of self-esteem and anger are part of it. Conventional treatment freely dispenses antidepressants. However, that just adds to the numbing and fakeness.
Paradoxically, both depression and its medical cure cause the personality to become “flat,” libido is suppressed. An integrative approach includes psychosocial therapy to focus on the personal, interpersonal, and transpersonal issues behind depression. A wide range of severe side effects make antidepressants alone poor therapy, particularly for seekers in spiritual crisis. The condition must be actively addressed. Medication suppresses self-expression just like addiction kills creativity.
Poison is in the cure. Research has shown that traumatic experiences can change the way the brain works. So can talk therapy, and even more so, process-oriented therapy, which creates flow experiences. Self-regulation can be learned, using resonance techniques, concentration and meditation. The brain undergoes changes similar to those induced by medication but in a positive, adaptive way that arises within.
Whether we speak of normal experience, chronic depression or grief, it is a fact that frustration is deeply woven into the fabric of life. We are riddled with desires and programmed by ideals. Should some of our real or imagined needs be temporarily met, we immediately begin wishing for more.
Chronic dissatisfaction stands in the way of our contentment. Depression has its roots in failure to adjust to lowered expectations of self, others, and a world that doesn’t meet our childish needs. Overcoming the anxiety and depressions of contemporary life requires a drastic change in attitude about what is important and what is not.
Faust was given power by the Devil on condition that he would never be satisfied with what he has. The advertising myth of the “American Dream” did the same thing to us all. Happiness and satisfaction with life depend on how small a gap you perceives between what you wish for and what you possess. Traditional social shields such as religion, ethnic traditions, patriotism, etc. no longer are effective for many disrupted by the harsh winds of chaos.
Psychic disorder produces conflicting signals that prevent or distract us from carrying out our good intentions. We give this condition many names, depending on how we experience it: pain, fear, rage, anxiety, depression, ennui, anomie, or jealousy. All these varieties of disorder divert and force our attention obsessively into undesirable directions. Energetic flow is blocked.
The new biological explanations of mental disorders as neurotransmitter imbalances make “good stories” but still lack empirical substantiation. Over-diagnosis has led to a “pharmademic” of over-medicated “pod people.” Yet, research shows that talk therapy and self-regulation techniques are as effective as drugs. The cornerstones of psychotherapy are insight and emotional growth.
If you practice alchemy with the feedback of other practitioners, it functions as a process-oriented therapy, allowing for projection and solution of problems. It is one of the most ancient spiritual paths. Spiritual technologies are the intuitive response to depression and the ever-present fear of death.
Many individuals experience a period of melancholia between the ages of 28 to 30 (and again at 55 to 60). Astrologically, this is triggered by Saturn return, the return of the planet to its original position in the natal chart. Classically, it is a time of disappointment, divorce, soul-searching and reassessment of values and orientation in life. It also holds the seed of mastery.
Saturn governs the aging process, since it represents actualization of more and more of one's potential. It presides over lingering death and chronic illness. At its worst, senex consciousness destroys spontaneity, obsessed by its repetitive disciplines into a narrowness of emotions, mental processes, and activities. Saturn has “control issues” and also rules crises situations of life and the mental cravings of “lust for results.”
The planet Saturn puts the accent on responsibility, in this case responsibility to yourself for fulfilling your potential. Finally, you are truly growing up and your destiny begins to take form. You may be pressured into it, even if you resist it, and this is that black mood's positive intent. Suffering becomes a meaningful path.
You may think you are not depressed because your feelings are numbed out or you make sure you stay too busy to notice. You may just be in denial with workaholism, hypochondria, an antisocial personality, substance abuse problem, hyperactivity, compulsivity, oppositional behavior, rage, or other means of devil may care acting out and acting in. You may try many horizontal escapes, but no matter where you go, there you are.
Having lost the sweet savor of life, you may be feeling older than your years, not in a good way but rigid and humorless with a thousand aches and pains. If chronic degenerative disease isn’t enough, there is the continual futureshock of new technology and morphing culture. If you are young, depression masquerades as anxiety, a conflict of opposites, generational and social rebellion, alienation, and angst.
Your behavior telegraphs the underlying depression to those with eyes to see. They know because they have been through it. Often when you are in it, you can’t see it. You might even unconsciously use your predicament to manipulate the sympathy and attention of others. But something’s just not right and you sense it in every fiber of your being.
Like Charlie Brown with his dark cloud, most of us have felt depressed in greater or lesser degree. Loss is a psychophysical experience. Since everything changes as time flows, and change entails loss, this is not surprising. Sometimes we lose face through shameful behavior, in our own eyes and those of others. There are some things we just need to face directly even if they are scary or painful.
We grow sad and depressed when a person we love dies or a cherished phase of life passes. Grief is universal and normal. In fact, failure to grieve is evidence of psychological abnormality. Staying stuck in grief is not healthy; it suppresses the immune system and élan vital. Process work in alchemy or therapy is a way of moving on. Mourning is work and takes mental effort.
Mourning is characteristically a state of mind, but it is accompanied by a host of painful somatic sensations that are remarkably uniform. In acute grief we experience physical distress occurring in waves lasting from twenty minutes to an hour at a time, a feeling of tightness in the throat, choking with shortness of breath. We need to sigh, have an empty feeling in the abdomen, lack of muscular power, and intense subjective distress we call tension or mental pain.
Traumatic bereavement happens in a variety of settings including personal and community violence, even global catastrophe. Traumatic bereavement contrasts experiences of quiet death at home, without mutilation, bodily distortion, shock, threat, horror, and helplessness. Reactions to the traumatic circumstances are different and predict more adverse health outcomes for the bereaved.
Traumatic stress interferes with the grieving process. The emotional aspect of grief is just as painful as the somatic. Inner anguish, loss of interest in a dreary, empty world, isolation from other people, loneliness and feelings of inner emptiness seem to persist for an eternity. In this way, grief mimics clinical depression.
The call to heal and the call to death are ultimately the same call to formlessness, to return to source. Many disorders display symptoms and imagery which represent stalled stages in the natural consciousness restructuring process. We get stuck in our attempts to heal ourselves.
What's New with My Subject?
Alchemy is a creative, synergetic process. It produces the universal medicine because it is essentially a healing process. Healing is a form of creativity. You become aware of previously unconscious emotions and find patterns in your behavior. You learn discernment and to intervene in our own negative cycle by exercising, practicing your passion, thought-stopping and changing your messages to yourself.
This curative power is that of the wounded healer archetype. Conscious alchemy means self-care, self-regulation, and self-help through a philosophical mindbody lifestyle. In an eclectic approach, you choose what works for you. You apply it with a level of intensity that meets or exceeds the compelling nature of the depression. Knowing yourself is true wisdom and mastering yourself is true power. You learn to modulate your own neurochemistry to improve your quality of life.
What is described as the Elixir or Universal Medicine is a primary goal of alchemy. Those who take this literally might seek it in spagyrics or the "white gold" of Ormus, but it can just as easily be the mobilization of the body's own healing potential through psychoneuroimmunology and/or the placebo effect.
The Void exist within us just as it pervades the entire cosmos. Uncountable photons flicker on and off within us and influence the holographic blueprint of the body that is transcribed through our DNA and gene expression. The essence of healing is a return to the unconditioned state, free of all conditioning and full of primordial energy potential. Coherent light and sonic resonance or cymatics are present at the intracellular level. http://virtualphysics.50megs.com
We can take responsibility for our bodies and health, reclaiming our inherent shamanic, yogic and psychosomatic self-healing power. This alone changes our compassionate spiritual relationship to self, others, and universe. Meditation masters of all traditions speak of this primordial inner light and its brilliant healing power - Medicine Light.
The old-yet-new healing paradigm includes non-material but highly effective shamanic, psychic and spiritual tech that can be applied effectively in any cultural context. Mind is more than a powerless prisoner of the body. It has the power of focus, committed attention and intentionality. When you take responsibility for you own healing and well-being, the self-organizing power of your own hyperdimensional organism creates a positive resonance.
Healing fosters our evolutionary potential. Personal stillpoint is the point of release and reconnection. There is catharsis in the void. We touch our source, drink of the wellspring of life, reboot our system. Potentials are the source of all electromagnetic phenomena. To realize our own potential, we need to learn the art of living well, not just living better.
We can root out the disturbances of the past and transform them into assets, or strengths. We can remove the incongruencies of conflicting agendas in our belief systems and their fallout - our unresolved feelings. When we change our attitudes about ourselves and our past, we initiate a cascade of neurological changes that cover all four domains of our being. We can cultivate deeper awareness. The mind can change what "matters" to embody a healthier self.
The symbols of alchemy represent aspects of yourself. As you manipulate them, the attitudes associated with them morph. You start recovering from acute depression and become less vulnerable to depression in the future. We heal in the ground of our being.
The healing comes from deep inside not outside, adding to a sense of personal empowerment, rather than reliance or dependence on a pill or another person or an intangible belief. Suffering teaches us to nurture hope. Healthier lifestyle choices may follow.
Sadness is a clarifying and relieving emotion that helps us move on after losses. On the other hand, depression is a paralyzing short-circuit of self-doubt and self-recrimination. Sometimes people become depressed because they are not appropriately angry or sad over the situation. Self-reported distress includes the experience of headaches, faintness, loss of sexual appetite, trouble remembering things, uncontrolled temper outbursts, blaming oneself, pains in the lower back, feelings of inferiority to others, feeling hopeless and nauseous.
A BITTER PILL
Some lives are structured around a depressive life script. Often someone occupies the Victim role in the drama triangle, but switches periodically into the Persecutor role, or through magical means into the Rescuer role. The timing of the script is “Wait.” The “wait” is for a magical occurrence that transforms the world without requiring us to take an active part to initiate change. This is the secret meaning of “initiation” – it includes practice. It must be experiential. One must maintain a beginner’s mind.
The blocks include negative self-talk: “Don’t Succeed,” “Don’t Think,” “Don’t Be Close,” “Don’t Have Fun,” and “Don’t Judge Others.” Even “new age guilt”: “It’s my fault I’m sick; I did it to myself.” Medications may suppress symptoms, but turn you into a homogenized “pod person.” By themselves, they are never a cure. As such, they should be used only to recalibrate for the real healing process. They don’t deal with issues of guilt or change self-accusatory self-talk.
An experience we think is worthless can turn out to be the portal to healing, deepening and enriching us, funding our compassion for self and others. “Healing” does not necessarily mean a cure or total elimination of all symptoms. It has to do with a subjective process, difficult to describe. Self-expression has a curative value. As you work with symbols to manifest them, they heal you right back. By its very nature, the alchemical process is irrational, totally individual, and yet linked to a timeless and universal experience.
The therapist gives helpful encouragement to integrate new knowledge, or relate to the unintegratable, and accept it. Alchemy also helps us understand what the unconscious is saying directly. This promotes growth according to our own inner laws, allowing the unfolding of the total potential. Alchemy helps you conduct a similar process of self-initiation on yourself. The guide is your higher self, perhaps in some personification, pulling you toward your future.
Flow helps us to integrate the self because in a state of deep concentration consciousness is unusually well ordered. Thoughts, intentions, feelings, and all senses are focused on the same goal. Concentration and ritual are forms of meditation – in alchemy, the meditatio. Experience is in harmony. And when the flow episode is over, one feels more “together” than before, not only internally but also with respect to other people, the world and cosmos in general.
Ultimately, it matters little what complex mechanisms help us mobilize our own inner capacity for healing. The fact that we enter the healing process with commitment and intentionality is far more important. Taking the journey toward healing means we recreate the archetypal journey of the hero or heroine, who is neither helpless nor hopeless, but approaches fate with determinism and courage.
Is pain, grief, depression, fear, anxiety, guilt, relationship or career disappointment, rejection, alienation, inner conflict, victimization, resentment, superstition, rage, self-doubt or procrastination holding you back? Perhaps your old view of your self has become confining, obsolete, role-bound, or you just feel stuck. Are you afraid you can't cope with either failure or success? We always have to adapt to our environment. You have to TRY, even to fail. Maybe you think your 'glory days' are all in the past.
Through conscious alchemy you can retrieve the psychophysical biochemistry of your balanced and peak performance states. You can apply this felt sense to pain management as well as emotional issues or boosting your potential. By recalling vital times, you essentially regress your body chemistry to a more youthful you, and minimize the toxic chemistry of stress. This allows both body and mind to relax and recalibrate homeostasis. You can also draw on the support and encouragement of your evolving future self through imagination.
Just as one incident can create trauma, one healing moment can change that instantly. When we willingly submit to the universal process of death and renewal we activate transpersonal resources that transcend our own limited capacities for restructuring our consciousness and self-healing. Ultimately all healing is self-healing, and implies profound self-acceptance, and can lead to loving acceptance of others and the world as it is, rather than as we would like it to be. This is the basis of compassion and service.
ENVISION YOUR FUTURE
Perhaps you lack the right tools to help you realize your potential, to make it so. Self-mastery is a continuous process, which can be used to improve your position wherever you currently find yourself. Our motivations come from our beliefs and values. But along the road of life we may not have developed the resources to deploy our skills or have fallen into traps that derail us when we try.
Identifying beliefs and roadblocks is a solid first step to change. You already probably know exactly what you would like to change, and just how you feel when that's not happening, and even where you feel that in your body and what it is like. This technique allows you to get in touch with a metaphor of your situation.
The body is an alchemical furnace. The brain sends chemical messengers -- neurotransmitters of pain and pleasure -- throughout the body. In turn, the body sends signals to the brain about its sense of distress or safety and well-being.
We can intervene intentionally in this cycle at any point. We can use nutrition, exercise, self-talk and psycho-sensory exercises that create the kinds of experiences that move us forward in our goals. This is 21st Century alchemy - intentionally changing body chemistry from both inside and outside. Our organism obeys one of the maxims of information technology: "Garbage In; Garbage Out".
Studies have shown that the mindbody cannot distinguish imagination from reality in its automatic reactions. The same internal chemistry is produced whether you do something or imagine it, making mind and body truly one. Transform your imagination into reality.
It all starts and ends with imagination - with what you picture in your mind and the self-talk you use to convince yourself what things mean and what to do. This is where you develop vision and create meaning, which leads to purpose and understanding your mission in life. To change your mind, along with the feelings, attitudes and chemistry that it creates, just systematically change your imagination - the image you hold of your self, others, and world.
Inner guidance comes through the intimate connection between the chemistry of your body and that of your mind and moods. We all recognize a gut-feeling when we have it. Health and well-being involves physical, emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions.
A healthy mindbody opens the way to balance, integration, and inner peace, without resorting to personality-distorting medications. Research has shown that therapy is as effective as antidepressants. We all need exercise, affection, and discipline. We also benefit from reflection or self-knowledge. This alchemical investigation of self is a spiritual journey toward increased balance and mastery.
THE SHADOW KNOWS
Your shadow consists of all the baggage you have stuffed into your false self. You are either afraid to show it, or paradoxically compelled to show it in impulsive behavior. Either way, it is out of control. Acting out self-limiting, self-defeating or self-destructive tendencies means the shadow is running the show. Anger, sadness and fear block joy.
When your ego can no longer pursue only its selfish concerns and addictive demands, the Self forces you into a depression to shake up the stagnant order of things. It brings a burning awareness of your shortcomings and inadequacies. To get to the root of these, you need to process old traumas and negative core beliefs that limit you severely. The self appears on your inner stage as the shadow, and confronts you with your inferior traits.
"The head of the Raven" is another traditional name for the nigredo. It corresponds to the encounter with the shadow. Your ego and the shadow must eventually be reconciled. Your restlessness and disorientation come from your conscious experience of conflict between conscious and unconscious drives. The unconscious must be transformed. The Self devours itself and dies, only to rise again when the work is perfected. But feelings of guilt, worthlessness and powerlessness must be suffered and worked through patiently.
The Shadow is a ‘splinter personality’ that prevents you from realizing your unique potential for personal fulfillment. Cowardice, laziness, ambivalence, rashness, dishonesty, envy, greed, lust, vanity, and attachment, and other self-indulgent tendencies will have to be faced directly. The narcissistic shadow is the diametrical opposite of our positive assets. If you are compulsively organized in daily life, the shadow is a slacker. If you are puritanical, the shadow is promiscuous.
Our dark side isn’t necessarily acted out in self-destructive behavior, but if it has no means of self-expression no ego can transform beyond this phase of development. Some form of inner dialogue is useful. You must come to a conscious understanding of those things you have repressed, and have not been able, nor dared to live out. As a symbol of the self, the shadow embodies the primitive, dark background from which we all emerge. But only the ego passes negative judgment on the shadow. The self embraces all opposites, including good and bad.
Highly religious individuals, who tend to over-identify with the great good of the Light, have shadows that may assume the form of a devilish adversary. What may start as good intentions becomes perverted through repression not transformation. But in the broader reality, the shadow gives human existence body and depth. In physics, the brighter the light, the deeper the shadows which are cast by it. The shadow embodies our hidden agendas, ulterior motives and pathologies.
If you do not take responsibility for consciously becoming aware of your shadow traits, you will find them projected onto others (of the same sex) in your environment. You may feel an irrational instinctive hatred for virtual strangers. This is the collective basis of racial prejudice. When you feel any emotion that seems highly exaggerated, it usually means you are projecting. When that extreme emotion is irrational vehemence, you are projecting your own repressed weakness onto others. To do this you must deny a part of yourself and you cannot experience wholeness.
Therefore, in order to continue your process of transformation, you must come to an awareness of your particular shadow characteristics. If you reach down deeply enough, you will find that the shadow is not only negative, but holds your unlived potential for positive change, also.
As you re-own this lost part of yourself, you open a channel between the conscious and the superconscious levels, between the ego and the self. This experience can bring a flood of light, joy, and energy, which brings temporary release from the depression.
Even your psychosomatic symptoms may vanish suddenly. It’s more than placebo effect.
If your personality is not well-grounded you may not be able to assimilate an inflow of light and strength. The alchemist must balance intellect and emotion by using imagination in a controlled way to digest this sudden illuminating insight. For your ego to react with egotism or conceit is to confuse itself with the power of the self. This confusion of levels has the unfortunate effect of creating a self-glorification. Of course, you are divine, but it is Source shining through you.
If you are bedazzled by spiritual truths beyond your mental power to digest, you may become self-deluded and/or victimized by a cult. You need to develop your powers of discrimination. Megalomania is extreme egotism and can lead a person to act out the role of prophet or savior, spurred on by the excitement of his or her own inner awakening.
You may begin experiencing paranormal phenomena, ESP, clairvoyance, or synchronicities (meaningful coincidences). You may have visions of divine beings, or hear voices, or dabble with automatic writing. Be sure to examine any messages of uncommon origin with discrimination. Any messages exalting your personality should be automatically suspect.
Other reactions to spiritual awakening may occur later as doubts fall away and inner security is found. You may be elated for a time, but your personal self was only temporarily overpowered not permanently transformed. When the spiritual influx ebbs away you may be in for trouble from your ego, which desperately seeks to reassert its dominion.
The trap is to judge yourself even more harshly for being merely human. You have not fallen lower than when you began, but you may feel the full fury of the lower drives when their uncontrolled expression is threatened. They may rear their ugly heads with more force than ever.
Another reaction is to deny the value and reality of your spiritual awakening. The inner critic, or skeptic, creates doubts and attempts to label it a fantasy. With bitterness and sarcasm you may rebuke your aspirations and ideals. But when you have had a transformative vision, you cannot deny it for long, and remain healthy. It brings more depression, a sense of unworthiness, and the feeling you are damned. Nigredo can be likened to "going through Hell."
All those in the arts and sciences experience periods of aridity and inability to work. No new inspirations come. You feel cut off from the source of creative flow. The depression and restlessness that result may lead to alcohol or drugs, until or unless the sudden flow of inspiration brings a sense of renewal.
You need to be aware of the true nature of this crisis, and realize that an exalted state cannot be maintained forever. It is no fall from grace, but a natural occurrence that gives you emotional and mental relief from the tensions of inspiration and illumination. After all, you can only digest so much change at once. Instead of staying stuck in the depression you can continue on the path to self-realization.
MEANING & MYSTERY
It is impossible to feel isolated, lonely, and “dead” with a felt sense of revivifying identification, which stems from direct experience of the dynamic whole of reality. It restores our sense of personal wholeness. We are an indivisible part of a flow in the whole field of consciousness. The entire cosmos is contained holographically within us: “As Above; So Below.”
When we become “superconductors” of consciousness, we draw from the spiritual wellsprings of life and health, that which eternally makes the world bloom anew, which brings re-enchantment. The “dam” of depression which has blocked the dynamic flow of life and love cannot withstand this immense healing force forever. It breaks through the “dead void” and one is no longer estranged from the power of the dynamic ground-state of existence, or cosmic unity.
What was lost has been found. The wilderness is no longer barren. Life blossoms and bears fruit. The self is the whole range of psychic phenomena, a psychic organ of perception. The self is transcendent, a center between conscious and unconscious, because it points to an unlimited future and unbound creative expansion of the evolutionary process. It signifies the harmony and balance of various opposing forces. Symbols of the self can be anything the ego recognizes as a greater totality than itself: the androgyne, the diamond body, the flower of life, the Elixir, the Stone.
The average heart beats two billion times and you can change utterly in any one of them. Reclaim your innate capacity for changing the cellular, subatomic, and psychophysical processes of your energy body. WHAT YOU THINK and the excitation level of your overall system changes your chemistry, markedly. We are fluid fields, through which energy and matter dynamically flow and change. Lifestyle, diet, emotional state and consciousness play a huge role in health and disease. We can catalyze our psychophysical homeostasis and spontaneous healing processes, complementing any traditional care we may require.
Restoration of the flow-state comes through identification with the alchemical process. Genius embodies powers greater than our own for no one can ever embody at once all the potential qualities of archetypal Self. But we can become extraordinary by transforming our character like carving a diamond from the rough.
Self is the primordial I AM of Being, as fundamental as inhalation and exhalation. Our lives are defined by their limitations and the strategies we use to cope with and overcome them. The self expresses the unity of the personality as a Whole, our holistic organism. The unconscious, including the mindbody and energy body, is the medium from which the sacred Source flows forth.
This is the serpentine process of healing. It changes us at the quantum, energetic and psychobiological levels. It literally changes our biochemistry. Creative flow states have the power to restructure our consciousness at the most fundamental level. Alchemy is an endless source of creativity, spiritual sustenance, and pleasure. Passion for the Great Work connects you experientially with Mystery.
Campbell, Joseph (1976), The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Bollingen.
Miller, Iona, “Conscious Alchemy,” (2006) consciousalchemy.50megs.com/
Miller, Iona and Graywolf Swinney, (2000) CHAOSOPHY 2000, “Depressive Disorders / Grief and the Consciousness Restructuring Process,” Asklepia Foundation. www.asklepia.org/Chaosophy...onCRP.html
Miller, Iona and Richard Alan Miller (1994), THE MODERN ALCHEMIST: A Guide to Personal Transformation, Phanes Press: Grand Rapids, Michigan. themodernalchemist.chaosmagic.com
Iona Miller is a consultant and nonfiction writer for both the academic and popular press, a hypnotherapist (ACHE), and multimedia artist. Her work is an omnisensory fusion, a metaphysical mashup of interdisciplinary cultures. Though practiced in many specific doctrines, she takes greater interest in the EFFECTS of doctrines from religion, metaphysics, science, psychology, and the arts. Our beliefs are the moldable raw material of the psyche, manipulated by governments, media and culture. How do we become what we are and how is that process changing in the near future?
Ms. Miller writes for the international academic and popular press and is published by Phanes Press, Destiny Books (Inner Traditions), Autonomedia, Nexus Magazine, Dream Network, PM&E, and more. She serves on the Boards of Medigrace.org, and The Wisdom Center, nonprofit organizations. Recent print articles include Der Golem (Germany), Paranoia zine #44, #46 (USA), HunterGatheress Anthology, JNLRMI (Russia), Antibothis (Portugal), The Art of Fetish (Miami), and Journal of Interdisciplinary Crossroads (India). Her artwork has shown in Miami, Phoenix, New York, and more. She has appeared in 21st Century Radio, Untamed Dimensions, Reality Portal, Digital Long Island, etc.