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It is another beautiful day here in Puerto Morelos. This morning I tried meditating in a different location other than tucked in a corner of the studio apartment. I was able to enjoy the sound of the breeze, the feel of the breeze, and the sound of the water lapping against the pylons of the pier. I sat at the far right corner which sticks out even further into the sea. Because of the hour and time of day, I did keep on my bathing suit while meditating. It was an experience worth repeating, only tomorrow [weather permitting] I will go there two hours earlier, before my morning coffee with my wife. While I meditate, she does yoga, so this is a shared experience in its own way.
Meditation is vital for me. Because of my history as a child and as a youth, I have lived in a self-imposed straight-jacket as I tried to contain the demons that haunted me. When it became too much to contain, it was in meditation where I first found the path to ease the strain and thus be able to move forward into another day of masking the psychic pain that wanted to swallow me. I needed meditation, but didn’t really know why.
“Well, meditation is dealing with purpose itself… Generally we have a purpose for whatever we do: something is going to happen in the future, therefore, whatever I am doing now is important — everything is related to that. But the whole idea of meditation is to develop an entirely different way of dealing with things, where you have no purpose at all. In fact, meditation is dealing with the question of whether or not there is a such thing as ‘purpose’.” [Trungpa, Meditation in Action]
Today, I know why I meditate. I know that this act of letting my ego consciousness give up control, in a way disappearing for a while, allows my body to feel the freedom from the prison of memories. While I meditate I don’t have any history of pain, of confusion, of betrayal or of being someone who has committed his fair share of betraying, confusing and of inflicting pain. I become a being, simply breath, sitting in my space which disappears leaving me freer than it is possible to imagine. I cease being a victim and a victimizer.
My body appreciates this momentary space where all is released, as does my spirit. I breath, I sit, I am. And, that is enough.
In Jungian psychology, the journey towards wholeness is called individuation. In alchemical terms, this wholeness is represented by the masculine and the feminine symbolism which takes the form of a holy wedding between the king and the queen. Knowing that the images are symbolic is vital for understanding of the psychological process. Within the psyche, the anima, or soul, is the feminine aspect; consciousness is the masculine aspect.
As to be expected, there are other symbols that are used to illustrate the idea of completion, of wholeness. One that finds it way into contemporary society is that of the sun and the moon contained together. As I walk down the street of my tiny town, I can see numerous examples of this image including several that are on my house. In Jungian terms, the sun is symbolic of consciousness, of the masculine principle; the moon is symbolic of the unconscious, or feminine principle. It is vital to differentiate the masculine and the feminine principles from biological males and females.
In social terms, the union of a man and a woman with the resulting creation of a child produces a wholeness that all societies embrace as family. This union of male and female has its roots in instinct, in the will to survive as a species. The union also has the impulse for completeness, for two to become one for a moment, a moment in which allows a transcendence of the painfully prosaic lives we live as individuals, even if we are in relationship with others.
With the act of union completed, it doesn’t take long for each to retreat within themselves and begin a grieving process for the loss of the other, for the loss of a sense of being at one with oneself. One returns to suffering.
“In talking about sex, we are getting into a very big topic. We are getting into the fact that every life situation has meaning behind it, or a process of communication in it. Communication can’y be established unless there are two parties, one of whom is the activator and the other the receiver. On that basis, any communication can be said to be sexual, although I’m not being Freudian here. The passionate quality of sex, doesn’t have to be involved necessarily. In order to communicate anything, however, you do have to have the true element of union. From the tantric point of view, everything is interpreted that way – in terms of union. There is the union of samsara ad nirvana, the union of phenomena and consciousness. We interpret it all in terms of the feminine and masculine principles. Everything is seen that way. (Trungpa, Work, Sex, Money, p. 106)
The union of masculine and feminine, the union of all dualities, polarities – the union of opposites and the achievement of wholeness, of one-ness.
Alchemy is an ancient art that has for its goal the transformation of turning base metals (lead and iron) into noble metals (gold and silver). Alchemy also had the goal of creating the elixir of life which would allow one to retain the appearance and energy of youth rather that the decline into old age and infirmity. Our modern world of chemistry continues the tradition established thousands of years ago, the tradition of transforming aspects of the outer world for the benefit of humans.
But alchemy is much more than about science and chemistry, it is also about the alchemist and the psychology of the human spirit which sees the possibilities going beyond what and who we are. Humans not only want more, they want to be more. We all are unsatisfied with ourselves in some fashion, physically, mentally, psychologically, spiritually, or in our relationships with others. We swallow pills and alcohol, we smoke various substances, we engage in various dietary regimes, undergo surgery or enter into psychoanalysis in hopes of changing ourselves.
I am no different. I meditate, I eat carefully and choose carefully what I eat, I take a few medications to help regulate body systems that have weakened over time. I abandoned practices that kept me subservient to spiritual authority and adopted a spiritual path that felt right. And in the process of doing things differently, I changed, I transformed.
When I bring up the word alchemy here, I will bring with it a psychological rather than a chemical association. I am not interested in test tubes and finding an answer out there. I am interested in finding answers within so that I can better appreciate who I am, and as a result, better appreciate others as individual humans.
I intend on presenting a series of posts that look at alchemy from a naturist and psychological point of view. If I accept that naturism allows one to achieve a physical state that is in holistic balance with the earth, with relationship with others and with the self, it is desirable that one looks for a psychological balance as well since we are as much spirit as we are body. I will draw on several major sources for this series. The first is a document written by Nigel Hamilton called “The Alchemical Process of Transformation.” The second source is a contemporary web site maintained by Adam McLean called, The Alchemy Web Site. The third source is a book written by Marie-Louise von Franz called, Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology. The final, and perhaps most important source is to be taken from the works of Carl Gustav Jung.
I am not an alchemist. However, there is much in the realm of alchemy which allows me to better understand myself, allows me to remove all the layers that hide the essence of who I am.
In following the model of alchemy from a Jungian psychology standpoint, the exposure to the naked self allows for a transformation at a conscious level. With that transformation, I am able to be, to live more authentically, more aware of myself in the world. In adding the dimension of Buddhism to my journey towards awareness, I have found that even in Buddhism, alchemy has had a significant role to play in its history.
I can’t pretend to be an expert on alchemy, but I can talk about the stages of transformation as I understand them in relation to my experiences as a therapist and as analysand. This isn’t an easy process, but then one would not expect it to be easy. Awareness, enlightenment – these are the goals, to become as fully aware as possible, aware of self, others and the world. To approach these goals, one has to strip away a lot of layers and face truths alone and naked.
This is another of my grandsons, one of three four who play chess with me. The other two are too young yet to be able to play. Regardless of their abilities, the boys take their turns winning and losing or playing to a draw. And, there is fun had by all.
Grandparenting continues as we go through the days together. Of course there are quiet times when we have four laptops all going as games are played as well as an old PS1. With quiet time done, it’s off to play boisterous games outside: football, catch, cricket, yoyos (zombies version) ring toss, golf toss and bocce are the favorites here.
Today is the last full day of grandparenting. Tomorrow afternoon the last grandson boards a plane with his Dad to complete the process of leaving the paternal and maternal home for their own homes.
Here I present a photo taken in my yard where I have placed a Canadian flag on the garden shed. I was quite pleased with the image as it puts the flag in the shade and looks out from a dim shadowy place as though reaching out to the sun as late afternoon begins to fade into evening. I have to admit that I took this photo last year. Somehow or other, I never got around to putting up any Canada Day decorations. The yard looks as it does any other summer day.
Am I less patriotic? I admit that this might be the case now that I have been to many countries and live for the most part in China, I am finding myself less attached to place in terms of a geo-political place. The world of governments is not doing much to make it easy to be proud of country. That said, I do love my country and know that it is my “home” in terms of cultural roots.
On a walk during a recent stay in Mérida we passed one of many old churches. Above the front entrance to this church was a stained glass window proclaiming Jesus. The city is filled with churches from simple “Christian” churches to a number built in the 16th and 17th centuries by the Spaniards. Though I am not particularly religious in a church sense, there is quite a pull to some of the images and the space and architecture of these old churches. That said, it is in the detail that I find resonances.
Jesus, in a Jungian sense is an archetype that points to the “Self” within the “self”. Okay, maybe that doesn’t make sense to most people, but I hope that I can explain it enough so that you can understand how it resonates within me. In a number of locations in the bible one comes across the words with proclaim about finding “Christ” within. Christ represents the godhead, the Imago Dei, that lies within each person. Sometimes religion ascribes the soul as that aspect though in Jungian terms, that would be somewhat inaccurate. I say somewhat as all aspects, all archetypes all become just aspects of the whole, the holy, that oneness of conscious and unconscious both personal and collective.
Jesus is a representation of the collective unconscious that points to the potential for all to achieve a state of being the best one can be. As one travels a journey of individuation, one becomes more and more conscious, more aware of the nature of self in relation to other and in relation the collective and in relation to what I can only say is the sum of all that is and all that isn’t, that which religions call god.
I took this photo only a few days after I arrived in the Yucatan. After leaving the wind, ice, snow and cold of my home on the Canadian prairies, the first few days was spent in adjusting to the heat. Birds and water and sand and sun – these were the images and sensations that fueled the process of adaption to a different place. And of course, this is all alchemical, perculating and distilling as base materials become transformed. And, this is what has happened and continues to happen to me during this time of rest and relaxation in Mexico.
The pelican is one of the symbols of the alchemical process, one that is ascribed to life-giving, life-sustaining. I have spent many hours observing these birds here from the deck of my villa and during long beach walks. The pelican has an intimate relationship to the sea. And thinking about this symbolically, I see the ego aspect flying above the sea, free and graceful. With only a few beats of their long wings, they are able to glide only inches above the water defying the pull of gravity, denying the power or influence of the sea. And as I watch, the pelican rises and poises before diving into the sea for a fish, for food.
The sea is vital for the well-being of the pelican, yet at the same time, the sea is a dangerous place, not always providing the nourishment sought. The dive into the sea leaves the pelican stunned and silent. And over the years, it causes blindness, a death sentence. The brown pelican who lives this way has less than half the lifespan of a white pelican. And for some reason, it is the brown pelican that I feel best represents the alchemical process of my own life.
Another image taken while in the Anthropology and History Museum in Mérida while I was there for the Carnaval. And like the image of yesterday, this artifact was found in one of the Mayan ruins in the Yucatan. At the centre of belief is IX’CHEL, the goddess of both life and death.
The feminine is cyclical in nature like the moon and the courses within a woman of the preparation for new life by discarding old possibilities. The feminine is cloaked in unconsciousness, in darkness and in mysteriousness. The feminine nurtures the earth and gives birth over and over again. Out of the dark and damp womb, humanity is born into a world of light. And, that same humanity is born to die, to be consumed by the very earth that gave it life.
The photo here was taken in Mérida, the capital city of the Yucatan, at the Anthropology and History Museum on the Paseo Montejo. It is a Mayan figure similar to one I photographed at Uxmal which was still on the wall of a Mayan building.
Obviously, the figure is male. Strangely, the bodies both at Uxmal and here are both headless. Both have bound hands as though the male is prisoner. Both have genitals exposed.
Realizing that these figures are found in a religious context, it follows that they are more symbolic than historical. So what can these figures be telling us? Perhaps, that as humans, human males, the ruling forces are sexual, not spiritual. Men are trapped in their bodies which demand so much. The power of instinctual drives dominate when one is not aware, not far along on the journey of individuation.
Today, it is still hard in our modern world. How does one balance the polarity of masculine and feminine which are resident in each of us? Regardless of our intellectual states, our bodies betray us, demand of us. And as a counter, the soul, the opposite, demands as well it share of presence. So begins the work of midlife, the marriage of both aspects within the psyche.