Archive for the ‘nigredo’ tag
Now to continue on from the last post . . . From Nigel Hamilton’s study, “The Alchemical Process of Transformation“:
“From a psychological standpoint, this stage is experienced as entering a dark and chaotic unconscious inner world. St John of the Cross has referred to this as the first of two dark nights, the dark night of the mind, which is an encounter with the darker aspects of our self (that which Jung called “the shadow”). At first nothing appears to make sense, indeed all the therapist can do at this stage of the process is to be fully present and empathise with the client, who in the process of articulating their experience, facilitates it further. The therapeutic setting, i.e. the therapy room, becomes the hermetically sealed vessel and the inner chaos that the client enters into is symbolised by the reactions of opposing forces struggling against each other. That is to say the client’s own psyche reveals its submerged inner conflicts to the conscious mind.
This is what I referred to in the last post, the establishing of a place of sacred safety, of temenos. During this part of the work, the “client” tells his or her story as it is known and sensed by the ego, the clothed self, This telling is vital and it is enough for the therapist to listen and support without trying to fix anything at this point.
As the client begins to experience the inner world to be more real, the process intensifies (the fire increases) and often anger, fear, frustration, and a desire to “escape from it all” is experienced. To pass through this stage requires patience, humility and acceptance not only of the client, but also of the therapist, who through experiences knows that a process of purification is in progress and that one by one the inner conflicts will gradually become resolved until a completely new inner state of clarity and freedom is achieved. Then the client will be reconciled with his or her inner earth nature - in alchemical terms they will have united with their “earth nature.”
The therapist tracks the appearance of complexes, contradictions, images and fears through the process of working with dreams, journaling, sand play, and other active imagination strategies. For the client, it almost feels that everything is getting worse as old sores are laid open, exposed to the light. It must be stated that the process doesn’t wait for all the shadows to be exposed. The shifting to the second stage, albedo begins when the therapist and client begin to tackle what has been exposed. Only so much darkness can be held at one time.
The dark night of the soul, this is something that is intimately known by all who suffer depression. The dark night of the soul is what we meet when we enter into midlife crisis. Each of us senses a darkness, a place of shadows from which we want to flee. This depression is not “organic,” a depression that is chemically induced. This depression and darkness appears to be something “out there,” something to which we feel we are victims. Typically, we run like hell trying to escape, trying to hide from the darkness. Drugs, sex, money, work, new places, new hobbies, redecorating our homes, a new car, a new spouse: we try anything to banish that darkness. But, the darkness refuses to be banished. This is the dark night of the soul, or at least our introduction to that darkness.
If we are like many others, we head to a doctor’s office for some pharmaceutical relief; or to a psychotherapist’s chair for some answers, some other strategies to banish the darkness. We do this only as a last resort knowing that if we don’t do something we will descend into insanity or commit suicide. It isn’t a pretty picture, but it is real.
“Alchemy announced a source of knowledge . . . which yields a “bitter” water by no means acceptable to our human judgment. It is harsh and bitter or like vinegar, for it is a bitter thing to accept the darkness and blackness of the umbra solis and to pass through this valley of the shadow. It is bitter indeed to discover behind one’s lofty ideals narrow, fanatical convictions, all the more cherished for that, and behind one’s heroic pretensions nothing but crude egotism, infantile greed, and complacency. This painful corrective is an unavoidable stage in every psychotherapeutic process . . . it begins with the nigredo . . .“ (Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, CW 14, paragraph346)
So, the pain serves as an impetus to finally do something about the pain when all other avenues prove fruitless. So, one enters into psychotherapy. However, before the work can even begin, there is a need to create a place for the work; a safe, even sacred place. Like a surgeon preparing for an operation, there is the need to build a sense of safety in the relationship as well as place. The therapist needs to become aware of the boundary limits (or lack thereof) of the person and to build a sense of trust in that person as well as to have the person enter into a trust relationship with the therapist.
As time goes by, the two begin to test each other, test the boundaries of safety. And when there is a sense of safety, the belief that the container of their relationship has become sacred in its own way, then the work may begin:
“In the early period of analysis, the primary work is the establishment of the boundary, the analytical temenos, in which the analysis is to take place.” (Hall, The Jungian Experience, p. 78)
There is real vulnerability for both therapist and the person entering into this work of depth psychology. It is as through the establishment of temenos that one becomes safe enough to strip of their psychic layers as if stripping off clothing in order to expose the wounds that have led to the therapists office.
Taken just a few days ago, this is one of the various varieties of cactus plants that burst out into blossom. The flowers are large and delicate in comparison with the cactus plant itself which is tough and painfully thorny should one make the mistake of stepping on one of them, something that I have been known to do on a number of occasions. Of course, if I was truly present when walking in the semi-arid hills, I would see the cacti and avoid unnecessary pain.
One of the things that I am finding difficult is to find presence, as I have been bouncing back and forth between places so much that no place becomes the centre. All the bouncing between leads me to relocate even more into an inner space making outer space even more like a foreign country. All of the routines that I used to mark my days have stopped being routines. Of course, there is something good to be said for having routines fall away:
“Most of us have a set routine that gets us through our day. Somewhere along the line, we solidified that routine into a way of life. The question then becomes, “Is it working?” Day by day, we may find ourselves getting restless with the same classes or job, the same relationship, the same hangouts or hang-ups, and we long for some radical change.
However, it is not our world that is necessarily problematic; it’s our point of view.” (Rinzler, The Buddha Walks Into a Bar,p. 4)
Restless! Yes, that is a good word to use here. It is a word that helps explain some of what is churning inside. What is missing is the point of view that would help clarify life lived fully present rather than through routines. My routines are dissolving, but there is no clarity emerging. Rather than continue to follow a Buddhist train of thought, I find myself turning to an alchemical way of looking in hopes of understanding what is happening.
The first of the four major stages is called nigredo. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about nigredo from a Jungian standpoint:
’the nigredo of the process of individuation on the other hand is a subjectively experienced process brought about by the subject’s painful, growing awareness of his shadow aspects’. It could be described as a moment of maximum despair, that is a prerequisite to personal development. As individuation unfolds, so ‘confrontation with the shadow produces at first a dead balance, a standstill that hampers moral decisions and makes convictions ineffective or even impossible…nigredo, tenebrositas, chaos, melancholia’. Here is ‘the darkest time, the time of despair, disillusionment, envious attacks; the time when Eros and Superego are at daggers drawn, and there seems no way forward…nigredo, the blackening’.
In this stage one has entered into the Dark Night of the Soul. It is hard to be present when the inner realm is breaking down all the routines, the convictions, the assumed truths and the convenient lies that have allowed us to ignore the dark shadows that lurk within the psyche.
On the shores of the Tarcoles River, not too distant from where I live here in Costa Rica, I found quite a few Black-Necked Stilts. Interesting to me is the bird’s head which reminds me of the Yin-Yang symbol, a symbol that represents a few polarities; and, that of consciousness and the unconscious, the masculine and the feminine. I am bringing this photo here as it symbolises for me the shift from nigredo to albedo, from the confrontation of the shadow.
The second stage in the alchemical process is called “albedo.” It is important to note that this is a “whitening” process, not necessarily the “white” stage. Thus, the reason for this photo which shows both black and white. I will return back to Marie-Louise von Franz for a good description of this stage in the alchemical process.
In the alchemical work of the nigredo is followed by the albedo. This phase corresponds in the individuation process to the integration of the inner contrasexual components, the anima in the case of a man, the animus with a woman. (von Franz, C.G. Jung: His Myth in Our Time, p. 223; cited in Sharp, Jung Uncorked: Book Two, p 50)
Marie-Louise von Franz here uses this information while talking about the psychoanalytic process and the relationship between the analyst and the analysand. But, if we look at this stage in a bigger picture, we can extend it to be more than the integration of the animus or anima; we can see it to be the integration of complexes in general. Remembering that the nigredo was about confronting the shadow, the albedo becomes dealing with what one learns in that confrontation. Hopefully, we learn enough to accept that we own the shadow thus allowing ourselves to withdraw projections. In doing this, we own our complexes and in turn lessen the power of the unconscious to act for us without our awareness. Of course, we know that we can’t master all of this unconscious contents as enough of it is tied into a larger, collective unconsciousness.
I am beginning to see that alchemy is not so esoteric and has become just a way of understanding what is happening to me as I consciously engage with the uncovering of my shadow side. There is no doubt in my mind that in following this path I will become a healthier person, more whole. It’s not perfect, but it is better than what was.
This is a Crested Caracara also known as the Caracara Eagle, King Buzzard, Mexican Eagle, Audubon’s Caracara, and Mexican Buzzard. I chased this bird up a lot of hills until I was able to get this photo. I have other photos of him but not as good as this one. For me it is interesting how this bird is seen as being a member of the falcon family and yet is referred to as an eagle and a buzzard as well by its own name. Having so many names suggest that he carries a fair number of projections by various groups. Is anyone interested in the true bird or in the collective opinions of the bird?
For me, he is a Crested Caracara, a fellow that is definitely interested in his own privacy and in keeping his distance from others. It is often thought that the buzzard symbolises an angry old man, one who has a short temper; and, there is a sense of darkness, a signal of dark times ahead. However, this doesn’t quite fit with how I understand the psychological presence of this fellow. Yes, there is a pointed awareness of darkness, but this bird is still a bird, a symbol of spirit that soars above and outside of unconsciousness.
So what is this guy pointing to? Well, if I accept that he is pointing to darkness, and I understand that it is only through that darkness that I can find the light, I can accept that this signals an alchemical process. And in alchemy, it is necessary to being with blackening or nigredo.
The nigredo has its parallels . . . in the confrontation with the shadow. Everything which one has criticized, with moreal indignation, in others, is “served up” in dreams as part of one’s own being. envy, jealousy, lies, sexual drives, desire for power, ambition, greed for money, irritability, all kinds of childishness suddenly stare implacably at one, out of one’s dreams. Illusions about oneself and the world fall apart, ideals are revealed as desire for power in disguise, “sacred” convictions as hollow. (von Franz, C.G. Jung: His Myth in Our Time, pp 222-223; cited in Sharp, Jung Uncorked: Book Two, p. 49)
Yes, coming to terms with all that we have ever denied about ourselves, that indeed is a descent into darkness. From the birds point of view, it can only get better as one sees the darkness for what it is. Coming clean, being honest with oneself can only lead us out of our own darkness into the light.
There is obviously some male – female energy in operation here. This great-tailed grackle is busy courting his smaller lady-love. Notice how she is pretending not to be tuned into his display of puffed-up ego. I am getting to see a lot of this type of bird behaviour lately whether it is doves or flycatchers or kiskadees. The behaviour of birds aside, the photo provides a “human” quality for me. It doesn’t take much imagination to conjure up a scene in which people have been bewitched and find themselves under a spell. The photo begs the question, “How can we get out of this state and get back home the way we are supposed to be?” Okay, so I am “projecting” a lot onto this photo. But, perhaps that is not be unexpected. Let’s see where it leads . . .
Everything unknown and empty is filled with psychological projection; it is as if the investigator’s own psychic background were mirrored in the darkness. What he sees in matter, or thinks he can see, is chiefly the data of his own unconsciousness which he is projecting into it. In other words, he encounters in matter, as apparently belonging to it, certain qualities and potential meanings of whose psychic nature he is entirely unconscious. This is particularly true of classical alchemy, where empirical science and mystical philosophy were more or less undifferentiated. (Jung, CW 12, par 332)
Alchemy is thus not really about changing lead into gold, but more about moving from the darkness of the unknown to consciousness. Loosely translated, one changes their personality by facing the shadows and complexes that roam the dark inner spaces.
In the darkness of anything external to me I find, without recognizing it as such, an interior or psychic life that is my own. (ibid, par 346)
So, that takes me back to the photo and what I have projected on it, on the birds in the photo. So, what is this saying about me? What message is my shadow trying to bring to my awareness? Is this about relationship to my partner? Or, is it about my courting a relationship with yet another face of anima that is hidden within? Somehow, I know that is not about another person, that is fully about what is happening within me. The blackness of the bird tells me even more information, that this is indeed about shadow. I will talk more about alchemy in my next post or two. Right now, I have enough to chew on, to think about.