It’s that time of year again, a bit earlier than last year, for getting the garden ready for planting. I tilled the garden last autumn while dressed as I am in this image. I am not so sure that I will till “au naturel” this year as a number of my neighbours seem to be busy outside in location where they would easily spot me and be horribly shocked by nudity. Still, that wasn’t a factor in prepping the tiller, making sure it was filled with gas, and placing it in the garden in my birthday suit.
I will wait until this evening before starting the tiller and turning the soil. There is enough light in the sky to work until at least eight-thirty in the evening. Besides, I doubt that it will take me all that long as the garden is still soft from the fall turning.
For now, I will simply spend some time basking in the warm sun with a good book in a protected (somewhat) corner. It will be a few days before we plant our peas and carrots, the first veggies to be planted. The book is one I have read in the past. With my recent posts on Naturism as Therapy, I thought it was time to revisit the book.
I am beginning to think that there is a need for a more recent book on the value of nudity and therapy. Perhaps this is something that I will attempt as I try to blend depth psychology, spiritualism, and healing together. I can see that there will be a need to include how a fear of nudity adds to the wounding of the human psyche and makes healing harder to achieve. It’s something for me to think about. For now, it is enough to be writing here, thinking out loud and hearing your thoughts in response to what I present.
The therapist is just as vulnerable with one notable difference in having made the journey out of darkness to become a guide in the wilderness of the human psyche.
In response to one of my latest posts, I received this response which I felt best answered in a post rather than in an e-mail or comment below the particular post as it is a question that was not specific to that post, but to therapy in general. With that said, here is the question:
“Could you say a bit about how the therapist becomes vulnerable? I feel much more vulnerable right now than I imagine my therapist may feel, although he says that he too is vulnerable ….. but I’m the one sharing the pain of my life – the confusion and disorder … what does a therapist risk in a relationship like this?”
The therapist risks more than one could possibly realise. First, to be a good therapist, one needs to have gone through the process of sitting in the opposite chair. Since we all can’t escape growing up and older without being wounded, some more so than others, the therapist is familiar with the territory of being wounded and living and suffering from those wounds. The difference is primarily the fact that the therapist has made a deliberate choice to seek help and answers. That journey then typically leads this person to give back to the world by becoming a healer.
Your therapist has been there, has survived, and has chosen to become a guide for others to make the journey to wellness. Yet, the wounds are still there, at least the scars of the wounds remain. At times, the stories the therapist hears serve to release triggers that re-awaken the therapists past trauma. Unwittingly, and unconsciously on both the therapists and clients, there is a process called transference where the therapist holds the projections of the client; and a process called counter-transference where the therapist gets caught up in that transference on the client’s part. This is the “big” and “real” risk that lays traps for the therapist.
Though both client and therapist are in a safe container for therapy sessions, typically an office, it is as if both of them find themselves naked and vulnerable making the journey through the client’s darkness using the intuitive skills and learned skills of the therapist to navigate through the dark swamplands.
Rubedo – The final alchemical stage of transformation.
I want to begin by bringing a sort of synthesis of the process as spoken by Jung in Mysterium Coniunctionis:
“Grey and black [nigredo] correspond to Saturn and the evil world; they symbolize the beginning in darkness, in the melancholy, fear, wickedness, and wretchedness of ordinary human life. . . . The darkness and blackness can be interpreted psychologically as man’s confusion and lostness . . . The situation is now gradually illuminated as is a dark night by the rising moon. The illumination comes to a certain extent from the unconscious, since it is mainly dreams that put us on the track of enlightenment This dawning light corresponds to the albedo, the moonlight which in the opinion of some alchemists heralds the rising sun. The growing redness (rubedo) which now follows denotes an increase in warmth and light coming from the sun, consciousness.” (Jung, CW vol. 14, para. 306-307)
The alchemical journey is one of moving from the depths of darkness where one is indeed lost, back into the full light of day where we are aware of our own presence in relation to the world which is illuminated by the day. Aware, conscious, alive. There is a vitality that is felt as one is able to breathe freely and deeply and participate in life rather than stand on the sidelines guarding our breath while trying to fade into the shadows so that no one sees us or hears us.
With consciousness, we become aware of our presence in relationships, we become aware of our body and its sensations, we become aware of the dance of contradictions that often find their expression in good versus evil.
This consciousness is not all encompassing, can never be all encompassing. If all the darkness (unconscious) was exposed and brought to consciousness, there would be no awareness. Awareness can only exist in contrast. Day only exists because there is night. Black only exists because there is white.
Now, to finish this first part of exploring the rubedo with a return to Jung’s words:
“This corresponds to the increasing participation of consciousness, which now begins to react emotionally to the contents produced by the unconscious. At first the process of integration is a “fiery” conflict, but gradually it leads over to the “melting” or synthesis of the opposites. The alchemists termed this the rubedo, in which the marriage of the red man and the white woman, Sol and Luna, is consummated. Although the opposites flee from one another they nevertheless strive for balance, since a state of conflict is too inimical to life to be endured indefinitely.” (Jung, CW vol. 14, para. 307)
This third stage, citrinitas, is particularly difficult to grasp. More often that not, attempts to use an alchemical for psychotherapy limit themselves to just three stages. Jung and his student, Marie-Louise von Franz do include citrinitas in their discussions of alchemy, but noted that it was a fourth and final stage, that of becoming gold. With that said, Jung’s and Jungian focus still limited . I will stick with the idea that citrinitas is the third stage in the process as that is what makes sense to me.
The idea of turning base material into gold is an idea that seems more magical than real. And, it is the magical that emerges during this stage. One is led to think of a magician such as Merlin, or even Christ. Both somehow defied all logic and nature to accomplish magical deeds. But where does this fit in with psychological process in therapy?
I want to step back just a little to place this stage in context using symbolism. In the first stage, nigredo, light was lost as the psyche descended into the inner world of the unconscious where all the negative and fearful aspects of self have been contained as if in some personal hell. In the second stage, albedo, a light appears in the darkness, the light of an awakened soul which is symbolised as a moon (the feminine) shining in the darkness. The third stage, citrinitas, brings forth the light of the sun (the masculine), a light which magically transforms the shadowy and fearful into valuable consciousness. It is as though one has achieved the treasure grace à Dieu, through the Grace of God.
In this stage, awareness deepens. The problem yet remains how to assimilate this in order to return to the balance of being an ordinary human living an ordinary life? The objective of any therapy is to allow each of us to become at one with ourselves so that we can be fully present in our outer world as well as in our inner world. The objective of therapy is not to turn us into mystical and magical beings that don’t belong to the world. Assimilating bits of the unconscious aspects of ourselves is a huge task that sometimes has us fall off the rails, especially when we meet with the awe that comes with discovering the gold within ourselves.
“One is inclined to think that ego-consciousness is capable of assimilating the unconscious, at least one hopes that such a solution is possible. But unfortunately the unconscious really is unconscious; in other words, it is unknown. And how can you assimilate something unknown?” (Jung, CW 9i, para. 520)
The bits of gold we discover are just that bits. The depths of our psyche reach deeper beyond the boundaries of our personal self. Yet the discovery of these bits does lead to wonder and joy, even ecstasy. There is danger here for us, a danger that we will become so entranced of this ecstasy that we refuse to leave this stage.as it feels like perfection, we feel like perfect beings in a perfect bubble.
“One hopes to control the unconscious, but the past masters in the art of self-control, the yogis, attain perfection in sam?dhi, a state of ecstasy, which so far as we know is equivalent to a state of unconsciousness. It makes no difference whether they call our unconscious a “universal consciousness”; the fact remains that in their case the unconscious has swallowed up ego-consciousness.” (Jung, CW 9i, para. 520)
There is work yet to be done, to bring this gold back to the world, back in the form of a more mature and aware self.
“From the darkness of the unconscious comes the light of illumination, the albedo. (Jung, Mysterium Coniuntionis, paragraph 220)
Awareness. How often do we avoid it in spite of our protestations otherwise? If one dares to look outside oneself, one is able to see the reflections of oneself in the world and in others. But to have the ability to see these reflections, one has to remove the filters and the shades that cover consciousness. Needless to say, this is easier said than done.
Let me step back a bit to talk about darkness and light. In all of our stories concerning the creation of the world and all life, we are told about an all encompassing darkness in which there is no knowledge, no awareness of anything, no life. Somehow, out of the darkness light is born and with that light, life.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, and the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.” (The Holy Bible, “Genesis,” 1:1-4)
But of course, that is just the beginning of the story. Without light, there is nothing that is firm, nothing that is definable. There is no foundation upon which we can sense ourselves or the outer world around us. We hide, fearful in the darkness, without looking at that darkness, doing our best to deny that darkness. We are victims of that darkness. Rather than sink into the darkness and become one with it, we build walls to deny the darkness walls which do little other than delude ourselves of the reality of who and what we are. And then, someone turns on a light and all is exposed. Now, we are in deep shit.
“And the Lord commanded the man, saying, Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it . . . (The Holy Bible, “Genesis,” 2:16-17)
“For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be gods, knowing good and evil.” (The Holy Bible, “Genesis,” 3:5)
“And the eyes of them both [Adam and Eve] were opened, and they knew that they were naked . . .” (The Holy Bible, “Genesis,” 3:7)
And this is the dilemma we face in turning on the light, we get to see our deficits as well as our perfections. And for some strange reason, we are drawn to our deficits, our warts and sores. But now in the light, we are confronted with ourselves and we don’t like what is exposed as we stand naked to our own consciousness.
In the psychotherapeutic context, this is a period of withdrawing a little from life, participating just enough to keep things “ticking over,” the main forces being inwards. This enables clients to experience sudden realisations about themselves and they often begin to question their life direction. It is easier to see, in a moment of insight, what is important and what is not. (Hamilton, The Alchemical Process of Transformation)
Another way of looking at this stage would be the appearance of “ah-ha” moments. Up to this point, a lot of time has been spent on the telling of dreams, the recounting of incidents from the past, the detailing of disturbances in the present, and in finding associations between each and all of them. Linkages and explanations are given, and there is a curious dance that begins to play as the information is approached and re-approached through various functions – feeling, thinking, sensate, and intuition. It is often the inferior function that breaks the logjam. There is movement, curious realignment, a change in the way one now perceives a particular piece of one’s story. A light has been turned on, so to speak.
At that moment, the psyche has shifted and one becomes different in real terms. Over time, as various lights come on, the process of transformation seems to speed up as though the psyche is primed to peer into the dark shadows with a flashlight. With the guidance of the therapist, associations are noted. One begins to see the connections between childhood patterns in response to father and mother or other authority (who take on a father or mother symbolism in terms of power). One then learns to see present relationships in the light of what has been exposed.
But, it is not enough to just turn on the lights. Now that one has awareness one is obliged to do something with this awareness.
One of the problems in deciding to do the work of healing oneself, with or without the help of a guide, is the necessity of laying bare those things we would rather keep locked away in some dark closet. The journey to healing demands that we confront these demons and that we defeat them. The photo lets us know, that we are only truly aware of darkness because there is light (life).
I found this nigredo image at another blog site that was looking at the issue of alchemy. For anyone interested, I would encourage you to read Brigid Ó Coileáin’s blog site found here.
“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.