I am bringing here, a series of blog posts that I wrote in 2013 that look at alchemy from a naturist and psychological point of view. While doing so, I will be editing my original words, something I hadn’t done at that time. There are four stages of alchemical transformation: Negredo, Albedo, Calcinitras, and Rubedo. I’m not going to bore you with all sorts of psycho-babble as my wife calls it. I want to simply talk about how naturism works its magic of healing, beginning with the body and reaching into the depths of the soul.
I accept that naturism allows a person to achieve a physical state that is in holistic and in balance with the earth. As well, naturism allows on to develop a healthier relationship with others and with oneself. it is desirable that one looks for a psychological balance as well since we are as much spirit as we are body. I am not an alchemist. However, there is much in alchemy which allows me to better understand myself, allows me to remove all the layers that hide the essence of who I am. In a way, it is the mental version of stripping off my clothes to reveal the authentic core 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, one is able to live more authentically, more aware in the world. Awareness, enlightenment – these are the goals, to become as fully aware as possible, aware of oneself, others, and the world. Now, to begin
The dark night of the soul, this is something that is intimately known by all who suffer depression, a place of darkness, a place of shadows from which we want to flee. 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.
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 . . . It is harsh and bitter or like vinegar, for it is a bitter thing to accept the darkness and blackness . . . 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 is an unavoidable stage in every psychotherapeutic process . . . it begins with the nigredo . . .“ (Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, CW 14, paragraph346)
So, the pain of depression serves as an impetus to finally do something about the pain when all the 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, a safe and sacred space where one is 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.
“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.
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.
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.