Alchemy

 

Alchemy can perhaps be said to have two facets:

First, a transmutation from lead to gold, finding wholeness as who we are, as human beings in the world. This may be invited in through any number of practices, therapies or ordinary maturing and human experiences.

Then, immortality, notice what’s already here, what is – what we are and everything is – noticing itself. That which everything happens within and as – including time and space and who we are – noticing itself. This is, in a sense, finding immortality. What time happens within and as notices itself.  This may be invited in through simple inquiry, although it happens on its own schedule.

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Greenhouse

 

anatomia_rubea1

Again, a very simple pointer, but that’s OK. It is how it is applied that matter.

I can create the conditions for whatever happens to nurture growth. To go from being a problem to support.

And it is all in how I receive it and relate to it.

I can allow experience as is, with heart. Can I be with what I am experiencing now?

I can notice and inquire into beliefs, to find what is more honest for me than the initial belief.

And I can live from the most juicy turnarounds, and in general live from more integrity.

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From lead to gold

 

lead-into-gold

From lead to gold. It’s a familiar analogy, but still useful. And it is a slight variation of a familiar theme of this blog, but I’ll still mention it.

When I resist emotions, they become lead. And when I allow them with kindness, they are gold. Resisting emotions, or any experience – such as sensations or images or gestalts such as pain – there is a battle. There is an image of an “I” opposed to the experience as an “it”, and there is a sense of the battle dragging me down. It becomes a weight on me. When I allow experience as is, with kindness, it is revealed as experience. Ephemeral. Insubstantial. I may even notice the quiet joy in experience itself. And there is also a sense of fullness, of coming home.

When I believe a story, it is lead. When I inquire into and clarify it, it is gold. Taking a story as true, it is inevitably at odds with (my stories about) reality, and there is stress, tension, a sense of having to defend the viewpoint of the story, a sense of being right, and all of that is tiring and a weight on me. Inquiring into the belief and finding what is more honest for me, there is relief, receptivity, kindness, perhaps even a measure of wisdom. What appeared as a problem – whether it was the topic of the belief, or the belief itself, is now revealed as a guide and support.

When I take the mental field as substantial and real, it is lead. When I recognize it as what it is, it is revealed as gold. Taking my own world of images as real and substantial, there is stress. I create an imagined world as overlay of the sense fields – sensations, sights, sounds, smell, taste – forget it is imaginary, and get weighed down by it. The images of I, the wider world, and their relationships, appear as real and substantial, and I experience those relationships as precarious, slightly uneasy, and at times tense. When recognized as my own world of images as it happens, the edge goes out of it. Now, it is all recognized as images, interpretations, questions about the world. Innocent. Insubstantial. Ephemeral. They are still very useful for orienting and navigating in the world, but I don’t need to scare myself by them. The images of I, me, the wider world, relationships, and a world beyond these images, are all images. Helpful, and an overlay of images.

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Chased by our wholeness

 

I read about the hoop snake of North American folklore, which seems to have fascinated generations.The hoop snake bites its own tale, as the ouroboros, to form a circle and then roll down a hill like a wheel towards a hapless victim, who is then skewered on its tail.

We like scary stories with vivid imagery in general, and this one may have more to it as well.

The ouroboros is a universal symbol and reflection of wholeness, including the wholeness of who and what we already are. The wholeness of who we are, as a human being, independent of how fractured it may seem to us. And the wholeness of what we are, this awake emptiness within and to which all form arises, inherently absent of an I with an Other, and absent of beginning and end, outside and inside, and so on.

So how it is that our own wholeness charges after us and viscously skewers us on itself?

In general, whenever there is a sense of disturbance, it is our own wholeness calling us, and since we don’t like it (it is a disturbance after all), it can be experienced as being chased by it and skewered on it.

We are happy with our beliefs and identities, and life shows up outside of these beliefs and identities, inviting us to discover ourselves as more than and different from what we took ourselves to be. But since there is safety in the familiar, we cling to it and may even reinforce the apparent boundary between I and Other. Life doesn’t give up, so the disturbance persist. And the more we resist it, the more discomfort we experience, and the more the whole dynamic is experienced as being viscously chased and skewered by an Other.

The irony is that we are on both sides of the boundary, chasing and skewering ourselves.

We as the wholeness of this human self offer an invitation to discover ourself as more than what we take ourselves to be, outside of familiar identities. And we, as awake void and form, absent of I and Other, invite who we take ourselves to be to discover ourselves as already and always this awake void and form.

And another irony is that although a lot is happening in the world of form, nothing is really happening.

Everything happening within the world of form seems very real and substantial as long as we take ourselves to be form, and only form. But when this field of awakeness & form awakens to itself as this field, it is all revealed as the play of awakeness. It is all this awakeness appearing in temporary forms, while never stopping being just awakeness, insubstantial and inherently untouched by any forms it creates itself into.

A great deal is happening within the world of form, but since it is all the play of awakeness, from the view awakeness nothing is really happening. In the midst of everything happening, nothing really happens.

Job’s suffering

 

Book of Job, illustration by William Blake

I have just picked up The Book of Job, translated and with an introduction by Stephen Mitchell. Before I get too far into it, I want to explore what comes up for me around the topic of suffering now:

  • Life happens. Everything is living its own life, and comes and goes in our lives as guests. This is true for the physical world, and also for our experiences. Even our experiences… everything we may take as ourselves such as our thoughts, choices, impulses, actions… even all of those are guests, living their own life, coming and going on their own, and on their own time.
  • An experience of suffering comes from the clash between life + a belief. Life is one way and it should be another way, according to my stories about it, so there is a sense of something being off. If the clash is mild, there is stress, and if the clash is stronger, there is suffering.
  • Suffering can be seen as an invitation
    • To deepen into who and what we are. To deepen into our shared humanity, to allow edges to round off, to see that we are all in this together, we are all in the same boat, to find in myself what I see in others and recognize in others what I know from myself, specifically, to recognize the suffering of others as my own, allowing for a receptive heart which invites action.
    • To allow and be with our experiences, as they are… allowing the resistance to them to fall away, seeing that it is the resistance, or rather the identification with this resistance, that creates the experience of suffering.
    • To see what is already more true for us. To investigate our beliefs, see if they are true, what happens when I hold onto it and if it wasn’t there, and explore the truths in all of its reversals. And seeing that the truths of its reversals, all together, is what is already more true for us, and also reveals the inherent neutrality of the situation.
  • And then finally, to find a genuine appreciation for what is, as it is…. not as an invitation for anything, not as something that will get us something else, not as something to manipulate… but for its own sake. To appreciate, and even love, what is, as it is. As life… as God expressing and experiencing itself.

In alchemy, this is also the three phases from nigredo (the misery) through albedo (working through, clarification, differentiation) to rubedo (the fruits of the work), and then back to nigredo again to explore a new facet of it.

Dream: far too simplistic

 

Someone I know from some years back recognizes me on the street, and wants me to give feedback on a project she is working on (possibly for a university class.) She shows me a map of everything in the universe, organized according to alchemical symbols and processes. Nigredo, albedo and rubedo are there, with lines going from one to another, and so are innumerable other processes. Among all of these are listed galaxies, planets, molecules, many different spiritual traditions and so on. I am speechless for a while as I try to process it, and also try to find a kind way to say that the mapping attempt is far too simplistic.

Although it was a noble and brave attempt at mapping everything, it was far too simplistic. First, the different alchemical processes cannot be thought of as one necessarily leading to another… for instance, calcinato (fire, heat) is a part of any phase of the overall process, not just happening once as the map indicated. And also, the different parts of the universe do not correspond to just one area of the map… Buddhism is not rubedo and Christianity is not albedo.

Of course, I am the one who made that map. It is far too simplistic in relative terms, and needs more work and to continue to develop and mature. And if I take it as anything else than a relative truth, with limited and only functional value (at best) then that too is far too simplistic. What stays with me after this dream is the necessity to put in more work in the mapping process, if I am to engage in it in the first place.

The person in the dream is someone I know from real life from some years back. I admire her as a person and see her as very intelligent, receptive, open hearted and mature, but also as someone seeing this from the outside, as an academical exercise and an intellectual game. And that too represents me. I am the one who places myself outside of it, and get caught up in the enjoyment of moving symbols around making them fit together on paper, without doing the work of having the map conform to the terrain more closely.

The map sometimes becomes primary and the terrain secondary, rather than the other way around.

The dream invites me to see how I am doing this in daily life. And as many insights into what is going on, it is sobering and humbling… and liberating as well, liberating from a too simplistic and false view.

I also see that this it not only applies here and now, but probably always will apply as well… Any map can always be more closely aligned with and in service of the terrain, placing the terrain as primary and the map as secondary. And any map is always only a relative truth, with all its reversals also containing grains of truth. There is always the temptation to make the map primary and the terrain secondary, and to make the map into an absolute truth, even in subtle ways.

Alchemy: the metals of the world in the process of becoming gold

 

In an alchemical text (don’t remember which one), it apparently says that all metals in the world are in the process of becoming gold. Translated, it means that everything in us is already in a process of awakening, although it is a very slow process which can be speeded up by various alchemical processes – mainly by bringing the prima materia, the stuff of our lives, into awareness, and then explore, differentiate, and bring it into a more conscious wholeness.

The big picture: awakening to who and what we are

This journey which each part goes through is an aspect of the overall process from unconscious and undifferentiated wholeness, through a split and partial consciousness, through active work and exploration of each aspect and their relationships, to a conscious and differentiated whole.

There is always and already the whole of what we are, and this is eventually noticed in awakening to ourselves as Big Mind. And then there is a conscious and differentiated whole of who we are, as individual human beings and soul, which only comes about through active exploration, by digging into it, living it, working through it, engaging actively in it – gradually healing, developing and maturing as individuals.

Awakening as what we are can happen at any point, and is independent of content, including of how or who we are. But awakening as who we are is a long, gradual process.

At our human level, it is one of individualization, of differentiating and exploring each pole in each polarity, and then the polarity as a whole, of developing and maturing as a human being. At our soul level, it is a process of becoming familiar with ourselves as soul, as alive presence, in all its many facets, and how this influences and transforms who we are as human beings.

Impulses for awakening to who and what we are

It seems that for those who actively explore this process, there is an experience – or realization? – of everything inside and outside of us being an invitation, or an impulse, to awaken more to who and what we are.

Some simple examples of this is active imagination, where any dream or fantasy is a path to bringing aspects of us into awareness, and becoming more familiar with and embracing a polarity in ourselves and our life and not only its separate poles. The same is the case with Process Work, although in a more comprehensive and extended way, where we find that anything in our life, no matter how apparently insignificant, is an impulse towards awakening more to who and what we are. And the same is the case with The Work, where any stress in our life is an invitation to awaken to who (whole process) and what (question #4) we are.

I also notice this when I am just curious about what arises in me, and explore it – allowing it to unfold a little bit.

Example: impulse to death and rebirth

For instance, if this personality has a great deal of resistance to being with a particular experience, I notice an impulse towards death (sounds more dramatic than it necessarily is.) And this impulse can of course be interpreted in different ways by the personality, for instance of wanting the situation (the trigger) to change or go away, or of me to change or go away, or of how I relate to it to change or go away. I want to remove the trigger (by doing something in the world), myself (for instance by distracting myself or going unconscious), or how I relate to it (through working on myself.)

The basic impulse is an impulse towards death, and it can be interpreted in all of these forms, some of which works better than other, and some effects which are more superficial and temporary than others. In this context of anything being an invitation to awakening more to who and what we are, the essence of the impulse is an invitation to allow our limited, and limiting, beliefs and identifications to die.

The stress comes from a discrepancy between our stories of what is and how it should be (all coming from beliefs and identities), so the stress is an invitation to notice this, actively explore our beliefs and identities – through the many ways available – until they soften or fall away on their own.

Of course, this impulse can equally well be seen as an impulse towards life. Any fixed belief and identity limits a sense of aliveness, and when it falls away, there is a sense of liberation and more life.

For me, if there is a great deal of resistance and I get caught up in it, it seems – initially, before working on it, as an impulse to death. And as there is more space and clarity around it, or if there is this space and clarity around it from the beginning, it seems more an impulse to life. They are two aspects of the same process of death (of beliefs and identities) and rebirth (more free from these beliefs and identities.)

Identities, cycles and alchemy

 

Over my life so far, this is by far the phase where I am most exclusively focused on the inner process. In the past, there has been times where the attention has embraced the inner and outer equally, and the outer more than the inner (my time in very active sustainability work), and now there is a focus mostly on the inner process. It goes against the grain since I have never wanted to see myself as someone emphasizing the inner more than the outer (activities in the world), so I guess it is good for me. Another identity that has to bite the dust.

Within this, there are also cycles, and one is the cycle of active exploration and investigation, and of rest (at least in that area). In alchemical terms, I guess the active exploration is a combination of differentiation (separatio), clarification (sublimatio), and developing new patterns (coagulatio), and the passive phases is the letting go of patterns (solutio), a minor death that allows for something else to emerge.

It is similar to clutching, taking the gears out of action so it can shift into something else (although the gears here are innumerable). Or the fall and winter allowing for a period of rest and rejuvenation before the new activities of the spring and summer.

King Lindorm and the split

 

The fairy tale of King Lindorm is a good illustration of the unconscious to conscious wholeness sequence: unconscious wholeness > split > exploring and making conscious the polarity > embracing the polarity/conscious whole.

The most clear example is midway through the story where the two kings leave the castle (the familiar, ruling patterns and identities) for war, leaving the women to rise the child. The masculine explores and gets to know itself through war, active engagement with the wider world, and the feminine explores and gets to know itself through motherhood, through nurturing at home. The split, the separation of the two (separatio) is necessary for both sides to find space to explore themselves, and then their relationship.

So there is a (mostly) unconscious wholeness/unity, a split, an exploration of each pole of the polarity separate from the other, an exploration of the relationship between the two, and then a conscious wholeness.

This is a pattern that seems to run through this existence, at all levels, from Existence as a whole (differentiated into awake emptiness and form) to our lives as who (individuals) and what (Spirit) we are, and in every aspect of our lives – all of the many polarities of our lives.

It is also interesting to note that the conscious wholeness happens at two levels: first, by noticing the whole of the polarity which is always and already there, and then in the conscious way the poles of the polarity functions on their own and in relationship with each other. The first is always there, the second comes through the work of differentiation, exploration and clarification.

The birds of Barchusen

 


At Friday’s talk on alchemy, the image series that made the most impression on me was the one by Barchusen, and specifically the many images of the bird going down into the vessel, bringing material up, then going down again, bringing material up, over and over.

It is an image that can be described in several different ways. In general, it reflects a process of bringing awareness into our prima materia – our life, our individual self, our habitual patterns, our beliefs and identities. We go into an aspect of our life, bring it up into awareness, and in the process allow for differentiation (separatio) and clarification (sublimatio), and then dissolving of the old patterns (solutio), new patterns emerging (coagulatio) and a more conscious union (conjunctio.)

We explore and bring awareness into who we are, as an individual, and what we are, as Spirit.

This happens over and over again. The same issue comes up, much as before or maybe in a slightly different way. Something is off (nigredo), we work on it (albedo) and there is a sense of resolution and a harvesting of the fruits of the work (rubedo.) And then it happens again. And again. Seeing it from slightly different angles, in slightly different contexts. Becoming more and more familiar with it, knowing the terrain in more and more detail. Eventually, the charge may go out of it more completely and there is just clarity.

If anything, the Barchusen series is a reminder of the cyclical nature of the work, and of engaged persistence.

The nigredo, albedo and rubedo of no defense

 

Any framework (model, theory, map, perspective) is a filter for exploring the world, and each one brings certain aspects out (and is blind to other aspects.)

So here is a basic alchemical take on defense and no defense, of that feeling of having to defend (or not) a particular identity.

Nigredo: the misery

Whenever there is this sense of having to defend a particular identity, role, belief, view, perspective, there is also a certain amount of misery. Will do they attack me? What types of attacks can I expect in this situation? What if they are right? How can I fight back most effectively? How can I shoot down their perspective? It is endless.

Even when there is a certain enjoyment in the battle, of maybe feeling more alive, of the possibility of winning or the appearance of winning, of strengthening and supporting a habitual or desired identity, even then, there is a certain amount of misery there.

A lot of energy goes into preparing for battle, strategizing, fighting the battle, and licking the wounds afterwards. There is reactivity, which a part of us is not comfortable with. We may feel stuck in old and sometimes unwanted patterns. And there is a basic sense of a split here between myself and others, which is only reinforced by the battle, and this too gives a sense of misery.

In alchemical terms, this is the nigredo, the misery that nudges us to look for a resolution, and this time not (only) by changing the rest of the world, but changing something in ourselves.

Albedo: the work

The albedo, the whitening, the clarification, is the work we do on ourselves.

In terms of having an identity to defend, we can work on it in many different ways. The Work is one, allowing us to release our grip on a particular belief, view and identity. The 3-2-1 Shadow Process is another, where we also find in ourselves what we initially only saw in the other. We can simply be with our experiences, which similarly tends to loosen any grip we have on anything arising, including our beliefs, fixed views, and identities. We can use active imagination, other forms of self-inquiry, or anything else. And we can use any combinations of whatever is available to us.

This is a process of bringing attention to our habitual patterns (calcinatio), of differentiation (separatio), of dissolution of rigid and habitual patterns and views (solutio), and of shifting into and becoming familiar with new patterns (coagulatio), which together and over time brings a clarification (sublimatio.)

Rubedo: the resolution

Eventually, after some work, there may be a release of defensiveness in certain areas, and then other areas, and ultimately, if we keep going, in all areas and situations in our life. Instead of feeling that we need to defend certain identities, we welcome whatever comes our way as a reminder that yes, I am that too, and that, and that.

Somebody tells me, one way or another, that I am stupid, and yes, I can find that in myself. That is part of my identity. Or that I am wrong, and yes, that too is there. Or that I am arrogant, yes, that too. Or insensitive, yes. Or boring, yes, absolutely. Or fun, yes, that too. Or a bad friend, yes. Or a good friend, yes… Or smart, yes. Or right, yes. Or sincere, yes.

It is all there. I am familiar with all of this, and it is all right here. And if someone says something that I haven’t explored yet, then I can find that too.

There is nothing to defend. Just ease, clarity, simplicity.

Woven together and in cycles

Over time, we may be able to see this general pattern, from nigredo (that was the time I didn’t see this at all, and also all the times I fall into defense in general), to albedo (that was when I started becoming conscious of all of this and started working on it), and rubedo (that is the general sense of ease that came out of all the work, and also all the glimpses of release and peace throughout the process.)

But they are all also woven together, especially clearly so in the middle of the overall process. There is defensiveness and misery, then some work on it, then some release, then back to defensiveness, work, release, over and over, within the same issue, and across different issues.

Nothing to defend, yet also taking care of myself and others

Eventually there is a general sense of nothing to defend, of ease, peace, even in the midst of daily life and interactions with others. There is no particular identity, or viewpoint, or belief to defend. Only a fluidity among numerous views, perspectives, identities, theories, maps. Whatever works in the situation is what comes up and is used, without any need to hold onto it.

At the same time, there is the ordinary taking care of myself and others. If a cougar attacks me, I’ll try to defend myself. And I’ll take care of my own health and well being. And I’ll defend others if they are in need of it, including defending their identity if it is attacked and they feel hurt.

There is no fixed identity to defend, and also the ordinary taking care of myself and others. And the fluidity of identities, views and perspectives is what allows me to take care of myself and others with more ease, and in more effective and effortless ways.

Lessons from King Lindorm

 

In the story of King Lindorm, there are a few things that stand out for me…

Cycles of nigredo, albedo and rubedo

The cycles of nigredo, albedo and rubedo occurs in different areas and in different phases of the process. They may change characteristics, but the basic process is most likely endless. There is always further to go in terms of a differentiated, mature, functional and conscious conjunctio.

We may awaken as awake emptiness and form, into realized selflessness. And yet, there is always more maturing and development in store for this individual, selfless or not.

Engaged persistence

At two points in the story, we see the value (and necessity) of engaged persistence.

The third bride engaged the lindorm in alternately shedding night skirts and layers of skin, nine of them altogether, and then continued with beating him to pulp, before dipping him in milk, wrapping him in the night skirts, and cradling him.

And King Lindorm, following the miscommunication with the castle, engaged persistently with his mother until the situation was clarified.

The calm after the storm

Following the hard and messy work of the third bride, there was a nurturing phase of dipping the lindorm in milk, wrapping him, cradling him, and then falling asleep for a short while.

And each nigredo/albedo phase is followed by a rubedo, a period of maturing, resting and reaping the fruits of the work. It is a period of rest before the next cycle is initiated.

Each cycle born out of what needs to be differentiated and made conscious

Each nigredo/albedo/rubedo cycle seems to be born out of what is undifferentiated and unconscious from the previous cycle. And it is initiated by the trickster, whether it shows up in our own actions or in the wider world.

The old queen couldn’t help but eating the second rose, in spite of the warnings against doing it. She was unconscious, at the mercy of instincts and impulses. She couldn’t help it, and it initiated the first nigredo/albedo/rubedo cycle.

And the nigredo of this cycle was amplified by the lindorm who somehow knew that a marriage was what he needed, but ended up promptly eating the brides (if he only wanted to eat the maidens, he wouldn’t have needed to marry them.) He too was at the mercy of his instincts and impulses. He couldn’t help it.

The second cycle is similarly born out of exactly that which needs to be made conscious. There was a separatio of the masculine and feminine so they both could explore themselves more fully – the masculine through war and the feminine through mothering.

And there was also a misalignment between the masculine and the feminine, partly because they didn’t quite know themselves yet, and partly because they hadn’t explored their relationship much yet. Much is still undifferentiated and unconscious, leading into the next cycle of nigredo/albedo/rubedo.

Again, that which needs further differentiation and to be made more conscious, is exactly what initiates the next cycle. It creates cause for grief (nigredo), which nudges us towards differentiation and consciousness (albedo), and finally into a resolution (rubedo.)

Looking at my own life, it is not difficult to find examples of that process.

Unconscious and conscious separatio

 

The previous post helps me see that the separatio happens in two ways: unconsciously and consciously.

Undifferentiated and nonfunctional unity

First, there is an unconscious and undifferentiated unity of the individual and the world as a whole. But since it is undifferentiated, it is also nonfunctional. We all start out on our human journey as helpless and dependent on others.

This unity does not go away, it is the ground of existence (and the prima materia), but it may appear as split later on in the process. The dependence on others does not go away either, for that matter, even if that too may appear differently later on.

Unconscious separatio: a sense of I and Other

Then, there is a mostly unconscious separatio. A sense of a separate I, of I and Other where I is this human self (or an aspect of it) and Other is anything else: anything outside of this human self and anything from inside this human self that doesn’t fit with what the personality wants (for instance pain, anger, sadness, etc.) We inadvertently split the world into I and Other, partly because those around us do it.

Conscious separatio: differentiation and discernment

The next separatio is more conscious. It is a process of discernment and differentiation, of exploring the different aspects of the whole, how each one functions, and how they relate to each other. This happens in the ordinary process of developing and living our lives, and with more heat and specificity if we consciously engage in a process of individuation or awakening.

The unconscious separatio sets the stage for the conscious separatio

The unconscious separatio sets the stage for, and aids, the second separatio. It creates a sense of a split that makes it easier to consciously differentiate and discern. There is a gap allowing for some distance and perspective. The inevitable stress from the first separation, the sense of I and Other, also provides the motivation (the nigredo) for the second separatio to take place.

The conscious separatio allows the unconscious separatio to fall away

And the conscious separatio, exploring the polarities and how the sense of I and Other comes about, allows the first separatio to eventually fall away.

The first gives birth to the second, allowing the first to fall away. It is a stepping stone which is left behind at some point. (At the same time, the basic ego-structures developed during the first separatio, and refined and reorganized in the second, remains. They are the ones which allows this human self to function in the world, to orient, navigate, be effective.)

The Work and alchemy II

 

Some more details about The Work and alchemy.

In short, The Work is to identify a stressful belief, and inquire into it. Is it true? What happens when I hold onto that belief? What happens if I let go of it? What is the grain of truth in each of the turnarounds of the initial statement?

The alchemical vessel is the noticing of something being off, and then a willingness to take a look at our part of it through self-inquiry, to follow the simple guidelines, and to stay with the questions until a genuine answer surfaces.

The three phases: nigredo, albedo and rubedo

The nigredo is the initial stress (misery, sadness, grief, anger, despair) that comes up when the world does not conform with our beliefs, nudging us to the inquiry.

The albedo, clarification, is throughout the process, from identifying the belief to the turnarounds and the living of the turnarounds in our daily life.

And the rubedo is the fruits of the process, the release from the initial belief, and occurs to some extent throughout the process, but especially during the two last questions and following the process.

Additional aspects

The calcinatio is the fire throughout the process. If the person is distracted, or go off in secondary stories, the fire is on the weak side. If there is too much pressure to “get it right”, the fire is too hot. And if the simple guidelines are followed, then the fire from simply being with the questions is just right.

The solutio is the softening of attitudes, of attachment to particular thoughts and ideas, a receptivity to the answers that surface on their own, and the fluidity of a shift in view… or rather a shift out of any particular and fixed view.

The coagulatio is the identification of the initial statement (the belief), the structure of the questions, and also the exploration of what happens of the belief is solidified, held onto tight, in questions number two.

The sublimatio is the whole process of clarification, of seeing what is already more true than the initial statement.

The separatio is the process of discernment throughout the inquiry. It is a sorting out at each phase, from identifying the belief, to exploring if it is true, to what happens when it is held onto tightly, to what I would be without the belief, to the grain of truth in the turnarounds, to the disidentification with the initial statement – a relaxation or letting go of the belief.

The conjunctio is the union of opposites, and occurs at the third question, and even more clearly at the turnarounds. It is a recognition of the union that is already there, within ourselves, and between ourselves as individuals and the wider world. (By finding the grain of truth in each of the turnarounds, I find in myself what I see in others, and in others what I see in myself. The attachment to a fixed point of view, which created the sense of separation in the first place, is relaxed or falls away, allowing for a recognition of the union that has always been there.)

King Lindorm and more details from alchemy

 

At another level of detail, we see how other alchemical terms fit in with the story of King Lindorm.

  1. First, there is the unconscious union of opposites, specifically of masculine and feminine represented by the king and the queen. This is how we all start out life, as a whole, but an undifferentiated and unconscious whole. This is the prima materia, the raw material for the alchemical process of individuation and awakening.
  2. This union is barren, unfruitful (possibly because of a lack of conscious love and engagement between the opposites.) This is nigredo, a phase of grief, of things not working out the way the personality would like it to work out, a sense of something missing, of not being right. This is more specifically called mortificatio.
  3. The king is away waging a war, creating a separation of the masculine and feminine. This is the beginning of a more conscious differentiation of the two, an exploration of what they are distinct from each other. This is separatio, a process of differentiation and discrimination, exploring aspects of the whole as distinct from each other. One way separation occurs in our lives is through consciously identifying with one end of the polarity and disidentifying with the other, but there can also be a conscious recognition of both.
  4. The queen goes out into the woods, leaving the castle behind, the familiar, the conscious attitudes and identities. The grief of the nigredo is what prompts her to go beyond what is familiar, because it obviously does not work, it cannot help her in this situation.
  5. She can’t help herself and eats both roses, in spite of being warned against doing so. This is still a largely unconscious phase, and she can’t help but following impulses and instincts. There is a coarse differentiation (the king is away), but still not familiarity enough with the feminine for it to function in a more differentiated and conscious way. It shows that the work is far from done, and this (inevitable) act leads to…
  6. … the next nigredo when she gives birth to the lindorm, bringing mortification and grief (mortificatio) to the kingdom (representing the individual). The nigredo deepens when the lindorm demands a bride, and promptly eats her much as his mother ate the second rose. Again, he can’t help himself. The intensity of the process increases, more heat (calcinatio) is applied to the alchemical vessel. We unconsciously act on impulses, and it creates stress and problems in our life.
  7. Now, an aspect of the feminine is more differentiated and conscious, enough to stand up against the lindorm. His third bride is a commoner, probably with more common sense as well, and she follows the advice of the old woman in the woods. Her encounter with the lindorm is one of engagement, and of a persistent torturous process of her shedding layers of night skirts and him shedding layers of skin. Here we see the alchemical vessel at work in a more conscious way, as an attitude of persistence in doing the work, providing a container for this ongoing and often difficult process. This is also a phase of albedo, of purification, shedding old layers of beliefs, identities and habitual patterns, and of sublimatio, of distilling and clarifying.
  8. As a dramatic climax of the albedo, she beats what is left of him into pulp. The old attitude and identity is completely taken apart and dissected. There is a more more detailed and specific differentiation, a further and more dramatic separatio. And again, the heat of the process, the calcinatio, is turned up allowing this to happen.
  9. After the grief of the (double) nigredo, and the torturous and engaged work of the albedo, there is a second phase of the albedo, the purification, where she dips what is left of him in a bucket of milk, wraps him in the night skirts, cradles him, and falls asleep for a short while. This is the nurturing, sweet rest after the hard work, lasting for a brief while until its fruition. After the intentional work (yang), there is a period of rest (yin) where the seeds germinate on their own, bringing the fruits of the work in its own time. The bathing in the milk is also solutio, the final dissolving of the old attitude and identity, allowing something completely different to emerge.
  10. And what emerges from the death of the lindorm, the monster, is a beautiful prince. They have a second wedding to celebrate, and she becomes pregnant. This is a lesser conjunctio, a union of (somewhat) differentiated opposites. It is also a limited (and very welcome) rubedo, the maturation and fruition of the work up until now.
  11. They are finally happy and content, celebrating, enjoying the new welcomed state of the kingdom. They have received what they all wanted. The old king and queen have a son, with a pregnant wife. He transformed from a monster to a beautiful prince. The commoner married a prince and will in time become a queen herself. She is pregnant and their union fruitful. Why move on? Nobody in their right mind would want to disturb this rubedo, shake it up not knowing what the outcome would be.
  12. And yet, that is exactly what happens. The situation is shaken up, things are set in motion which propels the kingdom beyond this comfortable (although preliminary) state. After a period of rest and enjoying the fruits of the previous work, there is a new separatio and the vessel is again heated up in the calcinatio.
  13. The kings both go away to war, in a separatio of the masculine and feminine. More differentiation is needed. The specifics of each pole of the polarity, and of their relationship, needs to be explored further and made more conscious. The women stay at the castle exploring themselves through motherhood. The Kings leave the castle, their conscious and familiar ways of being in the world. Having left, they can now try themselves out in battle, in the real world. Especially for King Lindorm, the war is how he gets to know himself, what he has within himself, what he is good for. Leaving the castle is the initial separatio, an initial differentiation allowing for further, and a more engaged and detailed, differentiation. In a war, the engagement in the real world, the heat is on (calcinatio), heating up the process much as the process was heated up in his own transformation.
  14. In the war, he gets to know more about himself, the masculine is further differentiated and brought into consciousness. But more differentiation and consciousness is still needed in the relationship between the masculine and the feminine. There is still a misalignment there, miscommunication, which sets in motion the next phase of the process.
  15. The red knight, the messenger between the opposites, the field and the castle, and the king and the queen, distorts the messages creating confusion, grief and drama on both sides. Another nigredo is coming, allowing attention to be brought where it needs to go, to that which needs further differentiation, clarification and consciousness.
  16. This time, the old queen disobeys her order, for the first time, showing her new level of maturity, differentiation and consciousness. But the young queen has more to learn. She is sent away from the castle, the conscious and ruling views and identities, and once again goes into the woods. There is a differentiation, a separatio, between the feminine and the habitual and ruling views and identities.
  17. She climbs a tall mountain, showing her determination, persistence and strength, aspects of the alchemical vessel. Here, she feeds milk to a swan and a crane, transforming them into two princes. This time, the transformation is far easier than with the lindorm, and the creatures transformed are already beautiful in themselves. It is another albedo phase, another clarification, which is also shown in the white color of the milk and the birds. It is another sublimatio, making what was beautiful and noble, yet unconscious and instinctual, more differentiated and conscious.
  18. King Lindorm returns to the castle, and through an engaged and persistent process clarifies the situation with the old queen, his mother. This is yet another albedo and sublimatio.
  19. He then works it out with his own wife, using salt in the process which again reflects the whitening, the albedo. This third instance of albedo and sublimatio shows that the process happens in several phases and in several different areas and ways.
  20. A more real, genuine and conscious relationship is established between the king and the queen(s), between the masculine and feminine. This is the greater conjunctio, leading into a more full, mature and abundant rubedo. The young couple has many more children, and the two liberated princes marries and establishes their own kingdoms. The abundance of the situation not only benefits the initial kingdom, but also the wider world.
  21. We see how the process as a whole has gone from (a) undifferentiated and unconscious unity, where impulses and instincts are automatically followed, via (b) differentiation and exploring of each pole in the polarities, to (c) a conscious and differentiated unity within the polarity, and also how this happens in many areas and in many phases. It is an ongoing process, and even here, in the new and more mature rubedo, there is room for going further. There is more to explore, more to differentiate, more to live out in real life and clarify and refine, more to allow into a more differentiated unity.

    For instance, in this story, what happened with the old king? It seems that he has some work to do as well. In many areas there seems to be more work to do, within the royal family, in their relationship with their citizens (the old king forced a commoner to give up his daughter), and also in their relationships with neighboring kingdoms (there has been a lot of wars).

    In each of these areas, there is room for further development and maturing, which means that the trickster will come up again and nudge them out of their familiar and comfortable patterns and identities, into a nigredo (disappointment, difficulty, sadness, grief) which in turn can shift into albedo (clarification) and rubedo (a new maturity and abundance.)

  22. Finally, the teller of the story mentions that he was given a tin sandwich in a sieve to eat the last time he visited the kingdom. Tin is partly made up of lead, signifying the prima materia, and I suspect that this is an invitation to anyone listening to engage in the same process on their own, by eating their own prima materia. Eating it makes us into a vessel for the process, and it also shows how we can (and must) fully embrace its raw material, our life as it is given to us.

    The story, and the process, starts all over again, this time with ourselves. From being an audience, we are invited to this time play out the story with our own life as raw material.

King Lindorm, the trickster, and going beyond what we know

 

One of the roles of the trickster, whether it shows up from ourselves or the wider world, is to nudge us beyond what we are familiar with – our identities, roles, world views, beliefs.

It is usually not what our personality wants, can often be uncomfortable, and may even seem disastrous, but it is always an invitation to move beyond our familiar identities.

We went through one version of the Scandinavian fairy tale of King Lindorm today, in the workshop on alchemy, and the trickster shows up several times there, disturbing a stable situation, setting things in motion that brings the kingdom ahead in its development (the individuation process of differentiating then integrating the whole of who we are.)

The king and queen are not able to have children. The queen meets an old woman in the woods (in the untamed, beyond the known areas of the castle) who tells her to eat a white or a red rose, but not both. She eats the red first, but can’t help herself and eat the white as well, in spite of the warning. This is the first instance of the trickster, this time in the form of an irresistible impulse. It also shows the initially unconscious union of the male and female in all of us, one that is driven by impulses and instincts that cannot be resisted because there is not much or any consciousness there.

While the king is away waging a war, she gives birth to a lindorm (a dragon), which initiates the first nigredo phase for them all (mortification.) After the king returns, the lindorm demands a bride. He is given a princess, and he promptly eats her. This is still an unconscious phase where the demands of the impulses and instincts are automatically given in to, first when the lindorm is given the bride, and then when he can’t help himself and eats her (much as his mother ate the second rose).

This repeats itself once more, but the third time the bride is a commoner (presumably with better sense). Before the wedding, she meets the (same) old woman out in the woods, gets advice for how to deal with the lindorm, and is able to tame him.

Actually, she tricks him into shedding all of his nine layers of skin, and then beats him into a bloody pulp. This is the second time the trickster shows up, this time tricking the lindorm. Also, it represents the albedo phase, a purification. After the beating, she bathes (what is left of) him in milk, wraps him in the nine night skirts she took off, cradles him, and falls asleep.

This is the soothing, nurturing and comforting end phase of the albedo, after the grief of the nigredo and the heavy work of the earlier albedo.

When she wakes up, she finds herself in bed with a beautiful prince, transformed from the remains of the lindorm, a rebirth of a prince out of the death of the monster.

Now follows a period of joy, an early rubedo phase. One of maturing, of reaping the fruits of the work that has gone before.

But the work is not finished (is it ever?) And to start the next cycle, pushing the kingdom beyond its complacency and a situation everyone is enjoying, the trickster returns. King Lindorm, as his father before him, is away waging war when his wife gives birth to two healthy boys. A red knight acts as a messenger between those at the castle and King Lindorm, but for unknown reasons changes the content of the messages, causing a great deal of grief and upheaval.

He tells King Lindorm that his wife has given birth to two dogs (when she has really given birth to two boys), and then gives a return message to the old queen with an order to burn and kill all three of them (King Lindorm’s message was to allow them all to live.)

This is the next nigredo, a return of the grief and sorrow, showing the cyclical nature of the three alchemical phases. There is more work to do, which is shown in the misalignment between the masculine and feminine. Although they are friendly towards each other, serious problems still arise through miscommunication.

The old queen disobeys the order (there is more consciousness here now), sends the two boys to a wet nurse, and the young princess out into the woods (again, going into the untamed areas, beyond the familiar realms of the castle, the conscious identity.)

She meets a swan and a crane, feeds them milk, and they turn into two princes. This is a much easier albedo, this time transforming already noble creatures into human form. Noble and beautiful, yet instinctual, patterns are released from instincts into more consciousness.

This time, there is a more full reconciliation. The communication between the masculine and feminine is established in a more genuine way through some work. The two liberated princes marries and establishes their own kingdoms, and King Lindorm and his wife have several more children.

This is a more full, complete and rich rubedo, where the fruits of the work are abundant and spreads out to the wider world. It no longer only benefits the original kingdom (individual), but also other kingdoms.

Alchemical vessel, three phases, and The Work

 

A simple way of illustrating the three alchemical phases, and how they can unfold within a limited scope and over a short timespan, is The Work.

In the context of The Work, the nigredo is the misery of the situation, prompting us to explore it through the four questions and the turnaround.

The albedo, the purification, is the process of genuine inquiry. We clarify the situation by seeing what is already more true for us than what initially appeared to be true, simply because we held onto a particular belief.

And the rubedo is the release, and what we emerge into, at the end. This includes embracing the polarities of the initial statement (the one we believed in and subsequently brought up stress) and all of its turnarounds, finding the grain of truth in each of them, and so being released from blindly believing any one of them to the exclusion of the others. In this process, there is also a recognition and integration of the shadow (I find in myself what I initially only saw in the others, and in them what I initially only saw in myself.)

The alchemical vessel is the willingness to admit that something is not working, and to sincerely explore it through a process of self-inquiry. And there are other aspects of the vessel, such as the obvious ones of being conscious and well-functioning enough to do the process, and also of having access to (knowing about) the process. Especially in the beginning, a part of a good vessel may also include being facilitated by someone familiar with the process.

Three alchemical phases

 

Nigredo, albedo and rubedo represented as three birds inside the alchemical vessel.
(from Splendor Solis, London, 1500s)

The basic three phases of alchemy is the nigredo (darkening), the albedo (whitening) and the rubedo (reddening), corresponding to a dark nigh, purification, and a mature (differentiated) union of opposites. And it seems that these three happen as cycles within cycles, as a fractal pattern. There are smaller cycles within larger cycles, spanning from (one or more) lifetimes, years, months, weeks, hours, minutes and even seconds.

The nigredo comes any time our habitual ways of operating in the world does not work anymore. When we meet a wall, when we cannot find fulfillment, when there is loss, when the world does not show up the way our personality wants it to show up. It is a disenchantment, sadness, grief, depression, dryness, sense of lack, of something missing.

The albedo comes out of (and works within) the nigredo, it is the purification, the shedding and burning through of old patterns, of clarification, resolution.

And even for one particular pattern or issue, these two, the nigredo and albedo works within each other, and there is often a cyclic shift from one to the other, many turns of the spiral, dipping down into (more of) the material of the nigredo and purifying it in the albedo.

Eventually, the rubedo emerges, a new maturity that has come out of the persistent work of the nigredo/albedo cycles, a maturity that embraces opposites, that owns both what was previously identified and disidentified with.

Example

Say there is a pattern of irritability with people who make a lot of noise. Here, there is an identification as someone who is quiet (and interpreted as respectful), and a disidentification as someone who is noisy (and interpreted as disrespectful.) The inevitable stress that comes up from being around people who are noisy is the nigredo. It is the misery of having the world show up in ways the personality does not approve of.

If there is a prober alchemical vessel for the process, and the right amount of heat is applied (intensity), then the albedo takes places, the whitening, purification. It seems that an essential aspect of the vessel is a willingness to (a) admit that there is a problem here, (b) stay with the process until some form of resolution. And the heat works best if it is not too cold (maybe avoiding situations altogether that brings it up) and not too hot either (being completely overwhelmed by it.)

Beyond this, the vessel can take many forms, depending on how we work with the issue.

One vessel is to be with experiences, as they are. Allowing everything, including resistance to being with experience. This in itself may well allow the process to unfold into rubedo.

Another is various forms of self-inquiry (see next post for an example), working with dreams, or any number of other specific approaches.

The rubedo is the fruition of the process, the release, the maturing beyond the issue. In this case, a release from the sense of I and Other around noise.

Alchemy, and who and what we are

 

I’ll post a few entries on different aspects of alchemy here as I want to get at least an elementary understanding of their insights, and how they relate to individualization individuation and awakening, of finding ourselves as more of who we are (the fullness of us as individuals, as we are and what we can be) and what we are (Big Mind, awake emptiness and form.)

I am a complete novice in exploring alchemy, so all of this (and everything else here for that matter) should be taken with a grain of salt.