C.G. Jung was a radical thinker. He was a man who ventured into unknown psychic territory and wrested a map out of the unconscious, which he thought was able to link the present moment with a remote past. To his surprise Jung found in alchemy a model that he identified as the basis of our modern way of perceiving things. In other words, a model for how we experience reality. Alchemy provides a pattern of transformational processes right under the threshold of consciousness, which all energy follows.
The patterns are there. Seeing them is the challenge.What is this curious practice called alchemy? There is more than one answer. For one it is the art of seeing beyond material surface. It is a way of seeing we have lost since Cartesian thinking removed the enchantment from our world. Common knowledge holds that chemistry evolved out of alchemy. That is true, but it was also the end of the alchemical vision, as chemists believed their experiments took place only on a mundane physical level.
Alchemists had a different vision. Alchemists knew that energy and matter could not be separated. They knew that there was no such thing as inorganic matter and that indeed all matter was infused with an element of consciousness. They knew that you and I are much more connected than mundane science wanted us to believe. They also intuitively knew what quantum physicists confirmed at a later age, namely the alchemical principle of the experimenter’s consciousness influencing the outcome. You and I matter! Our conscious and deliberate intent is much more powerful than the authorities in charge want us to believe.
No wonder that alchemists were discredited, persecuted, burnt at the stake and ridiculed.Jung saw and understood that. There is a heretical and subversive aspect to Jung’s work , at least from the perspective of our cultural dominant, which I cherish.
Alchemy describes a pattern of transformation. All creation and transformation follow the cyclical movements of falling apart and coming together on the spiral of evolution. There is one and it falls apart and becomes two and of that a third (something new) emerges and out of the third comes the oneness again that is the fourth. (This is a paraphrased version of the axiom of Maria Prophetissa, a third century female alchemist).
This is the movement of evolution and it is the movement in the mandala in Jung’s work.
If we transfer this movement into the evolutionary process of human consciousness then the falling apart (the two, the duality) represents a confrontation with a previously unknown content that ultimately belongs to the oneness that we are part of, but not necessarily conscious of. A constant flow between what is conscious and what is unconscious is established, which is best captured in the image of the Klein bottle
As materialism and one-sided rational thinking weaken but still dominate the Western world view and as we have brought ourselves to the brink of our own destruction, we must ask ourselves: Where are we in relation to matter, to earth? Where are we in relation to psychic reality? The South African Jungian Analyst Ian McCallum suggests that we desperately need to develop what he calls “Ecological Intelligence”, an intelligence the alchemists seemed to instinctively possess.
McCallum describes ecological intelligence as a way of understanding and articulating our evolutionary links to all of life, to all living things, as a debt we owe to the earth and as our contribution to the evolution of human consciousness. An ecological intelligence is also an intelligence oriented towards the feminine principle. It is the fourth we have been waiting for. It may be the next step in the evolution of human consciousness. The feminine principle is the principle of relatedness and of completeness. Relatedness and completeness are the opposite of perfectionism that so often drives our inner and outer lives.
Ecological intelligence can be experienced as a deep empathy for the other in the outer world, but also for what feels other within ourselves. The other as it manifests in other races, ethnic groups, but MacCallum particularly sees the other in the natural world, in nature, animals, plants.
It is the beauty of our evolving relatedness.
..for beauty is nothing but the terror, which we are still just able to bear. R. M. Rilke
I highly recommend: McCallum,Ian: Ecological Intelligence. Rediscovering Ourselves in Nature. It is a wonderful book.
Psychosis is the great other in Western civilization. Insanity, craziness, off-the-wallness is what frightens us the most. And for good reason, for one it is terrifying. And if that were not enough, we also run the risk of being immediately (over)medicated, hospitalized and stigmatized with that awful descriptive of having a “mental illness”. To be fair, there are of course psyches that are so fragile that they are hopelessly and helplessly flooded by what Jung refers to in the Red Book (RB) as the spirit of the depth. Much of this individual suffering can be alleviated by proper medication and designated caring environments. The psychiatric wards of most hospitals these days are not “caring environments”, but the problem is a systemic one and generally not the fault of the well intentioned but overworked and misinformed personnel of these wards. But the needs of this relatively small group of the population are not what I am addressing here. I am talking about you and me. The chances are that if you are reading this, you qualify for this much larger segment of the population, the reasonably well functioning average neurotic. What we generally deny is that we also have psychotic pockets in some of the more hidden corners of our psyche. Often a source of great fear and shame, these raw, uncontrollable spots in our inner landscape may also connect us to a divine, transpersonal reality.
A good working definition of psychosis is that the boundaries between inner and outer world have become blurry or non-existent. Remember the last time you completely lost it? Had a melt-down? Were so caught up in a personal complex that outer reality became skewed? This is where the other side begins. No problem as long as you can bounce back. The ability to recuperate from a moment, or days, or weeks, or even years of insanity is the real marker for psychic health and not having no knowledge of madness and therefore seeing (projecting) it only onto others. “It is unquestionable: if you enter into the world of the soul, you are like a madman, and a doctor would consider you to be sick”, Jung writes in the RB.
“I am seized by fear, but I know I must go in” he says, “the spirit of the depths opened my eyes and I caught a glimpse of the inner things, the world of my soul, the many-formed and changing”. The descent into the depths can be maddening and dangerous, but what is remarkable is that Jung also sees a form of madness looming when a person never leaves the surface. In other words, when a person is entirely identified with waking life and ego consciousness. In Jung’s words, “the spirit of this time is ungodly, the spirit of the depths is ungodly, balance is godly”. There is great wisdom in these three words, “balance is godly”. There is a time to be lost and there is a time to find oneself again. We fall apart and we are put together again. We breathe in and we breathe out. To accept the good and the bad. Life and death. Each cycle leaving us slightly changed. The secret of transformation lies in moving to this rhythm, consciously. “Depth and surface should mix so that new life can develop”, Jung writes.
Consciousness is related to awareness, but also to meaning. Without finding meaning in events, especially in our mad episodes, whether they take the form of a suicidal depression, a panic attack or an outburst worth a wrathful god, no light, no consciousness can be wrested out of it. “The meaning of events is the way of salvation that you create”, Jung writes.
The editor of the RB, Sonu Shamdasani, remarks in a footnote that what Jung is developing here in the Liber Primus is the connection between individual and collective psychology. What that means is that if we, as Jung did, look inward, give credence to our dreams, visions, fantasies and moods, when we dive into them versus running away, we will unavoidably come in contact with the forces of the collective unconscious and that can be terrifying and overwhelming. “My knowledge has a thousand voices, an army roaring like a lion, the air trembles when they speak, and I am their defenseless sacrifice”, Jung writes.
What is being sacrificed here? Jung suggests that it is our own head that needs to fall. Growth and new life are subjectively experienced as something most dreadful and even evil, like our own execution. “You thought you knew the abyss? Oh you clever people! It is another thing to experience it”, Jung writes. Our head is also sacrificed, when we let go of our judgment, when we accept experiences for what they are: expressions of the soul’s life regardless of how psychotic they might be. I know this is easier said than done, but Jung for one has walked the talk before us. The Red Book is proof, it can be done.