October 8, 2014

Letter from father to son – Ted Hughes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hets @ 7:51 pm

“When I came to Lake Victoria, it was quite obvious to me that in some of the most important ways you are much more mature than I am. . . . But in many other ways obviously you are still childish — how could you not be, you alone among mankind? It’s something people don’t discuss, because it’s something most people are aware of only as a general crisis of sense of inadequacy, or helpless dependence, or pointless loneliness, or a sense of not having a strong enough ego to meet and master inner storms that come from an unexpected angle.

But not many people realise that it is, in fact, the suffering of the child inside them. Everybody tries to protect this vulnerable two three four five six seven eight year old inside, and to acquire skills and aptitudes for dealing with the situations that threaten to overwhelm it. So everybody develops a whole armour of secondary self, the artificially constructed being that deals with the outer world, and the crush of circumstances. And when we meet people this is what we usually meet.
And if this is the only part of them we meet we’re likely to get a rough time, and to end up making ‘no contact’. But when you develop a strong divining sense for the child behind that armour, and you make your dealings and negotiations only with that child, you find that everybody becomes, in a way, like your own child. It’s an intangible thing. But they too sense when that is what you are appealing to, and they respond with an impulse of real life, you get a little flash of the essential person, which is the child.
Usually, that child is a wretchedly isolated undeveloped little being. It’s been protected by the efficient armour, it’s never participated in life, it’s never been exposed to living and to managing the person’s affairs, it’s never been given responsibility for taking the brunt. And it’s never properly lived. That’s how it is in almost everybody. And that little creature is sitting there, behind the armour, peering through the slits. And in its own self, it is still unprotected, incapable, inexperienced.
Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It’s their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can’t understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own.
That’s the carrier of all the living qualities. It’s the centre of all the possible magic and revelation. What doesn’t come out of that creature isn’t worth having, or it’s worth having only as a tool — for that creature to use and turn to account and make meaningful. So there it is. And the sense of itself, in that little being, at its core, is what it always was.
But since that artificial secondary self took over the control of life around the age of eight, and relegated the real, vulnerable, supersensitive, suffering self back into its nursery, it has lacked training, this inner prisoner. And so, wherever life takes it by surprise, and suddenly the artificial self of adaptations proves inadequate, and fails to ward off the invasion of raw experience, that inner self is thrown into the front line — unprepared, with all its childhood terrors round its ears.
And yet that’s the moment it wants. That’s where it comes alive — even if only to be overwhelmed and bewildered and hurt. And that’s where it calls up its own resources — not artificial aids, picked up outside, but real inner resources, real biological ability to cope, and to turn to account, and to enjoy. That’s the paradox: the only time most people feel alive is when they’re suffering, when something overwhelms their ordinary, careful armour, and the naked child is flung out onto the world.
That’s why the things that are worst to undergo are best to remember. But when that child gets buried away under their adaptive and protective shells—he becomes one of the walking dead, a monster. So when you realise you’ve gone a few weeks and haven’t felt that awful struggle of your childish self — struggling to lift itself out of its inadequacy and incompetence — you’ll know you’ve gone some weeks without meeting new challenge, and without growing, and that you’ve gone some weeks towards losing touch with yourself. The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.”

November 12, 2011

Mamaheaven retreat

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frank @ 10:58 am

Mamaheavens  retreats emphasize a mother’s bliss – a chance to re-awaken your body, calm your fears and put your feet up; a heaven-sent time to de-stress and restore yourself after the momentous experiences surrounding childbirth and parenting.

As well as being deeply rewarding, motherhood is incredibly challenging – Mamaheaven gives mothers the time, energy and resources to rekindle their power as parents.

By offering yoga, massage treatments, one-to-one counselling, relevant talks and workshops, optimum nutrition, wonderful goodie bags, loving childcare and a library of useful literature, Mamaheaven gives mothers the unique opportunity to meet their own, oft-neglected, needs and get a well-deserved rest.

Interested follow this link: http://mamaheaven.org/

September 3, 2010

re neuroscientist that makes you weep

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hets @ 8:13 pm


May 26, 2010

heartbreak hotel Elvis & Jung

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Hets @ 10:17 pm

I’d like to offer an image for the practice of Core Process Psychotherapy which I hope evokes something of my own sense of its value, uniqueness and potential impact, as well as some important aspects of the process. I want to talk about the kind of psychotherapy which I aim to practice – which is vital, alive, passionate, full-bloodied, embodied and quietly revolutionary. I think that we’re offering is vitally important to our culture. And I think it’s valuable to define how we’re unique, as well as my sense of where we might cross over and connect with other traditions.

The image that I want to offer and explore with you is the therapy space as a “Heartbreak Hotel.”Now this image might be surprising. It is not original. As you may know, it’s the title of a song by someone called Elvis Presley. It was Elvis’ first no.1 and it’s 50 years old this year. So, what’s Elvis doing here? Am I about to claim that he was the first Core Process Psychotherapist? Perhaps a forerunner, some kind of neo-Reichian bodyworker, loosening up the American pelvis?

By the end I hope to make it clear why I have chosen this image. I’ll be using quite a few musical metaphors in this talk, and again I hope it will become clear why.“Heartbreak Hotel” is a rock’n’roll song, from the earliest period of Elvis’ career, arguably the most vital period. Rock’n’roll came from a synthesis of black blues music with white country music. The blues is based on a 5 point scale, called the pentatonic scale. (It contains two notes which are flattened or ‘blue’ when stood alongside a standard major scale) And I want to explore the image along five dimensions. Bear with me here: the first two might feel a little bit like ‘so what? is there anything new here? ‘ But bear with me: like a musical phrase, this will only ‘make sense’ once you hear the whole thing!

1. Heartbreak

The genesis of the song was a newspaper article about a suicide, which Mae Axton, one of the song’s co-writers, read and was affected by. The man in question had a left a note which read: ‘I walk a lonely street’. Mae was very affected by this, and said to Tommy Durden, the co-writer: ‘Let’s put a heartbreak hotel at the end of that street:

And so the words go:
Well, since my baby left me,
I found a new place to dwell.
It’s down at the end of lonely street
At heartbreak hotel.
You make me so lonely baby,
I get so lonely,
I get so lonely I could die.

And although its always crowded,
You still can find some room.
Where broken hearted lovers
Do cry away their gloom.

You make me so lonely baby,
I get so lonely,
I get so lonely I could die.

Well, the bell hops tears keep flowin’,
And the desk clerks dressed in black.
Well they been so long on lonely street
They aint ever gonna look back.

You make me so lonely baby,
I get so lonely,
I get so lonely I could die.

Hey now, if your baby leaves you,
And you got a tale to tell.
Just take a walk down lonely street
To heartbreak hotel. i
So there is loss, suffering, mourning…and there is a place for this to be. Yet the whole feel of the song is far from despairing. It’s full of vitality and humour.

Now just as the blues is a creative response to suffering, originating in the hard lives of Negro slaves in the Southern states of the USA in the late nineteenth century, the dharma, the teachings of the Buddha, also have their origin as a creative response to and path through suffering. More precisely, the word which we translate crudely as ‘suffering’ is, in Sanskrit, ‘dukkha’. The etymology of this word gives a clue as to the multiple resonances:

The origin of the word “dukha” in Sanskrit (Pali: dukkha), translated variously as “pain,” “frustration,” or “suffering,” is unclear. Native grammarians derive the word from the adverbial particle dus, meaning “bad” or “badly,” and the substantive kha, meaning “cavity” or “hole.” The word dukha is then taken to mean someone who has a “badly (functioning) axle-hole,” that is to say, someone whose chariot or cart is not working properly. The contrary is then someone who is su-kha, namely, someone who has a “good axle-hole” or whose chariot or cart “runs swiftly or easily.” Others have suggested that the words dukha and sukha may be forms of the Sanskrit words du-stha, meaning “standing badly,” or “miserable,” or “ill,” and su-stha, meaning “well situated,” or “faring well,” or “healthy.” Regardless of origins, however, in both Sanskrit and Pali the word dukha (or Pali dukkha) encompasses a range of meaning not easily captured in modern English usage. ii

So the sense here is of mis-alignment, something out of tune or ‘off’.

In the Buddha’s first discourse, he outlines what he calls the Four Noble Truths. (More accurately, Ennobling Truths, according to Stephen Batchelor, They are not ‘inherently’ noble, but when used as a vehicle for enquiry and practice, their effect is ennobling). This is his first attempt to put into words his realisation under the Bodhi tree. The story goes that he just sat, for six weeks. He was in some doubt as to whether what he had realised could be taught at all. The first discourse is an attempt to language the realisation in a way which would be intelligible and helpful to those with ‘but little dust’ in their eyes.The proposal in the discourse is that if dukkha can be fully known, our ceaseless quest for satisfaction can come to a stop, and an experience of freedom can arise which opens up a path for ourselves and our relation to others. So dukkha, can be a kind of doorway. In fact, listen to this, from the Pali canon – the earliest collection of discourses:

Just as, when rain pours down upon a hilltop, the water courses with the slope, filling the clefts, the gullies and the creeks; these being filled fill the streams…the rivers…the great ocean. In the same way…dukkha is a cause for trust, trust is a cause for gladness, gladness is a cause for joy, joy is a cause for serenity, serenity is a cause for happiness…for collectedness…for knowledge and vision of things as they really are…disenchantment…dispassion is a cause for liberation, and liberation is a cause for knowledge of the ending of the outflows of selfhood.iii
This sounds incredibly counter-intuitive. You start with something unpleasant, something which most of us would like to get rid of. We’d all prefer a smooth running cart, wouldn’t we? And you end up with joy, bliss and freedom.

So what’s going on here?

In terms of my own experience, my understanding is that maybe it’s a bit like this: you are on a meditation retreat and you have acute pain in the knees. The thought then arises, as you sit there in agony: ‘the retreat leader has fallen asleep and forgotten to ring the bell. Meanwhile I am suffering permanent damage to my knees. I may need an operation. I may be crippled…’ At this point, out of desperation you decide that there is really nothing for it but to practice. So you try to be with the pain in your knees as pure sensation. You make space for these body sensations just as they are, without adding on anything to them. And as if by some grace, beyond your will yet also dependent on that subtle shift in your attitude, from a situation of agony there is now just sensations moving: tingling, sometimes hot, sometimes cold; energy moving in the legs and knees and feet. The experience of agony and of someone suffering agony has transformed. The sensations are fluid and the sense of ‘suffering’ out there being experienced by a solid ‘I’ who suffers has softened. There is then a simultaneous realisation that suffering and sufferer co-arise. The storyline about painful knees co-arises with the sense of a discrete ‘I’ who is the subject and object of this story. With this realisation, there is wisdom – a direct insight into the conditions of embodiment, with full acceptance of the consequences of that (‘the ills that flesh is heir to’ in Hamlet’s words) and there is a compassion – a direct and radical acceptance that this is how things are. No more resistance, no more fighting, no more struggle.

This may last just a second or two. As you have this experience and start to feel pleased with yourself and that perhaps you’ve made some kind of breakthrough and you think about it and start imagining ‘wow, I’ll tell my friends about this. Maybe I’ll even give a talk about it,’ it goes and you’re back with painful knees again. But you had a glimpse of what the Buddha might be talking about.

2. Hotel

Now the psychotherapy situation has an obvious difference compared to the meditation situation. There is not just the private world of the mediator. There are 2 people. The therapist is called upon to make some kind of response to what the client brings. But the crucial point here is what kind of response, what kind of space the therapist makes in themselves. If the therapist can receive the suffering without trying to make it change, then perhaps it can be fully known, and there can be the same kind of shift towards spaciousness, the same kind of loosening up. The attitude here is well conveyed in the Rumi poem:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond. iv

In the example of the painful knees what changed the situation from agony was the turning towards the pain, the decision to make space for it, make it welcome, not resist it, to fully know it in other words.
When the therapist makes this space in himself he does not know what guests will come. He opens the hotel, like the desk clerk in the song he sits at the reception desk (he may or may not be ‘dressed in black’!), but does not know who will come through the door. He is engaging in an improvised dialogue. A kind of call and response, which we in our work call resonance and reflection.

3. Call and Response

In order to engage in this, there is preparation and training and practice. Like a musician she learns the scales, the nuts of bolts of how selfing patterns itself, and the practice and discipline of being with what arises internally and in relationship, with spaciousness, and without being thrown off-centre, or – more accurately – practising a continual coming back to centre, until this practice becomes a kind of second nature. I have been playing the guitar for more than 30 years and I don’t need to think about chords and scales. I can use them quite intuitively. My body knows them without me having to think about it. At the same time I’m always learning, always discovering.

I haven’t been a psychotherapist for quite as long- 8 years in fact – but I feel that there is something similar, comparable in therapeutic work. We train, we practice, practice and keep practising. There is improvisation within a structure. We make space to receive what the client brings; we allow ourselves to be affected; and we respond and into that response comes all of our practice, all of our preparation. Our response is improvised in the moment, yet is informed by a specific kind of intentionality, a specific kind of attunement to the client’s being, to our own being, to interbeing, to ‘subtle layers of knowing at all levels of our interbeingv, as Maura Sills puts it.

4. Significant Moments

Now within this dialogue there are significant moments, moments when something happens. Daniel Stern describes these as Now Moments and Moments of Meeting. These are moments of very good attunement in the present. These are subtly and sometimes emphatically reconstructive Stern also calls them ‘shared feeling voyages’’. They are

simple and natural yet very hard to explain or even talk about. We need another language that does not exist (outside poetry) [or music?] […] This is paradoxical because these experiences provide the nodal moments in our life. Shared feeling voyages are one of life’s most startling yet normal events, capable of altering our world step by step or in one leap.(173)
They are the currency of therapeutic change. They are moments of kairos, as distinct from chronos:

In the natural sciences and in managing the daily schedules of life, we use the ancient Greek view of chronos … the present instant is a moving point in time headed only toward a future…. vi

Kairos is the passing moment in which something happens as the time unfolds…it is a small window of becoming and opportunity. One of the origins of the word comes from shepherds watching the stars. As the night progresses and the stars turn in the sky, they appear to rise and then fall against the horizon. The moment when a star has reached its apogee and appears to change direction from ascending to descending is its kairos vii


When the present moment of doing something together is charged with greater affect, and a stronger kairos , so as to get elevated as a sort of peak amidst the other surrounding moves and present moments; when the something that gets done together involves a time voyage of riding vitality affects across the span of a present moment. When all these conditions are met, a nodal event occurs that can change a life. viii

Looking back, it was a moment like this which changed my life and which set me on course to becoming a psychotherapist. I was a client in psychotherapy, the first therapist I saw, this was in 1991, when I was 30. I was saying something about how I felt lack of confidence, that I was sure to be rejected, in relation to a particular woman. She said something very simple, I can remember the words: ‘So you’re ‘’no good’’ ’. The effect was amazing. She was a psychoanalytic practitioner and I was lying on the couch, and I actually felt myself being very physically turned upside down. Something in me came loose from its moorings and the effect was cataclysmic. What she had done was put ‘no good’ in quotes, as it were. At that point a space opened up between me and ‘no good’ which had been completely closed down beforehand. I was ‘no good’. Now what opened up was the possibility that I was not ‘no good’, that there was a me which existed prior to and apart from this conviction, and this me suddenly surfaced again and felt deeply recognised.

In the course of a long-term psychotherapy relationship, there are hundreds of significant moments, and a few which like that one stand out in relief. As we attune ourselves to our clients, as we resonate and reflect, we prepare the ground for such moments. We can theorise these afterwards – in terms of reparative emotional experience, and so on, but at the time these moments are unpredictable and unwillable! Maura “it is everything that you’re doing and nothing that you’re doing’ [interview] and

something that has meaning but no agenda or goal. It is mostly very fleeting and non-verbal. When we try to find words to describe it, it’s gone, yet we know we have been changed by the experience. ix


Healing occurs in silence. Healing occurs not when you are doing something, and healing generally occurs in a mysterious fashion. I am sure as practitioners you have got a good sense of that. You can be trucking along and doing the best you can and you are following this, doing that, listening to the other and sometimes it just seems to be as though you are at a tangent. Healing comes in an unlikely manner. It sometimes seems like a benediction or grace descending. It is almost nothing that you are doing but everything that you are doing.x

I’ll turn again to a poet for the last words here, Jimenez:

My boat struck something deep.
Nothing happened.
Sound, silence, waves.
Nothing happened?
Or perhaps, everything happened
And I’m sitting in the middle of my new life.
Juan Ramon Jimenezxi

5. Art not Technology

From the point of view of practice this is more like an art than a technology. This distinction comes from Heidegger, whose work I discovered through Stephen Batchelor, and of course am learning more about through Franklyn Sills as well. Heidegger makes a distinction between a problem and a mystery. A problem is something that can be laid our before us objectively. It can be defined and broken down into component parts. We can then apply a sequence of known procedures to address the problem and solve it. For example, to repair a broken-down car. The development and use of technology is an outcome of this way of looking at the world. It is an outcome of what Heidegger calls ‘calculative thinking’, which reduces the world to objects and problems to be used or solved.

A mystery is something that we ourselves are involved in, so that subject and object cannot be neatly separated out. Our condition of being embodied, of being alive, is itself a mystery. When it comes to approaching a mystery, we need to engage what Heidegger calls ‘meditative thinking’. In other words, to let ourselves be impacted, to let the world or experience come to us and inform us.

In his book “The Faith To Doubt’ Stephen Batchelor quotes the French philosopher and artist Gabriel Marcel:

A problem is something which I meet, which I find complete before me, but which I can therefore lay siege to and reduce. But a mystery is something in which I am myself involved, and it can therefore only be thought of as a sphere where the distinction between what is in me and what is before me loses its meaning and initial validity. A genuine problem is subject to an appropriate technique by the exercise of which it is defined: whereas a mystery, by definition, transcends every conceivable technique.xii
Or as Jung says, ‘I cannot experience myself as a scientific problem’.xiii To approach a mystery, we need not calculative mind but meditative mind. Here we are in the territory of what Keats called ‘negative capability':

when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reasonxiv
This a kind of radical openness – a fertile ground of possibility, free of preconceptions.

A Place of Quest-ioning

This kind of opennness, and willingness to embrace not knowing has deeply informed the Rinzai Zen tradition of Buddhhist practice, which Stephen Batchelor immersed himself in for his 11 years as a monk in Korea. A lot of the time the practice consisted of long meditation retreats during which the monks would sit with the question ‘ what is this?’ .I have sat on retreat with him at Gaia House and have had a small taste of this. For me it has some resonance with the Focusing process developed by Gendlin, which has been influential in the development of CPP. The kind of openness we need to receive and enquire into our felt sense of how it is now seems very congruent with the kind of meditative openness and enquiry which the question ;’what is this?’ tends to facilitate.

The Rinzai Zen tradition is best known for its koans. The original meaning of this word is ‘public case’. When we think of koans we probably think of stories like the disciple who is asked by the master ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping?’. The disciple wrestles with the question, usually for a long time, and then in a moment of breakthrough, ‘gets it’. I do think there is an analogy here with our clients. Often there is a kind of stuckness, a predicament which cannot be solved at its own level, cannot be solved as a problem. There might be a demand that it is solved in this kind of way. I once had a client who told me that I should be able to fix her like a mechanic fixes a car. If I couldn’t, why should I be paid?

That might sound absurd to our ears but actually this is a prevalent attitude in our culture. It is the technological attitude, the attitude of calculative mind.

In fact it is not too far removed from the attitude of the National Institute of Clinical Excellence, or NICE for short. CBT is a very valuable therapeutic approach which helps a lot of people. But in driving forward CBT as a response to the epidemic of what is called ‘anxiety and depression’, which are the recommendations of The Depression Report,xv there is a danger. My question is, what is being missed here? What is the call of ‘anxiety’? What is the call of ‘depression’? Maybe part of the call is to respond to something in our culture that is ‘off’ or out of tune. If we pre-define the problem and the solution we will not hear that call. We will not make this heartbreak a guest, we will not come to know it, and we will not find out where it wants to take us. Let me give an extreme example to illustrate my point. Suppose that we were CBT practitioners in Nazi Germany and a concentration camp guard came to us suffering from anxiety and depression and our remit was to apply the procedures of CBT to get him back to work. Within 6 sessions. That would be our SMART objective. From our vantage point now we can see that such an approach takes no account of the cultural, ethical and existential context.

In the same way, perhaps there is now an Inconvenient Truth (as Al Gore puts it) that we would be ignoring were we to take ‘anxiety’ and ‘depression’ at face value. We are in danger of destroying our planet. Of course we’re anxious and depressed! And then there is the existential predicament. The predicament of being in a body and subject to death – what the Zen masters call ‘the great matter of birth and death’. Should we be trying to fix the ‘problem’ of unhappiness on its own level? I will leave it to Beckett to have the final word here:

We are happy. (Silence.) What do we do now, now that we are happy?
Wait for Godot. (Estragon groans. Silence.)xvi
I think the value of the kind of therapy we practice is precisely that we protect the space from the agendas of SMART and NICE. We resource and catalyse a creative response to the individual, cultural and existential predicaments we face with our clients. And the form of the work and its outcome cannot be know in advance. It is an improvised, co-created music of call and response, in which transformative moments arise.

Beating The Blues – Or Singing The Blues?

The logical consequence of developing therapies which are effectively technologies (in Heidegger’s sense) is that therapy can be computerised. And indeed, that is happening. There is a CD ROM called ‘Beating The Blues’ which is designed to enable clients to apply a CBT approach to their depression. Now I am not saying that this is an evil thing – no doubt it can help people without access to a therapist and indeed that is the intention behind it. But I would like to argue strongly for a psychotherapy which can make heartbreak a guest and ask what it needs. Not beating the blues but singing the blues.

Of course we have to engage with the technological, calculative attitude which is prevalent in our culture. We cannot avoid this. But I think that we have to do so on the basis of offering Mustard Seeds, to allude to that famous and wonderful parable from the sutras. The birth of RocknRoll music was unpredictable. It came out of an immersion in musics with deep ancestral roots and was a creative accident, improvised in the moment. This is clear from the stories of all those present at the first Sun Sessions, which produced Elvis’ first records. Elvis’ appearance on the cultural stage was also a pivotal moment, changing everything which came afterwards. I think that what is wonderful about the kind of open-ended process-based therapy we practise, with deep roots in a tradition but with a wide embrace of the unfolding moment, is that it can act as a resource for and catalyst of this kind of response, this kind of dynamic, full-bloodied, embodied, response in the life of individuals which cannot be predicted, or in any way guaranteed, in advance.

Elvis of course has been hugely mythologized. I wonder if part of the reason for this is that he personifies something for us: an original creative genius which became formularised, commoditised and stuck, ending in deep personal unhappiness for the man, so that the hugeness of his spirit could be expressed only through addictions to food and drugs. Perhaps he symbolises something about American culture – which is increasingly global culture. One of the birthplaces of the blues and all the music which derives from the blues was New Orleans. We have just lost this city, in all likelihood as a result of climate change. For me this is a deeply sad and resonant event. Perhaps we are paying the price of our own bloatedness, our own addictions, our own denial of genius. There was no Heartbreak Hotel for Elvis – no place he could go to reconstruct himself. Perhaps like any myth, his myth endures because of the complexity of meanings we can read into it. I would like to think that by keeping Heartbreak Hotel open, we can help individuals to find their own response, from their own creative wellspring, to their individual predicaments, which are of course inseparable from all of our predicaments.


i Words and music by Mae Axton and Tommy Durden
ii The Relation Between ‘Action’ and ‘suffering’ in Asian Philosophy. Larson, GJ – Philosophy East & West. Volume: 34. Issue: 4. 1984: 351.
iii Rhys Davids, CAF., Woodward Fl., (trans.) (1917-30)
iv ‘The Guest House’ (Barks, C et al Trans.) (1995): 109
v Corrigall, J, Payne, H, Wilkinson, H (eds) 2006: 201
vi Stern (2004): 5
vii Ibid: 7
viii Ibid: 176
ix Corrigall, J, Payne, H, Wilkinson, H (eds) 2006: 201
x “Inner Processes of the Practitioner Talk” given by Maura Sills to the CSTA AGM on the 14th of October 2000
xi In Ortiz-Carboneres, S (Ed) (2005)
xii In Batchelor, S (1990): 43
xiii Jung, C.G., 1995:17
xiv In Gittings, R., (ed) (1970)
xv Centre For Economic Performance’s Mental Health Policy Group (2006)
xvi Waiting For Godot, Act Two in Beckett, S., 2006: 56xvii See Rhys Davids, Caf (trans) (1980), for the full parable. Also see Silverton (2005) for a full discussion of its meaning for therapists.

BARKS, C., MOYNE, J., (trans), (1995) The Essential Rumi
BATCHELOR S.(1990) The Faith To Doubt Parallax Press
BECKETT, S., (2006) The Complete Dramatic Works Faber &Faber
CENTRE FOR ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE’S MENTAL HEALTH POLICY GROUP (2006) The Depression Report: A New Deal for Depression and Anxiety Diorders
CORRIGALL, J., PAYNE, H., & WILKINSON, H. (eds) 2006. About A Body Routledge
GENDLIN, E. (1981) Focusing Bantam New Age
GITTINGS, R., (ed) (1970) Letters of John Keats
GURALNICK, P. (2005) Last Train To Memphis Index
JUNG, C. G, (1995) Memories, Dreams, Reflections Harper Perennial
ORTIZ-CARBONERES, S (Ed) (2005) Selected Poems of Juan Ramon Jimenez Aris & Phillips
RHYS DAVIDS, CAF., WOODWARD FL., (trans.) 5 vols. (1917-30) Samyutta Nikaya: The Book of the Kindred Sayings
RHYS DAVIDS, CAF (trans) (1980) Theri Gatha Pali Text Society
SILVERTON, S., (2005) Mustard Seeds and Tiger Whiskers: The Medicine of Emptiness (www.cgjungpage.org)
STERN, D (2004)The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life Norton

May 11, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — Hets @ 5:38 pm

Man can try to name love, showering upon it all the names at his command, and still he will involve himself in endless self deceptions. If he possesses a grain of wisdom he will lay down his arms and name the unknown by the more unknown – ignotum per ignotius – that is by the name of God.
Carl Jung

March 28, 2010

Kundalini rising

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hets @ 8:52 pm

One enduring statement that C.G. Jung made late in life about not having to be a Jungian reveals much of his attitude towards the psyche. He saw his scientific role as a phenomenologist always open to the ambivalent and many aspected ambiguous intrusions of the unconscious into the ego field of conscious existence. He saw the ego loosely attached to a vast impersonal realm of the Self, which, in his later works he presented as the only objective and fundamental reality human beings could connect with. From this perspective the multi-layered, and to the conscious being, bewildering, complexity of the soul’s functions was as fleeting as the Buddhist Maya. The west sees this Maya as the reality, and focusing our civilisation on the mastery of externals has produced its own catastrophic psychic disfunctioning as the values of internal reality have been neglected.

Jung saw the Indian speak not of Personal/Impersonal, Subjective/Objective; but of a personal consciousness and Kundalini. The two were never identified: the Gods were utterly different from humans. It was necessary to live through, and establish, a presence of stable consciousness within the world before it was possible for the detachment to gradually emerge which would permit that other, objective reality to connect with the conscious. Jung’s journeys to Africa and India enabled him to confirm his experiences of the unconscious as he saw the visible proof of its functioning in the pre European modes of his own era. His description of how, in the myths of the Pueblo, where the emergence of conscious from a dark and very dim beginning proceeds through a series of caves one above the other to a full awakening on the surface of the earth in the light of the sun and moon, parallels the system of chakras outlined in Kundalini Yoga, as the development of the impersonal life.

Jung was aware of the existent texts on this subject, from Arthur Avalon’s translations from Sanskrit to the Chinese ‘Secret of the Golden Flower’ a Taoist manual translated by Richard Wilhelm, a key figure in Jungian life whose deep knowledge of Chinese esotericism enabled him to formulate a number of basic concepts of psychology, among them the theory of synchronicity -(a concatenation of events linked by a single meaning). Jung’s interpretation of the process of Kundalini did not, however, stem from theories. It was the consistent attention he paid to the indications of its movement within the psychic life of his patients that gave the conforming clues to the emergence of the impersonal life of the collective unconscious. He was keenly aware of the dangers of the ego becoming inflated by the stirrings of unconscious contents to the extent of total psychic imbalance. Temporary identifications could make the ego lunatic for a time; prolonged identification could produced schizophrenia. The structure of Indian systems on the other hand drew clear distinctions between the transitory and permanent self which could only be realised in a state of detachment. The gods, in European or modern man so efficiently focussed on outer existence, Jung described as being reduced to mere functions ‘neuroses of the stomach, or the colour or the bladder, simply disturbances of the underworld.’ The Gods being asleep stir in the bowels of the earth, as the idea of God in conscious life is remote, abstract and to one level of modern theology, effectively dead.

In the ideas of pre-European civilisations is reflected their identification with the various levels of the chakras. However, it was in the careful unravelling of the psychic life of his patients in their journey towards the impersonal self which he described as the process of individuation, that the Kundalini manifested. This gave his statements of the chakras a verification based on real experience. He concluded that the main level of activity of most people was in the lower three centres beginning with the Muladhara (literally, root support), where existence was established, through Swadistana (the manifest creativity in the personality) and to Manipur and Void, centre of emotionality, the Red Sea of the Old Testament whose crossing to the Heart (Anahata) required the discipline of the Guru both individually and collectively. At the heart the first intimations of the Self reach consciousness. The Purusha, whose tiny flame of eternal being establishes the domain of objective reality. If, as Jung suggests, enough people could connect with this level the mass psychoses of out modern era would vanish altogether.

Jung saw each chakra as a whole world in itself. At the level of Muladhara for instance is the earth, our conscious world, but also where instinct and desire is largely unconscious -a state of participation mystique. Reason can do little: storms of emotion or externally, war or revolutions can sweep all away. The bizarre elaboration of weapons in the modern world is nothing more than an attempt to contain or destroy the threat of impulses from the lower centres. Worse, much of it is an expression of them.

Jung found the stages of individuation of his patients elaborated through dream and symbol corresponding with those of old mystery cults. In baptism he saw a reflection of the dangerous journey of analysis itself – baptism being a symbolic drowning to inaugurate a new life.

Jung realised that arousing the activity of Swadistana, the Kundalini itself had to be aroused, but he also realised that such happenings were spontaneous, and not produced through the dangerous practices of Tantrism where the exalted idea of shakti, the pure Kundalini, is degraded into the literalism of a sexual cult. Jung never practised any form of organised meditation but saw the attention itself gathered into deeper levels of being by the motion of the unconscious self through Kundalini awakening. Further, the motion of anima leading into the depths of the unconscious, he recognised as an imaginal figure projected by Kundalini and identified with it.

In the various symbols surrounding the chakras Jung identified with his own system. The Muladhara with its image of the elephant (Hindu Ganesha) has a fourfold structure of psychic functions (the chakra has four petals) and corresponds with the world of consciousness. The heart with its symbolism of the dear projects images of lightness of being, swiftness and elevation. Beyond; Vissuddi, Agnya and Sahasrahra – he said little except that as fully developed centres they were so above ordinary consciousness that not even thought could offer any illumination. Essentially he came to the view that, from the standpoint of the gods, the great archetypal figures, the world is less than child’s play, a seed, a mere potentiality for the future. People, and they consist of the vast majority, who pass through life unawakened and unaware, victims of outer circumstances and inner compulsions, have not lived at all and pass back into the universal unconscious, to quote Socrates; ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’. To Jung the awakening of Kundalini out of mere potentiality is to ‘start a world which is totally different from our world: it is infinity’.

The work

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Hets @ 8:37 pm


For the last thirty years of his life, alchemy was Jung’s major pre-occupation. Though this fact may seem odd or embarrassing to some, it obliges us, if we call ourselves Jungians, to take it seriously. Jung evidently felt that something about alchemy, above all other possible sources and parallels, including mythology, theology, anthropology, fairy tales or philosophy, made it pre-eminent in what it had to offer to analytical psychology. What most readers find difficult about alchemy, and Jung’s works on it, is its obscurity. This stems primarily from the paradoxical quality of the imagery. Obvious examples are the ‘stone that is not a stone’, the dry water (aqua sicca), the pharmakon that is both medicine and poison. While the imagery that we find in myth and fairy tale makes some sense and hangs together in a comprehensible narrative, that of alchemy feels impossible to grasp. What are we to make of the most important ‘person’ in alchemy: Mercurius? He is at once a liquid metal, an hermaphrodite, ‘our water’, ‘our fire’, the prima materia and ultima materia, the philosopher’s stone, dark and light, visible and invisible, young and old, hard and soft, fixed and volatile. He is the dragon, the lion, the uroboros, the sea, the shadow, the virgo, the fugitive stag, the eagle, the wind, the bride etc. etc. Alchemy feels too often like a quicksand into which the rational mind simply sinks.

Rather than, on the one hand, giving up on it with a shrug, or, on the other, pursuing it under the assumption that it will all click into place like a huge puzzle, a more fruitful attitude to alchemy would be to embrace the very confusion and ego-frustrating chaos of the thing. If we do this we will see that what we have here is not comparable to the stories and images of myth. It is a new thing. Mercurius is not the same as the Greek god Hermes, who took his place in the pantheon of Greek religion and was worshipped, and whose exploits we can read about in the Homeric hymn. Hermes has certain fixed attributes which we see in action in the myths which concern him, but about Mercurius there is nothing we can say without the opposite also being true. The alchemists who formulated these paradoxical ideas seem to be dealing with a new level of understanding, which can only be expressed in this difficult form. It would seem that the alchemists are actually intending to undermine the logical understanding which is the hallmark of ego-consciousness. Cause and effect, subject vs. object, inductive reasoning: these are all frustrated by alchemical understanding.

It is the idea of wholeness that underlies Jung’s concept of the Self and the process of individuation. However, psychic wholeness is a difficult thing to write about. In the 1920’s Jung wrote extensively on the mandala as an image of wholeness, but what was missing from this approach was what Niel Micklem has called ‘the shadow of wholeness’: paradox. As he points out, the idea of wholeness seems at first glance to be trouble free. “But the psychological reality tells a different story; its most important image, the self, reveals it as a source of ambiguity and conflict. It can make or mar, purify or destroy.” Given this, one can see why the study of alchemy became so important to Jung. As we have seen, alchemy’s images do full justice to this paradoxical reality. Mercurius is nothing if not ‘a source of ambiguity and conflict’ who can ‘make or mar, purify or destroy’. Moreover, alchemy’s emphasis on the opus as a process contrasts with, for example, the static quality of the mandala. Jung describes how Mercurius acts in the analytical vessel: “The elusive, deceptive, ever-changing content that possesses the patient like a demon now flits about from patient to doctor and, as the third party in the alliance, continues its game, sometimes impish and teasing, sometimes really diabolical”. As an analogy to the analytical process, alchemy could not be bettered.

Perhaps the most important dynamic of the alchemical opus from the point of view of psychology is the relation of the artifex to the work. Just as psychology must take into account the presence of the human subject (Jung is always reminding us that the human mind is always implicated in the reality that consciousness apprehends as independent of itself) so alchemy shows us an observing, reflecting subject, the alchemist, producing the images in the retort through his own operations. This takes us an important step further than mythological thinking can go. In mythological thought the gods are the true subject. They come into existence and act without the contribution of the human mind: “Man is surrounded on all sides, as it were, by mythological reality,” as Giegerich puts it.

In alchemical thought, by contrast, we have not only the phenomenon of transformation in the retort, but also the adept who works through the operations and observes their result. We have, for example, not only the image of the nigredo, but the attitude of the artifex, (who describes it, for example, as the ‘longed for nigredo’). The philosopher’s stone is not merely out there to be passively received, but something that must be worked toward. Hence Jung’s emphasis on the aspect of the opus in which spirit must be redeemed from matter: “[The alchemist]…reaches the conclusion… that complete assimilation to the Redeemer would enable him, the assimilated, to continue the work of redemption in the depths of his own psyche. It is by virtue of the wisdom and art which he himself has acquired, or which god has bestowed upon him, that he can liberate the world-creating Nous or Logos, lost in the world’s materiality, for the benefit of mankind.”

Naturally, the work of the alchemist can only be half the story. As Jung was fond of saying, nothing can be achieved if not deo concedente. Nonetheless there is a notable contrast here with the Christian attitude, wherein the redemption of mankind is a work attributed entirely to God, in the shape of the saviour, Christ.

Psychologically this balance in alchemy of observation and reflection on the one hand, and engagement on the other, must parallel the analyst’s attitude to his work. For example, in Jung’s descriptions of active imagination we find this characteristic balance of detachment and complete involvement: “Although, to a certain extent, [the active imaginer] looks on from outside, impartially, he is also an acting and suffering figure in the drama of the psyche.”

A similar attitude is required in the analytic vessel. Though it is important for the analyst to be able to engage fully with the patient, and his dream, without detachment it would be impossible for reflection to occur and the result would be a hopeless folie á deux. Needless to say, an attitude of complete clinical detachment, without any empathic feeling involvement, would be equally disastrous.

I have concentrated here on a few points which, for me, stand out as important. There are, of course, numerous other aspects of alchemy which I could with profit have drawn out. I have concentrated on the idea that alchemy provided for Jung a theoria, which served as a theoretical basis for depth psychology.

A second approach, which Hillman has taken up, is to examine the language of alchemy. As he points out, one of the problems which has bedevilled psychology has been the tendency to hypostatise words and concepts which began life simply as metaphorical tools. Freud’s id and ego, Jung’s anima and persona started out as useful new ways of looking at psychological phenomena but rapidly become literalised into abstract and numinous things. Perhaps the most numbing examples are the use of the words ‘Self’ and even ‘unconscious’ as if they referred to definable objects which we can somehow own. Alchemical language, by contrast, allows us to stay close to image: its words are thing-words, image-words, craft-words. It talks of personality in terms of concrete material: salt, sulphur, mercury, and lead. It describes states of soul in terms of events that we can touch and see: albedo, nigredo. When we use these words, and the whole array of sweating kings, dogs and bitches, heavy earths, ascending birds, stenches, urine, and blood, we remain in touch with image and this keeps us in the realm of psyche. Similarly, the operations of the work are all described in concrete terms of enormous variety. In contrast to the abstractions of ‘analysing the transference’, ‘regressing in the service of the ego’, ‘displaced affect’, ‘showing hostility’, and ‘syntonic identifying’, alchemy gives us ‘evaporating away the vaporousness’, ‘calcining’ so as to burn passions down to dry essences, ‘condensing and congealing’ cloudy conditions so as to get hard clear drops from them, ‘coagulating and fixing’, ‘dissolving and putrefying’, ‘mortifying and blackening’. Contrary to popular belief, alchemy is both linguistically precise and metaphorically rich. It supplies far greater precision to our perception in soul work than the dry and windy abstractions of theory can allow.

A third approach, no less valid, concentrates on the parallels between the operations of the alchemical opus and the processes of transformation which occur in the psyche during individuation. In this way we can look at the importance of alchemy for the practice of psychotherapy. What follows is intended to be seen in the light of all three approaches. I propose to examine a particularly rich alchemical image, that of the alchemical fountain in the Rosarium, in an attempt to bring out some aspects of alchemy’s importance for Jungian psychology. I shall go on to look at a dream which contains some of the same themes. This image of the fountain has been described as containing in nuce the whole alchemical opus. I make no claim to exhausting the possible symbolic contents of such a fertile image. I shall concentrate on the aspects which, as I see it, also appear in the dream. This means that I shall not be addressing the number symbolism of the picture, though this is undoubtedly of great importance. It seems sensible to attempt to do justice to one small area rather than sketchily summarise the whole.

The picture portrays a fountain with water flowing from three pipes, labeled lac virginis (virgin’s milk), acetum fontis (vinegar of the spring) and aqua vitae (water of life). The circular basin of the fountain is inscribed thus: Unus est Mercurius mineralis, Mercurius vegetabilis, Mercurius animalis. The outside of the basin bears six lozenges and it rests on three feet, apparently lions’. Around the fountain, in the four corners of the picture are four six-pointed stars. A fifth star appears immediately above the fountain. On either side of this star are the sun and moon, and above it, what appears to be a two-headed serpent, breathing out smoke which descends on both sides of the picture, forming the background to the four stars. Around the serpent are the words, animal, vegetable and mineral. The motto inscribed below the picture reads as follows:

We are the metals’ first nature and only source
The highest tincture of the Art is made through us.
No fountain and no water has my like
I make both rich and poor both whole and sick.
For healthful can I be and poisonous.

It is clear from this verse that the picture is a portrayal of the Mercurial water – the aqua permanens. This water is of the utmost importance in alchemy. As the alchemists frequently say, we should not confuse this fountain or this water with an ordinary (literal) fountain or ordinary (literal) water. This water is the transforming substance par excellence. Jung says, “The philosophical water is the stone or the prima materia itself; but at the same time it is also its solvent…”

Mercurius is always paradoxical and in the shape of the aqua permanens this comes through in its power to both harm and help, heal and kill. It is important to emphasise that it does not sometimes heal and sometimes kill. We are not dealing here with an either/or. The mercurial water is both healthful and poisonous at the same time. This is why Mercurius is portrayed as an hermaphrodite. It is not that he can be male or female. He is both simultaneously. Naturally, this perspective is enormously difficult for ego consciousness to do justice to. It frustrates and annoys us. Nonetheless, it gives us a clue as to the kind of transformation alchemy is concerned with; one that loosens and dissolves our everyday ego structures, and by opening up the deathly nigredo state of ‘not knowing’ allows something new to be born.

The picture of the fountain is like an initial dream in that it foreshadows and summarises the whole opus, which is then amplified in the remaining series of pictures. This is a useful reminder of one aspect of the nature of the psychic image. While it may appear to us as a series of narrative events (first we do this, then we do this, then this happens and… finally we get the philosopher’s stone!), the opus is actually outside of linear time. We encounter the same problem when we look at dreams. Let us say that I dream that I am chased by wolves and then turn to face them, and find a precious box half buried in the dirt. It is a mistake to say, ‘If you turn and face up to your fears, then you will be able to lay hands on something of great value’ because the turning and the finding are the same thing. There is no causal link between the two. So it is that in the image of the fountain Mercurius is poisonous and health-giving at the same time. (“The water of Mercury, also called the never failing fountain, or the water of life, which nevertheless contains the most malignant poison.”) In the linear narrative of the opus, the nigredo phase appears to precede the albedo phase, first death then birth, but in fact the death is the birth. I hope some of this will become more clear as we look more closely at the fountain image. In the mean time, we have to differentiate the different aspects of Mercurius, because it is almost impossible to see them together at the same time.

Let us just remind ourselves about the importance of Mercurius in the alchemical work. He is the divine spirit hidden in the depths of matter, the lumen naturae, the very spirit of life. Speaking of the aqua permanens, Jung says, “What [the alchemists] evidently had in mind was a ubiquitous and all-pervading essence, an anima mundi and the “greatest treasure,” the innermost and most secret treasure of man. There is probably no more suitable psychological concept for this than the collective unconscious, whose nucleus and ordering “principle” is the self” . Mercurius is not only the matter of the work (prima materia) but also all the processes to which this matter is subjected. To summarise then, he is simultaneously the matter of the opus, the process of the opus and the agent by which all this is effected. We can differentiate this into four aspects: First, he is the dark destructive force which kills outmoded states of being, dissolving them into the prima materia, second he is the life-giving elixir that washes, purifies and reanimates. Third, he is the medium of conjunction of Sol and Luna, by virtue of his hermaphroditism. This is what Kelly means when he says, “Unite them [Sol and Luna] through the mediation of Mercury”. Finally, he provides the nourishment for the infant stone that is born from the marriage of Sol and Luna.

For Jung, Mercurius is a projection symbolizing the unconscious itself. More particularly he is, as Grinnell says, “a symbol of the subjective factor, the unconscious as a dynamic energetic substance correlated with other aspects of energy composing the cosmos”. He is then, not only the primordial undifferentiated unconscious which makes up the prima materia, but the very factor which works itself out through a whole series of differentiations. “He appears in the discriminating consciousness working to recreate again a unus mundus.” This is the goal of the whole alchemical work, the hierosgamos, the union of consciousness and the unconscious. In the particular image of the fountain, we see Mercurius symbolizing a constantly renewed and renewing movement of interest and awareness, flowing endlessly in and out of the unconscious. This helps to take us away from a static vision of the unconscious psyche.

The mercurial fountain we are examining has water flowing from three spouts. Here we have an attempt to differentiate three different aspects of the mercurial water. That these are fundamentally identical is shown by the fact that the three spouts of water both originate in the same source and immediately rejoin in the basin below. Let us examine each in turn.

Acetum fontis, the vinegar of the spring

The Rosarium says, “In alchemy there is a certain noble substance… in the beginning thereof there is wretchedness with vinegar, but in the end joy with gladness” . In the Philosophia Maturata we find this: “And thus thou hast the blood of the green lyon, called the Secret Water, and most sharp Vinegar, by which all Bodies may be reduced to their first Matter”. Jung says, “Acetum fontis is a powerful corrosive water that dissolves all created things and at the same time leads to the most durable of all products, the mysterious lapis” . This aspect of the mercurial water is to do with dissolving, penetrating, breaking down. If we are to differentiate the killing, destructive side of Mercurius from the healthy life-giving side, this is where we find it. At the beginning of the work, there must be a reduction to the prima materia, there must be a state of chaos or nothing can start. The parallel in analysis is the early stage in which the structures of differentiation that we have developed over years start to be dissolved. It is invariably experienced negatively, as a painful loss of bearings. The structures which we have erected laboriously around our personality are being dismantled, and not surprisingly this feels like hell. It has been compared to Dionysian dismemberment, and indeed there are parallels between the Dionysian experience and that of the solutio. Dionysus is primarily a liquid moist principle. “Water … is the element in which Dionysus is at home,” says Otto. As we can see in Euripides’ Bacchae, Dionysus works to break down old structures. He does so by encouraging a containment of the ego in a larger psychic vessel. In myth anyone who resists this dissolution of ego structure is subjected to dismemberment and death. In alchemy the solutio often coincides with the nigredo phase of the work. Philalethes says, “The blackness becomes more pronounced day by day until the substance assumes a brilliant black colour. This black is a sign that the dissolution is accomplished”. Poisoned by the penetrating acetum fontis the substance dies, blackens and putrefies. Although the death is necessary, it is nonetheless a harrowing and sometimes dangerous stage of the opus. It requires nothing less than a descent into the unconscious, the matrix or womb of our psychic life. The Rosarium pictures make clear that this death and putrefaction occur at the same time as the conception. As the alchemists were fond of quoting: “Truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Aqua Vitae, Water of Life

Chemically aqua vitae is a distilled alcoholic spirit. Just as such a spirit is popularly supposed to have revivifying powers, so the alchemical aqua vitae revives the blackened dead matter of the nigredo. In a sense, it reverses the effect of the vinegar. Artephius equates the aqua vitae with the dew of grace, which washes and whitens the blackened body of the stone after putrefaction and leads to the albedo. “This aqua vitae, or water of life, being rightly ordered and disposed with the body, it whitens it and converts or changes it into its white colour.”

After the tension, misery and self-loathing of the nigredo state the albedo comes as a huge relief. Jung says, “The loosening up of cramped and rigid attitudes corresponds to the solution and separation of the elements by the aqua permanens… the water is a soul or spirit, that is a psychic “substance,” which now in its turn is applied to the initial material. The situation is now gradually illuminated as is a dark night by the rising moon…this dawning light corresponds to the albedo” . Inexplicably everything begins to seem all right. Hillman says the albedo refers to “feelings of positive syntonic transference, of things going easily and smoothly, a gently sweet safety in the vessel, insights rising, synchronistic connections, resonances and echoes… all leading to the invulnerable conviction of the primacy of psychic reality as another world apart form this world” . Calid equates it with the quintessence: “This is the true aqua vitae of the philosophers; the true spirit so many have fought for, and which has been desired of all wise men, which is called the Essence, Quintessence, Spirit.” In this sense it is the living water Christ identifies with in John’s gospel: “Whoever drinks the water that I shall give him will never suffer thirst any more. The water that I shall give him shall be an inner spring always welling up for eternal life.” It has the power of Christ to resurrect the dead. The psychological implications of this will be examined when we look at the dream.

Lac Virginis, The Virgin’s Milk

The Lac Virginis is the mercurial medium of conjunction for the union of Sol and Luna at the chemical wedding. At the point of conjunction it becomes one with the opposites and so ceases to be known under that name. Moreover, the philosopher’s child, which is born of the union of Sol and Luna, is nourished by virgin’s milk, and this is the food which allows him to grow to maturity. Michael Maier says, “The stone should be fed, just as a child, with the milk of a virgin”. This substance is then something which transforms the opposites, transcending their inevitable conflict, and allowing something new to be born in consciousness. In Jungian psychology it is the apperception of the psychic image, the living symbol, which is behind the operation of what Jung calls the transcendent function. It is only after the full painful experience of living with the tension of the opposites that such a movement can occur. Only then are we nourished by the virgin mother which is the unconscious psyche. It is in accepting the helplessness of our ego-attitude in the face of primordial conflict, and thus admitting our childlikeness, that we open ourselves up to this mothering. The son of the philosophers is the divine child, the Self.

I now intend to examine a dream which features some of these themes, and which will allow me to pursue an analysis of further aspects of the Rosarium fountain, in the context of a living dream image. My intention is not to discuss the personal aspects of the dream, but to draw out and amplify the archetypal motifs which are relevant to the alchemical solutio.

Dream: I am up at the very north of Scotland, at a place called St. Bees, which is a kind of cross between a church and a fortress. I have been here before. I am with some others. We go in. We speak to the priest. I know that there is a font there which must be seen, but it doesn’t seem to be on general display. He agrees to show it to us. He shows us it in a private room. It consists of a round hollow in a rectangular block which is made of an unknown material, a metal that is very hard and cannot be worked or damaged.

The word font comes from the Latin font-em or fontes (baptismi), which literally means fountain or fountains (of baptism). It is a vessel which contains the water to be used in the sacrament of baptism. This rite is closely related to the alchemical solutio in which, a mystery of death and rebirth is accomplished through immersion in the aqua permanens. Baptism consisted originally (and still consists, in some churches) in a total immersion, which symbolizes drowning, and stands for the death and rebirth of the person in a cleansed and rejuvenated form. (Colossians II.12: “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.”) Eliade summarises the symbolic meaning of baptism thus: “Immersion in water symbolizes a return to the preformal, a total regeneration, a new birth, for immersion means a dissolution of forms, a reintegration into the formlessness of pre-existence; and emerging form the water is a repetition of the act of creation in which form was first expressed” This bears on the psychological aspects of the solutio already discussed, in which ego structures are dissolved into a superior containing viewpoint, associated with the Self. Hence in Christianity baptism is seen as a union of the individual with Christ. (Romans, VI, 3-4: “Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”) The image of baptism thus brings together the deadly, poisonous aspect of the mercurial water as acetum fontis and the life-giving restorative aspect as aqua vitae. The alchemists were happy to take up the image of baptism as one that was suitable for their transformative work. It is specifically identified with the Solutio, “which signifies the total dissolution of the imperfect body in the aqua divina, its submersion, mortification, and burial” .

Another aspect of the baptismal font is its identification with the womb. The immersion in the divine water is also a gestation in the uterus. We find this aspect brought out in the story of Gabricius and Beya where Gabricius is absorbed into the womb of his sister . In Ripley’s Cantilena the old king cries:

“Else I God’s Kingdom cannot enter in:
And therefore, that I may be Borne agen,
I’ll Humbled be into my Mother’s Breast,
Dissolve to my First Matter, and there rest.”

The emphasis here is on the maternal character of the prima materia and indeed of the unconscious psyche. Here vessel, water and process are identical: “One is the stone, one the medicine, one the vessel, one the procedure and one the disposition,” as the Rosarium puts it. The Aurora Consurgens says that the natural vessel is the aqua permanens itself.

The maternal aspect of the font and the aqua permanens was particularly important for the dreamer. He had lost his mother at a relatively early age, and this had contributed for many years to a difficulty in making contact with his feelings. His last dream before that of the font contained an image of the death of his grandmother and her four sons. So the dream appears to signal a transition of the mother image, and the differentiated four functions, onto a new dynamic level: that of the alchemical opus. Here the maternal appears in the vas hermeticum, the baptismal vessel. Artephius wrote that mercury as the bath is called “the vas naturae, the belly, the womb…It is the royal fountain in which the king and queen bathe themselves.” In the context of the dream this must point to a new conscious relation to the mother, the possibility of a return to and immersion in the hitherto cut-off spring of feeling, thus allowing a rehydration of a dessicated emotional landscape. We should also note that the image of baptism incorporates here the aspect of the mercurial water which is imaged as the lac virginis, where the stone as filius philosphorum is nourished by Mercurius as virgin mother.

The church/fortress location redoubles the vessel imagery. The seventh key of Basil Valentine uses the fortress metaphor for the vas Hermeticum: “You must therefore strongly fortify it with three impassible and well-guarded walls, and let the one entrance be well protected.” The vessel keeps the substances sealed in so that there is no danger either of outside elements entering or of the contents escaping. In the context of the dream the meaning would seem to point to the importance of concentrated inner work with a withdrawal from the distractions of the outside world, and this is supported by the fact that the font is kept in a private secret room, not on general display. Theobaldus de Hoghelande says, “The secret of everything and life is in a water… the greatest secret is in water”. As Jung points out, “[The secret] points, in a word, to the presence of an unconscious content, which exacts from consciousness a tribute of constant regard and attention. With the application of interest the continual perception and assimilation of the effects of the “secret” become possible. This is beneficial to the conduct of life, because the contents of the unconscious can then exert their compensatory effect and, if taken note of and recognised, bring about a balance that promotes health.”

Here vessel and stone are one; the font is made out of a substance which “is very hard and cannot be worked or damaged”. This is a common characteristic of the lapis, it refers to the irreducible quality of the Self; all superficial and unnecessary aspects of the personality have been as it were washed away. It is equivalent to the incorruptible diamond body of Chinese alchemy. It relates to a crucial change of attitude which comes about over time through the repeated solution and coagulation of the opus. Gradually ego and self become more closely aligned and this is seen in “a certain immunity to affect and an ability to see the archetypal aspect of existence” . This ‘diamond’ stone is identical to the vessel in that it is created by the very containment of the process. Jung describes something of this sort in the Visions Seminars. He has been talking about the importance of overcoming concupiscentia by putting anima or animus ‘into a bottle’, thus avoiding the danger of possession. Eventually the effect is that “you slowly get quiet and transform, and you will discover that in that bottle grows the stone…or the Lapis. In other words, that solidification or crystallization means that the situation has become habitual, and inasmuch as the self-control, or nonindulgence, has become a habit, it is a stone. The more it has become a habit, the harder, the stronger, that stone will be, and when it has become a fait accompli it is a diamond.”

The form of the font in the dream is also relevant here. It is a round container set in a four-cornered block. This would seem to refer to the squaring of the circle, which is a popular image for the transformation of the four elements into the alchemical quintessence or fifth element. This symbolises the opus itself, and the crystalisation of the stone. In Dorn’s view the vessel must be made “by a kind of squaring of the circle.” Jung comments that this is “essentially a psychic operation, the creation of an inner readiness to accept the archetype of the self in whatever subjective form it appears.”

Again then, the vas hermeticum and lapis are found to be identical. “It is the lapis itself and at the same time contains it; that is to say, the self is its own container.” Clearly the dream does not say that the lapis or quintessence has been achieved, but it does indicate that, by virtue of the dream-ego being shown the font, there is the possibility for the dreamer of achieving the kind of symbolic seeing (through) which is essential for individuation.

March 8, 2010

the big bad wolf

Filed under: Interesting articles,Uncategorized — Hets @ 9:19 pm

If you ever dreamt of a wolf…
Natural History

First, I turned to the literature of natural history e. I found that the wolf, as we know it today, evolved from carnivores and roamed the earth over one million years ago. During those early years of man and womankind wolves were always competitors with humans for the same prey species. They were always rivals, and sometimes enemies, perhaps because they were close to humans in many ways (Branderburg, 1993; Mech, 1991).

Wolves have a strong social nature. Through gestures and body movement, they communicate their feelings. The “wolf” talk conducted by the Alpha or dominate male and female pair keep the pack together and working as a group. Wolves like to howl as a pack for several reasons. It may be to encourage their closeness, to celebrate a successful hunt, and to tell other packs to keep away. The lone wolf, a younger male, is usually in search of his own territory and a mate. He will skirt the territories of others but rarely howl. Leaving the pack allows for young males to differentiate from their families or pack and begin the cycle of life by finding a mate, and beginning their own family (Fox, 1980; Resnick, 1995).

While the wolf pack is led by an Alpha male and Alpha female, each wolf assumes his or her share of responsibility for the welfare of the pack. From the early playful experiences with the older wolves, pups are carefully trained to assume their part of the leadership of the pack as if their life, and that of the pack, depends upon it. It is the same with successful organizations and families. Each member of the family or organization must be prepared to carry their load and assume leadership at any time. In the book, The Wisdom of Wolves: Nature’s Way to Organizational Success, the author, Twyman Towery (1997) suggests that there are twelve characteristics of wolves that relate to organizational principles. They are: teamwork, patience, unity through uniqueness, curiosity, attitude, failure, communication, perseverance, strategy, play, death & survival, loyalty, and change.

In her book, Women Who run With The Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, Clarissa Pinkola Estes (1992) suggests that healthy wolves and healthy women in particular share certain psychic characteristics: keen sensing, playful spirit, and a heightened capacity for devotion. Wolves and women by nature are relational, inquiring, and possess great endurance and strength. They are deeply intuitive, intensely concerned with their young, their mate and their pack.

Archetypal Significance of the Wolf

The archetypal significance of the wolf symbolizes evil as well as positive and spiritual aspects. The wolf also represents the union of opposites. From mythology and story telling from all parts of the world the wolf has carried a sense of contradiction: a wild and fearful animal that can represent death and Satan; but at the same time a companion to the goddess Artemis and Scandinavian god, Odin. The theme of opposites in the imagery of the wolf is also represented by the contrast between the masculine and feminine nature. The masculine nature of the wolf is depicted by many cultures as the protector or exhibiting war-like behavior. The feminine nature is symbolized as the goddess in she-wolf form nurturing the twins, Romulus and Remus, or in the Irish myth of Cormac, King of Ireland who was suckled by wolves and was always accompanied by them. Early Biblical sources present a contrast between the wolf symbolizing bloodshed and destruction versus the symbol of the wolf and the lamb lying down together representing peace and the coming Messianic rule. The middle ages also depicted a contrast between the image of the wolf as the Devil, versus the wolf as an “emblem of Saint Francis of Assisi who tamed the wolf” (Cooper, 1978, p. 194).

People from many cultures and traditions have interpreted the wolf as an instinctive creature. At some point in psychological development, most people struggle with integrating the spiritual and physical aspects of their being. The image of the wolf has been used to represent both aspects. The Chinese saw the wolf as a guardian of the heavenly palace. In Japan the wolf was admired for its ferocity, tenacity and swift attack. Also, they considered the wolf to be from heaven and to be venerated. Early Biblical sources represented the wolf as destructive and associated with the evening (Jeremiah 5:6, and dishonest gain, bloodshed and destruction (Ezekiel 22:27, The Holy Bible). However, when the wolf and lamb were depicted lying down even though they were considered traditional enemies, together they represented peace and the coming Messianic rule (Isaiah 65:25 The Holy Bible).

The association of the wolf with the goddess was seen in the primitive Roman cult of Lupa or Feronia, which was inherited from Sabine matriarchy (Walker, 1983). “Sometimes known as ‘Mother of Wolves’, she was also the divine midwife and mother of the ancestral spirits” (Rank, 1959, pp. 45-46). An ancient statue in the Lupercal grotto was later enhanced with images of the infants, Romulus and Remus, whom she was supposed to have nursed. She was annually honored at the Lupercalia, the festival of the She-wolf, when youths dressed in wolf skins ritually purified the Palatine towns. This legendary female wolf and the abandoned twins became the emblem of Rome. The frequent connection between goddess figures and totemic wolves may be taken as another indication that “it was women rather than men who first established relationships with wolves and eventually domesticated them” (Newmann, 1955, p. 275).

The wolf today still represents our “instinctive nature that is wild and natural” (de Vries, 1984, p. 505). Estes (1992) suggests that there is a wild and natural creature within every woman, who is filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. This wild woman within is seen as an archetype that carries images, ideas, and unique behaviors for humankind. The gifts of wildish nature come to women at birth, but society, in many instances, will attempt to civilize them into rigid roles which will destroy the inner treasure and muffle the deep, life-giving messages of the soul. As a result, women become trapped, over-domesticated, uncreative, and have fearful feelings. For women to find their soul, they will need to face their instinctive wild self so that they can become free, creative, and loving. Estes (1992) illustrated her ideas by telling the story of La Loba, the wolf woman. Her work was collecting bones of wolves and singing life into them. The story symbolizes the soul-voice. It conveys the truth of a woman’s power and need to breathe soul over the thing that is ailing or in need of restoration. Women can do it “by descending into the deepest mood of great love and feeling, until one∂s desire for relationship with the wildish Self overflows, then to speak one’s soul from that frame of mind” (p. 28). The wild woman is an archetype that carries images, ideas, and unique behaviors for humankind that help people to find their soul.

The wolf can be seen as a symbol on an intrapsychic level for individuation. The unique voice of the Self triumphs over the collective norms of society. Individuation suggests a commitment to inner growth and development.

Stages of Individuation as Stages of the Sandplay Process

The sandplay process can be illustrated with the stages of individuation as written by Estes (1992) when she describes the journey of the female to find her soul. She suggests that the child is born with a wildish, instinctive, and creative nature. As the child develops the mother and society teach the child to conform. The creative and instinctive self is buried and problems begin to develop. The stages are:

1. Cognitive Ego

During this stage we see the results of society’s and the mother’s role in civilizing the wildish and instinctive nature of the creative child into a rigid role, losing touch with the soul becoming over-domesticated, fearful, uncreative, and trapped. Sandplay pictures during this stage often are pretty and superficial, or rigid and stilted, or vegetation and animals are placed in the tray presenting a peaceful scene.

2. Chaos and Retrieval of Intuition as Initiation This stage includes the awareness of self-preservation, questioning early development and identifying cages. During this stage there appear to be thoughts and feelings of confusion and being trapped, depicted by meanderings, mazes, bird and animal cages, lone wolf, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Jack and Jill, or symbols of opposites.

3. Deeper Uncovering of Feelings

The client becomes the lone hunter, facing the life/death/life nature of love, developing relationships that revive dead feelings that bring instincts to the surface again. Anger, hurt, loneliness, love, sexual and fears are expressed in symbols such as: the cross, tombstones, hearts, an animal or human alone or in couples. The client usually begins to play in the sand and reaches the bottom of the sandtray, or make hills and mountains. Anger may be depicted in battles, weapons, monsters, or the color of red in symbols.

4. Centering and Returning To Oneself

The client finds the clear water and begins to nourish the creative life and retrieve a sacred sexuality. Ponds, lakes and rivers, jewels, gold, rings, crowns, and mandalas begin to appear in the sand.

5. Finding One∂s Pack and Returning Home (Or Market Place)

The client, like the wolf, rediscovers her mate and family and begins to live creatively back into the environment or world. A wolf, dog, and other animal families may appear or realistic houses, neighborhoods, and people.

Themes of the Wolf Used in Clients’ Sandplay Process

In reviewing the appearance of the wolf in sandtrays of women clients, seven themes emerged:

1. The nurturing and protective goddess mother appearing as the great she-wolf who nursed Romulus and Remus.

2. The lone wolf that is alienated by the family or pack of wolves which allows for differentiation of the young adult in becoming a mature adult.

3. The psychopomp conducting souls through the gates which had to be passed as in Egyptian mythology.

4. The wolf in sheep∂s clothing who attempts to hide its instinctive and wild self by developing a persona of meekness and innocence.

5. The howling wolf who has a voice to celebrate and share with others about successes or to encourage closeness.

6. The wolf and lamb lying together which represents inner peace.

7. The differentiated wolf who has accepted her role in life and is enjoying the present.

Symbolically the wolf appears to represent our instinctive nature that is wild and natural. The wolf can also represent the union of opposites and contradiction. The lone wolf may symbolize the acceptance of natural instincts that had been cut off by family and society and the process of growth and individuation. And the howling wolf illustrates the reclaimed inner voice of the soul.