If we have been able to surrender to the darkness of the nigredo, we may find that a shift begins to occur.
The blackness that once seemed to only grow ever deeper begins to recede. The heaviness starts to lift as we relinquish our attachments to past beliefs, habits, ways of being, etc.
As with any death, the decomposition of these old forms releases a great amount of energy that is now free to be used in new and different ways.
It is not enough to meet our shadow in calcination or to grieve and release our past pain and sorrows through dissolution.
We must then proceed into the next stage of the work, the separation and the conjunction which comprise what is known as the albedo, or the white phase of alchemy.
In the process of separation, we are tasked with using our discernment to determine which parts of our shadow (our repressed and previously unacknowledged qualities and other psychic material) are worth saving.
Not everything that we meet in the darkness is to be feared. We may often be surprised to find there is much that is worthwhile and good there.
These positive traits are sometimes referred to as “the gold in the shadow,” which refers to the unrecognized parts of ourselves that have value and are truly authentic to us. These could be the parts of ourselves we learned to hide or diminish due to disapproval we may have encountered from parents, peers, or other parts of our society.
The second operation of the albedo is known as conjunction. It involves the reunion of the disparate elements which were separated in the previous phase. It also requires a rebalancing and harmonization of the masculine and feminine parts of ourselves. The result is the creation of “the lesser stone,” or what is sometimes called “the Philosopher’s child.”
The conjunction requires that we become comfortable with the apparent duality of our being, and join the forces of our soul and spirit. The result is the development of what the Egyptians called “the Intelligence of the Heart,” a condition or state of being where logos and eros are united in the self to create something greater than the sum of their parts.
This morning I woke up from a very difficult dream. I had spent most of the night crying in my sleep. Here’s what happened:
In my dream my dad and my brother were going to all these different events and giving speeches about everything that was wrong with me and why I deserved to be rejected. I sat at all of them, trying to plead with them and convince them otherwise. No one listened to me, and I cried as I saw them give speech after speech on everything that was “bad” and “wrong” about me.
Oddly enough, my mom was by my side at every one of these events with me. Sometimes in their speeches they would briefly mention how bad and wrong she was too, although the focus was mostly on me.
When I woke up, I felt very upset and saddened by what I had experienced over the course of the night.
What really stood out to me, though, was how my mom was on my side at every point during this dream. It’s really not like her to stand by me (in fact, she would have been the most likely of any of them to give a speech like that attacking me).
So I had to ask myself, what could this apparently small detail mean? I was sure it was significant.
Pretty quickly, it occurred to me that maybe it was my unconscious trying to show me the way my anima and animus related to each other.
The anima/animus was a concept developed by Carl Jung which in a sense, describes the anima as the part of our psyche which can be thought of as being “feminine.” The anima is associated with the unconscious, the body, and our feeling and emotional states, as well as our desires and needs.
The animus, on the other hand, is believed to be the part of our psyche which analytic psychologists associate with the masculine. The animus is thought to relate to our conscious mind, our rational thought processes, as well as order, reason and logic.
Although most of us within a given culture will tend to have these basic conceptions of what our anima/animus are like, the way that they actually present themselves within a given individual’s psyche is highly personal, dependent on life experience and unconscious psychic material.
I think this dream was trying to show me the way that my inner masculine or conscious mind relates to my inner feminine, or emotional/feeling part of me.
I saw how my masculine side was in fact very abusive to the feminine parts of me. The “rational” conscious side tends to dominate and hurt the emotional feeling side. It has all of these unrealistic expectations about how things “should” be, and it punishes and hurts the parts of me that refuse to comply.
I began to see how I have internalized the roles that I saw my mother and father play. I introjected their beliefs and patterns of behavior, and in turn had my inner masculine/feminine adopt the same roles within myself.
One of the unhealthy ways in which this has manifested for me has been that I have very little ability to care for myself. I refuse to listen to what my body is telling me, or to accept what I am feeling.
Instead, I tell myself: “No. You need to work harder. You don’t deserve to rest until you’ve done better. You don’t deserve anything until you’ve achieved what I tell you to. Not until you stop being bad.”
This usually results in me forcing myself to do what I don’t want to do. I hurt myself this way because I’ve long believed that’s the only way to “discipline” the parts of me that are “wrong” and “bad.” These bad parts are always the feeling parts, that part of me which has needs and desires and wants to rest and feel okay.
I’m starting to understand that my animus does not necessarily possess some kind of truly evil intent toward the anima. The attitude of my animus, in fact, reflects the very same beliefs which my father has held toward my mother. He has always tried to “help” her, but in a way that reflects some pretty toxic underlying beliefs about her (and possibly about women in general).
My mother has been perceived, in his eyes, as being: unintelligent, even stupid; incompetent and incapable; crazy, confused and irrational; and even bad, wrong, and unwilling.
This, in turn, is perceived as requiring his need to act to control and dominate and coerce her into “seeing the truth” and accepting the superiority of his more rational and “right” values and ways of being.
Even though this is obviously insulting, selfish and even maybe abusive, I can see that there is a genuine belief that he is doing his best to “protect” and “provide” for her. It is based on a perceived inferiority on the part of the feminine in general and my mother in particular.
Just as my father treated my mother, my “thinking” conscious self now treats my unconscious (my body, my feelings and my desires) in very much the same way.
It seems to genuinely believe in the fundamental “wrongness” of my feminine or feeling side. As crazy as it might seem, it wants to protect it, and it does so the only way it knows how: by bullying it into doing what it thinks is “right.”
The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict.”
I’m starting to understand how this impacts my relationships, as well. If I can’t have my inner parts of myself relate to each other in a way that is positive and healthy, I’ll never be able to have a relationship that is any better.
If I don’t do anything to shift the roles inhabited by my anima and animus, then I will continue to recreate these same roles in all of my romantic relationships that I may enter in the future.
This dream seemed to be the way my unconscious was trying to get me to see what I needed to change in myself before I could move beyond these patterns in my life.
I can see now that I must begin to make these changes starting from within. I know and trust from experience that if I can do this, then the problems I’ve experienced in the outer world will begin to shift naturally as a result of the changes in my inner world.
The second phase of alchemy, dissolution, comes after the fiery heat of calcination which incinerated the ideas we once had about who we are and our place in the world.
Once the ego has been suitably reduced to ashes, we then become ready to commence the dissolving process of the Great Work.
In laboratory alchemy, this process involved adding water or some other kind of solvent to the ashy powder left over from the burning of calcination.
In terms of psychospiritual alchemy, we now come into contact with the waters of the unconscious. Here, it is as if we are drowned in all of our long-repressed emotions, swamped by our most painful memories, and shaken by the most terrifying of our latent fears and anxieties.
These previous unconscious elements are the deepest, most obscured parts of ourselves which we have worked hard to keep hidden from both others and ourselves for an entire lifetime. These repressed psychic contents are matters of profound consequence, and addressing them fully is a matter not to be taken lightly.
We have seen that the previous phase of calcination tends to involve a kind of destructive fire which rages through our lives, consuming everything it touches as it burns.
However, it is in this next stage of dissolution where we begin our first steps toward conscious awareness of what is truly happening to us.
It is during this phase when we must truly come to terms with our lives and all of the losses we have experienced. In dissolution, we start to deal with our real, lived experiences and our deeply felt sense of what it means to grieve, not merely as an intellectual exercise, but in our hearts and through our bodies.
This process requires that we surrender to the often painful truth of our current realities. We must learn to let go of any grasping or clinging to what our ego has desired or has falsely believed to be true.
In the stage of dissolution, we are being asked to surrender and come face to face with the contents of our own souls as they truly are.