#566 Chuck’s Place: Jung, Alchemy & Transformation

Welcome to Chuck’s Place, where Chuck Ketchel expresses his thoughts, insights, and experiences! Many of the shamanic and psychological terms used in Chuck’s essays are defined in Tools & Definitions on our Psychotherapy website.

I wrote this blog on Friday morning as Jan sat next to me and channeled Jeanne’s Message #565. Jan and I are always struck by the magic of synchronicity, as Jeanne’s themes are reflected in my own flow of thoughts. Perhaps calling my thoughts my own is a bit presumptuous!

It’s hard for me to sink into Jung’s works without becoming completely enchanted with the depths of his discoveries. Suddenly, everywhere I look I see with clarity (I think!), the pearls of wisdom he illuminated. I have encountered critiques of Jung from well-established authorities in the field of psychology who consider his exhaustive studies of alchemy of little contribution to the needs of modern life, in fact, a complete waste of time.

As I see it, the major problem of our modern psychology is the focus, in one form or another, on ego psychology. Rationality has become the one true God of our time. Connection with that God means the ability to actualize our goals, satisfy our needs, and find fulfillment in love, career, and family in this life. Modern psychology researches the brain, seeking techniques and drugs to manipulate and maximize its beneficial functioning to serve the fulfillment of the ego’s reasonable goals. Isn’t that, after all, the meaning of life?!

Jung, on the other hand, was a deeply spiritual man. Though the son of generations of Protestant preachers, he experienced no value in dogma or Christianity as it was espoused and practiced. For Jung, Christianity’s handling of the dark side of God left mankind helpless in reconciling the dark side of his own nature and left him constantly at war, projecting evil upon, and seeking to eradicate it from, his neighbor. Jung explored the depths of what it means to be human, taking on the challenge of becoming conscious, and reconciling the oppositions within human nature.

In one of Jung’s early dreams he saw the heavens opening up, dropping excrement upon the towering spires of the church. This dream represented both God’s attitude toward the one-sidedness of the church as well as offered the missing ingredient to its wholeness, the dark side. This dream was the foreshadowing of his life’s work and its parallel to alchemy. Jung’s opus, like the alchemist’s, was to begin with the black substance, the nigredo, which, buried deep within, contains the jewel. Jung termed this transformational process, individuation: the individual’s journey to claim his or her true, real, whole self and, in that process, union with God within.

Jung’s psychology is a far cry from ego psychology with its limited aims. For Jung the purpose of life is to fully discover and embrace the totality of the self, to find completion in wholeness. In his own encounters with his own guides, who were ancient alchemists, in a process he called active imagination, Jung was led into the laboratories of those ancient masters and shown the secret practices of the adepts as they subjected the nigredo to a series of chemical processes to arrive at their gold. Jung realized that through the psychological function of projection these alchemists were undergoing the processes of individuation that led to wholeness. He studied these processes, with their deep transformational qualities, and recognized their relevance to depth psychological treatment. This was his gift to us: resurrecting the spiritual wisdom and transformational practices of the alchemists for our modern times.

I am struck by the parallel contributions of Carl Jung and Carlos Castaneda in this respect, as both have left us the benefits of ancient wisdom and practices in a format applicable and usable in our time. However, as don Juan cautioned, pursuing sorcery (or alchemy or individuation) requires guts of steel. It is not an intellectual road or one to be pursued out of curiosity, though they can lead you to the doorstep. Herein lies the reason for the secrecy of the alchemists: only the worthy may enter the laboratory. Worthiness, not in terms of ego achievements, but in a readiness to leave behind the world of judgments, that both torture us yet comfort us, by keeping us securely nestled in the womb of a known life, a world we can function in, however wounded and insecure we are.

The adept knows he is inadequate. It is a fact. The adept knows that no amount of ego psychology or brain manipulation will change that fact. Inadequacy, incompleteness, is the reason to take the journey into the unknown. We all begin as nigredo. We cannot evolve to enlightenment if we can’t embrace the truth of where we are and what we are, at every stage.

Furthermore, we cannot experience true transformation without a genuine experience of God, magic, infinity, etc… Call it what you will. This isn’t about belief; it’s about experience. Depth psychology subjects the ego to a series of processes to prepare it for its experience of transformation, in communion with God within. Ego psychology can only prepare the ego to commune with the limits of the God of reason; no transformation here, merely inflation supported by constructs and chemicals.

Which path do we choose to follow, the path of power (the ego) or the path of spirit? Jung gave us dreams, active imagination, and a humble ego seeking wholeness. Carlos gave us Tensegrity, with its own dreams and recapitulation. Jeanne gives us guides, signs, and energy. All of these practices are practices, if practiced, that offer the possibility of completion, wholeness, and infinity, now!

As usual, should anyone wish to write, I can be reached at: chuck@riverwalkerpress.com or feel free to post a comment.

Until we meet again,

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