Tag Archives: alchemy

Chuck’s Place: I See Myself in All Others

Love the whole…
Artwork © 2022 by Jan Ketchel

I am deeply optimistic about our world’s survival. The challenges we face represent a grand adventure in the evolution of consciousness and the refinement of love.

Currently we are in the grip of a global mental virus that has undermined the cohesion of our consensus reality, evident in the extremely polarized interpretations of reality competing throughout the world. Conflicting views on the treatment of the physical virus, Covid-19, clearly illustrate this point.

The mental virus that is afflicting us has even fatally wounded many intimate family relationships, the bedrock of civilization. Most disturbing has been the failure of communication even between friends and family to bridge this deep divide.

As a therapist, I have experienced this failure of reconciliation with even the most caring of relationships. At this stage, calm, rational communication is trumped by this mental virus. Individuals are so sure of their interpretations of reality that communication is limited to argumentation and the intent to convince.

The time for successful communication to promote communion of polarized opposites has not arrived. Indeed, communication, however well intentioned, is simply not effective at this time. Other processes are currently in motion that must be completed before the ingredients for effective communication can be joined.

Earth itself is engaged in a major transformational process. Transformation requires first a course of breakdown of what is before a reformation of those materials can be accomplished. In alchemy, two major operations that accomplish breakdown are calcinatio and solutio.

Calcinatio is the destructive force of fire. Currently we have a winter fire burning in Big Sur. Last week we had the volcanic explosion that devastated the island of Tonga and was felt around the world.

Solutio is the dissolving power of water as it floods the Earth. Currently, Iran and Zambia are dealing with severe flooding. January 2022 has already seen flooding in South Africa, Madagascar, Uruguay, Peru, Brazil and France. Will Russia dissolve the autonomous country of Ukraine, with its military might swelling at its border, portending the flood of invasion?

The operations of calcinatio and solutio, in human terms, are the expression of passionate emotions that seek to break down the status quo through heated verbiage and flooding of emotions. Humans, physically constructed of the materials of Earth, are behaviorally reflecting her transformational process, currently in the destructive phase.

Separatio is an alchemical operation that separates the broken down materials into their component parts. This is a process of differentiation that values the purity of unique ingredients. On the human front, these are the separatist, or xenophobic, movements that seek to cleanse their enclosed borders of those who seem different from themselves.

In human relations, all three of these operations are concurrently active. These forces of breakdown and separation are all precursors to coniunctio, the alchemical stage of union, where all previously broken down and separated elements are rejoined in a new chemical bonding.

The forces currently active in nature, and human nature, will eventually reach this stage of union. However, that stage has far from arrived as we are still in the midst of breakdown and differentiation. How does one then hold together, with self and other, in such a time of disintegration and separation?

Do not try to force union. Reason cannot contain the forces of destruction and differentiation. Nonetheless, love—the ultimate glue that holds together the oneness of everyone, and everything, at the subtlest energetic level of being—is ever-present, regardless of the alchemical processes currently dominating the world stage.

Rather than bad rap, laugh at, marginalize, or hate those who passionately oppose me, can I see myself in all others? Every attitude, emotion, thought, and belief that I see expressed by another, that I personally differentiate myself from, is actually in me too, somewhere, however dormant. Can I find it, examine it, value it, and include it in my own wholeness? This, I can certainly accomplish within myself.

Though we may not be at the place of union without, can I hold onto the most subtle truth of our oneness within? In wholeness, all belong, none can be eliminated. This ultimate truth is expressed clearly in the revelations of transpersonal psychology and subatomic physics.

Thus, those who heap aspersions upon me are as much a part of me as those I asperse against. Though we might at present be quite separated and unable to communicate, I can still feel love and compassion for all in our interconnected oneness.

Union, like separation will have its day. In the meantime, hold onto love, especially for those you must now oppose.

Love always,


Chuck’s Place: Thrust of the Spirit

Calcinatio in the retort of the body…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

My Spirit sees everything from an evolutionary perspective. Thus, even the sobering truth of Maureen Dowd’s editorial, Apocalypse Right Now,  is not a dealbreaker for my optimism.

All are encouraged to examine the truth, to the extent that that is possible, but then to exercise Carlos Castaneda’s number one dictum, Suspend Judgment, in order to reach the deeper truth of the soul’s fantastic voyage.

Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos sought to actualize achieving such a high level perspective in their respective launches into space these past couple of weeks. I see their journeys as transcendent attempts to free their spirits from the  gravity of the mess on the ground of planet Earth. 

Indeed, the thrust of the Spirit now is for the human race to up its Olympian game. This does not require that all go in search of transcendent out-of-body experiences. In fact, though I am impressed with the recent space adventures, they appear a bit compensatory to the truth on the ground. Good to be reminded of the potential of the human ego spirit to rise above the mess, but can it apply itself to the needed changes below?

We are all in this world on missions of growth. Most are born with a blank slate to protect those intended missions from confusion and interference from their Spirit’s prior journeys in infinity. Though the soul brings with it the fruits of its prior adventures in the form of its innate intelligence, it temporarily releases the memory of those experiences to be fully available to the life at hand.

Thus, the purity of Spirit’s intent imbues one’s life with purpose yet becomes clouded over by one’s material DNA and physical life circumstance. Nonetheless, one’s physical life remains the playing field for the Spirit’s intended growth.

We could say that the purity of Spirit becomes muddied and weighed down by the imperfections of material physical life. The journey then, in this earthly life, is one of working through the impurities of our physical trials to further add to our Spirit’s clarity, knowledge, and growth.

Carl Jung spent much of his adult life unearthing and studying ancient alchemical texts. Most modern psychological researchers question his sanity for having wasted so much time on such obscure nonsensical pre-chemistry texts. Jung, however, discovered that the alchemists were deeply engaged in a series of operations seeking to release the Spirit from its material impurities.

Psychotherapy, for Jung, was the application of a series of alchemical operations upon the psyche, seeking to free one’s Spirit from the bindings of illusion that overshadow one’s life and block fulfillment—the refinement of one’s Spirit.

The alchemists began their operations by choosing a substance to work on. In psychotherapy, one chooses a core stumbling block in one’s life to work on.

Alchemists used a retort, a vessel that the substance was placed in and then sealed, while they performed their operations upon it. In psychotherapy, the retort becomes the introspective ego that is asked to stay in body and be with the thoughts, beliefs, feelings, memories, sensations and dreams that arise as one works with an issue.

In psychotherapy, the sealed retort is equivalent to the body and psyche containing the intense energies of a conflict that has arisen, which is so tempting to release through blame, rationalization, a new illusion, or an emotional catharsis. Like the pot of water that never boils if we keep lifting the lid, we will never achieve the desired transformation if our retort is prematurely opened.

Planet Earth is clearly in the midst of its own alchemical processes of solutio, via flooding, and calcinatio, with fire. The retort of Earth is performing the necessary operations to reshape itself, and the lives of its inhabitants, and to cleanse itself of the illusions that have encumbered its Spirit.

Humans are simultaneously being asked to stay grounded and face the truths of their own lives, without opening the retort to the inflation of Icarus or the deflation of morbid depression. Containment of volatile emotion is a necessary precursor to transformative change. Acquiescence to necessary behaviors that reflect the truth is the ego’s greatest challenge.

These are the earthbound tasks for all humans now, as we individually and collectively seal the retort and are driven, by the thrust of the Spirit, to advance deeper into truth, survival, and evolution.

In solidarity,


Chuck’s Place: Trial by Fire

By fire…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

Trial is ordeal. Fire is passion! Trial by Fire is enduring the ordeal of passion, a deeply challenging encounter, the encounter of now.

Human passion emanates from the root of our instinctual animal being. When activated our faces redden, our voices growl and howl, our bodies thrash and react involuntarily, seized by the heat of passion. Like flames in a fire, passion flails recklessly.

One step above this hot core of our fiery roots are emotions, which, though flushed with the fire of passion, are somewhat tamed by our ego as they churn in the furnace of our solar plexus. These are the more manageable emotions of anger, frustration, desire, craving, competitiveness, and narcissism.

Finally, at the mental region of the civilized self, are feelings, which have rationally transformed the fire at the root into energetic units of valuation. Here we have our feeling judgments: I like, want, need, am attracted to, am saddened by, repulsed by, made happy by, etc. These rational feelings bear little resemblance or relationship to their passionate roots.

Jung observed that the Christian era, which correlated with the Piscean Age of the past 2000 years, contributed greatly to the advancement of this mental plane in humanity, however, this at the expense of its connection with its earthly passions, which became the province of the rejected devil. Though this internal civil war was won at the spirit mental plane its resulting hegemony is wearing thin upon its devils below.

That brings us to today, the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, where those rejected devils have risen up in uncontrollable flames of passion as they sweep the Earth in actual fires, political uprisings, wars on social media, conflict in human relationships, and warring splits within the human psyche. From the outermost perspective the Earth itself has become an alchemical retort with fire its catalyzing agent, as all warring opposites are pitted against each other in a Trial by Fire indeed.

This appears to be the first spiritual challenge of the Aquarian Age: to take on the reconciliation of its formerly disowned passions, at its human animal core, with its high reaching values generated from its abstract mental plane. Apparently, the main technology of the Christian era, keeping separate the animal and mental selves, with the mental plane maintaining superiority, can no longer contain the needs of the self, or the world, as both push for a more comprehensive wholeness.

The unleashing of previously contained fiery passions upon the world stage, with wild abandon and without regret, is the approach stoked by those most in charge of world policy today. Many in the world populace now model this unleashing of fiery passion without restraint upon any who would oppose their positions. This Trial by Fire is producing many casualties. Justified or not, the fact is that these flames are  rapidly burning down the foundation of modern civilization.

All must be where they are in the trial. For many participating in the fiery war of words, the outside world becomes the furnace of their transformative process. No one can be convinced to give up what they are attached to. When we argue and fight, our passions embody us, often at great cost to our energy reserves and inner balance. These battles are renewed in seemingly inexhaustible intensity as the world fights itself on social media.

Nonetheless, detachment is not a choice, it must be achieved. One method is through sheer exhaustion where passion exhausts the body and psyche and survival forces us to ultimately let go. Though  a costly energetic approach, many are convinced that outer protest and confrontation are critical to change.

For those more innerly inclined, the furnace of transformation is the hologram of the self, which makes its worldly contribution through the axiom, as within so without.

To contain within the self all the warring passions of animal and spirit in a heated process—that looks not outside the self for the relief of blame—is a formidable furnace of transformation. Therapy is one such vessel for this process as we confront and own all that we are—passion and spirit—in a journey whose destination is greater wholeness vs. greater domination. As with the outer playing field, the inner playing field must itself arrive at a true place of detachment where truth prevails, special interests burned through.

Trial by Fire is where we are. Know that there is always sanctuary in the human heart. All must have their safe place to release and rejuvenate. Love is the  most inclusive respite, as love can even love the part of the self that hates, but we must burn through much before we can truly inhabit it.

Nonetheless, heart-centered breathing heals the wounds and calms the nerves. Take advantage of it.

From the heart,


Chuck’s Place: Hillary As Hermaphrodite

The hermaphrodite is a being that overtly embodies both male and female characteristics. The name itself is the merger of the male god Hermes with the goddess Aphrodite. In ancient alchemy, the hermaphrodite symbolized an important stage in the merger of chemical products leading to the ultimate goal of the alchemical opus, the creation of gold or a diamond.

Masculine & Feminine together... - Photo by Chuck Ketchel
Masculine & Feminine together…
– Photo by Chuck Ketchel

The significant achievement of the hermaphroditic stage during the alchemical process was the incorporation of opposing elements into a single entity. This incorporation did not ensure a fruitful union of these elements, called the conjunctio, however, it did set the stage for this possibility by ensuring that all the opposing or warring elements were present to undertake that unifying process.

At present, America, indeed the entire world, is sharply divided into opposing, warring factions. The only hope for future progress, even saving the world, may be predicated on an hermaphroditic container that can set the stage for a unified whole.

Also at present, Donald Trump has embodied an exaggerated defiant masculine energy that relegates the feminine to a youthful sex object. Beneath the surface, however, he is driven by a Dionysian energy that promises renewal through the destruction of the gridlocked established order. His appeal touches those who identify with the beleaguered masculine, as well as with those excited by the spark of spontaneity he offers and the change it promises. Mr. Trump expresses no interest in integrated wholeness. He boldly extolls the one-sided solution of masculine power, control, and domination. Mr. Trump does not contain all the elements of the hermaphroditic symbol; he represents one exaggerated side only.

Hillary Clinton has been dubbed the establishment politician, identified with an untrustworthy old order that needs major revamping. Of course, this characterization is highly suspect and lacking of many facts. However, the public has been highly conditioned to view her through this filter.

Though far from perfect, Mrs. Clinton does present as a mature, steady person who embodies the caring side of the feminine and the clear thinking side of the masculine. With respect to the feminine, Hillary does not present as a mere sexual object but rather as a wise and stately, beautifully aging crone. I assign her the symbol of the hermaphrodite for her ability to incorporate both the mature yet opposing elements of the masculine and the feminine, the unity of which has the promise of leading toward a reconciling process for America and the entire world.

The other night, the collective unconscious sent me a dream to weigh into this process. I was in a YMCA gym. In one corner of the room, a woman’s basketball hoop was centered on one wall. On the other wall a men’s hoop needed to be put up, centered, and anchored. The set up made no sense. If the men and women played at the same time they would occupy the same space, clashing into each other. It became my job to put up the men’s backboard and hoop. I lifted it up and walked up a ladder to set it on the wall. As I got to the top of the ladder I realized that the backboard was wobbly and unstable. I took a hammer to pull out a flimsy nail, thinking I would set a screw in its place, when the entire thing suddenly fell. Immediately, the scene shifted. Now I was on the roof of a ten-story apartment building. A young teenaged girl was sitting on the ledge of the building. As the backboard fell it turned into a flat TV screen, hitting the girl. Both the girl and the TV screen plunged to the ground, ten stories below. I woke with a start.

Cornered! -Photo by Chuck Ketchel
-Photo by Chuck Ketchel

The salient feature of my dream is its “cornered” setting. First, there is no escape; the masculine and feminine basketball players cannot escape each other. They must contend with each other as they occupy the same space. Secondly, the fact that the masculine and feminine occupy the same space points to the alchemical hermaphroditic container of both masculine and feminine features in one being.

The central problem in the dream is the masculine backboard; it suffers a weakness and ultimately is raised way too high—ten stories—clearly a very unbalanced state of inflation that must be brought down to earth. Here we see Trump’s bombastic inflation, symbolizing the high and mighty abuse of masculine power. This inflation is then characterized as a projection—the TV screen—and a teenaged girl, what the exaggerated masculine, in its high and mighty state, reduces the feminine to, a sex object. The death of the young girl and that projection point to the need to destroy that projection, allowing for the mature feminine to assume its rightful place. There was, in my dream, after all, nothing wrong with the sturdy women’s backboard!

The backboard and hoop are the circle and square of the mandala, the ancient symbol of wholeness that points the way to individuation. The appearance of this symbol and the action connected with it—a repair that destroys an immature feminine projection and brings the exaggerated masculine down to earth from its highly inflated state—are the necessary actions to create the hermaphroditic condition of equally containing these opposing forces in one being, i.e., in one space, the shared basketball court.

Of course, this containment is not the final resolution. One can imagine that once the hoops are properly mounted according to my dream—in the corner—that the masculine and feminine players will have to find their appropriate places and relations with each other to reach a harmonious solution to their competing needs in order to play the game in that cornered situation. This indeed will be Hillary’s task should she be elected. The Dionysian energy demanding genuine change that Trump has tapped into, that is indeed needed, must be incorporated with the balanced steadiness of her mature mind. This will be an evolving process should it come to pass.

On the other hand, Trump’s one-sided passion is such a throwback to the ethnic cleansing of Hitler’s regime, a volatility that the world can hardly afford in our fragile times. The challenge to world survival requires world unification. Only leadership that begins with hermaphroditic inclusiveness has the potential to evolve into a much-needed union of masculine and feminine. May the right being be elected.



Chuck’s Place: Finding The True Heart

Don Juan’s fundamental guidance to Carlos Castaneda was to choose a path with heart, for “a path with heart is easy—it does not make a warrior work at liking it; it makes for a joyful journey; as long as a man [or woman] follows it, he [she] is one with it.” *

We all have a two-part heart... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
We all have a two-part heart…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

Here don Juan speaks to what Sri Aurobindo called being in alignment with the Divine Spark, the Psychic Being hidden in the cave at the center of the heart chakra. To realize the truth of this Divine Spark as one’s path in this life is to truly find and traverse one’s path with heart. And yet, the heart is of two parts, its emotional side offering “an obscure and often uncertain and misleading power,” as Aurobindo states, as well as behind that emotional heart, “a profounder mystic light which, if not what we call intuition…has yet a direct touch upon Truth and is nearer the Divine that the human intellect in its pride of knowledge.” ** This second, mystical heart, is the heart that is hidden in the cave at the center of the heart chakra, this is the true heart that seeks and recognizes a path with heart.

On a physical level the heart is the center of life and vitality in the body. There is no physical life without a heartbeat. The movement of the heart distributes energy to every cell of the body to enable all cells to act. This action extends to emotional life, where feelings spur human action and interaction.

Aurobindo states: “…there is in front in men a heart of vital emotion similar to the animal’s, if more variously developed; its emotions are governed by egoistic passion, blind instinctive affections and all the play of the life-impulses with their imperfections, perversions, often sordid degradations,—heart besieged and given over to the lusts, desires, wraths, intense or fierce demands or little greeds and mean pettinesses of an obscure and fallen life-force and debased by its slavery to any and every impulse.” **

Here Aurobindo refers to the heart’s action capacity as being under the dominance of the three lower chakras, animal instincts ruled by the archetypal governances or gods of the planetary being at its purely survival mode, as well as a mixture of ego-willfulness supplanting nature’s imperative to its own self-serving ends. (See last week’s blogpost for further explanation: Beyond Archetypal Bondage)

Here arises confusion at the heart center, for though the emotional heart dominates through much of life this irrational emotive center is incapable of guiding the true needs of the Self, the higher being that we all are. This part of the heart chakra, with all its powerful emotionality, provides the justification for the rise to order and reason of the rational mind, as it insists on its superiority and hegemony over the vagaries of the feeling heart.

Rationality is like a predator, constantly swooping in to reassert its presence... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
Rationality is like a predator, constantly swooping in to reassert its presence…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

Aurobindo comments: “This mixture of the emotive heart and the sensational hungering vital creates in man a false soul of desire; it is this that is the crude and dangerous element which the reason rightly distrusts and feels a need to control, even though the actual control or rather coercion it succeeds in establishing over our raw and insistent vital nature remains always very uncertain and deceptive.” ***

Unfortunately, attempts at rational control over emotive behavior, or cognitive behavioral therapy, rarely quell the base impulses raging in the heart. More often than not they are sentenced to the prison of the shadow unconscious where they lie in wait, scheming their next disruptive moves. The apparent calm after the storm is generally short-lived.

How many times couples find themselves immediately reignited in a conflict, after a voluntary break for calming and cooling, reflects the thin veil of control reason holds over the fiery energy of an ignited heart.

Though reason might offer a pause, it cannot settle matters of the true heart. For don Juan, reason would be a false path, not the path that could be guided by spirit. How then does one go about achieving the quiet heart, of locating “the true invisible heart hidden in the luminous cave” *** of the heart center, and truly find a path with heart.

Tibetan Buddhism has developed the practice of Tonglen breathing where the fire of emotion is allowed to burn off and transform in the heart center, through breathing in the fire that wants to attack or attach outwardly and breathing out a cooler breath of compassion. This is an alchemical process of transforming emotional heat into the steady flame of cool luminosity utilizing the heart chamber as the retort, or flask, to burn off the impurities of the lower chakras to arrive at truth and compassion. Once we find our way to true compassion, compassion that is not tainted with sympathy, empathy, or guilt, we’ve entered the cave of objective truth where the cool Divine Spark glows in all its luminosity.

Behind the known heart lies the cave of the luminous heart... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
Behind the known heart lies the cave of the luminous heart…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

The I Ching in the hexagram Ken, the Mountain, hints at the practice of yoga as a method to still the restlessness of the heart, another alchemical process. Regardless of methodology, the essence of an alchemical practice is to contain the energy of the lower chakras that would drive the heart to outbursts of emotive activity. Through containment of this emotional energy a transformation takes place whereby the cave of the hidden mystical heart appears. Then the Psychic Being, the true higher Self, is available to come forth and take the reins in right action.

In opening access to the true heart chakra where the Psychic Being resides, that inmost link to Divine Soul, only truth and compassion flow. As Aurobindo states: “It is as this psychic being in him grows and the movements of the heart reflect its divinations and impulsions that man becomes more and more aware of his soul, ceases to be a superior animal, and, awakening to glimpses of the godhead within him, admits more and more its intimations of a deeper life and consciousness and an impulse towards things divine.” ****

The path to unveil the hidden heart is truly the path with heart.

With compassion,

* The Wheel of Time, Castaneda, p. 19
** The Psychic Being, Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, p 26
*** The Psychic Being, Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, p 27
**** The Psychic Being, Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, p 27-28