Tag Archives: nigredo

Chuck’s Place: Holy Shit!

The nigredo…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

We meet the animal that we are in the bathroom. Despite the soft, white, scented Charmin’ tissue paper that we wipe ourselves with, what leaves our bodies is stinky, sticky and dark, the color and texture of muddy earth.

C. G. Jung suggested that the bathroom is the room where we most encounter our instinctual selves, thus it is equated symbolically with the collective unconscious. The day I read Jung’s reflections on this specific subject, a client, who has graciously agreed to allow me to share it, had the following interaction with me:

Me: “So, have you had any dreams?”

Client: “Funny you should ask, I had a disgusting dream that I’m not going to tell you” (and then she did).

Here is a summary of the dream:  “I’m in a red-neck setting, one I’d never be in. I’m hidden under a tree. I’m on my side looking at people. Suddenly and uncontrollably I take a long, foamy bowel movement. I’m extremely embarrassed. I move away, afraid they’ll find out it was from me. I decide to go back to cover it over but can’t find it.”

As we reflected on the dream we came to understand that the client was attempting to get away from something deeply uncomfortable, hidden in the shadow of the self, something “behind her,” a fact she’d much rather keep “flushed away” from herself. Her instinctual dream would not let her get away with this however.

We unearthed the disowned fact, which reached back decades into childhood. The shit became a pearl and opened the door to address and shift a lifelong source of shame.

Jung pointed out that the alchemists considered excrement to be a prima materia from which gold could eventually be extracted. They called this stage in their experimental operations the nigredo.

In these modern times, humanity identifies itself as a rational mind, a fast acting logical computer that I would call a spirit self. In our times, spirit has withdrawn from the heavens and been reframed as the mental place, the thinking brain. Spirit humans hardly see themselves as animals governed by bodily dictates.

In our dream, the instinctual self teaches the spirit/mental self, that avoids earthy red-neck environments, that the gold lies in that which is most rejected and avoided in the self.

Everyone has had dreams of public toilets without doors or of defecating uncontrollably in public places. These dreams are really about our deepest nature attempting to draw our attention to that which we are most afraid to expose ourselves or others to, and yet, like the diamond that emerges from the blackest coal, these dreams really should be treated as holy shit.

If we allow ourselves to own the shit, refusing to be shut down by shame or embarrassment, we disarm our emotional defenses and free ourselves to become more human and to discover the most valuable pearls of wisdom from the refuse of our own bodies.

Gotta go, nature calls!


#691 Chuck’s Place: The Call to a New Era

Refusal of the Call

OFTEN in actual life, and not infrequently in the myths and popular tales, we encounter the dull case of the call unanswered; for it is always possible to turn the ear to other interests. Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or “culture,” the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved. His flowering world becomes a wasteland of dry stones and his life feels meaningless—even though, like King Minos, he may through titanic effort succeed in building an empire of renown. Whatever house he builds, it will be a house of death: a labyrinth of cyclopean walls to hide from his Minotaur. All he can do is create new problems for himself and await the gradual approach of his disintegration.” (From The Hero With a Thousand Faces; Joseph Campbell, p. 59.)

Walled in by the widening nigredo of oil blackening shores, America faces the consequences of its own refusal of the call. The earth, that mighty sentient being, releases its own curative now. Change is no longer an option; it is upon us. We have simply, run out of time.

Carlos asks: “What’s happening to me, don Juan?” I asked. It was a rhetorical question on my part.

It is the workings of infinity,” he replied. “Something happened to your way of perceiving the day you met me. Your sensation of nervousness is due to the subliminal realization that your time is up. You are aware of it, but not deliberately conscious of it. You feel the absence of time, and that makes you impatient. I know this, for it happened to me and to all the sorcerers of my lineage. At a given time, a whole era in my life, or their lives, ended. Now it’s your turn. You have simply run out of time.” ( From The Active Side of Infinity; Carlos Castaneda, p. 77.)

As Jeanne and I sat in our van at the Omega Institute parking lot after our first round of Tensegrity, we knew, an era of our lives had ended, forever. The distant call that we had heard for decades had arrived, loud and clear. We sat in calm silence. In the background was the definite knock of death; cancer had been diagnosed. No more illusions of infinite time in this world. The path of heart had fully materialized before us. We were in it, no turning back. Everything was different. Suddenly, the definition of our relationship totally shifted. Sexual energy was to be accrued, to be used in new ways. The only thing that mattered was the truth, lifting the veils, finding the energy body, and ultimately, meeting, energetically, in infinity. That knowing, that new era, continues to unfold to this day.

The world as we know it has, indeed, run out of time. We are all afforded, now, the gift to acquiesce and evolve this dream into a new era of unparalleled possibility.

If you wish to correspond, please feel free to post a comment below.

Until we meet again,

#685 Chuck’s Place: Boroughs & Bridges to the Truth

America eagerly awaits its new Idol: Will it be Crystal; will it be Lee? The Tea Partyers eagerly await the opportunity to “throw the bums out” in the midterm elections. We breathe easier because the solid Admiral of the Coast Guard is overseeing BP. Natural gas companies are seizing the moment; offering the “safe” alternative to oil. After all, they blast 7,000 feet beneath the earth’s surface; how could that possibly effect the drinking water, or the cows pasturing on the farms above? Meanwhile, somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, one mile (5280 feet) beneath the earth, the oil continues to flow, unabated. Fortunately, we are “right on schedule” for a final capping off of the pipe, some time in August. There is evidence now that the oil has caught the current and is showing up on the coast of Florida, the same current that flows up the eastern seaboard. Naturally, specimens are being “properly analyzed” to verify their point of origin. Thank God for science!

From a different perspective, I view this broadening, enveloping nigredo, as black gold, perhaps the real next American Idol; the one we will learn to appreciate the most. The tragedy to the seas, to the habitats of many, including our own, is now threatened at an unstoppable pace. Nature itself has taken over now, demanding that we embrace the truth. It is downright heartbreaking to see the amount of destruction to innocent sea life. The entire food chain will be poisoned as a result of this catastrophe and the impact will be felt by all living things. It is evident that the human race, left to its own devices, refuses to face the truth of its destructive behavior to the planet. I call the nigredo “black gold” because it represents, through the magnitude of its destruction, our path to redemption. It is not just a “good” thing that we check our greed, become humble, and assume responsibility for maintaining balance in this world; it is the only means of survival. It is not about convincing anyone or overpowering resistance. Nature has lost her patience; if we don’t capitulate, we perish.

The water, from which we are all born, which sustains all life, will now poison life, until we face the error of our ways and change our gluttonous attitudes toward the planet. But do not despair! Change is on the horizon. No longer must we sit idly by in powerlessness as the forces of greed dominate the show. Nature is on board now, in a big way. Stay aligned with the truth, your inner truth, and join your intent with this evolutionary process, facing and embracing all our planetary truths, which are, from an energetic perspective, “right on schedule.”

Keeping with the themes of water and nature, I turn now more personal, to dreams from my life around the Isle of Manhattan.

In countless dreams, I am lost in the Bronx searching for the bridge to Manhattan. Eventually, I find the bridge. However, it is generally at various stages of disrepair, or under construction, or being dangerously flooded with enormous waves crashing over it as it sways in the wind. Sometimes, I am lost in Brooklyn, unsure of the direction to Manhattan or which subway to take. Occasionally, the current is calm and I can swim across the river.

My psyche, the self, the spinner of dreams, has chosen New York City, with all of its boroughs and bridges, to show me both the fragmentation within my psyche, the location of untapped resources or possibilities, and the status of my ability to both tap into and integrate them.

Psychic fragmentation is often caused by traumatic experiences where parts of the self are cut off from the mainstream conscious self and forced to exist in unknown isolated islands, like, let’s say, Staten Island. Who even knows anything about Staten Island, or conceives of it as being part of New York City? So forgotten are they, complain Staten Islanders, that they have even considered secession from the union of New York City.

Psychic fragmentation can also be the result of socialization, where unacceptable parts of the self are repressed, never allowed access to conscious life; in the place Jung called the shadow. Perhaps these parts are stored in another borough of New York City, such as in Brooklyn or the Bronx.

Finally, there are parts of the self that have simply yet to emerge, yet to be activated, yet to be discovered in life. These resources may also be stored in the outlying boroughs, perhaps in Queens, a royal borough.

The process of individuation is the challenge to gain access to, to claim and integrate, all the boroughs of the self into a conscious unified whole. Integration requires a network of connections that allow easy access to all the boroughs, hence the significance of the condition of the bridges in my dreams. Psychotherapy is the process of building solid bridges to all parts of the self.

The seers of don Juan’s line introduced the process of recapitulation, of reliving one’s life, in order to reclaim all vital energy lost to prior experiences, or that which is lodged in the outlying boroughs. Furthermore, they introduced learning to shift the assemblage point, what they call our major point of awareness, to different positions within our energetic selves to access the fuller possibilities of our innate potential. Their techniques to create this shift are:

1. recapitulation, where we volitionally shift the assemblage point to a different place of awareness, that of forgotten or repressed aspects of life experiences;

2. dreaming, where the assemblage point loosens as the conscious ego relaxes its hold on our point of awareness;

3. stalking, where we shift the assemblage point through volitionally interrupting our habitual patterns by acting-as-if, or by practicing not-doings; and

4. intent, where we access the power of intent to shift our point of awareness simply through intending it.

Both psychotherapy and the practices of the seers offer tools to individuate and actualize the full potential of the self. But remember, union requires open bridges to all boroughs, access to all parts of the self. It requires truthfulness and clarity, without deception or hidden agendas; no cover-ups or idolizations, no capping off of any parts of the self that are spewing black gold until you get the message and take appropriate action. In order to stand in the fullness of self, we must allow nature itself to take over, inner and outer, integrating it with what we already know about the self. The natural flow of events and consequences in our lives, even the nigredo, are integral to this evolutionary process.

If you wish to correspond, please feel free to post a comment below.

Until we meet again,

#665 Chuck’s Place: Black Gold

When challenged with the question, “Why so much focus on alchemy in your writing, Chuck?” my truthful response is: Carl Jung, that Master Shaman, spent decades of his life unearthing and sifting through the rich black earth of this ancient system to empower us to decipher the gold in our thoroughly modern dreams. Modern Alchemy 101: sift through the nigredo, the blackness in your dreams, and you will find your gold. Before I elucidate on a dream from last night that Jan is allowing me to “expose,” I first need to discuss a homework assignment I was given this week.

A client, who was reading an early blog I had written on blackness, America Chooses the Black Doll, assigned me to read Playing in the Dark, Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison. For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of tackling Ms. Morrison, I assure you, she is as dense and playful in her writing as Jung is when writing on alchemy. In this work, she makes a compelling argument for the need to shed light upon the cultural context of blackness in America, to fully realize its unconscious influence upon all American authorship.

Morrison reflects upon Marie Cardinal’s autobiography, The Words to Say It, where Cardinal describes her initiation into madness, triggered in the midst of a jazz improvisation at a Louis Armstrong concert. Morrison questions the automatic, uncontested assumptions of this encounter with blackness and the onset of madness. Morrison draws attention to the automatic acceptance of these things —black people—black music—mental chaos—madness— as being associatively linked and the unconscious projection of them into American literature.

Taking it beyond literature, I would argue that we are absolutely stymied in America by this dilemma. Is there not a very strong attempt to play upon this automatic unconscious assumption with blackness by associating Obama with madness, as the devil incarnate? If we don’t shed light upon these projections we become a country paralyzed by apocalyptic fear.

The issue here is to separate the ancient symbol of blackness from its projection onto people of color. The contrasting symbols of white and black, day and night, light and dark, visible and invisible, yin and yang, are so ancient that they long precede awareness of race. These symbols exist in the depths of the collective unconscious and present themselves in dreams, impervious to political and social correctness. It remains for the conscious individual to decipher the true meaning and personal relevance of these symbols in dreams. Blackness, or the nigredo as the alchemists named it, symbolizes unknown material; black is in the dark, where things are unseen and therefore unknown. In order to arrive at the highest value, always considered to be gold, one must go into the unknown, the darkness of the self and redeem that which lies there, either because it has been rejected or because it has, more significantly, yet to be discovered. The nigredo, in this context, is that which lies in the darkness. The nigredo is universal to all races because all people have parts of themselves hidden in the dark and, similarly, because it is unknown, it is equally unsettling for all races. Racism is a collective attempt to escape this inner tension of reckoning with one’s unknown self, the nigredo, by ridding oneself of its threat, by assigning it to and projecting it upon another race, and maintaining power over that race to keep one’s fears in check.

One can hardly escape the current obvious, unabashedly, in-your-face attempt to seduce white America into avoiding facing the truth of what lies hidden in its own darkness by projecting its nigredo upon Obama and ridding itself of its own curse. Toni Morrison is right to draw such attention to the archetypal implications of blackness being automatically and unchallengingly projected upon human beings. The symbol is not the object. The symbol in the dream is ancient, archetypal, and personally relevant. Own it, and take the personal journey with it. We use Jan’s dream to illustrate this.

In her own words: I am standing on 42nd Street outside Grand Central Terminal in New York City talking to a woman who says she has just won the Lottery, a winning of several million dollars. “So, I didn’t win?” I ask. “Oh well, I guess it just wasn’t my turn.” And with that I turn and walk into the cavernous main hall of Grand Central Terminal where the vast space is lined with row upon row of black toilets, with no lids. The toilets are packed tightly together and there are perhaps fifty or so rows of them interspersed with black metal folding chairs. I have to go to the bathroom, “a crap,” so I begin walking up and down the aisles of toilets looking for a place where I can comfortably sit down and do what I have to do, but there is absolutely no privacy here. People are sitting on some of the toilets and I can hear farting and peeing sounds. They are reading, smoking, and talking to others sitting next to them or opposite them, as if it were nothing unusual, but I just can’t allow myself to be so exposed. I think up all kinds of reasons why I should not just sit down on a toilet like everyone else, such as: There is no privacy here! There are too many men sitting in this row! How can that woman sit there like that! Don’t people have any sense of privacy? This is too intimate! Finally, I decide that I will “just hold it” and, upon deciding this, I walk out of the terminal. As soon as I walk outside I get into a car with Chuck and our daughter Erica, who in the dream is a happy and bubbly thirteen year old. I am driving. We travel into the countryside over winding, hilly snow and ice covered roads. People are driving way too fast for the conditions and several times I have to make some quick maneuvers so we don’t have collisions. Erica is very impressed with my driving skills but even so we are eventually forced off the road by an oncoming Cadillac that sideswipes the driver’s side mirror and sends us hurtling into a snow bank. We exit the car, leaving it stranded in the snow, grab three round flying saucer sleds from the trunk and begin walking up a steep ice and snow-covered road. We arrive at the top of the hill and decide to sled down the other side, but the snow is so wet and sticky that we are unable to slide down without getting stuck repeatedly, so we abandon our flying saucers and walk the rest of the way. At the bottom of the hill, Erica points to a blurry picture of a nutcracker painted on the road —like a logo of the nutcracker from the ballet The Nutcracker Suite— barely visible beneath the thick ice that is covering the road. As we continue walking along, I see that a railroad bridge crosses over the road far ahead and that there is a railroad station off to the left. “Look, a train station!” I say with great relief. “We are taking that train!” Chuck says, firmly. As we get closer I see that the station name is Warwarsing. I joke repeatedly into Chuck’s ear, saying that we are in “War-Washing! War-Washing! Get it? We are in WAR-WASHING!” I know that we can take the train back to Grand Central Terminal, and as we walk into the station to buy our tickets I wake up.

Jan does not win the lottery, i.e. the gold! No, you have to work for it. The work begins at Grand Central—an allusion to a directive from the SELF. “Grand” suggests something greater than the ego; “Central” shows it to be at the center of the personality. Grand Central is also the meeting place of many old tried and true paths. Evidently the SELF is directing Jan into a scene that captures many people’s worst nightmare in dreams, a vast public unisex restroom without partitions. The nigredo is identified by the black toilets, the black chairs, and, obviously, that which is concealed inside the body! The nigredo points to that which is unknown or concealed, and requires work. The work here means exposing oneself to the truth of that which is unsettling and unknown. The dream is placing obvious emphasis on EXPOSURE. The SELF wants the nigredo exposed, not discretely flushed away. Jan balks at this request, choosing instead to take her own heroic journey, symbolized by the accompaniment of the innocent, bubbly, youthful Erica, avoiding the blackness and going off into the white snow.

As it turns out, all of Jan’s efforts at transcendence in pure whiteness fail, including the flying saucers—an inflated attempt to win her wholeness, symbolized by the round saucer that flies. The nutcracker, beneath the ice, is a reminder that the real nut has yet to be cracked. Ultimately, we end up at the Warwarsing station, where I, representing Jan’s inner masculine guide, as animus, insist we take the train back to Grand Central. The WAR symbolizes taking on the tension of exposure within the self, encountering internalized judgments, inhibitions, unacceptable facts, etc., symbolized by all the characters hanging around the terminal in this dream. The WASHING symbolizes separating out the elements of nigredo, sifting through “the crap” and discovering that which has been hidden. In this dream, the path to be taken is an ancient one leading back to Grand Central. An inflationary avoidance, however heroic, could not achieve reconciliation.

Thank you, Jan, for fulfilling your dream’s request: exposure to the world! Through this act Jan owns her own nigredo, which becomes the source of acquiring her own gold through facing her own inner truth. I hope that this dream illustrates the symbolic meaning of blackness with its golden potential, which is the alchemical process, obviously relevant in understanding the dream of a modern person. Additionally, along with Toni Morrison, I hope that this article furthers an appreciation for the archetypal symbol of blackness, in all its richness, that must be differentiated from unconscious projections onto outer objects.

If you wish to correspond, please feel free to post a comment below.

Until we meet again,