Using the Big Mind process to access and work with some of my lesser known parts has left me with a cacophony of voices in my head. Some of them are familiar, like the critic. He sometimes sounds like this:
That voice doesn't like anything I do, or anything about who I am. But I am familiar with that voice. Fortunately, he doesn't have as much power anymore to affect my life.
It became clear this morning that I was neck deep in the shit when I recalled a dream from last night involving an ex-girlfriend I haven't seen in many years. In the dream, many of the dysfunctional elements of our relationship played themselves out. This is the shadow stuff that Jung talked about as the alchemical nigredo:
If a patient is in a state of deep depression, Jung would say that it corresponds to the alchemical stage of nigredo, or blackness. Just as the prima materia (the substance being worked on) must be washed and distilled before it is purified, so also the individual must undergo a process of cleansing and distillation before achieving wholeness (individuation). The purified state is known as albedo, or whiteness. The process, according to Jung, usually begins at the nigredo stage, which is characterized by self-reflection and a state of dissolution. In alchemical literature, the procedure moves through various stages of distillation and purification. To Jung, this means that a patient will gradually gain sufficient knowledge of the unconscious until one's inner life becomes integrated and balanced (all projections are withdrawn). When this occurs, one enters a state of great peace and tranquility. Jung claims that this is the pure gold spoken of by the alchemists.
It doesn't have to be depression, that's just a useful example. It can be any number of things, including parts work disturbing the balance. We can't escape this shadow work if we want to be whole and healthy. The prima materia is the self (small s, not the Self, big S), and it is the base material for all psychological work.
This is one artist's version of the alchemical image of the nigredo:
Crows are often pictured in images of the nigredo. I wrote about this once in an essay on Raven as a shadow guide. Following the shadow, in whatever form it shows up, is equivalent to following a guide -- it will lead us into the muck from which we can emerge purified.
Other crucial parts of this image are the angels and elements. Jung believed that we have inner guides (in the form of archetypes) who shepherd the therapeutic process. He felt we never undertake this work alone. From an integral perspective, this amounts to magical/mythical thinking, but it's still a useful metaphor.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my parts are going nuts.
At the IFS conference last weekend, in every session that involved inner work, I chose to work with my Kid. This has been an on-going project for me. The problem is that whenever an exile is brought into a closer relationship with the Self, the system of inner selves gets disrupted. Many of my selves are heavily invested in keeping the Kid exiled. They fear the vulnerability that allowing him a more prominent place in my life might entail. Protectors and Firefighters avoid being vulnerable at all costs. Their job is to keep the system safe from any kind of threat, and in my life being vulnerable has often resulted in pain.
So I've got one Firefighter (the one who likes to use food to bury feelings) trying to talk me into ordering a pizza and drowning myself in a carb and fat feast. Another Firefighter (the one who kept me drunk for two years following the breakup with above-mentioned ex-girlfriend) wants me to dive into a bottle of vodka.
All the while, there are Protectors (who are generally Manager types and want nothing more than to maintain balance) are fighting off the Firefighters and trying to make me productive as a way to keep the Kid buried. Maybe they are succeeding, because here I am being productive and blogging about this whole process.
And then there's some maudlin part that misses the rain and gloom of life in Seattle. He's been craving Mark Lanegan songs, like this one:
Ah, yes, loving the gloom.That song takes me back to the days I lived with Celeste (the ex) in Seattle. The rain, the city, the despair. Neck deep in the muck.
Strangely enough (or not so strangely, depending on how familiar you are with this stuff), when shadow work is up for me, life brings me synchronicities to keep the process going. Last weekend I saw Kira at the IFC conference, whom many of you no doubt remember as my partner up until September of last year. We have agreed to get together and clear the air of any leftover stuff that needs to be cleared. Doesn't that sound like fun?
When it's time to dig in the dirt, my psyche doesn't mess around.
Peter knows the truth about inner work.
When shadow work is on the agenda, psyche wants to get as much done as possible, which can feel overwhelming at times. But we never get more than we can handle.
Over the years of doing this, however, I have come to see this as a valuable process that can't be ignored or swept under the rug. If I can simply stay with the process, and be right where I am, however challenging that may feel, I know that it will pass, and I will be happier and more whole for having surfed the wave.
Until we ferment, we shall not escape from this vat of the
world- how then shall we become intimate with the lip of that
flagon and bowl?
Listen to the words from a madman: do not suppose that we
become true men until we die.
Being in the nigredo is a kind of fermentation, a purification. We must die to the shadow selves, in a metaphorical way, if we hope to be whole in the Self. And there is no better way than through purification.
There is still much work to do, but I know I will come out the other side a better person.
1. Three Days Grace: I Hate Everything About You
2. Jung and Alchemy
3. Nigredo, JungLand
4. Mark Lanegan, Ugly Sunday
5. Peter Gabriel, Digging in the Dirt
6. Rumi, The time has come for us to become madmen in your chain
7. Peter Gabriel, Washing of the Water