I once used the term “the alchemist’s crucible.” I think this term came to me because at the time I had been reading Jung’s Memories, Dreams, and Reflections and was struck with how often he delved into the alchemical arts as a means of understanding the human psyche.
This got me to thinking about the symbolism inherent in alchemy. On the surface the alchemists seemed to be looking for a means of transmuting base metals into precious metals e.g. lead into gold. I think that they were trying, among other things, to make sense of this world of opposites and dichotomies by to find an underlying unity. Why? Well, part of the human condition seems to be that we are all separate from each other and the environment that we find ourselves in. This experience of separation breeds, as I’ve said before, various levels of fear ranging from discomfort to all-out panic. We want to protect ourselves from what is ‘not us’ whether that be on the personal or communal (meaning the tribe, state, nation) level. This of course is the basis for personal and social conflict. Finding a resolution to the conflict that arises from opposition has been key to the history of alchemy, and politics (which is a kind of alchemy itself).
The goal of trying to make sense of what-is by attempting to resolve the basic conflict caused by separation can be seen in all our mythologies where mankind is always trying to deal with its twin natures of the beast and the spirit e.g. note the invention of the Centaur (man’s torso and head on the body of a horse), or the Minotaur (a bull’s head on a man’s body) and the fact that all hero stories have a thematic conflict to resolve. A great deal of modern psychological therapy is to assist the individual with internal psychic conflicts e.g. the conflict between what you are and what you want to be.
I think that among the fundamental goals of all religions, philosophies, and sciences is to bring to consciousness the mysteries of the universe and to observe its fundamental unity.
I also maintain that this unity, this wholeness, already exists, but is generally beneath our awareness. Because of this the universe looks fragmented and dichotomous. This gives dream-work a whole new purpose in that it can bring ones unconscious psyche to consciousness so that we can experience a greater whole and thus a better understanding of what makes us tick. The more we understand of what it means to be human the better our understanding of where we’re standing. For example, to get to know a tree, one needs to stand under it, to ‘listen’ to it. To know another anything (person, place or thing) one needs to stand under it, to be within its context, or to stand in its shoes, and is thus the root meaning of ‘understanding.’
This reminds me of the teachings of G. Gurdjieff, a early 20th century Russian mystic and spiritual teacher who wrote that humanity lives its life in a “Waking Sleep” and thus only experiences reality subjectively. He suggested that the vast majority of humans live as automatons, but have the power to awaken and become something so much greater.
“Man lives his life in sleep, and in sleep he dies.”
As automatons we become susceptible to the manipulations of others (advertisers, politicians, radio talk show hosts, religious leaders and zealots, and the hysteria of the masses). The one sided development of our humanity that most of us experience is what passes for ‘life’ in the modern world. I believe that we need to develop all aspects of who we are in order to become a fully integrated (actualized) human being that is fully present to an expanded sense of reality instead of the limited reality we currently embrace. In my experience we mostly just argue our limits without trying to see beyond them.
“Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours.”
– Richard Bach, Illusions
There again is that concept of ‘limiting’ being a root to perverted reality. For many of us we limit our personal development to one of four areas–physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual and for the rare few who might include more than one or even all, they limit the impact through narrow definition.
“The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.”
What do I mean by expanded definition? This morning in a group discussion one of our group told the story of a young soldier who stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device) while patrolling in Afghanistan. He lost his foot and part of his leg. At first everyone, including the soldier, saw this as only a tragedy, but eventually it brought the family together in ways none of them could have imagined before the event. Everyone connected with the event began to see another more positive outcome, born from the very real tragedy, that would not have happened without it.
I think that the meaning of nearly every event in our lives can be used to expand our reality. Set aside your limited thinking and self-limiting thoughts and be open to reality. Learn to see beneath the meaning of your personal or collective definition to see what else may be there.
“And therefore as a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
This will not be easy.
In my new book, The Archipelago of Dreams: The Island of the Dream Healer I explore through the genre of a fantasy story what it means to live life in a limited way.