THE NIGREDO – PART 3:
Working Through Depression with Alchemy
THE NIGREDO (Part 3)
ENVISION YOUR FUTURE
Perhaps you lack the right tools to help you realize your potential, to make it so. Self-mastery is a continuous process, which can be used to improve your position wherever you currently find yourself. Our motivations come from our beliefs and values. But along the road of life we may not have developed the resources to deploy our skills or have fallen into traps that derail us when we try.
Identifying beliefs and roadblocks is a solid first step to change. You already probably know exactly what you would like to change, and just how you feel when that’s not happening, and even where you feel that in your body and what it is like. This technique allows you to get in touch with a metaphor of your situation.
The body is an alchemical furnace. The brain sends chemical messengers — neurotransmitters of pain and pleasure — throughout the body. In turn, the body sends signals to the brain about its sense of distress or safety and well-being.
We can intervene intentionally in this cycle at any point. We can use nutrition, exercise, self-talk and psycho-sensory exercises that create the kinds of experiences that move us forward in our goals. This is 21st Century alchemy – intentionally changing body chemistry from both inside and outside. Our organism obeys one of the maxims of information technology: “Garbage In; Garbage Out”.
Studies have shown that the mindbody cannot distinguish imagination from reality in its automatic reactions. The same internal chemistry is produced whether you do something or imagine it, making mind and body truly one. Transform your imagination into reality.
It all starts and ends with imagination – with what you picture in your mind and the self-talk you use to convince yourself what things mean and what to do. This is where you develop vision and create meaning, which leads to purpose and understanding your mission in life. To change your mind, along with the feelings, attitudes and chemistry that it creates, just systematically change your imagination – the image you hold of your self, others, and world.
Inner guidance comes through the intimate connection between the chemistry of your body and that of your mind and moods. We all recognize a gut-feeling when we have it. Health and well-being involves physical, emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions.
A healthy mindbody opens the way to balance, integration, and inner peace, without resorting to personality-distorting medications. Research has shown that therapy is as effective as antidepressants. We all need exercise, affection, and discipline. We also benefit from reflection or self-knowledge. This alchemical investigation of self is a spiritual journey toward increased balance and mastery.
THE SHADOW KNOWS
Your shadow consists of all the baggage you have stuffed into your false self. You are either afraid to show it, or paradoxically compelled to show it in impulsive behavior. Either way, it is out of control. Acting out self-limiting, self-defeating or self-destructive tendencies means the shadow is running the show. Anger, sadness and fear block joy.
When your ego can no longer pursue only its selfish concerns and addictive demands, the Self forces you into a depression to shake up the stagnant order of things. It brings a burning awareness of your shortcomings and inadequacies. To get to the root of these, you need to process old traumas and negative core beliefs that limit you severely. The self appears on your inner stage as the shadow, and confronts you with your inferior traits.
“The head of the Raven” is another traditional name for the nigredo. It corresponds to the encounter with the shadow. Your ego and the shadow must eventually be reconciled. Your restlessness and disorientation come from your conscious experience of conflict between conscious and unconscious drives. The unconscious must be transformed. The Self devours itself and dies, only to rise again when the work is perfected. But feelings of guilt, worthlessness and powerlessness must be suffered and worked through patiently.
The Shadow is a ‘splinter personality’ that prevents you from realizing your unique potential for personal fulfillment. Cowardice, laziness, ambivalence, rashness, dishonesty, envy, greed, lust, vanity, and attachment, and other self-indulgent tendencies will have to be faced directly. The narcissistic shadow is the diametrical opposite of our positive assets. If you are compulsively organized in daily life, the shadow is a slacker. If you are puritanical, the shadow is promiscuous.
Our dark side isn’t necessarily acted out in self-destructive behavior, but if it has no means of self-expression no ego can transform beyond this phase of development. Some form of inner dialogue is useful. You must come to a conscious understanding of those things you have repressed, and have not been able, nor dared to live out. As a symbol of the self, the shadow embodies the primitive, dark background from which we all emerge. But only the ego passes negative judgment on the shadow. The self embraces all opposites, including good and bad.
Highly religious individuals, who tend to over-identify with the great good of the Light, have shadows that may assume the form of a devilish adversary. What may start as good intentions becomes perverted through repression not transformation. But in the broader reality, the shadow gives human existence body and depth. In physics, the brighter the light, the deeper the shadows which are cast by it. The shadow embodies our hidden agendas, ulterior motives and pathologies.
If you do not take responsibility for consciously becoming aware of your shadow traits, you will find them projected onto others (of the same sex) in your environment. You may feel an irrational instinctive hatred for virtual strangers. This is the collective basis of racial prejudice. When you feel any emotion that seems highly exaggerated, it usually means you are projecting. When that extreme emotion is irrational vehemence, you are projecting your own repressed weakness onto others. To do this you must deny a part of yourself and you cannot experience wholeness.
Therefore, in order to continue your process of transformation, you must come to an awareness of your particular shadow characteristics. If you reach down deeply enough, you will find that the shadow is not only negative, but holds your unlived potential for positive change, also.
As you re-own this lost part of yourself, you open a channel between the conscious and the superconscious levels, between the ego and the self. This experience can bring a flood of light, joy, and energy, which brings temporary release from the depression.
Even your psychosomatic symptoms may vanish suddenly. It’s more than placebo effect.
If your personality is not well-grounded you may not be able to assimilate an inflow of light and strength. The alchemist must balance intellect and emotion by using imagination in a controlled way to digest this sudden illuminating insight. For your ego to react with egotism or conceit is to confuse itself with the power of the self. This confusion of levels has the unfortunate effect of creating a self-glorification. Of course, you are divine, but it is Source shining through you.
If you are bedazzled by spiritual truths beyond your mental power to digest, you may become self-deluded and/or victimized by a cult. You need to develop your powers of discrimination. Megalomania is extreme egotism and can lead a person to act out the role of prophet or savior, spurred on by the excitement of his or her own inner awakening.
You may begin experiencing paranormal phenomena, ESP, clairvoyance, or synchronicities (meaningful coincidences). You may have visions of divine beings, or hear voices, or dabble with automatic writing. Be sure to examine any messages of uncommon origin with discrimination. Any messages exalting your personality should be automatically suspect.
Other reactions to spiritual awakening may occur later as doubts fall away and inner security is found. You may be elated for a time, but your personal self was only temporarily overpowered not permanently transformed. When the spiritual influx ebbs away you may be in for trouble from your ego, which desperately seeks to reassert its dominion.
The trap is to judge yourself even more harshly for being merely human. You have not fallen lower than when you began, but you may feel the full fury of the lower drives when their uncontrolled expression is threatened. They may rear their ugly heads with more force than ever.
Another reaction is to deny the value and reality of your spiritual awakening. The inner critic, or skeptic, creates doubts and attempts to label it a fantasy. With bitterness and sarcasm you may rebuke your aspirations and ideals. But when you have had a transformative vision, you cannot deny it for long, and remain healthy. It brings more depression, a sense of unworthiness, and the feeling you are damned. Nigredo can be likened to “going through Hell.”
All those in the arts and sciences experience periods of aridity and inability to work. No new inspirations come. You feel cut off from the source of creative flow. The depression and restlessness that result may lead to alcohol or drugs, until or unless the sudden flow of inspiration brings a sense of renewal.
You need to be aware of the true nature of this crisis, and realize that an exalted state cannot be maintained forever. It is no fall from grace, but a natural occurrence that gives you emotional and mental relief from the tensions of inspiration and illumination. After all, you can only digest so much change at once. Instead of staying stuck in the depression you can continue on the path to self-realization.
MEANING & MYSTERY
It is impossible to feel isolated, lonely, and “dead” with a felt sense of revivifying identification, which stems from direct experience of the dynamic whole of reality. It restores our sense of personal wholeness. We are an indivisible part of a flow in the whole field of consciousness. The entire cosmos is contained holographically within us: “As Above; So Below.”
When we become “superconductors” of consciousness, we draw from the spiritual wellsprings of life and health, that which eternally makes the world bloom anew, which brings re-enchantment. The “dam” of depression which has blocked the dynamic flow of life and love cannot withstand this immense healing force forever. It breaks through the “dead void” and one is no longer estranged from the power of the dynamic ground-state of existence, or cosmic unity.
What was lost has been found. The wilderness is no longer barren. Life blossoms and bears fruit. The self is the whole range of psychic phenomena, a psychic organ of perception. The self is transcendent, a center between conscious and unconscious, because it points to an unlimited future and unbound creative expansion of the evolutionary process. It signifies the harmony and balance of various opposing forces. Symbols of the self can be anything the ego recognizes as a greater totality than itself: the androgyne, the diamond body, the flower of life, the Elixir, the Stone.
The average heart beats two billion times and you can change utterly in any one of them. Reclaim your innate capacity for changing the cellular, subatomic, and psychophysical processes of your energy body. WHAT YOU THINK and the excitation level of your overall system changes your chemistry, markedly. We are fluid fields, through which energy and matter dynamically flow and change. Lifestyle, diet, emotional state and consciousness play a huge role in health and disease. We can catalyze our psychophysical homeostasis and spontaneous healing processes, complementing any traditional care we may require.
Restoration of the flow-state comes through identification with the alchemical process. Genius embodies powers greater than our own for no one can ever embody at once all the potential qualities of archetypal Self. But we can become extraordinary by transforming our character like carving a diamond from the rough.
Self is the primordial I AM of Being, as fundamental as inhalation and exhalation. Our lives are defined by their limitations and the strategies we use to cope with and overcome them. The self expresses the unity of the personality as a Whole, our holistic organism. The unconscious, including the mindbody and energy body, is the medium from which the sacred Source flows forth.
This is the serpentine process of healing. It changes us at the quantum, energetic and psychobiological levels. It literally changes our biochemistry. Creative flow states have the power to restructure our consciousness at the most fundamental level. Alchemy is an endless source of creativity, spiritual sustenance, and pleasure. Passion for the Great Work connects you experientially with Mystery.