Creativity and Destruction Dissociation, Chaos, and the Coniunctio in the Pursuit of Bliss

“I say to you, one must yet have chaos in himself in order to give birth to a dancing star.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

Creation and destruction go hand in hand with the alchemical process that Jung illuminated in his life‘s work: “In the end the only events in my life worth telling are those when the imperishable world irrupted into this transitory one….These form the prima materia of my scientific work.  They were the fiery magma out of which the stone that had to be worked was crystallized.”  During the period of his life Jung called “confrontation with the unconscious” he was driven to the edge of total psychic dissociation. But the experience of this madness, this “magma” was essential for him to be able to integrate the shadow and discover the union of the unconscious and conscious; the conjunctio, the goal of alchemy.  This opened him up to a long lived volcanic flow of creative ideas that was to last until his death at the age of 85.  Others smitten with the creative daimon are not so lucky, they drown in it and die young.  Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and literally dozens of other rock stars, joined “the 27 Club,” all dying at the age of 27 from drug overdoses.  There is something very seductive about stars dying in Dionysian frenzy seeking ecstasy and becoming immortalized as martyrs.  Their addictions did not allow them to listen to their bodies whose pain, if heard, could help set limits. Can we remain tied to the mast of the ship, like brave Ulysses in the Odyssey, “whose naked ears were tortured by the sirens sweetly singing,” (while his crew had their ears plugged with wax) and not be lured into crashing our ship on the rocks, or overdosing on heroin or, like Lance Armstrong, destroying his body and career on steroids? Is getting untied from the mast and being seduced by the sirens a way of avoiding what Thoreau points out that “The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation?” Should we tamper with creativity and genius through psychoanalysis? Virginia Woolf, who feared just that said, “As an experience, madness is terrific I can assure you, and not to be sniffed at; and in its lava I still find most of the things I write about.  It shoots out of one everything shaped, final not in mere driblets, as sanity does.”

Joseph Campbell says “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.” But what is bliss?  Is it ambrosia, the Grail, or the alchemical elixir and how does one find it? And when it often happens that the doors that the universe opens up contain chaos, dissociation and manic depression and we add those ingredients into the alchemical cauldron in our psyche, do we end up immersed in the bath of Dionysian-Mercurial waters as King and Queen preparing for the coniunctio or, like one rock star with his groupie, in a bath of Dom Perignon high on cocaine. In this course we will examine the lives of people like Jung, Paracelsus, Nietzsche, Van Gogh, Mozart as well as contemporary creatives to learn from their process. We will consider the issue of traumas, unlived lives or partially lived lives and the possibility that past lives may be incubated inside us and influence the seeds of our creative potential. We will explore how the pressures of society, religion, morality and culture effect the creative process and take a look at how Taoism and Tantra can provide a structure to support the transmutation of the forces of Sol and Luna. We will look for alchemical tools to help make transformations that will allow us to value the experience of chaos consciously, as something to be achieved as a result of the conjunctio rather than something to be totally dreaded and avoided. These tools, such as active imagination, dream incubation, divination, and meditation can be used to temper and embody our process.

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