Unconditional Care of the Self: Solutio and the Alchemical Transformation of Defense Mechanisms and Addictions

“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism.” -Jung

“Wind blowing over water disperses it, dissolving it into foam and mist. This suggests that when a man’s vital energy is dammed up within him, gentleness serves to break up and dissolve the blockage” – Richard Wilhelm, The I-Ching, Hexagram 59; Dispersion

Unconditional care for the Self is a process that embodies gentle acceptance of the totality of our self including those parts that we disown and find repugnant.  In this way  we don’t become pathogenic to ourselves and become our own worst enemy to our shadow, our greatest source of growth.  As a result of  not being seen as children, of being disrespected, neglected, criticized, judged and violated, we may have dissociated and imprinted the qualities of the original perpetrators deep in our psyche.  Developing unconditional care is an antidote to self attack and autoimmune reactions within the psyche that block the dissolution of compensatory defenses and addictions and  integration of the shadow .

The Alchemical operation ‘Solutio’ turns solid into liquid through dissolution or baptism.  In the classic alchemical treatise, The Splendor Solis, an illustration depicts an old king sitting in the alchemical bath while a man applies a bellows to the fire underneath, to “wash out the murkiness and shade” so the king can be purified and transformed into the “prima materia.”  Achilles, whose well intentioned mother, the nymph Thetis, bathed Achilles in the river Styx as she held him by the heel so that he could become immortal, might have asked, “Mom, what are you doing?”  She might have answered, as Alice Miller said ironically, its “for your own good,” leaving his heel the one vulnerable place left to later magnetize the fatal arrow during the Trojan War.

How can we make the arrow point an inoculation of consciousness?  Often we are shot with the arrow over and over before we get the message that we have magnetized our own rejected primal wounds.  If we can treat that repugnant wound consciously,  uncritical of our failure in battle, even venerate our repugnance, we may be able to re-baptize ourselves and re-experience the essence of our wounds and see the blessing of these symptoms that hitherto have been perceived as enemies.  We no longer throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Richard Wilhelm introduced Chinese Alchemy to Jung  who synthesized the teachings with Western Alchemy creating a more effective psychology.  Jung said of  Wilhelm “he has inoculated us with the living germ of the Chinese spirit.” In this course we will explore a cross inoculation of Eastern and Western Alchemical concepts that promote Solutio, such as myth and dream analysis and active imagination  from the West and the I-Ching, Tibetan Tantric practices such as Dream and Sleep yoga, dark retreats, and the use of Mantra and Meditation from the East.

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.

The Alchemy of Consciousness In and Out of Body An Exploration of Embodiment, Parapsychology, Death and Rebirth


Far below I saw the globe of the Earth, bathed in a gloriously blue light…Presumably I too was in my primal form…I felt as though I were floating in space, as though I were safe in the womb of the universe in a tremendous void, but filled with the highest possible feeling of happiness…It is impossible to convey the beauty and intensity of emotion during those visions. They were the most tremendous things I have ever experienced.”   C.G. Jung

Being embodied is an experience of feeling finite in the form of the body.  To be identified with one’s thoughts, and hence “out of the body” and then manage to enter into an embodied state, moves a person back to his or her true essence.”  Nathan Schwartz Salant

It is not coincidence that the first subject of Carl Jung’s collected works was occult phenomena. This was in clear opposition to Freud’s causality driven world view.  When Freud told Jung to “promise never abandon the sexual theory…that we must create a dogma of it…an unshakeable bulwark…against the black tide of mud of occultism.”  These words “alarmed” Jung and ultimately split his relationship with his mentor.

These “so called occult phenomena” involve the concept that consciousness and spirit can exist ‘in’ as well as ‘outside’ the body, and not just limited to the biological function of the brain.  As much as these ideas terrified Freud, they, thankfully, helped propel Jung into a healing crisis, his “confrontation with the unconscious,” with the result that he formulated some of the most revolutionary and practical psychological advances in modern times.  In the process, Jung struggled to understand issues of science and faith, death and rebirth, precognition and karma.  He also found that it was essential to stay grounded and embodied enough so as not to be “torn to pieces” by the intense “emotions wrought up” by this experience.  Jung’s self experiment provides a model for the animation of the individuation process.

Violence, abuse, emotional incest, war, medical procedures, near death experiences, shock, dissociate and displace our consciousness and tend to drive it out of body.  Even our good qualities and talents can send us out of body through inflation.  Especially intense and intrusive energy can cause states of possession that occupy the body stubbornly and dominate and alter perceptions.  In response to the stress, compensatory defense mechanisms, addictions and prescribed medications can fill the gap left by the displaced psyche and prevent us from re-inhabiting our bodies fully in an attempt to protect us.  Paradoxically, the greater the displacement and dissociation, the greater the repetition of the patterns that synergize with the wounding.

If we can become mindfully aware of this displacement, we can turn the reverberating effects of trauma into a healing crisis. Then we can build our psychic and bodily immune response to these revisited patterns and eventually dissolve the imprints in and outside the body enough so that we can re-occupy our bodies safely and thrive.  Paradoxically, to do this, we often need to go “out of body” into a world that can transcend time and space, that often forces an encounter with our mortality in processes more easily identified with the occult or shamanism. These “non-ordinary states” encourage synchronistic occurrences that can help our selves associate consciously to our reactivity and the realization that these seemingly external triggers and patterns are actually self generated.  With this increased orbit of conscious psychic existence we can expand our individuation energy’s connectivity and create opportunities to get clarity about our role and meaning in our lives, fear death less, and live more in the present.

In this course we will examine the alchemical psychodynamics of embodiment, attachment, displacement, the confusion of simultaneous mixed in and out of body states, and collective and religious influences on these states.  We will explore Jung’s struggle with questions about the transformation of psychic energy when the body dies, astral experiences, precognition and reincarnation as well as Nathan Schwartz Salant’s work on fusion states.


Narcissism and Self Realization: Transcending Toxic Self Love

“But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very fiend himself — that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness — that I myself am the enemy who must be loved — what then?” -C. G. Jung, Psychology and Religion: East and West

Narcissism is reflected in the process of all human relationship. It is linked to an inability to see the other as separate and to a lack of self realization. Narcissism is also an essential component of mirroring in early childhood that occurs within the symbiotic relationship between mother and child that is vital to the development of healthy grandiosity and self esteem. Ideally, this mirrored alternation of inner and outer psychic process allows the mother to metabolize a sufficient amount of anxiety to enable the child to tolerate the growing pains of emerging consciousness and independence.  Narcissism in infancy is the very beginning of an evolution of mirroring that develops the axial relationship between the archetypal depths and ego consciousness leading to unconditional Self love and Self realization.

If however, the parents own intergenerational narcissistic wound is so great and the mirroring process is so disrupted that the child’s anxiety related to emerging consciousness is not metabolized, the child will experience primal trauma provoked by this expulsion from paradise. The toxic self “love” of the parent cannot allow for the individual otherness of the child who is expected to grow up to mirror the parents own image. The child is unable to develop and experience their own emotions adequately, leading to emotional incest and abuse, codependency and pathological defenses that are re-patterned into adulthood. In today’s culture these narcissistic dynamics are mirrored collectively in the Facebook zeitgeist, in “selfies,” in our devastating disregard for the earth’s environment, and in wars.

Narcissus was on the edge of differentiating his reflection in the pool when he succumbed to his own bait, fell in and drowned. We can use the myth’s images as a caution. In the course of human events, we will fall in, but we need to learn to swim and drag ourselves out of the pool, having perhaps survived a near death experience of the ego. Using different versions of Narcissus and Echo, related myths, case material, and examples from contemporary culture, we will reexamine the dynamics and archetypal patterns of narcissism with the goal to see to a greater depth in order to reclaim our primordial wholeness from our reflection in the mirror of today’s world.

THE SACRED MARRIAGE: Extracting the Prima Materia from Relationships


Too many still look outward, some believing in the illusion of victory and of victorious power, others in treaties and laws, and others again in the overthrow of the existing order.  But still too few look inward, to their own selves, and still fewer ask themselves whether the ends of human society might not be best served if each man tried to abolish the old order in himself. -C.G. Jung (c.1918)

Alchemy provided a symbolic blueprint for the foundation of Jung’s psychology, the individuation process. The goal of alchemy is the sacred marriage, the coniunctio. The greatest catalyst for this transformative process comes through self-awareness within the interactive field of human relationships, both personal and public.  In the alchemical text, Rosarium Philosophorum, the experience of this mystery of union, death, and resurrection is depicted by the king and queen in the bath. This 16th-century image represents the potential to transmute chaos into synergy in relationships: in couples,  families, with yourself, therapeutic  partners, with the boss, and even electoral candidates. Jung states, “The factors that come together in the coniunctio are conceived as opposites, either confronting one another in enmity or attracting one another in love.”

In the present frustrating political climate of Capitol Hill, it is said that 80 percent of “man” hours go to election and 20 percent go to legislation, a process mired in partisan politics. These partisan emotional states are the result of the same wounding, incestuous, and codependent experiences of childhood that undermine connections in adult relationships.  In an attempt to get needs met, find approval, and bolster self worth from external sources, these wounds get projected into the container of the relationship, create chaos and alienation, and seduce us away from self-reflection and self-care.

In order to attain the highest degree of conjunction, the prima materia —what Jung calls “the unknown substance that carries the projection of the autonomous psychic content”— must be extracted from the sacred bath. Jung says of this procedure: “in the unconscious are hidden those ‘sparks of light’ (scintillae), the archetypes, from which a higher meaning can be extracted. The magnet that attracts the hidden thing is the Self.”  In this course we will explore the dynamics of human relationships and how they relate to the alchemical marriage. Through this process we can discover a revelatory model for transmuting the chemistry of divisive relationships into a lifelong sacred marriage with the ‘inner’ Self. This in turn, can create vital and mutually productive relationships in our ‘outer’ world.