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Down the Rabbit Hole
Paul Kiritsis, PsyD candidate, DPhil., MA (Psychology), MA (History)

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Therapy as an Alchemical Process: Solutio

Paul Kiritsis - Friday, December 07, 2012

The alchemical solutio, a therapeutic phase where things are being explored and worked out at the deepest levels of psyche.

Solutio comes under the mediation of the ethereal element of water and pertains to chemical liquefaction. Think of this alchemical operation as dropping a piece of ice into a bottle of tepid water. Gradually the ice cube will melt and become a part of the larger body of water. This re-joining and becoming one with a parent membrane typically personified as a goddess, a woman, or an earthy and seedy womb is a primal act of solutio! Alchemists professed that this stage was a facet of the blackening process, the nigredo, where the matter in the vas or alembic was reduced to a primordial and homogeneous sludge pile termed prima materia so that it could be raised anew as a nobler, a more stable, and a more indestructible form.

The analytical psychology pioneered by Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) in the early twentieth century uses the laboratory framework of liquefaction at the hands of a chemical solvent to shed light upon a specific phase in the individuation process whereby the active, sulphurous principle of the personality (the personal ego) has been dissolved into its constituent psychic elements by the sulphurous waters of the collective unconscious. During these excruciating moments of its inconsequential life the ego becomes plagued by instinctual sensations of being drowned. These might crop up in the realm of dreams and hypnagogic imagery as acts of swimming, drowning, and being baptized; as deadly floods and terrifying tsunamis; and as daily hygienic activities such as showering and taking baths. Experiencing leitmotifs of this kind essentially means that inflated projections are generating excess psychic acid in the bottommost layers of the individual psyche. After a short while these swamp and dissolve the governing ego-self. In the end the only way that the ego can save itself from suffering total extinction is to offer up leftover amounts of energy-rich libido to transpersonal elements recognized as being sympathetic to its cause. Once these new associations have been made, the unconscious coagulates a newer, sounder, and more inclusive set of projections for the dismantled ego from whence consciousness can once again take root.

In the therapeutic cycle solutio explores major transitions from one life period to another and amplifies the lamentable situation experienced during the preceding phase, the gruesome mortificatio. You might choose to think of it as an extension rather than an alchemical operation in its own right. Basically, the repeated immersion of the ego-conscious in the corrosive and poisonous waters of the unconscious mind causes some of the deeper-rooted problems, miseries, and neurotic behaviours to surface. We could equate this process to the tumultuous interaction of water and earth in the physical environment; just as the coming and going of water at the foot of a cliff eventually underruns the latter and brings down a geological layer of the earth after a prolonged period of probing, so too does long-term analysis with carefully constructed questions and statements penetrate an analysand’s subsisting and deeper issues that go far in explaining why he or she acts and reacts in this or that way.

The liquefaction of the present, self-conscious ego during this deeper phase of therapy can be much more frightening and unsettling than in any of the corresponding nigredo phases already passed and endured. When one embraces the clear, comprehensive, and contemplative vision of whiteness produced during the albedo whereby the preeminent symptoms are silenced, the furthest thing from his or her mind afterwards is the possibility that the pain and suffering experienced during all the initiatory phases that garnered valuable insights and increments in consciousness might once again be questioned and scrutinized. Deductive reasoning would tell us that any therapy that extricates our symptoms and replaces them with gut-level feelings of tranquillity and contentment is a valid cosmological process, at least one which fulfils all intents and purposes for which it was mobilized in the first place. If this logic is anything to go by, then why must the analysand traverse a somewhat condensed summa of the alchemical phases preceding the albedo once again? Why should all this pain and suffering be so necessary after one finds their footing in life?

The answer to this little therapeutic enigma is much more simple and uncomplicated than what it might seem at first. Being thrown back into the same confrontations and battles with the unconscious that led to empowerment and ascension along the ladder of freedom does, on the whole, feel like a psychospiritual involution rather than an evolution and a relapse into the instinctual and rudimentary drives powering the earlier alchemical operations. However any unconscious and transpersonal force that may inundate the conscious ego at this point and threaten its existence by partially submerging it in the slime of irrationality, chaos, and madness can also enact a thorough deprogramming of inflated projections and behavioural patterns, opening up a gaping psychic conduit large enough to accommodate the formative forces of love. Deeper disintegrations into darkness and putrefaction are accompanied by even deeper insights and cosmological groundings. One may find that becoming enamoured of another man or woman (often what the analysand might describe as a ‘prince’ or ‘princess’) pinches out problems that have dissipated and rematerialized at regular intervals for years on end. This liberation of unconditional and unfettered desirousness for another conscious projection of the universe gradually sews itself into all other existing relationships; it reinvents, lengthens, and deepens them way beyond the rock-pool level.  

The deepest declines are also the earth on which spiritual emergencies sprout forth. Whilst holding the bundle of personal projections together at the unconscious level, the Eros-glue turns its shrewdest and most principled face to the mortified ego and as a consequence sets the stage for an affirmative long-term life transition; for the inauguration of an elusive peak experience; or for a powerful psychic opening of some sort. Fantasies and deep feelings that appeared as random and irrelevant contingencies before are now understood as interrelated pointers emanating from the nethermost regions of the soul that encode conscious instructions for inner natural potentials and psychic dowries. For the first time ever the analysand might become acquainted with the mechanics and dialectical uniqueness of their own dreambody. Solutio can be slow and dispiriting, but it is also the most rewarding and instrumental of all the infernal descents leading to self-actualization.     

   

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