Monday, April 10, 2023

Spring Renewal, Rebirth, and the Purifying Activity of Grief

Dear friend, 

I hope this note finds you well and that you’re enjoying spring and the re-emergence of the light. I’m writing to you from Finland where the birds are sharing a new song and the forests are coming alive. The pieces of light are starting to appear, as they tend to do, in places where we’d least expect them.

And so it goes on the path of the heart…

As we move from one cycle to another in both inner and outer nature, I have found myself reflecting on how we live in a world that in so many ways has lost contact with the holiness of mourning and its purifying fires, an absence which comes with profound consequences, including loss of energy (soul) and a feeling of being cut off from life and the heart.

In the words of Jungian psychoanalyst Donald Kalsched, “The inability to mourn is the single most telling symptom of a patient’s early trauma.” I have found this to be (achingly) true in my own life and clinical work.

It’s important to remember that in the death-rebirth cycle, there are two essential components: death, which I’m referring to alchemically, or metaphorically, as dissolution (the alchemical solutio) and, on the other hand, rebirth, renewal, and rejuvenation. It’s very understandable that this second aspect is the one we’re most interested in!

The dissolution aspect of the opus isn’t as easy or natural to embrace or see as equally sacred, equally holy, and an equal manifestation of love, of the Beloved as it comes here to seed this world with its qualities. It’s the Kali aspect of love, for those of you familiar with Hindu mythology, or an energy like Vajrakilaya in the Tibetan tradition, or Mercurius in alchemy, the hidden side of God or the Divine.

The darker aspect of the (transpersonal) Self plays an essential role in our individuation and healing, and being in conscious relationship with this dimension of psyche is indispensable on an alchemical path, though it is not easy to engage and stay with.

It can be supportive, if not necessary, to tend to this relationship alongside an empathic other, whether a therapist, mentor, teacher, or wise friend, ideally one with some experience of the inner terrain of the soul and the heart, where through a joined window of tolerance you can hold and process emotions and images that on your own may be overwhelming.

The truth is that we’re wired to rest and explore within a relational field; we just weren’t meant to walk the path alone - that’s not the sort of nervous system we were crafted with. Relationship - and engaging the mystery of the “Other” - is an essential aspect of the path of alchemical transformation and healing, and which we must discover within the fire of our own embodied experience. Just what this “Other” is for us can only be revealed by way of the path of direct revelation.

So there’s the death aspect of the archetypal cycle and also the long-awaited dawning of rebirth, where we’re offered vision and a pathway into a new way of being. It’s where a doorway, or portal begins to open, after being closed for a certain period of time. In my experience (my own pain, wounding, and grief), it is our willingness and capacity to feel and to grieve that bridges death and rebirth.

There is no lasting, embodied, visionary renewal without passing through the portal of grief, which requires us to slow down, come into the earth and the ground, and honor all that we’ve lost. It requires that we provide a home for shattered ones and for the integration of the dying pieces of an old dream.

This is the way we empty the cup so that it can be refilled with new imagination, cleansed perception, and a heart that is polished with beauty, wisdom, and grace. In this sense, grief is the forgotten portal. There’s a powerful and mysterious connection between our capacity to grieve and the emergence of new vision.

In my experience, this connection and subsequent exploration is often left out of many contemporary psychotherapies and spiritualities, which remain riveted to the upward, transcendent, and solar, or else the quick removal of symptoms (which contain important pieces of soul). But we have to go into the mud, the earth, and tend the lunar currents as well, for the new and the creative to take birth in our hearts.

The portal to resurrection and new vision opens through conscious, embodied lamentation, as we gather the shards of the heart and the scattered pieces of the soul, which are emanations of the strands, or scintilla of light, as the alchemists saw and conceived of them.

It’s a process where we collect the shattered pieces into a holy place and place them onto an altar in front of us, where we can enter into relationship with the shards of soul that must move on without us. And we can participate with a whole heart with the death of an old dream, and the way we were so sure that it was all going to turn out.

The nature of this altar and this vase will be different for each of us, with calligraphy, engravings, colors, and in a shape that is crafted for our unique soulprint. We don’t design the vase ourselves, at least not by way of ordinary ego-consciousness. The vase is outside our deepest hopes, fears, desires, and unfolds apart from our personal sense of will.

It is given to us by the transpersonal Self, by the Divine, however we come to conceive of that and is ours and ours alone - no one else can perceive or apprehend it, or design the vase on our behalf. A good friend, therapist, or mentor may be able to hold us and bear witness as we evoke and enter into relationship with it, but in my experience it will always remain out of full sight for them.

The vase, the altar, and any aspect of the soul wanting to come into our conscious experience will present itself in unexpected ways, through our dreams, out in nature, in a moment of intuitive knowing, or even through a disturbance in our mood or emotional activation.

The ally is mysterious - a trickster, mercurial, and always looking for us. But it does so in ways that will surprise us and that we aren’t able to apprehend ahead of time. This is the mystery of the alchemical vessel, which is not only literal, but metaphorical, a container inside each of us where the purifying work of transmutation can occur.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, yes, at times, it can feel like everything is falling apart, like we are falling apart. In these moments, the alchemical invitation is to open to the possibility that this process of “falling apart” is not some great cosmic error or mistake that we need to correct or repair, or to quickly put ourselves back together again.

Perhaps the shattered heart need not be “mended” in these moments and returned to the way it once was, but that in its shattering, the ally is revealed. Perhaps the “falling apart” is a harbinger of integration and emissary of the archetype of wholeness.

This one whispers to us, through a thundering silence, and invites us to fall apart consciously, to allow the alchemical process of dissolution, of yellowing, to unfold, honoring it it as an essential, non-negotiable phase as we open to rebirth and what it is that will emerge from the ashes.

Please take care of yourselves and I’m wishing you all the very best on your own wildly unique journey of transformation and healing - a journey that is never for ourselves alone, but for all of life, including the ancestors and the ones yet to come.



P.S. Upon request, I hope to be adding new videos to my YouTube channel in the weeks to come; thank you for your emails about this!