An introductory post

Hi everyone,

I see that Bonnie wrote that I would make an introductory post, so I felt obliged to do so! I am excited about the start of the webinar within the hour.

As I approach this evening's discussion, there is a line from the text that I have been pondering; and alas, it is not one that either Robbie or Pat have selected. It appears on p. 18 in the first paragraph:

"It is not the literal return to alchemy that is necessary but a restoration of the alchemical mode of imagining."

One of the things I hope for by the end of the webinar is some sense that I have progressed along the path to that mode of imagining. I am curious about goals others bring to the work.

I look forward to our discussions in the weeks and months ahead.

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  • I too have been in Robbie's 3-year Embodied Imagination training. I have had previous exposure to working with the imaginal in trance and in therapy and healing work, though it wasn't presented that way at the time. My interest in alchemy has more to do with the process, not just the understanding, but the experience of it. How does a process represent in vivo what it is described as in concept? It seems like a topic that can be explored forever. I hope for the concepts to illuminate their presence in my work. I look forward to the further discussion of Hillman's work.

  • James

    What a fascinating reply! I can only hope that we can get others in on this.

    It seems clear to me that you have read a great deal more about alchemy than I, but I certainly agree that we should all continue to be questioning in our atttitude as we approach this material.

    I did find myself pondering your sentence in the first paragraph that the alchemists were not always able to distinguish between what they thought they were doing and what they were actually doing. Having spent my whole adult life as a psychologist, I now find myself increasingly reluctant to view alchemy as primarily, much less exclusively, a process of self transformation. I think that if one is not getting one's hands dirty in some literal way - and for me drumming, singing, chanting would all be ways of doing that - then one is being too one-sidedly psychological about the practice.

    So when Hillman wrote that a literal return to alchemy is not necessary but (only) a restoration of the alchemical mode of imaging, I want to pause and ask, "why not return to literal alchemy?" In a cooking course that I am just beginning, I am very much interested in bringing much more of an imaginal approach to it than I would have before. And in that practice, I am very much interested in transforming matter!

    In a related vein, one of the things that I argued all through the 3 year seminar with Robbie and Jill Fischer was that working with dreams was not enough and that we all should cultivate a physical practice to go along with the dreamwork. I know that I needed such a physical practice. And in fact for a couple of the people in the seminar, playing and singing music became an important vehicle for more fully embodying the experiences reached via the dreamwork.

    I am suspecting that you and I don't really have any serious disagreement here. I am just replying in hopes that our exchange might provoke others to weigh in. In any case, I look forward to more postings from you as the webinar unfolds.

    Best regards


    • Roger, hi:

      Yes, I’m sure that we’re very much in agreement. I think one challenge may be that we are both using similar Jungian terms, however, I tend to define these terms from a classical Jungian framework, and (I’m guessing) that you may be using them in a more Hillmanian context.

      I also agree completely with your comment that we should have “…a physical practice to go along with the dreamwork.” My only additional comment is that I think, ideally, the dreams themselves will be the best guide toward what that physical work might be. Sometimes, if we make a cognitive choice of how to best engage matter, that work may actually repress emotions and emerging dream images. If, on the other hand, we stay with the emerging symbols, our engagement with matter and the physical world will often help facilitate the emergence of dream symbols and likewise help to further the dreamwork itself.

      It’s been great exchanging ideas with you. One final point of agreement is our shared hope that others will join the discussion!

      All the best,

  • Thanks for being here with us Roger, and I hope it is going to be another interesting journey!

  • Roger, hi:

    Thanks for your introduction. In terms of my own goals for the series, I am looking forward to learning more about James Hillman’s approach to alchemy. I am mainly oriented around classical Jungian approaches to alchemy that emphasize alchemy’s relationship to active imagination and the creative process. I’ve not had much exposure to James Hillman’s approach. I am also interested in exploring my own sense that alchemy, while providing an historical basis for Jung’s work, has also historically been very much a “thinking” oriented practice. I like the idea that Robert Bosnak, Pat Berry, and James Hillman are using alchemy to become more ‘embodied,’ and helping clients to become involved in the body and matter. At this point, though, I’m not completely convinced that alchemy is the best transformative process for embodiment. I favor indigenous and other religious practices that employ music, drumming, movement, and dance to incarnate spirit into the body. While I value alchemy highly for its metaphoric power in the realm of symbols of transformation, it still seems to me to be extremely cerebral. The intensely mental focus of the alchemists and their practices is an aspect of the practice that tends to diminish the potential for embodiment and emphasize the potential for abstraction. I’ve never heard of an alchemist who was a good dancer! In any case, I think Bonnie and everyone did a great job on this evening’s class, and I look forward to the upcoming sessions.

    All the best,

    • James,

      Don't you think we have to distinguish between just thinking about/talking about alchemical practices versus actually practicing those practices. I don't think there is any way to do metallurgy or fiber dyeing or embalming the dead, perfumery, pharmacy - all the practices Hillman lists pp. 12-13 - without getting one's hands very dirty (or smelly or stained . . .).  I personally always loved the fact that Hillman added food preparation and conservation, because as something of a foodie I can relate to that one most personally. In that realm, it's one thing to read cookbooks. It's another to get into the kitchen and start cooking.

      So I'll just come back to my own on-going reflection on what Hillman means by "restoration of the alchemical mode of imaging." Whatever that means in practice, it imost assuredly is not abstract, conceptual thinking.

      And in response to your funny quip that you never heard of an alchemist who was a good dancer, it's well known that Hillman took tap dancing lessons for many years and loved to dance. I might add that during the Embodied Imagination seminar, the group once had dinner in a restaurant with belly dancers; and Robbie eagerly accepted the invitation to get up to dance along with her. He was pretty good too!

      I hope others will join in on this conversation!

    • Roger, hi:

      Thanks for your response. Yes, of course, I agree that we need to distinguish between just thinking about/talking about alchemical practices versus actually practicing those practices. In fact, embodied practice is exactly what I am most interested in. Even so, the early alchemists themselves were not always able to make the distinction between what they thought they were doing (working on transforming matter) and what they were often actually doing (working on transforming themselves). I would like to maintain an objective, questioning attitude that ensures that we do not fall into a similar state of identification with the work that we do as individuals and as clinicians.

      I also agree that the alchemical mode of imagining is decidedly not the type of abstract, conceptual thinking that we privilege in hyper and post modern Western discourse. The alchemical mode of imagining is an act that calls down abstract conceptual thought and projects it into matter, wedding it with intuitive processes involving feeling, sensation and intuition. This is certainly a plus, and I am all in favor of it. Even so, I have an intuitive sense that it might be a good idea to keep an open mind about exactly how we are using alchemical imaginings. I should probably say more about where I’m coming from.

      My own area of research is on the use of music in religious practice cross-culturally. When looked at from a classical Jungian perspective, the most common modes of transformative process throughout history have been religious in nature. Almost every religious practice known to humankind throughout history has involved music of one kind or another. I see both music and religious practice as modes of keeping the often dissociated thinking/processing ego grounded in the body through maintenance of  the ego’s connection with the center, or nucleolus of the human organism (the so-called ego-Self axis).

      It is an interesting fact that as music in religious practice has developed away from its indigenous foundations, harmony, melody and more abstract aspects of musical forms have predominated, while rhythm, and movement of the body, have been minimized. In so far as alchemy can be seen as a religious practice, it has followed this same trend and almost entirely eliminated music and rhythmic movement (I suppose the operation of the bellows could be seen as rhythmic movement). Now, it could be argued that religious practice is social, and that music is a social aspect of religious practice. Alchemy, being a solitary pursuit, does not require music to be effective. Shamanism, however, which may arguably be one of the oldest religious practices, is also often a solitary pursuit, but almost always includes some form of musical accompaniment: drumming, singing, chanting, etc. Of, course there is much more to say about all of these points.

      To be clear, however, I am not questioning the importance of alchemical imagery and imaginings in therapeutic transformative process. I am suggesting that there may be a benefit to maintaining a thoughtful and questioning attitude about how we approach all transformative processes when seen in broad cultural contexts, if only as a methodological discipline.

      All the best,

  • Hi Rog,

    Great to be back in a 'vessel' with you again. (I was in the Embodied imagination training with Roger) 

    In terms of my goals for this journey I see it as a way of developing and  deepening my clinical skills of being with clients.  After 20+ years of working with people and their dreams I went back to school to get licensed as a therapist.  I started this last Fall at California Institute of Integral Studies in the Masters program for Integral Counseling and find that is what I am learning, being with clients.  I am very happy and excited how todays session applied alchemical language to the clinical  and look forward to being with my clients in an ever evolving way.

    Look forward to meeting you all here.


    • Hi Chris - looking forward to interacting with you in this forum.

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