Things Fall Apart

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

– William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

If you have ever lost anything of great substance, ever experienced the dissolution of an important relationship or the death of a beloved, you’ve known what it is to sink to your lowest point. Every day is a day of lead. You might as well be walking around wearing ski boots and a motorcycle helmet on your head, the heaviness is so palpable. This leadenness can continue for a long time, sometimes years. Through it, one is reduced.

The person you were before a great loss is lost, too. It doesn’t matter whether the loss is the death of a loved one or the death of a dream, the loss of one’s home or the loss of one’s community: it is all loss. We can’t get it back, although sometimes people try. In fact, one of the greatest dangers to the recently bereaved is that they literalize their longing to be with the lost loved one and become suicide victims. Severing of former ties endangers current ones, too. For example, parents whose child has died, or whose baby is born handicapped, or who experience one too many disasters may end up projecting their devastating inner dissolution (and disillusionment) onto the marriage, and end up divorced. A friendship or family relationship may come apart, an outward manifestation of an inner waste.

Certainly, what is not needed for the new way of life demanded by losing a large part of it will and must be sundered. Not all endings are bad endings that come as a result of an ending. In City of God, Saint Augustine wrote that bereavement and calamity are fuels for the fire that burns away all that is not essential. Temporal things and temporary beings and our insistence on life being about me, myself, and I all the time cannot support consciousness, for we are not the center of the universe until we see ourselves reflected in another person’s eye.

This tiny reflection of ourselves in another person’s pupil is called the kore in Greek, the pupilla in Latin. Kore is also Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and the harvest goddess Demeter, the maiden who became queen of the underworld after being abducted by Hades, the god-king of the underworld. Because vegetation springs forth from what rots and decays in the ground, Persephone is also associated with vegetation, the spring, and the harvest. So it is that one is calcinated, roasted, and reduced by abductions and calamities, losses and griefs both large and small, until we finally arrive at the quite reduced state that makes us exclaim, “I’ve been undone!” or “I’m falling apart!” or “Things are coming apart at the seams!” To say these things and know they’re true is to know dissolution, which is the second stage of the alchemical process and one step along the path of transformation.

Dissolution

The alchemist achieved dissolution through corrosion or cibation, which involved water, making water the solvent of this phase. The story of a Great Flood, which is represented in every ancient culture in the world, is also symbolic of this alchemical phase—a timely topic as millions of Americans struggle against the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy. Water corrodes the strongest iron, and anyone who has lived long enough has had his or her mettle (metal) tested and experienced this. If one hasn’t had his mettle tested before then, old age itself is corrosive, for there is nothing like coming to the end of one’s work, one’s parenting career, one’s marriage, and one’s life to corrode one’s entire sense of self.

To achieve dissolution of a substance, the alchemist used a bain-marie (bath of Mary), a little double-boiler. In fact, the double-boiler was developed specifically for alchemy, so that today whenever anyone uses one, he or she is a sort of alchemist, too.

Psychological dissolution breaks down the temporary or artificial structures of the psyche by baptizing it in the unconscious, which is non-rational, receptive, and feminine by nature. One aspect of dissolution is that a person can be flooded with the unconscious, which can be wonderful and even ecstatic as one experiences the bliss of “going with the flow.” Another aspect of dissolution, however, is that without ego defenses or a controlling persona, a person may be plunged into fantasy. Many who grieve go through a phase of retreating to a dark room to watch old movies or lie in bed and read novels, or simply sleep, all of which signal a phase of dissolution.

Longing for Mother

Another result of ego dissolution is to identify with the collective psyche through groups, religious organizations, etc. Well-meaning observers of our grief and bewilderment often advise us to get out of the house and volunteer, to meet new people. Premature involvement in volunteerism and identification with groups will later prove to be costly, though, for the one who is at this early phase of dissolution has no business ministering to others. New relationships, especially those that invite us to merge with others, are also suspect. Such absorptions, Jung said, amount to a longing for the mother.

And don’t we all long for Mother at times like these? The darkened room, the swirling Merlot so deeply red in the glass, the bathrobe we gather ourselves into—all are loving arms, protective wombs. It is good to go down, to let everything that must dissolve and rot do it. If we do not allow ourselves to be dissolved, we’ll deny the world her spiritual compost. When it’s time, something young and green will press up from what decayed and dissolved during autumn’s decay and winter’s inertia. Stay, wait for the time; otherwise, we’ll be walking dead, stinking up the world we think we’re serving, preying on the lives around us with our death.

We must wait and suffer, suffer and wait. Like Christ, we must hang suspended between heavenly hopes and earthly helps. Having been plunged into this suffering, we must lie there in the gentle, constant bath of Mary’s tears until we come apart.

Further Reading

Dissolution, by Naphtalia Leba

23 responses

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  2. My husband moved across country 4 months ago. Friday I signed a contract for a new job. Sunday morning, my back spasmed so painfully that I took muscle relaxants and stayed in bed for two days. Your words helped me understand better this self mothering, this time of easy tears and fears. Thank you.

  3. Just discovered your blog while looking up info for dream interpretation. I am writing a piece about a dream I had. Really liked this piece, specially significant: spiritual compost!!! Incredible, thank you.

  4. =====>>>>>>>>>>>”It is good to go down, to let everything that must dissolve and rot do it. If we do not allow ourselves to be dissolved, we’ll deny the world her spiritual compost.”

    It takes so long….i don’t feel like i am resisting…perhaps i am. i wish i knew where…in which aspect…how. I am thinking…thinking….reading…i dunno. Insanity…..there are days i do believe i am insane.

    People tend to treat me as i am and i want to shake them and scream…..”DO YOU STILL BELIEVE IN THE LIES???!!!”

    However, that would only serve to affirm their belief and might cost me a few days in confinement.

    Once one takes this path there is no way back……i laugh at the thought. Ah…they see me laughing and are whispering behind cuffed hands……something must be done with me.

    This journey is weary and long and boring and lonesome and dark and painful….but i wanted to “see”. No way back …..i call to a god…any god…no answer….. maybe i’ve gone deaf…..or perhaps he is still angry.

    • A poem I heard once from a colleague had the line “Yahweh is angry.” I liked that line and it’s the one I’ve remembered all these years. That god is always angry, eh? So appealling to him does no good, which I’m sure we both know. Sigh.

  5. This is a gentle description of such a horrible experience. I remember when my husband lost his mind and locked me out of my home. A friend said to me that it must be the worst thing possible. I told them, no it wasn’t. Katie’s diagnosis is what brought me to me knees. It dissolved me and most especially my skin. I no longer had anything between me and the rest of the world. I could feel everybody’s pain. I had to stop nursing for a short while because I kept crying while caring for dying patients. It was too much. The skin regrew but it is still too sensitive. I’m okay with that though. Now I work with cancer patients and I can both care for them and feel their pain.

    Sending hugs.

    • I guess I could say I’ve been twice dissolved but this time I feel that I have lost my mind and locked myself out of my own home. What an apt image. I should start working with burn victims.

    • i didn’t know who Yehweh was so i looked it up. My goodness. Yehweh reminds me of a spoiled brat that has these pets (us) who are not behaving. An abusive master who is not at all proud of his creations but strict, demanding, punitive, and seems to delight in his own anger.

      We all experience anger but that doesn’t give us the green light to abuse. When my son was small i didn’t break his arm if he misbehaved. What did he know of adult things and the ways of the world? I disciplined him gently. Certainly i made mistakes and let my anger through however,…it was never in an attempt to destroy him. For example, I didn’t murder his new kitten in front of him to….teach him a lesson, in fact, it never even occurred to me to do such a thing regardless of the infraction and even if it had….i too loved the kitten.

      Also, i made myself available to my child. He could see me…hear me…touch me and if he apologized i accepted it because he simply didn’t know better. Most importantly…i rewarded him for good behavior.

      Being good paid off….it didn’t bring one riches and happiness beyond their belief…there is still work to do and life goes on. You reap what you sow. However, doing the right thing paid off….even if just in little ways.

      You know the saying…..uh….something about no good deed goes unnoticed? My good deeds more often then not landed me in hot water. No good deed goes unpunished. I could accept it if it just went “unnoticed” ..that would be a cake walk…but punished?

      Yehweh…if he exists…reminds me of an egotistical, spoiled, abusive narcissist who only has his own interests at heart and sought to create these little extensions of himself (like many parents do) and when they “misbehave” puts them through unimaginable pain. And they have little or no comprehension of what the hell is going on or how they can behave. What will please this monster?

      We are supposed to know…automatically….without any communication from his part…other then his anger.

      Ugg…i went off topic. My apologies but it helps to write and know somebody is reading without judgment.

      Any way here is the site:

      http://atschool.eduweb.co.uk/sbs777/snotes/note0401.html

      • =====>>>” I should start working with burn victims.”

        I understand that is the advice given to people who are experiencing loss.

        However, isn’t it close to…”cheer up…things could be worse…”

        At the end of the day you still go home and somebody is missing. Would that make you miss him any less? Would your guilt that you are not a burn victim lessen your agony?

        You have had a double whammy with the loss of your little girl (after a long illness from what i understand) and then the premature loss of your loving husband. You could save the world from starvation, heal the sick and create lasting peace…..and it won’t bring them back.

        Perhaps it would make you feel better to work with burn victims and heaven knows we need people who do. Perhaps that total absorption into something so worth while and into somebody else physical pain would take your mind off of your own pain. I don’t know.

        As for me though…..i would be petrified it would happen to me. Anything that happens to somebody else…could happen to me. Who knows what is in store.

        Unfortunately…….great loss…unbearable agony….huge suffering doesn’t immune one from experiencing more.

        • Mona, I apologize for neglecting your responses and you and this blog. I undertook National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), attempting to write 50k words during November. I fell short by about 1500 words (argh), and obviously didn’t blog at all.

          I want to look at my comment that maybe I should work with burn victims. What I meant by that at the time wasn’t “… so I’ll get a proper perspective on suffering,” but rather something more like, “… because I am suffering just that much in my soul; it’s excruciating.” This word excruciating comes from the cross (of Christ, it turns out), from “crux” in the Latin. It attempts to describe indescribable suffering. This is a dark, wry comment of the sort I’m given to even during good times.

          To say something like this is wrong in a way, because it inflates my own suffering and compares it with that of a burn victim. I’ve never been burned much, but I understand that being burned over a substantial part of one’s body is one of the most hellish injuries possible. On the other hand, that I said this is also right in a way, because it gives an image to what I’ve felt for almost two years now: I’ve felt that my usual protective covering is gone, and everything in me is oozing, that though you may look at me and see a human form and eyes and hear language coming out of my mouth, I am suffering every torture. I don’t know who I will be when I’m finished, may never be finished, may die from it, may become infected and infect others. I may no longer recognize myself when scars have formed. Others may not recognize me, either.

          • I will recognize you my dear sister just as The Word tells us we will recognize each other in heaven in our NEW bodies! The Spirit is in changing!

          • Ahhhh…understood. It makes sense to me as some say I am unrecognizable already.

            No need to apologize though as I have been busy myself. I suddenly had the strangest desire to connect with people from my far past and so did so. Just through phone or emails but it was quite satisfying….sometimes, I think, you have to travel a great distance before you come home.

  6. Eve,

    How peculiar the timing. I just pulled out my copy of Edinger’s “Anatomy of the Psyche” the other day to reread the chapter on Solutio.

    I would add that, when your sense of self is identified with the structure of consciousness/identity its dissolution is more likely to be experienced as a terror bordering on psychosis, and much worse than death, rather than as ecstatic. The warm fuzziness of a half bottle of rioja is a world apart from the cold, black terror of falling into the Abyss– or it falling up into you–; the imagery of which is so beautifully captured here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQITWbAaDx0

    Also, in addition to Sandy, there was a full moon Monday, another symbol associated with Solutio.

    • Ah, I’ll have to read Edinger on this phase, too. Thank you for mentioning it, as I find Edinger such a helpful interpreter of all things Jung. I don’t know which side I’m going to fall on, although the half bottle of rioja sounds better than going off into the abyss. Which I’m in fear of all the time.

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