From the Darkness

Being stuck in the nigredo phase of the alchemical process personally, I find myself unable to move forward into writing about the albedo (whitening) phase that follows. Stuckness feels terrible, but a person previously schooled by suffering knows that there is no getting out of it. Chirping “tomorrow will be a brighter day!” and “things will get better!” doesn’t bring on the sunshine or improve the situation one bit. I’m in the darkness, all right, and that’s exactly what one would expect, in my circumstances.  The void left by my husband’s death is huge, the pain excruciating.

“Excruciating” comes from the Latin excruciare, to torture or torment. The heart feels like a lead weight sits on it, which is indeed the perfect metaphorical expression, for lead is one of the primary substances in alchemical work. If heated too much, too quickly, as I have been, it turns black. So it is that I find myself plunged into the darkness of the nigredo stage of transformation.

I smile wryly even as I type “transformation,” for I have no real expectation that one will be forthcoming. The putrification, corruption, and dissolution of the nigredo phase are upon me, inside me, all around me. The only comforting aspect about this stage is that it is also a stage of individuation, for when everything is black, and all that was whole is corrupted (degraded, spoiled), and what was once joined has been dissolved, then a person finds him- or herself alone. This is to individuate, for nobody else is there in the darkness with you. You’re in it alone, for this was your partner and spouse, your best friend and the person who was always there for you, and now he’s dead. You were in it together, and now you’re not.

Things are similar, of course, when a friendship, business partnership, or other relationship dissolves. Your child dies, and there was only one of her–your parent-child arrangement is done. Perhaps your job ends–you’re laid off, fired, they downsize, you retire. A way of life that you’ve had for five, ten, maybe twenty or more years suddenly ends. The house sells, burns down, is foreclosed on. You are forced to move. He came out of nowhere, and your car was totaled. For weeks afterward, you feel silly for being so traumatized and shaken, scared of things that go bump in the night (or day).

Don’t. Don’t feel silly: Every break, every dissolution, everything that comes to an end after a time is part of the blackening phase of the inner process of transformation. What changes outside changes the inside. Often times, what happens outwardly is a reflection of what was already happening inwardly. Let it happen, because you can’t stop it, anyway. If you yield to it, sidle up to it, sit with it, walk with it as far as it wants to go–then some day the moon will return. You’ll get some feeble, cold light. It will be just enough to show you a few feet in front of you–a small comfort, because everything beyond that will appear frightening in a landscape overcome by shadows.

That’s for later, though. For now, let’s sit in the darkness and realize that, whatever darkness there is in your life–or will be, because darkness comes upon every person–is your own. It belongs to you, so you can welcome it, if you are able. If not, you’ll try to fight it or numb it. Often we cycle among these options. Still, one day, we realize we can’t fight it or overcome it, distract ourselves from it or make it leave before it’s ready. We see that the nigredo is a gift for the transformation of the soul.

There’s a grim comfort in that.

10 responses

  1. I have been in the nigredo stage for the past 3 years…..its a stage wen our mind is simply too conscious about everything….. It’s been very unpleasant….. I have felt inferiority complex since day 1….I experience temptation for sexual intercourse constantly. The main task of nigredo is to purify ones lower desire… Their sexuality as well as to destroy the egocentricity of mind….but damn , the price to pay is damn high…I feel like my body is being eaten alive by a tempting evil fire….it can be physically felt ….it went as far as to burn my feet quite abit….I have hope in my heart….I’m waiting for the sun to rise nd this pain to end….this period of tragedy, defeat , inferioirity., embarrassment, shame, nd loneliness…..lets see wat future has to offer…I wonder how long this will last….I’m only a young man …nd it been a long long time since I took one breath of fresh air…..

  2. As you sit in the darkness, will you imagine that I am there? I sit besides you, and I offer to hold your hand there, quietly, in that darkness, at any time of night or day, with warmth and love, not to say anything, just to hold.

    • Of course, because you are.

      I have a poem for that, one I brought from our newly-formed Jung group tonight. Nobody is really alone; and everyone is.

  3. My dear Eve,

    I join you in your grief over the loss of your husband. My heart cries out to you. After the death of someone we love our recovery process has everything to do with our relationship to the deceased, the intensity and depth of love we felt for them, our degree of faith in a hereafter and even our age when they die. In the immediate aftermath of a person’s passing it’s hard to breathe and everything hurts. We feel shattered, bewildered and frightened because death is a blow to our souls. Sometimes, however, our grief experience is complicated and delayed as mine was in the case of my father who passed away in the springtime of my life: I was thirteen years old.

    I rarely spoke about him and it appeared that I was coping fine until my early 30’s when my denied pain erupted on the heels of a favorite uncle’s death. I discovered then just how much sorrow had been buried when my father was layed to rest. I also discovered that just because he was at peace didn’t mean I was.

    When my beloved daughter, Katie, was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 18 I felt gripped again by old feelings of terror and potential loss. During ten years of battling Katie’s up and down recoveries I had to deal with the realty of what might happen to her: a premature death. We don’t always get what we want in this lifetime so when Katie passed away at 28 my father’s death was immediately eclipsed because, despite my love for him, no grief compares with the agony of losing a child. You also know that terrible sorrow, Eve, along now with your spouse.

    My feelings of loss still go up and down where their absence of 11 years and 51 years, respectfully, is concerned because the soul doesn’t mark time linearly. And while I don’t feel that crippling paralysis that I experienced initially, I still experience the loss and see the empty space they left behind. But now I consciously fill that space by helping others deal with their losses. Making that daily choice to serve others allows my eternal communion with Katie, my father and everyone who has gone before me to remain open. It also helps me to stay in my life and in the lives of those whom I love and who love me.

    Carl Jung said that “Life is a luminous pause between two great mysteries which yet are one.” I agree because neither life nor death can be fully explained. Where were these souls before they came to us? Where are these souls after they have left us? To me, these two universal experiences embody the essence of mystery which, except by faith, is an unexplained phenomenon.

    So dear Eve and friends here, as we travel through our lives we will all experience many losses. But being able to accept these losses and our now lives takes courage and yes, mercy, too. But the truth is, eventually we will all leave someone or they will leave us. Recognition of our impermanence here on earth can help us all focus on life’s daily wonders and the love we can still give and receive and maybe that awareness is what can change over time. For myself, I’m grateful for this present awareness because it has offered me some comfort.

    Peace be with you, Eve, and all of us here lucky enough to have found you.
    MJ

    • Mary Jane, there is so much here. Thank you for sharing your heart. I’m struck by the fact that you lost your dad at only 13. I have daughters that age. They’re talking and grieving, but of course I wonder: Is it enough? As if talking and feeling enough is some kind of insurance against… what?

      Thank you for the Jung quote. It’s good.

  4. Grim comfort, I like that phrase.

    It’s been a dark year for me but I feel I am coming out of it, slowly. I realized the other day that Ghandi was right, be the change you want to see in the world. If you want kindness and compassion, have kindness and compassion. If you want laughter, laugh. If you want art, make it. Leaving my husband, leaving my lover (for lack of a better word), becoming manless for the first time since I was seventeen, has given me the chance to be what I want, instead of looking for what I want. If that makes any sense.

    I’m ready to quit defining myself by the man in my life, ready to be alone and be okay with that. I want to travel, I want to take photos, I want to write. All things I can do alone. I have friends and family, I love and am loved. I’m realizing I have what I need already, I don’t have to go looking for it.

    Now I’m rambling. My point was though, the transformation was hell. I survived but it was hell. You will survive, transformed.

    Sending a hug because you can never have enough hugs.

    • Deb, yes, what you wrote makes sense. I’m reminded of myself suggesting to you last year that you try living a manless life; now I am single for the first time since I was in my twenties, and I can say first-hand how lonely it feels. I didn’t know what a warm cocoon a long-lived marriage is. Now I know; forgive my ignorance last year.

      I do find this in Swamplands of the Soul (Hollis): “…by midlife everyone has to confront the limits of relationship, the limits of socialized roles in a protective society, and the limits of their own powers of denial and transference. The recognition that no one can save us, protect us from death, or even sufficiently distract us, becomes unavoidable” (p. 59).

    • wow! i have to keep reading you two. YOu both have so much wisdom and so much rawness.. each in your own way, at different starting times, for different reasons are going through the same thing and you are both working through it at your own pace (and sharing it!).

      I too made the decision to leave my husband of 10 years a few years ago. I too have hardly ever NOT been in a relationship. I too chose to be alone for a while (yet never completely alone…there are always ways to distract) and i too suffer from that loneliness yet choose to face the fear of numbness, paralysis, inaction while never losing hope.

      Underneath the realization that I MUST come to a point where i say “I CAN find fulfillment” even if not in a relationship, i continuously wait for him. And as long as I do that, i have not yet made it.

      Thank you for your wisdom!

  5. I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
    For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
    For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
    But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
    Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
    So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing….
    In order to arrive there,
    To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
    You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
    In order to arrive at what you do not know
    You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
    In order to possess what you do not possess
    You must go by the way of dispossession.
    In order to arrive at what you are not
    You must go through the way in which you are not.
    And what you do not know is the only thing you know
    And what you own is what you do not own
    And where you are is where you are not.

    — T.S. Eliot
    East Coker, The Four Quartets

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