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.