The Lonely Alchemist

Alchemy was the “science” of trying to turn base metals, such as lead, into gold. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung studied alchemy in great depth because he saw in it a symbolic representation of the psychological process of individuation. The writing and drawings of the alchemists reflected universal steps in the development of the personality. One could say that the alchemists projected into their science the pursuit of wholeness and wisdom—this was the gold they really sought. Thus, their science was both physical and psychological. At one level they were the first chemists of the elements; at another level they were chemists of the soul. The alchemists were religious philosophers deeply concerned with the transformation of their unrefined personalities for the service of their eternal self, wisdom, and God.

Pursuing the path of self-growth and personal development—what Carl Jung called individuation—was probably not a popular endeavor in the time of the alchemists any more than it is now. Drawings and paintings of the alchemists often depict them working alone or with a small group of apprentices. Within their laboratory, flasks and small furnaces all around, they poured over the texts of their predecessors, working devotedly to contribute their own discoveries to the field.

Finding large, unalloyed deposits of gold is not that common. Usually this precious metal is intermixed with other metals, rock, dirt, etc. Extracting the gold in our own personality is no easier than extracting physical gold from the ground. Like the miner who digs deep into the earth, the therapist and client dig deep into the unconscious to unearth nuggets of insight, guidance, and emotional healing.

Loneliness, isolation, separation, and a lack of connection with others are often a part of the individuation process. This is because becoming an individual requires that you honor and develop the uniqueness in yourself—the specific talents, abilities, perspectives, and insights that will come to define your life and guide you to your destiny. Thus, you will become more of an individual, less defined by the collective attitudes and worldview of mainstream consciousness.

We get culled from the herd in different ways: some by physical illness, others by psychological symptoms and struggles; some by poverty, others by extreme wealth or fame; some by a near-death experience, others by a spiritual crisis that invites them to see and approach life in a new way. When you are plucked from the shared mentality of society, family, or peer group, you may feel rejected, shunned, odd, abnormal, or like you don’t fit in, a castoff, pariah, or scapegoat. And all of this is, ironically, part of the process of your psychological and spiritual development. It challenges you to see beyond the veil of “normal” reality. You may feel alone, disconnected, perhaps even unwanted; such a strange but necessary invitation to a more conscious and vital relationship with your own soul and inner life, God, or Higher Power. Your loss becomes your gain. You are culled from the herd and thrust into loneliness so that you may discover the reality of the soul and a power greater than yourself. If you abide this painful process rather than try to flee it, you will discover a power intimately concerned with your life, your progress, and your destiny. It sends you nightly dreams and other signs, proddings, synchronicities, wake-up calls, mystical experiences, and kicks in the butt.

Perhaps you didn’t want to be an alchemist–a miner of wisdom, a healer, a more conscious and mature version of your former self–but you were called, and you were culled. If you accept and take up the cross of your own alchemical yearnings, an inner certainty and awareness may begin to take root within the core and soul of your being. It is the dawning awareness that through your own opus, suffering, and loneliness you are connected to the larger opus of humanity—the opus of becoming more conscious and loving beings. Your loneliness is the doorway and initiation to a deeper level of relationship to other people, life, and God.

Copyright © Andy Drymalski, Ed.D.
Excerpts may be used provided full and clear credit is given author with link to original article.

2 thoughts on “The Lonely Alchemist

  1. Great analogy about Jung and Alchemy. Yes self discovery opens the window of the soul. Not a task for the faint hearted, however the gold at the end of the journey is a supremely valuable asset.

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