Saturday, August 14, 2010

Coniunctio: Accessing Polarities and Becoming Whole

(Ninth and last in the series on alchemy as metaphor for great coaching)

In Anatomy of the Psyche Edward F. Edinger describes alchemical operations as "basic categories by which to understand the life of the psyche" which "illustrate almost the full range of experiences that constitute individuation." He adds that many of the alchemical images overlap, and echoes the Jungian belief that there's no prescribed sequence. 

It's also been my experience that each person I coach has to undergo all aspects of what alchemists refer to as The Great Work, and not necessarily in the same order as others. So the order I've presented is arbitrary. More important, none of the client examples is meant to convey greater or lesser aspects of significant change; only different aspects. 

Coniunctio may seem in its definition to represent a culmination of all the operations:
Coniunctiobringing together apparent opposites to make a larger whole; for example, uniting conscious and unconscious, balancing masculine and feminine principles, incorporating extroversion and introversion and, later, entering psychological wholeness.
It's important to understand, however, that this symbol includes two processes, first the bringing together of apparent opposites ("the lesser coniunctio"), and then later — perhaps after other processes such as mortificatio — the union of the opposites, which is greater than the sum of its parts ("the greater coniunctio - combines the opposites, mitigates and rectifies all one-sidedness")>

So the balancing of masculine and feminine, for example, is not "a little of this, a little of that." Or in the case of the client quoted below, her efforts to become more assertive did not lead to wholeness as long as she was still polarized between anxiety and confidence. The "two kinds of change" she describes represent her experience of the "lesser" and the "greater" coniunctio:
I've experienced two kinds of change in my life. The first kind, which really helps at the time, is not a major shift but rather becoming more effective at what I've always done. For example, when I was in graduate school I was so nervous presenting papers in class, I wished the earth would open up and swallow me. So I took assertiveness training and then taught assertiveness courses myself. I learned the behaviors that helped me act less nervous in front of a group. I think of that as incremental change, or in simple terms a "Band-Aid." I hadn't changed inside, but I knew how to handle anxiety when it appeared. I still felt a polarity between keeping quiet and girding myself up to speak in public.

The second kind of change is much more significant, a bolt of lightning where I suddenly "get" something about myself, a shift from being asleep to awakening. Relative to assertiveness, I "got" that behind the anxiety was a child who believed nobody was interested in what she had to say. I allowed myself to experience that child and her story fully, then something fundamental shifted inside. The story no longer matters. There is no polarity. I am both quiet and outspoken, both soft and strong.

No comments: