The Magnus Opus

There is a tight complementarity between the emotions and the imagination. The imagination is a powerful solvent ‒ it keeps things fluid and prevents the world from freezing up. It breaks down walls. It refuses the literal and sees all things as metaphoric and symbolic. Imagination perceives correspondences. To do this it must flow. It is the essential element for any work with the crippled and uncontrolled emotions that dominate the literalist psyche. The emotions all have their own dynamic and style of imagination, but when they are dominant, monolithic, autonomous, and automatic it is as if the whole person has been caught in some vast eddy of energy, cut off from the broader stream and unable to escape. Jung had a name for these reflexive, habitual and semi-conscious emotions that so often dominate our lives. They are the feeling-toned complexes. The great challenge of psychic development is to become conscious of the complexes that dominate your life. It is the great work ‒ the magnum opus. And I think the one of the best ways to think about the process involved is by means of the metaphors of alchemy. The psychic and spiritual battlesthat alchemy describes are difficult and painful almost beyond description. The prima materia of the opus consists in a massa confusa of wild emotions ‒ a powerful chaos of pain, shame, rage, fear, anger, hatred, and anguish. All of it must be contained in the vas bene clausum ‒ a well-sealed vessel, and a veritable furnace. For the impossible rule of this work is “don’t repress; don’t act out” ‒ the only allowable action is to stay sealed in the furnace and Imagine. In the heat at the heart of the great work the cooking occurs by means of a series of operations repeated over and over again in a seemingly endless process of psychosomatic stresses and transformations. The goal is to get some distance between the soul in the oven and the dominating and impersonal emotions that engulf her. The struggle is to discover that the all-consuming passions, whatever they are, are not inevitable responses to features of some stable, objective world but states of the psyche ‒ and so, the world they arise in response to is not literal and objective, not permanent, not the Truth. This distancing is the difficult process of becoming conscious of a complex. It is the chief key to freedom from the passions. Only through this distancing, the dis-identification with the complex, can clarity be had in any emotional situation. And the one certain rule here, so very hard to keep front and center, is that any time there is strong affect, any time the passions rage, there is a complex at the center of the storm.

Tom Cheetham

from his wonderful book IMAGINAL LOVE The Meanings of Imagination in Henry Corbin and James Hillman TOM CHEETHAM SPRING PUBLICATIONS THOMPSON, CONN.

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