The Rubedo

Well, in our series of transformation, we have come to week 4, the rubedo. We have spent time exploring stages and experiences of suffering and healing with an alchemical eye. Growth is difficult. To shift the patterns of our relationships, our moods, and our deepest destructive tendencies takes more than ideas. I’d bet any one of you can sit yourself down and prescribe a world of “shoulds”. However, a lovely 12-step sentiment says that to get out of ones own head and into their feet, to follow the path that others have taken will produce the results you seek. Before we take this week’s subject of the accomplishment of the alchemical opus, I want to encourage each of you to ask yourselves, am I willing to walk a path that others have walked?

Your Knights of the Round Table

When those around us have the things we want, through action we learn to get them ourselves. Rather than the parts of ourselves that like to have things figured out, what if we look instead to the curious and the willing parts drawn to the wisdom hard-earned by others? How are your knights of the round table shaping up? Do you have people you respect who sit on your council? If not, it’s a good time to start looking. How can you take better action? Move in their direction.

The Creative and Personal Relationship

It is true that following a well-worn path helps us begin to change. However, there is a second aspect to this work that requires special attention. Alchemy helps us to realize the combination of operations with instructions (following the path). However, it also highlights the creative and personal relationship with the process. On the one hand, we can follow along. This will accordingly move us out of the old and toward better practices. On the other, it is important to understand that we require a mindful intimacy with ourselves in the present moment.

The Soul Cannot Be Put Away

Have you ever wondered why, when doing everything right, we experience these surges of extreme emotions? Why doesn’t the formula automatically equal success? Should we look up from the tunnel vision of better actions? Should the diligent good soldier forget their own inner life? One may prevent death and destruction, even experience moments of joy or hopefulness. But without the heart where is the soul? Are we truly alive? Many learn to split themselves between passion, expression, feeling, and operation. The danger? The soul cannot be put away. If we repress our own instincts, ignore feelings, good and bad, we create a pressurized and cooking vessel beneath our efforts.

Turning to the Rubedo

The reason for this? If we try and live the lunar white world – of hopeful and dreamy consciousness – we are straining to resist the coming pressures of a real moment. While the albedo (whiteness) is important to bringing us out of the blackness of our darkest suffering, it only lasts so long before the daylight comes back. Many will cling to the white-washed experiences – attempting to float in the ideals, live the perfect image, even act the part. In our final week on the alchemical stages of change we turn to the goal of the work: the rubedo, meaning “red.”

The Redness of Life

Dr. Jung understood this idea when he suggested that living the dream state is not enough. Jung writes, “In the state of ‘whiteness’ one does not live in the true sense of the word. It is a sort of abstract, ideal state. In order to make it come alive it must have ‘blood’, it must have what the alchemists called the rubedo, the ‘redness’ of life. Only the experience of being can transform this ideal state into a fully human mode of existence. Blood alone can reanimate a glorious state of consciousness in which the last traces of blackness is dissolved, in which the devil no longer has an autonomous existence, but rejoins the profound unity of the psyche. Then the opus magnum is finished: the human soul is completely integrated.”

Here and Now

The rubedo refers to the sensory experience in the here and now, paired with the mind of an evolving and aspiring ego. The mind and body, instincts, and ideals have all undergone operations, cooked, separated, evaporated, remixed, and reproduced. In short, we are fully present and able to navigate the good, the bad, and the ugly with presence and acceptance. This is difficult to grasp without some well-developed skills. Here at Barn Life, we emphasize mindfulness – the skill of noticing, learning to become aware, both psychologically and physically. While challenging and provocative to all the things we repress and struggle to overcome, learning to work with the raw material means also learning to detach, endure, and alchemize.

Have you learned to meditate?