True transformation is not an event. Transformation is a process in which we completely unravel ourselves and then slowly, mindfully, put ourselves back together in a healthier way.
The previous stage was about the unraveling. This next stage is about picking through the remnants of that unraveling to decide what is worth taking with us into the future.
Before we delve fully into this second stage, allow me to share a brief story from the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche.
The Eros and Psyche Myth
A beautiful human woman named Psyche falls in love with Eros, the son of the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite.
Psyche doesn’t actually know that the man she is sleeping with each night is the God of Love, for Eros keeps her, literally, in the dark. But that doesn’t matter to Aphrodite, who is jealous of Psyche’s beauty and seeks revenge upon her.
Aphrodite sets up a set of nearly impossible tasks for Psyche as punishment. One of these tasks is to sort through a huge pile of tiny grains and seeds—wheat, corn, millet, barley, poppies, and more, and create separate, distinct piles.
Psyche stares at the huge mound in disbelief. She is to finish the task before morning.
Hopeless and crying, Psyche doesn’t know what to do or how to begin. Until suddenly, a group of ants comes marching into the room and begins doing the painstaking work of sorting through the pile. By morning, they complete the task, and Psyche is quite relieved and grateful.
Until, of course, Aphrodite gives the next task…
I don’t know about you, but I would be pretty happy to see a bunch of ants coming to help if I were in Psyche’s position. Ants are known for their industriousness. They stay focused while doing tedious work. They get the job done without complaint.
If Thor had shown up with his hammer, what could he have done to help Psyche? Or Hercules with his might and power? Neither of these mythological heroes could be of service to Psyche at this critical stage of her growth and transformation.
This step of transformation does not require strength, or power, or might. It requires patience, discernment, and mindfulness. The traditional hero is not suitable for these situations. It takes a mind of dedication and steadfastness. We need to find and engage our inner ant.
We have entered the Albedo Stage of our transformation.
The fire of the Nigredo stage is out, the dragon is resting, and the immediate pain of all that came to light in that fire is now behind us. We aren’t deluding ourselves anymore. The truth has been revealed.
And now, a softer, gentler light is dawning, and we can make out the rubble before us. Like Psyche herself, we are sitting before a huge mound—not of seeds and grains, but of thoughts, beliefs, ideas, conceptions, desires, longings, betrayals, losses, expectations, dreams.
There is only one way forward: get to work. Whatever has survived the fire is now up for investigation and understanding. This is a time of exploration and curiosity. We must apply objectivity and honesty about what parts of ourselves are worth salvaging and carrying over into the rebirth.
We do this by separating out the parts of ourselves that are truly ours from those that do not belong and not part of who we are. We discard societal beliefs, familial beliefs, and other beliefs that prevent us from stepping into our own power. We work like the ant works, applying critical discernment to select only the truest, most authentic parts of ourselves to take with us into eventual rebirth.
There are two primary steps in the Albedo stage: Sorting and Pairing.
“Seeing reality for what it is is what we call discernment. The work of discernment is very hard.” ~ Lewis B. Smedes
As we sort through the “seeds and grains” of our minds, we let go of things that don’t belong. The rocks, the stones, the bugs—anything that is not a nutrient gets released.
This painstaking stage can be a long, lonely, dark place of unknowing and not belonging. Our society provides little guidance or support for remaining too long in this space. Even our loved ones, who support our healing and wellness, will likely, at some point, try to urge us to move on to the next stage.
But this is when we’re decalcifying ourselves, determining our values, and realigning with our truth and integrity. Impatience here will cost us later.
We must ask ourselves: If not now, when? If not this opportunity, then which?
Once we’ve sorted everything into its proper place, we begin to piece them back together into wholeness, i.e., the yin and the yang within us come together to form a whole. This paring is represented in many ways in many traditions: the masculine with the feminine, the sun with the moon, Saturn with Jupiter, Ares with Aphrodite, Venus with Mars, The Fool with Wise Woman/Man, the King with the Queen, Kali with Shiva, Rama with Sita.
This stage is what is truly meant by the word “yoga,” which is Sanskrit for “to yoke,” or to bring together aspects of ourselves that, in our upbringing and cultural conditioning, we were told we had to choose between.
Our culture seeks to keep us divided from each other. This is to keep power in the hands of those who already have power. It does this division outside by ensuring we are divided inside ourselves. We all grow up, dividing our personalities into what we will allow and what we won’t. We get addicted to our “positive” attributes while projecting our “negative” or unwanted ones onto others.
Thus, as we grow, the parts of ourselves that are formed and structured are devoid of emotion and fluidity. Parts of ourselves that are formulaic, organized, and obvious are set apart from those that are creative, chaotic, and magical. All opposites within us are at war with each other, instead of merging with each other. And this, of course, is mirrored in our world.
This leads to a life in which we separate and divide everything we see and engage with—not with the careful eye of discernment, but in a way that disappears certain aspects of our being and personality that we can’t understand or reconcile.
Rather than seeing opposites—both within ourselves and outside ourselves—as the yin to our yang, the masculine to our feminine, the earth to our sky, we view any difference as a threat to be destroyed.
This pairing stage cannot be begun in earnest until we reconcile this cultural habit of finding fault in one entire half of our personality while glorifying the other.
We are all masculine and feminine, we are all creatures of thought as well as emotion. We are both reason and imagination.
- What if we begin to understand that black is not the opposite of white, but rather one is birthed from the other?
- What if we saw ways of being, of living, as circular in nature, like the ouroboros, rather than linear and divided?
- What would it mean if everything existed on a spectrum, and that spectrum was shaped like a wheel, not a line?
- Would it change your relationships? How you view other people? Would it inspire you? Lessen the fear around new ways of thinking and being?
This stage is about pairing up seeming opposites into an integrated whole. Something that has fostered repulsion in us is simply a piece of a whole. Broken off and denied as it has been, of course, it is frightening. Of course, it has power over us. That is why we call these parts of ourselves our shadows. But shadows are only the other half of our light. And as long as we deny our shadows, we are also hampering our light.
“To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light. Once one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self. Anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle.
~ “Good and Evil in Analytical Psychology” (1959). In CW 10. Civilization in Transition. P.872
Combined with our light, a shadow returns to its proper place in the circle of our wholeness. From there it is manageable, even lovable.
It’s all a matter of changing how we view these concepts from the ego-lead desire to separate for the sake of our own vanity or in the name of protecting ourselves from our shadows to learning to accept and see the balanced whole we can become.
This conscious pairing, when done with this movement toward wholeness in mind, brings us to a point in our transformation in which we become pregnant with our new selves.
We are not yet ready to be reborn, for we do not yet have the nourishment we need. Thus, we must remain protected in this stage, as one would protect a pregnant woman. We wait for the right time to be reborn in the Rubedo stage of our transformation.
To be continued…