Separation and Integration as Essential Operations On our Path to Wholeness
In 1963, Ram Dass and Tim Leary left Harvard to explore the paths of yoga and psychedelics. This marked a formal break with the establishment of the “traditional paths” of the West and initiated a new age of experimentation and discovery. We should be grateful that these frontiersmen of the psyche took their leaps into the unknown.
In western alchemy, there is an operation known as separatio that requires two substances to be removed from one another, so that additional operations can be performed on each separated substance. We find this parallel in the process of our own development as individuals (i.e. — moving away from the parent’s house, or dysfunctional romantic relationships), and in our collective development with great breaks from tradition, as in the case of Ram Dass and Leary.
The whole, whether a individuals psyche or a society, is seeking a balance of the opposites, and so it is constantly repositioning itself to find this balance. Coming from the rigidity of the 1950’s, with war-hardened fathers and repressed mothers, the ground was fertile for a new generation to usher in a “loosening” of stale the complexes that had outworn their welcome and were now inhibiting the evolution of the whole. In alchemy, separatio is necessary when an emerging consciousness, like that of the freedom-seeking 1960’s, wants to be born and is entirely out of place in the context in which it finds itself. It must break away and establish a new ground for further development.
We are now the great beneficiaries of 1960’s exploration, radical and subversive in every way possible, and also wildly overcompensating, as is the case when a new identity structure is first established. We find ourselves in a much different context than that of Ram Dass and Tim Leary, and so naturally a different alchemical operation needs to be applied. This is why I love the symbolism of alchemy so much — there is no one application that will take you through the entire journey. We are required to be responsive, intuitive participants in our own evolution, listening to our interior and exterior worlds, and determining the next course of action.
At present, we are not being asked to break away from the institutions, but rather to take the knowledge, wisdom and practices that we have learned over the last 60 years, and integrate it into the institutions.
The wisdom of the east (which is a COMPLEMENT, not a REPLACEMENT, for our Western life) must now be grounded in institutional contexts — academics, politics, education, medicine. In alchemy, this would correspond to the process of coagulatio or “coagulation,” which refers to the joining of materials together, assuming the substances have been purified separately. Coagulation can mean bringing something from the spiritual world into the material world.
This is, of course, starting to happen, as yoga and meditation become ubiquitous and commercial (a natural overcompensation), as alternative healing practices are becoming adopted and included in Western medicine, as academic institutions turn their scientific studies to the nature of consciousness.
The edge, as I see it right now, is that the lingering promises of the new age movement still encourage people to break away, flee to India, or get wrapped up in guru relationships that promote “one size fits all” spiritual models. If we are attentive and honest about the requirement of our present age, the signals point to staying here, being here, now.
So it’s no longer about breaking away from Harvard. Now the game becomes how we establish a new ground in Harvard to push the institution further. How do we get Ram Dass and Tim Leary back in there for good? Our collective alchemical journey is asking us to stay here, review the tools and data that has been gathered over the last 60 years by the pioneers of consciousness, organize it, discard some of it, and INTEGRATE it, so that we may continue to move forward on our path of wholeness.
Thank God for the outlaws!