Recognising Gold in the Mirror.
When we awaken to new possibilities in our lives, we often see it first in another person. A part of us that has been hidden is about to emerge, but it doesn’t go in a straight line from our unconscious to becoming conscious. It travels by way of an intermediary, a host. We project our gold onto someone; and suddenly we are consumed by that person. The first inkling of this is when the other person appears to be so luminous that they glow in the dark. That’s a sure sign that something is changing in us and we are projecting our gold onto the other person.
When we observe, with patience and attention, the things we attribute to the other person, we see our own depth and meaning. Our gold goes first from us to them. Eventually it will come back to us. Projecting our inner gold offers us the best chance for a depth in consciousness.
The exchange of this alchemical gold is a mysterious process. It’s our gold, but it’s too heavy for us, so we need someone else to carry it for a time. That person becomes synonymous with meaning. We follow him with an eagle eye wherever he goes. His smile can raise us to heavenly heights; his frown will hurl us to hellish depths, so great is the power of meaning.
When the exchange of gold goes well, we mature and eventually become strong enough to ask for our gold back. It might be awkward at first. We might have to slam the door as we exit, to convince ourselves we are leaving. We act in this kind of adolescent way, clumsy at retrieving our gold, because we don’t really understand what is going on.
Carrying someone’s gold is a fine art and a high responsibility. If you are the recipient of someone’s gold, hold it carefully and be prepared to give it back within a microsecond’s notice. Unfortunately, there are people who collect gold and refuse to give it back. It’s a kind of murder. They collect an entourage or followers and exploit them. When you know too much to allow such a person to keep your gold, quietly work your way psychologically out of his orbit.
Our culture understands little about these matters, so when we ask the other person for our gold back, she probably won’t know what we’re talking about. She might say, ‘last week you were opening doors for me and treating me like a princess, and this week you’re ignoring me.’ People don’t understand the dynamics. It is only after you get your gold back that you can see the gold of the other person. When the time is right, when you are ready to bear the weight, you must get your gold back. If you can do it with dignity and tact, that’s best. But you must get it back, one way or another.
The Rules of Exchange.
When gold is being exchanged, there are two rules that can save both parties trouble:
1. When you put your gold onto someone, you have no right to pester that person. To project meaning and importance onto another person is enough. You don’t want to smother him. The problem is that we tend to cling to people who are the repositories of our gold and then we won’t let them loose.
2. Don’t mix levels. Alchemical gold is an element in its own right. Don’t mix the gold with many other facets of relationship that are possible. Keep the parameters of the particular relationship you are engaged in, be it parent, teacher, guide, friend etc. clear and uncontaminated. Be aware of the projection of the gold and the fantasy it creates, and keep this image separated from the other healthy obligations and rules of that specific relationship. It is your image and comes from and belongs to your interior, the outer person merely carries the picture for you. Almost all psychological suffering is caused by mixing levels. Everything in you is good in its own right; a construct of God, but contamination by one thing of another can short-circuit both. When you are struck, when gold is being exchanged, sit quietly until the smoke clears and you see where you are.
All affect is interior. To take inwardly what is inward is a great art. Any emotional impact we experience is inside us. If someone were to denounce me, spreading all the gossip and defamation he might find, I would probably wither. It would weigh me down, but the withering is an interior matter. If you hurt my feelings, it is an interior matter for me. You set it off, but what you set off is my business. Anything that can burn a person should burn. Only the things that are fireproof are worth keeping. If you can hurt my feelings, they are better off hurt, because this means there are things inside me I have not dealt with yet.
This is one of the most powerful realizations we can have, that all affect is interior and needs to be understood and worked on in an interior way. If someone has taken your gold, or even if you just think they have taken your gold, and they displease you, you might become furious. Knowing what is going on at a deeper level can save you from that kind of suffering. You have no right to be dependent on anyone, or jealous of them. You have no right to be lonely. Only when we are not asking someone to carry our gold for us can we look at him as a human being. And when we see others as human beings, it is possible not to be lonely.
Reclaiming Our Projections
When we find ourselves clinging to someone, caught in the unconscious grip and illegitimate demand on him or her, it is difficult, but not impossible, to let go. Dr. von Franz says, “Don’t behave as though your projection is a dog you can whistle home when anytime you want it.”The next time you ask someone to carry your gold, make the effort to know what is going on. Stay in contact with your own gold as you put it on someone else. If you ask him to carry that numinous, glow-in-the-dark quality for you, understand that doing so will obscure him from you as a person.
Naming the process helps. It’s the beginning of consciousness*. Why do I have such a strong feeling when I look at her? Do I really see her? Do I love her or am I in love with her, putting a bell jar of numinosity over her, which obliterates her from my sight?
We are rarely conscious of what is going on, and our gold is bouncing around everywhere, out of control. Alchemical, inner gold, our most precious possession, is sputtering on the street. We barely understand how much of what we perceive in others and the outside world, light and dark gold alike, are actually parts of ourselves. The exchange of inner gold is occurring all the time. We cannot contain it in traditional ways. We need to try to be conscious of it, to create new language and new ways for increasing our awareness.
The British philosopher Owen Barfield said something that reverberates in my mind every day. He said, “Literalism is idolatry”.
If you take the inner world literally into your time-space world, you lose it. There is nothing that human beings cannot literalise into trouble. Literalism knows no end, and literalism is death of insight. But that sublime archetypal structure is always available in its true, interior way, for anyone who chooses to touch it and is capable of touching it. Sometimes the point of contact becomes accessible only in our deepest, darkest moments.
Adapted by sb from Robert Johnson, Inner Gold, Koa Books, 2008.
*’The only container that can conceivably hold the power of the mystery, this numinosity today, is our own consciousness. We’ve pulled God out of his objective, collective containers, and swallowed him into our psychology. Now we need the consciousness to manage this. So far, we are not succeeding.’