Alchemy only works when you begin with separate elements. A little of this+a little of that = gold. First you have to have ‘this’ and ‘that’. Its called ‘Separatio’: when elements are separate. It is the original state before a great transformation. Original states can really suck. I should know, I’ve been sitting with a lot of ‘this’ & ‘that’ lately.
Death of a loved one evokes Separatio in many ways, not just because of our separation from the departed. It calls us into ourselves, away from the living people we’re connected to. The terrain of our inner life is of course connected in its own way, but it can make the outer world look like a chaotic sideshow of inhospitable disconnected stuff. Thats really the supposed origins of Separatio – man separate from the earth, man has dominion over the earth. Me and you, us and them, blah blah blah – you get the idea.
Despite the sinister undertone, states of Separatio are sacred because of the potential they hold. Without separate polar elements, magic can never be unleashed. There must be a lock and key for a door to be opened. Carl Jung knew this intimately. For Jung the human psyche, indeed the human spirit was a churning caldron of alchemical forces; keys and locks looking for each other and repelling each other at the same time.
To reach our true potential as liberated, conscious beings we must first endure the pain of Separatio. Aspects of our true self present themselves as distinct forces, often at war with each other. We must undertake a journey to witness these forces in their totality before they can meet, unite and transform into a whole that is far greater than the sum of the original elements. Life can be made up of many such journeys, small and big.
My Father and I had our fair share of wars. Separatio often defined our relationship. Now that he’s gone I find myself gathering all of that separation to savor. When I close my eyes I see him walking away as clear as day. Its as if separation is what I have left of him. Sacred potential.
Inner space has never been a problem for me, its when something drags me out that the problems begin. Nothing like a two and have year old to pull you out of your own space. “Cabby dead,” Tadg says. He just learned about death a few weeks before his Grandpa died. One of the crabs I brought back from the docks crawled into the sun and perished before we could cook it. “Cabby dead, no eat.” And now: “Packa”, (Grandpa) ” dead”? “Yes, Packa dead. Packa loooovvvee you.” “Yeah,” he answers with sweet confidence.
The day after Packa died I posted a quote from a poet writing about the death of his own father, “There are no more giants left in the world.” Parents are the giants of our psyche’s. Whether they are absent or present they sit like category five hurricanes within us, not only a force to be reckoned with when upon you, but also something that changes the weather wherever you are. This makes them extraordinary agents of change in our lives, whether living or dead. Often they are the masters of our locks and keys.
The paradox of Separatio is embodied in the parent child relationship. What is separation when someone is so much a part of you? Children are separate and intimately a part of their parents forever. Father and son. So much alike and so different. That which defines our connection both unites and separates us. Keys and locks magnetized against each other.
I remember heading off to college at eighteen. The third of three kids to go, my parents hauled me to the airport like the last brick in a giant pyramid they’d taken a lifetime to build. When it was finally time to board I stood and faced Dad in my black leather jacket with dark glasses, he in his brown leather blazer with dark glasses. Years of conflict had wrapped us both in protective layers of coldness. We stuck out our hands to shake as a final farewell, about to cry but afraid we’d shatter into a million mixed up pieces. “Oh hug each other you fuckers!” my Mom shouted. Our facades collapsed and we embraced as we hadn’t done in perhaps a decade. Alchemy always requires a third element, one thats unpredictable in order to get the separate, polarized elements to join. Whatever that special stuff is my Mom has it in spades.
The alchemist dances across the terrain of separation, turning opposing forces into fuel that ignites new possibilities. As I sit here chewing on my Separatio I find a sweet taste like native tobacco, a richness that says ‘yes’ and asks for more. Its a hunger for more stories of who my Father was as a man, separate from his family, separate from me. What of his other life? Can I start to feel his separateness not as a threat but as another quality of him that I can miss? Is this yearning the difference between being stuck in Separatio and being fed by it?
When I got home from Utah the day after Dad’s wake there were condolence cards waiting. My friend Wes wrote: “Tim, I think there are still giants left in the world, just ask your son.” You know you’ve got really good friends when they can make you cry so easily. It struck me that the separation of father and son is just another illusion. We are a generation, like a giant snake unfurling endlessly across time. Maybe alchemy is just the sacred rite of renewal. The father dies, the son becomes the father and so on. Separatio may just be a moment of heaving as the serpent bends in a new direction, revealing a new father and son.
At dinner, usually every other night, Tadg brings up Packa.
“Really,” Terry says, “your Packa is outside?”
“Yeah.” Same confidence. “Packa Oooceaan outside.” He waves his hands in the air to illustrate the magnitude of the Ocean, or Packa, or both.
“We love Packa.”
Death separates us and pulls us closer together. Packa’s death clarifies my love for him and makes the separation easier to receive. I hold Tadg closer now. Father and Son, lock and key. Separate and one. Separatio = sacred potential.