small tasks and great work…

“The aim of reduction is not to stay stuck to the nigredo, nose in the dirt come to ‘the essential, the quintessence of one’s nature’..”  (James Hillman, Silver)

In alchemy the nigredo or first stage of the opus involves blackening, putrifaction and the breaking down of matter to its most basic parts.  Things get pretty ugly, smelly and messy.  The second stage – the albedo or whitening – consists of the work of ‘washing and grinding’ matter to elevate or sublimate it to its next state.

The metaphor is fairly clear – when things get crappy, there is always actual work we can do to move  toward a better state.

Julia Cameron writes, in The Artist’s Way, that she turns to mending and other small tasks when her life becomes un-stitched.  She recommends we find our own ways of putting things back together and re-ordering our thoughts:  sorting, shelving, laundry, gardening, taking out the garbage.  All of these small, otherwise-mundane tasks done purposefully can become the work of our own alchemical opus magnus.

It is a very human need to take our salt or felt-experience (whether good or bad or somewhere in between) and redeem it somehow – process it, turn it over, fold it up and put it away.

Repetitious manual labour removes conscious attention from problems and allows the unconscious mind to do the solving.  In order to do tasks like sewing or gardening we must be focused and present – again, the conscious mind is in one place and the unconscious mind does stitching and weeding of its own.

So, pick up a trowel, dig up some answers…get into the kitchen and chop, grind, mix and mash… pull out everything from under your bed and sweep out the dust-kittens.  Put extra purpose into it all – let your house work become the work of your soul.

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