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EMOTIONAL ALCHEMY IN TANTRA
The Chemistry of Stress, Healing, and SexualTranscendence
by Iona Miller
Asklepia Foundation, ©2001-2002
Rather than falling in love, Tantra is rising in love.
Arousal and Transcendence in Tantra and Sacred Sex
The mystical effects of Tantric Sex are the result of spiritual and sexual technologies which manipulate the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems of arousal in the psychosexual body. The interaction and paradoxical union of these two systems of arousal is implicated in tantric bliss states. One system, ergotrophic, energizes us; the other, trophotropic, tranquilizes us. The E-system is Yang, while the T-system is Yin. The orchestration of these systems during the sexual sacrament is the essence of tantra.
Max-ing out your system physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually with Tantra can lead through ego death to cosmic consciousness. Rather than falling in love, Tantra is rising in love. As in the case of trance-induced transcendence by overwhelming the senses, at tantric full-body orgasm there is a paradoxical switch from maximal arousal to a profound state of emptiness and deep calm which can be lengthened or deepened even further in post-coital meditation into a direct perception of the mystic Void.
As a metaphor of this process, imagine the fabulously beautiful and infinitely detailed structure of the fractals produced by the Mandelbrot set. When this form is generated all numbers of the equation either fall into the black void at the center of the figure because they are decreasing; or if they are increasing they wind up as part of the infinitely dynamic fractal set that forms the beautiful filigree around the voids.
Our consciousness does much the same kind of processing in the flow state of psychosexual expression. When aroused we expand our sense of self even to the cosmic scale even as our focus narrows (cosmic consciousness). After orgasm, our focus is free to expand infinitely while our sense of the body and our personal orientation can virtually vanish (the mystic Void).
Tantra works within the natural cycle of ergotropic and trophotropic processes, governed by the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. They mediate cycles of arousal and calm, and are therefore implicated in a variety of mystical experiences and also disorders which display states of hyperarousal and hypoarousal. They are mediated by the neurotransmiters noradrenalin and serotonin. The interhemispheric balancing mediates the harmonization of the left and right hemispheres of the brainmind. They mediate fight-flight responses, and pain-pleasure cycles. They can be chemically related to cycles of inflation, desire, acting out, guilt, remorse, high wellbeing, self-acceptance, and self-esteem. At their extremes, meditative and exalted states reflect as psychological and physiological paradox.
Emotional Alchemy of Arousal and Transcendence
We exist within a complex network of cycle within cycles. One of the fundamental cycles of our human lives centers around hyper- and hypoarousal. The activated state of ergotropic arousal is mediated by the sympathetic nervous system; while the trophotropic arousal is mediated by the parasympathetic nervous system. They are related to CRP (Consciousness Restructuring Process) Journeys as the source of the psychophysical imagery of the hallucination-perception-transcendence continuum.
The Ergotropic System has to do with those mechanisms which belong physiologically to bodily work and the relevant dynamics of activation and general excitation. It moves our muscular and skeletal systems. Its potentiation can be mimicked by stimulation of the posterior and medial hypothalamus. This augments sympathetic discharges, increases cardiac rate, causes pupillary dilation, and inhibits gastrointestinal motor and secretory functions. Other effects on the body include dysynchrony of brain wave patterns, increased skeletal muscle tone. It is related to the elevation of certain hormones including noradrenalin, adrenaline, and adreno-cortical responsiveness. There is also a rise in blood sugar and shortening of time required for coagulation of blood. In Chinese systems, this arousal syndrome is considered YANG, in nature.
The Trophotropic System relates to physiological mechanisms of recuperation, protective mechanisms, unloading, restitution of achievement capacity, normalization, and healing. Its effects originate in the anterior or lateral hypothalamus, including pre-optic and supra-optic areas and the septum. It augments visceral responses, parasympathetic discharges, including reduction in cardiac rate, blood pressure, and sweat secretion. The pupil of the eye constricts, and there is an increase in gastrointestinal motor and secretory function with a fall in blood sugar.
Brain waves become characteristically synchronized with production of alpha and theta patterns. There is loss of skeletal muscle tone, a blocking of the shivering response and increased secretion of insulin. The t-system is associated with the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Its behavioral effects include inactivity, drowsiness, and sleep. They are associated with meditative states. In Chinese systems, this tranquil state is considered YIN, in nature.
Normally, the E-system activates during arousal or in situations of apprehension or danger, while the T-system manifests when danger or anxiety are minimal. We can use a mnemonic to help us remember: the E-system is energized, exalted, or enflamed; while the T-system is tranquil, transformative, and transcendent.
Stimulation of the E-system leads us into the external environment, and is associated with warming. Conversely, stimulation of the T-system leads us into the internal environment, an is associated with cooling. Both system are mediated through a balancing process which takes place in the hypothalamus, so that an “ET” balance is present in “normal” situations. The interplay of both processes keeps our organism in homeostasis. Stimulation of one system over the other creates specific physiological and psychological or behavioral effects.
Highly Sensitive People
As many as 20% of the population are highly sensitive people (HSPs), who are generally high-strung, and frequently feel overwhelmed by experiences that others seem to shrug off. Only recently have such works as The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You (Elaine Aron; Broadway, 1996) given these individuals not only a jolt of recognition, but a positive spin on their condition.
Aron’s book was a godsend for those who have been told since childhood how high-strung, nervous, timid, overly sensitive or fearful they were. Here was a mental health professional describing high sensitivity as a normal state shared by 15 to 20 percent of the population and framing it positively rather than as a flaw.
According to Aron, highly sensitive people typically share a number of characteristics: They are highly aroused by new or prolonged stimulation; strongly reactive to external stimuli such as noise and light; intolerant of pain, hunger, thirst caffeine, and medication; susceptible to stress-related and psychosomatic illnesses and deeply affected by other people’s moods and emotions. They are also highly intuitive; able to concentrate deeply (but do best without distractions); right-brained and less linear than non-HSPs; highly conscientious; especially good at tasks requiring vigilance, accuracy, and speed; and excellent at spotting and avoiding errors.
“Sensitivity is an inherited trait,” Aron says, “that tends to be a disadvantage only at high levels of stimulation.” Everything is magnified for HSPs. What is moderately arousing for most people, she explains, is highly arousing for the highly sensitive. And what is highly arousing for others is off the charts for HSPs, who reach a shutdown point once they attain a certain arousal level.
Aron’s research has convinced her there are genetic and biological bases for extreme sensitivity. The brains of HSPs, she says differ from those of other individuals. Studies have shown that they have more activity--and blood flow-- in the right hemisphere of the brain, which indicates that they are internally focused rather than outwardly oriented. The balance between two opposing systems of the brain may account for heightened sensitivity.
One system, the “behavioral activation system” is hooked up to sections of the brain that propel people into new situations, making them curious and eager for external rewards. Another system, the “behavioral inhibition system,” compares present situations to past ones before proceeding and alerts the body to be cautious in risky situations. Aron believes that when the behavioral inhibition system in a person’s brain is the stronger of the two system, sensitivity results.
Most important to Aron (a Jungian psychologist) is her finding that HSPs are inclined to be anxious, depressed, or shy only when they have suffered troubled childhoods, or trauma, or a series of traumas later in life. The strong “inhibition system: causes real inhibition only when personal history makes an HSP feel there are good reasons to be inhibited. Thirty percent of HSPs are actually extroverts.
HSPs process information differently, “more deeply,” than others. Because they’re especially good at navigating through information, they’re predisposed to work well with information technology, which gives them an advantage in our present society. HSPs also have uncommonly sensitive nervous systems and a more reactive immune system. HSPs are 30 percent more likely to have allergies.
They often have decreased serotonin levels, which may result from the stress of repeated overarousal, although the jury’s still out on that one. And contrary to what our cultural assumptions may suggest, the HSP trait does not favor one gender. Just as many men as women are highly sensitive.
HSP’s high degree of sensitivity and awareness of subtle clues contributes to their intuitive abilities. “You just know” how things got to be the way they are and how they are going to turn out,” Aron says. “It can be wrong, of course, just as you eyes and ears can be wrong, but intuition is right often enough that HSPs tend to be visionaries, highly intuitive artists, or inventors, as well as more conscientious, cautious, and wise people.”
Aron believes that, historically HSPs have had an important function in Indo-European cultures, which traditionally have spread their influence through aggressive domination under the guidance of strong, militaristic leaders. “The most long-lasting happy Indo-European cultures have always used two classes to govern themselves--the warrior kings and the priestly advisers,” she says. “HSPs tend to fill that adviser role. They are the writers, historians, philosophers, judges, artists, researchers, theologians, therapists, teachers, and plain conscientious citizens. What they bring to any of these roles is a tendency to think about all the possible effects of an idea.”
But don’t let the word adviser mislead you: HSPs are not always confined to waiting in the wings. Abraham Lincoln, Jimmie Carter, Ingmar Bergman, and Steven Spielberg are a few of the figures Aron thinks fit the profile of highly sensitive people. Still, few people are necessarily anxious to be identified as HSPs.
Because society often doesn’t understand or appreciate the trait, many of the highly sensitive shy away from being labeled that way. In fact, HSP traits are much more accepted in some cultures than in others. For example, a study comparing Chinese and Canadian elementary schoolchildren found that sensitive, quiet children in China were among the most popular of their peers. In Canada, they were among the least popular.
Aron’s interest in HSPs began with her awareness of her own “difference.” “I always thought there was something the matter with me,” she recalls. When she felt that she was overreacting to a medical procedure a decade ago, she consulted a therapist who suggested she might be “highly sensitive.” Aron, at the time a psychologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz became intrigued by the notion that certain people might have higher levels of sensitivity than others and decided to do some research. She found that sensitivity was studied under different names.
Consciousness, Creativity and E/T-systems
The E-system function is analogous to the psychosexual energy known as Kundalini. Its content is perceived sensually. The T-system arousal, on the other hand, is sought through purely mental effort, with transcendence of sensory perception, yet there is still imagery which appears in sensory metaphors.
Exalted and Meditative States [scan]
To reach a ‘bliss’ state (or experience of Self) at either end of the spectrum, requires remaining trophotropically relaxed while ergotropically alert. One moves away from “normal” perception either along the “left-handed path” towards hallucinatory states, or along the “right-handed path” of meditation. Activation of the T-system brings desirousness, mania, ecstasy; while that of the T-system yields satiety, relaxation, serenity, calm. This expressed in the colloquialism “cool, calm, and collected” vs. “hot-blooded, spitfire, burnout.”
Consider the metaphors of healing and cooling (or crystallizing) in the transformative process of alchemy. In alchemy, the passive (‘Virgin) tames the active (‘Unicorn’).
By withdrawing attention from the body and senses, awareness becomes purely mental, focused at the eye center (Pineal). All one’s psychic energy remains in the cortex with no sub-cortical information to interpret. The only ‘input’ or stimulation is endogenous. None leaks off down the spine.
Alchemists, philosophers, and psychologists have urged us to balance these systems to achieve a harmonious lifestyle, free of the negative effects of burn-out and excessive stress. Jung quoted the 17th century alchemist, Gerhard Dorn in this regard:
“Learn therefore, O Mind, to practice sympathetic love in regard to thine own body, by retraining its vain appetites, that it may be apt with thee in all things. To this end I shall labour, that it may drink with from the fountain of strength, and, when the two are made one, that ye find peace in their union. Draw nigh, O Body, to this fountain, that with thy Mind thou mayest drink to satiety and thirst no more after vanities. O wondrous efficacy of this fount, which maketh one of two, and peace between enemies! The fount of love can make mind out of spirit and soul, but this maketh one man of mind and body.”
Psychologist Roland Fischer (1967) developed a map of inner space and states of consciousness based on the dynamics of the ergo- and trophotropic systems. He postulated that all knowledge is innate, being an interpretation by the cerebral cortex of sub-cortical information. He contends that each level of arousal contains certain types of information which one can “know” only at that level. This is similar to other theories of state-related learning and memory (Tart, 1975;Rossi, 1986).
Fischer also postulated that at extreme levels of hyper- or hypoarousal there is a paradoxical shift from one physiological system to the other, automatically. He declared boldly that the extremes in either direction create mystic experiences of the Self, which are interpreted as bliss whether as an experience of the Plenum of cosmic consciousness (hyper-arousal) or the Void (hypo-arousal).
Fischer summarized his theories by creating a map, a Cartography of Meditative and Exalted States. Increased states of arousal are graphed to the left of center (which indicates “normal awareness”, while increasing tranquility is mapped to the right. Movement of an individual’s consciousness to the Left brings increasing motor excitation, while that to the right brings almost total lack of sensory input. In Fischer’s own words:
“What I propose is that normality, creativity, schizophrenia, and mystical states, though seemingly disparate, actually lie on a continuum. Furthermore, they represent increasing levels of arousal and a gradual withdrawal from the synchronized physical-sensory-cerebral spacetime of the normal state. Specifically, there is a retreat first to sensory-cerebral spacetime and, ultimately, to cerebral spacetime only. The gradual withdrawal from physical spacetime is an expression of the dissolution of ego boundaries, that is, the fusion of object and subject, and it implies that an existence solely in spacetime is an oceanic experience, the most intense mirroring of the ego in its own meaning.”
In summary, we can see that for any individual perception of the universe (as Self or mind) can occur as an internal or external experience. It is our rich internal experiences that have puzzled researchers in consciousness as the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness. At the extreme parameter in either direction, we experience an encounter with the Absolute. Along the continuum, we may experience varying forms of an I-Thou dialogue uniting reaching either extremely hyper- or hypo-arousal states.
Hyperarousal, or mania, may result from psychoactive drugs, or a bipolar or schizophrenic episode. It results, sometimes in “ego-death” when the “I” becomes so freaked-out it submits or gives in to the sensory overload which overwhelms it. Hypoarousal leads to a characteristic state of silence or emptying when the ego voluntarily submits to unification of subject and object, of “I” and Self. In either case, cortical and subcortical activity become indistinguishably merged; there is no separate “I” left to perceive an objective reality. Thus, dualism is obliterated.
Paradoxical physiological mechanisms operate in the body under most conditions to chemically prevent the attainment of higher states of arousal on either end of the spectrum. They function somewhat like the switchover from arousal to repose which occurs at the point of orgasm. But it is possible, with repeated exposure, (such as through Tantra), to the paradoxical situation to function effectively at higher levels of arousal.
In fact, there is always a complementary component of the opposite arousal system functioning even in the mystical state. If there were no ergotropic arousal in meditation, for example, we would fall asleep. Thus in some sense, our task becomes falling asleep as much as we can while remaining awake. REM sleep, or the dream state, is another example of physiological paradox where there is extreme cerebral excitation coupled with little muscular activity.
We can characterize the physiological condition of an experience of the Self as remaining trophotropically relaxed while ergotropically alert. The mystic achieves his goal when he learns to short-circuit the homeostatic mechanism of negative feedback. The negative feedback system perpetuates the experience of duality between the “I” and Self.
Further correspondence of the E and T systems shows them to be linked with the emotions of love and lust (T-system) and anger or rage (E-system). They are also instrumental in our adaptation to cold (E-system) and adaptation to heat (T-system). These are apparent even in infants in feeding (T) and frustration (E) cycles. In the adult, these are superseded in importance by the sex act, or sublimated forms of creativity.
Thus, the physiological reactions of orgasm and “eureka” are analogous. In foreplay or the incubation of inspiration the parasympathetic system predominates. But at the moment of climax or “eureka” there is a dramatic switchover to the sympathetic system. After the act there a return to the recuperative T-system.
This insight may lead you to some interesting contemplation on why Tantric yogis arouse sexual tensions for the purpose of transmuting them to spiritual purposes, for acts of internal creativity. According to this model, the T-system is responsible for the accumulation of energies or tensions, while the E-system functions for the release of these energies. Thus the dynamics of creativity and orgasm precipitate the release of tensions, which might be sublimated to mystical awareness.
“However, extreme states of arousal and paradoxical ergotropic-trophotropic manifestations also provide the dynamic for mystical awareness and exalted states of consciousness. We have characterized the method of samadhi as remaining ergotropically conscious while trophotropically falling (more deeply than) asleep. Ecstasy involves remaining physically relaxed while becoming mentally hyperaroused. Cosmic consciousness is similarly a state of being trophotropically tuned to the absolute while ergotropically tuned to the relative,” (Lansky).
Fischer, on the other hand, describes mystical rapture in biocybernetic terms: “there is no data content from without, and therefore, no rate of data processing; only the content of the ecstatic experience of the mystic at the height of his rapture is a reflecting of himself in his own ‘program.’
The withdrawal from physical spacetime to cerebral spacetime is what is known as an experience of the causal plane, or mental dimension. Its integration into daily life requires the ability to make a meaningful interpretation of our own nervous system activity. A model or consciousness map helps us delineate one person’s mystical experience from another’s “bad trip.”
Toward this end, of creating an inner road map, we can combine Fishcer’s model with the hierarchy of experiential states created by John Curtis Gowan. Gowan’s model includes three modes of functioning: 1) Trance (ego absent); 2) Art (imagery state); 3) Creativity (ego fully present or transcended). Gowan’s periodic risers to spiritual awareness fit very neatly over Fischer’s cartography to give us an even more detailed series of descriptors of ergotropic and trophotropic functioning.
Thus, we see that the Trance states including schizophrenia, hypnotism, pro-active drugs, and automatic writing, talking in tongues, etc. are under the mediation of the E-system. So are the experiences of our psychological complexes, which produce arousal or anxiety. The perception of archetypes and dreams, or myth, as well as the enactment of psychological dynamics in ritual or art are also part of the E-system, which functions through the Parataxic Mode.
Syntaxic Mode leads to inner rather than outer creativity. It begins in the sublimation of the sexual instinct and proceeds into meditative, concentrative, and contemplative states, culminating in a paradoxical switchover to mystical ecstasy after reaching higher jhana states.
The Alchemy of the Central Nervous System
The blending of the Solar “masculine” (E-system) and Lunar “feminine” (T-system) -- modes of awareness in a “chemical wedding” to produce the Philosopher’s Stone forms the bulk of the subject-matter of alchemy. More recently, this ancient investigation has been taken up in the field of neuropsychology and neurophysiology. An examination of the basic principles of alchemy, such as the unification of opposites, yields some extremely interesting correlations with modern medical research.
Just what are the qualities represented by the basic alchemical substances, and what analogies for these substances can be found in human psychobiology? In alchemy, the primary opposites to be synthesizedare spirit and emotion or instinct; they are characterized as “fire” and “water.”
Alternatively, the fiery masculine spirit is known as the hot Solar principle and corresponds with Sulphur. The watery feminine element is cold and Lunar in nature, correspondingly termed Mercury. In any given alchemical document, these might be referred to as Sol and Luna, Rex and Regina, or Adam and Eve. Though their names and attributes are many, the process of their union remains essentially the same.
From a biological perspective, we might begin our investigation by attributing the active, hot principle of sulphur to the left hemisphere of the brain. This hemisphere provides rational adaptation to the external environment. The passive, lunar principle of Mercury corresponds to the right hemisphere, which is holistic in its perception. Of course, the blending of these portions of the brain represents the functioning of a whole individual. But since most of us have some form of access to both modes, we must look further into the physiology of the brain to find the precise chemical mediators of the processes of hyperarousal and its counterpart, hypoarousal.
There are two nitrogen-containing organic compounds in the brain (called amines) which have been observed as significant in the balance of physical and mental processes. They are neurotransmitters, chemicals which are highly significant in the movement of electrical impulses between neurons (nerve cells) in the human Central Nervous System. The electrical charges always jump from nerve cell to nerve cell with the help of a given chemical helper, or neurotransmitter.
Two specific compounds were originally proposed as the chemical mediators of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems of arousal. Newer research shows a myriad of neuromodulators, but these two still take center stage in the complex chemistry.
Noradrelalin (NA) also called norepinepherine corresponds with the solar Sulpher and works through the sympathetic system. It facilitates adaptation to external reality. When stimulated, it produces an excited anxious state of enflamment which can culminate in ecstasy. Among disorders of this system are manic episodes and hypervigilance. All illicit CNS stimulants also emulate hyperarousal and lead therefore to addiction.
Serotonin (5-HT) corresponds with the lunar Mercury and works through the parasympathetic system. Its influence is felt in a relaxed condition, like contemplation or meditation. Serotonin deficiencies are blamed for a host of disorders, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
In physiology, the sympathetic nervous system produces involuntary responses such as alarm, and the “fight-flight” syndrome. The parasympathetic functions include digestion, and slowing one down. The chemicals noradrenalin and serotonin work in the body as cooperative antagonists; they balance one another in such a manner that we do not get too speedy, or sluggish at inappropriate times.
We can easily recognize the “switching mechanism” in ourselves at various times. The most dramatic switch occurs in orgasm, when the body rapidly moves from a highly aroused state to one of extreme relaxation and torpor, even sleep. Another example occurs in the creative process, at the moment of “A-ha,” when intense concentration gives way to satisfactory solution.
Noradrenalin and serotonin are also the mediators of the pain-pleasure cycle. Have you ever wondered why it is practically impossible to stay on a natural “high,” happy at every moment? The normal functioning of chemical processes in he brain makes this impossible. However, mystical practice can moderate the mood swings experienced by most individuals, and even open a realm of bliss, which is distinctively different from an ordinary good mood. Traditionally this bliss is called “spiritual nectar” and emanates from the pineal gland.
Noradrenalin mediates pleasure, action, excitation, motor behavior, and goal-oriented behavior. When there is imbalance, it contributes to depression or manic behavior. Serotonin mediates inaction, satiety, sleep, feeding, and functions as a punishment/pain system to inhibit and balanced the reinforcement/reward system mediated by noradrenalin.
Serotonin is believed to be a reciprocal inhibitor of noradrenalin’s ability to function as a sexual stimulant. This may, in part, account for traditions of ecstatic enflamment, such as Tantra; and conversely, for the progressively decreasing interest in sex reported by many yogis.
It is easy to observe the effects of serotonin and noradrenalin on the sleep cycle of an individual. Serotonin is responsible for beginning and maintaining cycles of deep sleep. Rising noradrenalin is implicated in REM sleep, or the dream state.
Noradrenalin and serotonin exist in a balanced relationship with each other, although the amounts of each vary somewhat in different areas of the brain. For example, the limbic structures contain the highest concentrations of the neurotransmitters, while the neocortical portions have almost none. In most brain tissues they are similarly distributed.
Too much serotonin is known to be harmful for a variety of reasons. It can, paradoxically produce hyperactivity, but soon leads to exhaustion, depression, and anxiety. Irritation by serotonin can also lead the body to produce too many histamines, inducing symptoms of a cold.
Serotonin creates hyperactivity by activating the overproduction of adrenalin and noradrenalin. The personal may feel euphoric for awhile, but after a period of time, this leads to adrenal exhaustion, and decreased recovery ability. Excessive serotonin is now implicated as the “death hormone.” When its levels rise with age in the hypothalamus, with a simultaneous depletion of dopamine (precursor of noradrenalin), the trigger may be pulled.
Noradrenalin and serotonin play a major role in the effectiveness of stimulants and hallucinogens. Long term effects of these drugs leads to depletion of neurotransmitter stores at synaptic junctions in the brain with consequent disorientation and impaired immunological responses.
“The messenger chemical is stored in pouches called vesicles on the surface of the neuron’s cellular membrane and released into the gap between nerves (synapses) when the nerves fire. Many popular stimulant drugs increase the level of NE (Noradrenalin) in these synapses, resulting in greater nerve stimulation. Such drugs include amphetamines, ...over-the-counter diet aids, magnesium pemoline, and cocaine.
“These can temporarily improve alertness, learning in focusing and attention tasks, as well as memory. However, these effects may be due to general stimulation rather than altered data processing by the nerves. A serious disadvantage of these drugs is that once the stored supply of NE has been released from the vesicles and the NE in the synapses has been metabolized, the drugs no longer stimulate nerve activity (this process is called ‘tolerance) until the body produces more NE. Depression is very common during the period when NE supply is low owing to excessive use of the stimulants mentioned above, (Pearson and Shaw, 1982).”
With psychedelics, the body is tricked into producing massive quantities of serotonin, which leads to hallucinations. The body becomes hyperaroused when it tries to compensate by producing the noradrenalin to counteract the serotonin dump.
Serotonin, then, is basically an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It reduces neuron activity. It prevents excessive nervous stimulation which results in depletion. Its nutritional precursor is tryptophan which is found in abundance in milk and bananas.
Noradrenalin is important in primitive drives and emotions like sex, and in memory and learning. When noradrenalin is low, there is depression and poor immune system reactions. To increase noradrenalin storage, take its nutritional precursors l-phenylalanine, or the amino acid L-Dopa to increase brain levels of dopamine and noradrenalin.
Reflecting back to the relationship of serotonin and noradrenalin in the pain-pleasure cycle, we may see how they induce different states of consciousness.
In a privately circulated thesis from the 1970s, Philip Steven Lansky amalgamated his research on systems of arousal with the work of noted Jungian psychologist, Edward Edinger. In his classic text, EGO AND ARCHETYPE, Edinger formulated his ideas on I-Self relationship into a graph showing the progress of the repetitive cycle. Lansky overlaid the likely chemistries, which correspond with these changes. In this manner initial overactivity of serotonin may function as a negative feedback system. A third circle for “drug abuse” might be included to depict the merry-go-round of addiction (Miller, 1982).
This is an interesting appraisal of the alchemy of the Central Nervous System. It might seem that homeostasis would keep consciousness forever in the grip of this psychic life cycle. Yet, Lansky goes on to state:
“However, according to Edinger (1972), individuation means not having to continually repeat the cycle, but to develop conscious dialogues between I and Self. Neurochemically this may be interpreted as a partial overstepping of noradrenergic-serotonergic rebounds, and the concomitant state of more subtle serotonergic/noradrenergic relationships. This is reflected in the ability to remain active (noradrenergic) while inactive (serotonergic). It is a state of physiological and psychological paradox...as is aptly described by the wisdom of The Secret of the Golden Flower.”
This I-Self dialogue is certainly a valued dimension of the CRP Journeys. It consists of using action in order attain non-action. Lansky concludes,
“Interestingly, the “chymical wedding” of alchemy was a symbol for the simultaneous constellation of psychic opposites, which we have already suggested concurs with a state of physiological paradox. Might not the contents of the two archetypal flasks represent two amines, serotonin and noradrenalin, being poured simultaneously into a marriage bath in the hypothalamus.?”
The Alchemical Formula of “Solve et Coagula”
In alchemy the balancing of opposites is by their merger as expressed in the formula “Solve et Coagula,” which means to dissolve and congeal, or recongeal. It is old attitudes which must be dissolved, and concrete experiences which form the coagulation---the embodiment of experience.
When a one-sided attitude encounters a more comprehensive viewpoint, the old attitude dissolves. Solutio is the dissolution of the old attitude, which may be experienced as a threat to the world-view of the ego. The ego is interested in maintaining control. It tends to assume that it’s cognitive perception is foremost and builds personality or our world-view from its perception of order.
The ego embraces a paradigm about the nature of Reality. Exposure to someone with a convincing, more comprehensive and demonstrable worldview can wash away the solid ground from under the ego’s feet. This destabilization of the old self may bring up fear and insecurities or pain before the new self is congealed. The ego feels adrift or fragmented before the new viewpoints are assimilated into the conscious attitude and existential experience (coagulatio).
The unified state, or self is the agent of solutio in alchemy. It is either experienced in internal relationships among archetypal entities or forces, or it is projected into one’s environment. An example is where a person meets someone who “makes the bottom drop out” of his/her world. Consciousness then has the choice of embracing or rejecting the broader viewpoint. The long-range aims of solutio is the unification of opposites. Both the archetypal masculine and feminine elements are being dissolved and united at the same time.
When one encounters the Self internally, a larger consciousness of the world and universe, solutio occurs. In tantra, it may have begun before the journey confronting the enlarged worldview of the transcendent perspective. In solutio, the best qualities of the ego survive and are refined. Those aspects of the ego which consciously relate to the Self withstand solutio, (Edinger).
This alchemical operations has characteristic stages which relate directly to the phenomenology of Tantra:
1. Return to the primal state;
2. Dissolution, dispersal, and dismemberment;
3. Containment of a lesser thing by a greater;
4. Rebirth, rejuvenation, immersion in the creative flow;
5. Purification ordeal;
6. Solution of problems;
7. Melting or softening process (dissolving).
The alchemist, or Tantrika, cooperating intentionally with this transpersonal process, experiences the diminishment by solutio as a precursor to union with the Self.
In coagulatio, the conscious realization of archetypal forces comes only through personal experiences with the, in concrete forms. The experiential Journeys of tantric sex are an ideal medium for such tangible consolidation. These forms or patterns are unique for each individual, but they share primary characteristics. Experiences in childhood coagulate the archetypes, most frequently in limited or distorted forms. The inner relationships of creative imagination and external relationships coagulate. These are ways of experiencing personal encounters with the divine.
Coagulatio means to congeal, or become more solid. The ego cannot soar unfettered by day-to-day matters into its spiritual fantasies. Ultimately, the body must be reunited with the process at the sensorimotor level. In order for wholeness to be realized, the alchemist or Tantrika must balance aspirations with personal, concrete reality (spouse, job, children, etc.).
This concrete form of realization of psychic processes in everyday life allows us to “see” that which previously had no form. The Journeys facilitate this deep focus. Archetypal patterns are manifesting in the mundane world constantly. To the alchemist, the archetypes are no longer perceived as qualities or concepts, but as entities with which they share a defined relationship. Psychologically, this is the union of ordinary human reality with the transpersonal Self.
There must always be an investment of psychic energy in the alchemical process. Desire promotes coagulatio. This psychic energy, mobilized as desire, promotes life-experience. The lure is the sweetness of fulfillment. Coagulatio thus symbolizes the limitations of one’s personal reality, the boundary conditions. We find the limits of our abilities in relation to our desires.
In its ultimate projection, coagulatio symbolizes the formation of an immortal body, one firmly grounded in the universal perspective, which is the equivalent of the Philosopher’s Stone.
Aron, Elaine (1996); The Highly Sensitive Person,
Edinger, Edward, Ego and Archetype,
Fischer, Roland (1967); "Biological models of creativity," Journal for the Study of Consciousness, pg. 89-117. First presented Oct. 28-29, 1967.
Lansky, Philip, "Consciousness and the ergo- and tropho-tropic systems of arousal"; thesis.
Tart, Charles (1975); States of Consciousness,
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