I want to share with you the best definition of alchemy I have come across:
"Alchemy - the fullest and most precise background yet worked out for the processes of [psycho]analytical work - presents a seemingly similar motif: the extraction of spirit from matter and then their reunion." ~ James Hillman in 'Senex & Puer'
'Grace' - a seeing of our true nature as undivided from the Whole(y) - is often gifted, without any pursuit of "en.lightenment(e)", to those who walk in shadow; to those who are suffering and in despair. Whilst miraculous, beautiful and empowering, at one and the same time the experience poses a massive threat to the ego.
"True philosophers make dying their profession, and... to them of all men is death least alarming" ~ Plato, quoting Socrates, in Edinger's 'The Mystery of the Conjunctio'
If I ken that truly all is One, that this persona (mask) called "Aaron" is a temporary whirlpool in the river of consciousness, then identification with that character dies, either a a little or a lot. This process in alchemy is the 'mortificatio' and the 'putreficatio'; it is the Tarot's Death card. Whilst these are rather unpleasant images to hold, they are an entirely necessary step towards us walking through life 'with a light mind' (en-light-en-mente). Only by stripping away the illusions and by cleansing the "doors of perception" can we come closer to an awareness of our true nature, uncontaminated by inherited labels, prejudices and orthodox religious dogma.
When we have those first glimpses of a reality, of a Primary Consciousness that in-forms and gives rise to the world of matter (an a-priori awareness), we naturally begin to belittle the importance of the "mundane", the "3D", "The Matrix", the 5 sense world and even our own body. Perhaps even more tragically we may see Maya (world as illusion, or dream) as an enemy which we must escape from, though you're more likely to hear it as "ascension", or some equally trite buzzword. There's nothing wrong with this step, it is entirely necessary in the healing (wholing) of the individual. It provides some space, some dissociation with the 5 sense world of appetites and de-sires, so that one might look objectively at these experiences and so be less possessed by their demands for lasting fulfilment.
However, if the alchemists (including Jung) are correct, then to remain at this stage of The Great Work is to eject too early in the quest. One's worldly body stays on the slab, and the spirit (Eros) cannot join and fuse with the body and ego again until one can walk the Middle path between Spirit and Matter: to be "in the world, but not of it".
If we abort here we become the New Age Luciferian spiritual jellyfish, dependent on the blissed out experience and who is un-Abel to Act (notice that action implies 'act-or').
To throw off completely an identification with form, with ego, with physicality, is to become impotent in the Dream.
Can we in-stead refine our vision to see ego and our uniqueness whilst maintaining - when possible - that sense of a deeper Unity? Can we be ambivalent in our consciousness, so that the seemingly distinct opposites (Spirit vs Body) are instead seen as two sides of the same coin and, in doing so, become that miraculous third element born of this dance of the opposites?
So then, the death of identification with ego and all of it's pettiness, fears and limited grasp of its Source, indicates a transmutation, rather than a finality. It isn't that the completion of the Magnum Opus comes with a literal ego-death, but rather the maturation of the ego, so that it no longer has itself as the only character in the Story. With a more humble and Self-centred (not self-centred) ground on which to stand the individual entity undergoes the alchemical stage called 'mundeficatio' or 'pureficatio'; the ego is able to act as a vessel for God/ Brahman/ Self's Will. This is what is known alchemically as the 'conjunctio' and is embodied in the great Avatars passed down to us from antiquity. With the conjunctio, we achieve Christhood/ Buddhahood/ Krishnahood/ Attishood/ Tammuzhood/ Mithrashood etc.
Can we first see Death as a necessary (and painful) part of our Hero's Journey toward crafting the Philosopher's Stone? May we allow the grief for what has been lost (or seen as illusion) to invite grace to visit with us and inspire a move away from complete identification with form? Then, rather than reject, or seek to escape from the physical world entirely, can we revivify matter and see in form its true purpose as God made manifest? In doing so we allow Consciousness (The Prime Mover) to experience it'sSELF through infinite selves; through the "ten thousand things".
No actors = no play. Awareness would remain, but Meaning would be lost.
Perhaps then this is The Purpose which initiates the alchemical process, which drives us to seek answers through psychoanalysis, and whose "narrativium" writes the Uni-Verse. There is in all pursuits, whether conscious or not, a drive to find MEANING and an attempt to answer the ultimate question: "why?".
And, whilst this is unanswerable in language that has division as its basis, we may find a clue in the answer:
Are you the cause or the effect in this Quest? Or are you both? Are they separate, just as Spirit must (seemingly) appear as separate from Matter? Or are they the two opposites, same in nature, and which give the fullness, the Whol(iness) of experience?
The world and matter are not your enemy. They are the subjects brought to life on blank canvas. Just like art, however, they have no intrinsic meaning until we have individuals around to ascribe it to them.
You are both art and artist.
Your life is a continually evolving masterpiece.
In running from death we run from our own salvation and redemption.
Turn instead to face and to welcome (however begrudgingly) the reaper, for it is only through death experienced consciously that one may strip away illusion and be gifted Grace.*
"Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch; like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!"
*or more accurately re-member that Grace is what is there always, but is concealed by overidentification with ego, or any of the archetypal players in our psyche's symphony.
~ A.J. Dunbar