The alchemy of quarantine


Ancient alchemy was a process by which medieval wizard-like explorers searched for a mystical substance called “the philosopher’s stone.” They believed this substance could turn lead into gold, heal sickness and even grant immortality. The theme of their endeavors was combining opposites, often depicted as the union of man and woman. The alchemists’ records are credited to be the origin of chemistry, as they mixed and cooked and refined all kinds of materials and recorded the results in detail.

Fast forward to the modern age and a resurrection of alchemical principles in the work of Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung. For Jung, the philosopher’s stone was creating meaning out of chaos. In his patients’ dreams he found that the tension of opposites defined the interplay of the unconscious and the conscious. When descending into the darkness of depression, the ego reunites with elemental forces and experiences purification. Redemption then appears as spiritual rebirth and a new level of consciousness.

Like it or not, we are all in the alchemy of quarantine. Not only are we experiencing a personal descent, we are joined in a web of conscious humanity in a collective descent. Where we go and where we end up is the great unknown. Like any inward-bound journey, we will encounter demons and angels and have to make friends with both of them.

If these explorers of earlier times have any advice for us, it is that we must persevere. We strap on the sword of discipline and we cut through. We don’t abandon the quest when we are lost because then we stay lost. We identify the outer world as expressions of our inner world. When frustrated, we refine our process. We seek the philosopher’s stone because it is what has called us to be warriors of the spirit as well as the flesh. Deep in the meditation of the alchemical quarantine cauldron, we discover that the nature of reality is the meaning we derive from it.