Notes On Alchemical Psychology* is a series of texts dedicated to personal creative therapeutic work, merging the old ways & the new. In the seventh note, I talk about approaching our photo archives as oracle guides in uncovering lost fragments of our emotional histories.
We live lives in an ocean of constructed imagery. So quickly did the saturation of every-day existence occur, with its ceaseless stream of artificial images, we have not yet gone through the passage of time necessary to comprehend how these framed fragments of the lives of others profoundly impact our own feelings of being in this world, or the present moment. We only know that they do affect us, whether they be commercial or familial, collective or personal, staged or spontaneous, signifiers of mood, intent, or posture, uploaded to influence, inform, attract, tout, or titillate.
Every time we encounter a digital story, and focus on it to the detriment of rooting attention in our present environment, this action potentially pulls us out of the possibility of our own psychological unfolding in the physical here and now. The relation with the other, forged through digital means, lacks many elements of a full encounter – it does not involve all our senses, so it is, in its essence, a synthetic encounter, a simulacrum standing in for an organic presence – therefore, an artifact, a phantom of reality.
We are told our minds cannot differentiate between the two. But how about our bodies, with their own cell memories? Can’t they determine a fake? And what happens to us when they do?
This accumulation of endless phantom narrative strings we are fed by the various media we consume, this relentless hunt for identity, then flows into our dreams at night, and these dreams, in turn, inevitably, subconsciously navigate the way we live our waking lives.
Psychology, as a science, seems to be lagging far behind sociology in comprehending the impact of the digital age on our individual psyches. Sociology helps us understand the patterning of communications, yet the re-wiring that happens in the background, emotionally and cognitively, still remains largely unexamined, as this is the realm of the individual psychological, not the collective social.
There are available ways for us to de-clutter our perception, whether it be by not participating at all in the online sharing of thoughts, emotions and personal space, or by abstaining for an amount of time in the relentless current of social media activity, in order to anchor ourselves in the reality of what we embody, rather than what we, or others, project.
I found that in this abstinence the thirst for images remains, even if we remove ourselves from the collective multiple lanes of communicational traffic for longer periods of time. However, the specifics of what we require becomes more refined – like it would with any other type of fasting.
In this quest for imagery my own mind has now become accustomed to, for good or for ill, I recently found myself rummaging through old family photographs, and my personal hefty archives, in search of a nugget of enlightenment – sometimes absentmindedly, but often driven by a specific question about an event, or an emotional pattern, a hunch that somehow a precise period of time would carry an imprint, an image that would then uncover the root of an impulse, the dynamics of a relationship, a sensory memory that cannot seem to ground itself in the ever-shifting bounty of environmental input.
Approaching my photo archive in daily practice, as if it were an oracle deck, a technicolour shrine to the ghosts of the past, with respect, intent, and open curiosity, appears to frequently, achemically induce incredible insight. But only once I allow this process unfold in its own rhythm, and refrain from imposing a desired outcome – as with any other type of divination.
Sometimes this occurs slowly, like I were an emotional archeologist journeying through a Saturnian labyrinth, a camera obscura, with no light ahead, except for the path revealing itself beneath my feet – image by image – until the Neptunian realm of photography starts dissolving my rigid, calcified narratives regarding personal history, and a glimmer of real sunlight appears in the cracks of the hermetically sealed story I have been telling myself, for years.
There are also times the realisations appear instantly. Like flashes of Uranian light-bulbs on the red carpet memory lane, the Neptunian idealised mirror of the photograph cracking open to reveal its subterranean waters of authentic experience under the lightening bolt of insight from the detached skies above (i.e. a future self).
The fragment of time that is the photograph can unveil so much of its backstory, the entirety of the setting, the piece indeed standing in for the whole. This can be achieved through the medium of both presence and absence, accidental juxtaposition and captured hidden sentiment – no matter the staging and the frame.
Nevertheless, the constant ingredient required for this alchemical process to reveal itself to the dedicated daily alchemist is most evidently the element of the passage of time. Only when far removed from the moment the photograph was taken in, as well as the emotions of the us that we once were, could we fully dive back in from the future into the myriad clues which each past image conveys, and find the living, beating truth we were searching for, without settling for appearances, or once cherished, and now miraculously expired desires.
Author: © Milana Vujkov
*NB These notes follow a personal journey, and are offered as philosophical & creative inspiration. Although I am a psychologist by education, the material within them is not therapy or substitute for therapy. However, they are dedicated as temenos for accessing the therapeutic numinous, in hope of being of good service to your soul in exploring the potentials of each moment in time.