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Inner Wilds Alchemy
Missed opportunities in the strengths and shortcomings of IFS and Existential Kink
Chocolate is my go-to example for a quick-n-dirty explanation of alchemy—specifically to explain solve et coagula. The core idea of this phrase (dissolve & coagulate) is that you must break something down to its basic elements, purify those elements, then re-combine them in new ways. Then repeat, repeat, repeat. Alchemically, it’s the work of a lifetime. With chocolate, it’s considerably shorter.
If I give you a square of dark chocolate and a couple raw cacao beans, then ask which you want more of, most people will pick the dark chocolate; but why is that? In both foods, the main ingredients are cocoa powder and cocoa butter, with some other stuff around the edges. They should be basically the same.
But they’re not—precisely because a couple rounds of solve et coagula have taken place. The beans were pressed to separate out the butter, they had some of the more bitter compounds filtered out, and what’s left was ground into a workable powder. Then the butter and the powder were pressed together, in new ratios, into a more pleasant texture.
This same alchemy is available to each of us, in our inner worlds. The strange part to me is that the basic elements for this process have gotten pretty popular the past couple years—but I don’t see people connecting the dots on them.
Oh well. If you want a job done right,
Solve: ~IFS Unblending
Judging from how people talk and write about it, I seem to have a very different relationship to IFS from most who try it. Many people come to it with a sense of revelation and new possibility. ‘I didn’t know I could just find and dialogue with different parts of myself!’ It’s new and exciting and opens up possibilities.
Me, I came to IFS after a spree of imaginal work—so to me, IFS felt needlessly constricted, like it had stripped away what felt most feral and fertile in the possibility space of the inner wilds. Every time I did IFS, I felt like I was being forced to attend meetings in an office when I could instead be out hiking trails under rustling trees and booming clouds.
Still, the narrowed focus of IFS had significant upsides. A big one was the focus on unblending, or separating yourself out from other parts of yourself, to see them more clearly and not get stuck on identifying with them so closely.
My natural impulse is towards diving in and getting my hands dirty, so this focus on stepping back, extricating myself and my own impulses from the figures in my inner world didn’t come easily to me; I’d done a fair bit of it before, but had never gone as far as IFS seemed to want me to. The insistence on separating out my Parts did lead to some useful interactions and insights, and open new possibilities. And—importantly to us today—it did provide a pretty clean framework for separating out an issue into the purest version of its constituent parts.
Coagula: ~Existential Kink (sans kink)
But dissolving is only the first half of the work. Re-combining is the inhale to dissolution’s exhale, we need both of them to create a nourishing cycle.
What qualities would we need for a workable re-combination tactic? If the unblending dissolution is a stepping-back, dis-identifying from individual parts and allowing those parts to be separate—then re-combining should involve an intentional stepping-in, re-identifying with those parts to deeply grok the lived experience of their particular wants, needs, and drives.
The closest thing I’ve found to my own internal move for this is Existential Kink. EK leans too hard on the language and analogy of sex/kink/eroticism, but if we replace the sex talk with the experience of Eros (profound desire and drive towards something), it starts to click into place and look more similar to my own re-combining work.
The move we need here may sound (somewhat) familiar if you’ve worked with Existential Kink: after separating out a specific Part and unblending from it, I can now intentionally re-blend, becoming that Part, even to the exclusion of much of the rest of my experience. I feel how it feels to be that Part, let its drive and libido flow through me, exist as its animating energy, be the force that propels it through the world.
And within all of this, in the process of fusing with the desire and drive of this Part, I can’t help but notice all the ways that its flow in my life is blocked, frustrated, cut off; and I can’t help but sympathize with the desire to unblock that flow, to smooth out its expression in my life, its integration into my soul, psyche, and soma. I can’t help but feel acutely all the ways I am frustrating my own drives.
Don’t Get Stuck
With these two moves in place, and with enough practice to intuit when each is appropriate, you’ve got the tools to explore and transform your inner wilds for quite a long time. My sense is that you’ll eventually hit a point of diminishing returns, and you’ll need to turn your eyes to the wider vistas and longer trails of transformative practice and the inner wilds—but I’d be shocked if the basic structure of Inner Wilds Alchemy didn’t give you at least a couple years of alchemical metabolizing to work with.
Solve et coagula. Dissolve and coagulate. Break down and re-form. Separate out and step back from the parts of your psyche, then immerse in the parts and grok their interactions in your life. This is the cycle. Breathe in, Breathe out.
Don’t get stuck simply separating out parts and watching them from above, like ants in a jar. Don’t get stuck fusing yourself with every thought, feeling, and drive that takes place in you. Find the flow, feel the current, follow where it wants to take you.
If any of this sounds abstract or distant, don’t worry, I’ll be posting an example or two in the next few days to ground it back into lived experience.
note: It’s past the scope of this article, but I’d feel irresponsible if I didn’t mention it: any imaginal work (like EK, IFS, and IWA) can only go so far and can only be so safe without a firm grounding in the somatic aspects of your being. You might check out some sources on somatic meditation and Somatic Resonance if you’re interested in exploring that foundation further.
other note: starting out, it’s almost definitely best to have a facilitator to lead you through this process and help you build the intuitions you’ll need to navigate on your own. I’m unaware of any facilitators besides me who work with a blend like this, but I’ve discussed this issue with a couple IFS facilitators, and they do seem open to it. So I’ll let you know if anyone contacts me to say they have slots for something like this. Until then, feel free to contact me, my waitlist is short at the moment.
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I’ll also be starting a writing space soon, based around cultivating authentic expression, imaginal resonance, and true voice in writing. Leave your contact info on the site if you’re interested.