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The Failure Mode of the Journey is to Be Certain You've Arrived
melt & crystalize & melt & crystalize & melt & crystalize & melt & crystalize & melt & crystalize &melt & crystalize & melt & crystalize &melt & crystalize & melt & crystalize & melt & crystalize & me
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One of the most useful ideas from alchemy is the pairing of solve & coagula—roughly meaning “dissolve and coagulate.” The basic idea is that there’s a back and forth rhythm between structure and deconstruction.
You need structures to navigate the world—whether physical structures, mental ones, emotional ones or even spiritual ones—but all those structures are to some degree contingent and arbitrary. Their usefulness is only ever within particular contexts. So when a structure is no longer in its right context, when it’s no longer serving the needs it existed to serve, you have to be ready and willing to dissolve it.
In modern english, I prefer the terms melt & crystallize for this dynamic. You have to let what’s no longer working melt away, and you also have to be comfortable enough with the melted structurelessness that you can wait patiently and attune to what new shapes begin to crystallize. It’s not just a matter of building a new structure; it’s a matter of being sensitive to what structures the situation requires, and then taking a hand to co-shape those as they emerge.
Maybe the most helpful way to track this journey of melting and crystallizing we’re all on is to follow the “stuckness” patterns that show up with each oscillation.
Stuckness 1: No Melting
The most common way to get stuck is to keep the crystallized structure-system you were given by your culture/family/etc, and to deny that melting is even an option.
When you run up against ways that the structure is limiting or harmful, to yourself or the world around you, you simply default to “that’s the way it is” and keep at it.
Stuckness 2: No Crystallizing
Once you’ve melted away some the previous crystallization that wasn’t working, the most common failure mode is to take a stance against crystallization in general.
When you come across any kind of structure or system, you take on the air of a prophet of anti-crystallization.
“Those ideas are all relative,”
“At bottom, it’s all empty, so disregard all of it,”
“That’s just one lens, and all lenses distort the truth”
Getting stuck here, at least for awhile, seems to be pretty common, even normal. There’s a sense of “I already did the thing, I melted my old ways of being, and now I’m done.”
Stuckness 3: No More Melting
Once you’ve melted away a previous crystallization, and then also allowed something new to crystallize and take shape, the most common way to get stuck is, again, “I’ve finished the journey, this is it.”
Here, it mostly takes the shape of “I found the True Crystallization, the Real Structure now.”
“I dissolved all my previous ideas of the world, and then I discovered a particular sect of Theravada Buddhism and realized they got it all correct, so I’m finished now, I found the truth.”
“After deconstructing all my illusory ideas about myself and the world, I spent 5 years making an intricate hyper-synthesis of Neo-Platonism, Theosophy, Shamanism, Reichian Psychology, and Music Theory.”
“I let go of everything and then was gifted a vision by plant teachers—now I teach that vision wherever I go.”
As we go further and further into the melt & crystallize dynamic, these failure modes become more about one’s stance than the belief itself. What I mean by that is that any of the above 3 examples could easily be a good and healthy belief structure, if it allows for humility and continuation of the dynamic (more melting and crystallizing to come). But when it becomes stiff and ossified—when it’s taken with a stance that it is finished now—it becomes a failure mode.
Stuckness 4 & Beyond: Softer, tbh
By the time you’ve gotten here, you’ve already swung from structure to melting to structure to melting again. The direct experience of this seems to make people much more aware that the dynamic back and forth is the main thing, not either particular side of the swing.
This makes it much less common to get stuck on one side of the spiral for very long. The psyche is always sticky, of course, but at this stage it’s less like quicksand and more like tripping on uneven ground and having to stand yourself back up.
Speaking only for myself, the main form of stuckness I’ve encountered in this area feels more like exasperation than anything else. “It feels like I just got the hang of this structure, what do you mean it’s melting already?” or “This structurelessness is nice in a lot of ways, but I have things I need to do to pay rent and maintain relationships—is the next crystallization coming any time soon?”
As a parting note, I just want to point out that these oscillations between melting and crystallizing aren’t global. In some areas of your life, you might be on your 5th or 10th oscillation between them—while in others, you’ve never melted the crystallizations you were given as a child. That’s perfectly fine and normal and utterly not subject to the weird hierarchical games people like to play with spirals. Everyone has limited time in this life, and a limited palette of themes they’re given to deeply explore in that time.