Alchemy, can our perception turn pain to gold?

I was just trying to have a snooze, and this reel of conversation kept going through my mind…so I have decided to get up and type it.  Often I feel some of my most interesting ideas or thoughts present themselves as I start to drift off to sleep.  It ends up feeling like a contentious state of being, as part of me really wants to surrender to the embrace of deep sleep, while another part of me is trying fervently to grip momentum and wake up.  We both now know who won today!

I would also like to share for sharing sake that this is my first down under blog, since our recent relocation from Canada back to Australia.  I’m excited to share what the sea change has brought to mind.

So, what I have been thinking about of late is alchemy.  My understanding of alchemy is that it has to do with turning seemingly worthless ‘stuff’ illogically into gold.  This might not be an accurate definition, but that is how I understand it.  I have also thought of alchemy as if generally experienced in tangible, physical reality, such as witnessing turning something like a feather into gold; however today I was considering it in different terms, I was considering the alchemical capacity to transfigure pain into joy, or fear into love…which in my opinion are shinier than gold anyhow and much more valuable.

The idea isn’t really a new one, but today it felt like it anchored more surely in my mind-body.  The theory of Post-Traumatic Growth is a great example of turning pain into power.  The idea is that after experiencing the tear down from a traumatic experience, there is in fact a greater capacity for the resilient development of joy, gratitude and vitality.  I can personally attest to this sort of experience.  I believe that my time spent living with depression laid the foundation for a more blissful, joyful and happiness filled life.  Sure we could say that people like me are just talking ourselves into perceiving our post-trauma life this way, but actually there is a hefty amount of evidence-based research supporting this as fact, not fiction (check out research and work conducted by Martin Seligman, Tal Ben Shahar and Barbara Fredrickson, to name a few).  Aside from the support of ivory-tower research, even if it were ‘just’ our perception, what’s so bad with that?  The more I study pain science (Lorimer Moseley, Neil Pearson), brain science (Rick Hanson), quantum physics (Amit Goswami), and yogic philosophy applied to physiology (Timothy McCall), the more I’m thinking/learning that our perceptions and beliefs might be one of the most creatively charged potentials and powers of our experience!

So, here’s what I was thinking today: when we turn pain/trauma/shadow into gold/joy/love, it isn’t that we’ve just suddenly taken something black and decided to see it as white, it’s that we’ve broaden our view finder and are holding the experience in a more expansive and considerate context.  Take a learning curve as an example.  Imagine that you are looking at a graph with a typical learning curve displayed.  The line is very obviously moving gradually up, following a gentle concaving curve in an upward direction.  Now, this graph is in fact a ‘zoomed out’ perspective of the whole process of learning.  If you ‘zoomed in’ you would see that the line actually follows a series of regressions, followed by successions, followed by plateaus, and the dynamic/chaotic cycle continues.  If you only gazed at the process from a ‘zoomed in’ perspective, you may suffer a tendency to feel anxiety and fear when ever the line dipped in the downward/regressing direction.  However, if your view finder was ‘zoomed out’ you’d let the regressing line role off of you like water off of a ducks back, being able to see that obviously the line is still ultimately moving in an upward direction!  In fact, learning theorists currently posset that regressions are experienced when the greatest learning is happening, and also that plateaus are symbolic of necessary consolidation periods.  Collective sigh of relief: our plateaus in life are actually essential recovery and integration periods, and our so called failures (aka regressions) are GOOD NEWS, we’re LEARNING!!  To me, our process of consuming this perspective on learning theory is an example of alchemy.  We’ve taken something (failure and plateaus) that we fear or feel shame from, and turned them into gold: something to wear proudly as signs that we are growing stronger, evolving into a more resilient, shinning and bright being.  (And why you might ask should we want to learn and grow in life?  Well as my teacher Sandra Ingerman pointed out recently, what ever has stopped growing has started dying…I know where I am choosing to be on this continuum for the present).

So then, I’d like to take a similarly expanded context and apply it to our perspective on pain or trauma or sickness.  Perhaps all these ‘negative’ aspects of our lives are in fact just part and parcel of the learning process.  Perhaps during these times some new information is being processed by our being and so we experience a regression (sickness, pain, depression) as an integral part of our evolution and expansion.  Seeing it in this light doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt to go through a downward motion, but it does mean there is some unknown and beautiful experience on the other side of the pain, which in my experience makes pain more bearable.  It is only when pain feels hopeless and pointless and that it manages to grind us deeper into the darkness.  If we can remember to gain a birds eye view of the process of becoming, then perhaps we can feel soothed knowing that illness or pain is symbolic of our personal evolution (whether it be physically: think immunity building; emotionally: think emotional wielding vs wailing; mentally: greater perspective, empathy, insight, lived-experience vs theory; spiritually: a deeper gratitude for that which we once took for granted (our health) and for the simple joys and loves in life, maybe even a glimpse at a greater purpose or calling in life).

Anyhow, time to be with the kids.  Happy if this was thought for food, it was really useful to get it out of my sleepy head and onto this blog!  Thanks for reading.  Peace and blessings.

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