Synthesis: On Becoming an Alchemist
A Synthesis by Ariel of: “On Becoming an Alchemist” by Catherine MacCoun
The Tibetan lama, Chogyam Trungpa had a good answer for how Tibetans recognize one lama as the reincarnation of a previous lama. He said: “They have the same ‘style’” The word “style” in this context says something different from the word “energy”. Style is how energy takes one form and not another. You could say that style is like an idea or an intention. Or you could say that is is like personality. Style is the essence of the matter. Style is also where names come from and why such disparate forms as the gnat and a praying mantis are both called “insects.” In our mundane perceptions the style of a thing is identical to its form. If you want to identify a being who is not manifesting in a physical form you will have to recognize them by style alone.
Style for the alchemist is a workable concept because it can be used to expand one’s perceptions. Starting with the hypothesis that there is such a thing as style.. that all phenomena have some sort of essence or personality.. you can go looking for it. Style is also the link between sensory and extrasensory perceptions. If you wish to explore dimensionally, begin by learning to distinguish the style of things from their physical forms. The law of correspondences is an elaboration of the idea of style. It is an attempt to understand phenomena by means of analogy. The basic idea is that disparate objects in the universe such as planets, elements, minerals, flora and fauna, organs of the body etc. have stylistic similarities that make them more recognizable and able to be worked with.
Alchemical magic never defies the laws of nature. Instead it observes the workings of those law at an earlier stage than is evident to the physical senses!
The subtle senses begin to pick up where the physical senses leave off. Subtle perception emanates from the subtle or etheric body or what is more well known as the human energy field. Its perceptual centers are called chakras. The subtle body isn’t matter, isn’t a thing, but neither is it pure spirit. It surrounds and interpenetrates the physical body. Your spirit exists with no location in space. The subtle body has a location. Your subtle body perceives the “between” because that is its position energetically between the physical and non-physical. Your subtle body perceives symbols, metaphors, dreams. Subtle impressions often come to us in the form of mental pictures, like describing a feeling in a metaphor like “tiptoeing on thin ice” or a “pressure cooker about to explode”. Dreams and waking metaphors are how your subtle body conveys what it knows to your rational mind. The subtle body is good at perceiving moods, emotions, qualities, meanings, and connections. Compared to your physical senses, its not so good at perceiving hard facts. It can tell you if someone is lying, but can’t discover the exact truth. What is apprehended through the physical senses is vivid and reassuringly real. By comparison, perceiving subtle impressions is like watching paint dry! To perceive subtle body impressions requires being able to hold your attention in clear focus when it appears that “nothing” is happening. Each of the physical senses has a subtle counterpart. Imagination is the subtle sense of sight. It is an inner experience that has the same style as eyesight. What is perceived this way is usually described as “seen”. Inspiration is akin to the sense of hearing. Subtle experience is described in terms of sounds or words that one has “heard”. There are also subtle senses that correspond to taste, touch, smell and temperature. The imagination that arises spontaneously in response to subtle perception are not facts, but they can show us the best way to work with what the mind perceives to be facts. Subtle perception is deeply engaged with perceiving beauty, as the deeper layers of beauty can only be apprehended when we are perceiving analogously to watching paint dry, with deep reverent attention. Attention is selectivity applied to perception. It is an inward decision, usually made unconsciously, about what is worth perceiving and what isn’t. Attention both finds meaning and creates meaning. In the world of the spirit, attention is the equivalent of physical movement. Control of attention is the first skill that an aspiring magician or alchemist must master and perhaps the most important.
Think of the brain based cognition as a filing system. New items of information are filed with similar items to facilitate later retrieval. Where no similar items exist, the brain tends to discard the information rather than create a new file folder. Since to perceive a thing is, in a sense, to remember it for the first time, we often fail to perceive the unfamiliar. Our brain doesn’t know where to file it.
Time flows toward us in two streams. The ordinary movement of time from the past to the future meets a second stream that, from our perspective, appears to be flowing from the future to past. “How” (horizontal, linear, ego intentions) meets “Why” (meaning, purpose, soul scripting). If you find the point where the two streams converge and step into it, magic happens. The knack for finding that meeting point is called intuition. “How” still requires the taking of steps in linear time. Yet often these steps feel like walking on the moon. The energy of a normal step is augmented by the whoosh that results when the current of “Why” meets the current of “How”. Another way to put it is that you are being drawn forward by the attraction of what already is.
When journeying in the vertical dimensions there is a desire to make horizontal sense of what is perceived in the vertical and it is what differentiates mysticism from gnosis. To come back from the vertical with something intelligible to report is the way of the sage or seer. For some people even that isn’t enough. In addition to knowing what will be well and why, they want to participate in making it so. They want vertical insight to inform horizontal action. This is the way of the magician. If you have chosen the way of the seer or the magician, it won’t do to just fall back to earth babbling about the inexpressible. You want to come back from the vertical with something to show for your trip. But vertical experience in its pure form is too perishable to survive the return journey. It needs to be converted into something sturdier if you want to transport it. This is where your physical brain gets back into the act, translating the abstractions of the spirit into words or sense-based images. The brain’s digestive activity, which is such an obstacle to upward vertical movement, becomes essential on the way back down. Without it, we can neither remember nor understand our vertical experiences once they’re over. There are two basic problems with mental digestion. First, it alters the quality of the experience itself. It tends to discard the novel and retain the familiar. Mental digestion is always in the past tense. You can’t experience what’s happening while its happening. If you don’t digest you can’t remember, communicate or apply vertical insights. If you do digest, you might alter those insights beyond recognition. This is why mystics so often despair of words. The gap between what vertical mind is able to apprehend and what horizonal mind is able to express can feel insurmountable.
The Great Work in alchemy is a process of reincarnating into your own life! At first you undertake the Great work in order to be able to transform yourself and to work magic. Gradually you discover that the Great Work is the magic. You are constantly transmuting yourself and, as a result, you are able to transmute other phenomena as well. You mark your progress in the Great Work, not by evaluating how you appear, feel or act, but by noting changes in the effects you have on the world.
The inner alignment that gives rise to being able to demonstrate transmutational alchemy looks like this: In the first three chakras 1) fear has transformed into confidence 2) desire has transformed into devotion 3) territoriality has transformed into integrity. 4) In the fourth chakra of the heart: vulnerability has transformed into empathy and compassion .The upper three chakras of 7th ideal, 6th thought and 5th word, shift their orientation, now spilling down into the heart, rather than moving up and outward toward the Divine. The heart has become the meeting point between intention and will, between heaven and earth. Empowered by all the other centers, its energy streams outward into the world. It has become the radiance of the alchemical philosophers stone!
The masculine is the active, striving, yearning, quality of desire..(any desire) and the feminine is the accurate perception of its object. When these two impulses wed, the offspring of their union is empathy. Empathy is how you get the object of your desire to come to you of its own accord.
The almost universal belief that doing is driven by thinking and that good actions result from good intentions is not well supported by the facts. Our running mental commentary about our intentions is the work of an internal spin doctor who has little influence over our deeds. What changes during the Great Work of Alchemy is that you notice that what you do spontaneously often works better than what you decide to do after much mental deliberation. Magical intuition begins to emerge as a result of the work with the combined alchemical processes. You begin to act out of the eternal NOW, motivated by the “Why” that you can’t know yet because from the standpoint of linear time, its in your future.