The art of alchemy has historically been shrouded in mystery. This ancient art is often believed to be the process of magically turning base metals, such as lead, into gold. Webster’s defines alchemy as 1: a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold, the discovery of a universal cure for disease, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life 2: a power or process of transforming something common into something special and 3: an inexplicable or mysterious transmuting. I have my own definition of alchemy…the art of personal transformation.
Personal alchemy is most certainly about turning lead into gold, but in this case, we’re referring to emotional lead which is transformed. Through time we become burdened by the lead that accumulates in our system. It can begin even before we’re born depending on the karma with which we come into this life. And then of course there’s all the trauma we face during childhood, because no parents are perfect, and we haven’t even hit adolescence yet. During the tumultuous teen years and beyond life continues to challenge us. Until we begin to awaken from our spiritual slumber, we manage these challenges by taking them on as a part of our very being. Slowly, slowly, our backpack of lead becomes heavier and heavier. We try with all our might to prove we are strong enough to carry it all. All the sadness, disappointment, shame and heartache eventually weigh down our psyche until it is difficult to separate ourselves from our emotions. We become one with our thoughts, feelings and memories and it requires a chemical shift to begin to strip away that which we are not in order to uncover who we really are.
In chemistry, the primary element used to create transmutation in a substance’s chemical composition is fire, i.e. heat. Fire has long been valued for its power to purify; it is the ultimate cleansing agent. Since its discovery, fire has been used for two primary purposes, to destroy and to illuminate.
Fire is also the element used in personal transformation alchemy. Transforming our psychic lead into gold can be extremely uncomfortable. As the pressures of life heat up, we experience what we commonly call a “meltdown.” Our emotional lead literally melts down due to the intensity of the heat in order that it should be transformed into gold. So the question becomes, when we find ourselves going through an alchemical change and feel ourselves smack dab in the middle of the burning heat and pressure required for the process, will we allow the fire to consume and us, or will we allow it to illuminate? The ultimate cleansing is by fire. Surviving the fire of purification can be our greatest challenge, however, it also holds the key to our greatest awakening. Even in the midst of the hottest heat, insights and understandings begin to emerge. As much as we’d like to believe we are victims of circumstance, a deeper part of us knows better and seeks the illumination the fire promises.
It’s beautiful how the alchemical process puts teachers on our path. It’s in the fire when we are sure to find inspiration for hope through people we meet, books we read, seminars we hear, etc. Because our spirit believes in hope. Our spirit knows there is something more than suffering so it automatically gravitates toward evidence of such. Our spirit knows it can not be destroyed. Wait, doesn’t that sound a little bit like a key to eternal life? Oh yes, another alchemical metaphor. Remember, Webster’s says alchemy is “discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life.” The process of personal transformation inevitably brings us to a place where we realize our full spiritual potential.
And with that realization comes the sure knowing that we are more than this body. Who we really are can never be destroyed. So there is no need to fear the fire any longer. It’s a simple change agent, that’s all. We can begin to walk through the toughest challenges with our eyes wide open, bearing a spirit of “Bring it on!” because we can’t wait to receive the enlightenment waiting on the other side.
Webster’s also says alchemy is “the discovery of a universal cure for disease” and that is absolutely correct. As we begin to embrace more and more our spirits as being our true nature, life becomes an exciting adventure, with cool twists and turns around every corner. But, since we no longer fear being destroyed, our souls are at ease. We are permanently cured of a sense of dis-ease, or a feeling of not being at ease with oneself. What could possibly be better than that?
Alchemy, or personal transformation, doesn’t always feel like fire. Intense joy or gratitude can also transform us, as well as an infinite number of other possibilities.
In his book The Way of the Wizard, Deepak Chopra says, “You know little or nothing about this art, yet you have practiced it every day since you were born. Every baby is born an alchemist, then loses the art, only to gain it again. Each of you mortals come into the world to seek the Grail. Everyone is created to reach freedom and fulfillment.”