LAURIE BUCHANAN explores the alchemical art of self-transformation, including letting go of things that no longer serve us, and how we can accept our grief and sorrow as part of our humanness and love for life.
A very basic explanation of alchemy is that it transforms something common into something special. Derived from the Arabic word al-kimia, alchemy can be either a practice or a way of life:
As a practice, the focus of this ancient art is an attempt to change base metals into gold, making the alchemist outwardly rich, leading to financial gain.
As a way of life, the focus is on living with intention, achieving wisdom, and doing the work it takes to become a little more enlightened every day, making the alchemist inwardly rich, leading to inner wealth.
Alchemy as a way of life often includes clearing our clutter – internal and external – and letting go of things that no longer serve us well. This creates balance and space, a place that nurtures contentment, which I believe is true success.
Inner alchemy, or personal transformation, occurs at different times and speeds for everyone:
Early, quick, and dynamic
Late, slow, and measured
One of the things that can have the greatest impact on our internal landscape is sorrow. It doesn’t discriminate; it is non-biased. Transcending all differences, it affects people of every age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, culture, education, socioeconomic status, spiritual tradition, culture, and political stance. It’s part of the human experience, so no one is immune.
Sorrow is born from loss. Its razor-sharp blade cuts through the heart – the seat of our emotions – whether we’ve lost our job, our home, a limb, an opportunity, or a loved one.
Some of the world’s most beautiful artwork and literature come from deep places of pain and suffering. But prolonged or unrelenting sorrow, despair and hopelessness, can destroy.
Happiness is a feeling. It fluctuates based on external circumstances. It’s temporary, fleeting at best. For instance, we check the mailbox and find a notice from the tax office informing us that we owe a considerable sum in back taxes. For most people, their happiness level would plunge. On the flip side, we check the mailbox and find an unexpected refund check and our happiness level soars.
Happiness can also be a result of manufactured merriment such as going to the circus, watching a funny movie, or attending a party.
Different than happiness, when our lens through which we view life, our perspective, is governed from the inside out, the external pressures fall away and we experience joy.
Joy is a state of being. It is inexplicable peace even in the midst of turmoil. Joy is internal, and when nurtured and encouraged, it becomes resident, abiding, regardless of external circumstances.
There are people who suffer tremendous personal devastation yet retain a state of joy, inexplicable peace. Viktor Frankl is a perfect example. As a Viennese Jew, he was interned by the Germans for more than three years, but being confined by the narrow boundaries of a concentration camp didn’t rob him of joy. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, he wrote, “In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
Joy is our inner response to meaning, to hope. Cultivating and maintaining our inner garden eases the struggle that exists along life’s path, and with the passage of time, sorrow can amazingly transform into colorful blooms of love, forgiveness, humor, contentment, gratitude, and a renewed sense of purpose.
Life is an expression of the choices we make, with each choice serving to transform us – subtle or obvious – body, mind, and spirit.
What area of your life could use a touch of alchemy?
If our hearts are ready for anything,
we can open to our inevitable losses,
and to the depths of our sorrow.
We can grieve our lost loves, our lost youth,
our lost health, our lost capacities.
This is part of our humanness,
part of the expression of our love for life.
Article by LAURIE BUCHANAN
Illustrations by JASMEE RATHOD
December 31, 2019
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