Saturday, April 25, 2009

The End Is Nigh!

Many people believe the world will end in flames. Everything we know and love will burn, the fire will blacken the sky, and so forth. And even if these latent arsonists don’t live to see the end days, they themselves will likely rot away in some grave as the embalming fluids wear off while the second coming keeps getting postponed. Flames and rot. That’s how most people see the end.

In Alchemy, that’s just the beginning. There are two ways to start an alchemical process. You can either burn things up or let them rot, but either way, you can't stop now. You’ve got all the Work in front of you.

The burn is called calcination. You blacken with a dry heat, sucking moisture out while making the soul dance like its feet are being shot at. Meanwhile the rest becomes brittle and breaks apart. You lose everything before you know it and are left with ashes. This is the dry way.

Signs that you are in calcination: you have lost something, maybe a lot of somethings, that you thought you couldn’t live without. Maybe you never imagined they would be taken from you. You spend your time trying to explain why those things are gone. Sometimes you blame yourself, sometimes you blame others. Exes are prime targets as are parents.

The rot is called putrefaction. You blacken everything by breaking it down to the point where you can’t tell what anything used to be. This process can be so slow you don’t realize it’s happening until you look around and don’t recognize your life. You’ve let things go and now they seem worthless and stink a bit. This is the wet way.

Signs that you are in putrefaction: You don’t know who you are anymore, and looking back, you cannot tell when that happened. The things that used to seem important to you, things you once believed would always be important, look a bit gross. You spend your time feeling weighted down by the past.

In both these cases, the process is the process. You can’t stop it once it starts, but you can waste your time complaining about it. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with complaining. And a good righteous indignation at the unfairness of life is a sweet little chocolate on the tongue during hard times.

But complaining or looking for blameworthy scapegoats or stalking your ex - while highly entertaining - can only get you so far. And eventually the feeling of knowing you were wronged gives way to wanting to do something different. If you want to get out of the beginning and on to something else, you’ve got to pay attention.

And remember, this isn’t the end. It’s the beginning.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Reading Lessons

In Alchemical writing, any description of a process can mean one of three things: an actual chemical process, a psychological process, a way of being. Some authors state that they obviously mean for you to understand their statements in a particular way and all the people who say they mean something else are really just showing how ignorant they are. Other alchemical writers don’t specify which way you should interpret their descriptions. Do I really mean you should stoke some antimony in some kind of fire? Hmmm? Let me get back to you on that.

People who are inclined to physical directness tend to gravitate toward the hard science-style physical descriptions. They build stills and ovens, are careful with their crucibles, and their glassware collection is something to see, but not necessarily drink out of. (John French, in his treatise on distillation goes so far as to describe a method of mending cracked glass with beaten egg whites.) Something about seeing a metal go through a process of sublimation allows them to open to the mysteries of the universe. The way some metals change colors during redox reactions is a kind of proof that the Laws work outside of any lamentably subjective human perspective.

Others find that the processes described in alchemical texts make more sense if understood as colorful descriptions of psychological processes. In this approach, the idea that alchemists are trying to create some kind of physical stone through primitive chemistry seems a bit silly, and psychological alchemists are quick in defense of their favorite writers. Of course the ancient alchemists were not so naive as to think they could actually turn lead into gold, they laugh. That wasn’t the point of real Alchemy at all! The writers who talked as if they were actually making a stone were either real alchemists being metaphorical or pretenders too afraid to integrate their shadows into a more fully actualized Self.

Still others find that the truth of alchemy lies in the body itself. The process of digestion is the ultimate act of transformation. The work is to transform the Self, usually considered to be the mixture of the fixed (physical) and the volatile (spiritual) together through the taking in of food. We eat the dumb cow and turn it into human flesh. In this view, psychological alchemy is woefully incomplete and physical alchemy is merely a diverting illustration of principles.

Each of these approaches has its hand on the elephant. In this case, the elephant is a holographic universe in which any piece contains a picture of the entire universe. The problem with holograms is that although you keep the whole image no matter how tiny you make the pieces; the smaller the pieces, the fuzzier the picture. If you’ve only got the one hand on the elephant, you may get a view of the whole universe, but it’ll be hard to make out what anything is supposed to be.

What you can always have your hand on are your psychological processes and your physical well-being. Those are two pieces of the elephant and for now, the psychological and physiological are all you need to start seeing what the universe is like. All that is required is your conscious attention.

Homework: learn about fermentation by allowing yourself to veg out watching t.v. all day while eating homemade kimchee.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Keep Walking

Start with the darkness. You’re going to be there anyway so you won’t have to pack much. Just look to your left and see the open sea at night from the cliff height. The waves sparkling like black sugar. And breathe.

When you have satisfied your sweet tooth and tire of jumping to your death, you must do the impossible. Take one step to your right. Now walk forever.

Keep walking.

When you feel like stopping, keep walking. You will hate the walking. That won’t change anything. You can hate the walking so much your heart breaks, so much you would throw your mother in front of a bus, so much you would give the job to a small child who doesn’t know what she will become at such a tender age.

Keep walking.

There will come a point when you know you can’t keep walking. At that moment, when you want nothing more than to set your burden down, you must - and this is very important - keep walking. This is a good time to start begging. Begging the universe for a rest area won’t change anything, but it’s something you can do while you walk.

You will always be walking. You will tread over every kind of land. You will not pay enough attention to find your way back. You may not even remember all the places you have been or even care. The walking just means you are alive. It is not something to pay attention to. If you spend your attention on how much walking sucks, you will never do anything else but walk and hate walking.

Keep walking.

When we begin to allow pain to just be, we begin to live. Accept that pain is simply a part of being alive and let it go. It doesn’t make the walking any more bearable to blame your shoes, or the sky, or the people walking next to you.

One day she woke to find birds flying overhead. She decided to see where they were going. She might as well, she thought. She was already walking.


Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Road Travelled, Anyway

[Click to see all installments of the Legend of Fowl Feng .]


Fowl Feng found himself surrounded by moonlight that faded after a moment until he could barely see. He was walking on a path, but he couldn’t tell where. He stopped and looked behind him. This was not his city. The dirt scar of a road just cut through darkness until it disappeared in the distance. He decided to keep going.

After a short time or a long time, the darkness opened up and he came to a campfire surrounded by a startling collection of individuals. Nearest to him was a man with red skin. You been sitting too close to the fire, thought Fowl Feng. The man chuckled. On the other side of the fire was a big bird of some kind. Feng had seen them at the beach. Not a gull.

“A pelican,” said the bird, and Fowl Feng realized something else was going on.

A third figure, off to one side said in a deep voice, “Come Fowl Feng. We’ve been waiting for you.”

Fowl Feng cringed and his fur stood straight up. He tried to see who was speaking, but the firelight didn’t seem to reach that far. Feng could only get a whiff of something metallic overlaid with the scent of decaying leaves.

He was about to run when a small child sitting next to the red man said, “It’s okay, Feng. You can sit next to me.”

The child had black skin and looked just like any other child, except that from her back two large, green wings arched over her head. She patted the ground next to her and Fowl Feng walked to her and lay down.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009