Inner Alchemy

This week we begin our series on inner alchemy. I’d like to start with a brief explanation of the history of alchemy and why it is an important practice for mental health. We will be exploring certain stages of change from an alchemical perspective and offering insights that provoke conscious understanding and movement. After our introduction, I want to begin with what is referred to as the prema materia or ‘primary material’ which is a term for the starting places in alchemical work.

The Process of Accelerating Natural Transformation

As the ‘alchemist,’ our roles are to work with the material of our psychological life in ways that make changes. In short, alchemy can be understood as the process of accelerating natural transformation. Concerned with the transformation of lead into gold, alchemy draws our attention to the parallels between the inner and outer world. With origins in ancient Egypt and texts found across the world, alchemy addresses the relationship between materials in nature and the practices that accelerate their transformations. Why is this important for our own growth? Understand that the physical material of the external world is our primary source of projection. How substances evolve, change, react, and intermingle mirror the same processes within the psyche. We are not separate from our environment and alchemical wisdom is one of the most powerful tools in understanding and working with the psyche.

The Structures of Alchemical Processes

Freud and especially Jung took these texts deep into consideration when producing a working understanding of psychological change. Not all alchemical texts are linear nor do they all suggest the same operations when changing substances. What they do have in common, however, is the range and power of these metaphors for our own inner alchemy. Yes, the concepts may seem abstract, even removed from our need to pay a bill or battle traffic, yet the structures of alchemical processes help us to check in with where we are psychologically. That is to say, what places and what materials are present in the chem lab of our lives. How can we begin to work with them?

Seeing a Fuller Direction

We are each in many phases of psychological change at once. While we get wrapped up in the details of one behavior or mood or detail, taking a metaphorical look at primary material – the starting places – can help us to see our life and inner alchemy in context. What and where am I now? This operation supports and grounds the soul in image. When we identify where we are it helps us to imagine where we are going. Rather than a single goal, we observe the material and begin to see a fuller direction.

The Hidden Inner Fire

This week I want us to look at the primary material known as the “hidden inner fire.” In each of us, there is a longing from the inside. The hidden inner fire refers to the burning or ache in the solar plexus. The hidden aspect refers to the fact that it is unmet by our present life. I’d like to remind clients and staff that this often unmet fire is the catalyst to using behavior, anxiety, fear, and more. Rather than treat the symptom i.e. medicating anxiety, when we look to the angst as an important psychological starting place, we can imagine these eruptions of discomfort, restlessness, and longing as a yet undiscovered place of fulfillment. In other words, the angst is for something the soul is calling out to. We may replace that with drugs and alcohol, intensity in a relationship, or even a bouncing leg during a group.

Accessing Our Longings

Rather than trying to fix this angst, what if we took this to be a indication that something wants to be fulfilled? That hidden inner fire must be felt and what we may imagine it reaches out for realized. This week I want us to start by considering this inner fire. What can I imagine that it truly wants? To put it another way: if I sit and breathe into my solar plexus, what does that feel like? When I access my longing, not simply what I think I long for, what can I imagine of a self resolved and content?

5 Minute Exercise

Take a blank sheet of paper and a pen or pencil. Clear a space and breathe into your solar plexus. Access that longing for fulfillment. I want you to imagine yourself standing upright in 1 year from today. Don’t think about the practical pieces, how you will get there, or what obstacles may come along. Focus on the figure, the face, and the feelings. Draw an ideal image of yourself with no external details – no houses, money, or partners. Just draw you as you imagine a fulfilled and matured individual. Don’t be humble or realistic. Instead, embellish the image. Who is this person? It can be helpful to write words around the drawing that describe what the feelings are. Don’t worry about how good it looks and how skilled you are as an artist. Take the time to feel the hidden inner fire and let it come out onto paper.