I was fascinated by alchemy long before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. While I never believed you could turn lead into gold or really wanted to, I did find the history of the subject fascinating. So many colorful characters, including the Nicholas Flamel mentioned in Harry Potter. Alchemy was not only the forerunner of modern chemistry but a basis for much philosophy and spiritual thought. Then, many years ago I went to a Barnes & Noble with my friend Maryann and found a book that I had to take a look at, Alchemical Psychology by Thom F Cavelli PhD. While Maryann perused the books she had chosen to look at and we drank our coffee I dove into the book. It was so interesting I bought it. I recently pulled it out to revisit for my winter reading list.
The combining of alchemical thought and psychology was new to me when I first saw the book, but the author was far from the first to examine this. In alchemy the main object is the Magnum Opus or Great Work. This was initially considered the complicated process of creating the philosopher’s stone, which could transmute base elements into gold, but later was applied to the perfection of the self as well. Carl Jung is credited with rescuing the idea that the work of transubstantiation also represented a symbolic process of bringing the inner and outer worlds of man into harmony and wholeness. The self improvement section of any bookstore or library will tell you, while alchemy is no longer a common practice, many people are still actively interested in working to better themselves.
In the winter we are naturally inclined to sleep and sleep leads to dreams. Up until the last few years when health problems disrupted sleep I recalled my dreams almost every night. I would like to recapture that inner exploration. I have begun to dream again quite a bit but recall is very fragmentary. Winter will be a good time to work on that and incorporate alchemy into my plans for a better new year. I have been sleeping more quite naturally and starting to remember at least sections of my dreams. Dreams speak to us in symbols and that is also the language of alchemy.
I am appreciative of the many blessings I have but I also know that it would not take much to loose them. Even in the developed world hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, are living on the brink of disaster. It might be a flood, tornado or hurricane, but it might also be a lost job or a serious illness. Having only a single source of income is a recipe for trouble. I would like to change this in my own life and for others but it seems very difficult. Thus the search inside myself for more focus, more determination and more energy. I want to turn the lead in my life to gold. Alchemy is about transformation and I intend to use it as a tool to make my life better, to achieve needed goals and in the process help others to do the same. In his world today you need focus, determination and energy just to get by, never mind get ahead. I want to turn the base metal of stress into he gold of physical energy. doubt, discouragement and depression into confidence, positive thinking and healthy assertiveness. And so he journey begins.
The days moved strangely. Tethered to home by the need to be nearby for Mosby I found myself not only cleaning but cleaning out. Mindful that each day was a step closer to the time of parting awareness of the impermanence of life became foremost in my mind. It is easy to view possessions with much less attachment in such an atmosphere. The boxes filled with donations to the charity thrift stores and space opened up in the house. I also found that time opened up and it seemed too precious to waste on anything connected to the world outside. I spent it instead on keeping myself calm and positive. The other cats knew Mosby was sick, if for no other reason than his change of scent. Even I could detect this.
There wass no need to make matters worse by filling the house with negative emotional energy. I listened to the Green Tara mantra version by Su Ching Yen. Her voice is beautiful and it is impossible to be sad when listening. I listened to the music of singing bowls, and falling rain tracks, and monks chanting Om Mani Padme Hum. The cats clustered around the laptop and listened and fell asleep, including Mosby, although he tried to show his independence by sunning in the dining room window. In the morning he would sit in my lap in the kitchen while I had my coffee. Then he was still eating and still getting hungry but bowlfuls at a time had gradually become spoonfuls at a time. Time, time, time. We could close the windows and the curtain to keep out the heat of the day, we could play soft music to keep the sadness at bay but time was a different matter. We could only color it’s quality. I believe cats are fortunate in their ability to live in the present moment. While I know Mosby was bothered by his illness he was not anticipating all the things that I was.
So the mantra of Green Tara became more than just soothing music. In the Tibetan tradition Green Tara embodies both intense compassion and readiness for action. She offers protection from fear and the eight obscurations: lions (pride), wild elephants (delusion/ignorance), fires (hatred and anger), snakes (jealousy), bandits and thieves (wrong views, including fanatical views), bondage ( avarice and miserliness), floods ( desire and attachment), and evil spirits and demons ( deluded doubts). Who better to appeal to for both Mosby and I to prepare us for what was to come, me for the sorrow of life without him and he for protection and guidance in passing into that other world.
.What better symbol of all that we shared than the red lotus, the lotus of love and compassion, the lotus of the heart in it’s original purity What better thing to contemplate to remind me of his precious gift of unconditional love. Green Tara. Red lotus
A teacher of mine asked the old question “Is the glass half empty or half full?” to groups on a regular basis. Only occasionally would someone volunteer the answer he was looking for, the third un-thought-of possibility. “The glass is completely full, half with water and half with air.” Repeated exposure to this little piece of personal alchemy has helped me to slowly grasp how to rise up from darkness.
While Mosby’s illness manifested suddenly, I have been given time to assimilate things. The glass is not half empty. It is half full with the years we have had together, years he would not have had at all had he been turned in to the shelter. Turn-ins are not given much time in the shelters, if lucky 72 hours. It is half full with getting to know a cat who liked cabbage and bok choy but turned down sushi and could open any door that wasn’t dead bolted. It is half full with the nights he patiently moved so I could change position when my arthritis bothered me and came back to sleep on top of me, a living hot pad on my pain. The glass is half full with the water of the past which we see so easily.
In the last few weeks as he has soldiered on, stubbornly eating his dry food as it became harder to pick up, I fully realized at last what it is to see the air in the glass. While the intellectual concept was imprinted in my brain, a cat with cancer put it’s true fulfillment in my heart. Every day I see patience, endurance, and an ability to live in the moment few humans ever realize. I see humility in a proud and fastidious creature who has reluctantly allowed me to help him wash. I see the importance of each moment spent together, even when we are in separate rooms, for he must have his independence as long as he can. Yes, the air is also an element, but to see it in the stillness, recognizing it as filling the glass, is a true gift indeed.
This is my beautiful and gentle companion, who has entered the abyss with me. He was diagnosed with cancer just two weeks ago but he first got sick three weeks before that. My ignorance may not have doomed him but it has shortened his life. It will be a long time before I forgive myself for not being an aggressive, demanding bitch when they hemmed and hawed and stalled around about his case. This is truly the darkest darkness one can know. Why was I running around doing research to get answers to questions I didn’t even know to ask? Why weren’t my phone calls returned in a timely manner? Useless to ask why, there is no good answer.
I can only console myself with an idea. While meditating I heard a voice say ” Cats have a different sense of time. They live in an eternal present. Do as he does, make the best of the time that is given you. You have already given him five years of future he would not have had.” Afterward I seemed to recall Gandalf the Grey saying much the same about what we do with the time that is given us to Frodo and thought perhaps Mosby the Grey might fight his enemy into darkness and shadow and defeating it, return someday, somewhere as as Gandalf did, to be Mosby the White.
Since I began to delve into the Nigredo in my search for understanding, nothing has gone well. My understanding improves only at very high cost. A very expensive car repair, an accident not of my causing, serious illness in my feline companion accompanied by enormous bills just to get a diagnosis, which was cancer, all came within three months. Then a routine maintenance on the vehicle revealed two new and expensive problems and I have to make serious decisions about my Mosby’s medical care. That, too, will be costly, both financially and emotionally. I swing between the two extremes of anger and depression, surely the realms of darkness, seeking the light of understanding, clarity and the courage not to give in to despair. This is my first attempt to battle out of the writer’s block that accompanied all this and so it will be brief. I will not seek perfection here, only a step in the battle upward.