Making Gold: The Wisdom of the Alchemists

Recently I completed a lengthy project that required months of sustained focus, study and processing. During this time, I vacillated between anxiety about getting it all done, and periods of intense doing that were also surprisingly calming. I’m a Capricorn rising, so it makes sense that I would feel better working. But this was chosen, self-development work, and it had a different quality from vocational work, or something like a college course. It required me to turn inward, learn new skills and ways of being that bring me into alignment with who I really am. Sometimes that was deeply uncomfortable. Those moments of discomfort sprung up in unexpected places, and I struggled to cultivate a sense of gratitude for the growing pains and self-reflection.

Because it was chosen work, and because it was complex and carried out over a long period of time, I would sometimes catch myself being a bit lax with my self-discipline and procrastination. Some people love long projects, but I am not one of them! I am better with a short, direct burst of energy, things I can power through. That wasn’t possible in this case, and I did rail against that before finally giving in and getting with the program. I’m glad that I did, because when it was over, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment. And I think I am finally learning a healthier approach to learning and study.

I thought often about the alchemical process during this period. Alchemy, the precursor to modern chemistry (and also perfumery!) is the art and science of turning raw metals into gold. The physical process corresponds with the internal, psychological, symbolic process of perfecting one’s soul. In fact, that is the true purpose. The alchemist employs great discipline over a lifetime to balance the influences of substances that represent both desirable and shadow aspects of oneself. Each alchemical metal is employed carefully, experimentally, in search of the Philosopher’s Stone, which will enable him or her to make gold. In effect, the alchemist balances and perfects himself each step of the way. This vocation would often take a lifetime, and was referred to as the Great Work. Enlightenment is the prize: the Philosophical Gold. Great Work indeed!

An alchemist’s laboratory by Hans Vredeman de Vries (1527-1604)

 This analogy felt apt to me as I mustered all the self-discipline I could and brought my home/work life into greater balance to accomplish my study goals. The deepest sense of satisfaction came from knowing that I could accomplish it! I had to silence many doubts along the way, as did the Alchemists, I imagine. I also uncovered a lot of information: new joy in small victories, things that I don’t want to do again, and new tools to employ the next time I need to focus this way. This project I had embarked upon became, for me, a microcosm of the Great Work.

Most people I know don’t have a lot of time for continued learning. But what a gift it can be, on another scale, to take an afternoon or evening to learn new things. To make space for a change in perspective, flex new muscles and discover one’s Self in the process- that could be considered part of self-care!

STAR + SPLENDOR has recently taken on additional space to offer more workshops, meditation and ongoing classes. My aim is to make them attainable, fun and nourishing to the spirit and mind. I will be working with local experts and teachers in this community to bring content that supports wellness in all ways. I’ve even hung a print of an alchemist’s laboratory in the space as a reminder of that mission.

I would love to know more about what you would like to see offered. I invite you to reach out with your ideas, proposals and connections, or come visit me in the shop! This space is really about community and delight, so I ask: What do you want to see more of here?