Th Alchemical Journey Begins!

This blog is intended to constitute a record of my own reflections upon The Alchemical Journey programme that I have initiated and am facilitating this year.

I feel it is important, in the spirit of action-learning, that I am open about my own learning process. After all, I have as much to learn about myself through this process as anyone else. So I hope that the sharing my own insights, can be of value to other members of the group as well as myself.

We began the journey with a 3-day weekend workshop on 28th-30th March at The Minerva Centre in Bath.

Here are my initial reflections, from that weekend, and the insights that I have gleaned in the week since then.

First of all, I think we made a great start as a group. I was pleased with the way the weekend went. There are things I would change next time around, but overall I am happy that the balance was about right and that we captured the spirit of the journey well in its initiation.

The Educational Value of The Alchemical Journey (as I see it)
I have been working towards this for a long time and it feels like I am engaged in my life’s work through this programme. That is immensely satisfying. I am passionate about the way that we learn as human beings; about how we learn to orientate ourselves in the world, how we relate to those around us, how we make meaning of our life experiences and how we make choices about where we should go in life and what we should do. I believe we learn primarily through engaging creatively with stories, far more than we do through analysis or interpretation. We learn through journeys, much more than we learn through destinations. I have been reflecting on this during the week and I reckon The Alchemical Journey, as it is indeed a journey, provides a incredibly rich context for exploring story. It is a story in itself too, the story of the seasons, of the Sun’s journey through the signs of the zodiac. It provides an inclusive mythical framework for us to become aware of the way in which we weave the stories of own lives, and it will remind continually that we are doing that! Because of this, I believe that the alchemical journey has a huge amount to contribute to the field of education as a whole.

Time as a Wheel
I have conceived this programme as a journey of transformational self-enquiry around the twelve-fold turning of the astrological, and the turning of the four seasons, each with its own threefold journey of transformation. We spent quite a bit of time on Friday evening exploring our relationship to the turning of the wheel, to circles and cycles and spirals. I played the song “Turn, Turn, Turn” by The Byrds and we considered what was turning in our lives. We explored the idea of time as a wheel; as a cycle, the perspective common to aborignal peoples across the world. There is clearly a fundamental tension that exists between this view of time and the more familiar, virutally unquestioned idea of time having an irreversible linear character. How different time appears as a cycle. Perhaps time becomes mythic, rather than historical, when we consider it as a wheel, and I have spent much time in reflection on this during the week.

The wheel of time, it seems to me, is more familiar to us at an intuitive level; reassuring, nurturing, strengthening. When we trust our embodied experience of ourselves and the world, time is clearly cyclical. We recognise it in the seasons of the year, the ryhthms of our body, the movements of the Sun, Moon and planets. I feel that time conceived as a straight line is abstract, distant, disembodied, stress-inducing, counter to the rhythms and cycles of our body, counter to our experience of the seasons, counter to our entire phenomenology of being-in-the-world. Yet this is how we have learned to conceive it and it is palpably real to us, however counter-intuitive it may actually be.

This reflection puts me in touch with the sense that things are spiralling out of control in our world, as time and the pace of change apparently speeds up and we seem to compelled to pedal faster and faster just to keep up. It occurs to me that this tension between linear and cyclical time is really at the heart of our enquiry and something we would do well to return to. I think there would be great value in us revisiting the wheel meditation as a way of centreing our experience within this cyclical way of knowing.

I have been reflecting how in myths and stories, the journeys are always cyclical. They return us to the place we began, but in such a way that we can see that place again with new eyes. We enjoyed Martin’s story of the plum tree that so exemplifies that. What defines a myth, it occurs to me, is that exists outside of linear time – it crosses that boundary and speaks to us in the present moment. If we ask “but, when did the story happen?”, or “but, when did it all begin?” (as we continually do in considering the origins of our world), then we linear-oriented mind can become confused because the question defies an answer that makes any sense within that paradigm.

The Golden Age
On Saturday morning we considered the great myths of a Golden Age, that we find in so many cultures – whether it be the Garden of Eden, the golden age of Greek myth when the gods and goddesses walked the earth and all was abundant, or the golden age of our Kalahari tribe in the film. Equally, we have the golden age mythologised as a future destination – “heaven”, “paradise”, “nirvana”, “the promised land”, “the Age of Aquarius” and so on.

Some say there was actually a time that marks historically, and that we can trace this Golden Age back through the astrological ages to a time when the celestial equator and the ecliptic were in alignment. This phenomenon of “precession” was introduced by Anthony introduced so eloquently on Saturday morning, and may indeed stimulate us to another level of alchemical enquiry in due course. Yet, at a mythic level, we found we could engage with the idea of a golden age in our lives, perhaps when we were young, or perhaps as something we can access when we return, even momentarily to a condition of absolute wellbeing, timeless bliss or contentment in our adult lives.

We explored that moment when the golden age ends – when Eve picks the apple, Persephone plucks the flower, when the coke bottle falls from the sky – and I’ve been reflecting on this during the week, in the context of my own golden age reference points. I can identify with various golden age-type experiences in my life, both in childhood and in adulthood when all I knew was a profound at-one-ness with all life – where no separation existed between myself and the world. The end of this golden age experience, if I am to call it that, seems to be marked by a point where I am shaken out of such infinite timeless bliss and thrust into a finite, problem filled neurotic state of affairs, what I probably take for granted as the rough and tumble of everyday life. Yet, in reflection of this, considered in the context of the myths we explored at the weekend, the end of the golden age seems to me to be linked in some way to all of the following:

  • self-consiousness
  • an ability to be both self-reflective and self-critical
  • shame
  • separation
  • an impulse to hide, cover-up, conceal
  • an awareness of time as a limited resource, as something that we will eventually “run out of”
  • an awareness of duality, right and wrong, good and evil
  • the belief that there is “something wrong with me” and/or “something wrong with the world”.
  • anger
  • mistrust
  • the beginning of a journey
  • the beginning of a story
  • the beginning of a quest to overcome whatever is perceived as “wrong”
  • the beginning of a journey to recover the golden age experience.

It would be easy, one might imagine, to see this moment where the golden age ends as inherently bad or wrong, and yet, as I contemplate it right here and now, it does not occur to me in that way. In fact, all sense of right and wrong seems, just for the moment, to have dropped away. Even though I can recognise the anger, mistrust, separation and so on, and can remember well being deeply involved with such emotions, I am strangely unattached to it now. This intrigues me and it inspires me too. I feel strangely alert and ready to respond. I feel a call to adventure, a call to return to that so-called “promised land”, with a longing to return, yet also a sense that the journey itself may be enough. Perhaps the sense of longing is essential to motivate us to take the journey. I am reminded of my friend David, who walked from Bristol to Jerusalem a few years ago. He had a calling, a powerful draw to go to Jersualem, that mythical destination that seems so deeply embedded in our collective imagination. Yet, he walked, he didn’t fly. He engaged with the journey, and what really struck me a few weeks when I saw him telling a story about his pilgrimage to an audience. he didn’t once mention his destination – only the stories of what happened on the way. This has stuck with me in quite a profound way.

The Journey Begins in Aries with a Burst of Energy! – the Passion of Spring
So what of beginnings? If time is a wheel, where does it all begin? We have begun in Spring, at the Spring Equinox (or shortly after) traditionally a time of new beginnings, herald of the new year in many ancient calendars. We could have begun elsewhere of course, and different calandars do begin at different times in the year. We can all sense a beginning at this time of year, and did as we made our connection to the birth of spring as we wandered around the botanical gardens in Bath on Sunday morning – the buds on the trees, the sense of awakening in the natural world, mirroring the sense of awakening within ourselves. The new year begins with a burst of passionate energy, a fiery blast of potent creative inspiration. That was what the first weekend meant to me. I took a risk – jumped headlong into the unknown! I launched myself at it with everything I had at my disposal! I spent a lot of time in preparation of the material that we covered during the weekend, but when it came to it, much of what was delivered was of the moment.

I have reflected this week on this word “passion”, so indicative of Aries, and this time of year. I reflected upon the exercise where we asked “what are you passionate about?”. And, reflected on some of the feedback I’ve heard about that exercise, I began to think about the limitations of language – and how this word “passion” may mean so many different things to different people, and we may get stuck on the word. Perhaps this happened to you as a participant? If it did, then that is worthy of valuable self-enquiry – and, too, I wonder if you would have been better able to more easily access the spirit of Aries if I had asked any of these questions, instead.

  • What lights your fire?
  • What wakes you up?
  • What gets you into action?
  • What fires you up?
  • What ignites you?
  • What enflames you?
  • What gets you angry?
  • What gets you going?

And I wonder if it would make a difference to ask related question in the present continuous tense instead?

  • What’s stirring in you soul?
  • What’s firing you up in your life right now?
  • What’s moving you to act?
  • What’s pushing your buttons?
  • What’s making you angry at the moment?

So what about this relationship between passion and anger. Should we be asking these questions in the same breath? Isn’t anger something we should be avoiding? Well, not if we’re being true to the spirit of Aries, no! Aries is the astrological expression of anger. We didn’t really look at that much over the weekend. That makes me wonder if something I’m attempting not to look at (mmm…). Perhaps there’s some enquiry required for me around that. What is this relationship between anger and passion. I’ve already identified anger as being associated with the end of the golden age, and the end of golden age with the beginnning of the journey – so it seems only fitting that anger should be a primary factor in getting us started. A lot of therapeutic process begin with the expression of anger, the primal scream, the authentic release of the pain associated with the memory of separation. How many of us really want to look at that? I think there is some valuable enquiry to be had here.

What have I learned myself from the weekend?

One thing I have learned is that I hold back some of my own Arien fire, as hinted it in my previous comments. This was fed back to me by Sue, who suggested that I could have been more Aries-like at certain points during the weekend. It’s true, I held back some of the more challenging, more confrontational exercises that I had in reserve. I have learned much about facilitation in my time working as an astrological counsellor and coach, running groups and courses. I have learned to temper much of my Arien fire, drawing more on the Gemini, Piscean and Libran sides of character, to listen, adapt and reflect the experience of the other. Perhaps, as Sue suggests, there may be value in me facilitating the weekend in the style of the sign we are working with. This is not something I had particularly considered, but has now become an important part of my own enquiry.

There’s more to say, of course, but I’m going to leave it there for this evening. I realise I’ve written a lot in an intensive, Arien writing burst. Maybe that’s how I most effectively express my Arien side, through words!

Anyway, I hope this inspires others of you in the group to put finger to keypad and share your reflections with the group.

love & best wishes
John

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