Personal Meditations

by Dennis William Hauck

Personal Purification 

PurityThe universal operations of alchemy described in the previous chapter are intended to transform and perfect anything, whether it be the base metals, a person’s temperament, or the human soul. Within the operations of alchemy are also all the traditional stages of initiation necessary to become an alchemist. From the first teachings and purification of the initiate in the Outer Court, through the introspective lessons of the Inner Court, to the crowning of spirit in the Holy of Holies, these are the same steps used to become an adept since ancient times.

The process of initiation always begins in the Outer Court. This is where the principles are revealed for all who will hear them, and it usually took place in an open courtyard. Sometimes even the public was allowed in such meetings, where lectures and discussions took place. In your initiation into alchemy, the Outer Court is the book you now hold in your hands. This is where the principles of alchemy have been given you. These are the seeds of gold that will take root in you if you let them.

To proceed to the Inner Court, all we have to do is allow these principles or seeds to come alive. This inner process always takes place in an enclosed and darkened space such as the great hypostyle halls of Egyptian temples. Here you must nurture the seeds of thought and feeling given you in the Outer Court and work with them to see how they fit inside you and where they can take root. This is an introspective and meditative process in which you overcome the false parts, the weeds that grew up in you with a life of their own passed down from society – from our parents, schools, and churches. When the inner garden is properly weeded, the true growth and flowering of these new seeds can begin.

The Inner Court is concerned with what mystics refer to as the Lesser Mysteries, which involve a lot of psychological purification and inner work on one’s soul. The Greater Mysteries are revealed in the Holy of Holies on a one-on-one basis. Traditionally, the Holy of Holies is a very small room inhabited by just the initiate and the initiator, who was usually a priest or hierophant. In alchemy, the traditional initiator was Hermes, and his teachings were passed on individually within the Holy of Holies of the initiate’s heart. In other words, Hermes (as Thoth) is the final initiator for all alchemists. Thoth represents the power of inspiration (literally “bringing in spirit”), which can be seen in the ancient Egyptian greeting that went: “May Thoth speak to you daily.” The Egyptians believed that inspired thoughts and states of enthusiasm (literally, “infused with god”) came from outside them. They could not imagine how their own minds, so trapped in everyday reality, could come up with such high and inspired thoughts, so they truly believed that such thoughts came from the gods. The strange thing is that they really do, and that is the method of revelation in the Holy of Holies. , 

In this chapter, we will focus on processes that take place primarily in the Inner Court. The Inner Court is where most of the work is done to become an alchemist, and once you successfully pass through this court, Hermes will always be waiting for you in the Holy of Holies that is within you. At that point, all you have to do is open up to him, and he will reveal the Greater Mysteries in a secret gnosis that is unique to you. This is a one-on-one experience between you and your god, and it cannot be taught in any book.

Alchemy Guild InsigniaThe crucial work in the Inner Court begins in your mind and heart, and the primary tool here is the art of inner reflection and concentration known as meditation. AlchemicalIAG Esoteric Seal meditation, however, is very different from other kinds of meditation with which you might be familiar. As you will see in the following exercises, alchemical meditation tends to be more active and directed than other forms. The basic method of meditation was well known to the ancient alchemists, as is shown in the following quotation, which is the earliest known description of the process of meditation ever found. Although the original text probably dates back to 2000 BC, the oldest copy we have found was in the tomb of Tutankamen and dates from 1323 BC. It is from a book called The Destruction of Humankind, which is really about how to avert the destruction of both our species and individuals through a process of spiritualization. In this ancient manuscript, we can easily recognize crucial Hermetic ideas, such as the guiding force of higher inspiration and the relationship between the seven operations and the three magisteriums.

Whensoever Thoth speaks to you and you wish to recite a composition on behalf of the Sun, then you must perform a sevenfold purification for three sunrises. Whether a person or a group shall so proceed, you shall make your position in a circle, which is made beyond you, and your eyes shall be fixed within the circle. All your actions shall be composed and motionless, and your steps shall not carry you away from the circle. If you shall attentively dwell within the circle and observe with the eyes of your heart, you will find the path that leads Above. Even so shall the image become your guide, for the divine sight has this peculiar charm: It holds fast and draws unto it those who succeed in opening their eyes in this way. Now whosoever shall vocalize the sacred words shall visualize themselves as Thoth or as Ra in the redness of the dawn of his birth. Thus shall a thought exclusively occupying your mind be transformed into the actual state, and from this lesson, your house shall never fall into decay but will endure throughout eternity.”

     As beautiful and powerful as this process is, the first steps of personal transformation are not very comfortable. This Black Phase (the Nigredo) is about the destruction of pre-existing structures and the freeing of trapped energy. To transform anything, it must first be reduced to its most fundamental ingredients – all the dross, falsity, and extraneous material must be removed. The job of the first two operations in the alchemy is to ensure that this purification is done correctly and completely. After these revolutionary operations of Fire and Water, the essences of the matter at hand should be readily available to be recombined in a new and more perfect way. It is important to keep this overall process in mind during these first stages, which can seem very chaotic and confusing.

     The alchemists summed up the larger process of destruction and rebirth as Solve et Coagula (Dissolve and Coagulate). It is short for the Latin phrase Solvite Corpora et Coagulate Spiritus, which means “Dissolve the body and coagulate the spirit.” In other words, we are destroying or dissolving structures and pre-existing incarnations (what the alchemists would call Salt) to release the essences (what they called Spirit) and create a new body that is a more true or perfect expression of these essences.

 

Personal Calcination 

We experience the fires of Calcination on the personal level as the great forces of change over which we have no control like loss, failure, and humiliation. These hellfires usually erupt by the spontaneous combustion of all the extraneous garbage and falseness we carry around with us. Paramount among these artificialities are our own egos. While we were growing up, the center of focus in personalities shifted from our true essence to the artificial, social construct of ego. By the time we are adults, we spend spend most our life force enshrining or protecting our ego and supporting its little lies, tricks, and self-deceptions. This loss of innocence and energy has real consequences, and we pay for it in worldly terms. Our hopes and dreams turn to mockeries, our relationships sour, dis-ease erupts in our minds and bodies. Calcination can be viewed as a natural humbling process as we are gradually assaulted and overcome by the trials and tribulations of life.

Have you ever felt as if everything was going wrong in your life no matter what you did? Ever have days when whatever you attempted seemed to backfire on you? Then you have experienced the fires of personal Calcination. People caught up in Calcination often feel as if they are trapped in the fires of hell, burning up and suffering through their life yet unable to escape. As the Sufi alchemist Rumi described it: "I was raw, I cooked, I burnt to cinders!" Surprisingly, it is not until these fires are burning that your transformation begins. It seems the only way out of hell is to rise up with the flames, or as poet T.S. Eliot put it, “We are redeemed from fire by fire.” The fire with which the alchemist works within during Calcination is the flame of concentrated consciousness.

The only way out of this self-imposed hell is to sacrifice the former identity in a controlled burn, a deliberate Calcination. You have to get rid of all traces of mistaken ideas. Calcination is like bookburning in your own mind. Imagine a bitchy little Dennis Miller in your mind exposing all the absurdity in your life. We have to sacrifice our own egos for that golden presence that is the essence in each of us. That is the meaning of the Green Serpent shown nailed to a cross in many alchemical drawings. Unless you completely destroy what was previously built, you are building the new on the foundation of the old. If you have creative thoughts of transforming yourself but build the new identity on the old belief system, you will fail at personal transformation. And the more you cling to the previous level, the hotter the fires of Calcination become.

By applying the fire of introspective conciousness, you recognize falsity and burn away the leaden or crystallized thoughts that often take on a mind of their own and become unintended responses or robotic reactions to people and events. You have to burn through illusion, self-deception, defense mechanisms, bigotry, and all the other dogmas and dramas of your Tyrant Ego. The tyrant has usurped the throne of the deeper transpersonal Self, who is the rightful ruler of the personality. As in the Grail legend, the kingdom of your personality will wither and decay until the true King is restored.

As strange as it seems, the quality of your consciousness or inner attitude has a lot to do with how life treats you, with what kind of "justice" comes your way on a daily basis. The universe destroys falseness, and a false, leaden consciousness invites the fires of hell. A life-affirming golden consciousness attracts gold in your life, invites the light of heaven to shine down upon you, and produces an environment of wisdom and power. That, in a nutshell, is the alchemy of our lives.

 

Crushing Ego

Pulverization is considered one of the sub-operations of Calcination. It is a process in which the matter is crushed in a mortar and pestle or ground into small pieces. For instance, in the making of tinctures, the heated and dried herb is crushed before it is placed in alcohol to extract its essences. For most of us, there have been moments of utter humiliation in which ego has been at least momentarily pulverized. If we can relive those moments, the process can be used to crush the current contents of ego as well.

Simply think back and relive those moments of humiliation with as much detail as feeling as you can. Think back to all those times when someone tried to deliberately embarrass you, or when you were caught performing some act you were not supposed to be doing. Have you ever lost your train of thought of did something clumsy in front of a lot of people? Were you ever blamed for something bad happening, whether or not it was really your fault? Did you ever hurt a person or an animal, and then try to forget about it? Remember your ego is constantly rewriting history to portray itself in the best light. Bring back those embarrassing events and hurt feelings as vividly and completely as you can, and you will feel your ego start to shrink and deflate.

If you cannot muster the objectivity to crush you own ego, you might want to ask for honest feedback from friends and loved ones. But be careful and only ask people you trust. Most of us have built up a support system of people around us who only respond to our ego and have little feeling for our true essence. Be careful of your own ego too, which will do anything in its power to protect itself form attack. 

 

Mantra of the Self

The power of self-reflection is no where more apparent than in this meditation, which is based on just saying your name to yourself over and over. Sit alone in a quiet, dark room and repeat your name to yourself over and over, trying to determine what it really means. Choose any name with which you are identified or by which others know you, such as your first name or a nickname. You are calling yourself forth because you know the ego’s name. Let feelings rise but not thoughts; replace extraneous thoughts with the mantra of your name. The ego cannot survive that kind of intense scrutiny. By observing yourself observing yourself, you enter an infinite progression or mental loop — until finally there is no difference between the observer and the observed, between you and your consciousness. Alternatively, you could concentrate on the breath, while periodically asking yourself the question “Who is aware?” or “What is the Source?” In the silence of the response, you will slowly start to sense the ground of your being. The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson was familiar with this process of burning out your name by repeating it over and over.

 “A kind of trance I have frequently had, quite up from my boyhood, when I have been all alone. This has generally come upon me through repeating my own name to myself silently, until all at once, as it were out of the intensity of the consciousness of individuality, the individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being; and this is not a confused state but the clearest of the clearest, the surest of the surest, the weirdest of the weirdest, utterly beyond words, where death was an almost laughable impossibility, the loss of personality seeming no extinction, but the only true life.”

 

Bodily Calcination

            As with all the operations in alchemy, Calcination takes place not only on the psychological and spiritual levels but also within the body itself. In alchemical terms, your body is the vehicle of your transformation, truly the temple of God. In this view, your organs and glands are like laboratory retorts in which alchemical processes are taking place to support the body. Oriental alchemists and Renaissance European alchemists firmly believed that the human body was the instrument of alchemical transformation. Unfortunately, like our minds and souls, the body becomes polluted over time and its life force diminished. 

            Bodily Calcination uses aerobic exercises to fan the fires of metabolism and purify the body. Jogging, biking, swimming, can all be alchemical operations. One method of raising the metabolism is known as the “Bellows Breath.” Sit cross-legged on the floor and start breathing very rapidly with pause between inhaling and exhaling. The rate is about two exhalations per second. As you exhale, push out the air like a bellows by pulling the navel point in toward the spine. When you inhale, use a forward thrust of the navel to bring air into the lungs. Try to keep a smooth, balanced breath. After a few minutes of “fanning the fire,” you will start to feel a warmth rise from the stomach and accumulate in the head, which causes a blunting of ego consciousness. If you stop suddenly at this point, there is a bouncing or spilling sensation, as the energy returns to the base of the spine. If you continue, a fluid warmth spreads slowly to other locations in the body, as the consciousness is diffused.

            The result of bodily Calcination is a biological purification and elimination of toxins, reduction of leaden adipose tissue, and a concentration of life force in the body. Mindful physical exercise is a powerful tool in personal transformation if performed with a positive attitude. This application of Fire in the body is eventually expressed in a kind of "second puberty," a rebirth into a more youthful and healthy state. The body is not only the temple of the soul, it can become a sacred talisman to remind us that alchemy is real and works on levels.

 

Personal Dissolution

Just as Calcination works on the mind and ego to destroy deceptions and impure thoughts, so does Dissolution work on the heart and the id to release buried emotions that conceal or distort our true nature. Dissolution is working with the Water Element by opening our personal floodgates and generating fresh energy to fuel our further transformation. 

We have all seen how the powerful waters of emotions and feelings just wash away the petty concerns of ego, perhaps during an illness or depression. We have all been overcome by our feelings at one time or other, and the fact that water wells up in our eyes as tears during such moments is just another signature of Dissolution. Medieval alchemists actually believed that tears actually result from the decrystallization or breaking down of thoughts. The salt in tears is dissolved and discarded thoughts.

During Dissolution, the lunar powers (as expressed in dreams, visions, fleeting intimations and impressions, and bodily sensations) take precedence over the linear approach of the rational mind.  Successful Dissolution requires letting go of control, allowing feelings to flow, and repressed thoughts and feelings to surface. You might be overwhelmed by images, wordless impressions, and strange feelings, and feel like you are really floating around aimlessly in a giant sea, but this is only a temporary process in the long road to renewal and perfection. In fact, undergoing Dissolution is a contradictory phase that is hard to describe to others. Nothing is really "accomplished" in the worldly sense, but we are slowly becoming more alive and more aware of an landscape we have been trying to ignore. 

Dreams often carry important personal information during personal Dissolution, and it is useful to keep a dream journal whenever you feel like your are in this phase. Remember that your dreams are very are intended for you alone and usually carry information about what is happening in your life. Not all images have the same meaning for everyone, and you have to interpret dreams in context with your current situation, feelings, and stage of transformation. In cases, where alchemical images start appearing in your dreams, the information carries more universal or archetypal content that is shared by all human beings. It was his work with the dreams of his patients that proved to Carl Jung that alchemy dealt with transpersonal energies being experienced by people undergoing transformation. 

As the first psychologists, the alchemists knew that another way to defeat the ego is to try to drown it in deep feelings over which it has no control. The ego is terrified of the tremendous power of the subconscious and is constantly running from feelings and emotions –  burying all those hurtful and humiliating experiences in the shadows, tying up emotional power in knots in our bodies, thinking faster and faster so feelings never catch up.

One of the hallmarks of Dissolution is a temporary slowing down of mental processes and increase in moodiness and depression. In today’s upbeat, over-stimulated world, it seems shocking to say that depression serves a good purpose, but that is exactly how the alchemists viewed it. To them depression was just another part of personal Dissolution. The alchemists welcomed distress and depression because it incites the soul to move forward. That is what the Sufi alchemist Rumi meant when he said “Feel joy in the heart at the coming of sorrow.” What is more, in depression there is no mental energy to spare to support the ego and its games, and it is a wonderful opportunity to allow deeper feelings, whose suppression is often the source of the depression, to surface and acclimated into the personality.

Spiritual alchemists would never take Prozac because they knew that only through the darkness could you reach the light. That is not to say that there are no chemical correspondences to depression; that would be expected by an alchemist. But the suggestion that the cure lies strictly on the physical level is anathema to alchemists, who insist on working on all levels of mind, body, and spirit at once. So the darkness of depression is just another temporary phase of total transformation. It is during Dissolution, we realize that no wound is ever silent until it is healed, but what is more important, we discover that it is in our wounds where the gold of our genuine Self has accumulated.

Undissolved people are judgmental and self-centered, and their relationships can only be described as selfish. In such persons, the process of Dissolution results in a withdrawal of projections and judgments and a breakdown of mental habits. Personal Dissolution dissipates the egocentric nervous energy that blindly drives most of us. Being dissolved means being truly relaxed, stopping the endless stream of thoughts to try to feel our way and connect with deeper energies. Dissolution results in a wonderfully flowing presence that is free of inhibitions, prejudgments, and restrictive mental structures.

 

The Bain Marie Meditation

The Jewish alchemist Maria Prophetissa invented a method of Dissolution that became the standard process for washing the ashes from Calcination. Called the “Bain Marie,” it is basically a double-boiler in which the water in the bathing vessel is kept at a gentle and constant temperature by immersing it in a second container of water or sand being heated directly. Its mystical power is based on the correspondences between the two types of waters employed in the Bain Marie. The outer boiler represents earthly Water, and the inner boiler represents heavenly Water.   

“The Water is an Angel and descends from the sky,” said Maria of her process, “and the earth accepts it on account of the earth’s moistness. The Water of the sky is held by the Water of the earth, and the Water of the earth acts as its servant. Its sand serves for the purpose of honoring it. Both the waters are gathered together, and the Water holds the Water. The vital principle holds the vital principle, and the vital principle is whitened by the vital principle.” 

The Bain Marie is also a powerful meditative tool for handling the destroyed psychic remains resulting from Calcination. The meditation exudes a maternal warmth, and the fire of personal consciousness is turned down considerably to accept the spiritual energy from Above. The idea is to dissolve or melt away the burnt-out thoughts and emotions dredged up during the previous blaze of introspection during Calcination. That means not thinking about the individual incidents behind emotions but rather trying to feel and work with only their pure energy or “vital principle.” If you can successfully dissolve the connections between the emotions and their source, the energy will be free to use for your spiritual transformation.

Seated or lying down, start taking deep belly breaths with the abdomen expanding on every inhalation. Try to feel the warmth in this area, which is very significant it bodily alchemy. In the Eastern traditions, it is known as the Hara or Lower Tan Tien vessel, a great cauldron of physical energy just behind the navel. Continues breathing this way until you feel a build-up of heat in your belly, which is the lower vessel of the Bain Marie that is heated directly.

Keep breathing by first expanding the belly and then filling the upper chest with air. This upper area is the second boiler or bathing vessel of the Bain Marie. Feel the difference between the energy in this upper bathing vessel, which is much cooler and calmer and the more intense energy in the belly. Next, imagine you are adding ingredients to the gently dissolving waters of the second or bathing vessel with each breath. These ingredients are fiery emotions or the still warm ashes of Calcination. Hold the breath for a moment and let it “work” painful memories or fiery emotions that overcome you. Then exhale slowly and deeply, as deep as you can, and imagine those hardened, hurtful “salts” melting away. Repeat this circulation of dissolving baths as long as it takes until you feel genuine relief. If you can learn to circulate these calm waters them through the body and direct them to painful or swollen muscles or joints, you will be amazed at the instant relief this simple visualization brings.

Cibation

This meditation is based on a technique in alchemy called Cibation, which is the addition of water or other fluids to the dried-out matter at the precisely the right moment in the experiment to completely dissolve it. In this meditation, we will examine the areas of our emotional make-up that appear the driest and most crystallized, then we add or revitalize them with emotional energy to re-experience them again.  with the objective of breaking them down. This is a sensitizing process in which painful memories or hardened reactions are purposely dredged up and relived.

Put on your lab coat of relaxed awareness and enter the inner laboratory. Go back to your childhood, where some of our most painful experiences occurred, and retrieve the most painful memory you think of. Perhaps it was the day a loved one died, the day you lost a pet or relative, or sometime when you were really deeply hurt by someone. Bring the energy into the throat area and feel it well up. Now try to cry from the memory – and cry until you can cry no more. You must make yourself cry at the same moment you are feeling the emotion for Cibation to occur. This crying technique is used by psychologists all over the world to treat eating disorders, sex problems, drug abuse, insomnia, anger, and it is one of the and fastest working methods in the arsenal of psychologists. 

 

Bodily Dissolution

An ancient and powerful method for bodily Dissolution is fasting, which has long been part of many religious disciplines. Not only does fasting for two days or more purge the body of toxins and the effects of overindulgence, but it activates a healing response from the body. Most animals respond to illness by seeking solitude and refusing to eat, as the bodies energy resources are entirely directed towards healing. Fasting therapy has been employed to treat a wide variety of diseases, including cancer, diabetes, tuberculosis, high blood pressure, and even schizophrenia. Fasting clears the mind, refreshes the memory, and can even lead to mystical experiences. Fasting and its connection to the operation of Dissolution was well known to Paracelsus and other alchemical healers, who associated with the benefits of physical depression. One alchemical motto of this phase goes, “The Moon settled, does not eat.”  Like most methods of Dissolution, fasting is a way of becoming stronger by letting go.

If you are not used to fasting, start with juice fasts for a single day or over the weekend. Eat no solid foods but as much fruit and vegetable juices as you want. Notice how not eating affects your mind and body. The more toxins in your body and mind, the more uncomfortable are the first fasts. It is necessary to drink a lot of water so toxins can be easily flushed from the body. True alchemical fasts continue for three to thirty days and should only be undertaken in a spiritually relaxing environment under the supervision of a doctor.

 

Personal Separation 

The alchemists saw this operation as bringing the essences back to life by exposing them to Air, and there are a lot of alchemical images showing swords slicing through space and knives cutting things open at this stage. The archetype of Air is an invisible force with a will of its own and total freedom to exercise it. Down through the ages, archetypal Air has always been associated with life force, spirits and spiritual energy. The physical signature of the essence of Air is life-giving oxygen, and its subtle component is the prana or chi that is the focus of Oriental alchemy.

During personal Separation, we retrieve the purified essences of soul and spirit from the dregs of our body and mind. These two essences become very important to us and worth fighting for to keep pure. They are present at all levels of our being and are part of the basic trinity of Mercury (soul), Sulfur (spirit), and Salt (body). The two most immediate expressions of soul and spirit are our own feelings and thoughts (respectively), which we now realize offer us important tools of transformation. Soul expresses itself in feelings and is associated with the act of attention, and spirit expresses itself in thoughts and is associated with the act of intention. These two components of attention and intention make up a kind of binary software of transcendence.

So, Separation is coming into focus about our true nature and what has to be done to clean up our lives. This usually becomes a Holy War in which we define ourselves by our level of determination. We realize the dross we carry is why we feel dirty and guilty instead of golden. All of a sudden we want to live spiritual principles, be true to our spiritual essences, and be around spiritual people. Because we still have to deal with the impurities of personal ego, organizational ego (bureaucracy), and social ego (what Jung call the superego), this can be a very challenging phase. 

Often during this phase, there is an abrupt Separation from family and friends, and everyone notices that all of a sudden, you are willing to fight for what you believe. During Separation, we learn how to sharpen our will to conquer temptations, overcome abuse and habitual patterns, live our own lives, and protect the essences we carry within. We are willing now to live our lives closer on the edge and be real no matter what.

The iron individual that emerges during Separation is a willful, aggressive, and sometimes hot-tempered person, whose actions are dominated by a conquering energy that wants to change the world. Pollution with ego during Separation is disastrous. Such people can be overly assertive and controlling, refusing to compromise in even the most mundane matters. In relationships, the ego-bound Mars is domineering and can even be abusive.  At their worst, they are driven by frustration and anger and can become cruel or violent. On the other hand, people successfully handling Separation are courageous and daring, often initiating major changes in the world and in the lives of the people around them. In relationships they are fiercely loyal and can fight for the rights of others with unquenchable passion. The key to successful Separation is letting go the anger or anxiety that is the source of the separative impulse and let the eternal essences of their personalities guide them.

 

Cutting Through Reality

A method called Cutting Through Reality is a Separation meditation in which you simply relax, concentrate on your breath, and periodically ask yourself the question “What are the dregs of my life?” The object is to identify and cut away all but the purest essences of everything around you. It is what alchemists called dealing only with the true signatures of yourself, other people, things, events, and situations. The sword you use to cut through reality is your own consciousness honed to penetrate even the deepest illusion. You sharpen this sword of knowing by living on the edge between this world and the next, between matter and mind, between life and death. You no longer give yourself away to the everyday world but maintain a certain objectivity about what is true and what is false. By entering a state of “not doing” – not automatically going along with everything through some misguided sense of participation or politeness – we learn to halt the internal dialogue that supports the  false or horizontal world and develop a second attention focused on the spiritual principles on the vertical axis of reality.

 

Bodily Separation

There are many methods for bodily Separation, in which the essences or energies of soul and spirit are isolated in the body. Some of these methods date back over 3,500 years to Egyptian alchemists who taught spiritual energy techniques in Pharaoh Akhenaten’s School of Breathings. Other techniques were developed by Oriental alchemists. All these methods center on working with the subtle life force that, according to the Emerald Tablet, the Wind “carries in its belly.” Known in Indian alchemy as prana and in Taoist alchemy as chi, this vital breath is responsible for a person’s state of health and can be harnessed for psychospiritual growth and rejuvenation. In bodily Separation, this energy is split into its masculine (yang) and feminine (yin) by directing the arms and legs in purposeful movements. Generally, movements up and to the right focus yang, and movements down and to the left focus yin.   

            Such separating moving meditations as are practiced in Chi Kung and Tai Chi are a kind of alchemistic aeration that separates and purifies the energetic essences of soul and spirit. By focusing attention on the breath and using intention to move the breath through the body, the essences of the life force (the yin component of soul and the yang component of spirit) are separated and recombined in a new constellation of energy during the final operation of alchemy (Coagulation). While a full description of these movements are beyond the scope of this book, the reader is urged to follow through with local instructors in Tai Chi Chuang, Tai Chi Chih, Chi Kung, Aikido, and other disciplines that follow the path of martial arts in the sense of becoming a spiritual warrior.

    

Personal Conjunction

The operation of Conjunction, which means combining or conjoining things, is the turning point in personal alchemy. It is the marriage of the Sun and Moon within, the union of spirit with soul to produce a new identity. The alchemists saw this as a passionate coming together of the elements Fire and Water, an act of inner love. Conjunction is the creation of a whole new personality from the essences of soul and spirit we have discovered within us, and it takes a lot of courage, passion, and devotion to succeed in uniting them. Conjunction is what we experience when we fall in love with another person, and it is also the communion we feel with all of nature,

            Personal Conjunction is difficult for most modern people because it involves the merging of opposites, which is a mysterious and paradoxical operation. In order to achieve personal Conjunction, we have to be able to redefine ourselves in paradoxical terms. The personal essences of spirit and soul come together in a new form of higher reasoning or intuition. There is really no single English word for this kind of alchemical way of thinking. The Chinese word for it means “heartmind,” and the ancient Egyptian word means “intelligence of the heart.” Yet this concept of the complete merging of thoughts and feelings is crucial in achieving personal Conjunction.

In psychological terms, Conjunction unites our thoughts with our feelings in moments of true wisdom. The alchemists referred to these two opposed ways of knowing as Solar and Lunar consciousness. Solar consciousness is the rational, deductive, argumentative, intellectual thinking that is the hallmark of science and our patriarchal Western culture. The alchemists assigned it many code words, such as the Sun, Sulfur, the King, the Father, and ultimately Spirit. Lunar consciousness is a non-linear, image-driven, intuitive way of thinking that is an accepted tool of the arts and religion. Among its many symbols are the Moon, Mercury, the Queen, the Holy Ghost, and ultimately Soul. The union of Solar and Lunar consciousness produces a superior third way of knowing called Stellar consciousness. Stellar consciousness is a state of incorruptible wisdom symbolized by the heroic Child of the Philosophers, the metal gold, a diamond or pearl, the Philosopher's Stone, the astral body, and of course, the stars themselves. Remember, that in the view of the alchemists, we are all embarked on a journey through the manifested planets – a journey home to the stars.

 

Creating the Overself

The work in this experiment is done in the everyday world, and it is not necessary to enter a meditative state. The idea is to create a permanent vessel for the newly conjuncted consciousness within the existing personality. Nineteenth century psychologists called this new identity the Overself. To create the Overself, you simply begin practicing to maintain your higher or stellar presence no matter what happens, no matter how confusing things get, no matter what emotions swell up within you, no matter how cruel or thoughtless others are towards you. Every problem, every personal challenge, every nuisance or annoying person, is another opportunity for you to develop presence and strengthen the Overself. In trying to maintain your presence or keep centered in all situations, you soon learn that you can rely on neither intellect or emotions. To be really connected to what is real, you have to make use of inner talents and resources you cannot explain.

It is important to remember that the two opposing ways of knowing only come together when they are used together. You have to practice not relying on either alone on a daily basis in the real world for the Overself to manifest. The Overself can overcome the onslaughts of ignorance, insensitivity, and illusion one encounters in the world because it is not of this world. This larger presence within you corresponds to the Lesser Stone of alchemists, which is gradually perfected to emerge during the last operation as a permanent state of higher consciousness that is the Greater Stone.

           

Bodily Conjunction

That the human body must be perfected, as well as the mind and spirit, is a basic tenet of alchemy. Yet how do the King and Queen manifest in the body, and what exactly is the Child of the Philosophers in terms of human physiology? According to Tantric alchemists, the phallic-shaped pineal gland at the center of the brain and the bilobed pituitary body play the roles of King and Queen respectively. Their union, achieved through meditative exercises, produces a Golden Pill of immortality, which is released at the back of the throat and is activated when it reaches the stomach. This inner sex act, which the alchemists sometimes referred to as an act of incest because it takes place within, releases powerful energies that perfect and rejuvenate the body. This process is facilitated by using active imagination and meditations based on these ideas. 

 

Personal Fermentation

The work of personal Fermentation begins in the spiritual realm. But how do you work in unmanifested reality? How do you enter the Above; how do you get to the Other Side? The answer is plain. You have to die in this world and be reborn in the next. The alchemists called this universal process of death and rebirth Fermentation, and just like natural fermentation, it starts with Putrefaction, in which the matter is killed and allowed to decompose and rot in sealed containers or coffins. People too first must die to their own ego reality to grow and be reborn on a higher level. There is always a dark period of unconsciousness to pass through. “Clothe yourself in the garment of Nothingness and drink the cup of self-annihilation” said Attar, a twelfth-century Sufi alchemist.

Psychologically, Putrefaction is the dark night of the soul in which our ego, everything we thought was our identity, suffers a final and complete death. Despite the optimism of the Conjunction, we realize the impermanence of our personality. Putrefaction is a necessary, if painful, step to enlightenment in which we truly realize the futility of a merely physical existence.

 “One can thus understand why the Philosophers place so much insistence upon the necessity of material death,” elaborated the modern alchemist Fulcanelli in Les Demeures Philosophales (Dwellings of the Philosophers”). “It is through death that the spirit, imperishable and always active, stirs up, sifts, separates, cleans and purifies the body. It is from death that there proceeds the possibility of assembling the purified parts, to build with them a new lodging place, finally to transmit to the regenerated form an energy which it does not possess."

The sudden breakthrough of light and imagination that follows Purtrefaction is the most inspired part of alchemy. During this phase of true Fermentation, the alchemists felt they were working on a whole new level of reality. During Fermentation, according to French alchemist Rene Schwaller de Lubicz, we “leave all dialectic behind and follow the path of the Powers.” This is the inspiration of new life and energy from a higher level that changes the vibratory level of soul.

The Peacock’s Tail that appears in the laboratory to mark this stage represents the activation of the dawn of the True Imagination, a world of light in the realm of pure mind. Alchemists called it the “true” imagination to differentiate it from mere fantasy or idle daydreaming, for to them, the light of the True Imagination was the same divine light of mind that shown down from Above into the darkest recesses of matter. It is the nature of this mercurial light to encompass everything and to contain all possibilities.

"The concept of Imaginatio is the most important key to understanding the alchemical Opus,” Carl Jung commented on this process. “We have to conceive of these imaginal processes not as the immaterial phantoms that we readily take fantasy pictures to be, but as something corporeal, a subtle body. The Imaginatio, or the act of imagining, was a physical activity that could be fitted into the cycle of material changes, that brought these about and was brought about by them in turn. The alchemist related himself not only to the unconscious but directly to the very substance that he hoped to transform through the power of imagination."

 

Capturing the Fermental Light

The Fermental Light of the True Imagination is always close at hand and only the veil of our assumptions of materiality needs to be lifted to see it. Sit back in a comfortable chair, fold your hands in your lap and relax. When you are completely relaxed, close your eyes and concentrate on the first image that pops into your mind. Do not be concerned if it is something you had just seen or if there is no image at all. Simply allow the image, or pattern, or blankness, or whatever, to change and grow. Pay attention to the morphing image and try to remember as many details or impressions as you can. Now, ask yourself a question – something you would really want to know – and see what happens. Observe how the image or feeling alters and what the final version looks like. Finally, open your eyes again, and summarize your experience in as much detail as you can.

If you visualized someone from the office lying naked on your waterbed, you have probably missed the point. The idea is not to engage our fantasies but to allow images to rise on their own from an unconscious source. Try it again at a later time if your images are being driven by wish-fulfillment or from instincts such as visions of a juicy hamburger if you have missed lunch. The curse of modern man is that he confuses fantasy for the amazing power of True Imagination and thus relegates both to the psychic trash heap. However, if you experienced something that you had not previously noticed or something that an independent part of your mind was dwelling on, then you have had a breakthrough to the Fermental Light, and you should reflect on what higher meaning it carries.

 

Bodily Fermentation

 During the initial stages of personal Fermentation, the level of inspiration can become so intense that it is experienced as a palpable warm light circulating in the body. As Fermentation progresses, people report feelings of extraordinary grace and "flow" as the physical body raises toward perfection, toward an ideal or archetypal image that is slowly taking on reality within.

After the Conjunction or marriage of the pineal gland and pituitary body, the pituitary (as the “master gland”) floods the body with a new type of hormones that cause fundamental changes in the organs, blood, and genetic material. The alchemists referred to this flood of psychospiritual chemcials as the Vitriol humor, which initiates a kind of second puberty in the body.

 

Personal Distillation

Fermentation is like a mystical or religious experience for most people, and it can even take the form of psychedelic or paranormal experiences. It occurs whenever we confront the tremendous power of the transpersonal or spiritual realm. This can be an overwhelming experience in which we temporarily lose our balance and have to readjust to the real world. What we need is objectivity, a distilling of the experience. That is exactly what Distillation means on the psychological level. 

Personal Distillation is gaining objectivity by taking a step back to get an overall view of experiences the extremes of a process. In that way, it is a purification of consciousness or the rising of consciousness to a higher level. For the modern adept, Distillation consists of introspective techniques that attempt to raise the content of the psyche to the highest level possible, free from all sentimentality and personal attachments. Success at Distillation is measured by how clear and focused your mind can become. We not only open up to our own pain and confusion but relate to the pain and suffering in a more compassionate way.

In spiritual Distillation, we finally realize that we are all sparks of light trapped in matter and our only hope for survival is the union of our light with the divine light Above. This is actually extremely refreshing experience of becoming clear and staying clear on all levels of our being. We now see that our thoughts and feelings are the thoughts and feelings of the whole universe; the center of our being and the center of the cosmos are one and the same during Distillation. Distillation takes us into the rarefied realm of spirit where base emotions cannot follow. It is the purification of the unborn Self – all that we truly are and can be spiritually.

By bringing together the powers Above with the powers Below during Distillation, we create what has been called a Hermes Field, in which we raise our consciousness to the highest level to bring back the miraculous possibilities of pure mind and directed consciousness into the manifested world. The Hermes Field forms at the juncture of Above and Below, in the twilight between unmanifested and manifested reality. Truly amazing things can happen there.

 

Circulation of the Light

Chinese alchemists became proficient at personal Distillation thousands of years ago. In a meditation called “Circulation of the Light,” the aspirant is taught to concentrate on the light of the inmost region while freeing oneself from all outer and inner entanglements. During the first stage of this Distillation, a mercurial or watery consciousness is used, and the light is gathered by quieting the body and mind through breath awareness and meditation. Breathe slowly and deliberately and with each inhalation, feel the chi or spiritual energy in the air moving down into a reservoir of energy in the abdomen. Just relax and breathe long deep breaths originating in the belly. Feel the warm yellow energy enter with the breath and accumulate in the belly. The object is to store all this fresh energy in a vessel, such as a retort or cauldron, that is visualized in the abdominal cavity just below and about an inch behind the navel. In Taoist alchemy, this is called the Lower Tan Tien (Lower Elixir Field). 

In the second phase of the Circulation of the Light, the alchemist’s directed consciousness is used to initiate the movement of the accumulated light energy. With concentration fixed at the level of the abdominal vessel, the practitioner uses intention and attention to will and feel the light circulate up the Channel of Control up the back along the spinal column and into the vessel or “precious cauldron” of the brain, which is the Upper Tan Tien (or Upper Elixir Field). There, the light energy is condensed and accumulated, and any unconverted energy returns to the navel area via the Channel of Function, which runs along the front of the chest.

The adept repeats the Circulation of the Light daily for months or even years, until enough of the liquid light collects to crystallize in the brain cauldron. According to Chinese alchemists, the subtle matter distilled through this process congeals into a Golden Pill, which is the adept’s passage to perfect health and even immortality.

The overall process is summed up admirably in a 2,500-year-old alchemy text from the Chou dynasty:

“In transporting the breath, the inhalation must be full and the breath should be held and gathered. If it is gathered, it becomes magic. If it becomes magic, it descends and quiets down. If it quiets down, it solidifies. If it is solidified, then it germinates. If it germinates, it grows. If it grows, it retreats upward. If it retreats upward, it reaches the top of the head. If it reaches the top of the head, it still presses up, for the secret power of Heaven moves Above, and the secret power of Earth moves Below. He who follows this will live; he who acts contrary to this will die.”

 

Bodily Distillation

There are many "moving meditations" designed to accomplish Distillation of the life force in the body. The slow and graceful movements of the ancient art of Tai Chi Chuan and Tai Chi Chih are designed to make the practitioner aware of the subtle light energy (chi) as it circulates in the body. The sadhana postures of Kundalini yoga actually attempt to bind one’s awareness to this energy, so it can be followed upward as it is distilled from the body in a union of the individual’s consciousness with the infinite consciousness of God. All these exercises work with the vertical axis in the human body, which is the Hermetic caduceus or ladder of transformation along which the seven operations in the Emerald Formula are used to release and purify knots of blocked or impure energy.

 

Personal Coagulation

Surprisingly, personal Coagulation is one of the easier processes in our spiritual transformation. If everything proceeded well through the higher operations of Fermentation and Distillation, the goal of the Work almost automatically forms or congeals. The alchemists saw this final stage of personal transformation as working with a higher form of Salt, which is the uninflammable component found in the ashes from Fire or in the crystallized remains of Water. In other words, the final Salt is that which can be changed no more; it is the perfected essence of matter and the soul.

In the transformed person, this Salt is a new identity, a new ego or center of consciousness. We can only be resurrected from the cross of matter by sacrificing our individual identity, the Green Mercury Serpent of our ego. We can only join the One by becoming Nothing. We can only grow into the greater spirit by surrendering our separate individuality.

Personal Coagulation produces a very genuine and alive person with a deep respect and connection to the processes of nature. It is sensed in the world as a higher love, a deeply felt compassion for the whole world and everyone in it, and also an appreciation for the processes of birth and death in the universe. This is a crowning individuation resulting in peace of mind, heightened energy, and a free-flowing adaptability to new situations. In the material realm, it entails the production of synchronistic events that enhance the life of the alchemist, as all parts of one’s life become golden. That also means the healing of the body and simply living long enough (and comfortably enough) to apply the knowledge it has taken a lifetime to accumulate.

Personal Coagulation incarnates and releases a higher state of consciousness, which the alchemists also referred to it as the Greater Stone. Using this magical touchstone, the alchemists believed they could create an elixir that would cure all diseases and heal all wounds on all levels. They also believed that the perfected human would be able to solve a multitude of problems that seem insurmountable in our in human civilization. As Albert Einstein once noted: “You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it.” The mind of the coagulated person has been fundamentally and permanently transmuted and is open to vistas of time and space to which most of us are unaware. In a conversation with atomic physicist Jacques Bergier in 1937, the alchemist Fulcanelli was asked to describe the Great Work.

 “You ask me to summarize for you in four minutes four thousand years of philosophy and the efforts of a lifetime,” he replied. “Furthermore, you ask me to translate into ordinary language concepts for which such a language is not intended. All the same, I can tell you this much: you are aware that in the official science of today, the role of the observer becomes more and more important. Relativity, the principle of indeterminacy, show the extent to which the observer today intervenes in all these phenomena. The secret of alchemy is this: there is a way of manipulating matter and energy so as to produce what modern scientists call ‘a field of force.’ This field acts on the observer and puts him in a privileged position vis-à-vis the Universe. From this position he has access to the realities which are ordinarily hidden from us by time and space, matter and energy. This is what we call the Great Work.”

 

Coagulation of the Second Body

This unique quality of emotion and holistic thought acts like a forgotten switch to turn on our genetic codes creating a hormonal “elixir” – to use the alchemists’ term – that inaugurates a spiritual revolution in our bodies, a coming of age in spirit that rejuvenates and revitalizes us. On the spiritual level, Coagulation is the creation of a perfected Second Body, a golden body of coagulated light that the great alchemist Paracelsus named the Astral Body. Alchemists believed that if you could not create this perfected body during your lifetime, you were destined to be reabsorbed into the cosmos and recycled until you got it right. That is what the spiritual alchemist Georg Gurdjieff had in mind when he said:  “If a man can develop within himself a permanent ‘I’ that can survive a change in the external, it can survive the death of the physical body. The whole secret is that one cannot work for a future life without working for this one. He must become a master of his life to become a master of his death.”

In Christianity, the culmination of the Great Work is expressed as the “seamless garment” or in the words of Jesus: “I and my Father are one.” In occult terminology, spirit and soul are permanently united in a body of light which acts as a mobile center of consciousness that spans all dimensions of existence and is described in out-of-body and near-death experiences. In terms of spiritual chemistry, the immortal soul (the volatile “saved” feminine variable) has united inseparably with the human spirit (the fixed masculine invariable principle) to form the Living Stone. Soul and Spirit are one in a new body. The difference between the lowest state of consciousness in alchemy and the highest is like the difference between soft, black coal and a hard, clear diamond. Yet they are both made out of the same material. As one Renaissance alchemist put it: “You break through space, fly to heaven in broad daylight, and shed the flesh-and-bone bag, which is now as useless as the alchemical workshop and vessels once the elixir has been perfected.”

To practice the Coagulation of the light, the first step is to spiritize the body and mind. This can be done in meditation by going through the previous operations in order to reach a purified state of consciousness. You could also begin with the rising and falling waves of the Circulation of Light mediation. While doing the circulation, observe how the energy moves in your body and then try to increase the vibrations of the light itself by visualizing it changing from a yellow or white color to a deep violet color. In increasing the frequency of the light, you increase its energy and it becomes a soft violent flame circulating in your body. This is the divine energy within you. Visualize softly undulating violet flames sweep over your entire body until they engulf you. You are now within the flame. As you surrender to the flame and let go of any of your control over it, try to sense how the flame imparts a feeling of vibrancy and vitality. Its action has been described as a welcomed feeling of being boiled and cleansed, like being immersed in a warm bubbling hot tub. Feel the bubbling flames caressing your body, internally and externally.

Now retake partial control of the increased vibrational state and start to crystallize the subtle flame into an etheric double or replica of your physical body. Begin the formation of this body gradually, by trying to extend a hand or foot just beyond your physical frame. Increase the limb’s vibrational rate if necessary and project more of the violet flame into it. Then try to touch some object near you, such as a chair arm, carpet, or mattress. Now return your limb to coincide with your physical body and relax the vibrational rate to change the violet color back into the yellow hue the energy had when we began. Let the two bodies merge again. This is enough for the first time. Continue this exercise until you truly feel as though you are separating from your physical body by directing the intensity of the violet flame. With continued practice and by expanding the process to other parts of your body, you begin to build a new Salt or new body of light

 

Making Visions Real

            One of the characteristics of the coagulated spirit is the ability of the individual to make his or her personal reality part of the real world. This nothing supernatural or even mystical, but a practical expression of the higher reality that is part of the natural “Operation of the Sun” described in the Emerald Tablet. In this exercise, we will begin to train our minds to take advantage of our divine image-making ability to project our visions into reality.

            Taoist alchemists are very proficient at this activity. At the advanced levels of Tai Chi and Chi Kung, the practitioner does not actually perform the movements at all but visualizes he or she is performing them in their mind. In many well-documented cases, the mental performance of the movements produces the same changes in body and brain chemistry as doing the movements physically. 

            A story about Native American athlete Jim Thorpe also illustrates this idea. When he was on the ship crossing the Atlantic to Sweden on his way to the 1912 Olympics in Sweden, Thorpe was told that he had to be entered in at least two events to participate in the games. His assigned events were long distance running and the broad-jump, which was a completely new sport to him. Thorpe’s Fox tribal name was Wa-Tho-Huk, which means "Bright Path." There is no doubt that he took the path of light in his physical training. He had learned the power of visualization as a child and applied it in his amazing feats of running. And now he would apply it to this entirely new sport.

 Thorpe put a wide strip of white tape on the deck of the ship and then lined up a deckchair 23 feet, 3 inches away from the line. This was one inch more than the current world record. But he never attempted to actually jump the distance. He simply sat in the chair visualizing the playing field and the distance he had to clear. His preparation for the event was in the inner laboratory he created on the ship’s deck. For most of the day during the eight-day journey, he sat stubbornly in the chair creating a focused and purified space, until it resonated perfectly between how he would perform on the playing field and what he knew he could do in his own mind. In his own words: “I just sat in that chair until I truly believed I could jump the distance.”

The first time Jim Thorpe ever broad-jumped, he set a world record. He went on to win both the pentathlon and decathlon events. The same year he led his Carlisle football team to the collegiate championship by scoring nearly 200 points. After that, he went on to play six years of major league baseball. Perhaps the most fitting description of Jim Thorpe’s abilities came at the 1912 Olympics, when King Gustav V of Sweden presented Thorpe with his trophies. "Sir,” the King told the Indian, “you are the greatest athlete in the world."

All you have to do to apply this alchemical principle in your own life is to start “rehearsing” things in your mind before actually doing them. One of the first things you learn is that we are our own worst enemies in most of what we do. We tend to focus on the negative aspects of things and of everything that can go wrong. By constellating our doubts and fears in our minds and imagination, we project the means of our own defeat. Try alchemical visualization a few times and you will be convinced of its power. Remember that if you do it with a blasé or skeptical attitude, that is what will be projected. Be simple and determined to not leave your visualization until you really believe that is the way it will turn out. Or as the alchemists would say, make your images come alive in you or they will have no life at all.  

 

The operations of alchemy offer us real and time-tested methods for personal transformation. They are a path to the divine powers that dwell within us. It is never an easy path, and it involves as much destruction and negation of existing structures in the personality as it does encouraging and building up new structures. You have to learn to work both left-hand and right-hand paths and move freely between the Above and the Below. The important thing to remember is that it is the work itself as much as accomplishing your goals that brings real power into your life. As the great yogic alchemist Pantanjali wrote over 2,100 years ago:

“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds; your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties, and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be!”

 

The Roasting Cinnabar Meditation

 

For many centuries human beings have been engaging in an activity that is designed specifically to contact the essence of Self. Meditation is the art of turning attention inward, without regard to the demands of the external world, to move beyond ego and achieve union with our spiritual core. “All things have come from this One Thing,” says the Emerald Tablet, “through the meditation of One Mind.” That One Mind is the same for everyone, and it can be found in meditation. However, alchemistic meditation is different from other forms in that it is an active instead of a passive discipline. The alchemist’s meditation seeks to actually work with the powers beyond ego to create something new. The object is not to still the mind but to fill it with images and follow those images back to their single source. Obviously, the most important component of this type of meditation is the power of imagination, what the alchemists called True Imagination. They understood True Imagination to be the real and literal power to create meaningful images in the mind, as opposed to fantasy, which means insubstantial daydreaming. True Imagination is the evocation of inner images which does not spin groundless fantasies but tries to portray them true to their archetypal nature.

One method to get in touch with your True Imagination is a meditation session called “Roasting Cinnabar.” Known as “Dragon’s Blood,” cinnabar is a naturally occurring mineral, a brilliant red sulfide of mercury. If the rocks are roasted over an open flame, drops of pure mercury ooze from the crevices and fall into the ashes with heavy thuds. If cinnabar is ground up and heated in a glass container, the mercury condenses on the side of the glass like a mirror. The ancients considered cinnabar a magical mineral, and early Chinese, Islamic, and Jewish alchemists were convinced they had discovered the First Matter during the Calcination of cinnabar rocks. The elemental mercury produced by roasting cinnabar has all the characteristics of what the alchemists thought the First Matter should look like. It has the heavy, watery qualities of the One Thing from which the universe was created, and like the primal chaos of the One Thing, mercury has no form of its own. Mercury is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature, and because other metals liquefy at higher temperatures, mercury seems to possess the soul of all metals and is their precursor. When heated, even at the most mild temperatures, mercury releases a thick vapor or “spirit.”

Since mercury was thought to contain a masculine spirit and a feminine soul, alchemists considered it hermaphroditic, that is, containing the traits of both Hermes and Aphrodite. Furthermore, mercury takes the shape of any container and forms solid amalgams when mixed with other metals. Thus, liquid mercury is capable of being “fixed” into a solid form, just like the One Thing when acted on by the One Mind. Like the primeval substance which is the source of all creation, mercury catches light and reflects images and has the quality of being alive, which is why it was called the “living silver,” or Quicksilver. While mercury is the ideal symbol for the First Matter, it turned out that it was not the primordial material itself. Chinese alchemists spent centuries creating mercury pills in the search for the elixir of life, yet the only immortality they achieved came after they poisoned themselves taking the compounds they created. Still, mercury became a powerful philosophical current in the deep and slow moving river of alchemy.

The object of the Roasting Cinnabar Meditation is to probe the hardened red mass of reactionary judgments and buried emotions that are hidden but still responsible for much of our behavior. The meditation begins by entering a relaxed state, in which you divorce yourself from the strivings and concerns of ego. Some experienced meditators know how to elicit this relaxation response almost automatically by saying the same word or phrase over and over until the ego is literally bored into submission.

Others use rhythmic deep breathing techniques that entrain the body and mind into a relaxed state. No matter what method is used, it takes a concerted effort to totally relax and break free of the concerns of the everyday world. Here is the process:

Start out sitting in a comfortable chair or laying propped-up by cushions on a bed or couch. Slowly count back from ten, and with each count, take a slower and fuller breath while progressively relaxing every part of the body starting with the toes and working up to the scalp muscles. Once you are totally relaxed, try to visualize the bright red cinnabar roasting over a blazing fire. Think back over your life to its most embarrassing moments or the times your were uncontrollably angry. Try to dredge up the thoughts and feelings that were experienced then because they are directly tied to your ego’s loss of control. Those experiences are still there hidden inside the red rock. The ego buried them there.

As you think back, you know you are getting close if you start to feel uncomfortable or upset. It may be necessary to turn up the heat and gather all your willpower to stay focused on these inglorious memories, but there is a reason. In the meditative state, you are temporarily divorced from ego and can clearly see the follies and injustices of ego-centered existence. You will quickly discover that the ego is entirely a reactive device designed to perpetuate illusion. Perhaps you loved someone who did not love you back, or you tried to help someone and only ended up making things worse, or you hurt a beloved pet or a close friend out of anger. Maybe someone took advantage of you or made a fool of you. We all have had such denigrating experiences, and sometimes because of them, we “get burned” and silently promise never to let those things happen again. Our egos go to extreme lengths to get even or to never allow the opportunity for such things to take place again. The alchemists saw those hardened thoughts as “metals” within us and believed they made up our temperament. 

However, those searing thoughts are our part of the energy that drives our lives, and if we bury them, we surrender life force. Those ignoble thoughts become part of our behavior, encrusted patterns of response that turn us into ego-driven zombies. There is no simple formula like “from now on I will be more loving” or “starting Monday I will be more open with my coworkers.” That type of planning and goal setting is the hallmark of ego. All we can do is become aware of our hidden assumptions and everyday thoughts and witness how we turn control of our lives over to the most insubstantial part within us.

After working through one or two or these egotistic memories, keep the fires of introspection burning and try to hold onto the original thoughts while visualizing the hot mercury seeping out of the roasting cinnabar. Don’t let go of those thoughts as you visualize yourself catching the mercury with a glass bottle as it oozes from the rocks. What you are holding is the fabled genie-in-a-bottle, the power of liquified, free-flowing thought. This is the power of pure thought, still warm to the touch, and uncontaminated by ego. You can use it to get anything you want by refashioning it into the light of the living imagination.

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© Dennis William Hauck